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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ramblings On Finances

Maybe it's because of my past background as a banker, but I pay a lot of attention to most things financial.  I find that I really have to dig to find stuff.  Whether it's the reporters not knowing the subject well enough, or they're simply providing cover for the administration because the news is not good, it's tough to find a decent article outside of the financial press.

I saw this article in the Wall Street Journal.  It is so very important for "unwashed the masses"  (that's you and me!) to know, but no one in the MSM talks about this stuff.
The largest number of bank failures in nearly 20 years has eliminated jobs, accelerated a drought in lending and left the industry's survivors with more power to squeeze customers.

Some 279 banks have collapsed since Sept. 25, 2008, when Washington Mutual Inc. became the biggest bank failure on record. That dwarfed the 1984 demise of Continental Illinois, which had only one-seventh of WaMu's assets. The failures of the past two years shattered the pace of the prior six-year period, when only three dozen banks died.
In just over 2 years, nearly 300 banks have gone teats up.

Our banking system is going through a massive consolidation.  Massive.  The article goes on to discuss how they expect there to be around 5,000 banks in the US in the next couple years.  That is down from the 8,000 or so we have now.

To put this into perspective, in the early 1980's, there were over 15,000 banks.

This consolidation is primarily due to mergers, not failures.  After the interstate banking laws were eliminated in the 80's, the rush was on to buy banks to increase your market share.  I worked for 3 different banks in the 90's and early 2000's that all got bought-out.

But that's not what's going on right now.  These banks are shutting down, and the FDIC is selling their assets for pennies on the dollar.  Why merge at market prices when the government will give you discounted assets?

Such a deal.  And expect a lot more of it.

No matter how the administration and the banks sell this, it cannot be good for the average American.  More control in fewer hands rarely ends well.

As part of one of the "Financial Reform" bills, there was a consumer protection clause that was aimed directly at small non-traditional lenders (I don't know if this clause was eventually included in the bill that passed - but I'd bet a big stack of money that if not, it will be in the future).  What this clause said was ANY lending had interest rate ceilings and compliance requirements, regardless of what the money was used for.  Supposedly, it even covered personal loans between private individuals.

For instance, if you want to borrow some short-term money and have no collateral, you should expect to pay a very high rate.  The lender is being paid for the risk they're taking.

With this bill, a private or small lender will be required to meet all of the compliance and interest rate limits, just like a big, multi-national bank.

Your first reaction might be, "Great.  Those scummy private lenders are just taking advantage of someone in bad financial times!"

In reality, what will happen is the little lenders will go out of business because they can't make a profit.  The big banks won't make that loan because it's too risky and they can't make a buck either.

You still need the money, so where do you go?  To the guy with the bent nose in the alley.  Their overhead costs are low, but their collection department is, uhm, unorthodox.

Bottom line:  Once again, when government intercedes in the free market and rushes in to protect the consumer, the consumer generally gets the short end of the stick.

It's good to be protected, huh?

Have you seen gold and silver?  OMG.

As of this second  (11:40am PST) it is at $1,307.60, up $13 per ounce.  Silver is at $21.72, up 26 cents.  If you look at the reason for the gold increase (top of the page) the $13 increase is $7.60 due to the dollar weakening, and up $5.40 because buying is pushing the price up.

Dollar tanking, people fleeing to PMs.  Well there's a shock.

Accept The Challenge

Why anyone has any kind of savings account sitting in a bank is beyond me.  Unless you have no other place to keep your money - a home safe, a can in the backyard - you are losing money every single day.

Interest rates are abhorrent - a great rate is 1% and they want you to tie your money up for 12 months.   Really, the only benefit is that they're holding on to your money for you.  My mom, for instance, feels good with that, so I don't give her (too much) grief.  But for every month your money sits in that CD, you're losing purchasing power.

PM's clearly have a market risk component that is usually not present with a CD or savings account.  There is no denying that.  This is a very personal choice that requires research and commitment on your part.  But at least right now - and I believe for the foreseeable future - money sitting in a bank digs you a financial hole.

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Highs For Precious Metals

Precious metals.  Hype or harbinger?

Personally, I think the recent price spikes are just the early stages of a more sustained and steep price rise. 

Why?  At the very basic levels, when your fiat currency (the dollar, yen, pound, euro) is worth-less or worthless, OR when it is likely to become debased (by inflation driven by sovereign debt and impending taxation), people move to what has been recognized as "real money" for thousands of years
Silver climbed to the highest price since 1980 in New York and London as investors sought a protection of wealth in the metal that may also benefit from economic growth. Gold advanced to a record, with futures rising above $1,300 an ounce.

Silver has advanced 27 percent this year, outperforming gold, global equities, Treasuries and most industrial metals. Batteries and other industrial uses account for about half of silver demand, according to researcher GFMS Ltd. Gold, which usually moves inversely to the dollar, reached an all-time high for the fourth day this week as the dollar slid on concern the Federal Reserve is moving closer to boosting debt purchases.
With any commodity, there is the risk of a "bubble" or "herd mentality".  You don't want to be caught as the, "last guy in" when everyone else is getting out!

I don't think that's going to happen for a very long time - if ever.  I don't think people are buying PMs so much as a bet, but as a store of wealth.  The fundamental structure of our economy has been undercut.  You don't need to be an economist or government wonk to realize you can't continue to spend and borrow with there being no consequences.

I think people have realized - on a WIDE scale - that the bill is finally coming due, and the price will be the (further) debasement of the dollar.

This weekend, I'm going to try and do a post on the benefits of gold vs silver.  Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Master and Servant

We've been having a fairly lively go-around in the comments section of a past post ("Non-TEOTWAWKI Comms, Plus Pretend You're A Spy!") that has focused on government encroachment into our lives.

How far can and should the government go?

