Around The World

Lowell Thomas used to bring you the world on Movietone

Lowell Thomas used to bring you the world on Movietone

At the height of the calamities of the mid twentieth century, an assured and distinctly American voice brought focus and attention to world events in brief  movie vignettes presented at the primary American gathering place of that time, the movie house.  Thomas, a very American entrepreneurial character, was in a strange way his own news

Lowell Thomas

Lowell Thomas

service, and invented many of the concepts that currently form our visual news services today.  Thomas was the man who brought the visual media to news celebrity, finding and engaging T.E. Lawrence, helping turning him into “Lawrence of Arabia”.  He helped found nightly radio national news broadcasts, was responsible for the first television news broadcast, and anchored the first telecast of a political convention.  But Lowell Thomas is secured in history for going around the world in Movietone News, tying crisp and tight prose to sharply edited and dramatic newsreel footage to bring impact to the stories of the day, often in far off places ,to the contained world of the viewer.  You could leave the movie theater knowing what you needed to know, because Lowell had synthesized it for you.

  Well, nobody could possibly do like Lowell Thomas, but there are plenty of reminders out there of a world of ongoing events that we should keep in front of us as cascade down the year of 2016.  Ramparts therefore humbly borrows the snapshot techniques of Lowell
Thomas and Movietone and takes you Around The World with RAMPARTS-TONE NEWS.

Great Britain: On June 23rd, 2016, the voters of Great Britain will contemplate in the voting booth a referendum decision to potentially overturn the political directions of Europe cultivated over the last 70 years since the end of the Second World War.  Out of the calamity of war, the governments of Europe determined to bind themselves together ever more securely in a union that they hoped would sublimate the nationalist tendencies that bedeviled Europe’s peace for five hundred years.  BrexitWhat was at first the concept of a common market, has progressively become more of a political union in which the member states have less and less to say regarding their own economic and political decisions.  Great Britain, the fifth largest economy of the world, feels increasingly hamstrung by its place in the European Union, the rules of trade with any partners outside of the EU at the mercy of joint EU decisions, its monetary system based on the pound sterling unteathered to the Euro.  Germany and France, the joint force behind both EU and Euro policies, is not about to let Britain make independent decisions without being lashed to the Euro.  Given the economic events in Europe over the last several years, being lashed to the Euro is the last thing on Britain’s mind.  What makes up a modern nation state, how do economies work, what would happen to the United Kingdom (particularly pro EU Scotland), and what is the effect on the stability of post WWII Europe are just some of the small considerations Great Britain’s voters will need to educate themselves upon before voting on June 23rd.  Polls suggest that those who want to stay in the EU comprise 45% of the voters, those that wish to exit, the BREXIT voter are close behind at 40%.  The BREXIT referendum currently has a volatile 14% undecided, so with so much on the line, the heat will certainly turn up as one gets towards the June referendum.

South China Sea: A great economic power inevitably looks to secure its economic future and defend it with a strong military.  What is happening in the South China Sea is more complicated than China simply defending its right to commerce.  China is claiming hegemony over the South China Sea and the islands within it, and it is not asking the opinion of any of its neighbors.  The South China Sea happens to be one of the world’s busiest sea trading lanes, and many countries see it as vital to their independence and prosperity.

The South China Sea - and the competing claims of the little atolls and reefs that form the Spratly and Paracel Islands

The South China Sea – and the competing claims of the little atolls and reefs that form the Spratly and Paracel Islands

The sea lanes have been guaranteed for decades by the world’s largest military, the United States.  What happens when a country such as China sees free access to a region it feels is vital to its economic self interests is a recipe for real trouble.  The region is thought to contain huge oil and gas reserves, and the neighboring countries of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan, do not intend to allow China to exclude their access to the riches of the sea, or the freedom to navigate.  China is forcing the issue by building up the reefs into capable islands with air and sea access for their military, and the United States, responsible for freedom of  the sea lanes is none too happy. When a country like China starts determining to secure its neighborhood, the reverberations can be very,very dangerous.  This is a building story that will go far beyond the calendar year of 2016.

Libya: Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, it doesn’t look like the calamity of Libya she fostered in her ill considered decisions as Secretary of State, is going away any time soon. The country was unravelled by France, Britain, and the United States by assisting in the overthrow of Muammar Quadaffi in 2011, then passively standing back as the wolves descended on the carcass of the country.  Clinton’s unique role in the US disaster at Benghazi is still being investigated, but the future is much scarier than the past. The country is split in half with a General Al-Sisi like strong man, General Khalifa Haftar, running the eastern half of the country and looking to extend his control over the western half which includes the capital of Tripoli, , truly a wild,wild west, run by competing Islamic extremists, including with increasing radicalism and strength, ISIS.  The formation of a caliphate with its dagger edge pointed much as in the days of Carthage

Carthage and the Punic Wars

Carthage and the Punic Wars

directly at the Italian and Iberian peninsulas is a dream come true for ISIS and a nightmare for Italy and Europe. In classic President Obama fashion, the lead from behind strategy has promulgated special levels of damage in a region where passivity is seen as true weakness, and ruthless strength is considered the calling of greatness.  Obama, and his apparent successors in Clinton or Trump, are not exactly the type of deep thinkers that understand existential risks.  It may be up to Europe, if it wants to survive, to start understanding and reacting to what is at risk from its southern exposure.

Turkey and Syria: Lawrence of Arabia, if he were to accompany Lowell Thomas today to the Middle East,  would recognize the increasing calamity that is Syria and every one of its players.  Events are happening on a daily basis that are rending the decisions of the day before rapidly past tense.  The vestiges of the Ottoman Empire continue to vibrate in every action and reaction.  Syria, converted into a horrible wasteland by marauding warriors from distant places and the corrupt and genocidal acts of its on government is at the mercy of ever larger forces.

The current battle for Syria - washingtonpost

The current battle for Syria – washingtonpost

Turkey, looking to insert its dominance on the region in an effort to reinstitute an Ottoman past, now finds itself under dual direct threat from a vicious ISIS terrorist cell and an increasingly aggressive Kurdish minority that sees a way to a greater Kurdistan across Iraq, Syria, Iran…and Turkey.  Russia has masterfully succeeded in entirely usurp US influence in events to become the dominant international broker, creating strange bed fellows, but now must see how to lock in its newfound position while avoiding getting sucked in to the day to day battles.  The pressure on the innocents has led to the greatest migration of people within Europe since the wars of the twentieth century, and ISIS has diabolically placed its wolves among the sheep, making for multiple threats across the continent.  Iran, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are warily watching each other, knowing an emotional decision could create a real, first class regional war.  The Obama United States, forever inward turning, can only watch, as 70 years of being the steadying influence, is going up in smoke.

United States of America:  Can a great country overcome its desire to self destruct?  Facing a world of increasing instability and threat, internal debt, and a progressively self absorbed, uninterested population regarding the hard work of a republic, the US is looking at  a socialist, a populist, an ideologue, and crony capitalist would be felon, three of the four around 70 years of age, to lead it ShowImage.ashxthrough these many events demanding innovative and assertive leadership.  Sanders. Trump. Cruz. Clinton.   That is the roster of talent that will be asked to handle this increasingly difficult world.  Not exactly an inspiring thought.  There are terrific talents waiting in the wings, but none are positioned to help the country on November 8th, 2016.  Will the rest of the world be willing to wait for the US to get its act together?

