Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Preperadness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 610: The Next World



Episode 610: The Next World

Paul "Jesus" Monroe:  Do you even have any ammo?

Rick and Daryl fire simultaneously, dropping the same walker.

Jesus:  Okay.

Synopsis:  Several weeks have passed since the walker incursion into Alexandria.  The walls have been repaired, and a sense of normality has returned.  The peace is threatened by a lack of basic supplies, like food and toiletry items such as toothpaste.  Rick and Daryl are heading out on a supply run, and are initially successful, but run into another survivor named Paul "Jesus" Monroe who attempts to steal their truck full of food.  Eventually, the truck is lost in a lake as they battle.  Jesus is knocked out and Rick and Daryl take him to Alexandria to be checked out.  Meanwhile, Enid and Carl go outside the walls, and Spencer goes outside and is followed by Michonne.   Carl leads a zombie Deanna toward Spencer and Michonne, and Spencer finally gets to put his mother to rest.  Michonne confronts Carl about being outside the wall, and Carl says he had to do it because it should be a family member that put her down.   Later, as Michonne and Rick recount their day, the embrace and make love.  As they lay sleeping, they are awakened by Jesus, who tells them they need to talk.

The Next World is an admittedly lighter episode -- practically a comedy in Walking Dead terms -- that delves into the more mundane aspects of survival like finding food and supplies, all while various characters deal with the aftermath of the zombie incursion.   Rick and Daryl go out on a road trip, and it was nice to see them working together closely again.

The episode begins in Rick's house, where everyone is getting ready for the day.   Michonne asks him to bring back toothpaste as they are completely out.  They chat with Carl, whose eye has healed to the point where it is covered by a bandage.  He is remarkably upbeat.  It's a good moment.

Outside, Daryl and Denise discuss the list or requested supplies she's requested and he asks why she wants orange soda;  Denise says it's for Tara, who is leaving soon with Heath on a two-week scavenging run and she would like to surprise her with it.  Denise and Tara are now a couple.  Before they leave, Eugene opens the gate and gives them a hand-drawn map of agricultural supply sources and the directive to find sorghum, "a criminally underrated grain."  These beats all play out to comedic effect.  I laughed out loud as Daryl mocked Denise's wild hand gesticulations as she talked.

Butch and Sundance hit the road.
Rick is upbeat, and tells Daryl the will find supplies and maybe some people.  "Law of averages," he says.  Daryl is skeptical, and doesn't think they should  bring in more people.

Back in Alexandria, Michonne is standing guard, and sees Spencer head into the woods with a rifle and a shovel on his back.  She follows him and asks him why he is out there.   He says he has to do something, and that she cannot help him.

Maggie finds Enid alone and encourages her to re-engage with the community, and offers to talk if
she feels like it.  She ends up outside the walls again with Carl, as they move through the woods, Enid wants to know what they are doing out there.  He says it's what they are supposed to do as teenagers, but Enid no longer wants to be outside.  They head back, but when they see  a walker, someone they know, Car refuses to put it down. He tells Enid to go home.  Later, Michonne sees Carl in the woods, with the walker trailing behind him. It turns toward Michonne and Spencer, and finally she realizes why Spencer is outside:  the walker is Deanna.  Spencer said he thought he saw her "that night" and has been searching for her.  They end her walker existence and bury her.

Butch and Sundance find Jesus.
Rick and Daryl spot a sorghum barn and find a truck loaded with supplies inside.  They decide to leave the car in place and take the truck home.   I have no idea why that decision was made, but they take the truck down the road in search of more supplies.  While trying to get inside a vending machine for orange soda, a man comes around the corner and runs into Rick.  Rick and Daryl pull their guns on him .He introduces himself as Paul "Jesus" Monroe, and claims he is on the road and running from the dead, who are a few minutes behind.  They part ways, but Rick and Daryl are distracted by the sound of gunshots which are actually firecrackers Jesus uses to distract them.  He steals their truck of supplies with the vending machine still attached.  The run in pursuit, which would have been unnecessary if one of them had driven the car.

Rick and Daryl finally catch up to Jesus, who is changing a flat tire, and tie him up.  They drive off, but Jesus, who is more than meets the eye, quickly frees himself.   As they are driving across a field toward another agricultural supply store, they hear him on the roof, and Rick slams the brakes.  Jesus flies through the air and lands in the grass, seemingly unhurt. Daryl chases him, and Rick tries to cut him off with the truck.  He exits the vehicle, and Jesus makes it inside.  A group of walkers attacks, and one is about to bite Daryl when Jesus kills it with Daryl's gun.  The truck is knocked out of gear and rolls into a pond.  Jesus is knocked by the door. Rick and Daryl find a new ride (a Jeep that starts two years into the Apocalypse) and take Jesus home so Denise can examine him.  They place Jesus in the jail house.

