Saturday, February 25, 2017

A truly revealing paragraph from President Trump

Every once in a while a president or some other public figure will make a speech so revealing and so defining of his attitudes or character that it bears remembering. When you're dealing with a verbal loose cannon like President Donald Trump, the real job is sorting through the appalling verbiage while all the while thinking, "Surely he can't actually mean what he said here." Of course, that in itself is defining, in its own way.

But we just had an example of Trumpian rhetoric no reasonable person can or should ignore. Which is not to say. of course, that most Republicans inside or outside of Congress will pay it the slightest attention, or that most Americans will have the hair on the backs of their necks stand up quite as straight as it should when they read it. But it needs to be put out there anyway.

President Trump said at CPAC:

A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people. … But I am only against the fake news, media or press. Fake, fake. They have to leave that word. I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources. … And they shouldn't use sources. They should put the name of the person. You will see stories dry up like you've never seen before.

Leaving aside the point that he meant anonymous sources (he clarified that point elsewhere; hard to write a news story without any sources at all!), that's true. But can he really think that we don't understand that even real sources of true and valid stories would dry up? Or is that the point?

Now I have added the emphasis in this next quote because the word he uses ought to scare anyone who respects the Bill of Rights. Note that he does not simply say, as he did in the quote above, that the media should use the name of the person they're quoting, thereby ensuring that even a reliable source giving accurate and even vital information will never again come forward. He goes on to say, "They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name." This from the man who promised while campaigning that unfriendly newspapers would "have problems' if he were elected and went on back then to say,

One of the things I'm going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we're certainly leading. I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We're going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're totally protected.

Scared yet? The President of the United States has openly called for government control and censorship of the news media and even promises to do something which under the Constitution and the law he not only has no power to do and is in fact forbidden to even try to do. He promised to repeal freedom of the press by presidential fiat! Yet somehow this totally escapes the notice of just about everybody who voted for him! Are they really listening to the guy?

Dumb question! Of course, they aren't! If they'd been paying attention to what he's been saying lo these many months, they never would have voted for him in the first place!

But I digress. Can it really be that the President doesn't understand (or thinks that we don't understand) that the reason the sources would dry up is the very reason why they're anonymous in the first place- that they could lose their jobs? If the story puts the President in a bad light- and I"m speaking here about a 100% true and accurate story- the source knows that he or she will be fired if his or her identity is revealed. Truth or falsehood doesn't enter into the reason why a president wouldn't want the media to use anonymous sources. What matters is keeping the dirty White House laundry private, free from the prying eyes of the American people!

But the really telling thing about the statement is that Donald Trump, of all people, should have been the one to make it. Was there ever a public figure more accurately described as someone who "makes up stories and makes up sources?" Constantly? Like virtually every time he speaks?

Freud would call this "projection." It's a defense mechanism that consists of ascribing one's own negative characteristics to others. But it also reflects a classic technique totalitarians historically have used with great effectiveness. If you can discredit the press as liars, you can tell all the lies you yourself want with no danger of being called on them! If you can intimidate whistleblowers into silence, your dirty laundry is safe, no matter how dirty it might be.

But the most striking feature of the President's ascription of his own most prominent failing to the media is the self-loathing it reflects. Narcissists are actually people with fragile egos- a phenomenon President Trump's notoriously thin skin illustrates eloquently. And here he is, chastising the media for his own most characteristic public habit: making up "facts" off the top of his head.

Seldom has any American president uttered a single paragraph that is so revealing- or so frightening.

HT: Ballotpedia

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Falcon has landed

I referred to the reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle last week.

Here is a historic moment in space exploration: the return of the recoverable first stage of a Falcon 9 after delivering supplies via the (human passenger-capable) Dragon capsule, which will eventually become America's way of sending astronauts as well as supplies to and from the ISS, to Cape Canaveral.

And no. The video is NOT being run backward! This is Falcon 9's eighth successful landing in thirteen tries.