Stay tuned.  Now it can be shown. Maybe just like the old days…

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America In Transition


Fully Automated Robotic Assembly Line in a Tesla Factory -

Fully Automated Robotic Assembly Line in a Tesla Factory       photo/

It’s an emotional time when one is transitioning from what was, to what will be.  America, as a result, appears to progressively be an emotional wreck.   The economy sloths along at an anemic 1-2% growth rate with job growth being led by service industries such as call centers.  The most powerful military in the world has devised rules of engagement that defy any engagement that would secure any meaningful outcomes or strategic advantage.  The political parties are in tatters, with candidates promoting populist nationalism, serving up extreme versions of the past in an attempt to preserve what is no longer viable.  The foundational principles that have adjudicated  so many other previous periods of upheaval  are helpless to buttress an increasingly ignorant population that has only the vaguest notion of what they are. What passes for public discourse is increasingly more reactionary, emotional, and agitated, defined by the slogan, What Do We Want (fill in the blank), When Do We Want It? NOW!!

Its enough to make you want to simply sign off.  That would be denying however any hope for civilization, and we of course, in our own little way, are defenders of the ramparts of that very civilization, so a little more introspection and looking for silver linings are called for.

The first thing is to recognize that we are at the end of one order of civilization, and yet to discern the elements that will begin another.  In the chaos of watching things fail that no longer work, it is easy to believe you are seeing change at work, when you are simply watching the last tired efforts of a society to desperately hold on to what it knows.  The current President thought he was bringing the Change and the Hope, but the reality was that trying to make people’s behavior bend to your will was a worn out idea that was bound to fail. Something new is indeed coming, but we need to understand what is likely gone forever and let it go, if we are going to be able to respond and potentially flourish in a new world.  The answer is leveraged in a return to, and a celebration of, critical thinking, and the challenge is to raise our consciousness to that reality.

Personal Privacy:  The concept of personhood as mysterious as an unbreakable code and  unique as a fingerprint is about to disappear.  Almost every fact and nuance about each of us is available electronically to those who would look, and is progressively given up by many freely without the least concern.  We are a data cache to large companies, governments, and social exchanges to the extent that our behaviors, thoughts and reactions are comprehensively known and open to manipulation.  Social exchanges such as Facebook have discovered people are only too willing to put the most intimate information out into the cloud to any one who wants it.  The health information of essentially every modern society is on an electronic platform, and what you eat, drink or interact with, are increasingly owned by the society rather than the individual.  Governments such as China see themselves as the ultimate owners of every citizen’s thoughts, and have become world leaders in surveillance cameras, internet monitoring, and even proactive policing (predicting and preventing the “crime” before it occurs).

There is no sense to arguing the information is yours any longer, the question is, will we be willing to protect our individuality, our personhood against unwanted invasion or manipulation.  You can’t be comfortable with the loss of some fundamental liberties, and be squeamish about losing others, without losing them all.  A higher definition of liberty and personhood is in order, and the fight for the next generation is to recognize what is at stake.

Labor as a Means of Personal Freedom:  A physical job used to link directly to personal opportunity and freedom.  It provided the stability of predictable income, health care and future pension that allowed the individual to either maintain or position oneself for advancement.  A relatively small group of people had the pride of ownership and production, and the risk/reward equation that came with ownership.  For most people, the job was simply the byproduct of a stable life and other pursuits.  Now, the very concept of “job” is disappearing.  Manual labor, the capacity to contribute to production of goods and services, that would provide the economic means to eventually secure those goods and services for oneself, is, for most of the planet, the relic of a bygone era.  Robots are substantially more productive than people in assembly work, mining, and farming.  Computers reduce the value of human data interpretation, with their ability to summon and source massive amounts of data in infinitesimal amounts of time compared to humans.  What will most people do, when there are fewer and fewer jobs for them to do?  This has been the primary impetus of our current anxieties about immigration, free trade agreements, and loss of industries to other countries.  The very number of jobs in the world are diminishing, as the ability to more productively outsource to machines increases.  No amount of tariffs or taxes as proposed by current candidates are going to protect jobs that will be increasingly performed by machines no matter how onerous we make their transition  to other countries. Governments placating people with safety nets will only delay the critical thinking required to recognize what is at stake. What will more and more people do when their productive value is progressively outsourced to machines?  Critical thinking regarding what brings value to lives, not protectionist tactics, will be necessary to imagine a way forward when industry labor is no longer the source of individual productivity.

Traditional Education Defining Advancement:  Education has become the unholy home of artificial value and pseudo – self actualization. Increasingly exploding in cost beyond anyone’s rational ability to pay, at the very time that the ‘education” offered promotes the lack of any actual skill development, traditional means of education are becoming incapable of providing us with the critical thinkers to help solve our problems.  Degrees lean more and more to dividing our knowledge base into expertise in victimhood, chaos theory, and manipulation of the masses, rather than rewarding critical thought and linking disciplines to provide creative outcomes.  Requiring massive amounts of individual investment or societal support to fund further examination of our divisions – our blackness or brownness, our sexual variance or physical differences, does nothing for recognition of our common problems or contribute to their creative solutions.  Forcing people to identify their intellectual development through a degree rather than an accomplished set of achieved insights or skill acquisitions has led to an enormous ignorance as  to what provides real personal development.  Education no longer requires rigid isolation to  campuses where thinking becomes both expensive and able to be manipulated into a politically correct ‘groupthink’.

Government as the Collective Answer:  The sense of loss of control and situational anxiety  has led to people seeking the comfort of  worn out concepts of the last century to protect them against change, particularly lashing themselves to the masts of  an ever larger  and more intrusive government. Once designed in America to support only actions that individuals could not do for themselves, government has become the dumping ground for every failure in insight.  Designed to exist for our collective defense against attack, it now seeks to protect us against unconquerable foes such as changes in climate and equality of outcome.   The result is a morbidly bloated government that promises everything and secures nothing except the pathologic maintenance of the status quo. We are now inexorably committed to securing our future health and well being through devices that were inadequate from inception, long ago  destined for failure, and financially, catastrophically unsupportable.  And yet we cling to the concepts because the alternative to government’s sclerotic approach is to require some risk of ourselves, and anxiety makes it easier to pass the responsibility onto an unborn generation.  It won’t matter because the virus effecting all world order is the reliance on historical conditions that no longer exist and insight that long since failed.  The beauty of the critical thinkers that fashioned the Constitution is that they built the perfect machinery to evolve a society, rather than codify solutions.  We need a return to critical thought processes in our governance to cleanse ourselves of the last century’s loss of focus.

Nationhood:  The concept of what makes a nation has been traditionally tribal.  A tribe linked by language – Uzbeks forming Uzbekistan, Swedes forming Sweden, Japanese forming Japan – has conceptually been the means of nation building.  Where ignored or artificially  subverted, strife has resulted.  Kurds have seen their cultural whole divided into multiple countries within each they are a restive minority. Catalonians feel little affinity with Spaniards. Yugoslavia was ripped apart by sectarian and religious differences once the totalitarian government fell.   The United States was formed on a unique concept-a union of various peoples bound by a political philosophical culture founded on British juris prudence, British legislative governance and the British concept of freedom of assembly and speech. To best codify this political culture, the tribe became Americans and the binding language of freedom, English.  The permanent nature of this union was never in doubt when America was seen as the beacon of freedom in a world of torment, and the nation was the undoubted economic superpower of the world.  Strains are developing, however, after decades of flat economic performance, progressive assault on institutions, and a general laissez faire attitude regarding the vulnerability of hard won freedoms.  There is a growing perception that there should not be an American “tribe”, and the nation should simply be a repository for whoever sees reason to subsist there.  The critical thought that formed unique nationhood for America is no less critical today, if the idea that a nation of shared ideals rather than genetic commonality is to survive.

