Sunday, April 29, 2018

No attack, no victims, no chem weapons: Douma witnesses speak at OPCW briefing at The Hague

Witnesses of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, including 11-year-old Hassan Diab and hospital staff, told reporters at The Hague that the White Helmets video used as a pretext for a US-led strike on Syria was, in fact, staged.

“We were at the basement and we heard people shouting that we needed to go to a hospital. We went through a tunnel. At the hospital they started pouring cold water on me,” the boy told the press conference, gathered by Russia’s mission at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.

Hassan was among the “victims” seen being washed by water hoses in a video released by the controversial White Helmets group on April 7. The boy and his family later spoke to the media and revealed that Hassan was hurried to the scene by men who claimed that a chemical attack had taken place. They started pouring cold water on the boy and others, filming the frightened children.

“There were people unknown to us who were filming the emergency care, they were filming the chaos taking place inside, and were filming people being doused with water. The instruments they used to douse them with water were originally used to clean the floors actually,” Ahmad Kashoi, an administrator of the emergency ward, recalled. “That happened for about an hour, we provided help to them and sent them home. No one has died. No one suffered from chemical exposure.”

Halil al-Jaish, a resuscitator who tended to people at the Douma hospital that day, told the press conference that some of the patients had indeed experienced respiratory problems. The symptoms, however, were caused by heavy dust, which engulfed the area due to recent airstrikes, and no one showed any signs of chemical warfare poisoning, al-Jaish said.

The hospital received people who suffered from smoke and dust asphyxiation on the day of the alleged attack, Muwaffak Nasrim, a paramedic who was working in emergency care, said. The panic seen in footage provided by the White Helmets was caused mainly by people shouting about the alleged use of chemical weapons, Nasrim, who witnessed the chaotic scenes, added. No patients, however, displayed symptoms of chemical weapons exposure, he said.

Ahmad Saur, an emergency paramedic with the Syrian Red Crescent, said that the ward he was working at did not receive any patients exposed to chemical weapons on the day of the alleged incident or after it. All the patients needed either general medical care or help with injuries, he said. Saur told journalists he came to speak at The Hague independently of the Red Crescent, and that he was testifying freely and without any pressure.

One reporter asked what would happen to the eyewitnesses and whether they would “stay in Europe to testify.”

“We’re going back home, and see no problem with that. The situation is a lot better now. We’re Douma residents, like many others,” Hassan Ayoun, a doctor with the emergency department, said.

Six of the Douma witnesses brought to The Hague have already been interviewed by the OPCW technical experts, Russia’s permanent representative to the OPCW, Aleksandr Shulgin, said.

“The others were ready too, but the experts are sticking to their own guidelines. They’ve picked six people, talked to them, and said they were 'completely satisfied' with their account and did not have any further questions,” Shulgin revealed. He added that the allegations by “certain Western countries” ahead of the briefing that Moscow and Damascus were seeking to “hide” the witnesses from the OPCW experts did not hold water.

The alleged chemical incident was only supported by the White Helmets’ video and social media reports from militant-linked groups, but the US, the UK and France judged they had enough evidence that it actually took place and launched a series of punitive strikes against Syria on April 14. The US and its allies accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of carrying out the “attack,” without providing any proof of their claim. Notably, the strike came hours before the OPCW fact-finding team was set to arrive in Douma to determine whether chemical weapons had been used there.



Market dominance might be good for consumers

The phrases monopoly, duopoly and oligopoly typically rouse fear in the hearts of the public. They imply big, self-interested companies, with a purportedly unhealthy dominance of the market. Consumers will get ripped off, critics say. The barriers to entry are too high for new competitors to have a chance.

Such imagery is typical of the suspicion of big business, and the superlatives have been flowing in recent weeks as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission continues its investigation into the dominance of Google and Facebook in Australia’s digital advertising market.

However, outside of price fixing and state supported market dominance, aren’t these major players just providing consumers with a superior product?

One of the greatest strengths of the private market is that companies are judged solely on how consumers value their goods and services. Offer something good and customers will come flocking. Offer something bad and bankruptcy beckons.

If a company has established market dominance, that suggests it is offering a product so good that the vast majority of shoppers prefer it to the competitors’ alternatives.

Google has certainly accomplished this. Who remembers Ask Jeeves? Who still searches the internet with Yahoo? Not many, is the answer. Back in the early 2000s Yahoo and Google were neck and neck. However, with its comprehensive search engine and wide range of complimentary products, Google won the battle for consumers’ hearts and minds.

Facebook has achieved similar feats. MySpace, Bebo and Google Hangouts were usurped for a reason — because people like Facebook’s offerings more.

As a result, the two companies have come to dominate the digital advertising market. They offer an advertiser’s dream: detailed information on billions of users, which can see promotions customised down to the individual level.

Even in the more congested US market, inferior competitors have lost their share (see graph). As an advertiser, why would you want to work with a secondary player when these two companies offer so much?

Market dominance is a good thing if it means that consumers get a superior, reasonably-priced product.



Progressives are using lawfare to target their political opponents

The Democrat Party has unveiled a not so new technique to attack their opponents. Everyone knows about the typical intimidation techniques such as boycotts, protesting, and rioting. Lawfare is an asymmetric technique using the legal system against an enemy. Keeping their enemies tied up in court and legal costs demoralize and sometimes forces the opponents to quit. Republicans need to wake up to tactics of the left and realize they are sometimes playing into their hands.

