Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Visit to a Jade Helm Walmart

20150427_111553Deep the heart of Texas, about an hour north of Houston up Highway 59, lies the small town of Livingston. According to the sign at the city limits, Livingston is the home to 5,335 people. There are numerous businesses and civic organizations including, until recently, a Walmart.

The closure of Livingston’s Walmart puts the small Texas town at the center of a conspiracy theory regarding an alleged plot to impose martial law on seven U.S. states this summer. The theory holds that a military exercise, codenamed “Jade Helm 15,” is a cover for soldiers to take positions across the southwest in order for the government to implement martial law. When Walmart announced five store closings earlier this month, including two in Texas and one in California, many websites arrived at the conclusion that the Walmarts were being coopted by the military either as staging areas for Jade Helm or detention areas for detainees who would be arrested under martial law. Examiner investigators went to Livingston, home of one of the two closed Walmarts in Texas, to look into these allegations.

The Livingston Walmart is located in a bustling business district about a quarter-mile from Highway 59. The area is heavily trafficked and there are numerous other businesses, both large and small, nearby. A Lowe’s home improvement store and HEB grocery store were both located within a short distance. Like many Walmart stores, this one appeared to have been built on the outskirts of town and drew other businesses around it.

The first impression upon arriving at Livingston’s Walmart is that the store is far from abandoned. The parking lot is relatively full of civilian vehicles. Blue-shirted Walmart associates walk to and from the building from their cars. There are also landscape crews in the parking lot.

The Livingston Walmart is a standalone super center. From a distance, the only indication that the store is not open are large white banners that say “store temporarily closed” that hang near the Walmart sign on the store front. The garden center, enclosed by a fence, is bare.

Across the parking lot is a Taco Bell that appears to be open. A separate strip mall to the west side of the parking lot contains several other businesses and is served by a separate parking lot. A Murphy Express gas station, a brand frequently collocated with Walmart, in the parking lot is also closed.

One of the two main entrances is closed. Employees are entering and exiting from the second. We approach the open door and enter through the open glass doors.

Inside, rather than the typical gaping cavern of a Walmart interior, there are temporary walls that form something like a lobby with two doors, one to each side, that lead to the interior of the store. Facing the exterior doors is a folding table with a sign that says “associate sign-in.” At the table sit a Walmart employee and a Livingston city policeman.

We identify ourselves as writers investigating the Jade Helm-Walmart connection and ask to speak with a store manager. The Walmart employee, a middle-aged blonde woman, answers that the managers are not answering questions or giving interviews.

We ask the pair if there has been any suspicious activity and the policeman answers, “Not that I’ve seen.” He adds, “Does it sound like any training is going on?”

The sounds coming from inside do not sound like training. They sound like construction. Drills, hammers and associated noises that would be consistent with a store renovation.

There are windows in the two doors that lead to the interior. What is visible through the windows, looks like a typical Walmart store.

We ask if they know when the store will reopen and both reply that they do not. The work going on inside makes it apparent that Walmart does plan to reopen the store, contrary to the fears of many local residents. KHOU 11 reported that many residents fear that the store is gone forever, along with 422 jobs. Losing the Walmart is a major blow to the local economy.

Taking our leave, we return to our vehicle and drive around the side of the Walmart to where the Tire and Lube Express is located. This entrance is closed as well. The only thing that looks unusual is a large group of pallets piled high with plastic bags marked as mulch, peat moss, and other garden products. These are likely destined for the empty garden center when the store is restocked.

Continuing to the rear of the store, we see… nothing. There are a couple of Walmart trucks at the store’s loading docks, but no people. As we drive around the store, we are unchallenged by police or security.

In light of the conspiracy theories, the most notable absence is any sign of military activity. In spite of some reports of soldiers, military vehicles and helicopters at or near the closed Walmarts, there was no sign of any military activity in Livingston, either near the Walmart or elsewhere. There are no convoys on the interstates, no trains filled with tanks, no uniformed personnel other than the one policeman, and no suspicious men loitering with strange bulges under their shirts. We don’t even see any AH-64 Apache helicopters, a common sight in this part of Texas due to the proximity of army bases and military flight training routes.

As a result of our investigation in Livingston, we have to conclude that there is no evidence to support the theory that Walmarts are being used in conjunction with the military Jade Helm exercise. In fact the only thing to support a connection between the two events, other than pure conjecture, is the timing and location of the store closings.