This year, America has determined to vote for the end of something, rather than the birth of a new beginning.  The three top candidates for President will be 70 or older, by the time they would be inaugurated, and they are selling a clinging grasp of the past with promises of illogical economics, class and racial envy, and perpetuation of the status quo.  All of which are doomed.  It is understandable that a citizenry, poorly educated about its innate strengths, looks to others to be strong for it.   It is a scary time for those who see human freedom and individual opportunity for what it is – mankind’s most successful means of maximizing our species’ capabilities and conquering our fears and darker instincts.  Inevitably, the choice is ours. And regardless of what we think, history will not wait for us.




Posted in CULTURE, HISTORY, POLITICS | Leave a comment

Republican Party 1854 -2016(?)

The Republican Party - Heading For The Rocks?

The Republican Party – Heading For The Rocks?

On March 24th, 1854 in an unadorned schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin, a group of men came together to form a new political movement.  The impulse was provided by the passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854, which opened two new territories to the possibility of slavery, allowing the settlers of both territories to determine through popular sovereignty the presence or absence of slavery in the territory.  This abrogated the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which permitted slavery in the Missouri territory to “balance” the entry of “free soil” Maine into the union, but contained any further slavery introduction below the 36th latitude. With the Kansas Nebraska Act, both Kansas and Nebraska fell above that line, and the future of slavery suddenly became a matter of who could get the greatest number of their supporters in place.  “Bleeding” Kansas resulted, with nasty violence growing rapidly into a low intensity civil war that predestined the massive carnage of the national civil war to come.  The nascent republicans in that schoolhouse recognized the country could not possibly survive the extension of a concept like slavery antithetical to the very foundational philosophy of an American union.  They determined to form a party that stood up for the concept of both personal and economic freedom, imbued in the slogan, “free labor, free land, free men.”  The party found its voice in the form of Abraham Lincoln, was forged through the ordeal of the Civil War, and became a dominant force in American politics.

The party has put forth great presidents like Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Reagan.  It has matured into a firm conservative reflection of the American experiment, championing free enterprise, personal initiative, fiscal responsibility, muscular defense, and equal opportunity.

The current party should be at its zenith.  Having secured itself as the effective representative of the individual versus the collective state, it has achieved current electoral dominance at the state level with 3044 of 5411 state lower chamber representatives, 1,134 of 1,972 state upper chamber representatives, 31 of the 50 US governorships, 246 0f 435 US Representatives, and 54 of 100 US Senators. That last piece of political unity with the nation, the Presidency, occupied by a philosophically secure conservative, stood before the party in 2016 like never before, with a cratering government party stuck  defending its last political redoubt reliant upon an unrelatable candidate potentially fatally weakened by felonous behavior with America’s most secret information.  The Republican Party appeared  poised for an electoral renaissance that would finally implement a fundamental restoration of the principles of exceptionalism that brought America such bounty and morally secure standing in the world.

Yet..Its all about to go up in smoke.

In 2016, the national party has been infected by an insurgency that is bringing it to its knees and will fracture it forever if not eradicated. The insurgency is through the dark forces of demagoguery and nihilism in the human form of one Donald Trump.  All democracies are potentially susceptible to the charlatan who speaks to the population’s baser instincts of survival, envy, and revenge.  It is why the prescient founding fathers secured a constitution with checks and balances, separating powers to prevent such a demagogue from usurping power.  It is why they devised an electoral college to prevent the   unrestrained mob majority from securing the executive.  To many in today’s day and age, however, these olympian principles that have bound America’s diverse population into a workable whole are entirely trifling.  In a complicated world full of competing strains, many people who feel left behind  are looking to others to solve their problems, and are willing to trust them with unbounded power to do so. Trump has seen this before in the microcosm of his own life, using the concept of self importance to overwhelm any careful vetting of facts.  It has led to a veneer of uninterrupted success, when the facts suggest multiple bankruptcies, failed concepts, and at times outright fraud.  It was a sign of his shrewdness that he felt the timing was right to sell his pablum on a national stage.

One doesn’t have to travel very far back in time to see this developing trend in American political discourse,  of the so-called indispensable man.  President Barrack Obama has been a savant in this tactic, presenting himself initially as the everyman, appearing from nowhere to course serenely above the fray, seeing not a white America or a black America, only America.  Obama suggested he could achieve through his very persona a resetting of  the national attitude on race, stop the oceans from rising, heal the earth, restore America’s reputation for fairness through  constant apology and humility, and fundamentally change America from its moorings in personal risk, unfettered markets, and non-collective morality driven individuality.  He progressively overcame the restraints of compromise and coordination through a combination of bully pulpit and executive action that circumvented those constitutional restraints.  The IRS became a tool for surgical strikes against perceived enemies.  The EPA devised a regulatory vendetta against coal and oil to attempt to make the market for the products untenable.  Budgets became quaint relics of the past, so that burgeoning unvetted spending would annually move forward, with the only alternative government shutdown. On and On.

Now Donald Trump has risen from the muck and fashioned himself a better, more streamlined version of Obama. Threats to those who would oppose him are now direct and malevolent. Other countries will pay for our laxity and incoherence. Banks and insurance companies will lose decision making capacity in their businesses. No proposed solutions, just the assurance that things will be “so much better”, “waste fraud and abuse” will be eliminated, and enemies will be “destroyed”.  The executive can be trusted with the coalescence of power because he is so much smarter, more successful, and realistic than everyone else, and is the greatest deal maker that ever lived.

A tired citizenry is increasingly vulnerable to such balderdash.  Say it enough and the seepage into the national consciousness can become unavoidable.  The weak , ineffective governments of 1920 Italy and 1932 Germany were susceptible to the ubermensch argument, and the results were devastating.  It is no small coincidence that Trump quotes Mussolini:

Trump quotes Mussolini on Twitter February 28,2016

Trump quotes Mussolini on Twitter February 28,2016

Is America the sheep the Trump lion is about to devour?  Possibly not, but the Republican Party will not survive the Trumpian form of fascism.  The virus of an unprincipled demagogue is not compatible with the generation of conservatives that conceived the ideal of the modern mantle of limited government, individual rights, tax fairness, national security, and belief in the founding principles.  If Trump achieves the coup d’etat and runs the primary table, the vast segment of millions of identified republicans who wear this mantle as the definition of the patriotic American will leave the party in droves, rather than directly participate in the country’s deconstruction.  To the party establishment who have help create this unbounded frondeur, a word of warning.  This particular Pandora’s box can not be re-sealed.  The Republican Party will permanently fissure and will cease to exist as a national force.  So get a grip, America.  You still have time to come to your senses.

For millions of Americans ,there can be no ‘getting’ along with our own home grown Mussolini.


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George Washington – The Virginian

GEORGE WASHINGTON - Gilbert Stuart - Corcoran Gallery

GEORGE WASHINGTON – Gilbert Stuart – Corcoran Gallery

February 22, 2016 is the 284th anniversary of the birth of George Washington, a giant of history, that with each passing year and with ever more complete research into his actions and motivations, grows evermore in stature. The somewhat dour portraiture of the man promoted by his portraits late in life do not begin to capture what a towering force of nature he was, and the intensity of impact that he had on others, and on his time.  Each presidential election season seems to bring us the challenge of finding individuals remotely worthy of the office and the understanding of public service that he so uniquely defined.  Ramparts paid tribute to him on February 22,2011, and a return to our essay, The Virginian, is a exemplary reminder of the mettle and character of the man that the current crop of candidates dare to be associated with.