The time has come for private enterprise in space exploration.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Morroco, not France, is our oldest ally. We signed our treaty with the Moroccans a full year before Lafayette and his crew got on board. But the French have historically been good friends. Usually. In war, anyway, if not necessarily in peace.


We naturally think of our Mother Country, Great Britain, and our neighbo(u)r to the North, Canada, as being our particularly tight buds. And they are. But our most consistent and faithful ally- one that has stood with us through thick and thin, even when nobody else would- is Australia. Our national characters as friendly, informal, outgoing, good-hearted, loud and obnoxious peoples have always bound us firmly together and comforted us with the thought that somewhere in the world there was at least somebody who more our less understood us.

And here is what the Australians think of Donald Trump. Or more precisely, here is what Mr. Trump's election has done to our relationship with the one country that has always stood with us, and trusted us to stand by it.

And then, there's what Mr. Trump has already done to the tenure of his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

We've never had a president who was quite this good at undercutting his own subordinates and alienating our friends, When you elect an ignorant and unstable amateur because you don't like his opponent, this is what happens.

BTW- just sayin'- NONE of this would have happened under a McMullin administration, as unlikely as such a thing always was. But we shouldn't be allowed to forget that the combination of decency and competence was, in fact, an option last November. Nor does its long-shot character get us off the hook for not choosing it.

Brother Star, Sister Planet

Yeah, I know. It's TRAPPIST-1, not FRANCISCAN-1. But never mind.

NASA has announced that a relatively nearby red dwarf ("only" 42 light-years away), boasts not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, but seven Earth-sized planets in its "Goldilocks zone" ("not too hot, not too cold, but just right"), any or all of which may well feature liquid water and- assuming the right kind of atmosphere- could support life as we know it. And we've known since May that at least some of their atmospheres contain methane, indicating the presence of organic compounds.

But what would life be like on one of the members of this stellar monastery?

To begin with, there's an awful lot of ultraviolet radiation that close to a star like TRAPPIST-1. Either a stout ozone layer or (in the case of marine life) a nice, substantial ocean would be necessary for life to thrive there at all. Alternatively, there are a few biological adaptions that might work. For example, life there might deal with the radiation by developing its own biologically generated glow that would screen radiation out.

Don't like Obamacare? Well, don't expect a huge improvement from its replacement

There are going to be winners and losers with any plan that replaces Obamacare, just as there were under Obamacare itself. And that includes any Republican substitute voted in by the new unified national government.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Through the Looking Glass

Early in the Republican race last year, Jeb Bush called Donald Trump "the Chaos Candidate." A month into his administration, he has now become the Chaos President.

He doesn't know how the government works, and he clearly has no idea what he's doing- or what he's going to do next. He's undermined our alliances in ways which cannot readily be fixed. The entire Flynn affair is a confused jumble. If 45 knew about his National Security Advisor-Designate's phone call to the Russian ambassador, the legal implications alone are staggering. Michael Moore believes that our new president's election was due to an outpouring of anger by slighted and ignored working class voters determined precisely to break the system, neither knowing or caring what would happen next, Well, that seems to be what they have gotten.

Judah Grunstein of "World Politics Review" writes that

The hallmark of the Trump presidency has been uncertainty. Would he follow through on his most controversial campaign promises or moderate his approach once in office? So far the record is mixed. On some things, like an entry ban for residents of Muslim-majority countries and walling off the U.S. border with Mexico, he clearly means to deliver on his campaign pledges, no matter how counterproductive they prove to be. On others, like U.S. alliances in Asia and Europe or U.S. policy toward Israel, he seems to have put off major disruptive changes for now.

But if the period of uncertainty continues, there are already clear conclusions that can be drawn.