Is it OK for the government to attempt to exceed its scope of power with the goal to manufacture or ensnare potential law-breakers?

Well, here's another log for the discussion fire:  You may have seen that some guy in Georgia was fined over $5,000 for growing too many vegetables in his own backyard -
His neighbors call it "Cabbagegate." And it cost Steve Miller a lot of green. The Clarkston, Ga., man was fined $5,200 for growing too many vegetables in his backyard.

Miller had been growing legumes for 15 years, selling them at local farmers markets and giving them away to friends, before he was cited by the Dekalb County Code Enforcement office for the first time last September. It's illegal to garden at such a level in the zone where he lives.
This kind of stuff makes my head explode.  Why can't this guy do as he pleases with his own property, whether he makes a profit from his efforts or not?

Was there a complaint?  Or is this just another story of a bankrupt locality looking for ways to raise income in tough economic times?

Will his actions place another citizen in likely danger in the future?

Other than break a previously unenforced bureaucrat-designed zoning law, what did he do that was horrific enough to get so heavily fined?

The most important question should be, Did his actions to anything to infringe upon the rights of another citizen - such as bringing down property values?

If not, then the local government needs to butt the hell out.

Cities and counties are granted the power to set zoning laws.  But they need to be set in such a way as to allow the landowners the greatest possible flexibility in what they can to do with their land.  In this case, he was zoned for agriculture - just not that much agriculture.

Pure insanity.

It seems like I use this quote quite a bit lately -
"There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws."

--Ayn Rand
That was one insightful woman, huh?

Accept The Challenge

I salute this guy, and the guy I mentioned in the other post's comment section for standing up for their rights.

Really, this isn't just about land use or privacy.  It is about government reversing the Master/Servant roles.  Take the time to read the Constitution again.  Its original intent is very, very clear - simple, straightforward instructions on how our country is to be run.

There is little ambiguity about who runs the joint.  Yet here we sit, effectively stripped of our powers, or ignorant that those powers even exist.

As preppers, could there be a more frightening prospect than the government having the ability to tell you that you can't grow your own food - in whatever quantities you wish - on your own property?  We need to plan for this.

What if history repeats itself and Great Depression farming laws are reinstated?  What if you were told you had to kill your chickens, hogs or cattle, or destroy your crops "for the greater good?"

As these two guys found out, when you reassert yourself as the Master, government doesn't like it.  We must do this, though. 

We must be willing to be inconvenienced.  We must be willing to go and publicly challenge the politicians at the statehouse and at the local supervisor's meetings.  We must let them know that they will be removed from office if they don't do OUR bidding.  We must be willing to go to court.  We must be willing to draw a line in the sand and say, "No more!"

Image from Rockin Rose Grafix
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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Facts and Reality

I'm just waking up from my champagne-induced coma.  Yep, spent the whole day and night yesterday partying over the news that the recession is officially over.

Whew!  What a relief!  You'd think that with growing unemployment, record foreclosures and the accompanying cratering in real estate prices, the growing distrust in our financial system - as reflected in the skyrocketing prices of gold and silver, and record federal deficits, there might still be a recession going on.

No-siree-Bob!  We're all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to take on the day.

Please tell me they're kidding.  Tell me some over-zealous Obamatron threatened nuclear annihilation of the families of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER - the guys and gals that call the start-and-stop of recessions) if they didn't say the recession was over.

If you haven't read the official propaganda explanation, you can read it here.  Your head will spin and you will vomit uncontrollably.  And then laugh hysterically.  At least that's what I did.  I'm pretty sure it was the report and not the champagne that caused the puke.

The first thing that struck me was that it took them five quarters to call this thing dead.  Really?!  450+ days to do the math?  Are these guys using Post-It notes stuck to the company fridge to keep track of this stuff?

Do they really think anyone - and I mean anyone - in America doesn't see this as a political genuflect to the administration?  From the Washington Post (Official Administration Genuflecting Scribes) -
On the day that the Great Recession was officially declared to be part of history, President Obama confronted deepening angst from business leaders and ordinary Americans who have little faith that the recovery is for real.

The nation - and the political system - remain haunted by that downturn. Vast majorities of Americans think the nation is still in recession, regardless of what scholars say.
I thought the NBER was actually independent. 

It seems like they're in the same boat as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  They're always touted as the "non-partisan" accounting arm of Congress.

Well, yes and no.  Yes, they can't (supposedly) favor any one party, but the Congress has so limited their powers as to make them nothing more than carnival barkers at the side show.

For instance, I'll use ObamaCare as an example.  The White House and Congress submit their budgets and assumptions to the CBO to be verified.  The assumption say that A, B and C will happen and the result will be a savings of a gazillion dollars.

In The Real World, the accountants or CPAs would look into the reasonableness of the assumptions - will A, B and C happen as projected?  If not, they would adjust the savings/cost projections and report it to the Board of Directors.

Not so with the CBO.  They are mandated by Congress to ONLY use the assumptions presented to them, and to NOT question their validity or reasonableness!  They basically can only check the math of the project, not the likelihood of it actually turning out as planned.

In other words, their "seal of approval" is as useless as teats on a bull.

At the very least, NBERs objectivity has to be questioned. 

I'd also like to know how a group of "independent" number crunchers somehow is able to amass over $100 million in assets.  Not a bad trick for a supposed "non-profit" group.

Totally unrelated, but cool nonetheless:  I was at the coin shop yesterday meeting with security vendors and getting caught up with some government-mandated paperwork.  At about 3 in the afternoon the phone rang.  It had been ringing all day with offers of, "the lowest possible prices to offer credit cards."  Seriously, I got one of these calls once per hour.

Thankfully, I answered the phone this time in my Nice Business Owner voice, and not my You're Really Pissing Me Off voice.

It was a customer.  For real!