In our more cynical, superficial age we find it hard to imagine the set of circumstances that would lead a man to risk all that he had, and give up the greater portion of his life, to an idea. 279 years ago today, such a man was born in the colony of Virginia, and his indomitable life quest almost single-handedly made possible the American Experiment. There was no expectation in early life of his sacrificial nature, borne to a prominent Virginia family, and he could have settled in to a life of plantation farming and land acquisition that was his family’s mantra. Something restless and animal was part of his makeup , however, and his early journeys into the wilderness to survey land created a unique need not seen in other family members. This man, George Washington, was tuned into a special stereophonic muse that was characterized both by the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Possibility. His forays into the vast American continent began to coalesce for him that this particular land was special, and the capacity of each individual man special, within it. He began to seek positions that would both make possible the maximization of who he was, and steadily, the risks he would need to face to achieve fulfillment.

The young adult Washington showed a warrior instinct. He was named the military leader of an attachment that was to derive the position of the competing French in the Ohio country coveted by both the British and French superpowers, and managed in a short time time get himself involved in both a massacre of French soldiers near present day Pittsburgh, and later a complementary catastrophic massacre of British soldiers in the ill fated Braddock expedition to eject the French. The sequence of events showed Washington to be aggressive, impetuous, and in a trait glorified later in life, unconscionably brave and seemingly immune to battle chaos or bullets. The controversies of these events left the British and the American politicians with different impressions of the Virginian Washington. The British saw him as inferior to the British officer ideal with his Americanized instincts for cagey warfare over stand and shoot soldiering. The Americans saw him as an example of individual creativity and persistence. Both concepts were of Washington, but did not completely describe him, to those who later felt they knew how the “true” Washington in battle would respond.

A leap forward in time to 1775, and the continental congress is desirous of a leader that holds both warrior skills and revolutionary ideals in his make-up. There was frankly little “in-house” experience to chose from, but Washington recognized before anyone that the warrior leader would have to a special hybrid. He would need to be able to commune with the common man who would ultimately provide a volunteer force that would need to be willing to sacrifice and die for abstract ideas, and would have to project a consistent warrior bearing and confidence that would assure all that taking on the most powerful military on earth and winning was not the ludicrous proposition it seemed. He played these two roles to perfection, and retrospectively, was the unique persona for the impossible task.

The revolutionary war years of 1775 to 1783 were epitomized by the crushing reality of the sacrifices necessary by men like Washington to achieve the miracle of independence. The challenges were overwhelming. He was required to fight the greatest military force in the world with a rag tag army of citizen soldiers with little military training and limited resources. He was challenged time and time again to rebuild this volunteer army as deferments ran out, or men simply gave up on the intolerable nature of it all. He was expected to maintain a continental strategy with troops who were thinking that their home to defend was their own state and not necessarily the “foreign” state to which they were forced to defend. He was forced to defend his actions in defeat after painful defeat against individual politicians who thought they knew better and refused to monetarily support the cause or mandate the troops. He did this all continuously for eight years with a price on his head, away from his home, under atrocious conditions, and with the foreknowledge that defeat meant for him certain death and loss of all that he had. He faced all these enormous obstacles – and he won.

When it came time years later to select a chief executive that would form the initial government of the United States, the selection again turned to one man, the Virginian, Washington. He was selected not for any impassioned rhetorical brilliance or acknowledged philosophical depth, but again, because he was the single individual every competing interest group felt they could trust. He was selected for his acknowledged ownership of the American Ideal through the worst of times, and his willingness as a man, to give up power when it was his to take. As the first President of these United States he set for all time the standard that the office, not the man, the Constitution, not the trappings, were the key ingredients of the American Experiment.

On his birthday, at a time when mediocrity of character and lack of in-depth understanding of what makes this American Experiment work frequently desires to inhabit the office of President, our first president, the Virginian, stands forever, like a colossus.

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Reagan at 105

Ronald Reagan 1911 - 2004

Ronald Reagan 1911 – 2004

February 6th is the 105th anniversary of the birth of the last great President of the United States. The fortieth of a line of greats, near greats, disappointments and even scoundrels, the reputation of Reagan has only grown in stature since he left the political scene in 1989.  Greatness, as always, is not just a list of accomplishments. It is the sense, by friend and foe alike, that the real achievement of Reagan was that he was consequential in the lives of people in a way that left an indelible memory. Reagan secured renewal in America, which is an innate American characteristic flowering intermittently,  permitting the country to throw off the pessimism and corrosion of previous versions, and restore the core beliefs that make this country like no other. Approaching another period in time when people fear that the country may be in a permanent decline, the search for another Reagan-like figure is driving the political process, as a general exhaustion for the  divisiveness of the last 25 years progressively looks to unify behind a leader that believes in the infinite capability of a people that believe in themselves.

Reagan was the antithesis of the modern model for an executive of an organization as contentious and complex as the United States.  The modern model calls for elite training, breeding in the corridors of influence, intellectual power, vigor of an executive personality at the height of its powers,  and calculated ruthlessness.  Reagan was born of backwater parents in Tampico, Illinois, and attended not Ivy League, but backwater schools, graduating with gentleman’s grades from little Eureka College, and striving not to become a captain of industry, but a reflection of the common man. The natural goodness that was Reagan resonated upon the fairly recent form of mass communication known as cinema, and secured in Reagan a belief that the stories told in the movies were characteristic in form to the real life stories that created the unique  American society. To Reagan later in life, the cinema stories blended with reality, not because he was deluded by their contrived nature, but because he believed stories evoked the true, formational American psyche.  Having essentially finished one career as celebrity, he then proceeded later in life to a second career of working the levers of power to respond to his beliefs that the success and influence of America was best appreciated in its people and their story. He didn’t see Americans as needing constant direction to prevent chaos and ill considered decisions. By the time he ran for President in 1980, he was already one of the oldest men to do so, but somehow his simple, principled manner and his unwavering confidence in the American dream blew through all generations as a bracing rush of fresh air and energy.

Reagan didn’t need to feel himself the smartest man in the room as more insecure men who followed him to the office did. He sublimated the concept of intellectual heft to the equally awesome  power of personal wisdom and understanding of what motivates people to achieve great things.   He did not need to demean people or ruthlessly use them, because he knew the gains would be short and superficial.  He understood that true power resided in a country’s sense of self esteem and shared story. He crushed the opposition time and time again not by explaining to the people why trusting themselves would overwhelm any insecurity, and the people became his army that no opponent could hope to fractionate.  When Reagan ran for re-election in 1984, he didn’t really need to tell them it  was Morning in America.  They felt it at the very core of their conviction, and they knew that he had renewed them.

To the elite of the country, Reagan’s simple faith in Americans and their ability to seize opportunity and trust themselves , was polyannish and ultimately irrational. Elites knew that most Americans could not be expected to understand the complexities of modern society and make good decisions.  Real, altruistic governance would always be not so much  a safety net as a it should be a hammock, designed to soften the blows and disappointments of life for those that could not possibly be expected to absorb and overcome failure. Reagan’s simplistic view of Americans having more in common with the concept of being American rather than the bonds to any individual group, suppressed grievances and blurred the political divisiveness that could build voting blocks.  By the time an Obama positioned himself as a deliverer, Americans had subjugated themselves to smaller and smaller self interest groups, and the exploitation of perceived grievances allowed base instincts of envy and advantage to take rigid hold. Obama saw no value in shared success and people feeling self worth. Political power lay in making sure if there was failure, it was important to have someone who would clearly reveal for those who failed who was responsible – their neighbor, their fellow American.  Obama’s over-riding impulse was to extend this attitude to the global perception of America, If there was instability and chaos in the world, America could be seen as a driver of such malfeasance, and she could make it up to others only by apologizing and getting out of the way.  The self esteem of America and its people, renewed by Reagan and allowed to flourish for twenty-five years, required an Obama to restore the elites and crack America’s can do spirit.

Reagan unbelievably at 105 somehow seems younger than the tired contrivances that pass for leadership today. The restless rejection of the so called establishment candidates for president in Clinton and Bush seem to foretell however, a stirring of another renewal.  If the country begins to sense there is real hope, not the nonsense of 2008, and that people will once again be given the chance to live their lives unencumbered by those who would crush their spirit for renewal, we may yet see a tidal wave of confirmation in the person who can define a path back out from the wilderness.  If so, like 1980 and 1984, you won’t be needing to interpret any broken chads to know who won.  It wont be a republican or democrat wave, it will once again be an all American one.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Reagan.


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The Brokenness of Government

Venezuelans wait in line for food at a supermarket

Venezuelans wait in line for food at a supermarket     

The world is looking like a progressively scary place, and it’s not from the usual bad guy good guy conflict. Its what passes for a government nowadays.  Governance as defined by the dictionaries suggests a governmental body is to establish policies, monitor their implementation, and assume accountability,in order to provide for the prosperity and enhancement of the governed.  Increasingly, real governance is the last thing these governments have in mind.  The swelling size, scope, and grasp for power is their calling, and the people who have to put up with them are increasingly angry, and increasingly desperate. Media takes passively takes pictures and reports the presence of the increasing chaos and occasional violence, but is blind to accept the cause as a failure of the governing class for what it would mean for the perceived notion of an ideal society.  The longer the disconnect remains in perception, the larger the risk of a real calamity developing.

The bloated government:  World history has not seen an economy the size of the United States of America.  For a country with an annual greater than 17 trillion dollar marketplace of prosperity, the government has progressively grown to install its brand of ‘fairness’ on the interactions through regulations.  The original design of a limited government with checks and balances has been thrown out with an exploding executive branch, that thinks every decision an individual makes should be weighted on equality of outcome, and a legislative branch that has abandoned its role in assuring budgetary restraint and oversight guidance.   The anger of the population is palpable this election season. A healthcare program built on monstrous legislation and ever more monstrous regulation fails on every conceivable level,  but no one will do anything because it is a centerpiece of a president’s legacy. The nation’s debt balloons out of all conceivable proportion, having doubled in just 8 years weighed against the previous 230 with over 100 trillion in unfunded mandates, more worth than exists in the world, and nobody will do anything because they risk their re-election. Laws are that define governmental integrity, paying of taxes, respect for individual privacy, and care with the nation’s secrets are blatantly ignored by the governing class, and no clean up of the corrupting and corroding influence is undertaken, as the governing class protect their own.  Bloated beyond all credible size, the government exists to exist, to redistribute, and to grow some more.

The Utopian government:  Governments more firmly are designed to construct societies as utopians wish they would be, rather than how societies best function.  The current free-fall in Venezuela is the Primus Inter Pares.  Despite the explosion of national wealth and massive industry expansion brought by the discovery of Venezuela’s enormous oil reserves, the inequities created between the poor and the flourishing middle class and nouveau riche led to the election of a uber-socialist government of Hugo Chavez, patterned after the equally utopian autocracy of Cuba.  The nationalizing of the oil industry allowed the government coffers to fill directly, providing patronage money for electoral success through 2 cent a gallon gasoline, and essentially free goods, transportation,  and housing for the poor.  The inevitable collapse of infrastructure in the oil industry, collapse of oil prices, and explosion of the black market has led to only more delusional moves by the Chavez successor Maduro, and the doubling down of every economic malfeasance.   The printing of money with rampant inflation destroying currency value has led to the monetary black market, price controls destroying any available goods, and increasing enforcement of these unworkable decisions by government backed thugs, a pattern seen over and over in countries like Zimbabwe and North Korea, but it has not distracted the Venezuelan autocrats one bit.  Suffering is the daily bread of utopian paradise.

The Nanny State Government:  When the European Union implemented fully the Schengen Area in 1999, it was to tell the 400 million Europeans under the union they knew the world better than any of their inhabitants.  Designed to eliminate borders by eliminating passports, it put all trade and immigration under the province of a supra-national government in Brussels who wants to eliminate 2600 years of cultural diversity and create a european superstate.  The single currency followed close behind with the adoption of the Euro, and the vision of vast continent of a like minded social compact gave the governors in Brussels ecstatic chills.  Give Greece the Euro, and a Greek will become efficient and frugal, undifferentiated from the Germanic.  Open the borders, and the immigrants will flow and provide low cost labor for the overseers, liberalize themselves, and become the Europeans of the tomorrow, joyous in the vision of a protected life, and immune to  genetic callings of their tribe.  The whole Potemkin Village is crashing down with the onslaught of a million undocumented immigrants from the Middle East and Africa with little to separate them but their desire to be brought under the nanny state economic safety net, and their complete distain for any contact with the European social libertine streak.  The various governments have determined to ignore the severe cultural clashes that express themselves violently in assault, rape, and even murder and pretend this has nothing to do with the greater assimilation.  The inevitable result is the rise of hard right movement predicated upon protecting their homes, family, and culture, but using the tools that echo the vigilante actions of times past with their inherent dangers.

The Adversarial Government:  Governments reacting to any political activity to limit growing efforts to limit their scope or power are increasingly hostile and frankly dangerous.  Individuals who looked to develop opposing political views in the United States to the prevailing government found their phones tapped, the tax returns audited, and their businesses hounded by governmental agencies.  In Russia the would be czar has used a more effective tool of at least indirectly supporting the murder of political opponents through means as diverse and criminal as street assassination and radioactive poison.  In China, the preferred means, is societal erasure, with massive prison sentences. In the nascent state of ISIL, the medieval means of drowned, burning alive and beheading are used with the joy of totalitarian zeal.  These governments are no longer responsive to public pressures for they have assured themselves that they are too big to fail, too powerful to resist. In the world where government is your boss and not your servant ,the temptation to use available levers of power and hide behind the bureaucracy is great. On such assumption, revolutions are borne.

The Demagogue Government:  The governments are progressively fronted by Demagogue Leaders.  Appealing to the raw emotions of inequity and promoting the assurance of equality of outcome, the politics of leaders is to demand the increasing accumulation of powers in the hands of a single individual who will protect the people against the weakness of deliberative processes or the blind justice based on laws not emotions.  From Obama to Trump, the promise is you can have what you want, you need only a leader who is willing to take any means necessary to achieve the end result.  The checks and balances placed to prevent just such demagoguery is to be subverted and overwhelmed.  In a society where the hard work of democracy seems passe’ and the idea of principles of governance antiquated to the speed of our current discourse, a strong handed leader seems the easy out.

We are entering into dangerous times with our eyes half closed.  As a member of the diminishing group of people willing to discourse and legislate to a proper end, we need to be forceful in our defense of the constitutional concept.  Listen before you speak. Read a book, and then another opposed. Think about our past, and reason about our future. Demand competence. Demand oversight of your government.  Protect freedom of expression above all.  Respect your traditions, and teach their value. Secure your future opportunity and guard it against all poseurs who would usurp it.  And …make sure those who govern, that they do so only with the expressed assent of the governed and that they are under the same laws that govern all free society – none different, none selective.  Hopefully, real push back, and the self correcting forces of an alert and engaged society will protect the world against the dark intent of predators and scoundrels.

Message: Go vote your principles, and if necessary, throw the bums out. Tomorrow is February 1st, and the future world we will live in is in our electoral hands, starting in Iowa.  The world is watching carefully to see if there’s still a chance, that in the land that once was the beacon for hope for those under the yoke, good will still prevail.



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Oh Boy – Here We Go…


The chaotic and unpredictable American process for electing a chief executive is about to commence.  On February 1st, the 2016 Iowa caucuses take place and the first delegates to a national convention for each party representing the peoples’ choice will be selected.  The total delegate count received for the winner of each party in Iowa is likely to be less than one half of one percent of the total amount needed to receive the party nominations, yet it continues to carry the outsized impact expected of a much larger state.  The reason is simple – as George Herbert Walker Bush stated in 1980, the winner gets the Big Mo – the mantle of being a winner in a crowded field of aspirants.  The traditional start has been Iowa, a caucus, and New Hampshire, a primary.  The caucus process is of course run by political parties, and is therefore a device by which the enthusiasms of individual  blocs supporting political causes can best find their voice.  The primary is run by the state government, and reflects the whims of a voting public that reflects the candidate impressions of the moment.  The candidates like the structure because it allows predictability in geography and media expense, and lends to as ‘equal’ a playing field as is possible for the long shots.  And thus, the continuing drive of the start of the political process further and further back towards the previous election.

The people 'who would be President' 2016

The Republican hopefuls ‘who would be President’ 2016

It already seems in 2016, that this electoral process has gone on forever.  In the republican field, seventeen candidates filed papers to run, and before the first vote has even occurred, six have been defeated by the process.  Walker, Jindal, Perry, Patakis – the proven executives at the state level, thought to be voters’ desire after the election of the experience light Obama, fell quickly.  The gadfly Senator Lindsey Graham and the Republican Party executive Jim Gilmore.  Others have had their moment in the sun – Fiorina, the outsider computer executive-who used her preparedness to shine in the debates. Carson – the surgeon who started the anyone but a politician frenzy.  Rand Paul – the owner of his father’s libertarian legacy. The two former Iowa caucus winners, Santorum and Huckabee. The six who are truly left standing for the first vote, come in with the scars of a titanic battle already underway.  Bush – the legacy candidate, saddled with the name, establishment money, and a diminished political skill set, forced to strike out against all others to try to survive to a two man race. Kasich and Christie – the Curmudgeons candidates, attempting to hold up the governor as superior manager mantle, damaged with the defeats of Walker, Perry, and Jindal. Cruz and Rubio – the Senators are the Future candidates – potential real electoral talents that legitimately can take on Trump or Clinton, but only after they have fatally destroyed the other, for there can be only one.  And of course, Trump the Demagogue, who stands athwart the entire field, watching joyfully, as the rest pick each other off.

The democrats are under essentially the same schedule, and every bit as unsettled a process.  Classic for this party,  a larger fix is built in to remove surprises for the entrenched powers – almost 25 percent of the delegates are unpledged,  super-delegates designated by the party, allowing considerable manipulation of the outcome to the highest bidder. The presumptive Queen,Hillary Clinton, assumed to proceed in a cake walk in an inordinately weak field of competitors, is being staggered by her profound tendency to be her self. Her inherent unlikability as a retail politician, exposed easily by Obama in 2008, has been  magnified by progressive evidence of her deceitful incompetence in her time in government.  She very likely could be the first nominated candidate to have to face a felony inditement for her willful exposure of state secrets in setting up and using a private unprotected server,and her attempt to destroy evidence. One would assume that to be enough to bury even the most preening candidate, but at the same time, she must fight off a 74 year old Socialist, who appears more energetic and real to the voters than she ever could, forcing her into ever more radical statements that blunt the veneer of her election inevitability.

The artillery is coming fast and furious.  Joe Biden waiting for the Clinton Collapse.  Mayor Bloomberg possibly joining the fray on the idea that America’s Billionaires Know Better, and the real possibility of an election resolved in the House of Representatives.  The National Review Editorial Board declaring the Republican front runner is a liberal democrat. The FBI possibly  forced to detail the obvious; one of our leading Presidential candidates is a felon. Donald Trump determining that whatever he thought yesterday and whatever he said today, doesn’t have to be what he believes tomorrow – and you will learn to love it.

From Iowa and New Hampshire, to South Carolina and Nevada, to the 15 state  Super Tuesday and beyond.  Perhaps by April 1, we will have settled on the two candidates to lead this nation.  Or simply selected out such unpalatable realities that we will see a multiple party  3 or 4 candidate presidential election free for all.  Whatever happens, it will be exciting, unpredictable, uplifting, brash, ludicrous, inclusive, and definitely – American.

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Trump Change


Donald Trump

Donald Trump

The entry of Donald Trump into the political arena was met by most (certainly Ramparts)  as an insignificant sideline to what would be the compelling stories of the 2016 race. Last spring,  according to the ‘experts’, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were the politicians that had the famous supposed gravitas and organizational heft that would swallow the rest of their opponents in short order, and compared to such political leviathans, Donald Trump was considered ‘chump change’. The first vote has yet to be taken, but indications are that Trump is anything but political chump change. Instead, the political world is slowly coming to the realization that this etherial phenomena may be significantly more than previous sideshows, and what we are looking at more and more is the Main Event  –  Trump Change.

Enduring political phenomenae have to be understood in their contexts.  This is the reflection of both the unique qualities of the political figure and the times in which they reside. Trump is not the first celebrity attempting to capture the wave of public recognition and turn it into political votes – Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jessie Ventura, among others,  brought comic book hero status to the political arena and prospered.  Nor is he the first demagogue – the list is infinitely longer displaying that trait.  What he is capturing is that very special American desire that, if ignored by the establishment long enough, there is a real desire to ‘stick it to the Man’.   The rapidly increasing money amounts pouring into political campaigns have brought value to the distressing trend to make to contrary political philosophies progressively more  diametrically opposed to each other, with the victory of either felt to be intolerable to the other.  A liberal or conservative label is no longer about political ideas as it is about sacred immutable oaths, to which deviation or compromise is anathema.  The average voter lodged on losing side of the argument has his nose rubbed in the loss by opponents, and demand for increased loyalty by the losers.  To which the average voter is progressively responding with the Trumpian call to arms  – You Are All Losers.

Trump as the hybrid political creature Celebrity Demagogue is immediately recognizable to people as someone who will say what they feel and cannot say, and someone too celebrity big to be harassed into shutting up. When he is called offensive, he becomes more offensive. When the establishment remarks that what he expounds is just not said in polite politically correct society, he becomes more politically incorrect.  And the crowds love it.

Serious political observers are focusing their attention on the Trump phenomena. The essays are important and should be read in their entirety, as they are very prescient in what is going on and say it so much better than I. Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal describes Trump as the “Great Disruptor,” :

But issues do matter, and Mr. Trump has functioned this year not as a great communicator or great compromiser but as the great disrupter. He brags that he has brought up great questions and forced other candidates to face them and sometimes change their stands—and he has. He changed the debate on illegal immigration. He said he’d build a wall and close the border and as the months passed and his competitors saw his surge, they too were suddenly, clearly, aggressively for ending illegal immigration.

