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Monday, December 31, 2012

This Ain't no Fluke

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a decision on Firday that goes quite a ways towards ending the free birth control and abortifacient mandate of the federal government under Obamacare.  In Korte v. Sebelius, the court issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Obamacare rule requiring employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control and abortion pills.  The court found that the law violates the religious freedom of thos who are opposed to such measures.  This is the second circuit court to issue such an injunction but the first to provide an opinion explaining its reasoning.  One circuit has already gone the other way as well.  My guess is that we will soon see Obamacare back in front of the Supreme Court on this point. 



Let's hope for the Best

With the end of 2012 upon us, let's all hope for the best for 2013.  Here's a hearty "Happy New Year!" from Connecticut Comments.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Piers Morgan -- Who Cares

Perhaps the strangest news in the last few weeks has been the brouhaha about Piers Morgan.  For those of you who do not watch CNN, okay, for all of you, Morgan is the new host of what used to be the Larry King show.  Earlier in his career, Morgan was the editor of one of the large London newspapers and he has been mixed up in the phone hacking scandals of the media in that city.  For years now, there have been arguments over whether or not Morgan was involved in hacking into the cell phones of prominent figures in the UK, a charge that Morgan strongly denies.  Anyway, recently Morgan went strongly on the offensive against guns after the killings in Newtown.  Given the low ratings of Morgan's show, I am not sure why anyone cares what he says.  My guess is that his rant was only seen by people who had no other choice since it was the only thing playing at their airport gate prior to boarding.  The other seven regular viewers really do not constitute much of an audience.  Even so, some fools decided to start a petition to deport Piers Morgan.  They got something like 100,000 signatures on line in just a few days.  My guess is that most of those who signed care more about getting rid of the incredibly boring show rather than about Morgan's expressing his hostility to guns.  Either way, it got Morgan more publicity than he has ever generated.  The petition alerted many people, most of whom probably do not even know who Morgan is, to the very views that the petitioners are opposing.  Well now, Morgan has struck back to keep the press coverage alive.  He wrote a piece in the London Daily Mail in which he says that he may deport himself from the USA unless the gun laws get changed.

Personally, I do not care whether or not Morgan is here or if he goes back to the UK.  I do find it interesting that after all the mocking Romney got for using the term self-deportation, Morgan claims that he may put that term into action himself.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Fiscal abyss

With all the focus on the so called fiscal cliff centering just on the income tax rates for 2013, America is not realizing the magnitude of what is about to happen to middle income individuals.  We will soon see an enormous tax increase that was arranged totally by Obama and the Democrats for those in the middle income range.

First, the payroll tax is going up by 2% of earned income.  If you make $1000 per week, you will pay an additional $20 out of your weekly paycheck.  That is $1,040 for the year.

Second, if your family has major medical expenses, the amount that you can deduct from your taxes is now limited to amounts that total more than 10% of total income versus the 7.5% level that currently applies.  This tax increase is part of Obamacare.  That same family earning $50,000 that has to pay $10,000 for home nursing services will now have to pay the tax on an additional $1250 of income.  That will mean an increase of $312.50 in taxes for the year.

Third, a family with huge medical related expenses that do not get covered by insurance will no longer be able to use flex accounts to pay for these costs except for $2500 per year.  This does not apply to too many folks, but the ones who will get hit will have major problems.  For example, a family with a special needs child that attends a school devoted to such children will no longer be able to use pre-tax dollars to pay for tuition.  Instead, that family will have to pay tax on the funds first and use what is left to pay the tuition.  Obamacare limited these flex accounts to $2500 for the year.  That same family with $50,000 of income with a child in a school for special needs children that cost $15,000 per year will have an increased tax bill of more than $3000 for 2013 on this basis alone.

Fourth, Obamacare is imposing a new medical device tax.  This is going to increase the cost of medical care for things like pacemakers, replacement joints, and the like.  One way or another, these costs will get passed through to everyone who has insurance as well as to those who don't.

Fifth, many small businesses are about to get hit with a Medicare/Obamacare tax increase of a little over 1% of profits.  That does not sound like much, but in the aggregate, it will mean fewer jobs, less investment and slower growth.  On top of this, consider the businesses that will be required to provide health insurance or to pay the fine for failure to do so.  For businesses that already provide insurance, this may not be a big deal at first.  Think, instead, about businesses that are barely staying open.  These are places that are struggling to make a profit that would allow them to continue.  The Obamacare tax that forces the cost of labor up by 5 or 10% for health insurance may be all that it takes to drive some of these place into bankruptcy.  The job losses will be real and they will be substantial.  For the most part, these losses will affect middle income people.

The list goes on, but this gives you a sense of the magnitude of what is coming.  Don't get lost in the nonsensical fight over higher taxes for those making the big bucks.  Remember that Obama has already raised taxes in a major way on almost all Americans.  He deserves to be held accountable for that.



Now Assad Threatens the Region

News today has the United Nations envoy for Syria telling the world that the Syrian civil war threatens to engulf the entire region.  Speaking in Moscow, the UN envoy said that should fighting get worse in certain areas of Syria like Damascus, there could be as many as one million refugees fleeing the area.  Those people supposedly will all go to either Jordan or Lebanon, a move which, according to the envoy, will break those countries.  At the same event, the Russian foreign minister announced again that Russia will not agree to any "solution" to the problem which results in the removal of Assad from power.