Even this connection is tenuous. Of the five store closings, only three are in states where Jade Helm will take place. Another closing is in Oklahoma, which borders the Jade Helm area, but the fifth is in Florida, on the other side of the country. Additionally, the closings began almost three months before Jade Helm’s kickoff on July 15. This may even mean that the renovations can be completed and the stores reopened before Jade Helm begins.

The biggest flaw in the conspiracy may be Walmart’s own claim that the store closings are due to plumbing repairs and renovations. It is unlikely that a major corporation would allow the federal government or other unknown forces to seize five stores without putting up resistance. In other cases of government overreach, businesses have fought federal mandates in the courts and won.


Read the full article and see more pictures on Examiner.com

Friday, April 17, 2015

Is Hillary electable?

Hillary Clinton has finally announced her candidacy for president. Her candidacy was begun with a tweet and a two-and-a-half minute You Tube video, of which only about 40 seconds is Hillary giving her announcement and rationale for seeking office.

In contrast to the Republican hopefuls, who kicked off their presidential campaigns to adoring crowds, Hillary’s campaign began with a soundbite on social media followed by a trip in her “Scooby” van to Iowa with no organized campaign stops along the way. Hillary’s presidential announcement was almost secretive in comparison to the Republicans, with no rallies, no crowds of supporters and no questions from the media.

Hillary’s trip to Iowa is more akin to a fugitive sneaking across the state line than a triumphant politician arriving to assume her mandate. When Clinton’s “Scooby” van stopped at an Ohio Chipotle restaurant, the presumptive Democratic nominee was incognito, hiding behind a large pair of sunglasses. She not only did no campaigning, but she was only recognized when the manager examined the store’s surveillance videos after being tipped by a New York Times reporter than Hillary had visited the restaurant. Neither employees nor other customers had recognized the former First Lady.

Dick Morris, a longtime confidante of the Clintons, explains that the subterfuge is part of Hillary’s nature. Unlike her extroverted, fun-loving husband, Hillary is “hidden, paranoid, secret, controlled, and scripted” according to Morris. Where Bill was a natural campaigner, Morris calls Hillary a “born bureaucrat” who sticks “to a script, blundering when she make the slightest departure.”

The current crop of scandals that are already dogging the Clinton campaign can only serve to heighten Hillary’s sense of secrecy and paranoia. She has hidden from the media for the past several months as the scandal of her personal email server and deleted emails developed. Questions about the legality of sending classified documents via unsecure personal email and an unsecure server mean that Hillary has to consider that any questions that she answers might come back to haunt her in a criminal proceeding.

Keeping Hillary away from the media and real voters also minimizes the chance of an embarrassing gaffe. Ms. Clinton is known for a number of misstatements, such as when she asked congressional Benghazi investigators, “What difference, at this point does it make?” or when she claimed that the Clintons were “dead broke” upon leaving the White House in 2001.

One embarrassing error has already occurred. Hillary’s long-awaited announcement also came with a serious typo according to Bloomberg. A press release heralding her announcement claimed that she had “fought children and families all her career,” omitting the word “for.” Although the wording was quickly corrected, it is shocking that such a high profile announcement on a multibillion dollar campaign could have seen the light of day.

Similarly, Hillary’s campaign logo, a blue “H” with a red arrow, quickly became the target of widespread ridicule. Many claimed it resembled a road sign that pointed toward a hospital or the FedEx logo. Julian Assange claimed that it was based on the WikiLeaks logo.

Hillary has long been assumed to be inevitable by many on both the left and right. Now with her lack of campaign skills, scandals, and a slipshod campaign becoming evident, the question is whether she is electable at all.

Hillary’s biggest advantage over any Republican is that she is well known. Many Republican candidates are new to the national stage and not familiar outside the GOP. According to Gallup, 90 percent of Americans are already familiar with Hillary. No Republican even comes close.

The downside for Hillary is that, while she is well known, she is also a polarizing figure. Even the Huffington Post puts her approval rating almost equal with her disapproval at 47 – 46 percent. Further, polls that use likely voters rather than adults give her a much high negative rating. Republican candidates are not as well known, but have much lower negatives.

While Hillary’s name recognition gave her an early lead in polling, there are signs that her lead may already be fading. Karl Rove pointed out in the Wall St. Journal that recent polling in 15 battleground states showed Ms. Clinton trailing a generic Republican. Recent polling available on Real Clear Politics also shows several races around the country where Republicans Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry hold slight leads over Ms. Clinton.