First, the guard rails on American electoral politics that kept the political discourse within a bandwidth of relative consensus are no longer in place. It has long been a complaint among international observers of American presidential elections that, given America’s unique global role, so few people decide the fate of so many. The chaos we now see in the new administration was not only predictable, it was predicted—Trump arguably won election not despite, but because of it. This is more a reflection on the U.S. electorate than on Trump, even if he proves to be unique in his ability to capitalize on it. The U.S. global role was predicated on assumptions of stability and relative continuity in the Washington policy consensus. Those assumptions no longer apply.

Second, the American electorate’s attitude toward the world has grown noticeably less tolerant and benevolent. Trump campaigned on a platform that portrayed the world as a threat to American security. Allies and adversaries alike, he claimed, were not only taking advantage of American largesse and weakness, but mocking the U.S. while doing so. He publicly advocated for the U.S. military to commit war crimes and torture, and engage in plunder to finance the nation’s wars. These were not cryptic messages for his most rabid political base—so-called dog-whistle politics—that he later walked back or disavowed, but brazen and repeated declarations of intent. While the U.S. has at times failed to abide by the rules-based order it professed to uphold, the U.S. global role was predicated on assumptions of benevolent and enlightened self-interest. Those assumptions no longer apply.

He overstates the second point. Trump lost the popular vote and won the electoral vote through an accident of circumstance unlikely to repeat itself. He ran a campaign as amateurish as his presidency has been, and the unexpected turnout of large numbers of angry but uninformed habitual non-voters ironically seemed (at least to him) to gratify his naive and amateurish notion that presidential elections are won by the sheer awesomeness of the candidate as opposed to the nuts and bolts work of identifying and getting out the vote. In a very real sense, Trump's election was a fluke; it wouldn't have happened in any other year, and should not be taken as evidence of a change in the American electorate's attitude toward the world- or at least a change as consequential as Grunstein seems to think.

But the fact remains, as Grunstein concludes, that the genie has been let out of the bottle. World peace and the international order thrive on stability and predictability, and the one player on the world state whose predictability has more than anything else kept the world relatively stable is running amok. The damage done to our alliances and to the precarious balance upon which the peace is maintained is already done, and to some extent irreversible. And nothing about the chaotic administration of our 45th president so far would lead one to think that it will become more stable or more predictable as time goes on.

We are through the looking glass. We have entered the Twilight Zone. The act of frustrated pique in which those Rust Belt voters engaged last November has become to have lasting and dangerous consequences. Even if Donald Trump finishes his first term- which is by no means certain- the damage will be enormous. The assumptions and presuppositions upon which the world order has functioned ever since the Second World War have been knocked into a cocked hat, and the world looks on, mouth agape, at an American president who cannot be depended on to do or not to do practically anything. Nobody knows what outlandish promise he may try to keep, or what he is liable to say or do next.

This is a crisis in our history and in the history of the world. The consequences of last November's electoral temper tantrum are apt to be grim. The sooner America and the world return to the pattern which has prevented the world from disintegrating into chaos, the better. But the Chaos Candidate has become the Chaos President, and at least to some extent, the damage he has done is probably already irreversible.

It remains to be seen how much of Humpty Dumpty the next president can put back together again.

However much, it will never be the same again. For starters, Donald Trump has, to all intents and purposes, killed NATO.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Huzzah! Once again, 45 does something majorly right!

First. he appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and now 45 has- at long last- initiated a sensible space policy, with a plan to promote a "rapid and affordable" return to the moon carried out by private enterprise by 2020.  Afterward, it will be onward to Mars and beyond.

This is a great idea for three reasons. First, private enterprise is the future of space exploration, and as far as I know we will be the first spacefaring nation to put most of its eggs in that basket. Second, it's nice to have eggs! Since the Obama administration canceled the Constellation program to develop the Ares booster and the Orion crew vehicle (though it subsequently reinstated the Orion part of the program), the United States has been twiddling its thumbs while China has taken great leaps toward the moon and other countries- including Russia, India, and Japan- have to various degrees intensified their own space programs. It would be both tragic and foolhardy for the nation which first landed on the moon to fall behind the other developed nations in an area which will represent a significant element in humanity's scientific and economic future.