What does this all mean?  The reality is that this event is another bit of evidence that Assad is on his way out.  The UN envoy was in Moscow after having been in Damascus to speak to Assad.  He paints a bleak, albeit false portrait of the near term future in Syria.  The fighting is going to intensify in the Damascus area, we are told.  That means that the rebels will be moving in for the kill.  A million refugees will be on the move, we are told.  That means that Assad will continue to attack and bomb population centers taken over by the rebels.  But why would anyone expect these refugees to go to Jordan or Lebanon?  Surely some of them will be allowed across the border, but Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq are extremely unlikely to allow the wholesale movement of refugees from Syria into their countries.  Further, there are certainly plenty of places within Syria where the refugees could go, provided that Assad does not decide to use attacks on refugee centers as his next terror tactic.

When one adds in the Russian statement, it boils down to "things are getting worse, and the only way to avoid a mess is for the world to force the rebels to agree to keep Assad in power."  This is not very likely, but it does show just how desperate Assad has gotten.


A Victory for Waste

There has been a tentative settlement of the labor dispute between the longshoremen's union and the port operators that had threatened to shut down all ports on the east coast as well as the Gulf of Mexico two days from now.  What is important about this strike and the settlement is the nature of the dispute.  They were not fighting about wages or hours.  They were not fighting about health insurance or working conditions.  No, the dispute was basically about whether or not container royalties would remain in place.  That's right, "container royalties".

For those who have never heard of container royalties, they are payments to the union based upon the number of container shipments that pass through the port.  In essence, these payments are like a tax levied by the union on each container which arrives at or departs from the port.  The concept was established 52 years ago.  At that time, shipping was just beginning to move from mostly dry bulk shipments loaded and unloaded by teams of workers to freight moving in containers that were unloaded by crane and placed on a railcar or truck for futher shipment.  The use of new container method resulted in a reduction in the need for longshoremen.  In order to compensate the men losing their work, the container royalty was created.  Shippers paid a small amount per container and the proceeds were distributed to all of the union members.  These payments were supposed to ease the move of the union members to other jobs.

Well, now it is 52 years later.  There no longer are any longshoremen who worked in the field before the advent of container shipping.  These people have very high paying jobs with great benefits.  For example, longshoremen are one of the few jobs where healthcare comes from the employer for free.  The average union member earns about double the median national wage.  Then, on top of the great wages and benefits, there is the container royalty payment.  Last year those container royalties amounted to $211 million.  Let me put it another way:  the container royalties are payments to the rich that the rest of us subsidize.  No, these are not the fabled 1%, but at their income levels, they are in the top 5%.  Every item that is imported or exported or even shipped from port to port within the USA is more expensive because of the container royalties. 

The port operators have seen their earnings dry up in recent years.  Combined profits for port operations in the USA are down over 70% from the level of five years ago.  The lack of earnings threatens the ability of the ports to maintain investment and to keep up efficiency.  This, in turn, threatens the livelihood of millions of Americans who work in industries that depend on sea-going trade.  The operators had held out to eliminate the container royalties  on some sort of reasonable basis.

Now we have a settlement.  Of course, the settlement came only after president Obama stepped into the negotiation and "called for a settlement".  According to reports, Obama put pressure on the port operators to abandon their attempt to end the container royalties.

So let's boil this all down.  For the few years, we have heard Obama tell us repeatedly that the Republicans were the party who tried to protect the rich.  Yet, here we have Obama mixing into a labor dispute to protect the rich workers.  Obama is perfectly prepared to protect the rich, so long as they are his supporters.  But don't wait for that story to appear in your local news.  It won't.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Another Triumph for Obama and Clinton

Remember that day about three and a half years ago when the Obama administration presented a pad with a red button on it to the Russians?  The pad had the Russian word for "price cut" on it, although the geniuses at the State Department thought it said "reset".  The point of the exercise was this:  the days of tense Russian-American relations that had prevailed under George Bush were over; we had arrived at the new Nirvana of peace and happiness between the two former adversaries.  Since then, the relationship between the USA and Russia has gotten significantly worse, rather than better.  Right now Russia stands as the main obstacle to action by the UN to stop the Syrian civil war and the main protector of Iran from sanctions that might actually affect the Iranian nuclear program.  My point, however, is not to recap the list of problems between the two countries.  No, today's subject is the new ban enacted in Russia against the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

Yesterday, president Putin of Russia signed into law a measure that bans any adoptions of Russian orphans by Americans.  Here's what the AP says about the reasons for the ban:

The passage of the bill followed weeks of a hysterical media campaign on Kremlin-controlled television that lambasts American adoptive parents and adoption agencies that allegedly bribe their way into getting Russian children.  A few lawmakers claimed that some Russian children were adopted by Americans only to be used for organ transplants and become sex toys or cannon fodder for the U.S. Army. A spokesman with Russia's dominant Orthodox Church said that the children adopted by foreigners and raised outside the church will not "enter God's kingdom."
Let's translate this into English.  Russia under Putin is going back to the constant slander of America and Americans that prevailed during the days of the Soviet Union.  Friends do not falsely accuse friends of adopting orphans in order to harvest their organs or for use as sex toys.

Congratulations are in order for president Obama and secretary Clinton on the great "success" of their Reset diplomacy.  The last time relations between Washington and Moscow were this bad, Leonid Brezhnev was in power as the Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Harry Reid's Doubletalk

This morning, Harry Reid, the Senate Democrat leader, announced that he did not see how any plan on the fiscal cliff could be brought up in the senate in time to beat the January 1 deadline.  Then, Reid castigated John Boehner for letting the House members recess subject to recall.