Carl keeps an eye on Judith.
Michonne confronts Carl about being in the woods and not killing Deanna.  He said he couldn't do it because a family member should be the one to put her down. Left unspoken is the fact that Carl had to do the same for his mom at the prison.   Carl said he would do it for Michonne, and they hug.

Later, Michonne and Rick are recounting their day, and end up making love.  They are awoken from their slumber by Jesus, who has escaped. He tells them they need to talk.

Preparedness Discussion

While this is a pretty lightweight episode, there are still preparedness lessons to be learned.  The first is that of supplies.   As preppers, we sometimes become fixated on beans, bullets, and batteries, with a heavy emphasis on firearms and ammunition.   The fact that Alexandria is out of toothpaste should serve as a lesson to us all.  Sometimes it's the mundane things that make life easier in a crisis -- like toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.   Start a record of how much of these things your family uses in a month, and begin stocking up.  If you are not brand loyal, and want to maximize your supplies while maximizing your savings, investigate couponing.

Another stock-up item is clothing.  If you buy a pack of socks, get two and toss one in a storage container in the top of the closet.  The same goes for underwear, etc.   Older clothes that are still in decent shape but may have gotten stained or have some other wear and tear defect could be stored as back up clothing for an emergency.

Take stock of your food storage as well.   Recently we re-organized our pantry and extended storage location and no have room to store more items in both places.  We also noted that we are low on a couple of staples we use every day.   Set up a rotation plan for your food supply to ensure you minimize spoilage.

Finally, let's address the elephant in the room.   Daryl and Rick left a perfectly good car parked next to the sorghum barn. The supply truck's reliability after sitting in a barn for two years was questionable at best.  Leaving a perfectly working car there was an unnecessary risk (as shown) and left a hard asset out in the open for anyone to take.  This is a perfect example of something The Walking Dead  writers do far too often; they force characters to make risky or poorly thought out moves to advance the plot.

Just. Stop. It.  This would have been a four-star review if not for that plot contrivance.

Preparedness Lessons for Episode 610:

  • Take a look at toiletry or comfort items that would make life easier in a long term crisis.   Record how much you use in a month and store an amount of these products that will last as least as long as your food storage.
  • Make sure you buy or store extra underwear, socks, t-shirts, etc.  These don't have to be designer labels.  Check out thrift stores and consignment shops.
  • Make absolutely sure the food you have stored is in good condition, has not expired, and that you have stored and adequate amount.  Calories equal survival in a crisis.  Remember, the time to stock up on food is now, while you have the resources and time.
  • Don't leave hard assets vulnerable to theft or destruction.  There may come a time when they cannot be replaced. 
Next week:  Jesus leads the crew on a road trip in Dale's RV, and Abraham and Sasha get into a weird place.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 609: No Way Out



Episode 609: No Way Out

Carl:  Dad? (Collapses to the ground.)

Couch Potato Prepper: Oh my!

Synopsis:  Daryl, Sasha and Abraham are stopped by biker bandits who proclaim all their possessions now belong to someone named "Negan" and threaten to shoot Abraham and Sasha.  Daryl is able to overcome one of the bikers and use their newly liberated RPG  to kill the whole gang by detonating the gas tanks on their bikes.  Back in Alexandria, Rick forms a new plan to get the walkers out of town, while Father Gabriel takes Judith to his church for safekeeping.  The Wolf tries to flee with Denise, but is bitten.  As they are trying to get to the infirmary, Carol shoots the wolf from a balcony and Denise makes it inside. Sam freaks out as Rick and company attempt to leave the town to retrieve their cars, and is eaten in front of his mom.  Jessie screams in agony, and gets eaten as well.  Rick is forced to stand there and watch, but has to act when Carl is unable to free himself from Jessie's grip.  This causes Ron to try to kill Rick, but Michonne stabs him from behind.  The gun goes off, striking Carl in the face.  He is rushed to the infirmary, where his life hangs in the balance.  Meanwhile, Enid and Glenn formulate a plan to rescue Maggie, while Rick loses control and begins attacking the herd outside, Michonne rushes to join him, and soon a mixed group of Alexandrians and Team Rick are fighting a running hand-to-hand battle with over a thousand walkers.  Glenn is about to be overcome by walkers when Sasha and Abraham scale the wall and open fire, killing the herd around him.   Daryl pulls the fuel truck up to the pond near the gate, dumps the fuel into the water, and ignites it with the RPG.  The balance of the herd is drawn to the light and noise and burns up in the flames.   The episode ends with Rick next to Carl's bedside explaining he now has hope, and Carl gently squeezes his hand.  All in all, this is probably the best episode of the year, if not the series, hampered only by some minor faults of logic and execution.