This has been a successful strategy for the Democrat Party so far, as we have seen with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. After the fraudulent Mueller investigation was started, it quickly became apparent Flynn was one of the primary targets. After months of interviews and interrogations, Flynn finally gave in and pled guilty to lying to the FBI. The charge had nothing to do with what Mueller was supposedly investigating, it was just another scalp.

Shortly after the guilty plea, the mainstream media concluded Flynn must have lied to the FBI if he pled guilty. It quickly became apparent the plea had nothing to do with guilt or innocence, it had more to do with finances. Flynn was going broke defending himself against the multimillion-dollar team Mueller sent after him. Almost immediately after pleading guilty, Flynn was forced to sell his home in Alexandria, Va. to pay his legal bills.

Since the guilty plea, it has revealed that former FBI Director James Comey briefed several Members of Congress in March of 2017 on the Flynn matter. Writing for the Washington Examiner, Byron York stated, “According to two sources familiar with the meetings, Comey told lawmakers that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did not believe that Flynn had lied to them, or that any inaccuracies in his answers were intentional.” Why did Flynn plead guilty then? Because he couldn’t afford to prove his innocence.

Former Trump campaign advisor Michael Caputo has been under constant siege since the end of the 2016 election. Once the various congressional committees started to investigate the non-existent connections between President Trump and Russia, Mr. Caputo would end up retaining lawyers in March of 2017. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) would state Mr. Caputo was Vladimir Putin’s “image consultant” in congressional testimony with no evidence to back up the claim.

So far Mr. Caputo has only been interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee as a witness, but that comes at a steep price. Caputo estimates his legal bill will be in the neighborhood of $125,000, and that is if he is not part of the special counsel probe. If he has to go to the grand jury, the cost could further skyrocket.

Why would anyone want to serve in the Trump administration if they are going to have to spend more than half if not all their salary on lawyers for non-existent crimes? It has become increasingly obvious the Trump-Russia narrative was faked by the DNC and Hillary Campaign, but do the people caught up in the investigation get their time or money back? No.

It appears we had an attempted coup after the last election. Why does it seem the only people that are paying for the coup are Republicans that had nothing to do with Russia? Republicans must realize the longer they keep this sham investigation going instead of focusing on the coup attempt they are only hurting innocent people.



Trump saves millions of working-class families from Obamacare penalty

The Trump administration just quietly made it possible to escape having to pay the Obamacare fine imposed for not having health insurance in 2018, potentially saving millions of families hundreds or even thousands of dollars in penalties.

When congressional Republicans passed tax reform in December, they gutted the provision of the Affordable Care Act mandating uninsured Americans pay a fee for not having “qualifying” health insurance. Although this important decision will provide tax relief to millions of people forced to pay a fine for not being enrolled in a health insurance plan the government approves of, a completely ridiculous mandate that greatly limits freedom, the new policy does not go into effect until 2019, which means families are still required to have health insurance this year to avoid paying the penalty.

The Affordable Care Act allows for people who do not have qualifying health insurance to escape paying the penalty if they apply for at least one of a few available “hardship exemptions.” Perhaps the most common exemption allows people to escape the penalty if they “experienced financial or domestic circumstances, including an unexpected natural or human-caused event, such that … [they had] a significant, unexpected increase in essential expenses that prevented [them] from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan.”

Earlier in April, the Trump administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a new guidance expanding the allowed exemptions to include four new qualifying circumstances: (1) living in a region where there is just one health insurer selling plans in an Obamacare marketplace, (2) living in a region where there are no plans sold on an Obamacare exchange, (3) the lack of availability of a plan that doesn’t include coverage for abortion, and (4) when a person is unable to find a plan on the Obamacare exchange that covers the “specialty care” needed.

These four added exemptions will make it possible for millions of people now forced to pay the Obamacare mandate penalty to escape liability, especially the provision that permits people living in a region with only one insurer to avoid the fine. According to CMS’ most recent analysis of Obamacare exchanges, people living in half of all counties in the United States have only one health insurer to choose from when purchasing a qualifying plan through Obamacare. All these people (about 2.1 million) would not be forced to pay a fine for not having qualifying health insurance under the Trump administration’s new guidance.

Most Americans who are forced to pay the Obamacare penalty are not upper-middle class or wealthy families, but rather lower-income filers. IRS data for 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, show more than 6.6 million people were forced to pay the Obamacare fine. Nearly 79 percent of those required to pay reported adjusted gross incomes between $10,000 and $50,000, which means the penalty disproportionately punishes lower-income and working-class people.

This is particularly troubling because of how expensive Obamacare plans have become in recent years. Many annual family deductibles for the cheapest qualifying Obamacare plans, Bronze Plans, now top $12,000. Forcing people to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year for health insurance they can’t afford to use is morally wrong, but thanks to congressional Democrats and the Obama administration, that’s the current situation facing countless families across the country.

Obamacare has been a complete disaster, but the Trump administration is working tirelessly to find ways to improve the health insurance market and expand access to affordable healthcare plans. Thanks to Trump and his team, millions of people will be able to keep more of their own money when they file their taxes next year.

However, there is only so much President Trump can do. Congress must act by passing legislation that makes permanent many of the Trump administration’s policies, embraces free-market principles, and empowers states with the ability to pass reforms locally that best fit the unique needs of their citizens.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


No comments: