Thursday, March 10, 2011

In defense of Director of National Intelligence Clapper

by Rick Francona

Director of National Intelligence retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Jim Clapper is being criticized for his analysis at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 10. He described, correctly in the context of his statements, China and Russia as "mortal threats" to the United States.

Several Senators expressed concern that General Clapper did not cite either Iran or North Korea as "mortal threats." Given the general's long background - almost five decades - in the intelligence community, his remarks are understandable. Russia and China possess the capability to strike the continental United States with nuclear weapons. As he also stated, there currently does not appear to be any intent on behalf of either nation to exercise that capability against the United States.

Intelligence analysts deal with two factors: capability and intent. Clapper addressed both, accurately in my opinion. Both nations have the capability to pose a "mortal threat," but there is no indications of hostile intent at this time. Conversely, Iran and North Korea, with limited capabilities, may pose a threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East and East Asia respectively, but neither country's capability rise to the level of a mortal threat to this country, regardless of their hostile intent. Israeli analysts have described Iran in different terms, however, labeling the Persian Gulf power an "existential threat" to the State of Israel. We are not Israel, we are not within range of Iranian missiles (yet).

It was after Clapper offered his analysis on the situation in Libya that some Senators called for his resignation. I am not sure why - perhaps his analysis was not what they wanted to hear. In defense of Jim Clapper, what he said was entirely accurate. Clapper's assessment is not what the President wishes the situation to be, it is the situation as it is on the ground. None of the Senators has the military or intelligence background to challenge that assessment.

Before I continue, a disclaimer. Jim Clapper is both a professional colleague and a personal friend. I have worked for the general on several occasions, and have participated in professional fora with him. His experience is broad and his accomplishments are many.

Let's take a look at General Clapper's assessment of the Libyan situation. You can watch the general's remarks here.

CLAPPER: So, I just think from a standpoint of attrition —


GEN. CLAPPER: — that over time, I mean — this is kind of a stalemate back and forth, but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail.

The general is absolutely correct. No military analyst worthy of the title will tell you differently. In the absence of external support, Libyan military forces loyal to Mu'amar al-Qadhafi will defeat the rebels. The Libyan leader has shown no reticence, reluctance or remorse to use air power, armor and artillery against the opposition forces. The ruthless application of orchestrated military power against poorly armed and untrained rebels, regardless of their commitment and fervor, will ultimately prevail. General Clapper's assessment is accurate; I said the same thing a few days earlier. (See my article, Libya: No Fly Zone or Qadhafi.)

In response to calls from Senator Lindsey Graham for Clapper's resignation, the White House tried to rehabilitate Clapper's analysis. They should not have done so - Clapper was right. Senator Graham should stick to that part of the military he understands, that of the judge advocate general corps, basically the lawyers. We need good military lawyers and we appreciate his service, but before he criticizes General Clapper, he might want to learn something of desert warfare, air power, insurgencies and the Libyan armed forces.

Just because President Obama has called for al-Qadhafi's removal, words will not make it so. In the absence of external support, such as the imposition of a no-fly zone over the country, General Clapper's assessment that the al-Qadhafi regime will prevail is spot on.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oregon Measure 74 - Guest Commentary

Steven Casey, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) member, offers another perspective on Measure 74, previously addressed in my commentary Voting in Oregon - 2010.

We have a number of issues put to us for a vote. Our voters’ pamphlet tells us that in addition to arguments pro and con, appointed “citizen panels” provide “impartial” explanations of some proposals. Yeah, sure. Methinks the “citizen panels” were loaded pretty heavily to the port side, but maybe that’s just me.

My favorite this election season is Measure 74, a reasonable adjustment of Oregon’s medical marijuana law. Let’s start here: Medical marijuana is already legal in Oregon. Under current law, holders of medical marijuana cards have to grow their own weed – difficult under most circumstances – or obtain it from a grower who can supply no more than four people. The ballot proposition would allow “dispensaries” where holders of medical marijuana cards go to purchase their mary jane – and such dispensaries would be regulated and taxed by the state.

Some don’t like Measure 74 because they don’t like the use of marijuana – for medical or recreational purposes. One argument says this is merely the camel’s nose under the tent of legal-for-all marijuana. I say “So?”

Many people do not like alcohol and tobacco, on moral, medical or religious grounds. But we don’t outlaw those substances. We tried Prohibition once. How did that work out for us?