Negan's men accost our heroes.
 No Way Out begins just after the events of Episode 608Abraham, Sasha and Daryl are en route back to the settlement when they are stopped by a group of men on bikes who apparently work for someone named Negan.   The leader of the group confiscates their sidearms, and then explains they are going to take all the group's resources and then escort them back to Alexandria to see what they have back home.   Daryl is escorted to the back of the truck so that he can reveal all the resources aboard, while Sasha and Daryl try to find out more about who Negan is and why the men stopped them.  The leader threatens to shoot them both, but Daryl, who has killed his guard, uses the RPG they found previously to destroy the group by detonating the gas tanks on their bikes.

Rick is ready to play hatchet man.
Back in Alexandria, Rick's group is still moving through the walker herd.  Rick realizes that his original plan of using flares and guns to lure the zombies outside will not work;  the dead are too scattered, and they cannot hope to draw all of them off.  He can't wait for Daryl's group to deal with it, so they pause for a moment and discuss their options at a spot where there are few walkers.   Rick intends to go get all the cars from the quarry and use them to lure the herd out of Alexandria.  Everyone agrees, but Jessie says there is no way Judith can make that trip.   Gabriel volunteers to take Judith to his garage church and keep her safe.

Michonne asks if he can do it.  "I'm supposed to,"  he replies. Finally, the pastor steps up and does something useful.  This breakthrough is really one of the episode's highlights for me, and Seth Gilliam plays it with a resolute calmness of a man whose faith is fully restored.  As a person of faith, I am excited that we finally have a moral faith center in the group, which has been sorely lacking since the death of Herschel.  More on this later in the preparedness discussion.

Jessie wants Sam to go as well, but Sam insists that he can continue and does not want to leave his mother.  After a moment, Jessie agrees.  Rick is content to let her make the decision; after all, he does not know Sam all that well.   We, as viewers know, that Sam has been traumatized by the Wolf attack in his house, so much so that he will not even come down from his room to eat.  Also, Carol has been playing with his head since Team Rick arrived.    Gabriel takes Judith and heads to his church.

Tara, Eugene, and Rosita are caring for an unconscious Carol and Morgan in the aftermath of the Wolf's escape.  Tara wants to go find Denise, but Rosita insists that is a suicide mission.    They need to make sure Carol and Morgan are okay, then come up with a plan to rescue her.   Tara agrees reluctantly.  The two revive Carol and Morgan, who are woozy but okay, and Carol borrows, Rosita's gun to check the rest of the house.  I don't understand why she asked for the gun when she had one in a holster already.   I don't remember Carol firing her weapon in the previous episode, and expending her ammunition.  Maybe she just wanted all the guns for herself so Morgan couldn't get one. They later have a conversation where Carol tells him, "I should have killed you," and Morgan replies, "you didn't want to." 

The Wolf holds Denise in a sunken patio behind a fence.  They are safe for the moment, but Denise is scared.  He tells her not to be, and that it is actually safer outside Alexandria now.  He is going to show her how to survive the Wolf way, and that she will change.  Denise tells him to go to hell.  The Wolf tells them they are going to run to the guard tower across the street and use it to get over the wall.

Glenn saves people. That's what he does.
Glenn and Maggie are inside an actual church outside the wall, looking for something to help rescue Maggie, who is trapped on the lookout tower. Enid asks what he meant when he said if she runs, that's how you lose people even when they're gone.  He explains that as long as they are alive and working to try to save others and make things better, a part of the people they have lost are still there as well.  The talks about Herschel, Dale, Tyreese and his parents as the people he keeps with him (what, not love for T-Dog?) and asks who hers might be.  She opens up about losing her parents.

"They're still here because you're still here," he tells her.  Enid finds a gun stashed in a cigar box in the pulpit, and finds material to make a rope Maggie can climb down.  Glenn orders her to stay at the church, but she refuses and comes along on the rescue mission.

It is bad karma to love Rick Grimes.
Rick and his group are moving through the herd to the wall, but Sam freaks out when he sees a child who has turned. He panics and begins crying, and as the group tries to get him moving walkers descend on him and eat him in front of his mother and brother.  This is too much for Jessie, who screams at the sight of her son being ripped apart and is fallen upon by zombies as well.  Rick is forced to stand there and watch his newfound love be destroyed in the worst possible way.   He is jolted out of his sorrow by Carl;  he was holding hands with Jessie, and she will not let go, even as she is being eaten alive.   Rick pulls his hatchet and chops off her arm, freeing Carl from being eaten with her.  She is gone.

Ron snaps.  He picks up the gun Carl has dropped and takes aim at Rick, tears flowing from his face.  As he is about to pull the trigger, Michonne runs him through from behind with her sword, but the gun goes off.  As Ron drops to the ground, Carl turns;  the bullet hit him in the face, and his right eye is gone, along with a chunk of his cheek.  He says, "Dad?" and collapses.  Rick scoops him up and they race to the infirmary, with Michonne cutting a path through the herd.