The great Mark Steyn attempts to inject the Trump virus directly, by attending a Trump rally in Vermont.  Steyn, one of the intuitive observers of mass culture ever, senses a significant part Trump’s power is derived from his authenticity with the voters. Not Jimmy Carter authenticity  “I will never lie to you” but the authenticity that Trump knows that people know how the world works, and they know Trump is authentic in letting them know, he does too:

What is “authenticity” in contemporary politics? Is it a man who parlayed a routine Congressional career into a lucrative gig at Lehman Brothers presenting himself as the son of a mailman? Or is it a billionaire with a supermodel wife dropping the pretense that he’s no different from you stump-toothed losers in the rusting double-wides? Trump’s lack of pandering extends to America, too. He doesn’t do the this-is-the-greatest-country-in-the-history-of-countries shtick that Mitt did last time round. He isn’t promising, like Marco Rubio, a “second American century”. His pitch is that the American dream is dead – which, for many Americans, it is. In 1980, Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” was an aberration – a half-decade blip in three decades of post-war US prosperity that had enabled Americans with high school educations to lead middle-class lives in a three-bedroom house on a nice-sized lot in an agreeable neighborhood. In 2015, for many Americans, “malaise” is not a blip, but a permanent feature of life that has squeezed them out of the middle class. They’re not in the mood for bromides about second American centuries: They’d like what’s left of their own lifespan to be less worse.

That’s the other quality on display: at certain points – for example, when Trump started talking about “beautiful Kate in San Francisco” being killed by an illegal immigrant – I turned around and saw men and women tearing up.

Steyn reviews many facets of the Trump phenomena and the article captures the uniquely American political experience that allows such phenomena to flourish.  In a parlimentary system, the party puts the party first, and a candidate flying by the seat of his pants will be cut off before any momentum can risk the party structure.  Not so in the American model.  The contest for leadership starts in the local barns of Iowa and the storefronts of New Hampshire, where every candidate story is vetted voter to voter. The power of this living room politic was first promulgated when Georgia governor Jimmy Carter came out of political obscurity to win the Democrat Iowa Caucus in 1976 and springboard into national prominence and eventual presidential election victory.  Ever since, candidates have hope for the springboard effect, based on having to actually entice relatively very few voters.  In 2012, Rick Santorum secured 29000 votes,to win the Iowa caucus, likely not enough votes to win an attorney general contest in Polk County, Iowa. yet Santorum parleyed the momentum into a second place finish behind Mitt Romney for the nomination.  The assumption is that local organization carries the day, but with the crowds Trump has proven to be able to draw, it is conceivable that the usual door to door techniques will be turned on its head, and Trump will blow out the model.

Americans at the national level have proven resistant to demagogues, but the average American’s faith in the constitutional process has been degrating for decades, and it may prove that this year the immunity is gone.  Trump is transcendantly without policy drafts, position papers, or a kitchen cabinet of advisors.  He defines political errors as the result of people without the personal skills or intellect to do better, and he is that better facilitator of the Art of the Deal that we have been missing.  Whether this will translate into votes that will coalesce as his opponents fall by the wayside, or whether he be cornered by increasingly stronger opponents as the voters become more serious about the next President given the performance of the last two, is soon to play out.  What is clear is that Trump Change is real change – more visceral, honest politics that may yet bring out the best in our system and candidates simply to prevent a demagogue from destroying the system of government for good.  If Trump has at least  managed to have slapped America out of its somulence, Trump Change will be all to the good.


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Space – The Frontier Re-Opens For Business

Falcon 9 and the re-entry capablity

Falcon 9 and the re-entry capablity

In a universe of wrong headed decisions, President Obama was credited by Ramparts in 2013 with recognizing the power of competition and free markets at least once in his Presidency, and allowing private industry to attempt to restore America’s capacity to lead in space.  In 2009, the President re-ordered the space budget to allow private industries to have their attempt at being a successor to the Space Shuttle for low earth orbit transport.  The critics contained some legendary explorers such as Jim Lovell and Neil Armstrong, who vociferously objected to the many future concepts being out of the control of a unifying agency like NASA.  Their doubts were informed; successful rocket programs like USA’s Saturn and Russia’s Soyuz had been the exclusive provence of governments and private concepts were conceptual only.

NASA, the government agency that had led a revolution of manned space exploration that culminated in multiple landings on the moon in the early 1970s, had spent the next forty fumbling with various near earth projects with reduced budgets and increasing risk adverse decisions.  The Space Shuttle was NASA’s only follow through on innovative projects, but it proved budget devouring and unstable, with a statistical catastrophic risk assessment of 1 in 60 flights proving uncomfortably true, with loss of the Challenger in 1986 and the Columbia in 2003 prominent in the 135 flights.  Having built five vehicles estimated at over a billion dollars apiece, 2 were lost for a total vehicle failure rate of 40% and a mission failure rate of 1.5%, easy enough to sink any other experimental craft.  Added to this ominous statistic was the reality that this re-usable spacecraft proved exceedingly expensive to re-use, with a planned for 50 flights a year turning out to be closer to 4 flights a year, resulting in an astronomical cost for the life of the program of over a billion dollars a flight.  Beautiful as it was, such costs accompanying such danger in a craft limited to a 150-600 miles in space maximum range was not feasible to continue beyond its thirty years of existence.

The answer in 2009 was not clear to anyone – except Elon Musk, and a progressively competitive group of visionaries. Innovation has always been the province of visionaries and Musk is the most visionary of visionaries, having created Pay Pal and Tesla as two examples of visions ‘people’ said could never be successful.  His most audacious leap was a company called SpaceX and he sees space as not only a commercial venture but the source of mankind’s eventual salvation.  If Earth is potentially not sustainable someday, then Mars may be where we evolve as a sustainable species.  Such over the horizon thinking has not kept him from decerning the answers to some of the current most vexing issues in space travel and industry, dominated most by its overwhelming cost.  The SpaceX view has been to achieve affordable and reproducible private solutions to the science problems of space, and he has fashioned an enviably American sheen to the innovation.  In developing the moon project, the consideration of re-usable boosters proved impractical, and success was eventually achieved through massive rocketry, rockets in multiple stages capable of only single use.  Each rocket was felt to require building from scratch with new parts as the old ones were disposed of in the previous flight.  In 2015 dollars Musk noted a multi-stage rocket capable of escaping the atmosphere required at minimum 60 million dollars of single use expenditure, with 70% of the cost involved in losing the first stage booster.  Musk identified this as the fatal flaw in any commercial enterprise as only governments can possibly absorb such waste.  He from the start considered reusability foundational and the SpaceX rocket creations have been ultimately designed to solve the reusablity problem.

The Falcon 9 reusable rocket vision

The Falcon 9 reusable rocket vision

Given the massive forces at work on a rocket it was thought that the idea that the boosters could be recovered and reused was a pipe dream.  The first attempts to land the booster seemed to prove out the difficulty:

The team at SpaceX was not deterred; nor could they afford to be.  Unlike a government agency with few timetables and minimal budget limitations, SpaceX had real private competition.  Jeff Bezos, a billionaire with deeper pockets than Musk and every bit the visionary, succeed in November in doing the improbable with his Blue Origin rocket booster, returning it intact to Earth.

Certainly the comparisons between the two rockets weren’t apples to apples.  Bezos’ rocket was designed for an atmosphere launch of people to 62 miles, with a lifting power of 100,000 pounds of thrust and a top speed of Mach 1.5.  SpaceX Falcon 9 is designed for low earth orbit above 100 miles, achieves over a million pounds thrust, and reaches speeds above Mach 5.5.  From such speeds it needs to return in a different trajectory without collapsing, right itself and control decent and land an infinitely heavier, thinner, and taller rocket full of explosive fuel.  Orders  of magnitude more difficult, but after all, Blue Origin had achieved a landing and the visionary Musk was potentially second best.  But through such challenges, real progress takes place.