Finally- and in some ways, most importantly- there's the economic impact of a renewed manned effort in space. It's not just that it would be better to have the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft ferrying American astronauts to the International Space Station than continuing to have them hitch a ride with the Russians. It seems incredible that nobody has noticed the incredible impact the Mercury, Gemini. and Apollo programs had on the American economy. Despite Luddite arguments about the need to be spending our tax revenues on more pressing needs existing on Earth, every dollar spent on the manned space program returned exponentially more revenue not only to the American economy but to the American government! It would be interesting for the bean counters to sit down and figure out exactly how much of how many Great Society programs were bankrolled by the manned space program and the tax revenues it generated from the whole industries it called into being!

And entire industries did spring into existence because of John Kennedy's decision to go to the moon. They sprang into being not in response to Kennedy's command, but rather at the call of the greatest economic stimulus of all- actual demand- to fill actual and objective needs which otherwise would not have existed, These, in turn, created needs which caused still other industries to come into being to fill them, employing huge numbers of people and pumping life especially into the economies of several Western states- economies and industries which have dried up like unwatered houseplants since the manned space program was curtailed and then abandoned. I cannot understand how any administration seriously committed to getting our chronically sluggish economy growing again and putting large numbers of American workers back can fail to see that a return to the moon and thereafter a decision to go to Mars would be the best decisions the government could make. If there are needs at home (or, for that matter, a deficit to reduce), wouldn't it be a good idea to multiply the available amount of money for addressing them by utilizing a tried-and-true strategy for putting the economy on steroids?

And best of all, it will be private industry (doubtless with government investment and even subsidies, but private industry nonetheless) that will bear the primary cost. The impact that will have on the space program can be seen in the image at the upper left of this post. For most of the space age, every mission has made use of a new, disposable booster that fell useless into the sea once its function was served. A large step toward dealing with the waste this entailed was taken when the space shuttle program made the fuel tank and main booster section reusable, although disposable auxiliary engines on each side of the tank were still employed. The SpaceX Falcon 9, pictured above, will be the world's first entirely reusable booster. The constraints posed by the profit motive are apt to make an already profitable venture run by the government into a far more profitable venture run by people actually trying to make a profit!

Whole industries stand to be revived, the economy rejuvenated, and the government enriched by the increased tax revenue this decision will make possible while private industry bears the brunt of the cost. And the United States will take its head out of the sand and once again focus, along with the other great nations of the Earth, on its destiny among the stars. As critical as I am of 45, he has once again done exactly the right thing in an area which will profoundly affect America's future for the better.

Please, Mr. President. Keep surprising me!

A change in nomenclature

Came across an interesting suggestion in a McMullin Facebook group: stop using Donald Trump's name. After all, he's a narcissist; it's the worst thing we could do to him.

As the article suggested, I'm going to start referring to him as "45." Appropriate not only because he's the 45th president, but because of his penchant for going off half-cocked.

Common sense from Kelly, and an anthem for the Trump movement

At least one member of the Trump administration not only has his head on straighter than most but has cut to the chase on what we really have to do to solve the problem of illegal immigration.

Increased border security is required, sure. But if you really want to halt the flood of undocumented immigrants, do what Homeland Security Secretary and retired Marine general John F. Kelly recommends: everything in our power to support and bolster Mexico's economy, so that people will have no motive for trying to sneak into the United States.

Instead, the Trump administration is talking about blackmailing Mexico by threatening to hurt its economy. Taxing Mexican goods imported into the United States in order to pay for Mr. Trump's mythical wall will not simply mean that it will still be the American taxpayer who foots the bill. It will also increase the motive for poverty-stricken Mexican seeking a better life to sneak across the border!

By the way... come to think of it, wouldn't Pink Floyd's "Just Another Brick in the Wall" be a great anthem for the entireTrump movement? Not just the title, either. Consider the lyrics!