She had done an Internet search, found us and wanted to bring by some old silver coins and scrap gold jewelry to see what they were worth.  I told her we were still in the process of building out the shop and if she could excuse the mess, we'd be happy to take a look at what she had.

She and her husband got there just before 5pm, we assessed her stuff and made an offer.  Accepted!

We actually paid her a dollar extra so she could give it back to us to represent our first dollar earned in our new shop - even though we're not even open yet!

Accept The Challenge

If this NBER report doesn't sour you to "official" economic data, I don't know what will.  We've long recommended that you go to multiple sources for your information, and that you question everything.

Well, it looks like data and analysis provided by NBER just got lumped in with Commerce Department, the Labor Department data and economic projections by your, "not quite right" Aunt Sally.

Trust your eyes.  Trust your pocketbook.  Trust your gut.

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Non-TEOTWAWKI Comms, Plus Pretend You're A Spy!

Communications are HUGE.  Being able to contact others at a moment's notice has almost become obsessive to most Americans.  Cut off that link, and people get all hinky.  In times of emergency, the ability to have communications - primarily two-way communications - can at a minimum allow family members to know you're safe (or not).

When doing preparations, not every emergency or situation necessarily means that the world is coming to an end.  Circumstances like the recent natural gas explosion in San Bruno show that having some flexibility and redundancy in communications is important.

(See our previous posts on large-scale emergency communications - One and Two)

The way data is delivered is the key to understanding how to design your options.  In my area, we have regular telephone land lines (POTS), mobile phone service and Internet service.  Using the concept of PACE (Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency), we want to have alternatives because our planning process assumes one or more communications paths will be out-of-commission.

Minor, regional emergency - 

Traditional Telephone Service:

POTS is usually the first system to go down, or be over-loaded.  While it can be your primary communications tool, expect failure.  Plus, if your lines are cut, your communications are cut.

Mobile Services: 

Cell towers give us the most flexible option.  Even if your home blows up, you can still get cell service, since radio waves are used to transmit the voice and data messages.  If the tower is destroyed, other nearby towers can provide service. 

During emergencies, voice calls on cell phones are the first service to be interrupted.  The cells become overloaded with traffic. 

A widely used alternative is text messaging, or SMS (Short Message Service).  While it uses the cell towers, the size of the data packets are very small.  The messages are limited to 160 characters. 

Another thing that is nice about SMS is that the messages aren't sent directly to the recipient's cell phone.  They use a technique called "store and send".  When you send a message, the cell service holds the message until the receipient cell phone is either turned on or is within range of a cell tower.  They will usually hold the messages for a few days before they are purged.

Most smart-phones now also come with either G3 or G4 Internet access.  This is delivered via radio waves as well.  These allow you mobile access to Internet services.  While not as fast as a fiber optic, cable or DSL connection, you DO get on the Internet. 

Not all traditional Internet services can be accessed via G3 or G4, as there are restrictions on the amount of bandwidth that may be utilized, plus memory limitations of the mobile devices themselves.

Traditional Fiber Optic/Cable/DSL:

All of these delivery methods are used for various Internet services.  As with POTS service, if your lines are cut, you're cut off.

These include Instant Messaging (IM - AOL Messaging, Google Chat, etc.), Social Networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc), free/low cost VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol -Skype, MagicJack) and Internet-based email accounts (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc.).

>Instant Messaging - as far as I can tell, this is rapidly being replaced by SMS messages.  Maybe it's just me, but it's a pain to use.  If I need to send short messages, I use SMS.

>Social Networking - These are VERY heavily used and have exploded in popularity.  Just be careful what you post, as it will be there, for all the world to see, forever.  Did I mention it will be there forever?  Good.

>VOIP - I'm a big user of these systems.  My training business uses them exclusively.  I can re-route calls to my cell or a land line system.  With my MagicJack account, I connect a USB cable to my PC, and the other end into a regular telephone, and I'm up and talking.

Regardless of the service provider, the quality of the phone calls is still not as good as a POTS system.

>Email - I strongly recommend everyone have an email account where your contacts are stored online (Gmail, Yahoo mail, etc.), as opposed to on your local hard drive using an email program (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.).  Why?  If your computer is destroyed, or you must make email contact on someone else's computer, you still have access to your contact list.

Clandestine Communications -

So, you wanna be a spy, huh?  Maybe you just want some privacy.  You can have hundreds of reasons for not wanting to have someone know what you're communicating. 

You may have a business competitor that has a "mole" in your business, and you don't want trade secrets to be leaked.  You may have a spouse that is a bit too "curious" about your phone calls or text messages, even though nothing untoward is happening.  You may not want the government to know what you're saying and to whom you're saying it. 

BTW, contrary to popular belief, that IS all legal and ethical, although you're presumed to be a criminal or doing something slimy, because only criminals and slime-balls need to protect their privacy, right?.

Some options:

>Pre-paid cell phones - Get these while you still can.  There has already been discussion of requiring the presentation of identification for their use.  Terrorists have used them in the past, so all of us must have our rights infringed upon so we are safe and protected from the boogie-man.

For now, you buy the phones (about $20) and a pre-paid minutes card.  Your card must match the service provided by the phone manufacturer (meaning all cards won't work on all phones).  When you first get the phone, you can activate it in one of two ways:  You use your own phone to call your new phone, OR you go online and register it.

I've heard wild and unsubstantiated stories that people have email accounts that don't have any obvious relationship to themselves (Gasp!  Anonymity?!).  These email accounts are used to enter the phone data with a fictitious name and address to register the phone.

I've also read scary stories that if you want to maintain your anonymity, you should be careful how you enter phone numbers into this phone (names being used) and with whom you call with your "secret squirrel" phone, as patterns might emerge.

