Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Sneaky Chinese Guys

The US government runs a department....whose sole responsibility is to access and control security clearances for all US citizens working for the US government.  Every five years....if you have a clearance....these guys snoop over your financial records, your travels, your relationships, and your perceived attitude at the office.  Then, they write this stuff down, and someone makes a decision if you continue your security clearance....or you fail it....thus getting terminated at work.

This week, this department admitted that Chinese hackers snooped around the database.  The department said in some positive way that the Chinese didn't get personal information from the database.  Of course, over the past few years....various government agencies have said things that were simply not true, and no one challenged them on the factual part of their story.  In this case, I'm not sure if the Chinese got locked out, or simply found a better door to enter on a later occasion.

So, why would some Chinese guy want to find this listing and the data attached to hundreds of thousands of cleared US government employees?  You can arrange for them to fall into various traps....if you know the guy is heavily in debt (like a $500k mortgage that he can barely pay), or his credit cards are up to around $50,000.  Perhaps by reviewing the records....you can assess the guy travels a good bit to the Caribbean and you can have some hooker become friendly with the guy while sitting at a bar in Aruba and get him into a black-mail scheme.  Or you could start to move non-Chinese agents into the US....plant them as neighbors to target X, and then listen into phone chats from the house next door.

Generally, it always bothered me when I had to fill out the twelve-page document every five years and declare various facts.  They would snoop around and if you missed a detail....like some one-day trip to Switzerland, or some $25,000 investment account transfer....they would dig and figure you had tried to hide the information.  So, there's tons of data in this database, and it's all sitting there to be manipulated by the Chinese....if they can just sneak around the entry problem.

Are the guardians of this data worried?  I kinda doubt it.  They might be curious over why the Chinese would sneak into it....but I would doubt they are rethinking the whole database and access quality that protects it.  Meanwhile, if you were holding a clearance.....you'd start to wonder about new friends or neighbors who bump into you, and ask a lot of questions.

New ISIS Strategy?

There's been this hint over the past couple of days that this ISIS-crew....the folks taking territory in Iraq and threatening stability there.....might head south and tear apart Mecca, which resides in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis kinda protect Mecca....as the holy spot for Muslims around the world.  If you are Islam.....you are supposed to make one trip in your life to Mecca....for religious purposes.

Why would ISIS destroy Mecca and the holy site there?  Well....there's this little commentary within the Koran that you aren't supposed to allow structures to overcome the religion itself.  When you put up a statue for Islam....it's defying the general rules of the religion.  When you put up a $50-million-dollar mosque.....it's defying the general rules of the religion.  The ISIS folks are going back to the standard Koran definition of a thousand years ago, and making a stand for old fashioned traditional values.

Mecca?  Well.....there's some history here.  You see....around 600 AD...Mecca was a big-name trading center in the Middle East.  If you were a merchant or bartered stuff.....it was on your top ten places each year to go and deal.  You could call it the mega-flea market of the Middle East around this point in time.

Mecca thrived under the free enterprise system and widely known as a open-religious community.  You worshipped as you pleased....just don't antagonize folks was the general rule.

The big deal of the year in Mecca?  There was a religious fest to celebrate all religions, which centered around this black rock that existed there.  Everyone came to trade, barter, and spend money during this festive occasion.

This changed as Muhammad arrived, and eventually threw out the controlling authority of Mecca....then declared that the black rock was only there for his religious group.

What happens when ISIS crosses the border?  My scenario for this runs through three basic steps....with the Saudis in absolute shock as their border guard situation evaporates overnight.  ISIS would have travel roughly 700 miles (figure one entire day at top speed with no stops or minor battles to limit them).

Mecca, upon hearing they'd cross the border....would likely empty out within four hours....heading either west toward Jordan or east toward the sea.  Two million residents in Mecca.....so you can figure the four-lanes leading either way will be clogged and half the folks in town will never have a chance to get out before ISIS arrives.

The curious factor is that if all of the two million residents were armed.....and the ISIS arrival crew (initial stages) would not number over 3,000 in number (my humble guess on the pick-up truck delivery system).  Mecca, if they were logical and thinking....could put down the arrival crew in a matter of hours.  But these are Saudis, and without their military structure....they just aren't the fighters that you'd want for this case.

The Saudis would now turn to the US, and demand absolute help delivered overnight.  The current administration?  It'd take at least ten days for them to form an opinion and get the President's approval to proceed....add four days to get troops into place, and by then.....half of Mecca is destroyed and the black rock structure is non-existent.  I'd also find that all of the banks in Mecca have been emptied out and billions stolen in the form of bills, gold and silver.

Now, if I were ISIS.....I'd move on westward.....toward Jordan, and Israel.

The odds of going into Saudi Arabia?  You turn a pretty negative Iraq episode....into a five-star mess in a matter of a week.  Gas prices will go up by twenty percent.  CNN will surge into first-place as they cover the development.  The President's staff will wake up to discover that they really don't have a plan to fit this, and will want polling data to indicate what the American people suggest....which is mostly to dissolve the Designated Hitter-rule in baseball, get rid of the illegal aliens, and fire Senator Harry Reid.  If we produced all the oil we needed from within the US....then none of this would matter.

Yep, things could actually get worse....if you didn't think it was possible.

Wal-Mart Beverage Shops?

I read a lot of business news....and yesterday, there was a five-star bombshell piece quietly hidden in the Wall Street Journal.  A brief two-line piece....which described Wal-Mart's new strategy of getting into alcohol sales, doubling their stake in this one area, and possibly opening stand-alone beverage shops (beer, wine, and booze).

It's not the Wal-Mart concept that we grow up with in the 1980s, and it probably won't work in some conservative southern regions.

Wal-Mart operates with a simple concept.  You brew beer.....you want to sell based on a profit margin for your product.  More is better....in most cases.  So, Wal-Mart steps into the room and says that price per pallet isn't good enough.  So you as the beer guy....hint that if they'd buy thirty-percent more on quantity, you'd ease on the pricing of the pallet by ten-percent.  Eventually, you reach some agreement on a fantastic amount of beer that they will buy.....but it means less profit than you'd normally accept. Bulk-sales....in effect.

Everyone from hair shampoo manufacturers to shoe polish dealers.....hate Wal-Mart's bulk pricing strategy.  You sell to get a big step up.....take large orders.....and then rely on making up the margin by dealing with Piggly Wiggly, K-Mart, Target, and the others....with regular pricing.

How would a Wal-Mart beverage shop (standing alone) operate?  I'm guessing it'd be 2,000 square feet.....bundled into a industrial neighborhood of some city....hoping on sales as folks get off work and want to pick up two cases of beer, and six bottles of wine for the weekend.  There would likely be eight full-time employees, and six people coming in to stock the shelves daily as a part-timer.  Somewhere near the front would be chips and dip....maybe some charcoal for grilling....and maybe every spring there would be an assortment of grills lined up for sale.

Wal-Mart's target?  All of the small convenience beverage shops that exist in most towns and cities.  You see....they can't get the special discount prices.  I'd take a guess that a southern town of forty thousand residents....will typically have eight convenience beverage shops spread out within the urban boundary.   With just one Wal-Mart beverage shop.....it'd probably wipe out three of the no-name shops within three years.  Put one on the west end of town and one on the east end of town?  You'd probably wipe out seven of the eight no-name shops within five years.

The end of an era?  Maybe.