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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Is Assad About To Fall?

A London based Arabic newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, is reporting that Russia has withdrawn key personnel from Damascus including many who supported the Assad regime's military efforts as well as most workers at the Russian embassy.  Supposedly, according to the story, Iran and its puppet terror group Hezbollah are also withdrawing their personnel.

If this story is true (and I have my doubts about that), it would be a strong indication that Assad's main foreign allies have recognized that his regime is about to collapse.  They are getting their people out before the final disaster hits.  One thing is almost certain:  if Assad falls and the Sunni forces take Damascus, there will be a major slaughter of the people who supported Assad.  Of course, the question is which group takes Damascus.  If it is ISIS, the level of death could be immense.  If it is just the other rebels, it will still be terrible.

Of course, no matter who wins, the new government will not be friendly towards the USA.  For that we can thank president Obama and his refusal to formulate any coherent policy regarding Syria.


The Glory of Solar Power

Over the last three years, I have received roughly one call each week from a company that wants to provide me with a free estimate for the installation of solar power.  The caller tells me in a heavily accented voice that because of programs run by both the state and the federal government, I can install solar power with no up front cost.

Let me stop here.  Normally the accent of the caller is so thick that I cannot understand what he is saying on the first try.  For a while, I thought this was another of those scams where the caller tells you that he is calling from Windows Services because your computer is sending in messages that it has been taken over by viruses.  I'm sure you have all gotten that call.  I've learned, however, that the solar energy calls are real and not pure frauds unlike the others. 

Now my home is surrounded by tall trees and has no possible location for the installation of solar panels, and I've told the caller this on multiple occasions.  It doesn't stop the calls, though.  I still get the calls and the words read by the caller to me are still the same.  My response has changed, however.  At first, I explained why I was not a good candidate for solar power.  Then I changed to asking them not to call anymore.  Now, I'm at the point where I just hang up.

The reality is that the state and federal government support this program which, at least for me, is harassment by telephone.  Your tax dollars at work!

I often wonder if anyone bought the solar installations.  Today, I happened across an article describing how successful the program has become.  After years of efforts, there are now 7000 homeowners with solar installations in Connecticut.  That's 7000 out of 1.1 million electricity customers.  Only the media could call that a success story.

Don't misunderstand me.  I think that solar power in the right places makes a lot of sense.  But solar power in heavily forested and often cloudy Connecticut?  There has to be a better idea.


The National Polls -- How To Interpret Them

For the umpteenth time, I read an article that marvels at how the polls show that Hillary Clinton is viewed as dishonest and untrustworthy by more than half of voters while these same voters have her leading her potential Republican rivals for the presidency.  It's really not anything to marvel at, however; all one needs to do is understand what the polls mean.

First of all, the single most important point about these polls is that most of the voters have no idea who the Republican candidates are.  I don't mean that the average voter does not understand Marco Rubio's economic plan or Scott Walker's position on federally funded early childhood education.  I mean that the majority of voters could not identify either Scott Walker or Marco Rubio if you showed them a picture of both.  The same is true of nearly every other Republican in the race.  Jeb Bush has higher name recognition than the others, but one has to wonder how many of the people answering the questions are actually talking about George Bush.  The truth about the polls is that an enormous chunk of voters are actually choosing between Hillary Clinton and some unknown Republican.

Second, there is also an enormous group in the electorate who know nothing about Hillary's problems with her email, the Clinton Foundation, her selling influence while at the State Department, and all the other things that have come out this year.  Many of these people just remember Hillary as Bill's wife who was then a senator and secretary of state.  That means that many of those voting for Hillary are actually voting for a different Hillary than the current version.

