The NRA Issues Apology…For Sane Comments It Made Earlier

Remember how you felt when you heard the news? It seemed wrong, like maybe someone said “NRA” when they meant something else. Could it be? Even the NRA thinks that the open carry people have gone too far! Finally, this country’s main gun-lobbying group was interjecting a little bit of sanity into the gun debate.

Well, while it was true, it didn’t last long.

If you’ve somehow managed to miss all the madness (in which case, I envy you a little), in recent weeks, a number of “gun enthusiasts” have begun carrying guns—even assault rifles —into public places like coffee shops, restaurants, and home improvement stores. Why? Because they can legally, so why wouldn’t they sing an AR-15 over their shoulder while shopping for a box of 1/4 inch split lock washers?

I digress. Many regular Americans found this to be a little disconcerting. In response, some companies like Chipotle asked customers to refrain from bringing guns into their restaurants. This policy is in line with what a majority of Americans want. (A recent YouGov/Huffington Post survey of 1000 US adults found that 55% of Americans would prefer that guns not be allowed in shops and restaurants.) And then, the strangest thing happened: The NRA itself sided with sane people everywhere. They issued a statement on recent open carry demonstrations in which they note that “while unlicensed open carry of long guns is also typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest.” I would agree. They continued to make sense by stating that “not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself.”

Wow! Finally the NRA was making some sense! But, like they say, all good things must come to an end. I just didn’t expect it to end so quickly.

As you can imagine, some of the NRA’s far right supporters were outraged at the sensible comments. As such, the NRA went into damage control mode and has now backed off these statements, blaming them on a staff member’s “personal opinion.” In an interview with the NRA’s own news agency, Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm the Institute for Legislative Action, apologized for “any confusion” the statement may have caused.

We were so close to getting somewhere with this nonsense. But just like that, the NRA has returned to supporting any policy that helps gun manufactures sell more guns. After all, this is what they actually stand for.

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Goodbye, 2013

New Years Eve in Boston

In short, 2013 was a year of tragedy and strength, and we saw that in one city in a way I’ve never experienced. On April 15, two bombs packed in pressure cookers and concealed in backpacks exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The bombs killed three people and wounded 264 others. It was a sad and demoralizing event for many across the U.S. However, a new slogan soon emerged: Boston Strong. Indeed, Bostonians have always had a reputation as being strong, and this spring, they proved that they deserve it.

Local and federal authorities launched an unprecedented manhunt for those behind the bombing. Unprecedented in every sense of that word as I, and many others, had never seen anything like it. Most of Boston was on lockdown, families told to stay in their homes. While some equated this to an Orwellian police state, amazing images surfaced of police—in full tactical gear—delivering milk to residence of the neighborhoods they were searching.

A law enforcement officer delivers milk to a family in need during the lockdown of Waterton, MA -- Photo via @th3j35t3r on Twitter

The city of Boston rallied behind the victims of the bombing, and behind the authorities searching the streets. During a firefight, where an estimated 200–300 rounds of ammunition were exchanged, one suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev reportedly ran out of ammunition and the second suspect, his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sped off in an SUV, running over Tamerlan in the process. Tamerlan was taken to a hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

A 20-block area of Watertown, MA was cordoned off and residents were told to stay in their homes. The entire public transit network, most Boston taxi service, and Amtrak service to and from Boston was suspended. The manhunt ended on the evening of April 19, when a Watertown resident stepped outside and noticed that the cover on his boat was loose. Authorities surrounded the boat, and after another firefight, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken into custody. What followed was, to me, the most amazing part. As the police forces started to leave Watertown, citizens lined the streets and cheered them on. They stayed on the streets, cheering and waving, until every police officer, federal agent, and firefighter had left. Boston Strong indeed.

On the world stage, the spring of 2013 saw other major changes as Pope Benedict XVI resigned, citing health problems. This was the first time a pope had relinquished the office since 1415. In March, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the new pope. He chose to be called Pope Francis, though I affectionately call him Frankie the Pope. (And judging from this guy’s demeanor, I think he’d probably even be cool with me calling him that.) Throughout the rest of 2013, Frankie has been making huge waves across the world. I am no fan of organized religion, but I will say that this guy seems to be the real deal and seems to be trying to use his position to affect real change in the world. That is something I can support. Keep it up, Frankie!