The Wolf and Denise make their move to the guard tower, but when Denise is attacked by a walker the Wolfe gets bitten defending her.  They make it to another house, and the Wolf says he doesn't know why he did that; Denise said maybe he has changed, and if they can get to the infirmary he can save him by cutting off his arm.   The make a run up the alley, but Carol sees them and shoots the Wolf.  Denise makes it inside to the infirmary.

Inside, Heath, Spencer, and Aaron are maintaining a watch.  They see Rick and Michonne coming in with a wounded Carl.  Denise immediately begins treating him, but Rick, who has reached his breaking point, turns, heads outside, and starts clearing the town by himself, the same way he did in Season Three following Lori's death.   Michonne rushes outside to help after kissing Carl's forehead.

Heath, Spencer and Aaron run outside as well.  Other Alexandrians and members of Team Rick, including Eugene, the brilliant coward.  "No one get's to clock out today," he tells Rosita.  Father Gabriel also joins the battle with a machete, leaving Judith with a woman at the church and telling the people there that they have been praying for God to save their town, and He has, because He has given them the courage to save it themselves.

Philippians 4:13, folks.

Soon, a group of about 20 residents is fighting a running battle, hand-to-hand, with about a thousand walkers.   It's and epic scene of slashing and cutting, knifing and stabbing, a murderous bloodbath of people fighting for their very lives. They battle to the wall and arrange themselves in a semicircle, stacking up bodies around them in a Spartan-style stand against overwhelming odds.

While this is happening, Glenn and Enid make their move to rescue Maggie.  Enid climbs the wall to get to her while Glenn distracts the herd, but gets cornered and is about to be eaten in front of Maggie -- again, with the Glenn in danger -- when automatic weapons fire mows down the nearest walkers.  Sasha and Abraham are on the wall, firing down into the walkers, Abraham, who has never looked happier, asks Glenn to open the gate.   Daryl backs the tanker truck up to the pond nearby, fills it full of gas, and then ignites it with an RPG round.  The remaining walkers are drawn to the noise and light and are immolated in the burning fuel.

The next day, the town is a wreck.  Everyone who fought in the battle the night before is clustered around the infirmary, where Rick is talking to Carl.  He says he realized last night he was wrong about the town, and that with these people they could do anything.  He wants to build a life here, and he wants Carl to see it. He finally feels hope, which he hasn't felt since he woke up in his hospital bed at the beginning of the series.  Carl responds by weakly grasping his hand.

Preparedness Discussion

No Way Out is a standout example of a community coming together to survive in a crisis. The odds are insurmountable; the group is going to either survive together and die alone.  They are scattered and broken, without access to their armory and unable to communicate.  Rick Grimes, using his grief over the loss of Jessie and the dreadful shooting of Carl as a catalyst for actions, goes on the offense and provides the example the residents need to rise to the challenges that face them.

As preppers, we need to foster that sense of community, not just with other preppers, but with our neighbors as well.  Get to know the people who live around you.  What are their skill sets?  If you need some carpentry help, maybe someone in the neighborhood can help in exchange for some skill you have.  If you are leaving on vacation, ask a trusted neighbor to watch your house for any suspicious activity.  Offer to do the same if they need it.   Make sure you have current phone numbers for your neighbors.  The Home Owners Association (HOA) I belong to publishes a directory of the residents who live in our subdivision to promote neighbor-to-neighbor communication. Go to HOA meetings and find out who the movers and shakers are in the neighborhood.

More importantly, find out if anyone has skills that are directly useful in survival: medical skills, self defense skills, gardening experience, etc.   Make these folks your friends, and make sure you have something they value in either skills or goods you can use for barter.

When you have an RPG, everything looks like a tank.
Just as it is important to know what resources you have, it might be a good idea to think about how you are going to conserve those resources.   Abraham found the RPG launcher with four rounds in a Humvee.  Daryl has now fired two rounds.  How many rounds does Daryl have left? It's an easy math problem.  Why use an RPG to ignite the pond when a match would have sufficed?  Maybe they didn't have any, but I would have at least tried to find something before firing another RPG.  Those are rounds they cannot replace that would give them a real edge in any firefight with an organized group.  Sometimes, to keep the peace you have to be the meanest guy on the block.  One RPG ruined the Negan biker gang's whole day.  Imagine if they had possessed this weapon when the Governor had attacked the prison?

While we're at it, let's talk about ammunition expenditure.   Just because you have a weapon capable of selective fire doesn't meant you fire it on automatic all the time.   You gain much more accuracy using semi-automatic fire, and reduce the risk in hitting something or someone you value.   Sasha and Abraham should have used semi-automatic aimed fire to save Glen at the wall instead of spraying bursts of automatic fire.  Sure, it looks cool, but no one is making bullets anymore, and every single round counts.  How did they hit the walkers in front of Glenn without hitting him?

