Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fixed-lines and SHTF

My wife has a mid size air duct manufacturing company, which she manages along with her mother and sister.
It’s not a big company, but it has some heavy machinery, a large plant, and a steady work force of 20 employees.

The plant is located in one of the biggest industrial parks, near the docks and crime is pretty intense there.

One of the problems she’s facing these days is having a steady phone line for work, the way they manage most sales.

They currently have Nextel, but since Nextel refuses to install a battery backup system, they are left without phone whenever power goes down.

Here’s where every savvy survival minded person starts preaching about a landline.

We’ll, its not THAT secure, and not for the reasons you may be guessing.

You see, since there’s so much poverty in Argentina right now, people steal the telephone lines to sell the copper they are made of.

This happens often enough, maybe too often, and the telephone company decided to “fix” the problem, “Third Word” style.

By contract they must fix the lines, but since they don’t want to do it they claim that they have a 30-60 day waiting period because they are overwhelmed by these incidents.

Of course, no company can survive two months without phone, so they end up paying for the repairs themselves, paying the same people the phone company subsidizes the repairs to.

Now, there’s no knowing when the cables will be stolen next. You may end up paying for them several times a month.

So the only safe alternative is to have a wireless line.

I thought that this was pretty curious and I wouldn’t have imagine this problem in a million years, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

An escalation in the social unrest and poverty may leave you without a phone line permanently, just because there’s no way to secure them.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

The 2001Crisis

This is only part 1/12, but the video is pretty good and will save a lot of reading if you want to know what happened.


Crime in Argentina

I found this little video that explains things a bit better.
Of course, there’s always people that claim we are alright, that what happens here is normal, and happens in every mayor city.
Cities in first world countries don’t see the kind of violence we see here. In such magnitudes. They don’t even come close.

( Edited to add: Of course, I don’t support or feel identified with the support of Giuliani shown in this video. I believe that free men carry guns, simply that. If you are not allowed that right, you are not truly free, for anyone that does have that privilege will easily impose himself over you, let it be robber, rapist or dictator.)


About using gold or other forms of foreign currency after the crisis (old post)

You’re the smartest son of a gun around, you bought some gold , silver, Euros or other form of currency which is not crumbing so as to keep your eggs in different baskets, as they say.

So one day you wake up, people are going nuts for whatever reason and they are cautiously trying to close their bank accounts..
Within hours they are not that cautious anymore “Give me my damn money!… or else” Of course there no liquidity to compensate for such a demand.
Banks close, ATMs run dry, no one accepts plastic or checks, good time to lay low, stay at home watching the news, eating popcorn and watch that movie with your wife again.

Careful! If she wants to see “Sleepless in Seattle” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan yet again… KEEP YOUR GUNS LOOCKED AND AMMO FAR AWAY… you MAY try to blow your brains out 5 minutes into the movie.

“Runaway Bride “ can cause brain damage too. You’ve been warned.

Sooner or later banks re open again, but they have a new set of rules you may not like that much, like not returning your property, your hard earned money.
Yup, some people don’t dig that, and they tend to get really pissed.
The good part is that banks immediately stop advertising on TV, you know all that BS about X Bank being there for you, helping your company grow , part of the community BS. It took nearly a year for banks to start advertising again, and until last year you could STILL see on some banks downtown clients banging the front of the bank buildings with hammers.

Ok, back to topic.
You’ll soon find out that it’s very hard to pull through with a 50 or 100 buck cash withdraw limit, and it may take days or weeks before even that is allowed.

But you have your savings, right?

What happened hear was that soon enough “street brokers”, money dealers, started popping up on boulevards and populated down town areas. You just walk by, see a guy doing nothing but whispering “change , change”, that’s your man.

It’s not really safe to make an exchange right on the street. It worked that way for years, but today most money dealers have a “front”.
The guy I deal with most of the time has a drug store. You walk in and you only see pens, candy, office supplies, watches and a few pocket knives, but the guy’s “real” business is buying and selling pesos, dollars and Euros. I don’t buy other currencies, but I’m sure he has Brazilian money to, and there are other guys that will take PM. Thousands and thousands of dollars go through this guy’s hands.
Those that have pawn or antique shops may specialize on dealing with PM, diamonds and expensive jewelry. But your average dealer works with paper money , gold and other PM in some occasions.

Why not go to the bank or exchange houses? Well, for many months or even years, there was a limit to how much money you could change (100 USD, if I remember correctly), and even then you had to leave all your personal information, and the exchange rate was better in the black market anyway, so that’s why most people still prefer the black market.

You wont be buying what you need with gold Pandas or 100 Euro bills, many folks will readily accept it , but you wont be getting much of a fair exchange rate, so that’s why you’ll usually prefer a money dealer.