Third, there has been a clear trend line in the polls.  When the 2016 questions began to be asked by pollsters, Hillary had high favorability ratings in the low 60s and led all potential GOP nominees (even more unknown then) by 15 to 20 points.  Hillary was also viewed by the public as honest and trustworthy.  As Hillary's problems have mounted, her favorability ratings have fallen dramatically.  In many polls she is now view unfavorably by more than the number who give her positive ratings.  She is also now viewed as untrustworthy by a majority.  Her leads over the GOP candidate field is now down to 3 or 4 % in most polls (although there are a few which show some Republican rivals ahead of her.)  For Hillary, this is an ominous trend.  Remember, there is an enormous portion of the electorate which has paid no attention whatsoever to the entire Clinton mess.  Those who have heard the news stories, however, have moved decisively away from Clinton and her scandals.

Over the next year, there will be thousands of more stories about the candidates.  More and more, the word will get out.  By June of 2016, there will still be a huge part of the electorate that has yet to focus on the Hillary story, but that group will be substantially smaller than it is now.  Also, by 2016, Republican candidates will have had a year to educate the public about who they are and what they want to achieve.  There is no way of knowing what will happen in the next year; it will be driven by events.  One thing is certain, however, and that is that if the scandals of the Clintons continue to swirl through the media, Hillary's numbers will not go up, only down. 


Saturday, May 30, 2015

China Changing the Facts While It Can

The American people are not focused on international relations at the moment.  This is nothing new; it has been that way since not long after 9-11.  Even when US troops were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the main focus of the American people was not events overseas, but rather on what was happening right here at home.  Today, we have just a few thousand troops in Iraq and not many more in Afghanistan.  The crazy terrorists of ISIS are busy killing and bombing across the Middle East, but as usual, the average American is not paying much attention.  After all, there are more important things to discuss like Tom Brady's punishment in Deflategate or Bruce Jenner's sex change.

There is one very important thing that is happening right now, however, that the American public ignores at its own peril.  This is the effort by China to take control of the South China Sea.  What is happening is China is laying claim to international waters through with just under half of all world trade travels.  Indeed, the Chinese are literally building islands in those waters and putting military installations on the newly-created islands.

It is not all that hard to build an island.  If you've ever crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, you traversed a number of man-made islands.  Those islands were designed and built to house the start and finish of the tunnels that form part of the structure.  In the South China Sea, the Chinese have found underwater coral reefs and dredged up tons and tons of sand and dumped that sand on top of the reef.  The result is that new islands have appeared above the surface of the sea.  The Chinese effort has also killed all the marine life that had inhabited these coral reefs, but the Chinese are not that big on worrying about the ecology of an area.

Once the Chinese have built an island, they have then put paved runways on them to allow for military aircraft to use the new land as a base.  The USA may have huge aircraft carriers from which to launch aircraft at sea, but the Chinese have unsinkable carriers with these islands.  It's also a lot less expensive to dredge up sand to build an island than it is to build an aircraft carrier.

Some people say that it really does not matter if the Chinese build these islands.  China is peaceful, after all, or so they say.  But then they never explain how it is that China has chosen to build and fortify these islands.  There are no Chinese installations nearby.  Some of these islands are more than 1000 miles from the Chinese mainland.  The area is much closer to the Philippines and Indonesia and even Vietnam than it is to China.  But the Chinese are the ones to build islands.

With these fortified islands, China will have it in its power to cut off Japan completely from its oil supplies.  China will also have the power to crush nearly all trade from South Asia to the USA, Canada and the rest of the Americas.  The strategic importance of this area cannot be overstated.

Are the Chinese planning to take control of all navigation in the area?  We don't know.  Would the Chinese go to war to take control of this area?  Again, we don't know.  So why are the Chinese building these islands now, NOW??  Unlike the other questions, that is something where we do know the answer.  The Chinese believe that the USA will do nothing to stop them while Obama is president.  They know that president Obama never seems to take action.  Once the islands have been built and the air strips put in place, it will be much harder to get them removed than it would have been to stop the construction in the first place.  The Chinese are rushing to get their air bases built while Obama remains in the White House.  China believes that Obama will not do anything at all about these air bases.  By the time we have a new president, it will be too late to act.

China is changing the facts while it can.



What Are The Clintons Keeping Secret?