It's reminiscent of the Season Three episode with Michael Rooker, who plays Merle, using an assault rifle, with the flip up Magpul sights in the down  position.  How is he going to aim at anything?  In case you missed it, let's refresh your memory:

Both of these scenes can be chalked up to dramatic license and an unfamiliarity with firearms and ballistic effects, but they had been doing a really good job of cleaning up these types of things. There must be a writer's manual somewhere that says: "when writing an action scene with firearms, if the weapon is capable of automatic fire, you must write it that way.  Also, everyone has to fire from the hip or not aim at all."

It was interesting that the Alexandrians got to put their newfound knife and machete skills to the test.   This is an avenue of prepping so often ignored.  It's great to have all kinds of gear, but can you use any of it?  Skills trump gear every time.  All the guns are in the armory, so they have to improvise with blades and melee weapons.   If your first line of self-defense is a concealed handgun, what happens if you forget to wear it one day?  Further, what if it is a self-defense situation in which lethal force is not required in a clear-cut matter (legal standards on this vary, so check local laws)?  Learning other self-defense techniques (boxing, martial arts, carrying a non-lethal alternative like pepper spray) can be useful as well.

Finally, there is the emergence of Father Gabriel as not only a warrior, but a man of conviction and newfound faith.  This was an important step not just for him but for the community.   Everyone in the Walking Dead universe is basically walking around with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in one form or another.   The psychological community has learned a great deal from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars about the nature of PTSD and its effects on the human mind.   Here's a sample list of characters with possible PTSD or some other mental health issue:

  • Rick (had auditory and visual hallucinations, plus paranoia and bursts of rage)
  • Carl (becomes paranoid; popped that kid at the prison who was surrendering)
  • Michonne (disconnects from others; used ex-boyfriend and friend as walker camo)
  • Gabriel (let congregation get eaten and tried to commit suicide by walker)
  • Sasha (tried to commit suicide by walker after Bob and Tyreese died)
  • Abraham (was contemplating killing himself after wife and kids eaten)
  • Maggie (traumatized by Governor's sexual misogyny; devastated by loss of Beth)
  • Glenn (traumatized by Maggie's near sexual assault)
  • Bob (abused alcohol as coping mechanism)
  • Enid (lost ability to get close to anyone following death of parents)
  • Spencer (depressed following death of brother and father)
  • Nicholas (panic attacks and completed suicide after being confronted about his cowardice)
  • Morgan (possible psychotic break after death of his son)
  • Carol (traumatized by death of daughter;  traumatized by having to shoot Lizzie; murdered two innocent people in misguided effort to save prison community)
Get the picture? These folks are going to need someone to talk to for counseling and reassurance, and the rejuvenated Gabriel can be part of that solution.

Likewise, we can be a part of this solution in the prepping world.  While not everyone has time, resources, or the desire to become a licensed counselor, there are programs that give you some fundamental skills in dealing with a person you suspect is suffering from a mental health or drug issue.  One such internationally recognized program is Mental Health First Aid, which was originally designed in Australia and is now offered in the United States.  It contains a wealth of material and practical exercises that help participants become prepared to deal with such situations.  You won't be ready to diagnose and treat, but you will have some tools to help the person until more professional assistance arrives, and in the event of a survival situation, this could mean everything.

 Preparedness Lessons for Episode 609:

  • Become a part of your community and get to know like-minded preppers. Look for people with valuable skills in a survival situation and cultivate your own skills so you can barter with them.
  • Husband resources.  Treat every bullet, bean, and band-aid as your last.
  • Skills trump gear every time.
  • Develop or find someone who possesses mental health training to address the inevitable issues that will occur in a stressful crisis situation.   If you are the mental health person, remember to take care of yourself.

Next week:  Rick is counting on some good luck, and Michonne can't help Spencer.   Oh, and Daryl's revolver is unloaded, because you can't see rounds in the chambers.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

New Survival Series, "Containment," Coming to CW

There is a new television series called Containment coming to The CW this Spring.  While a definitive debut date has not been announced, episode titles are being released, which indicates the time is nigh for it to bow.

Based on a European series, the show tells the story of an American urban center which is exposed to a highly contagious and lethal contagion.  Things quickly escalate you of control, and the government is forced to seal the area to prevent the spread of the disease. 

This might be review material, but honestly the time commitment for me is a bit daunting.  

You can find more on the show here:


Show Description

Monday, February 8, 2016

EMP: Worst Case Scenario

In prepping, we generally define our prepping levels by the scales of the potential crisis.  For example, Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast created a Disaster Probability Matrix, that begins with the assumption that the larger scale and the deeper the severity of a crisis, the less likely it is to happen. Simply put, you are more likely to become unemployed than to be forced to deal with after effects of a nuclear war.  Spirko urges those who listen to his podcast to prepare for the "normal" stuff first, then gradually scale preparations up to be ready for a large scale man-made or natural disaster.