Be warned, though, that the pre-paid minute cards have a limited lifespan.  Once you enter them into your phone, the clock starts ticking.  The time will expire at the earlier of you using up the purchased minutes, OR the life span given the minutes.  For instance, most plans for 120 minutes must be used within 3 months.

Some systems give you an automatic, "Lifetime Double the Minutes" feature with the purchase of their phone.  If you buy 120 minutes, you're credited with 240. Shop around.

>Encrypted emails  - once used primarily by business to protect sensitive trade information, they are now more widely used by plain old folks.  A key is that BOTH ends of the message (sender and receiver) must be encrypted to be effective against snooping.

The best solution to this is to use one of the paid or free email encryption services.  You and your recipient each set up accounts with the service.  In most cases, even the owners of the email service cannot access your messages because they don't have your decryption key.

Still, it's a bit cumbersome.  One way around this is to send an encrypted file in a regular email message.  The sender and the receiver both have a shared key which is used to encrypt then decrypt the file.

>Steganography,  - Steganography is very cool.  Very James Bond-ish.  Essentially, you hide a message in a picture.

Most folks know that words and images on computers are just a bunch of 1's and 0's - binary code.  Steganography uses some of those "0's" and pastes your message into the picture.  The picture looks no different whether it has a message in it or not.  The only "give away" is that the file size is bigger with the message.  Unless you know the original file size, you can't tell the difference.

There are a number of free programs out there that allow you to insert and extract the messages.  You could insert a message into a photo, then post it on your website or Facebook account.  Your recipient could then download the image to their hard drive and extract the message.

A million years ago (OK, it was in 2001) I did a security presentation for my bank's board of directors. I showed them a picture, then extracted a message that said something to the effect of, "Give Chief Instructor A Raise for Saving Your Butts!".  I got both a chuckle and a raise!

Anyways, it works, and is very effective.

>Old School Codes - ITS Tactical wrote an article on this subject that is one of the best I've seen.  Take a look-see.  The important thing with this system is that it must be established before you need it.  What is nice is that, if you do it right (like not re-using the keys or sharing them with others) the code is unbreakable.

Accept The Challenge

Use this time right now to develop a PACE-based communications plan.  Make it for simple local emergencies and for TEOTWAWKI scenarios.

And practice what you've set up.  Start texting once in a while.  Get an inexpensive pre-paid phone and give it a whirl.  Set up a Skype account and make sure your computer has the necessary parts (speaker AND microphone) to be able to make calls.

Practice with your tools before you need them.

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tea Party and Economics

I apologize for the lack of posts this week - we're in crunch time with the PM shop, and the firearms training biz is going "off the hook" - busy!

A couple of thoughts about the news that I've seen:

Tea Party Candidates:  Wow, quite the butt kicking with the last elections, huh?  What I find so funny (not 'ha ha' but stunning) is how the Republican power structure is blowing these people off.

I'm honestly not surprised.  I don't give a damned what anyone says, the Republicans are just like the Democrats - they just have a different group of Special Interests.  They proved that fact the last time they were in power.

What has got them worried is that these Tea Party candidates seem to be pretty adamant that, "Times, they are a-changin'."  If they get elected, they're serious about changing how things are done.

Of course, some of them will be drawn to the old political practices of payoffs and the absolutely disgusting practice of LEGALLY profiting from insider information.  But some will stick to their beliefs.  We justt have to hope that enough of them do so.

Maybe THIS is the "fundamental change" that Obama was talking about...

Uncertainty still reigns supreme:  Gold and silver prices have been soaring.  Gold has gone up some $50 odd dollars in the last 30 days and about $120 over the last 60 days.

I can't find the article right now, it's somewhere near the beginning of his posts (Harvey Organ) in September, but I saw something about silver deliveries.  Basically, it was saying that all of the big dogs that trade in physical silver put NOTHING up for delivery.  This supposedly is something that has never happened before.

They're out of physical silver?  That seems like a bit of a stretch, but at a minimum, it's an indication of scarcity.

This guy does all kinds of analysis with the amount of contracts issued versus physical gold and silver that's available, and the math doesn't work.  More contracts than PMs in vaults.

If nothing else, get your PMs in your hands, NOT in paper contracts.

Poverty Spike:  Wow.  It's hit the highest levels in over 50 years.  More people than ever on some sort of government program.

What's going to happen when/if the "safety net" rips?

It seems like even the Dems are recognizing that government can't do it all.  They need to let the private sector do its thing, and let the economy grow "organically" and not via stimulus, which is nothing more than a hit of heroin to a junkie.

It looks like they are actually considering extending (perhaps permanently) the Bush tax cuts, AND doing away with the insane 1099 form requirements.  Even though a Senate bill was shot down a couple of days ago, it is still alive, and has a chance of being repealed.

On the 1099 issue, someone in the administration came out and said that the burden on business was not commensurate with the money that would be gained by the government.

Not that THAT has ever slowed down the pols.

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Lessons From San Bruno

Most of the country has heard about the natural gas explosion that happened in San Bruno, Ca.

As preppers, what can we learn from this disaster?

Proactive Evacuations - 

Here's what we know right now:  PG&E (the major utility provider in Northern California) had reports of gas smells for quite a while before the explosion.  They investigated and gave the area an "all clear" rating.  As a resident, it would be the rare individual that would have evacuated the area before the explosion considering the utility company signed-off on the area.

So, unlike Katrina or other hurricanes, there was no realistic advanced warning, so you would have to deal with the incident as it happened.

On a side note, I've been reading more and more stories of people that have been brushed off by PG&E in the past, only to later find out their reports were correct.  They have lost a LOT of credibility in the public's eye.  PG&E is going to have their buttocks removed over this incident.

Reactive Responses -

Because of the catastrophic, but fairly localized impact of the disaster, the further away from the primary explosion, the better you fared.  Yeah, luck was a huge deal here!