It’s time for a little reality, here. Our nation has squandered billions of dollars on a hopeless “war on drugs.” That war is over. We lost. Our biggest accomplishment has been making huge numbers of the world’s most vicious monsters unimaginably rich – so rich they can buy entire countries and corrupt or intimidate justice systems throughout the world.

While many police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors oppose Measure 74, that’s hardly persuasive – it’s expected. They are in charge of the drug-fighting machine, and sincerely believe they are on the side of the angels. As someone who has spent the better part of a career in law enforcement and prosecution, I take a different view, as do many others who have been soldiers in the war on drugs.

Marijuana – medicinal or recreational – is here to stay and it is high time, you should pardon the expression, we treated it as an herb to be regulated, quality-controlled and taxed. Let us get marijuana revenue working for our citizens, not enriching murderous thugs.

The results of this election, in Oregon and around the country, will be fascinating. Our votes for candidates and measures are our exercise of democracy. Some fear that H. L. Mencken was right: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” Sure hope they’re wrong.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

2010: No incumbents, no exception!

In a WSJ article Rep DeFazio said he “is facing the fight of his political life.” Considering that this “professional politician” is seeking reelection for an ELEVENTH term, this might be a good time for him to consider returning to real life as a private citizen and give someone else a chance to work on behalf of Oregon’s 4th district. While I applaud DeFazio’s military service and charitable donation, like many politicians he has been in the business of politics far too long. Undoubtedly many will continue to vote for him simply because they have the impression that he “brings home the bacon” and has simply become a decades-long habit for voters. To this proponent of fiscal responsibility, smaller government with intense dislike for earmarks=pork, he just does not represent my views of representative government. Fortunately we finally have another option to consider with Art Robinson.

Robinson Art Robinson, Mr DeFazio’s challenger, seems earnestly interested in serving and impressed me with his common sense approach and straight (read non-politico) talk. Listening to him twice as he came through our little fishing village of 1,200 potential voters I was certainly intrigued enough to want to learn more. “Art Robinson has tried hard to paper the landscape with his campaign signs” one local letter writer derisively stated recently. Indeed, the number of property owners willing to display campaign signs for a conservative candidate, especially in this liberal area, has been a surprising new show of assertiveness, not to mention the many campaign signs he has on display throughout the district.

Far from striking me as extremist, as he has been described by many in the media, I actually find Robinson’s real life experience as a businessman, scientist, and educator encouraging. Not conforming to the public image molded by the professional politicians we have become so used to for decades is actually a plus for any candidate. Contrary to what that same letter writer describes as “extremist views”, quite a few enthusiastic local voters seem energized at the prospect of a fresh approach by a regular guy with apparent common sense and considerable life experience. The letter claims that Robinson’s website shows his extremist views, such as advocating the abolishing of public schools as a “communist plot.” What I found on was the following platform statement about education: “We need to restore the excellent locally-controlled public schools that Americans were once privileged to attend – instead of the failing union-controlled government schools promoted by the District 4 incumbent.”

A further claim was that Robinson holds that “oil companies should not be taxed or regulated.” What I actually found on the website was “The high taxation, invasive regulation, and budget-busting over-spending of taxed, borrowed, and printed dollars voted for by the incumbent have failed. We cannot expect the same people and policies that lost our jobs and depressed our economy to fix these problems. We must get government off our backs, out of our pockets, and out of the way, so that we can get our country going again” and “We need a low-tax, moderately regulated free industrial environment in which our industries can build needed new energy generation installations without tax subsidies and without government favors or impediments.” I could go on, but apparently we are not looking at the same website.

Incumbent DeFazio recently accused Robinson of undisclosed suspicious campaign contributions, so I compared both candidates’ FEC reports next: the graphs are illustrative of their general funding situation, with DeFazio listing a remarkable number of PACs (and unions) supporting him to the tune of nearly $390K, almost all of these special interest groups related to transportation and infrastructure, perhaps because DeFazio sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and chairs one of its subcommittees. While Robinson appears to have negligible PAC support, his FEC report shows nearly $370K from a long list of individual contributors (more on that later).

Robinson’s views on these and other issues are specifically addressed on his website, in his campaign ads, forum speeches and interviews, all available on his website. His now infamous interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow is certainly anything but a typical slick politician fawning over conceited media personality nor is he using the usual trite politico-speak - but see it and decide for yourselves. It did not strike me as a professional journalistic interview, but more of a forum for the interviewer to argue and debate her own positions with cherry-picked tidbits disguised as earnest issue questions. Her thinly disguised "I just want to get to know you!" approach prevented bringing out a discussion of the candidate's actual positions on issues relevant to voters. It served voters poorly and added nothing to their understanding of this candidate's position on issues.