Let's get that straight.  Reid announces that the senate cannot act before January 1 due to lack of time.  That means that any bill to deal with the cliff has to start all over in the new session of Congress that begins on January 3.  It also means that there is nothing that the House could do before then which would make any difference.  But to keep pointing fingers at the GOP, Reid blames the Speaker of the House for not keeping members in Washington when it is too late to do anything.

Another prime example of doubletalk from Harry Reid.



Fiscal Cliff Follies

Reuters released an article today explaining why many states want to go over the fiscal cliff.  According to the unnamed genius who wrote the article, going over the cliff would increase the estate tax and let various states share in the resulting increase in revenue.

It never fails to amaze me how much false information gets pumped out to the public as "news".  The Reuters report explains in a pedantic manner that the current estate tax law which levies 35% on estates above a $5 million exemption was signed into law by president George Bush in 2001.  This, of course, is completely false.  The current estate tax law was passed in 2010 by the Congress which was then under total Democrat control and then it was signed into law by president Obama.  And to be clear, the Democrats did not just extend an earlier Bush era tax law at that time.  The estate tax passed by the Democrats in 2010 was completely different than its predecessor.

That brings us to the central thesis of the Reuters article.  Supposedly, California is hoping to go over the cliff because it may get $45 million in estate tax revenue.  Of course, if the cliff leads to a recession, then the tax receipts in California from other taxes will probably decline by billions of dollars.  No sane government would ever hope to lose billions in order to gain a few millions.  Even the California government under Jerry Brown is not that crazy.

But hey, they printed all this in Reuters, so it must be true, right?



Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal defects - 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the defection of Major General Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, the head of Assad's military police in Syria.  I pointed out that the defection of such a high officer to the rebels would be super-important if he were an Alawaite.  Well, 24 hours later the press has still not reported on the ethnic background of the general.  Nevertheless, it does appear from some comments in the New York Times that the general is a Sunni.  In other words, the defection is a blow to Assad, but not one that he cannot withstand.



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal defects

Since I am sure that all of you know who Major General Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal is, news of his defection must be stunning.  Of course, I am kidding.  The general was the head of the Syrian national police and a member of the inner circle of Bashir al Assad.  He has moved to support the rebels and has castigated Assad for changing the army from a force to defend Syria into one that senselessly slaughters civilians of their own country.

Although I have searched, I have not found anything that indicates if the general is an Alawaite or a Sunni.  If he is Sunni, then this is just another defection, albeit an important one.  On the other hand, if the general is an Alawaite like Assad, then his defection may well be the beginning of the end days for the regime.  If it is losing its own ethnic supporters, a small group that has controlled Syria for decades, then Assad basically has no chance to prevail.

It would be nice to see Assad fall, but the aftermath may well be worse for the world.  It is too bad that America under president Obama seems to have no plan to deal with that aftermath.  Obama probably thinks that he can just give a speech and everything will be perfect.



Buying into the Misinformation -- 2

The other day I wrote about the mischaracterization by the media of the reason why the GOP opposes raising taxes on anyone.  That post generated a comment that illustrates the ability of the media and the Democrats to confuse most people about the truth.  The comment, by "Jim" was as follows:

The point you make is absolute myth. There was no economic growth at all after Bush instituted tax cuts. There have been numerous non-partisan economists who have said there is no correlation that raising the taxes on the rich will stunt job creation.

The Bush tax cuts passed in final form in 2003.  There had been an initial bill in 2001, but shortly thereafter, the country was hit with the 9-11 attacks which caused a drop in consumer spending.  During the year prior to the completion of the tax cuts in 2003, GDP grew at an average annual rate of about 1.5%.  In the year after the tax cuts were fully in effect, GDP growth grew to a 4% rate.  That extra 2.5% of growth each year meant that GDP was higher by about $350 billion dollars per year and that a great many new jobs were created.  In 2004 and 2005, the economy produced about 5 million private sector jobs.  The unemployment rate came down to 4.7% by the end of those two years.

Let me put this another way:  to say, as the comment does, that "there was no economic growth at all after Bush instituted tax cuts" is to repeat just another false talking point put out by the media and the Democrats.

As for the "numerous non-partisan economists" who supposedly say that there is no correlation between raising taxes and reducing job creation, this is again a phony point.  Rather than quoting an individual, let me cite to the Congressional Budget Office, an agency which is supposed to be non-partisan.  Here is what that agency had to say about raising taxes:

In addition, and particularly important given the current state of the economy, immediate increases would represent an added drag on the weak economic expansion.
It is true that totally partisan economists like Paul Krugman have tried to use anecdotal evidence to argue that raising taxes will not affect job creation.  Sadly, these are political statements, not an actual economic analysis.  There is no doubt that any tax increase will result in a diminution of consumption by consumers.  That means fewer jobs.  It is beyond argument.  I guess I better change what I just wrote to say that it is beyond honest argument.

The Eternal Truths....Well, Maybe Not

I was thinking about some of the truths of the last few years and how they now have turned out not to be so true.  Many of them are quite startling, and more than one is still accepted despite the proof to the contrary.  Here is just a sample of them:

1)  The tidal wave of immigration to the USA from Latin America combined with the high birth rates for the Latino community is pushing the country to a point where we will soon have a "minority majority".  Well, maybe not.  It seems that in the last four years, more people have left the USA for Mexico than have come the other way.  These are not "legal" statistics; they include both legal and illegal immigration.  The figures for the rest of Latin America still have more folks arriving than departing, but the overall total from the area has dropped to the point where it is no longer the main source of immigrants to the USA.  That distinction now goes to East Asia.  Then there is the birth rate.  During the last four years, the American birth rate has declined overall, but the birth rate for whites and blacks have stayed just about steady.  Nearly the entire decline has come from a drop in the birth rate for Hispanics.  The fall has been above 30%.  This may prove to be temporary, a response to the poor economic conditions.  On the other hand, it may turn out to be more enduring.  Put this all together and we find that the trend towards an increasing Hispanic minority has not stopped, but it has slowed almost to a standstill.

2)  Here is a simple truth that has great currency:  the Earth is warming.  I am not now speaking about the cause of the warming, just the trend in temperatures around the globe.  From the late 1970s to the late 1990s, there is no question that the measurements of temperatures around the world were increasing.  (To put this in context, for the fifteen years prior to the start of that period, the temperatures had been falling.)  Since the end of the 1990s, however, just about at the point where Global Warming became a  cause celebre, temperatures have stabilized.  The readings around the world are, on average, essentially unchaged from twelve years ago.  All those compute models predicting doom for the world said that by now, we ought to have warmed by almost a full degree on average.  We have not.  Now, don't expect to see much of this reported in the media.  Global Warming remains a part of the received wisdom of the main stream media.  Everything from Hurricane Sandy to drought in the plains is blamed on warmer global temperatures.  If that basic underpinning were to be removed, the media would be unable to blame these catastrophes on the actions of mankind or the obstinence of a particular political party.  Just know that this is one truth that has been shown to be not so true.

3)  Americans believe in the American Dream.  Each of us, or so the truth goes, wants a chance to work hard for the possibility of a big payoff through success.  Well, it seems that this truth is also false.  In November, the candidate promoting the American Dream was defeated by the candidate of the welfare state.  I realize that this is quite an oversimplification of the election, but it is accurate nevertheless.  If there really were a majority of Americans who wanted equal opportunity as opposed to the stagnation of equal results, Obama would have lost big.  He did not.



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Buying Into the Misinformation

Here's a quick question that will tell you a great deal about how much you accept the misinformation of the media:

Why have Republicans been opposed to letting taxes rise on the wealthy?

a) The GOP is protecting the rich folks; or
b) the GOP is trying to promote economic growth.

The answer from the Democrats and the main stream media is always choice (a). Republicans exist to protect the rich according to this never ending propaganda. The truth, however, is choice (b). The goal of preventing a tax increase is to avoid a major reduction in the amount of spending in the private sector. When a wealthy person buys a boat or an ATV, that purchase supports the jobs of quite a few other people. Visits to expensive restaurants support some well paying restaurant jobs far better than the workers at McDonalds ever achieve. If the federal government sucks an extra $1.6 trillion dollars away from the wealthy over the next ten years, that will result in a major decline in consumer spending and a slowdown in economic growth. That means fewer jobs are created. It hurts the economy.

I repeat this point today because I came across a big story on CNBC that proclaims that the wealthy actually want to pay higher taxes. In the words of the CNBC reporter, this puts Republicans at odds with the folks they are "protecting". But that is just it, the Republicans are not protecting the rich; they are attempting to benefit everyone.

In the class warfare world of the media and the Democrats, it is inconceivable that what is good for one group might also benefit another group. For Democrats and teh left, the only way to deal with the rich is to take their wealth away. The left never considers that by doing just that, it will impoverish the entire country.

Merry Christmas from Connecticut Comments

I want to wish each of you a very merry Christmas. As the song says, "May your days be merry and bright!"

Monday, December 24, 2012

One Nice Part

Not every part of the fiscal cliff is something scary. One nice part is that the tax credit for "wind energy" will expire on December 31st. There seems little chance that it will be renewed. The tax credit costs Americans well over one billion dollars per year. It was passed originally as a mechanism to give wind power an initial boost to get it started. Since then, the credit has morphed into a perpetual sinkhole where federal funds go to die. If wind energy is ever to become economically viable, it should already have reached that point. There is no need for a never ending subsidy to this industry. It will be nice to see it go.

The Fiscal Knoll

President Obama has moved the fiscal cliff debate back to the position that he always wanted to get to. Obama is now advocating for a "small" measure that would (1)raise taxes on only those making over $250,000, (2)put off all the spending cuts, (3)pass to so-called doc fix, and (4)grant him authority to raise the debt ceiling. The media, of course, is not bothering to analyze what this would mean; they just report Obama's new "serious" albeit temporary offer. Let's look at what this "offer" would mean.

First, taxes would go up on exactly those specified all along by Obama. We have been told that in negotiations Obama offered to change that to $400,000, but that offer is out the window. Taxes on estates would return to the level of 1999. That means that people who die owning small businesses, ranches, farms or even family homes worth over $1 million will have to pay federal estate tax at 55%. Since many states levy estate taxes of more than 10%, many of these estates will have to pay two thirds in taxes. That means that all of those family farms, ranches, and small businesses will have to be sold just to pay the taxes.

Second, nothing would be done to cut federal spending. Let me repeat that: NOTHING WOULD BE DONE TO CUT FEDERAL SPENDING!! The results of the battle waged in the Summer of 2011 to finally get some sort of spending cut would be thrown away. The expected deficit of the federal government would rise substantially.

Third, nothing would be done to improve the situation for American business. The USA would remain the country with the worst tax climate for business in the world.

Fourth, there would be no limit on the ability of Obama and his cronies to spend federal money. Before the end of his second term, the debt crisis would likely explode and destroy the American economy sending the world into a new depression.