In considerably less positive world news, Syria was front and center in 2013 as a brutal and deadly civil war continues. I cannot possibly address the prodigious nature of this conflict here, but of the many atrocities that have taken place during this war, what caught the eye of the world was the UN’s confirmation that chemical weapons were used against civilians. As I say, the story and human rights implications of this war is far beyond this piece, but needless to say, the stories and images that came out of Syria in 2013 were not palatable. Sadly, 2014 will likely continue this horrific chapter in this troubled nation.

Back on American soil, 2013 could probably be titled the Year of the Scandal. First, there was the IRS scandal in which we learned the IRS had unfairly targeted conservative political groups, such as the Tea Party, who had applied for tax-exempt status. For many groups, these applications were held over for closer inspection based solely on their names or their political themes.

NSA "leaker" Edward Snowden

As if that wasn’t a big enough scandal, a rogue, former government contractor named Edward Snowden made life for all of the U.S. government very difficult when he leaked information about the NSA’s data collecting practices. The fallout will continue well into 2014, but in one of the most unusual things I’ve ever seen, Snowden’s leaks have pitted some of the countries top technology companies against the U.S. government as companies like Google are working to block surveillance methods of the NSA.

Unfortunately, bigotry was alive and well in 2013. In June, during a courtroom testimony, cooking celebrity Paula Deen was asked if she’d ever used “the N-word.” She said, “Yes, of course.” Following this news, a handful of uncomfortable videos and quotes emerged. However, it is unclear if Deen still acts this way. As she said in her testimony, “As time has gone on things have changed since the 60s in the south.”

And then, probably to the surprise of no one, we learned that the star of Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson, is a huge bigot. In an interview with the men’s magazine GQ, Robertson equated homosexuals to terrorists and those who engage in bestiality. He then went on to say, “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.” Ignoring, I guess, that this period in American history is actually where the blues came from… That said, I believe that all of this, at least the post-interview “fallout,” is all merely a publicity stunt by those managing the Robertson family. Hell, maybe the comments to GQ were even planted.

Perhaps this is a good time to look back on the trial of George Zimmerman. In 2012, Zimmerman, who is white, was accused of fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was black. Zimmerman’s trial began on June 10 and after nearly a month of testimony, on July 13, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Then, three months later, Zimmerman was detained by police after his estranged wife reported that Zimmerman had threatened her and her father with a gun and that he had punched her father in the face. His wife later refused to press charges. Then on November 18, Zimmerman’s girlfriend called the police alleging that she’d asked Zimmerman to leave her home and he pointed a shotgun at her. Zimmerman barricaded himself inside the apartment and police forced their way inside and arrested him. He was charged with aggravated assault with a weapon, a felony, as well as domestic violence battery and criminal mischief. On December 6, Zimmerman’s girlfriend said in an affidavit that she believed the police had misinterpreted her and that she may have misstated certain facts when she had earlier called the police to report Zimmerman. She then asked that the charges against Zimmerman be dropped.

And let’s not forget the recent claims of Fox News host Megyn Kelly who, this Christmas season, reminded us all of the racial makeup of both Santa and Jesus. “And by the way,” she said, “for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white, but this person just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa, but Santa is what he is.” She then went on to say, “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. I mean, Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure and that’s verifiable fact, as is Santa. I just want the kids watching to know that.” Days later she tried to control the spin by saying she’d said all of that “tongue-in-cheek.” She seemed pretty sincere to me.

Christian Science Church in Dixon, IL

But hey, there was a lighter side to 2013. Like this Google Earth image that surfaced showing a penis-shaped church in the Illinois town of Dixon (I’m not kidding). And least we forget the crack smoking mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford. Actually, in 2014, let’s forget him. That 15 minutes has to be about over.

In exciting scientific news, in September, NASA announced that Voyager 1 had entered interstellar space, making it the first man-made object to do so.

In perhaps one of the best stories of 2013, there was the story of San Francisco’s Batkid. Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and thousands of people from the Bay Area, Miles Scott, a five-year-old who’s already beaten cancer—with his leukemia in remission—got to spend the day fighting crime alongside Batman.

There are two big stories of 2013 that will no doubt affect 2014. One is the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. Much of 2013 was filled with debate, concerns, and confusion of the new law, but January 1, 2014 will mark the first day that millions of Americans will have health insurance. Some for the first time in their life.

Laurie Wood, left, and Kody Partridge embrace after being told they are officially married by the Rev. Curtis Price in the lobby of the Salt Lake County office on Dec. 20, 2013.

And lastly, millions more Americans can now marry the love of their life. In 2013, Rohde Island, Delaware, and Minnesota all enacted legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. In Pennsylvania, where same-sex marriage remains illegal, Montgomery County began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples citing that the state’s marriage statutes are unconstitutional. New Jersey began issuing same-sex marriage licenses in October following a state superior court decision that found an equal protection guarantee for same-sex couples. Hawaii legalized same sex marriage. Then Illinois legalized same-sex marriage. New Mexico followed, and on December 19, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, effective immediately, same-sex marriage would be permitted throughout the state. And then, to finish the year, Judge Robert J. Shelby of the U.S. District Court for Utah struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, deeming it unconstitutional. Over 700 same-sex marriages were registered in the following four days. While the state filed an appeal, on Christmas Eve, a request halting same-sex marriages by the Utah attorney general’s office was denied by the 10th Circuit United States Court of Appeals. This battle will continue into 2014, but overall, 2013 was a great year for this civil rights battle.

I doubt 2014 will be any less eventful, but 2013 provided a tough act to follow. I also cannot skip over the fact that as of 2013, it is perfectly legal to smoke marijuana in two U.S. states: Colorado and Washington. This January, the land of my birth, Colorado, will be the first state to offer regulated retail sales of marijuana. I always expected that, someday, weed would be legal in this country, but now that I’m watching it happen, it’s very, very surreal. It does, however, give me a lot of hope that, eventually, good sense always prevails.

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Have You Overlooked This Industry?

Originally published in The Motley Fool

Let’s face it, Americans own a lot of stuff. As the late comedian George Carlin once noted, “Sometimes … You’ve gotta move all your stuff, and maybe put some of your stuff in storage. Imagine that, there’s a whole industry based on keepin’ an eye on your stuff.”

The storage industry may not be a very glamorous industry to invest in, but with over 48,000 self-storage facilities in the U.S. offering 2.3 billion square feet of rentable space (an area three times the size of Manhattan), it is an industry that generated $22 billion in revenue last year. So, how can you benefit from storing other people’s stuff? Here are a few ideas.

Storing It Yourself
Most people are familiar with Public Storage (NYSE: PSA) , and this name shouldn’t be overlooked. This year, Public Storage has seen a 26% climb in its stock price, and has a net operating cash flow of $1.29 billion. It also operates with a gross margin over 50%, and pays a dividend with a 2.95% yield. And just last week, Public Storage announced that its third quarter revenues were up 7.7%.

Going Mobile
A growing trend in personal storage is to have the storage come to you. Small storage containers can be delivered to your home on a flatbed truck, and you can either use them for storage on your property, or have them picked up once you fill them. They can then be stored in a warehouse, or delivered to another address where you can unload them.

One name to consider in this growing field is CubeSmart (NYSE: CUBE) , which is up almost 50% this year. With a gross margin of just 20% for 2012, CubeSmart reported net cash flow of $118 million. For income-minded investors, CubeSmart offers its shareholders a dividend with a 2.35% yield. CubeSmart is currently expanding as well, recently agreeing to acquire 35 self-storage facilities Texas, as well as one in North Carolina.

Another company to consider is AMERCO (NASDAQ: UHAL) , better known as U-Haul. AMERCO is somewhat new to the mobile storage space, but as the pioneer of the do-it-yourself move it seems like a natural fit. In addition, investing in AMERCO allows you to benefit from its operations outside of storage as well. AMERCO’s stock has soared more than 84% this year, and AMERCO generated a net cash flow of $662 million while operating with margins similar to those of CubeSmart. However, a potential downside to AMERCO is that it does not pay a dividend.

Commercial Storage
Individuals aren’t the only ones who have a need for storage. Construction contractors and businesses alike have a great need for temporary and portable storage. Companies likeMobile Mini (NASDAQ: MINI) and McGrath Rentcorp (NASDAQ: MGRC) fill that need.

Despite having a gross margin of 84%, Mobile Mini’s net cash flow for 2012 was only $91 million. However, shares of Mobile Mini have been soaring this year, up over 108% so far. Analysts also seem to like this stock, with none calling for anything less than a hold. An equal amount are calling it a buy or a strong buy.

McGrath has also seen an increase in its share price this year, up 37% with a net cash flow of $126 million. McGrath also reported a healthy 44% gross margin, and it pays a dividend with a 2.70% yield. Also, just last week McGrath reported a 10% increase in revenues for its third quarter.

Bottom Line
There probably is no such thing as a completely “recession proof” industry, but most people are unwilling to get rid of their stuff no matter what the economy is doing. This makes the storage industry very resistant to downturns in the economy, which should make this often-overlooked industry worthy of consideration for your portfolio.

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