Toward that end, many preppers feel that one of the worst case scenarios we face is either a natural or man-made electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would disable the electrical grid of the United States and render many cars, airplanes and other everyday products dependent upon electricity and computer control useless.  The Blaze has published a short primer video on the danger of an EMP event and its effects on the United States.   It focuses on the use of a nuclear weapon to create the EMP, but EMPs can also be generated by the sun.   Take a look and understand what "worst case scenario" really means.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Citi: World economy seems trapped in ‘death spiral’

Trying to inform new preppers about the risks of our economic system sometimes finds the preparedness community repeatedly using sites like SHTF Plan or The Economic Collapse Blog as a reference, and sometimes these sites might seem a little "out there" to the mainstream public.  That's why I try to use a variety of sources for information.

According to a CNBC report, Citi Bank analysts are concerned that the world economy is sliding back into recession after weak economic data in China and the U.S. and a massive equity decline in Japan.

"The world appears to be trapped in a circular reference death spiral," Citi strategists led by Jonathan Stubbs said in a report on Thursday.
"Stronger U.S. dollar, weaker oil/commodity prices, weaker world trade/petrodollar liquidity, weaker EM (and global growth)... and repeat. Ad infinitum, this would lead to Oilmageddon, a 'significant and synchronized' global recession and a proper modern-day equity bear market."
Stubbs said that macro strategists at Citi forecast that the dollar would weaken in 2016 and that oil prices were likely bottoming, potentially providing some light at the end of the tunnel.
"The death spiral is in nobody's interest. Rational behavior, most likely, will prevail," he said in the report.

Crude oil prices have tumbled by around 70 percent since the middle of 2014, during which time the U.S. dollar has risen by around 20 percent against a basket of currencies. 

As preppers, we need to be ready to weather this storm:

  • Ensure you have some cash on hand just in case of bank disruptions
  • Increase your stockpile of food.  Look to maximize your buys with coupons, but remember, buy what you eat, and eat what you buy. make sure you stock up on condiments and spices as well.
  • Buy extra of essential household items like light bulbs, cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene items.  There is a reason that toilet paper was a medium of exchange in the old Soviet Union.
  • Reduce your debt.  Search for items you don't use anymore and put it on Craigslist.  Figure out where you can cut back on monthly bills.  
  •  Take care of any medical conditions or needs - dental work, elective surgeries, vision exams, glasses, etc.
  • Stock up on over the counter medications and refill prescriptions at the earliest possible dates to maximize your on hand supply
  • Make sure your vehicles are in good working order.  Perform preventative maintenance  on the schedule prescribed by the manual.   You may be keeping the car for awhile if your financial situation tightens.
  • Search for a second source of income. Be creative and put your talents to use.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Trucking Orders Collapse in the U.S.

The bad news keeps on rolling in for the U.S. economy.  U.S. heavy trucking orders for goods delivery dropped 48 percent in January, indicating goods are not moving because people are not buying goods.

Per SHTF Plan:

U.S. January Class 8 truck orders fell 48 percent on the year, preliminary data from freight transportation forecaster FTR showed, indicating that 2016 could be another weak year for truck makers.
FTR estimated that orders for the heavy trucks that move goods around America’s highways totaled 18,062 units in January. This follows on from a full-year decline in 2015 of nearly 25 percent to 284,000 units from 276,000.
“It is not looking to be a strong year,” for the market, FTR chief operating officer Jonathan Starks said in a statement.
Amid uncertainty over U.S. economic growth and a lackluster performance for retailers in the fourth quarter, trucking companies have been holding back on buying new models.

The snowball of bad financial news continues.  

Toxic Loans Dragging World Economy Down

In keeping with my focus on economics this week, I saw this story from the New York Times highlighting the global risk of easy money, a.k.a. the stimulus policies of central banks like the Federal Reserve.  It seems that the quantitative easing, stimulus packages, and artificially low interest rates encouraged folks like energy companies to borrow a pile of money to get into capital-intensive ventures like shale oil drilling.

Now, thanks to an aggressive move by nations like Saudi Arabia to keep pumping oil despite the low price to glut the market, the shale industry is all but wiped out, and companies are saddled with toxic debt they are struggling to pay.

China loosened its policies as well, and now is reaping a harvest of bad debts that may never be repaid:

In recent years, banks and other financial companies in China issued a tidal wave of new loans and other credit products, many of which will not be paid back in full.
China’s financial sector will have loans and other financial assets of $30 trillion at the end of this year, up from $9 trillion seven years ago, said Charlene Chu, an analyst in Hong Kong for Autonomous Research.
“The world has never seen credit growth of this magnitude over a such short time,” she said in an email. “We believe it has directly or indirectly impacted nearly every asset price in the world, which is why the market is so jittery about the idea that credit problems in China could unravel.”In recent years, banks and other financial companies in China issued a tidal wave of new loans and other credit products, many of which will not be paid back in full.
China’s financial sector will have loans and other financial assets of $30 trillion at the end of this year, up from $9 trillion seven years ago, said Charlene Chu, an analyst in Hong Kong for Autonomous Research.
“The world has never seen credit growth of this magnitude over a such short time,” she said in an email. “We believe it has directly or indirectly impacted nearly every asset price in the world, which is why the market is so jittery about the idea that credit problems in China could unravel.”
China, with its huge manufacturing base that powers companies like Wal-Mart, and a huge population, may cause a debt crisis that will unravel the global trade fabric again.  Instead of promoting stability, the global intertwining of economics and finance may bring the two great recessions in less that 10 years.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Buying a Home: Lessons Learned