Speaking of luck, how do you have 37 homes destroyed, 251 damaged, but "only" 7 people confirmed dead (as of this date).  Yep, there are some people reported as missing (9 was the last number I read), but I'm simply stunned that the death count is not higher.

At this time, they don't know what actually caused the explosion, but this crater is what's left -

Let's assume you weren't at the center of the explosion - but because of the violent nature of the explosion, you literally had time to grab your car keys, Bug Out Bag and your family.  Out the door!

What kind of freedom and independence would your BOB have afforded you? 

Cash and credit/debit cards would have been very important for your immediate needs.  How much cash would you need to stay independent for 2 or 3 days?  Food, motel room, rental car, etc.  The debit cards are also used as primary identification tools by banks for access to your records and funds.

How would you communicate with family and friends that you're OK?  It's almost impossible to find a public pay phone nowadays.  Grabbing your regular cell phone was probably not at the top of your list of things to grab as you're running from the house.  You need to have a cell phone as a part of your BOB.  You can pick up a pre-paid cell phone for $20, and pre-paid minutes at almost any big box store, liquor store or convenience store in the country.  Get you phone purchased and set up, and stock your BOB with the phone, its charger and pre-paid cards.

You DO want to make the phone operational BEFORE the disaster.  I'm writing a post on communications that I'll publish shortly that will go into this in more detail.

Identification must be addressed.  They're just starting to allow people back into the area, but you have to prove who you are.  Paper copies of your important identity and residence records - drivers licenses, mortgage bills, utility bills, etc., would help you to cut through the red tape.

Next will come insurance documents.  Again, possessing copies of these documents would get you serviced more quickly, getting you access to financial and housing resources provided by your coverage.

Medical needs must be addressed as well.  First aid as well as life-sustaining medications.  With regards to medications, at the very minimum, a copy of your prescription should be kept in your BOB.

What else?

Accept The Challenge

Those of us not directly impacted by disasters like this need to use them as "wake up calls" - kicks in the butt to get our BOBs and other preparations in order before we're the ones on the nightly news.

Emergencies come in many different forms and impacts.  While you can't prepare for every type of every emergency (focus on the 12 Impacts, NOT the emergency itself), we do need to cover as many bases as is practical given our own personal circumstances and resources.

Get moving, people!

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Home Security Checklist

This is a repost of our most recent Weekly Newsletter for your reading enjoyment!  Click to sign up so you get them directly to your email each week -
Home Security Checklist, Part 2

In our last issue, we discussed preventative measures you can take to keep yourself safe.  In this issue, we'll discuss some of the defensive steps you can take in case you find yourself nose-to-nose with bad guys.


There are a number of options, all of which are generally restricted in some form or another.  It is of paramount importance for you to understand the laws regarding any self-defense tool you purchase. 

For instance, in California, pepper spray is legal, but it has size limitations.  In most states, expandable batons are legal, but they're illegal in California.  Use one to save your life, and YOU will be going to jail.

Pepper Spray - an excellent all-around defensive tool.  Causes involuntary closing of the assailant's eyes and makes breathing difficult.  Easily carried and concealed, and relatively inexpensive to purchase.  Able to stop multiple attackers, allowing you to escape.  Generally considered to be non-lethal.

Stun Guns - very effective tools, but require direct contact with the assailant.  The disable the attacker with an electrical charge (up to 1 million volts) that causes involuntary muscle seizures.  Easily carried and concealed, inexpensive, but only able to stop one attacker at a time.  Generally considered to be non-lethal.

Tasers - like stun guns, the attacker is disabled by an electrical charge.  The civilian models fire electrical probes up to 15 feet.  Both of the probes must make contact with the attacker to be effective.  In the event the probes miss their mark, the Taser can be quickly converted into a stun gun.  Expensive compared to stun guns or pepper spray.  Generally considered to be non-lethal.

Handguns - fires a projectile (the bullet) at a high rate of speed into the attacker, causing trauma to their internal organs.  Possession is highly restricted in most states, unless state-sponsored training is completed.  Very effective if used properly.  Able to stop multiple attackers.  Considered to be a lethal weapon.

Shotguns - the favored home-defense weapon by most experts.  Home defense models can be purchased for less than most handguns, and they are allowed in virtually all states.  Contrary to popular belief, shotguns must be aimed like any other weapon to be effective, but when "shot" is used (as opposed to slugs), the defender has a greater margin for error to ensure they stop the attacker.  Effective against multiple attackers.  Considered to be a lethal weapon.

Rifles - generally not recommended for home defense, as the risk of "over penetration" (the bullet hitting the attacker and still passing through walls behind him) is too great.  Like shotguns, they are generally allowed in virtually all states.  Effective against multiple attackers (less so for bolt-action rifles).  Considered to be a lethal weapon.


Once you have decided on the self-defense tools you wish to use, and which are legal in your jurisdiction, proper training is very important.  Simply owning a defensive tool is not enough - you need to know how to use it to its highest effectiveness.

Non-lethal weapons - there is very little training available for non-law enforcement individuals.  Individuals in Northern California are able to take our Defensive Sprays and Stunning Devices workshop at their place of business or meeting hall.

Lethal weapons - there is a great deal more training available for handguns, shotguns and rifles.  We offer the NRA certified FIRST Steps Pistol Orientation class on a regularly scheduled basis.

Additionally, for individuals interested in gaining some additional handgun self-defense skills, we offer our Practical Defensive Pistol courses.  Most geographic areas have at least one training center for these types of classes.

Many local shooting clubs have basic trap and skeet shooting courses for individuals to be able to learn how to properly use a shotgun.  Most of these skills are transferable to defensive situations.  The NRA also offers a number of shotgun courses around the country.  One note, though:  Home defense shotguns generally have a shorter barrel - 18 1/2 inches or so.  Be sure to get some practice to be able to see how your shot pattern changes with the shorter barrel.