Here’s some tips on how I generally handle things. Please guys, I’m just a regular guy that’s simply been doing this for a while now , but don’t expect any ninja BS touch of death or 007 secret password. Just some experience and common sense, take it or leave it, and come to your own conclusions and share if you come up with more advice. It’s worked ok for me so far.

1) Move around small amounts of currency if possible.

You may get a few points more if you exchange larger quantities of money ( it is a temptation sometimes), but you are also risking it much more. I’d rather loose 4 or 5 bucks and only change 100 Euros or 200 Euros or USD at a time. Same would go for gold and other PM. Don’t be stupid and show up with a pocket full of gold coins or jewelry. Anyone can notice, even the money dealer might be tempted into kidnapping you if he thinks you are loaded.

2) Try different dealers.
At least at first, deal with different kind of folks until you find one you like more, then deal with that guy more often, always checking you are getting a fair exchange rate.
If you have a friend or relative that can advice you on fair dealers, even better.
Once a few months went by and you feel you can trust that guy, deal with him the most.
This isn’t exactly a walk in the park, most of these guys are right there on the limit of law, expect to run into some less than pleasant people. Just make sure you don’t go into buildings far from public areas or out of sight from the sidewalk, always try to stay as public and as close from exits as possible.
I’ve dealt with over a dozen of guys like these, they are not all saints. I had a couple of risky encounters, do not do this kind of business while going along with family members ( wife, kids).
An “able-bodied” buddy.. shall we call him… would be a good idea.

3) Spend the collapsed currency fast!
The trick is not having the collapsed currency with you for long. It should burn your hands. Use it up right after you exchange it.
Example. If the USD crashes and you decide to sell some PM to buy a month’s worth of supplies, do it quickly, sell the PM or Euros or whatever other solid currency you have and use the dollars that same day or the following day at most.
You do this because the collapsed buck is like a sand castle, it can fall apart within hours.
Say you sold your Euros at a 1 Euro :3 USD rate, and the following morning Oprah said that she had a dream about a 1:6 rate and all of a sudden people loose even more trust in the currency and it falls to 1 Euro: 4 USD. Any silly or not so silly thing sinks the fallen currency even deeper.
Other than a few 100 bills for emergency use, don’t risk keeping large amounts of collapsed currency. It’ll rot faster than bananas.

4)Keep your BIG mouth SHUT!
Don’t tell ANYONE about your savings. While you are better off, there’s people out there that cant put food on the table, and its not some skinny kid in Africa, its your neighbor or the guy that works next to you. Desperate times call for desperate measures and some people will do anything. We often hear about people getting tortured during home invasions just to make sure he give up any booty they may have hidden.

5)Be careful and stay alert while doing business.
Leave the car in different parking lots, always take different routes while walking back to the car and driving back home, if possible walk into malls where you may loose people following you or drive through other places, anything you can do to blur any fixed route or schedule a person may notice.
Try not to use any clothes that can distinguish you from the rest or attract attention, apply the “gray man” approach more than ever.
I try not to have any bags or any other object in hand when doing this, so as to have both hands available in case someone wants to mug/kidnap me. Just an old pair of Nikes , worn jeans and T shirt, the car key, pocket knife and the money I’ll be changing.
When you have no other option but to sell larger quantities of currency, you may want to use concealed body armor and carry a concealed weapon.

6)Be fast.

Use a calculator to make sure you’re getting paid properly, walk in, say hi, make the transaction quickly, give a handshake and be done with it, try not to stay in there too long.
The more you stay, the greater the chances of someone spotting you or organizing something against you.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Most important need in the first few days after TSHTF (old post)

I'm just getting started on this blog thing, so please be patient. New subjects and isuses of discussion will be added. As always, suggestions and criticism are always welcome, so please participate if you feel like it.:)

I’ll be adding some old posts, both for people that haven’t read them and for keeping them all in one place.
I’ve lost a lot of stuff because I almost never save what I write on my hard drive, just copy/paste it from Word and that’s it. So it will be nice to have a site where people that are interested can find all in one place.

Premise: USA is headed for a similar economic meltdown to the one you and your family experienced.

Given: I have had little or no success trying to warn friends and family who continue to think their lives will go on the same way forever.

QUESTION: What was your most important need/concern in the first few days after TSHTF, and what advice do you have for the rest of us regarding your answer?

Well, your friends just may be right, maybe nothing happens and their lives go on just like now more or less. Most people do know that sometimes life throws you an oddball or two, everyone has his or her own story.

What your friends need to realize is that what it’s consider “normal” social structure is in fact a delicate system, one that can take a few bumps but every now and then things get a bit more complicated, sometimes it just goes over the edge completely and you get to see how fragile modern society actually is.