Let's be clear: Obama's offer is not just for a bad deal. Obama's offer is a path to the destruction of the American economy. Obama's goal is to hurt the Republicans. It ought to be to help Americans. Let's hope that the House stands its ground. Our future depends on that.

It Is Never Enough

The New York Times ran an very lengthy story on Sunday in which the "plight" of college students from poor families is discussed. Boiling down a few thousand words into its essence, one finds that the Times is lamenting that poor students graduate from college with more debt in student loans that the children of the middle or upper income families have. Further, many students from poor families have to hold some sort of job during college which makes the experience more difficult for them. I find this amazing. Students from poor families have more debt because their families do not pay as much for college educations as the wealthy or middle income families do. These students get much larger loans which all of us subsidize. No one else could go and get unsecured loans at very low interest rates that can be paid over many years starting only some years in the future. Now, the Times is lamenting that these students have to pay the loans back. As for jobs, these are a normal part of college for many students. My daughter has worked part time for the last three years; she is now a senior in college. Almost all of her friends have some sort of job. Some of these students are from lower income homes and some are not. The Times article is just plain wrong.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Some Stalemate

The news today from Syria is of a bombing by the Assad regime in the city of Halfaya. The target was a long lind of people, mostly women, who were waiting to buy bread from a local bakery. This clear military target was hit by the Assad air force with the result that ninety-nine are confirmed dead and at least 100 others are seriously wounded. There has been no response from the world community.

Let's put this in perspective. Four times as many innocents were killed in Halfaya as in Newtown Connecticut. Both were horrible crimes, but look at the coverage. Do Syrian dead not count? Assad has slaughtered something like forty thousand of his countrymen. The overwhelming percentage of the dead are women and children. So where is the outrage. Where are the marches condemning Assad as a war criminal? Where is the international condemnation backed up by action?

The next time someone tells you about some internation "outrage" or another, just ask that person what he or she thinks of Halfaya. Expect a blank start in response. All America gets told is that the Syrian civil war is a stalemate.

And The Media Buys It

Just two days ago, a spokesman for the Russian government said that the Syrian civil war was a stalemate with neither side capable of winning. Almost on cue, the media is now writing articles with titles like "Fighting a War with No Winners in Syria" and "Stalemated Civil War Drags On". To say the least, these pieces distributed by the AP and CNN are nothing more than articles by reporters who have been duped by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The trajectory of the Syrian Civil War is quite clear: the rebels are making steady advances and the Assad forces are falling apart. When the protests began a year and a half ago, Assad had the entire armed forces and the police forces on his side. The protesters were not even armed. Then Assad decided to crush the protests by having snipers randomly kill men and women who were marching in the protests. When that did not stop the protests, Assad stepped up the killing. Things got worse and worse until the protesters took up arms against the regime. Even so, Assad controled essentially all of the country and had overwhelming superiority of forces. But Assad ran a campaign that was heavy on slaughter of innocents and brutal in its treatment of opponents. More and more members of the Syrian military refused to continue the slaughter or even switched sides in an attempt to stop Assad. The rebels made gains in the north and central portions of Syria. Today, a majority of Syrian territory is in rebel control. Fighting is taking place in Damascus, Assad's capital city. Assad has used artillery, tanks, aircraft and other heavy weapons. The rebels continue to advance. Even the threat of chemical weapons has not stopped the revel advance.

Russia has supported Assad throughout the fighting, but now it sees the handwriting on the wall. If the rebels win outright, Russia will surely be thrown out of its naval base on the Mediterranean coast of Syria. So, in an attempt to salvage something of its position in Syria, Russia now says that there is a stalemate. It is much like the stalemate that existed in the Second World War two days before VE day. Assad is crumbling and Russia is just telling lies.

But the fools in the main stream media have adopted the Russian view. These reporters seem not to bother even learning the facts before they ignore them. Who knows, maybe the reporters who understand the job are already off for Christmas. But then again, it is the main stream media. They might just be this bad.

The New Egyptian Constitution

Voters in Egypt have apparently approved the new constitution that enshrines Sharia law as the basic document for the country. I say "apparently" since the opposition claims that the vote was rife with fraud.

The real truth, however, is that fraud was not needed for the victory. Instead, the government of president Morsi just used other maneuvers to stack the deck in favor of the new constitution. Simply put, by scheduling a quick vote on the lengthy and complicated constitution, Morsi made it impossible for the opposition to educate the country to the flaws in that document. Passage was inevitable.

Unlike many other countries in the area, Egypt has a large non-Muslim population. These folks are now to be subjected to sharia. There are also many millions of Egyptians who are far from devout followers of Islam. These folks too are to be subjected to sharia. Only time will tell if the new government is able to continue to hold power in the face of such a natural opposition. It would have been much better had Egypt adopted an approach that more clearly reflected freedom of religion (or of no religion). Instead, the Moslem Brotherhood went the route of forced adherence. They may succeed, but I doubt it. At some point, there will be yet another explosion of anger in Egypt. It is just a question of when.

Well Good For Them

The front page of today's New York Post has an article about where Tawana Brawley is now, some 25 years after her phony claim of being raped by a bunch of white men set off one of the biggest racial confrontations of its day. Tawana, according to the Post, now lives in Virginia under an alias in order to avoid her past. Back in the days of the phony rape, Tawana was a slim and quite good looking teen. In those days, whenever she was seen in public, she was always accompanied by her "family adviser" the rather obese younger Al Sharpton. In a strange twist of fate, Tawana is now obese and in hiding, and a now thin Sharpton is a media personality on MSNBC.