Buying a home is most likely the largest investment any of us will make.   It is a significant outlay of our available financial capital and we must pour time and effort into choosing the correct home and negotiating the sale.  I have purchased two homes thus far, and have learned different lessons each time.   

My first home was for sale by the owners, and we paid $75,000.  We lived in it for 14 years, and it was a good starter home.  Our next home, purchased in 2014, was on the market for almost $190,000 but we managed to negotiate them down for significantly less.

Of course, the biggest piece of the puzzle is financing.  Interest rates in the U.S. are still low, so if you have good credit and can swing a down payment of at least 20 percent, you can usually cash in for a great interest rate that saves you money long-term.  Figure out how much of a monthly mortgage payment you can sustain and don't forget to factor in property taxes and home insurance, which are usually placed in escrow and paid with the mortgage payment.

Tip 1:  Know What You Want, Where You Want

Sagging roofs = big problems.
This is the biggest consideration when you start thinking about buying a new home.   You need to pick a geographic location that is convenient for you and your schedule.   Do you want to be closer to work or to a family member 10 miles away from the neighborhood you are scouting?  Do you want to live in the city, the suburbs, or in the country?

What do you want the layout to be – ranch style, colonial, Cape Cod, mid-entry?  If you plan on growing old in the house, a ranch style might be preferable because as you get older, you will lose mobility.  If you have any significant knee or ankle issues, climbing stairs could become problematic.  If this is a starter home, you may not need to worry about this.   The key is to think about what you may need 15 years from now.

Know what other features you want:   how many bathrooms and bedrooms, a garage, etc.  Is closet space a big consideration, or would you rather have more living space?  Do you want a big kitchen for cooking?  These are all deliberations you and your family must make. We'll deal with prepping considerations later.

With my first home, we didn’t think most of this through.  We were in an apartment and our lease was coming up for renewal. We paid the price for our lack of knowledge.  We ended up buying the right location, but the house needed a lot of work.  With our next home, we knew we wanted a home with more square footage, ranch style, with an updated kitchen.  I also wanted a two-car garage and a wood-burning fireplace so a) I didn't have to clean snow off of our cars and b) I could heat our home in a grid down scenario.  My spouse did not consider these must haves, but guess who enjoys the fire more and guess who loves having a garage kept car?  We also purchased a third car as we now have three drivers in the family, so my vehicle is parked in the driveway.  

I can't win! Sigh.

We didn't think about what we would need in that area down the road, but in my location there are very few homes in our price range with a three-car garage, anyway. 

Every home settles over time, but cracks in the foundation are a sign of significant structural problems that can cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair.  Slumping, sagging roofs are a sign of shoddy construction, improper placement of roof supports or foundation pillars that might indicate problems with the walls of the home as well.  If a roof section sags, it tries to push the outside walls out from the house.   This can cause serious issues. Don't gloss over potential serious issues in your excitement of finding your "dream house."  Look for any potential drainage issues or evidence of water damage inside the home.

Tip 2:  Look Around the Neighborhood

Trouble ahead.
If everything on your prospective new house looks good on the outside, look at the condition of other homes in the neighborhood.   Do any have foundation issues (look for cracks or patched cracks in the foundation), slumping roofs (poor construction) are do any look poorly maintained?  This is indicative of the grade of construction for all the homes in the area.  Even if your home is not showing those issues on the surface, beware and take a good hard look at your target house.

Look at the general upkeep of the surrounding homes as well.    Do the neighbors look like they care about their properties, or do the homes look run down?  If it's the latter, the neighborhood may be in decline and you might consider looking elsewhere.

Tip 3: Use a Reputable Realtor

Our first home was for sale by owner and we handled everything without a realtor.  Looking back, a good realtor would have noticed some of the problems we encountered after moving in and could have warned us about the pitfalls.   The next time around, we worked with the same realtor to sell our old home and buy the new one, and things went more smoothly.  We also were able to negotiate the price reduction plus some extra money to complete some repairs the previous owner had not finished.  We negotiated a slightly cheaper selling commission as well.

Tip 4:  Get a Home Inspection

I cannot stress this enough.  When you are walking through the house for the first time, make note of any potential issues.  Find a good home inspector and once the home is under contract have the inspector go over it with a fine-toothed comb.  Make sure they review any items you noted on your walk-through.