Nevertheless, Hillary’s failings may be more than offset by several factors. First, whoever the eventual Democratic nominee is will win at least 40-45 percent of the popular vote. The worst Democratic wipeout in recent history, Richard Nixon’s 1972 trouncing of George McGovern, still saw McGovern win 37 percent of the vote even as he lost 49 states. Ms. Clinton would undoubtedly do much better than McGovern. With normally reliable Democratic states such as those carried by John Kerry in 2004, any Democratic candidate can be expected to win at least 200 of the 270 electoral votes needed just by appearing on the ballot as a Democrat.

Second, Ms. Clinton now heads the Clinton money machine. Hillary is backed by many on Wall Street including friends at Goldman Sachs. The Clintons also have a well-established network of foreign contributors. Republican candidates will be struggling to establish support networks for the first time, which will put them at a disadvantage. Additionally, it seems unlikely that Hillary will face a serious primary threat, which will enable her to get a head start on general election campaigning and fundraising.

Finally, Hillary will benefit by default if the Republicans nominate someone who seems more extreme and unlikable than she is. Hillary’s negatives will only take Republicans so far. The Republican nominee must be able to close the deal with moderate and independent voters. This will require the ability to present a positive vision to voters and not simply focus on negatives like Ms. Clinton’s poor record or promising to repeal Obamacare. The Republican candidate must convince voters that he cares about them more than Ms. Clinton does.

Despite her problems, Ms. Clinton’s money and network alone make her a formidable candidate, but not an inevitable one. Conservatives would do well to remember that she has only run in three elections, twice for the Senate and once for president. Of these, only one, the 2008 Democratic primary, was a tough race. Hillary lost.


Read the full article on Examiner.com

Monday, April 13, 2015

Jade Helm is not precursor to martial law

Jade Helm 15, an upcoming military exercise in the southwestern United States is the latest example of alarmism by conspiracy mongers. Once again, conspiracy buffs are predicting the impending imposition of martial law in the United States. Once again, as a service to readers, I don my tinfoil hat to investigate the claims that Jade Helm 15 is part of sinister plot by mysterious forces.

Jade Helm 15 is a large, multistate special operations exercise that will take place from July 15 through September 15, 2015. A map showing the location of the exercise includes the states of Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California. A small notation on the map, which was part of a slideshow by the US Army Special Operations Command detailing the exercise, is the source of much of the alarm over Jade Helm. The southwestern states are divided into “permissive,” “uncertain,” and “hostile” regions. Texas and Utah, two of the very reddest states in elections, are labeled as “hostile” red regions for the exercise.

The logical leap that Utah and Texas are hostile and will be invaded is nonsensical when viewed in the context of the rest of the map. Conservative Arizona is labeled as “leaning friendly” while liberal New Mexico is considered to be “leaning hostile.” Colorado, which just sent a new Republican senator to Washington is called “permissive” (friendly). The southern tip of blue California is red and marked as an “insurgent pocket.” There have been no actual reports of insurgent activity in the San Diego area.

Why is Texas singled out as hostile by the military planners of the exercise? The army slideshow (available in full on Gawker) provides an answer. “The United States Special Operations Command,” the slide reads, “has conducted numerous exercises in Texas, because Texans are historically supportive of efforts to prepare our soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors to fight the enemies of the United States.” In other words, the army is training in Texas because Texans are loyal supporters of the military in real life, the polar opposite of their role in the Jade Helm exercise.

The slideshow goes on to explain that Texas’ “large areas of undeveloped land with low population densities with access to towns” make an ideal training environment. It also cites the ability to have soldiers operate “outside normal support mechanisms,” adapt to “unfamiliar terrain, social and economic conditions,” operate “in and around communities where anything out of the ordinary will be spotted and reported” and “the opportunity to work with civilians to gain their trust and an understanding of the issues.”

The Fifth Column blog points out other flaws with the conspiracy theories surrounding Jade Helm such as that the other notes on the map refer to training organizations. “JOAX” is a joint operations access exercise.” “NSWTU” refers to a naval special warfare training unit. In an actual military operation, a NSWTU would be replaced by a Seal Team, designated as an “ST.”

Other unit designations refer to special operations units, which are not used for invasion and occupation roles. An “MSOT” is a Marine special operations team such as a Force Recon. ODAs are US Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha teams, also known as “A-Teams.” ODH and ODG are presumably Special Forces operational detachments as well.