What Brawley did was to tell a lie to her mother to cover up her own three day bender. She is hardly the first teen to do something like that. Her misfortune was to have that lie adopted by a race-baiter like Sharpton who used it to destroy the reputations and even the lives of some law enforcement personnel in and around Newburgh, New York. Sharpton took the lie of a teen and used it for personal gain. Tawana should have come clean sooner -- but, for all we know, she may have. Sharpton, however, should have and did know better. And he got off totally free. Even when a jury found Sharpton guilty of defamation for falsely repeating claims that Brawley had been raped by a particular assistant district attorney, Sharpton just said he had no money and failed to pay the judgment.

So where is the big Post article on Sharpton?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Goofy -- Even for the AP

This morning I read a "news report" from the AP that purported to analyze the reason why there is a fiscal cliff. According to the AP, here is the short answer: the reason why the middle class and the wealthy face the possibility of higher taxes is the fault of Republican policies. The AP is not talking about the current negotiations; no, the AP is blaming the Republican policy of fighting tax increases for the last decade. Think about that. It was Republicans who lowered taxes for all taxpayers twelve years ago. That tax cut supported the recovery of the economy after 9-11 and led to many years of unemployment below 5%. Democrats denounced the move as tax cuts for the rich even though more than 80% of the cuts went to those who everyone agrees is middle income. In the years since that cut, Republicans have steadfastly opposed raising taxes on anyone. If there is no agreement by the end of the year, we will go over the fiscal cliff. That means that the tax rates will go back to where they were prior to the Bush tax cuts that the Democrats have lambasted for over a decade. In other words, the middle class faces a destardly tax increase because the Republicans lowered the rates twelve years ago over the objections of the Democrats. Using the AP logic, it would have been better for us all to have paid the higher taxes all along. So the Democrats get what they have wanted for 12 years, the death of the Bush tax cuts, and according to the AP it is the result of Republican policies.

That's goofy, even for the AP.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Kerry -- At Least He is Better Than Rice

President Obama has nominated John Kerry to be the next Secretary of State. All I can say is that at least this is a better nomination than had Susan Rice been the designee. After all, by making Kerry Secretary of State, Obama gets this pompous fool out of the senate where he had become part of the furniture after twenty five years.

Kerry's world view is clearly not one that will serve the USA well. He is someone who has no problem with weakening America, and he also believes that multilateral solutions are fine even if they work to the detriment of the USA. Still, this fits right in with the basic world view of Obama, so it is really no big deal. I mean Secretary Clinton had a bit more backbone than Kerry will ever have, but the final decisions were always up to Obama. Kerry is not going to meaningfully affect policy because of that.

One possible plus from all this is that Scott Brown may get back into the senate. Who knows? The idea that there could be a GOP senator from Massachusetts again seems bizarre, but stranger things have happened.

One last note. The White House's view of the importance of the Kerry nomination is best shown by the fact that Obama released it to the press not only on Friday afternoon, but on the Friday afternoon before Christmas. It is hard to think of a less propitious beginning for Kerry's tenure at State.

So What Comes Next?

The House Republicans pulled their so called plan B bill for dealing with the fiscal cliff last night. It did not have the votes to pass. There were some Republicans who refused to back it, and the Democrats all refused to vote for it.

The irony of the situation is amazing. The main parts of plan B were taken from a proposal pushed by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer last year. Now, they both denounce it as a "political ploy". Does that mean that when they were pushing it, it was a political ploy? Not according to them.

Everyone in Washington knows that no fiscal cliff plan that raises taxes can pass the House without some support from the Democrats. There are just too many GOP members who will not vote for plans the result in taxes being higher in 2013 for anyone. They want spending cut, not taxes raised. But the Democrats have not been trying. The Senate just adjourned and went home for Christmas. Harry Reid announced that even if plan B passed, the Senate would not even be allowed to consider it. President Obama has gone back to his usual negotiating style of not really making proposals. He makes speeches and talks about outlines, but he never gets to the actual details. For all of that, the media is silent; there is no criticism. But now the House has adjourned until next week and the torrent of articles blaming them for the impasse is on us.

The truth, however, is that it seems pretty clear that the goal of the Democrats is to go over the fiscal cliff.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Syria Gets Worse

If you thought that things could not possibly get worse regarding Syria, think again. The United Nations human rights investigators (led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro) have issued a report confirming that Hezbollah terrorists from Lebanon and Shiite soldiers from Iraq are now in Syria fighting on the side of the Assad regime. In other words, the Syria civil war has become a full blown sectarian battle. On the one side are the Shiites composed of the Syrian Alawaite sect, the Lebanese Shiites from Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shiite soldiers and the Iranian "support" troops from the al Quds brigade of the Iranian army. On the other side are the Sunni rebels and supporters from other Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the like. The Sunnis have the advantage in numbers; over 75% of all Syrians are Sunni. The Shiites have the advantage in weaponry; Assad's arsenal is huge, and the Iranians are augmenting it both directly from Iran as well as from Iranian proxy Hezbollah. Since each side considers the other to be comprised of heretics, they each seem to have no problem killing the other at every possible moment. If this trend continues, we may soon see chemical attacks on the Sunnis by the Assad forces. If that actually happens, expect to see an outpouring of anger from the Sunni community in Syria which will be expressed by the mass murder of Alawaites unfortunate enough to be found by the Sunnis.

To top all this off, with Hezbollah forces in Syria fighting alongside the Assad soldiers, the possibility that nerve gas gets transferred to the terror group has risen dramatically. We are not just watching one group kill another group in Syria. The whole world may soon be involved.

I congratulate president Obama and the State Department for their "brilliant" handling of this situation. An uprising that could have been brought to fruition without mass murder may well be the start of a regional conflict that kills hundreds of thousands or even millions.

China -- That Sinking Feeling

One of the less reliable statistics in the world economy is the growth rate of China. It is commonly accepted that the Chinese government manipulates its GDP statistics for its own purposes. With the change in the Chinese leadership, there is concern that the figures for GDP growth will be inflated to make the new leadership look both successful. This may seem unimportant, but the truth is just the opposite. Right now, Europe is in recession, Japan is continuing its decades of essentially no growth and the USA is still limping along. Only China has been growing and providing an engine to help get the world economy back on the right track. If China stops growing, it will be a major blow to the entire world economy.

So let's look at some other indicators of Chinese growth. One of my favorites is the Baltic Dry Index and the spot markets for ship charters. China's economy is heavily dependent on international trade. When the Chinese market is humming, rates for ship charters rise. When China slows, the ship charter rates fall. Of course, there are other factors that affect the shipping rates; the supply of new ships is the most important of these. Nevertheless, the shipping rates are still a good indicator of the direction and speed of growth in China.

Yesterday, the spot price for Supramax ships was about $7700 down from about $12,300 a year ago. The spot price for Panamax ships was $5800 yesterday down from $13,300 a year ago. Cape size ships were going for $4900 yesterday compared for $28,900 a year ago. The Baltic Dry Index itself reached a low of 770 yesterday down from 1700 a year ago and 11,000 in 2008. So what does this mean? To me, it means that China is importing less iron ore for its steel plants. It means that China is importing less of other raw materials as well. It means that China is shipping less volume of goods abroad. It also means that trade in the rest of the world has slowed.

Let's be clear. These figures do not necessarily mean that the world economy is collapsing. They do, however, tell me that the truth about the Chinese economy is nowhere near as rosy as the figures emanating from Beijing would indicate.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Continuing a Tradition

The news this morning brought back an old character to the national stage: the unserious Obama. Just a few days ago, we heard that president Obama was now going to do something about gun crime. Now today, we hear that Obama has named Joe Biden as his "point man" on the issue. Biden? Really? Was Pee Wee Herman busy?

It really is time for a serious look at gun violence. I mean a serious look, not a crazed left-wing dream look. Here are a few facts worth noting:

1) During the administration of mayor David Dinkins, New York City had 2,245 murders per year. The vast majority of these murders were gun crimes. After Dinkins, New York elected mayor Rudy Giuliani whose police force adopted all sorts of new programs to combat crime. The most innovative of these was to track crime statistics and to reassign police to neighborhoods that showed rising crime. Another was to show zero tolerance for small crimes like jumping the turnstiles in the subway. Crime fell dramatically. Under mayor Bloomberg, the Giuliani policies were continued. Murder in the city fell to 471 killed, a drop of 80% over the twenty year period. It was police work and better strategies that stopped the murders, not gun control. (For comparison, consider that so far this year the number of murders in Chicago has already passed the 471 figure, and Chicago has less than one-third the number of people that New York has.)

2) In 1966, a 25 year old man shot and killed his family and then went to the University of Texas and began randomly killing people from a perch on the bell tower on campus. Thirteen people were killed and 32 wounded. The students were older, but is sound fairly similar to what happened in Connecticut. The Texas shooter used a hunting rifle and a batch of pistols. Like Connecticut, none of the weapons would have been classed as an "assault weapon".

The problem that we as a society have to face is not gun control. There are something like a quarter of a billion guns in the USA. They are way beyond "controlling", particularly since the second amendment guarantees the right to have arms. The problem is identifying people who might be shooters. Prior to the shooting at the University of Texas all those years ago, no one suspected that a murderous rampage was about to occur. As far as we know now, no one in Connecticut suspected that the shooter was about to snap. Indeed, in all of the mass violence incidents over the years, it seems that only the one in Aurora, Colorado came after a mental health professional noted the disturbing tendencies and potentially violent nature of the shooter. Even in Aurora, nothing was done with the knowledge. In our society, you cannot lock up a person because he is mentally ill with possible violent tendencies. We do not have enough jails to house all of those people.

It is not the case that we should give up dealing with this problem. What we need to do, however, is to come up with new solutions like the New York City government under Giuliani did. Fighting again about gun control when we know that it will have no real effect is just a waste of time. It is unserious. It is a way to claim to have done something without actually accomplishing anything at all.

By the way, I just heard that Biden has already decided on a slogan for his anti-gun efforts. Here it is: "Guns don't kill people, knives do." Hey, it makes no sense, but we are speaking about Joe Biden. What did you expect?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Face of Evil

The hysteria over the shootings in Newtown continues apace. The media which could not seem to report the crime accurately is now telling us non-stop that the reason for the killings was the lack of gun control legislation. Adam Lanza was the shooter, but the media told all America that it was his brother Ryan Lanza who had pulled the trigger. But the same media knows the reason why this all happened; we need gun control. Mrs. Lanza, the shooter's mother, was a teacher at the school and was shot in her classroom along with the children we were told. Then we were told that she was a substitute teacher at the school. Finally, we learned that she was not a teacher and that she had no connection to the school. But these same folks tell us that the reason for the shootings is that we have inadequate gun control. We also were told that the weapons used by the shooter included assault weapons that fire bursts of bullets at a time. That too turned out to be false; the weapons were just regular guns and they were all purchased legally after going through the detailed checks and other requirements set up by the state of Connecticut. In other words, the weapons were already regulated under a rather strict gun control law, and it did not stop the killer. But the media tells us that the lack of such a law is what led to the shootings.

