Saturday, March 25, 2017

How Do We Find The Best Landing Location On Mars?

Potential Martian landing sites for 'Mars 2020' Curiosity Rover will need to 27 terabytes of data including high resolution images gained from orbiters.

Much excitement is building toward the Mars 2020 mission for the Mars Curiosity Rover which seeks to build on the discoveries of previous Rovers (Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity).  The primary focus will be expanding our potential for past or present life beyond Earth.  Mars is a natural first suspect for other life given geological evidence for  once expansive oceans and a thick sheaf of atmospheric gases.

While the 2012 Curiosity Rover has already done yeoman service - advancing our Martian understanding from geochemistry to paleoclimate- the 2020 Rover will study the rocks and soil of the latest landing site allowing further insight into the planet's geological and astrobiological history. In addition, the 2020 mission will collect and store sets of rock and soil samples that conceivably can be sent back to Earth by a future mission. All of which elicits the question of how exactly one ascertains an optimum landing site, given the scarcity of resources available and that a wrong site could find those resources wasted.

Deciding how and where to land a Rover is no small enterprise. It generally requires a collaborative effort of the best and brightest scientists and engineers. For the 2020 mission, teams are now tasked with plowing through 27 terabytes of data, including high resolution digital images (from orbiters), then considering a multitude of different scenarios for the locations identified.  The most difficult part is determining which location scenario best fits the available data.

In the case of the Mars 2020 craft, the options for potential landing sites will also be expanded in real time based on what is called "terrain relative navigation". This is a technology that enables a craft to precisely identify where it is above the landing site.

Further insights can be obtained by going to the following links:

Referencing the work of Michael Meyer, whose primary research focus is micro-organisms living in extreme environments. He's also one of Mars 2020's leaders and architects


This refers to Beth Ehlmann whose specialties include environmental change, weathering processes on Mars, and assaying the compositional surface. She also served as a student collaborator for the Spirit and Opportunity missions.

The recent NatGeo series 'Mars' showed just how critical selection of a landing site on the Red Planet can be, especially for human colonists. However, landing site selection is also critical for any craft with astrobiology as a primary objective.. Hence, the supreme effort going into the 2020 mission.

Stay tuned!

TrumpCare Flops - Will The "Fuhrer's" Tax Code Effort Be Next?

Image result for brane space, Trump rage
"The Democrats are to blame for Trumpcare going down! The Democrats are to blame! BWAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!"

Let's admit that if I deliberately give you a 44-stone advantage  playing 'GO',  the onus is on you to win, i.e. surround my men so they've no place to move and do so pretty quickly. No excuses! Given this sort of handicap, if you still lose, then you are the one to blame.  Even with a massive piece (and position) advantage you were not competent enough to marshal your forces to best advantage and instead let victory slip through your fingers.

In like manner, if your political party enjoys a 44-seat advantage in the House of Representatives, the largest in modern history, then the onus is on your party to get its desired piece of legislation passed. It is emphatically NOT on my party to lend you its numbers or support, especially if your legislation is designed to repeal my party's original bill.   If you blame my party because your party failed - though they enjoyed a 44-seat advantage- then you are either an idiot, psychotic, stoned drug addict  or drunk.

But such was the case yesterday after Trump's (aka "Der Fuhrer's")  much ballyhooed "health care" (repeal and replace) of Obamacare came crashing down. After seven long years of vowing to kill Obamacare, and months of Trump's yapping on the campaign trail he'd do it (making it one of his main promises), e.g.

"On my first day in office I am going to ask congress to send me a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Immediately!"

The supposed vote had to be mercy -killed before it could even commence. Why? Because a quick, informal tally showed it as much as 34 votes short.   No, there were no Dem votes for it, but why should there have been?  As Rep. Joe Kennedy put it last night, to Chris Hayes on MSNBC: "The message from hundreds of thousands of Americans was 'don't do something stupid and vote on a bad bill."  Adding: "Doctors hated this bill, patients hated this bill, nurses hated this bill, hospitals hated this bill and seniors hated this bill, It was a bad piece of legislation"

And, indeed, had any Dems been stupid enough to vote for this misshapen mutation (which killed 10 health care requirements) they'd have paid dearly at the polls in the 2018 midterms.  So anyone with more than air between the ears certainly couldn't have expected them to cooperate to pass an odious bill that hurt far more than it helped. (Actually the only ones it helped were the hyper wealthy because it was actually a tax cut bill to deliver $330b in cuts on the backs of those whose ACA benefits, Medicaid were cut). Further, no sane person could expect Democratic  cooperation to kill a bill they had sacrificed to get through seven years ago! Hell, get real!  But then remember, Trump - now playing the blame game - isn't sane, but a psychotic. So he would say anything to get the monkey of loss off his back.  While President Harry Truman was the first to say "The buck stops here", Trump has now revised that to: "The buck stops with those guys there, not me!"

But what would one expect of a two-bit real estate weasel who built his "empire" on cons, bankruptcies and suspect money from Russian oligarchs.

Add in Sean Spicer's false bravado and optimism that a vote would be held, not to mention Trump's absurd  "ultimatum"  to get the Tea Baggers (Freedom Caucus) on board, and you had all the makings of a grade B drama about to unfold.  Adding to the suspense, an emergency meeting of the House Republican Caucus was called shortly before the scheduled vote. As it was announced, the House went to recess, with Democrats shouting in a taunting manner, “Vote, vote, vote”, daring Republicans to bring the bill up.  Democrats had reason to needle these Reepo miscreants as it was mainly their people - at assorted town hall meetings- who brought the shame on the Repukes as they recounted how their loved ones would be adversely affected by repeal. Did the Repukes care? Hell no!

In a short meeting that ensued, Paul Ryan announced that the bill was being pulled from the floor in a terse statement to members. What ought not have been surprising, as I noted in the previous post, is that the 'pukes ended up playing whackamole tryin to appease the Tea Baggers by adding more and more refuse to their bill. (Namely eliminating ten cornerstones of sound health care, including everything from hospitalizations, ER visits, and maternity care to prescription drugs and mental health services. )

So no wonder a losing wicket emerged with any moderates in swing districts wary of supporting the legislation, which included major cuts to Medicaid. The original bill  was estimated by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office to lead to 24 million fewer Americans having health insurance over the next 10 years, and the final mutated, tortured product was even worse. So why in hell would any Dem help provide cover for these termites by adding a 'yea' vote?

The real blame for the loss, if one could be singled out, had to be the 24-odd member Freedom Caucus.  So committed were they to ideological principle and purity that they absolutely refused the opportunity to send the ACA into the annals of history, even after Paul Ryan removed all ten health requirements they asked for. They didn't want a bloody half loaf, by golly, it had to be the whole enchilada or nothing at all. The WSJ Editorial yesterday (p. A14, 'The Freedom From Reality Caucus')  put it this way:

"By insisting on the impossible over the achievable, these self-styled guardians of conservative purity could become the worst friends conservative ideas and free markets have had in decades."

Meanwhile Trump, who bragged endlessly about his ability to make this happen and his deal making, couldn't budge one single Tea Bagger. Not one. This left him bellyaching over issues of "loyalty" in the wake.  SO much for the art of the deal, but as one pundit put it last night:

"This bill isn't some abstraction. It's the entire health insurance market for a nation of 330 million people. You can't just negotiate it like you're doing a development deal in Atlantic City."

But see, with Trump the Reepos had a turkey who (unlike Obama with the ACA) didn't even keep up with the changing content of the bill or what those changes meant for individual congressional districts and their reps. One Goopr Rep even complained to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker:

"We're astonished how in over his head Trump is. He seems to neither get the politics or the policy of this."

But what would one expect of an ignorant, arrogant, psychotic asshole? Especially one with delusions of grandeur and authoritarian narcissism issues that rival those of his Onkel Adolf.

As far as Trump was concerned it was as if he was just dealing with so many below par properties to be fobbed off on gullible suckers.  Trouble was the would be victims weren't gullible, and by the end of the recent recess most of the Reepos knew it. At least those who had the balls to attend their town halls, as opposed to hiding or inventing the lamebrain excuse those gathered were "paid protesters".

Trump's other egregious claim in washing his hands of the bill, is that he would "just let Obamacare explode". Of course, he's on some kind of drug or else losing even more gray matter. There is no "explosion" as the CBO noted in its report. But, there is a danger of erosion of benefits given the Reepos did manage to nix the mandate which paid for the benefits most people value the most, such as for pre-existing conditions and keeping adult kids on parents' plans.

This is why, as Michael Moore warned last night, the Dems can't spend too much time gloating or in jubilation mode. They - we- have to get to work and ensure those provisions are made more secure.  This is especially given the final iteration of the AHCA that almost went for a vote last night was the most extreme form possible eliminating such things as emergency services, hospitalization, pregnancy and newborn care, rehabilitation services, lab services, prescription drugs, outpatient care, pediatric services and preventive services (e.g. colonoscopies, PSA testing etc)

Moore emphasized the nature of the bill on offer was that health insurance wouldn't have to provide the above services even for those with regular health insurance!  That is how sweeping the bill was and how devastating the repercussions would have been if passed: None of the listed service would have had to be covered by insurance companies. (All were put in to sweeten the bill for the Freedom Caucus assholes. )

Moore's solution is that we now need to push for a "Medicare for all"  type of healthcare, similar to what oldsters like me already have, as well as most citizens of the planet. But he isn't unrealistic concerning what would be needed, i.e.the Ds winning next year with veto-proof majorities. A long shot to be  sure, but after Trump's election it was also regarded as a long shot that the ACA would remain in place  after the first year.  Everyone on the R-side, and certainly Trump supporters, expected it to be repealed as per his campaign promise. (But given how his Mexican wall promise also fell down, i.e. getting the Mexicans to pay for the thing and not U.S. taxpayers, we ought not express too much surprise.)

At the very least, Dems need "to fix those parts of Obamacare that cost us votes last year."  Moore also advised the resistance now needs to shift focus from the congress critters to the for profit insurance companies.  So, we need to exert as much political pressure as possible on the money-grubbing bastards.

Trump, ignoramus that he is (apart from being a psycho) actually believes now he can pivot to tax reform and have better success. But I have news for him, he won't. As Rep. Karen Bass (CA) put it last night:

"If Trump thought this was tough wait until he comes to tax reform"

The same issues that divided Reepos with their foolish AHCA will also divide them on the tax reform - why?  Because they again will need the votes of the same Freedom Caucus extremists to get anything through. But, those extremists - as per their performance yesterday - will demand far greater cuts than Ryan will put up, and more centrist Reeps will tolerate.

The WSJ today ('GOP Focus Shifts To Tax Code Revamp', p. A5) also pointed out an overlooked little fact: the healthcare bill was to be the lead-in for the tax code revamp, i.e.:

"Repealing Obamacare would cut spending on health care subsidies and cut $1 trillion in taxes."

With their stupid AHCA bill having bitten the dust, most of the momentum is lost for the tax bill. As a policy strategist for Cornerstone Macro LP quoted in the piece notes:

"Defeat on healthcare is a blow that could make it harder to pass a more ambitious tax plan such as proposed by House Republicans."

Indeed. And because the Reepos are going to use budget reconciliation again (where only a simple majority is needed, so they don't have to depend on Dems) they will have to adhere to the reconciliation rules. Those "forbid any plan from increasing budget deficits beyond the current budget window."

So, not only will Ryan and Trump likely have to contend with the touchy twerp Tea Baggers....errr....'Freedom Caucus', but also the budget hawks. That lot that won't tolerate one more cent added  to the deficit.