The Fifth Column speculates that the exercise will be related to SERE training for survival, evasion, resistance and escape. This scenario might put special operations forces down behind “enemy” lines and have them attempt to make their way to friendly territory. Along the way, other units taking part in the exercise might attempt to capture and interrogate the special operations soldiers.

This idea is supported by other parts of the slideshow which note that “some individuals may conduct suspicious activities.” The army also says that “some participants will be wearing civilian attire and driving civilian vehicles.” The total local force will be approximately 60 people.

What of the seemingly sinister slogan on the Jade Helm logo, “master the human domain?” Many conspiracy theorists hold that this is a hint at Jade Helm’s true purpose, to psychologically condition Americans to accept the presence of military forces in preparation for the eventual implementation of martial law. The not-so-sinister answer can be found in an unclassified report by the US Army War College from 2013. The report, part of the civilian research project “Mastering the Human Domain,” details lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on how special operations troops and conventional forces can better work together to gain support of the local population.

This concept of “winning hearts and minds” dates back to the Vietnam War and was instrumental in Iraq’s “Anbar Awakening,” in which the local population of Anbar province came to support the Coalition Forces and turn against the al Qaeda insurgents.

Further, the charge that the exercise is supposed to condition Americans to the acceptance of a large military presence makes no sense when the actual army statements are considered. With many participants in civilian clothes and vehicles, they would be indistinguishable from real civilians. Second, 60 soldiers is not a large force.

The military answered many of the conspiracy charges in a Stars and Stripes article. Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria of the US Army Special Operations Command said that Jade Helm was similar to past exercises. The primary difference, he said, was “the use of new challenging terrain,” which is similar to the regions where the special operations forces have been fighting. Presumably, this is a reference to Afghanistan and Iraq.

When asked about the idea that the exercise was a cover for a military takeover, Lt. Col. Lastoria answered, “That notion was proposed by a few individuals who are unfamiliar with how and why USASOC (US Army Special Operations Command) conducts training exercises. This exercise is routine training to maintain a high level of readiness for Army Special Operations Forces because they must be ready to support potential missions anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.” Translated from military jargon, the colonel said that the conspiracy theorists don’t know what they are talking about.


Read the full article on Examiner.com

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Americans believe in Jesus, but don’t know Bible

New polling released on Good Friday shed new light on Americans’ religious attitudes. The polls showed that Americans are still believers, but may not put their beliefs into practice.

A Rasmussen poll of 800 Americans found that two-thirds believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God and was resurrected from the dead. Rasmussen also found that 39 percent consider Easter to be one of our nation’s most important holidays.

Nevertheless, according to Gallup, even though 56 percent of Americans say that religion is very important in their life, nearly half seldom or never attend church services. The percentage of Americans saying that they never attend church has more than doubled since 1994. The number attending church regularly has fallen as well.

The decline in church attendance may be related to shifting opinions on religious issues. Rasmussen also reported last week that 53 percent of Americans oppose religious freedom laws like the controversial Indiana law enacted this week. Opposition is based on the fear that the laws might lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians, even though 51 percent think that the media makes the laws sound more problematic than they really are.

Nevertheless, the same survey showed that 70 percent believe that a Christian wedding photographer should have the right to refuse a job for a gay wedding. This number has declined from 85 percent in 2013.

Support for gay marriage has exploded at the same time that church attendance has declined. From 27 percent in favor of same-sex marriage in 1996, Gallup now finds support for gay marriage at 55 percent.

In other areas, the declining influence of Christianity can be seen as well. Single-parent households have more than tripled as a share of American households since 1960 according to the Atlantic. Almost half of American first births, 48 percent according to CBS News, are out of wedlock.

The increase in unwed mothers and single parents destabilizes American society. Single-parent families are much more likely to live in poverty and require government financial assistance than traditional families. Children of single-parent families are much more likely to be abused and more likely to become involved in violent crime, drug abuse, and premarital sex according to the National Fatherhood Initiative.

The evidence shows that even as a majority of Americans claim to believe in Jesus Christ, few are living out his commands and the guidelines of the Bible. The disconnect may be due to rising Biblical illiteracy connected with declining church attendance. Fewer than six in 10 Americans can name even half of the 10 Commandments according to Barna Research Group.

George Gallup found the root of the problem: “Americans revere the Bible--but, by and large, they don't read it.”


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