Tip 5:  Taking Prepping Into Consideration

As you look for a new home, ask the following questions:
  • Are you looking to grow your own food?  Is there enough land to plant a garden or install raised beds?  If you are thinking of moving into an area controlled by an Home Owners Association (HOA), do they allow gardens or outbuildings?  HOAs have both positives and negatives, but that's for another post.   Just makes sure your plans aren't going to run afoul of the HOA covenants and restrictions.
  • Is the perimeter secure, or able to be secured physically?  Do you have fencing around the yard or can it be installed (HOAs may restrict fences; some areas have utility lines buried under ground)?  Would a brick house be preferable to provide resistance to projectiles (bullets)? Are the windows elevated off the ground to make it more difficult for a burglar to get inside?
  • Is there a security system installed?  You will need to know when it was installed, if it is still active, and if the previous owner plans on leaving it.  I have had experience primarily with wireless systems (a system that uses wireless technology to link the sensors to the main panel instead of running wires through the walls). We left our old system at the previous house - mostly because it was almost 10 years old - but a wireless system can move to a new house, so find out if the owner is leaving the system or taking it.   Beware of companies that want to lock you into multi-year contracts.  My old company, Protect America, featured a three-year contract when we signed up, and after the expiration we negotiated a new rate less than half our original monthly cost.  SimpliSafe, a relatively new player in the market, does not force customers to sign long-term contracts.  Research what's best for you.  If your provider uses a cellular-based panel, make sure there is adequate coverage at the home location.
  • Is there an alternative source of heat available or does the potential exist?  Could you install a generator if you needed it, or alternatively, install some other form of alternate power generation?
  • Is there plenty of storage space for prepping supplies, food storage, etc?
  • Are the exterior and interior doors sturdy and able to protect you from an intruder?
These are all the considerations that I used when purchasing a home. If you have others, please feel free to list them in the comments below.

The World Economy Is Slowing; Repeat of 2008 Coming?

 Last year, I came across this story that predicted the empty grocery shelves that have plagued Greece since its partial economic collapse in 2009 would come to America's shores.   The collapse was caused by a crushing debt burden the government could not sustain.  In 2015, the Greek government failed to make a payment back to the International Monetary Fund despite extreme (by European standards) austerity measures like raising the retirement age and hiking already steep taxes.

Store shelves are empty much of the time.  Pharmacies and hospitals are running out of needed drugs and supplies.  The standard of living has plunged, as has the average life expectancy.

Now, as the stock markets are in turmoil and economic activity slows down significantly, anecdotal evidence is mounting that we are heading toward another global financial crisis.

A recent article by Jeremiah Johnson illustrated the point:  Store shelves in big box retailers are showing signs that they are not being stocked as frequently.  Johnson reports that commenters on social media sites are reporting this phenomenon in different areas of the country.

[Regarding the] alerts about the current state of the RR industry. This is in line with what I’ve been noticing as I visited our local/regional grocery store, Walmart, and Target this week in WI. I worked in big box retail for 20 years specializing in Inventory Management. These stores are all using computerized inventory management systems that monitor and automatically replenish inventory when levels/shelf stock get low. This prevents “out of stocks” and lost sales. These companies rely on the ability to replenish inventory quickly from regional warehouses. As I shopped this week and looked at inventory levels I was shocked. There were numerous (above and beyond acceptable levels) out of stocks across category lines at all three retailers. And even where inventory was on the shelf, the overall levels were noticeably reduced. Based on my experience, working for two of these three organizations in store management, they have drastically/intentionally reduced their inventory levels. This is either due to financial stresses/poor sales effecting their ability to acquire new inventory, or it could be the result of what was mentioned earlier regarding the transporting of goods to these regional warehouses. Either way this doesn’t bode well for the what’s to come.  Stock up now while you can!” 

Add to this the fact that a number of companies, including Wal-Mart, have shuttered retail locations in an attempt to stay solvent, and the realization that a tipping point is approaching becomes clear.  This is further supported by reports that internationally, manufacturing is slowing as demand for products drops.

What Can You Do?

If you have the resources, I would suggest stocking up on food, over the counter medications, and household essentials.   If you can do so safely, store extra gasoline.  Gas is cheap now, but if an economic crisis causes the supply chain to collapse or become restricted, you may not be able to obtain a supply.  If you are a prepper, you undoubtedly have a stockpile already, but you may want to accelerate your purchases.

Here's a protip for men:  feminine hygiene products for your spouse or significant other are necessities.  If you haven't done so, investigate what products are in the cupboard and add them to the shopping list.  Likewise, toilet paper is not a luxury.

Plan to have paper products in case the power or water utilities become unreliable so you can live without washing dishes a while.

Devise a plan to protect your family.  Desperate times will cause even law-abiding citizens to resort to theft and other behavior that could threaten those you love.  Ensure that your family knows what to do if someone breaks into your home.   Practice the plan.

Good luck, and keep preparing.