Meanwhile, if I can catch Robinson between campaign stops, I intend to ask a number of follow-up questions about his views on term limits, his intended legislative approach, individual contributors, etc.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Voting in Oregon - 2010

Having just received my voters' pamphlet, I spent yesterday reading up on candidates (19 pages) and yet another slate of measures (fully 69 pages).  I found a few interesting tidbits: the VP now includes details on the seven officially recognized political parties in Oregon (Constitution, Democratic, Independent, Pacific Green, Progressive, and Republican).  Reading about their core visions and platforms was quite enlightening and virtually every one of them included something to like and not to like.  Equally enlightening were these parties' endorsements awarded to various candidates. 

My current political attitude is best expressed by NO INCUMBENTS NO EXCEPTIONS, so it should be obvious for whom I will not vote.  I will not devote space here to argue for or against specific candidates, since most registered voters will likely vote for their party's candidate or probably have already decided on their favorites based on other factors.  The six measures, on the other hand, moved me to make some general observations. 

In today's economy, it is especially helpful for the responsible voters to find information about the estimated financial impact of these proposed measures. And, with fully 69 pages dedicated to arguments for and against, some interesting trends emerged.  Measures 70, 71, and 76 only included "arguments in favor", leaving me wondering about any "arguments in opposition."  Measures 73 and 74 included a "citizens' review statement" - an interesting newly established voters panel about which I hope to learn more. 

These three measures really caught my attention with their "furnished by" endorsements, since these literally screamed "special interest":

Measure 74, The Oregon Regulated Medical Marijuana Supply System: a rather lengthy "act" clearly drafted by a committee, included numerous endorsements in favor furnished by Oregonians for Responsible Regulation of Marijuana. Only two statements in opposition of the measure were included, but one carried great weight, since it came from the Oregon Sheriffs, Chiefs of Police, and District Attorneys. 

Measure 75, another verbose ballot proposing to authorize a private casino in Multnomah County, included 11 statements in favor furnished by a Good for Oregon Committee or by someone directly associated with the location of the proposed casino. 

Measure 76, the last text-heavy proposal, seeks to extend lottery funding of parks and other recreational areas.  Of 42 endorsements in favor, fully 33 were furnished by Oregonians for Water, Parks & Wildlife, a Project of the Conservation Campaign, the rest by union groups.

But YOU decide - now go vote responsibly!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Irrelevance - The New NASA Reality

Commentary by Bill Hood, Retired Aerospace Engineer

The announcement that NASA's new primary mission is to "reach out to Muslim nations" has raised eyebrows and hackles across the country as well as inside the Congress. Many party stalwarts in the Democratic party are also puzzled and upset. The reaction in the media has been particularly interesting. Each reporter reacts to the news using his own experiential framework as a reference for forming a response. This has led to a host of interesting and informing articles discussing where and how the President has erred.

Upon reflection though, I believe the message being sent by this administration with this new assignment to lead the outreach to Muslim countries is reflective of a much deeper and more fundamental problem directly facing this Administration, and in a slightly more indirect way the American people. After the Cairo speech the president was on the hook to show some kind of outreach that tried to meet the letter if not the spirit of the promises made in Cairo. I think he scanned a list of possible candidate groups in his administration. None were obvious choices, but on reflection he chose NASA. Why he chose NASA is worthy of some thought and discussion. I can almost hear the argument: NASA isn't real busy, and they are real technical and the Arabs will be impressed if we pick NASA as the point organization.

What an astonishing conclusion: "not real busy". This isn't an assignment. Its a death knell.
The Problem -

NASA as it exists now is seen as fundamentally irrelevant not just by the current administration but by most Americans. Most in the republic would be hard-pressed to name one scientific mission launched by NASA in the past year. This is not to detract from the value of the pure science that NASA performs, but accepting the reality of the way NASA is currently seen is key to understanding how to get NASA back on track. As John Kennedy wrote, "you are what you are perceived to be."

NASA was NACA before the Lunar program. An obscure bureau concerned with civil aviation was assigned the Lunar mission and its name was changed to reflect it new mission. It kept the charter to perform its original aviation duties but they became step children to the new and all-consuming mission.