I’m talking about large power grid failures ( Such as the one recently in Barcelona, 3 days without power in a large metropolis), water or any other services. Whatever the reason, accident, sabotage, terrorist attack, it brakes that delicate thread and society suffers.
Something as simple as garbage disposal is actually critical. A city without garbage disposal will smell pretty bad after a few days, garbage piling on the sidewalk, give it two weeks and rats will start spreading disease like crazy. I’m not just coming up with these numbers. We went for almost a week without anyone picking the trash once (strike), the smell was terrible as soon as you walked out the door and the rats could be seen on broad daylight.

Now, if it’s only about services, a well organized city will solve minor incidents in short notice. Of course there are exceptions, ( mayor earthquake, tsunami, NBC terrorist attack) but even mayor incidents end up turning into short term SHTF inconveniences. It may take a week, a month or two, but eventually thinks do go back to normal.
Now, something like what happened here, an economical collapse, that changes life for you forever.

I’m talking about a new perspective in all aspects of live.
Most man kind divides the world’s history according to the birth of Christ. So do we, but Argentineans also refer to “ before and after 2001” or “ before and after the crisis or 1:1 ( when 1 peso= 1 dollar) I kid you not, this kind of reference is used several times a day on ordinary conversations.

“Nice car! How did you afford it?” “No, I bought it before the 2001 crisis”
“Have you ever been to Paris?”
“Yes, beautiful place”
“Really, man I wish I could go there”
”Yea, but I went before 1:1”
This is just an example, of how such an event transformed everything for us, in such a terrific scale.

Economy is probably the weakest link in the chain in modern society. It’s all numbers, and data, no tangible materials, and most people simply ignore that our economy system works around TRUST.
You TRUST that that piece of paper the bank gave you equals the savings you worked so hard for decades. Objectively speaking, you are the world’s greatest fool, surrendering saving that could be translated into houses, cars, clothes and food, tangible items, for a piece of paper that’s worth less than 0.1 cents. Smiler But that’s the way our world works and we couldn’t have it any other way. This is only possible when you have blind trust in certain consolidated institutions.

Alas, but what happens when these institutions betray that trust? People don’t believe this can happen, even if it has happened, many times throughout history.

Banks may care about their clients, but they care about themselves first, then their elite clients, and then the average person.
Out of ALL the banks in this country, every single world famous bank, they all stole the saving from the clients. This can happen, and crime or lawful action is only determined by a signature at the end of a resolution my friends. Desperate times, desperate measures, our constitutional rights to private property were ERASED… at least until the higher powers determined we could have them back for a while longer.

Only one bank in the entire country gave the money back to those that wanted it. A small town bank somewhere in Patagonia ( Santa Cruz, I believe) stood by its clients, and though many did close their accounts, most clients decided to keep their money in the bank that proved worthy of such trust! It’s strange but that’s what happened.
Of course this does not happen with large banks, there’s always speculators and powerful people that will get tipped off and leave with bags full of money, while the average person looses everything. ( well, not everything, about 1/3 of the money was returned after a few years, by converting the accounts in dollars to pesos which cost 3 times less than a dollar)

So, I’d say that the most important thing you should know, before and after the crisis: Understand that the gov. and private institutions don’t care about YOU or your family, they care about themselves, keeping their profits high at ALL costs, and governments staying in power for as long as possible to keep filling up their pockets.
Even a benevolent gov. ( few around these days) will gladly sacrifice YOU and YOUR family if they estimate it will work for a greater good.
Its’ hard to determine a certain day, so as to talk about “ few days after TSHTF”. There was a braking point when the president gave a lousy speech, the “cacerolazo” protest in front of the government house and his resign after that.

It’s more of slower or faster “slide” rather than a certain fixed day, though the events may later cause a protest or lootings that will be later on considered as the start of the SHTF.
Look for the sings of trouble, various degrees of social unrest, lack of response by the government. Generally speaking, look for signs of the average Joe, middle class person just having got fed up with it all. No one can guestimate when SHTF will occur, but you sure can look for the alarms sounding off here and there.

Many times high ranking gov. officials mange certain information that is not openly released to the public in fear or civil unrest, same happens with large corporations. Listen to you friends that work in such places, gather gossip, news ( careful, most big time media is censored or bought by the powers to be) and come to your own conclusions.

Answering the question :
“What was your most important need/concern in the first few days after TSHTF, and what advice do you have for the rest of us regarding your answer?”

First, make sure you have enough supplies ( food and water) to last for a couple of weeks at least. If you don’t, rush to the supermarket and buy it using credit card if they still accept it.