It really is enough. This tragedy ought not to be hijacked into becoming part of a meaningless gun control debate. The real reason for these deaths is the triumph of evil that manifest itself through this sad shooter. Of course, we simply cannot understand why Adam Lanza did this. It is this very lack of understanding that results in the gun control nonsense spewing from the media. They cannot report that this was an incomprehensible evil. Such a story would conflict with their basic self-view as all knowing. There has to be a solution from the government for every problem. There just has to be! But we all know that the reality is really very different. Bad things do happen to good people and often it is inexplicable why that is so. Humanity cannot control all problems, no matter what the liberal media may think. Let's stop fooling ourselves. Gun control rules can change, but they will make no difference.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Same Old Same Old

Why is it that nothing ever changes? The mourning for those killed in Newtown has just begun, and the news is filled of calls for gun control measures that would ban assault weapons from being sold. As if that would matter.

The truth is that the shooter in Newtown had guns that belonged to his mother. They were obtained legally. A ban on assault weapons would not have made any difference since the main weapons used were hand guns. But the same folks who always come out to argue about gun control are at it again.

Don't get me wrong. I do not oppose reasonable controls on the sale of assault weapons. No one needs such a weapon for hunting or for protection. I just think that it is ridiculous that the politicians around here feel that it is necessary to trot this idea out again to show that they are "doing something" about the tragedy.

The truth here is simple. There was something wrong with the guy who murdered all these people. Maybe we will find out some day exactly what his problem was and why he did this, but I doubt it. It seems right now that there was no obvious warning that this mess was coming. It just happened. It was terrible. It was horrible. There was no law that could have stopped it ahead of time. It just happened.

Maybe it would be better if the governor and the president just said as much.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Which is Worse - 4

Today, the Which is Worse series moves to the main stream media. Here goes:

Which is worse?

1) The bombing of a Palestinian refugee camp which results in many deaths including 25 civilians killed when a bomb hit a mosque where they had sought refuge; or

2) A reporter being punched by a soldier when the reporter tried to cross a barrier keeping people out of a crime scene?

If you are an editor of the New York Times, the answer is clearly choice number 2. Let me explain. Yesterday, the Assad forces in Syria carried out an air raid on the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp which is in southern Damascus. One plane dropped bombs on a mosque where many refugees had taken shelter. Twenty five are confirmed dead in that mosque with many more wounded. The New York Times has chosen not even to report the story on its web site. On Friday, a reporter in the West Bank was stopped by an Israeli soldier when the reporter attempted to enter an area that had been the scene of a crime. When the reporter refused to stop, the soldier punched him. This story got big coverage in the Times.

Can it really be that the death of 25 and the wounding of many more is unimportant because it was done by Assad, but the punching of one reporter by an Israeli soldier merits big coverage? How sick is that?

Just to be clear, the lack of coverage of the slaughter in Syria is not limited to the NY Times. A Google search reveals that the story of the air raid was reported in detail by news media in Europe and the Middle East. The story, however, was not picked up by any of the main stream media here in America. Imagine now the coverage had the bombs been dropped by an American air force jet in Afghanistan. The media would treat it as if it were the end of the world. Imagine also what the coverage would be like if the planes had been Israeli. Again, we would be hearing over and over again about war crimes. The situation is just incredible.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Little Known Facts

Yesterday, the chief of staff of the armies of Iran, General Hassan Firouzabadi, announced that the deployment of Patriot missile batteries in Turkey is a threat to humanity. The Patriot missiles are designed to shoot down any incoming missiles directed at Turkey by the Assad forces in Syria. Turkey requested the deployment after Assad began firing SCUD missiles at rebels who were located just a few miles from the Turkish border. Turkey's allies in NATO responded with the deployment of Dutch, American and German Patriot batteries. Clearly, the intent of the deployment of these defensive missiles is to prevent SCUDs, particularly those armed with chemical weapons, from falling into Turkey.

General Firouzabadi, however, told Iranian Students News Agency the following: "Each one of these Patriots is a black mark on the world map, and is meant to cause a world war. They are making plans for a world war, and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself."

It is worth reading the lunatic ravings of the Iranian government power structure. No sane person could call the deployment of the Patriots an incitement to world war. The Iranian chief of staff, however, has no problem saying just that, however. Next time someone tells you how we need to talk to the Iranians, keep this in mind.

Sadness and Grief

The is no way to write a blog called Connecticut Comments without commenting on the biggest news story in Connecticut of the last thirty years (as long as I have lived here.) But what can one say about the senseless slaughter of little children? Certainly, we pray for these children and we hope that their families are comforted, but we all know that the loss of these innocents will never be overcome. A child in kindergarten is a joy, undeserving of a terrible fate like that which befell those in Newtown. There is no way to make sense of this act.

Some, like New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, want to exploit the tragedy to pass some sort of gun legislation. But we now know that all of the weapons used were purchased legally by the first victim of the shooter, his mother. Further, even a ban on assault weapons would not have made any difference here; the shooter mainly used hand guns that would not have been covered by such a ban.

The problem is not with the guns here, no matter what the politicos want to talk about. The problem is to understand, if possible, how a 20 year old could do such a thing. What was actually going on in his mind? What could drive him to this? Sadly, we will probably never know the answer.