Background -

To understand the scope of the problem we need to look back 50 years. A young Democratic president was facing a formidable problem: The USSR was leading the US in the "space race". The implications were at once disheartening and terrifying to the American public. Never had we felt more vulnerable. Our schools and universities suddenly did not seem capable of producing the intellectual capital needed to protect the nation. The possibility of the homeland being destroyed by superior USSR technology had never seemed so real nor so immediate.

The mission John Kennedy selected for the newly named NASA was "land men on the moon and safely return them to earth and do it by 1970".

One sentence mobilized the US from high school to university and from small companies to huge industries. This technology-driven focus was understood by everyone as a way of centering our attention and effort on what amounted to a war with what were at that time the ultimate bad guys. While some initially decried it as a jingoistic bit of nationalism, their voices were stilled the first time we saw the dark side of the moon and realized the program was going to work. Whole new technologies and industries were developed and tooled. The MIRV and MaRV weapon programs, for example, were direct linear descendants of the guidance and control technology developed for the Saturn/Apollo program.

At the conclusion of the project no one in the world had any doubt as to the winner. Unfortunately this program is often seen as the high point in NASA's existence. While NASA and its supporters can point to the Shuttle program, the many successful scientific missions funded and launched by NASA every year, and the impressive success of the Space Station, none of these has been seen or pursued as a national objective of the highest priority. And this is quite rightly so. None were their decade's equivalent to the Manhattan or Apollo programs.

NASA's current reason for existence has run out of gas.

What To Do About It -

In the same way that JFK looked around for a path that would lead America to a convincing win in the space/missile race, President Obama needs to focus on the one thing that is perceived by the American people as a threat to their ability to pass on to their children an ever improving quality of life. For Kennedy it was winning the space race. For Reagan it was destroying the economy of the Soviet Union.

For this president it should be energy independence. There are many ways to achieve it and I won't try to list the possible choices. But giving this assignment to an organization that includes the old NASA, parts of DoE along with other parts of the government will provide the focus that will solve a huge problem for America. Doing it in less than a decade will sharpen the focus. Along the way it will incidentally solve the "NASA isn't busy" problem. Making the USA energy-independent and reducing our petroleum imports to zero will certainly reduce friction with our friends in OPEC, so perhaps reaching out formally will have less importance in the future. It will also go a long way toward solving the deficit problem. And whatever technologies that are developed in this project will have eager customers in the rest of the oil consuming world.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

NASA to reach out to Muslim world

by Rick Francona

You can't make this stuff up.

By now, we've all seen the news reports that President Barack Obama has instructed NASA Administrator Charles Bolden that his "foremost" mission is "to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and engineering." Bolden went on to say that this effort would ultimately advance space travel.

This is far removed from NASA's charter - according to NASA's own documents, its mission is to "pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research." Improving relations with part of this planet and making people "feel good" would seem to fall under the State Department, but certainly not NASA. As to the remark that this feel-good outreach will advance space travel, this is just Obama Administration political rhetoric - Bolden, a retired Marine Corps test pilot and NASA astronaut, surely doesn't buy into this drivel. If he does, he should be looking for work.

That said, this lame effort should not take away from the many science, math and engineering contributions of the Muslim world. It might be illustrative to point out just a few of the many.

We all remember, maybe not fondly, algebra. Algebra is derived from the Arabic description of the mathematical concept - hisab al-jabr wal-muqabala (calculation by completion and substitition) - al-jabr became algebra. The father of algebra was a Persian mathematician, astronomer and geographer named Abu ╩┐Abdallah Muhammad bin Musa al-Khwarizmi, resident at a research institution in Baghdad in the early 9th century.

Al-Khwarizmi also pioneered the first systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations, introduced the use of the zero and the decimal (what we now call "Arabic numerals" in which the position of the digit has value), square roots, complex fractions and discovered the principle of the magnifying lens. The word algorithm is derived from his name.

In the field of astronomy, Arab and Persian astronomers were able to determine measurements of the degrees of meridian, equinoxes, eclipses, and the apparitions of the comets. The size of the earth was calculated on the shores of the Red Sea when Europeans still insisted that the earth was flat. The Arabs built a series of observatories throughout the region for further study - of course, all this was aided by the invention of the telescope by Abul Hasan.

Muslims also claim the invention of the mariner's compass, the pendulum and the watch. They were also pioneers in the field of medicine. The list goes on and on.