If Ryan and Co. expect Dem cooperation for this next round they won't get it. Because the Dems are smart enough to know that any tax bill put out by Ryan & Co. will have "bombs" buried inside. As  Rep. Bass observed: "We must be on our guard because another way for them to come after health care is by cutting the taxes that pay for health care coverage."  In other words, she recognizes a party of rats when she sees it, and also that -  like rats- they will keep coming after the 'cheese' by new and varied avenues if a primary one is denied. Dems can't rest and neither can the resistance movement.

Rep. Bass may also have nailed the basis for the Republican anti-ACA campaign most accurately, noting it was probably "political rhetoric to gin up their base" and "this was really sad because it misled an awful lot of people".     As she further observed, many of the ACA problems in states were self-inflicted, because when given the chance for Medicaid expansion and federal subsidies, they demurred - tossing their citizens into the crapper.

Bass, like Moore, did leave room for the Reeps to "come back to the table" - and maybe even work with Dems to improve Obamacare.  BUT that has to be for an affirmative (not destructive) objective. Dems will never cooperate so long as the mission is to deny healthcare to millions and toss people off what they have, then use the money saved for tax cuts to give the upper 1 percent.

See also:


Friday, March 24, 2017

Put A Fork Into Trump Care (And Obamacare Repeal) - It's Dead

Image may contain: 1 person, sunglasses and text

"Trump is no longer a CEO sitting at the head of a board table anymore, where he can just pound his fist on a desk and make a decree. He's learning that you've got a lot of different constituencies, and people who believe certain things. In this case the Freedom Caucus, who aren't willing to move off them. This will be a learning moment for Trump and we'll see if he moves on from it. There is no question he's been damaged by it." - Willie Geist, on ''Morning Joe' today.

After all the months of shouting, hoopla, hype and braggadocio, the 'fat lady' has finally sung and it appears Paul Ryan's and Trump's monstrous (AHCA) plan to make America sicker is dead.  Mothers and their sick and disabled kids can once more find succor and solace in the imminent defeat of this terrible bill and sleep the sleep of the just each night.  This will be in contrast to the restive nights that await Paul Ryan's cabal of extremist nincompoops who believed they could rip away health care for millions and not pay a price.

How could they not after the latest iteration (thanks to pressure from the Freedom Caucus)  included nixing ten essential health care benefits. These included: hospitalization, maternity care, prescription drugs and mental health services

As one pundit described the latest mutation of this hybrid monstrosity last night:

"What is so shocking is the White House does not care what the content of the bill is. But the bill isn't some abstraction. It's the entire health insurance market for a nation of 330 million people. You can't just negotiate it like you're doing a development deal in Atlantic City....If this bill does fail and they just drop it, the cost of substantively making people's health care worst is worse than the short term political cost of failing to live up to Trump's promises - as bad as that's going to be."

What was especially hilarious yesterday was reading Karl Rove's op-ed piece in the WSJ raking the Dems over the coals for their opposition to this foolishness and "lack of governance".  But last I checked, total resistance to an opposition's bill pays huge dividends. Look how it panned out for Mitch McConnell and his gang who vowed back in 2009 they'd block every and anything from Obama.

Most people who only casually read about this Ryan -Trump creature on offer are only vaguely aware of the damage it would do, if passed, especially now that the Freedom Caucus managed to insert a few of its concessions into it. For example, it would amount to a wholesale rollback of the most popular parts of the Affordable Care Act and a complete deregulation of the insurance industry coupled with massive subsidies which would be a recipe for essentially a million different 'Trump university' -style health care operations to spring up. These would offer people scam insurance even as they collected federal dollars.  That's what would transpire if this hybrid monster were to pass. But my bet is that it won't.

The beauty of the Reepos' predicament is that the seed of the Ryan-Trump health care plan's destruction was there all along. It was apparent to anyone with the eyes to see it, who understood the political dynamics at work. On the one hand a band of 24 or so extremists from the Tea Party calling themselves the "Freedom Caucus" who'd already sent Johnno Boehner back to his Ohio home with this earlier intransigence, and on the other hand the remaining Reepo moderates who inhabit states for which any level of repeal would be horrendous.

Hence, it is not amazing or astounding to see that as the concessions for the Freedom Caucus bunch have been added, the moderates have peeled away. Hence, Ryan and Trump can't keep the whole together moving toward approval. They are playing whackamole, with a moderate fleeing each time a Tea bagger comes on board.  No wonder Dems are delighting at the spectacle, as the people who would be adversely affected should be as well.

The 'pukes never understood, especially the Tea Bagger faction, that the Dems under Obama succeeded in getting their ACA through because they were willing to take very tough votes. After all, the Left was furious - as much or more so as the Freedom Caucus - when the public option got left off the table in committee., But they understood that getting 'half a loaf' was better than getting none. It was better more people would get access to health care than the number remained at the status quo. And so they sucked it up and moved on since as a party they believed in the project. The Freedom Caucus , despite all its rhetoric, has no such commitment and would rather there be zero loaves than that they abdicate their principles.

But this is why the Trump, Ryan plan has been doomed from the start.  First, because their whole project has never been affirmative, i.e. actually making the health care system better, but rather destructive, or mainly abolishing Obamacare. Second, they always harbored a band of extremists who had never been prone to compromise in the past and assuredly wouldn't do so now.  The way the WSJ editorial today (p. A14, 'The Freedom From Reality Caucus')  portrays these arch conservatives is telling:

"By insisting on the impossible over the achievable, these self-styled guardians of conservative purity could become the worst friends conservative ideas and free markets have had in decades."

Lastly, the "free market" baloney pushed as the basis of the plan was always codswallop. This is  because no one who knew free markets would be so daft as to believe they'd support affirmative health care for loads of sick people, e.g. frail elderly or those with pre-existing conditions. This isn't rocket science or astrophysics. For profit insurance companies exist - wait for it- FOR PROFIT!  That means they will not willingly insure people who are high risk, at least not without huge offsets.  That generally means a big pool including millions of healthy people to pay for the sick ones.

Hence, Mick Mulvaney's palaver this a.m.:

"We want to take Obamacare away and give people the control and options that they want, the quality they deserve, and the affordability that they need."

A snake oil salesman peddling a new brand of arsenic couldn't have done better in terms of the BS meter. But this twit did offer a "solution" to those who are worried: they can move to a different state that offers more benefits.

If that doesn't materialize the only alternative is what the Freedom Caucus zealots are offering: bare bones plans with ginormous deductibles, and not even providing basics like maternity care, cancer screening and prevention. Oh, and forget about extending coverage to kids (adult children) on a parent's plan or allowing for pre-existing conditions.

Here's the final takeaway: Even if this mutant of Trump's and Ryan's were to somehow pass the House today, it will be dead on arrival in the Senate. You can make book on it. So no Reepo or Trump lover ought to celebrate even if I am proven wrong today and this mishmash manages to get enough Reepo dopes to "walk the plank" - as Sen. Tom Cotton put it.

See also:


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Devin Nunes Leaks Classified Info - Sabotages House Intel Commission - To Help Trump

Image result for Devin Nunes cartoon
"I can't help it if I'm an untrustworthy, back stabbing asshole! I was born that way!"

Even reading and seeing the press conference accounts of Devin Nunes'  criminal actions to provide cover for Trump, boggles the mind, given he has also seriously compromised the ongoing House Intelligence Committee investigation in the process. As former Justice Dept. agent Matt Miller put it last night, "I've never seen a committee chairman come out in front of the press, pour gasoline all over himself and set it on fire, which is basically what he did

Miller added:

"If you look at what he did today; One,  he potentially leaked classified information and two, compromised the investigation his committee is supposedly conducting by briefing the president on it and three, he completely ruined his own credibility and exposed himself as a partisan shill. And it was all for no reason because the thing he came out and revealed doesn't even back up what the president said in his original tweet. So it's hard to know what he was even trying to accomplish."

Miller's posed quandary is shared by many, and now it is clear that only the politically suicidal Nunes can perhaps provide answers. This is given his political career has effectively been terminated with this latest stunt. Let me put it another way: his career at least as a sober investigator,  now has the half life of a gnat's lifespan.

TO shed more light, let's recall it was Nunes and his Repuke compadres (Trey Gowdy and Thomas Rooney) who did their level best in Monday's House Intel Committee hearing to steer the emphasis to leaked information rather than the actual undermining of the 2016 election.  They thus used their questions to FBI Director  Comey as a way to highlight only the leaks to journalists and thereby to criticize the news coverage about the Russia investigation. Nunes at one point even bellowed:

"We aim to determine who has leaked or facilitated leaks of classified information so that these individuals can be brought to justice."

The sheer irony now that  Nunes has become the paramount leaker of classified files is whether he will bring himself to justice.. To quote Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee:  “Representative Nunes’s statements would appear to reveal classified information, which is a serious concern." In effect, Devin Nunes, in a desperate move to provide cover for Trump, has committed a felony in order to sabotage the commission he chairs.  Undoubtedly, to obstruct it moving forward given that after James Comey's remarks Monday, he can sense the noose tightening around his master's neck.

So, will Nunes now do us the favor of bringing himself to justice?  He ought to! That is,  if he has any sense of principle, pride or consistency. But then, since we all know the 'pukes are the biggest hypocrites on the planet, it's doubtful.  Moreover, Nunes' performance may well have been pure obstructive gamesmanship to clutter the investigative landscape and nothing more. Consider the following:

- Nunes did not release any real information, he only put up an elaborate facade or "prop"  for such which induced the media to make its own interpretations. Hence, he created a smokescreen for what he was really up to.

- Nunes hasn't shown any real information to anyone else.

- Nunes isn't even claiming he's in actual possession of real information only that he "confirmed" something about intel intercepts. Well, HOW? Where? From whom?

- Nunes isn't claiming any laws were actually broken

- While saying he's "alarmed, concerned" etc. he's not made any coherent case as to what anybody ought to be concerned about.

In the above context, perhaps the most generous characterization one can allow for Nunes's  actions is that the man himself is simply out of his depth.   Ryan & Co. have basically asked the pool guy to be the architect for a special pool -landscaped hacienda. After all, Devin clearly doesn't know the difference between actual surveillance and collection of data - a passive activity for which one doesn't need a FISA warrant. Also, one doesn't need to redact names on the intel products or reports if it's simple collection.  (This was pointed out by a FISA-surveillance specialist on MSNBC this morning.)

On the other hand, Nunes' performance  had all the hallmarks of a classic disinformation and obfuscation hit which I've seen many times before in other investigations. They usually occur just as said "noose" is tightening or when an investigation is finally coming toward a unifying resolution.  For example, just as the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 was finally coming to a definitive conclusion for a grassy knoll head shot in the JFK assassination, based on acoustic tests by Weiss and Barger, two MIT scientists, up pops Norman Ramsey - an outlier no one ever heard of. Never mind, Ramsey's panel (with little or no experience and background compared to the MIT team) managed to muddy the waters sufficiently by their absurd interjections. The Ramsey Panel analysis was alleged to have  'refuted' the original Weiss -Barger study, but in fact only showed that the Weiss group had omitted some considerations. The Ramsey analysis certainly does not 'nullify' the Weiss/Barger analysis since up to now it has not been  reproduced, so cannot be accepted as a bona fide scientific conclusion. (Indeed, as per an email from another acoustic researcher, W. Antony Marsh, the Ramsey team even exceeded the claimed errors of the Barger team and at a more fundamental level)

The Ramsey insinuation and deliberate muddying had the effect of forcing the HSCA to now tie itself in knots - accepting enough of the MIT analysis to find for "96 percent probability of conspiracy" but not enough to shuck the idiotic WC version for the head shot (allegedly fired from the rear and the Book Depository when the rear of the skull was blown out - a physical impossibility).

Nunes'  deceptive and misleading replies at his news conferences yesterday echoed the Ramsey playbook, though the setting and context were different.  