On December 21st, 2015 Musk realized the space dream that had existed from the days of Jules Verne:

And now the game is on.  Private innovation has cracked the code of re-usablity with Musk annoucing the Falcon 9 sustained no damage  with re-entry and is ready to be used again.  The possiblity of a platform tens of millions cheaper than traditional vehicles for space makes a profit possible, and a profit drives more smart companies into the mix.

Thanks to Elon Musk, innovation is bursting out all over, and America is back in space to stay.

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The year in review - the year going forward image

The year in review – the year going forward       image

The end of the year and the beginning of another always brings a group of lists. The ten best, the ten worst, the biggest trends, the new year’s resolutions, the people who have left us.  The one predictable thing about doing lists that predict future events in the year to come is that they are almost always uniformly wrong.  Our best understanding doesn’t remotely approach the effect of unknown forces, inventions, human responses and the ignorance of actions that truly define what happens. We can look back and chuckle at our awkward expert ‘nonsense’ when placed against the reality of outcome.  Pollster Frank Luntz, who is still churning data through focus groups in 2015, predicted in 2002 that the inevitable democrat party nominee to challenge George W. Bush for the presidency would be “Tom Daschle, Senate majority leader”. Tom Daschle who?  Noble Prize for economics winner Paul Krugman, persisting as an outstandingly wrong way prognosticator for the New York Times, put forth this whopper in 1998:

“The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law”–which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants–becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.”

The predictions regarding science and innovation are particularly spurious. Take Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold’s 1997 statement that “Apple as a company is already dead.” Apple of course is now worth three times the value of Microsoft.

Those of you who think the climate forecast can be accurately predicted a hundred years from now, might remember the 1970 Earth day predictions of University of California Davis Ecologist Kenneth Watt:

“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

Not exactly, Kenneth. But, in fairness, even Nostradamus didn’t get it all right. So, Ramparts is too smart by half to suggest the future, but it is fun perhaps to describe some impressions and directions  and see what happens – if we prove right, we told you so; if wrong, we can at least claim to be as clairvoyant as a Noble Prize winner like Krugman.

Trump-mania will be a spent force : This is a dangerous impression to start with, if our credibility is at stake.  The polls would suggest the Donald Trump as a political force continues to grow ever more so and all attempts to derail have simply strengthened him. But actual elections are why we do not have a President Giuliani, Glenn, Connally, or Hillary Clinton 2008. Trump’s major weakness as a political figure versus political celebrity is Trump.  His strength from day one has been his steadfastness as an anti-immigration candidate, and it will be his downfall.  Trump, to stay consistent, has had to throw ever wider circles around his anti-immigration invectives that started as reasonable, if infeasible stands regarding the southern border, into progressively ludicrous statements regarding, well just about everything.  Bellicosity works when you are convincing those who need no convincing, but as the field of competitors progressively narrows and you need to convince the skeptical voter, the ignorant, conflicting statements you espouse become a progressive problem. Trump needs victories or second place finishes in Iowa or New Hampshire, or bellicosity rapidly becomes a spent force.

2016 will be the ‘hottest’ year on record: It is the last year of the Obama administration and almost all the legacies, from Obamacare to World Peace,  are coming to an ignominious collapse.  The final legacy is global warming and the billions of dollars linked to securing this legacy demands that no matter what the weather, the measured year temperature will have to be the hottest ever.  The industry of settled science demands the narrative be preserved, and so it will be.  Put your thermostats away, next year’s temperature is already known, and it ain’t going to be reported going down.

Attendance at major  sports venues will be trending down:  Big sports and big money have permanently bonded and the direction is ominous for the entertainment value of sports.  Ticket prices continue to climb, team loyalty is drying up as teams are leaving for far more economic markets, and television access for the average fan will soon be pay only.  Instant replay is killing sorts spontaneity and sports as an omnivorous consumer of are youth is creeping down to the middle school level.  When the venue becomes contrived, and the outcome progressively economically determined, sitting in the stands will be a thing of the past.  Why bother to freeze to death, when your team has no chance and the game ticket costs a week of salary?  If the teams’ make money, whether you are there or not, the die is cast. The money will not be made on tickets supporting your team, but progressively on the internet fantasy teams.  Why be committed to a team when everyone’s players can be on your team?

Europe, America, and Russia will all see at least one major terrorist incident: This impression is one of the sadder, but easier, ones.  Europe and America are still enthralled with the concept of Frances Fukuyama’s End of History argument and the tragedies that have befallen them since are predictable in that history does not suffer denial easily. Unfortunately, when it comes to philosophic world views, Huntington’s the Clash of Civilizations looks like the more insightful recognition of the world around us. Until the liberal democracies wake up to the threat building against them, they will be vulnerable and prone to the next outburst, and it won’t be a little one.  Russia will suffer its tragedy because it is overextended as a world enforcer, at the precise time the homeland is vulnerable and weak, buffeted by stratospherically low energy prices that are the primary nutrient to its one asset economy.  Putin’s need to appear invulnerable will only increase his vulnerability.  Unfortunately, I think 2016 will be a good year for the bad guy.

The Arab Winter will claim at least one more government – Jordan, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia: Admittedly this is the most ‘out there’ impression, but the pattern has been established.  The Arab Spring was the hope of the Middle East joining the modern world, but the early momentum collapsed into the dangerous chaos of the Arab Winter currently fanning out from the calamity in Syria.  The ugly stepchild of the Arab Spring, ISIS, now threatens its Sunni providers in Saudi Arabia, and with the stalemate in Yemen and the collapse of oil prices, the sheiks are in a progressively intolerable vice.  Their response to the absent American presence has been to build a league of 37 Sunni nations to ‘defeat terrorism’, but it is really pointed at their sworn enemy Iran, and one wonders if the forward projection will make them vulnerable from within.  Jordan lives as long as Saudi Arabia can support it, and Egypt is at the same mercy.  If the there is no American support, the edifice of power will likely collapse from within in one or more of these countries, and the Middle East will become an even more unstable place (if that’s possible).

The strong foreign policy candidate will win the 2016 American presidential election:  The Trump phenomena reveals a progressive uneasiness in America regarding the future, and, God forbid,  a significant terrorist event were to occur, that would  seal the deal.The world abhors a vacuum and President Obama’s obsessive need to reduce America to an also ran, puts us squarely in the sites of those who would do us harm. The need for Hillary Clinton to tie herself to this progressively vulnerable foreign policy position will be her undoing, and it won’t be close if trouble occurs.

If Republicans do not win the Presidency, the party will split and cease as a national party:  The wins of 2010 to gain the house and 2014 to gain the Senate have reflected back as a complete waste of effort to the conservative voter.  The national party runs afraid of looking obstructionist and proved it again with a calamitous budget agreement that secured for President Obama and large business interests everything they wanted.  The final strike of losing the Presidential election will be the third strike, and conservatives will never again associate themselves with a party of spending apologists.  The threat that three parties will never knock the liberal agenda from power will be immaterial; the national Republican agenda has no respect for its base, and this with a loss, will be finally and justly reciprocated.

There I said it.  And when you say it on the internet, you say it forever.  Hopefully I’m no more accurate then the prognosticators that have had their impressions dashed upon the rocks of history.  The negative nature of my future impressions deserve a real rock dashing.  There just seems to be a sense that we are just hanging on, waiting for some sign that it is okay to be ourselves again, to be prosperous again, to be spiritual again, to be strong again as Americans.  It won’t be under this sad wisp of a President.  With a little luck, maybe we can survive his Presidency to thrive again under a truly positive force. America, it’s your last chance.  Don’t be fooled by the demagogue or the liar.  Anyone else, we got a chance.


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