If you have enough food, stay put at home and keep track through the TV of what’s going on. Don’t go out there just to fool around.
IN our case, martial law and curfew at 8 PM was established, people could not gather in group greater than 2 or 3 persons, so it was not safe anyway. None the less, few obeyed all this crap, but it was still established so you know what you were dealing with if cops caught you.

The greatest need when the lootings started was means to defend yourself. Maybe that’s why I encourage everyone to make weapons part of their basic preparedness kits, right along with food, water, money, and medicines. We watched daily as the lootings spread everywhere, and when the mobs of distressed people started looting homes along with the supermarkets and shops, things got really scary. I watched such a mob pass about 15-20 yards from my home. At first I only heard drums ( used during the protests) but these protesters were also looting along the way. The mass of looters was huge, covered the entire street and sidewalk, all across as far as I could see, a block long or more.
So, having means to defend yourself is very important during the first days as well as later on, after the veil of fear of “punishment per crime” is removed from the society.

People that seem normal during “normal” times, unleash the animals they keep at bay during law abiding times. The evil among normal people also surprised me. Average Joe takes advantage of the possibility to loot without getting punished for it if he sees the chance. Hell, nothing people do surprises me anymore.
Then there was the need to get cash, which disappeared within hours from ATMs after banks closed. The “NO credit card” signs showed up instantly. Only cash. And cash was getting very hard to find.

Many supermarkets closed their doors, fearing looters, and those that were opened quickly started to run out of basic supplies.

As for advice:

-Keep a healthy amount of cash at home at all times. Precious metals work but you’ll need cash to get by until banks and financial entities willing to pay a fair price reopen. Selling your gold in a pawn shop will be bad business, most likely they’ll try to get advantage of your need. At least until the market settles and then they’ll start paying according to the real value, but this takes some time.

-Have a gun for self defense, and learn how to use it. If you only have one weapon, make that a handgun and a box or two of premium ammo. Why handgun and not a long arm? Because things will be VERY dangerous out there and you’ll be wanting some protection, even when walking the dog, picking up mail, or going to the grocery around the corner, you cant’ do that with a long arm, and THOSE are the times you need to be armed the most.

-Have at least one or two months worth of food, water, medicines ( prescription meds you need for a certain condition you may have!), whatever you use around your house, such as soap, shampoo, dishwasher soap and various cleaning supplies. Once you have that, work towards a 6 to 12 month supply, specially concerning food. 2 or 3 years worth? Yes, nice to have but if you see the SHTF period extending that long, you better have a place to relocate because its’ simply not safe to be there anymore.

-Work towards financial security. Money in accounts in two or three countries, investments portfolios, real estate. Try placing your eggs in different baskets because, as we talked about it earlier, you can’t really trust them. Real estate is probably the safest and easiest form of investment, it has worked for my family really well, even through the crisis. We still have the pieces of land and buildings over it. It looses some value but adjusts over time to the reality of the country, going back to become a source of income.

-Have back up plans for EVERYTHING. Alternative sources of light, for transportation , fuel, ways of cooking, but most of all, have another location to move in case it is no longer possible to continue in the country or region where you are. This is my case and I’m really glad to have alternatives to move out of my country. I’m not talking about a cabin somewhere or a retreat, once things get that bad, you better get moving and relocating somewhere else, another state or even another country. You simply can’t fight the reality around you when crime gets out of control, along with everything else. Have your papers ready ( passport, birth certificate, etc)

-Know that during troubled times a house, retreat or cabin is of any use as long as it is inhabited. If SHTF for real, no empty building remains empty for long. Either it gets picked to the bare walls, or even worse , you find it one day with a family or several already established in there, which will take a long time for you to evict the invaders through legal channels.

-Keep a low profile. Showing off money or expensive clothes, flashy cars or jewelry is a good way to get targeted by criminals.
-Understand that in just a matter of weeks crime starts increasing exponentially when serious SHTF such as an economical collapse occurs. These kind of situations may take decades to reverse, or maybe never go back to what it used to be.
When I was 20 years old I lived in a 1st world country, 8 years later it’s a mixture of cheapo 3rd world tourist sites, a bit of tasteful 1900 architecture, surrounded by sights fitting either Ecuador, Colombia or some kind of war zone, and it all went to hell in a hand basket in less than a year. The change was amazing for anyone that cared to notice. Libraries, churches, town theaters, it all closed and later reopened having been replaced by bar-***** house joints, “All for 2$” shops, Bingos, casinos, self proclaimed churches, many with links to Umbanda Brazilian rituals. A perfect example of the decay in our society trough the last years.
Hope that helps.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Oh crap

Now I have to write stuf... :P