He said he "recently confirmed" that  "on numerous occasions the intelligence community had  incidentally collected info about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition."   Did something illegal happen? Uh, sorry, can't say for sure, maybe.  Are you saying Pres. Trump's personal communications were intercepted? Uh, no, I think when we talk about intelligence products we have to be very careful. So the answer was a 'no'. as to Trump's communications being monitored.

Kasie Hunt: "So were POTUS'  communications intercepted incidentally but not specifically targeted?"

"Uh, yes, it is possible but we won't know until we get further information on Friday."

Oh and here's the kicker from Nunes: "I believe it was all done legally". No shit, Sherlock! Especially after Comey and Rogers already went through all the ins and outs of FISA 702 provisions, etc.

Nunes - like Ramsey when he tried to zero in on the "errors" made by the MIT acoustics team- then expressed  concern that Trump's name and those of his team "were not properly redacted from the reports, thus unmasking their identities."  Failing to mention or note - after running with this to Trump- the logical reason might have been because there was an intelligence basis for such.

Now, what would a normal person of even above average intelligence make of this Nunes' dog and pony show? Well, pressed to get answers - mostly black and white- he or she would tend to leave out key details, which is just what Nunes wanted.  (E.g. he wasn't referring to actual wiretaps but failures of redaction in reports.)Again, that's why I told wifey I call it "the old Norman Ramsey false recording play".   Feed accurate information then mix it with two parts PR and BS and let the little denizens of the media have at it.

Nunes most significant violation was briefing the media and the press before telling Adam Schiff the top ranking Dem Committee member. Schiff, rightfully raised “grave doubt” over the viability of the inquiry after Nunes shared information with the White House and not their committee colleagues. In effect, not only did Nunes leak classified files but he leaked it to the very subject of his committee's investigation. In essence, behaving no differently from a prosecution lawyer in a high profile criminal trial who exposes court -sealed records to the press in order to incite a mistrial.

In this case, of course, the stakes are vastly higher as we are talking about abetting and aiding an act of treason.  Should Nunes be hung? Probably not, but he should pay dearly for obstruction of justice, meaning his chairmanship of the House Committee at the very least needs to end, given all the damage he's inflicted, all of it unnecessary.  Especially given now a special investigation may certainly be justified with appointment of an independent special prosecutor. As Matt Millter asked, why would a  guy pour gasoline all over himself and light it?

Maybe the answer lies in how things went so badly for him and his R-mutts on Monday. Just when they thought and believed they'd successfully steered the hearings into leak territory, FBI Director Jim Comey blew it to smithereens.   Comey’s  acknowledgement before the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI was conducting an active investigation into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russians blew all Nunes' leak first fantasies into a cocked hat. In essence, Comey placed a criminal investigation at the doorstep of the White House and said bluntly agents would pursue it “no matter how long that takes.”  Typically, only extraordinary conditions would see an FBI Director admitting this in an open hearing, and to quote Comey: "This is one of those circumstances.

By this time Nunes could only have watched the spectacle unfolding before him in sheer terror. And it went further south when Comey dismissed Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor during the campaign. Comey’s response (to Schiff's question about Trump's tweet) that "no information" was available to show any wiretapping had the analogous effect of squashing a bug with a sledgehammer.

The final blow was NSA's Mike Rogers also confirming there was no wiretap evidence, i.e. to affirm GCHQ (the Brit NSA) had assisted in any surveillance of Trump Tower. My take? Nunes quietly blew a gasket and vowed to act out, do something nuts to show he was still big man on the investigatory totem pole- oh, also Trump's little fetch doggie. (The converse idea floated by Joe Scarborough is that Trump "bullied" him into this farce. But on some reflection it is possible for both views to be valid.)

Why a fetch doggie? Because Nunes went to the White House to brief Trump, the very subject of the FBI's continuing probe, and also gave him a pseudo- basis to persist with his imbecilic wiretap claim. (Which even the otherwise reckless Nunes admitted wasn't born out by the files he released, only that certain "foreign actors were unmasked".

Never mind, the delirious Trump - like a drunk at a tavern who's downed one brewskie too many -  seized on the chairman’s comments as vindication of the Obama wiretap blather.  It also didn't help to have a brainless member of the media (CBS' Margaret Brennan) openly asking the idiot in chief if he felt "vindicated".  With this lollipop "question" tossed his way what else could Trump do but dribble all over his desk while babbling:  “I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do,”   After that fiasco, Brennan ought to be put on Disneyworld animated classics duty and out of the WH scene.

In fact, the only "vindication" was that a foreign source (or sources) was picked up as sometimes occurs in NSA surveillance, especially if the sources are already persons of interest.  Even Nunes admitted the data all  “appears to be all legally collected” though in the next breath he said: "It does appear President Trump to some degree appears to be right"  when asked point blank if Trump was correct in what he tweeted- though he's not specifically right about Obama being behind  the wiretaps..    Thereby Nunes instantly catapulted his performance into an even more disreputable one than that of Norman Ramsey in his efforts to taint the 1978 MIT acoustic analysis.

Nunes by his feckless and reckless actions confirmed once and for all what many of us already believed: he is merely a Trump toady doing his master's work. After all, this turkey  served on Trump’s national security transition team, so why would he not seek to do all possible to cover for his Fuhrer? He probably figured if he got the chairmanship of the House Committee there might come a time he could blow it up, at least compromise its independence, to the point it would be next to useless.  This he did by taking the classified material he had acquired to Trump before sharing it with the committee – a decision that represented nearly a final straw for Schiff, who called for an independent commission to investigate ties between Trump and Russia.

As Schiff also put it:

"If you have a chairman who is interacting with the White House, sharing information with the White House, when the people around the White House are the subject of the investigation and doing it before sharing it with the committee, it puts a profound doubt over whether that can be done credibly."


"The chairman will need to decide whether he's the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or if he's going to act as a surrogate of the White House. Because he cannot do both."

Even Sen. John McCain admitted being taken aback by Nunes' actions and agreed that this stunt really puts the kibosh on further House investigations. He said:

"What this now really shows is a requirement for a select committee. I believe there's a better relationship in the intelligence committee in the Senate. This just shows a tremendous chasm between the two senior members of the House intelligence committee. No longer does the congress have the credibility to handle this alone."

Joe Scarborough's take this morning may be the most percipient after replaying all of Nunes' dodgy clips back:

"It is so obvious that this guy is getting bullied by the White House. I've just never known a House intel committee chairman of either party to allow themselves to be bullied the way this guy was bullied yesterday."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Latest Barbados Bond Downgrade Re- ignites Talk Of Devaluation

Currency devaluation would turn Barbados from a still desirable tourist destination replete with sun and sand, into a crime-ridden gang fiefdom.

In a post from May 3rd last year, after returning from Barbados, I wrote:

"This year's headaches commenced with the Moody's downgrade of Barbados' government bonds to Caa1+, or even worse junk than the previous (BB) level. It means higher interest due on any new gov't loans taken out, Currency devaluation would turn Barbados from a still desirable tourist destination replete with sun and sand, into a crime-ridden gang fiefdom and let me point out the island's debt is already estimated to be nearly 55% of GDP "


"The word also circulating around the island is that ever more money is being printed."

Now, there's been yet another Moody's bond downgrade, down to Caaa3+, and Barbados is once again being swept by rumors of currency devaluation.  As the latest Moody's report puts the matter:

Moody's decision to downgrade Barbados' issuer and bond ratings to Caa3 was driven by the following factors:

1. The continued increase in government debt and very limited prospects of fiscal reform
2. In consequence, rising domestic and external financing pressures that are very likely to impair the government's ability to service its debt

Despite the government's efforts to contain the fiscal deficit and alleviate pressures on foreign exchange reserves, the fiscal deficit remains large and credit risks have increased in Barbados. The debt burden has risen in recent years and will continue to do so for the next few. Domestic and external liquidity pressures on the sovereign have increased. We assess the likelihood of a credit event in the near-term as very high, given lack of fiscal adjustment and increasingly limited financing options.

First Driver: The continued increase in government debt and very limited prospects of fiscal reform

Although macroeconomic conditions in Barbados have stabilized with a pick-up in growth, driven by rebound in tourism and investment in the sector, the fiscal deficit remains high.

The economy grew by 1.6% in 2016 after reporting anemic growth of less than 1.0% since 2010. The drop in oil prices and an increase in tourist arrivals temporarily alleviated some of the mounting pressures on foreign exchange reserves. However, reform efforts to address persistently large fiscal deficits since 2014 have not achieved a meaningful turnaround in fiscal performance, leading to what we consider to be an unsustainable increase in the government's debt burden.

The government debt burden reached 111% of GDP at end-2016, and the authorities have accumulated a large stock of arrears to the private sector and the National Insurance Scheme, estimated at a further 11% of GDP at end-FY2015/16. Large refinancing requirements and the high interest burden, which consumes around 27% of government revenues, pose increasingly severe credit risks.

Second Driver: In consequence, rising domestic and external financing pressures that are very likely to impair the government's ability to service short-term debt

With commercial banks having reduced their exposure to the sovereign, the government has become increasingly reliant on short-term debt issuance, financed by the Central Bank of Barbados, to meet the rising refinancing and interest costs. The rapid increase in short-term debt since 2013, allied with the large financing gap, imply mounting concerns about rollover risk. In 2016, the central bank was the only source of new financing for the government. As of end-2016, the central bank's holdings amounted to 34% of outstanding short-term T-bills, equivalent to 13.2% of GDP. The central bank's unwillingness to increase its exposure to the government would trigger a credit event.

The stable outlook on the Caa3 rating reflects the high probability of a credit event in the next 2-3 years, and reflects a balance of risks between lower and higher levels of loss given default.

According to former IADB (Inter-American Development Bank) senior economic advisor Charles Skeete "Devaluation must be on the table".  This was after both Moody's and S&P complained about Barbados' declining credit rating and raised the specter of the factors that might bring forth the need to devalue.  But former Governor of the Central Bank Winston Cox rejects devaluation as any practical solution, asserting it will merely address the symptoms not the causes. As Cox put it in a recent issue of the NATION (Mar. 19):

"Devaluation would not reduce government spending. Also, it doesn't address the possible credit default mentioned by Moody's. It will also lead to inflation which in turn will lead to higher government spending."

Skeete, on the other hand, is convinced no tool can be taken off the table, especially when the ratings agencies are pretty well 'screaming' that it ought to be seriously considered given the island nation's balance of payments situation and a debt 111% of GDP.

How did things get this bad? Well, a nation living beyond its means, and unwise government fiscal policy, namely using the Central Bank as the lender of first and  last resort which ultimately means printing tons of new Bajan dollar bills.  Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has evidently embraced this policy and when DeLisle Worrell (former Central Bank Governor) took exception, he was shown the door, replaced,

Here is where Skeete may be very perceptive, as he told the Barbados Business Authority in the wake of the credit downgrade:

"You cannot have a fiscal deficit that is a multiple of the rate of economic growth and then not face the prospect of devaluation. In addition, you cannot print money at the pace at which we were printing it. I believe, I don’t know this for sure, that when DeLisle couldn’t get the Minister of Finance to understand that he was staring a devaluation in the face, he had no choice” but to state his disagreement with the policy."

My own first hand experience of a place in the maw of currency devaluation was in August, 1978 while on a brief visit to Guyana, South America, to deliver a 3 -day astronomy workshop. While staying at the Park Hotel in the center of Georgetown -- the capital- I was told to never venture onto the streets after dark, and certainly not while wearing my (gold) wedding ring. Roaming thieves would hack my ring finger off with a machete to get the gold. At that time, the Guyana dollar was worth maybe 10 cents on the U.S dollar. Since then the value has plummeted to hundredths of U.S. dollar value and Guyanese are hard pressed to survive.

This is the way devaluation of currency rolls: downward! Look at all the nations of the Caribbean that have devalued since the 1960s: Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica   - all have been on a downward slide, their populations growing ever more poverty stricken and restive as their respective dollars have continued sliding downward relative to currencies to which they originally had been pegged.

THREE DEVALUATION OPTIONS have been presented to Barbados by the Inter-American Development Bank, since 2013.  These include:  external, internal and fiscal devaluation,  as the main choices in the face of reduced competitiveness and a sustained current account deficit. The internal one was last applied, at the behest of the IMF, in 1991 and entailed an eight percent cut across the board in civil servants' wages. That was also the one that drove wifey and myself back to the States.

The one being pressed now is the fiscal or full currency devaluation. However, the betting by most of those in the know is that the DLP government wouldn't dare implement it before the next general election- likely within 2 years.   That doesn't mean such devaluation couldn't happen if fiscal pressures continue to increase and getting more loan money demands it.

We will be looking at the situation critically, also talking to family and friends, when we make our next trip back to Bim.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Tale Of Two House Intel Committee Hearings - "Leaks" Vs. Collusion

"And I do want to know 'bout how serious these leakin' crimes are, sir!"
"We do have  good case to be made for the Trump-Russian ties, do we not?"

It was surreal watching the House Intelligence Committee Hearings yesterday, and coming away with the perception that the members' narratives and realities split into two irreconcilable manifestations. On the one hand there were the Repukes, including Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the committee, Trey Gowdy of SC, and Thomas Rooney of FLA, all trying desperately to steer the hearings toward the marginal issue of leaks.  To these disingenuous goofballs the paramount crime was the leaking of classified information to reporters of the NY Times, WaPo etc.. Information, let us bear in mind, that enabled us to ascertain that Michael Flynn was in communication with the Russians and discussed ways around the just issued Obama sanctions.

Btw, it was none other than Trey Gowdy - so clearly on his self-righteous high horse and in high dudgeon over past leaks, who actually leaked the name of a CIA source during the Benghazi hearings. We have no idea the degree to which that source has been compromised but one hopes Gowdy's  reckless stunt didn't jeopardize the CIA source's life or job.

Given all this bullshit leak obsession it was no surprise that the Repukes used their questions to FBI Director  Comey as a way to criticize the news coverage about the Russia investigation and chastise government officials who speak anonymously to journalists. Thus, we beheld Nunes, barking:

We aim to determine who has leaked or facilitated leaks of classified information so that these individuals can be brought to justice."

Good luck, Sparky, you'll need it! So long as these leakers, all likely members of the intel community disgusted by Trump's antics,  keep using snapchat and its instant delete function, Nunes has as much chance bringing the leakers "to justice", as I have finding the Roswell aliens' bodies buried in my backyard.

But as I noted in previous posts, i.e. after Flynn was outed as a Russkie contact, it is the leakers who merit awards for their patriotism in the face of a fascist administration trying to get away with high crimes and misdemeanors.  Make no mistake those of us who want to get to the bottom of the Trumpian snake pit that passes for a White House, want the leaks to continue unabated - to press further investigation as occurred in Watergate. 

A recent column in the Columbia Journalism Review was even titled 'Flynn Resignation Shows Leaks Under Trump Are Working - Keep 'Em Coming"  The author argued, and I totally agree - as does John Dean- that "leaks to the press are vital to democracy".  Indeed they have the same import and value as whistle blowing on the power mongers, especially when they are acting without any transparency.  There are then, some laws that trump immediate "security" laws because they pay homage to the Constitution above all else.  (And btw, contrary to the suggestions of Gowdy et al, it is not unlawful for journalists to receive and publish leaked information from anonymous sources.)

Even conservative Joe Scarborough on his Feb. 15  show commended whoever leaked the information on Flynn, noting:

"The only reason we're finding out about it now is because a patriot did leak this to the Washington Post. Did get this information out there or else we wouldn't even have known about it."

On the other reality side of the hearing, the emphasis was where it ought to have been: on the Trump cabal's likely collusion with the Russians to grab the 2016 election, and putting the kibosh on Trump's stupid claim he was wiretapped.  Regarding the first, what we beheld first and foremost was the FBI Director confirm that there is an active investigation into the campaign of the sitting president over questions of collusion with a foreign power. .

Upholding the reality part of the hearings, Rep. Adam B.  Schiff  of California, ranking Dem member of the Committee,  held firm that the issue was about possible Russian collusion with the Trumpites in the 2016 election.

As Schiff put it:

"Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated.”

Reinforcing Rep. Schiff's  remarks we saw Director Comey, take  the extraordinary step on Monday of announcing that the F.B.I. is investigating whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.  Make no mistake that Comey’s  acknowledgement before the House Intelligence Committee has created a treacherous political moment for Trump, who has insisted that “Russia is fake news” that was cooked up by his political opponents to undermine his presidency. But if it really was fake news the FBI wouldn't have  expended eight months worth of resources on it....and still counting. That singular and extraordinary confirmation by Comey basically blew away all the leaking smokescreen set up by the Repuke committee members.

Indeed, Comey in real time fact-checked then slapped down a tweet sent by Trump to the effect that "NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process". In fact, what Comey said is the FBI "had no view and no information because it was never something we looked at".  That is a different thing from asserting there was no influence on the electoral process.  But as I've pointed out before, subtle distinctions in language appear to escape Trump's mental processing.

In the midst of all the technical jargon and back and forth about "masked U.S. persons" and FISA 702s, the key blockbuster moment could well have escaped many viewers. Essentially,  Comey placed a criminal investigation at the doorstep of the White House and said bluntly agents would pursue it “no matter how long that takes.”  Typically, only extraordinary conditions would see an FBI Director admitting this in an open hearing, and to quote Comey: "This is one of those circumstances,”

Even more gratifying,  Comey confirmed once and for all that Trump is either a damned liar, or lunatic who can't discern fact from fiction.. He did this when he dismissed Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor during the campaign, an unfounded accusation that has served as a distraction in the public debate over Russian election interference. Comey’s response (to Schiff's question about Trump's tweet) that "no information" was available to show any wiretapping had the analogous effect of squashing a bug with a sledgehammer.  But this didn't appear to phase another bug, Sean Spicer, who simply doubled down on his simple -minded claim there was still "something there".