A good start

Fox News reports that President Trump's National Security Advisor, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, has resigned. Gen. Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency fired by the Obama administration for abusing his employees, insubordination, inefficiency, and "a loose relationship with the facts," was controversial because of his strong pro-Russian and anti-Muslim positions.

Gen. Flynn was at the center of a storm over his telephone conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the controversy over the Russian hacking of the computers of the Democratic and Republican National Committees. They included discussion of American sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama administration after the invasion of Ukraine. The conversations took place while Flynn- and Mr. Trump- were still private citizens, barred by law from conducting negotiations with foreign governments.

Flynn and Vice-President Pence had previously denied that the subject came up. Flynn subsequently backed off that denial, saying that he simply didn't recall discussing the matter with Kislyak. However, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, who routinely monitor the telephone conversations of senior Russian diplomats for obvious reasons, say that the subject was in fact discussed. Flynn has reportedly apologized to Mr. Pence for the misunderstanding.

FBI officials who reviewed the transcripts emphasized that they found nothing actually improper in the content of what Gen. Flynn said to Kislyak.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Knives, noses, and the faces of the American working class

From the American Enterprise Institute,  25 reasons why people think that protectionism- the economically disastrous policy that lies at the heart of President Trump's appeal to the working class- is actually going to help them, despite all the historical and economic evidence to the contrary.

Just as the President's "America First" isolationism will actually put China first and America last, his enormously popular plans to create barriers to foreign trade in order to benefit the American worker will, by all historical precedent prompt foreign nations to retaliate by refusing to buy American goods and driving American companies out of business, costing people the very jobs they thought they were saving by voting for Agent Orange. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mike Lee on the GOP in the Age of Trump

FiveThirtyEight herein interviews Sen, Mike Lee, who did not endorse President Trump but is now one of the less consistent opponents of the president among prominent members of my former party.

I'm grieved to hear him say that it's too early to consider a primary challenge to the president. It just reinforces my impression that the Republican party as we know it is dead. If by this point we don't know whether there will be a challenger in the primaries in 2020,  the party has lost its soul.

Although I should say that I'm confident that Ted Cruz will challenge President Trump. Whether a more palatable candidate (to me) like Carly Fiorina or Marco Rubio might emerge I don't know. But I have my doubts. I continue to believe that the future of the conservative movement lies outside the GOP, probably in a coalition including Stand Up Republic and the Evan McMullin people.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

NSA Flynn met with the Russian ambassador before taking office

A U.S. intelligence official reports that Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn discussed the sanctions against Russia imposed after the invasion of Ukraine with the Russian ambassador before taking office.

Flynn, who was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency by the Obama Administration for abuse of subordinates, inefficiency, a "loose relationship with facts," and insubordination, has denied the conversation, which may be in violation of the Logan Act forbidding negotiations between private American citizens and foreign governments.

Flynn, a strong Islamophobe who is also strongly pro-Russian, did not offer or receive any quid pro quo during the conversation, the official told NBC News. Flynn, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer, and Vice-President Mike Pence have all denied that the conversation took place.

The critical concern is that the president and members of his administration could stand to profit from the dropping of sanctions due to their investments in Russia.

ADDENDUM: Seems I jumped to a conclusion here. Gen. Flynn, who was fired Tuesday, discussed the sanctions imposed by President Obama after the revelations about the FSB's interference with the election, not the Ukraine sanctions. This came as reports surfaced that representatives of the Trump campaign had met with the Russians several times prior to the election.

Not good

Two current and one former official familiar with the conversation have reportedly told Reuters that during their first phone call since Mr. Trump's inauguration his friend Vladimir Putin asked POTUS about his attitude toward the New Start Treaty.

Mr. Trump had to put him on hold to ask his aides what the New Start Treaty was. He then returned to his call with Putin and said that he didn't like it.

Cyber Brief also reports that Russia is stepping up efforts to help the Taliban defeat the United States in Afghanistan.