As noted above, a rifle is not a great choice for a self-defense weapon, but the skills you learn can be transferred to pistol and shotgun shooting.  Rifle training is offered by the NRA, but I believe the best rifle training is offered by the Appleseed Project.  It is two days of practical training that is geared towards males and females of all ages. 

I truly cannot recommend this training highly enough.  Women of all ages, men under 21 or individuals in the military are all able to take the training at no cost (other than for ammunition).  The fees for all others is very reasonable (it was $70 for two days of training when I took the course in May of 2010 - see here).

Put together a plan.  The first choice is always avoidance.  The best place to be when disaster strikes is somewhere else.

Sadly, our world doesn't always allow us to avoid danger.  Obtaining the proper tools and training will go a long way in keeping you and your loved ones safe.

Next Issue:   Using A Holster

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Drawbacks Of A Cash Economy

Very interesting article about what's going on in Argentina.

If you're not aware, in 2001, their economy essentially exploded.  Many people - including me - believe the events that led to Argentina's collapse are happening here in the US.  This is giving us a window to the future with regards to what may happen here if we continue on our current path.

After their economic collapsed, taxes went through the roof.  They seized all private retirement accounts.  Inflation is rampant (25% a year).

This article touches on one of the things people are doing to "stay under the radar" of government snooping - they buy as much as possible with cash.  The other criminals (not the government ones) are now targeting people in banks that are making large cash withdrawals -
Many victims don't even report being robbed, because they wouldn't be able to explain to tax agents where they got the money, says Vicat, who retired as deputy internal affairs chief of the Buenos Aires provincial police.

And yet cash on the table is simply the only way to do business - even when buying homes or entire companies - for many people in Argentina.

Transferring such money electronically would solve the problem in an instant. But in a society where income tax evasion runs about 50 percent and taxes eat up 65 percent of the money people do declare, many people are reluctant to use banks that way.
Take the time and read the whole article.

Unintended consequences galore.  Maybe.

Actually, the government would have very little incentive to stop these robberies.  If people think there is more risk in keeping cash than in paying their taxes, maybe they'll start putting their cash back into the trackable bank accounts.


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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Monday, September 6, 2010

And So It Begins: The Lifetime Income Option

Good doggie.  Time to beg for your treat.

I've talked a number of times about how our government - being essentially out of money - has got to find ways to get its hands on more cash.

The T-Bond market is getting ugly, fast.  No one wants our government junk bonds any more, so the Federal Reserve Bank is forced to buy (monetize) them.  They know that they can only raise taxes so far before everyone goes Black Market on them.  They'll still pass some sort of VAT, and Cap & Trade will bring in some more bucks, but not enough to feed the beast in DC.

One of the last private stores of wealth of which the government has records are our retirement plans.  IRAs and 401(k) plans.  We have something like $6 trillion in cash in these plans.  That's a big, fat, juicy-ripe apple waiting to get plucked.

The Labor Department is hosting two days of presentations and testimony to lay out their strategy as they move towards outright confiscation of our private retirement plans.  It worked in Argentina, so why not here?

At first, they won't just take your money, they'll offer you a Lifetime Income Option.  Sounds so proper and maternal, doesn't it?  Almost like Aunt Bee offering you a slice of warm apple pie.  You will have the option to get income for your entire lifetime.  Ooooooo!  Sign me up!

Here's how they'll do it:

People who lost their butts in their 401k plans will be given some sort of a bailout.  The government will go back to some past date and figure out what the plan value was at that time, or they'll come up with some minimum amount you'll get, regardless of the balance of your account.  Hey, if you join the VOLUNTARY plan, we'll buy you off!  Come on down!!  Clock's a-tickin' - make your mind up there, big guy.

Of course, most people will take the money.  The problem is, there's a catch.  Yeah, you'll get your balance increased, but you will no longer own the plan.  If you decide you want to cash-out because you have terminal cancer and you want to fulfill your Bucket List, sorry, No deal, buddy.

Your money will be converted into an annuity - a steady stream of payments - but just like Social Security, when you croak, your title to that money will die as well.

Hope you didn't plan on leaving your kids anything.

Eventually, the voluntary part of the plan will go away, and you'll only have the Lifetime Income Option for any type of tax-exempt personal retirement plan.  Lovingly brought to you by the Bank O' Nanny, of course.

How's that doggie treat tasting right about now?

Accept The Challenge

The government keeps tightening the noose on our financial freedoms.  Withdrawal too much money out of your checking account?  Flag!  Get reported to Big Bro.

If you have too much undeclared cash on your person while traveling, you'll have your money seized and will be lucky to ever see it again.  Think about that - you want to go somewhere, and if you have too much cash, you're considered to be a criminal.  WTF?!

I told you earlier about the upcoming 1099 form that will be used to track precious metals sales.  PMs are one of the last personal stores of wealth that isn't tracked, and they're working to correct that oversight.  You've got until January 2012 to figure out how you want to handle this part of your preparedness plans.

The Black Market is going to absolutely explode if this law isn't fixed.  It is going to show people how easy it is to operate outside of the prying eyes of the government, and more transactions will follow.  More taxes will gush from the government coffers, more debt will be monetized and more draconian measures will be taken.

Think this through.  You may be perfectly OK with all of your wealth and life's work being managed by the government.  Many people are.  Just recognize the inherent risks with this.

It may very well once again become illegal to own PMs.  What will you do if they tell you to turn in your gold and silver?  Are you going to willingly bow to their demands, or will you become a law-breaker?

This is rapidly moving from an academic question to a practical one.  Everything our country is doing has been done in the past, sometimes right here in America.  It's not like there isn't a precedence.  The tactics may be a bit different, but the end-game is the same.  If you control the money, you control the population.