On a related note, it is time the media get real and cease reporting that "the White House fired back" whenever these nitwits react to a statement or - in the case yesterday - to Comey's exposure of Trump's nutso claim as bollocks. In fact the only thing the Trumpies are firing back is blanks.  A serious media wouldn't dignify their "responses" by reporting them.

This ought to send chills down the spines of all those Repukes who attempted to twist the hearing into outing the leakers, as well as the inveterate Trump backers, especially now that their lunatic man is doubling down on his idiotic claims.  As Sen. Richard Blumenthal noted, with Comey's testimony we're now in a constitutional crisis and this may require a Supreme Court subpoena of Trump.

A key test for Neal Gorsuch in his questioning tomorrow - given such a subpoena grows more and more likely -is whether he will try to block it. Or, will he "let justice be done or the heavens fall".

Saturday, March 18, 2017

New Work Now Underway To Update Basis For S.I. Units Via Fundamental Constants

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Above: Diagram showing the fundamental units of the S.I.  (International System of Units) - inner circle, which in a new endeavor will be defined by the seven fundamental constants occupying the outer circle.
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Table showing fundamental constants and their role in the universe, current values.

Fundamental constants, units and dimensional analysis lay the groundwork for physics, since above all physics is a science of measurement and obtaining correct values while recognizing the associated errors is essential. We begin with the base  and derived units for the S.-I. system given in the link below:

These are now all in the process of being updated, revamped (by 2018),   based on use of fundamental constants as opposed to clumsy, arcane and too abstract ways of definition.  For example, up until 1983, the meter - the fundamental unit of length  - was defined:

"The length that is exactly 1,650, 763,73 time the wavelength of the orange light emitted when a gas consisting of the pure krypton nuclide of mass number 86 is excited in an electrical discharge."

That was recognized as too unwieldy and so since 1983 the new definition is in terms of the fundamental constant c, the speed of light in a vacuum:

"The meter is the distance light travels in a vacuum in 1/ 299, 792, 458th of a second ."

The string of digits in the denominator merely reflects the current high precision value of c , or c = 299, 792, 458 meters per second. The other base S.I. units also need to undergo similar redefinitions.

For example, the kilogram (basic unit of mass) is:

"the mass equal to the mass of the International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK, also known as "Le Grand K" or "Big K"), currently housed as a 137-year old chunk of platinum -iridium metal in  a vault outside Paris".

How weird is that? Also, what if a reckless bug were to somehow climb onto it and get permanently affixed and altered the mass by one millionth of a kg? No big deal? Wrong! A big deal because then the whole standard mass is thrown off.

Then there is the Kelvin, the unit of temperature, currently defined as referenced to the temperature and pressure (standard) at the "triple point of water" or where it exists concurrently as solid, liquid and gas. A totally arbitrary definition that gives more physicists indigestion than you'd like to believe and need to be changed to a more rational basis.

Add in now the ampere which is currently defined:

"The current produced that - when flowing through two infinitely long parallel wires one meter apart- would produce a force between them".

This is also somewhat of an arbitrary and wacky definition given it is impossible to manufacture two infinitely long copper wires (or other) and hence to create a current that can be measured realistically.

So all these units are now in the process of revision, updating.  The next one up is the kilogram which will be revised based on refining Planck's constant- which we've seen multiple times before -  e.g. in the posts on Quantum Mechanics I did in the late summer of 2014.

The value of the Planck constant is currently:

h = 6.62607  x 10-34 kilograms time meters squared per second

Or writing in shorter form:

h =  h = 6.62607  x 10-34 kg m 2/ s

To get h to the point it can be used to redo the kilogram physicists (actually a specific subset called metrologists) need to get the measurement accuracy to two millionths of a percent, or at least out to seven decimal places.  Further, several measurements, preferably from different sources, need to be done and all need to agree.

Once that hurdle is crossed, the value of the Planck constant can first be fixed, then the kilogram:

So if we have h fixed, then:

kg = h/  (m 2/ s )

The meter is already defined in terms of c, as shown above, and the unit for time, the second, is given as independent of varying astronomical time, or:

"the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom."

While that sounds nerdy and clumsy too, it is defined to a specific atomic transition event, and is measurable. It also - as I said - removes the definition from solar observations, and the vagaries introduced by Earth's varying rotation rate.

Several teams are now working on the Planck aspect. One is using a device called the watt-balance to compare the electromagnetic force to the force exerted by gravity.   This may sound difficult if not impossible, but thanks to new quantum mechanical methods of producing voltages it's no big deal. An object's mass can be directly related to the Planck constant.

In another method, physicists are making use of exact (perfectly formed) spheres of silicon. Since atoms in the sphere are placed in a 3D crystal grid, the number of atoms can be deduced from the volume of the sphere. The result is the Avogadro constant, e.g.  from the table shown above:

NA  =  6.022140857  x 10 23/  / mole

Other constants will also need to be reworked, and one of these - the fine structure constant - poses particularly hairy challenges, and will be the sole topic of a future post.

For now, we are confident by late next year a new set of fundamental units - based on 7 fundamental constants- will be ready for application.

Once this threshold is crossed, we can be more confident in our calculations requiring actual physical quantities.  Remember, a physical quantity is comprised of basic units which have one of the dimensions (M, L, T, etc.).

For example:

Velocity or speed is defined:  L T - 1

Or  length (L) per unit time

Similarly, an acceleration would be: L T - 2

And a volume would be:   L3

Force would be expressed:  M L T -2

Or,  simply mass (M) times acceleration ,( L T -2) according to Newton's 2nd law, F= ma.