With all the stories swirling around the Clintons cash machine, one of the most consistent parts of the tale is the ever present secrecy used by Bill and Hillary.  Just think about all those methods used to keep the facts from the public, the media and even the Obama administration.

1.  Hillary's private email server and system has to go first on any list of secrecy efforts.  Federal law required Hillary to use the government email system but she did not.  Instead, Hillary sent and received all her emails on her own personal system and she kept all those emails from the government during her entire time as Secretary of State.  Only two years after she left office did she finally turn over about half of her emails.  She destroyed the rest and claimed that they were personal.  Of course, with the emails destroyed, we have no way of knowing what she actually destroyed.  Score one for secrecy.

The Clintons have tried to mount a defense against those upset by Hillary's use of the secret system, but those attempts have been lame.  Hillary told us that she used only the private system (rather than the government system and a private system) for convenience so that she would not have to carry more than one device with her to access emails.  Only someone so stuck in the last century could make such an argument.  Nearly anyone under 65 who uses a smartphone could have told Hillary that she could have access to both a government and a private email system on one device.  Then there's the fact that Hillary herself also told us on a different occasion that she carries multiple devices with her wherever she goes.  So much for that excuse. 

Even the details that Hillary gave us about the email system have proven to be false.  She told us that she just used on email address on that system.  We already know of multiple addresses that she used.  She told us that whenever she emailed any government employee, it would have been picked up in the government archive.  The truth, however, is that Hillary's closest aides also had email addresses on the private Clinton server, so the most important emails were never picked up by the government archive.

2.  The Clintons have told us again and again that contributions to the Clinton Foundation were all disclosed.  This too is untrue and it shows a second major effort at secrecy.  The Clintons set up subsidiaries for the Clinton Foundation and funneled some rather important contributions through those entities.  For example, they had a Canadian entity which got thousands of contributions totaling millions of dollars (including from foreign governments and their agents), but none, NONE, of these contributions were disclosed.  More secrecy! 

The Clintons told us that Canadian law prohibited them from disclosing the contributors to the Canadian entity.  One problem with that excuse, however, is that Canadian law does no such thing.  It was another phony excuse for a secrecy ruse that was discovered.

Even the actual Clinton Foundation did not disclose all of its contributors.  For example, millions of dollars from the Algerian government somehow slipped through and did not get disclosed.  Of course, that contribution by Algeria violated the agreement that Hillary had made with the Obama administration when she took office at the State Department regarding foreign contributions.  The contribution also came at a time when Algeria was seeking certain determinations from the State Department.  No wonder it was "inadvertently" kept secret.

3.  The Clinton Foundation also managed to keep secret the nature of its activities.  The cover story is that the foundation raises money for charity and does good works around the world.  The reality, however, is quite different.  We now know that the Clintons used the foundation to keep their campaign staff together and to pay them over the long term.  People like Sidney Blumenthal and Ira Magaziner got millions of dollars to act as political advisors.  Those payments were kept secret, however.  The ploy of using foundation cash for non-charitable purposes got so bad that we now find that roughly 88% of the expenditures by the foundation were not grants to actual groups doing good works.  The lack of distributions to real charities was so bad that Charity Navigator, a group that rates the bona fides of various charities would not recommend any giving to the Clinton Foundation.  That makes the foundation more like a scam than a charity.

4.  Then there's the secrecy of Bill Clinton's shell company.  Clinton has been supposedly doing "consulting" work for various clients over the last five years.  We don't know for whom he did this work.  We don't know what sort of "consulting" was done.  Maybe Bill was advising Qatar on how to get its proposed arms purchases approved by Hillary at the State Department.  We don't know. 

But why don't we know?  The answer is a company called WJC, LLC.  It is a shell company created by the Clintons so that the information could remain secret.  All that this company did was to collect the payments for Bill's "consulting" work and immediately pay it to Bill.  That means that Hillary had to list WJC, LLC on her disclosure statements to state that Bill had gotten more than $1000 from that entity.  She did not have to list WJC, however, as a company that she and Bill owned.  If there was a payment of $750,000 from Qatar to Bill for "consulting", it never had to see the light of day.  Unless there were someone who went over Hillary's disclosures with a fine tooth comb and then checked out who WJC LLC was, there would not even be any suspicion about Bill's undisclosed "consulting" work.  There ought to be an immediate disclosure by the Clintons of the names of each of Bill's clients and a description of just what sort of consulting work was done for each of those clients.