I told my boys the entire time they were growing up that you should work at a job that you like.  If you want to be a pottery maker, that's great - just be the best you can.  You need to recognize, though, that certain jobs pay better than others.  While you shouldn't have a job only for money, you'd be a fool not to recognize that money gives you options.

You could easily exchange 'options' with 'freedom'.  The ability to live your life as you see fit.  The growing restraints being placed on us to use our money as we see fit reduces our options.  It reduces our freedom.

What are you going to do if you lose control of your money?

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Quikee Harvest

I helped my buddy harvest his spuds this morning and I came home with a bunch of fresh veggies.

He had 3 kinds of potatoes - reds, whites and blues (gotta love the guy!).  He did the best job planting the whites.  The blues and the reds, well...

I'm guessing he ended up with about 30 pounds of potatoes.  Not a huge amount, but he didn't plant that many of them.  He actually learned a lot more about what NOT to do, so he's expecting big things from next year's harvest.

He also pulled up some onions yesterday, and had them out drying -

He gave me about 5 pounds of the potatoes, some onions, leeks, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini and squash.

The leeks are amazing.  Small girth, but the aroma is huge.  A cross between garlic and onion.  You NEVER get this strong of a smell from store-bought leeks.

I think this will all go quite well with a roasted pork loin.  Yes, indeed...

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Crazy Day - Progress!

Kinda nuts today, and it's going to continue throughout the weekend.

Today, we finally got the phone service for the coin shop hooked up.  More importantly, we got our safe delivered along with our display cabinets.

The site was previously one of those mailbox/copier/Fed Ex joints.



I know it's not much to look at now.  We have tons to still do - paint (losing that disgusting red stripe), drywall, ceiling tiles, windows and a bunch of electrical and data cabling.  We are VERY fortunate to have one of our partners be an expert electrician/cabler.  It's saving us tons of money.

The front area where I'm standing will be our lobby area.  We got a great deal on a couple of brand new couches (I'm telling you, folks, use Craigslist - we got these couches, delivered, for 1/4 full retail), and will be adding a coffee area so customers can make their own espresso/cappuccinos or plain old coffee.

I also got a taste of the video surveillance system one of our vendors is proposing.  It's ugly expensive.  But, from 60 feet away, you can get a clear, close-up, don't want to see it on America's Most Wanted, image of someone's face, and if you so much as breath heavily or move an inch while it is activated, you'll be shortly greeted by nice men in blue uniforms.

I'm waiting for two more of the responses to our Request For Proposal, and I hope they're a bit more reasonably priced.

Saturday, I'm teaching a sold-out Pistol Orientation class which will burn most of the day, and Sunday, I'm helping a good friend harvest his crops of red, white and blue potatoes.

I'm whipped just thinking about it!

Back on Monday most likely.

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thinning The Herd

I was going to do a post today on the wing-nut that took over the Discovery Channel yesterday.  The guy was a big "save the earth" guy.  I was going to discuss how the earth has a way of cleansing itself if things get too far out of kilter.

Housing density too high?  Nature creates some bug to wipe out thousands or millions of people (black plague, etc).  Too many humans on earth?  Hello extended droughts.  This guy was basically calling for all humans to die so the bugs and "froggies" (his word, not mine) could thrive.

Read his manifesto.  It's a trip.

I believe that if humans cross the line too far - waste resources, foul the air, land and water or grow too large -  nature will slap us upside the head, "thin the herd" and put everything back into balance.

As intelligent beings, it is our job to manage our resources wisely.  That doesn't mean calling for the slaughter of "parasitic human infants" or imposing strawman legislation like Cap and Trade which will cripple our economy.

We have brains.  Use 'em.

Then, I got sidetracked.

I was reading the comments to an older article in my local online newspaper.  It was about the Open Carry movement in our area.

A commenter had made note of a big Open Carry event being held later this month at a local church.  Some pinhead, "tod", then posted this comment -
Ahhh....A church. That's the perfect place to hold a meeting that supports the so-called "God-given" right to bear arms. A place of peace and worship is definitely the perfect locale for promoting open carry and for bringing weapons. Do y'all bring your weapons each time you come to church? I'm sure your fellow parisheners would appreciate a heads-up about that so that they can decide whether or not to take the kiddies on Sundays.
After taking a deep breath and making sure all of my words were appropriate for a family newspaper, I responded with the following -
tod - yeah, no one would be so sacrilegious as to open fire at a church service.

Oops. Wow, that was THIS weekend right here in California. How could that be? Guns aren't allowed in churches, right?

Maybe the crazy people and criminals don't care that it's a church. Or a restaurant. Or a family park. Maybe they pick the areas that they know our government as deemed as "gun free zones" because there will be no chance of defense.

And why do you think that worship, or eating a meal or watching a movie are mutually exclusive from providing for your self-defense? Do you have some sort of force-field that keeps away bad people and crazies when you're engaging in these activities?
After I posted it, I started to reflect on the Discovery Channel nut, and what I had planned to write about nature, "thinning the herd."

Guys like tod are going to be "thinned out" in the future once they run across some bad guys.  They live in this make-believe world full of unicorns and kittens. 

Life is VERY good, but bad people exist.  They simply refuse to acknowledge this fact.  They don't see that the Human Nature of some folks is rotten to the core.

I think Darwin was pretty close to being right on point:  Survival Of The Fittest.  Adapt or perish.

Not directly related, but along the vein of Whack-Jobs Living Among Us, did you hear about the guy that the police here in Northern California recently shot and killed?
Efren Valdemoro, 38, was shot and killed by California Highway Patrol officers Tuesday night after refusing to drop a meat cleaver, CHP Sgt. Trent Cross said. A high-speed chase upward of 100 miles per hour for Valdemoro, wanted in the death of a 73-year-old man last weekend, ended in a market inside a Richmond strip mall.