The Muslim World has made countless contributions, and I am sure they "feel good" about it - the Arabs, in any case, never felt shy about reminding me of them. I am not sure if we need to waste the time of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration chief making sure they do as his "foremost" responsibility.

It almost begs the pun - what planet are these people on?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

NASA: Who Should Reach Out to Whom?

By guest blogger Johnnie Ainsley, Former Space Reporter

On the surface, President Barack Obama’s order to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to reach out to the Muslim world seems to be a commendable approach to reversing thousands of years of backward thought. Islamists have for too long ignored the liberating spinoffs of science and technology in favor of suppressive thought and the incorporation of mental and physical bondage in their life perspectives. However, shouldn’t the Muslim world reach out to NASA instead?

NASA’s space exploration effort has been an open book to the entire world since its inception in 1958. Since then, its many discoveries have been made available to practically everyone, largely at U.S. taxpayer expense. Consequently, most societies and religions have updated the ancient notion that the Earth is the center of the universe with the more contemporary realization that our planet is a collection of cooled and compacted interstellar fragments orbiting an ordinary star on the fringe of one of billions of galaxies. While debate continues unabated as to whether or not there is a deity controlling our vast cosmos, most societies and religions have embraced NASA’s discoveries and incorporated them in their new world view.

Please note that I said “most” societies and religions, for certainly not all have replaced the ignorance and oppression of their theocratic convictions with the progressive enlightenment of scientific thought. With the exception of some engineering, mathematical and astronomical accomplishments by some Muslim scientists more than a thousand years ago, today’s Muslim world seems to be caught up in a worldwide quest to convert everyone to their point of view, with little regard to the sensitivities and opposing beliefs of others, let alone scientific and biological discoveries that refute their long-held mythological beliefs. Any means they can successfully employ seems to justify their end objective, as demonstrated by the rash of intentional bombings around the world of combatants and non-combatants alike. Anything connected to science, the arts, or philosophical thought outside their comfort zone is suppressed and crushed, perhaps with the lone exception of their love for more knowledge about new ways to build and plant explosive devices undetected, so they can maim, kill and create agony among non-believers.

How does one change thousands of years of backward thinking? More germane, how does NASA intend to encourage the Muslim world to reach out and embrace scientific thought? With the cancerous Islamic climate of death and destruction, the answer evades me. After all, radical Islamic converts vehemently oppose scientific thought and the many improvements NASA’s research and development spinoffs have brought to humanity throughout the civilized world. Were it not for those few accomplishments made by Muslim scientists in the ancient Middle East, their contributions to science and humanity would be relatively insignificant.

Contrasted with the scientific accomplishments of other religions, such as Judaism, the Muslim world has barely made an impact. From Jewish physicist Albert Einstein to Christopher Columbus, from Jonas Salk to Galileo, from Sigmund Freud to Levi Strauss and Joseph Pulitzer, Jewish contributions to humanity go on and on. Jews have won 13 percent of the total Nobel Prizes in literature, 19 percent in chemistry, 26 percent in physics, 41 percent in economics, 28 percent in medicine, and, very importantly, 9 percent in peace. How many such prizes have Muslims won? What is the Muslim world doing to advance science, the humanities, education, and progressive thought? The list is practically empty.

If the Muslim world really wants to feel good about its accomplishments, then its radical members should be more tolerant of the opinions of others and start trying to contribute to a better world instead of working to destroy it. Too, mainstream Islamists should stand up against their radical brothers and sisters and demand they cease the subversion of their Muslim religion. To ignore the violence, in essence, is to encourage it and to allow the radicals to implant a negative image on it in the eyes of peace-loving peoples.

In a recent interview with al-Jazeera, Administrator Bolden told a mostly Muslim audience that the United States is no longer capable of reaching beyond low Earth orbit without help from other nations. Just as the “religion of peace” radicals have at their heart a self-imposed philosophy of returning to the Dark Ages, the notion that this country is incapable of returning to the moon is none other than a self-imposed ploy by our Muslim-leaning president to suppress our leadership in space and technology.

If President Obama is looking to bolster self-esteem by making someone feed good about their contributions to science, math and engineering, he needs to start right here at home by recognizing and supporting all those Americans who have worked so hard to develop the NASA program to return humankind to the moon and beyond. I’m sure the self-esteem of tens of thousands of freedom-loving, religiously tolerant, NASA workers and contractors will be in favor of that.