By the way, is there anyone besides me who thinks it is tawdry that the ex president of the United States is selling his influence as a "consultant"?

5.  There are more examples of secrecy like Hillary's refusal to even answer questions about these subject.  You get the picture, however.

The reality is that the Clintons have been keeping a lot of tacky and, perhaps, illegal stuff hidden.  Each time the secrecy gets breached, we seem to learn about yet another tawdry scheme by Bill and Hillary to get their hands on more cash.  For them, no amount of wealth is enough.  President Obama's campaign slogan was Hope and Change.  Hillary's ought to be Secrecy and Greed.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Gun Control as an All Purpose Response

I just got off the phone with a gun control group that wanted to raise money to fight for stricter limits on hand guns.  Their pitch was centered around recent events in Baltimore.  They told me that there has been a major increase in murder and violent crime in Baltimore since the riots and that this crime surge demonstrates the need for stricter gun control.

Since the woman who called was low key and seemed rational, I asked her why she would put the surge in violence in Baltimore together with gun control rather than with the new limitations on police activity.  I asked her whether there had been some change in the gun laws that had let more weapons on the streets of Baltimore since the riots that could explain the surge in gun violence.  I also asked her if it was true that Maryland had one of the strictest anti-gun policies of all states.

The response spoke volumes about the reality of the gun control movement.  She just hung up.

The reality is that the one thing that the increased violence in Baltimore proves is that gun control is neither the cause nor the answer to the problem.  Maryland has had strict gun laws for many years; that has not stopped all the killings.  The principal difference from before the riots until now has been that the police in Baltimore have been restrained in their enforcement of the law.  Violent criminals know that their chances of being caught have dropped dramatically.  The result is more murder, more robbery, more rape and more violence.  Baltimore has been governed for nearly half a century by liberal Democrats who have put all the favorite liberal programs in place in that city.  They haven't worked at all to reduce the crime rate.  Now, the Liberals are feeling panic.  They are using appeals for gun control to try to hide what has actually happened in Baltimore.  The real truth is that putting unnecessary limitations on police has left the ordinary citizens of Baltimore exposed to all sorts of attacks by violent criminals.  Gun control is irrelevant here.


The GDP Shrinks and the Media Discusses Poor Government Data

It still amazes me.  When we get good economic data that seems questionable on its face, the media never mentions the issue of reliability.  On the other hand, when we get bad news, the media falls all over itself to tell its readers that the data could be faulty.  For example, when we learned that government workers had made up some of the data used to calculate unemployment statistics that seemed too good to be true, there was essentially no coverage.  Today, the data issued new data on GDP that show the economy contracted by 0.7% last quarter, and every report that I have seen mentions that some people question the reliability of the government statistics.  None of the reports mention actual problems with the way the data has been compiled, just that there are unspecified questions.  Perhaps the most blatant example of this phenomenon came in a Bloomberg News article that mentioned that statistics showed that income rose slightly during the last quarter even as GDP declined.  Those two figures should move pretty much together although there can be timing differences that would account for the small difference here.  Bloomberg, however, says that the difference could indicate that the GDP data is incorrect.  That's all they say.  The reality, however, is that the difference could also indicate that the incomes data is incorrect and that the GDP data is correct.  Indeed, the difference could indicate nothing at all about the accuracy of these figures.

The truth is that the poor GDP data indicates only one thing for certain:  the US economy was in bad shape during the first quarter.  No matter how one slices and dices the numbers, a decline is a decline.  Particularly when you add in the decline in corporate profits (which confirms the GDP decline) one knows that the first quarter results were really poor.

It would be good for the country if the media stopped trying to make things look better for president Obama and just told the truth.