Inside the car, officers found the dead body of Valdemoro's girlfriend, Cindy Tran, 46, who suffered severe head and neck injuries, Cross said. Tran called a relative Tuesday evening saying that Valdemoro kidnapped her from a salon in Vallejo, Calif., said Vallejo police spokesman Lt. Abel Tenorio.
Believe it or not, THAT'S not the weird part.  Two other ladies were also missing and they had ties to the crazy dude.  The police went to one of the ladies homes' and saw a bunch of flies buzzing around.

They entered the home and found the two bodies.  They also found the husband of one of the dead ladies - alive and well - sitting in the home, uhm, otherwise occupied -
Investigators on the missing-persons case searched Allen's home Tuesday afternoon after noticing numerous flies in the house earlier and found the bodies — one in the backyard and one inside the house, Tenorio said.

They also found chemicals used to make explosives in the home.

Allen's husband, Charles Rittenhouse, 72, who was home when the bodies were discovered, was arrested on suspicion of explosives possession and was being questioned in the women's deaths, Tenorio said.

Rittenhouse is a chemical engineer who works in nearby Fairfield, Tenorio added.
This sounds like a Quenton Tarantino film!

Accept The Challenge

I just don't understand some people.  Commenter "tod" has no desire to protect himself, and derides people that want that ability, as nuts.

How can you come to such a conclusion?  Has our society so "sheep-ified" its citizens that the thought of providing for our own defense is now considered as an extreme position?

Please, do something.  Learn how to shoot and safely provide for a gun.  Buy some pepper spray or a Taser.  Figure out what works for you and your lifestyle.  Practice with all of your self-defense tools and always have some sort of defense with you.

Keep your head "on a swivel" - be aware of your surroundings.  Take a safety awareness course.  Almost all local police departments offer some sort of safety course.  The NRA has a great program called, Refuse To Be A Victim.  Go to their site and find out if it's being held near you.

Do something.  Don't be a "tod".

I don't want to be "thinned out" until I'm fat and old.  Well, fatter and older ;-)

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Money, Money, Money, Muuuuuuuuunnneeeeee

Frequent commenter Suek (thanks!) put a link in one of her comments about a group of stocks they're calling a, "Bunker Portfolio"  -
Amid the market tumult, a handful of stocks have seen their share prices ratchet up to record highs in recent weeks. And many of them are connected by a curious, if disconcerting, thread: Between them, they provide an investor with essentials for any respectable fallout shelter—makers of bottled water, canned goods, dehydrated broth, gas masks and auxiliary generators.
Kinda cool.  These stocks are up 24 percent, compared to a 4.5 percent decline for the entire market this year.  Here's who's on the list (click to enlarge) -

I wonder if the Green Shoots Administration would care to comment...

One of the companies on the list caught my eye:  Teradata.  Way back in 1985 or 1986, I worked for The Stagecoach Bank.  I was in charge of a department that basically needed access to all of the bank's records for research purposes.  Big data storage needs.

Our computers were inadequate, even back then.  We were looking for a new database company and ran across Teradata.  Their market niche was that they were the first company to come up with a one terabyte storage system.

It could be ours for a cool $20 million!  That didn't include the dedicated air conditioned room that was required for its installation.

I'm looking at my office desk right now, and I have two, 1 TB external drives for my PC, each of which cost me slightly more than $100 a piece.


Speaking about the stock market, did you see what it did today?  The Dow was up 255 points.

As the Wall Street Journal noted -
Investors dumped Treasurys and snapped up commodities and other riskier assets.
I wonder if any of these investors has ever heard the phrase, "Out of the frying pan; into the fire."

The most interesting thing to me was that volumes continue to be light.  Big bucks, low volume.
Despite the breadth of Wednesday's bump, which saw 96% of share volume advancing, many remained unconvinced amid limp trading volumes.
It's got Plunge Protection Team written all over it.  No sane individuals are buying stocks, but someone has got to keep up appearances.

Gold and silver are both up nicely over the past month.  During the past 30 days, gold is up from $1178 to $1244 per ounce, and silver is up from $17.88 to $19.35 per ounce today.  Both were slightly down today, even though most commodities were up.

As I've said before, I've given up trying to time the market or to figure it out.  When either of them dip, I look at it as an opportunity to buy.

About a month ago, I started looking into the Technical Charts for PMs, trying to figure out what they mean.  I'm not having a lot of success (!) understanding how they get their data, but I've been watching the "support" and "resistance" numbers on these charts.

The support number is taking data from Comex on futures contracts, and it plots what can be thought of as the lower limit of the PM.  The resistance number plots the current upper limit.

Over the last two weeks, both of these have been rising.  They tend to be fairly static for a period of time, then seem to jump or drop quickly.  For instance, yesterday the resistance (upper) number for gold was $1250.  Today, it moved up to $1270.  The support number went from $1211 to $1233.  This tells me the big gold buyers think the price of gold will continue to rise, and that $1233 is the furthest it will fall.

A big "YMMV"!  We're talking commodities here.  Some sheik in the Middle East may pass gas and the whole thing could come tumbling down.  Still, it's been interesting to follow these numbers and see their "predictions" pan out.

One more arrow for the "knowledge quiver".

Comcast and AT&T both suck.  On a personal basis, you'd think Comcast would fall all over itself trying to keep my home internet and TV business.  DishTV and DirectTV have guys camping out on my front porch.  Instead, they shoot themselves in the foot.  Repeatedly.

On a business basis, you'd think AT&T would want to make the New Small Business feel welcome and to display their "core competency" in delivering phone and internet service.

I had to spend 5 hours or so in total trying to get them to take my money to start our business service.  They act like we are their very first customers, and they're still working out the kinks.

If some kid were to show up at our offices with two cans and a really long string, we'd consider him as our new voice and data provider.

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.