Tag Archives: Congress

Homeland Security to track bloggers and journalists

You gotta have your KGB: Homeland Security has revealed that it is putting together a program to track bloggers, journalists, and what it calls “Social Media Influencers.”

[T]he Department of Homeland Security has just announced that it intends to compile a comprehensive list of hundreds of thousands of “journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc.”, and collect any “information that could be relevant” about them.

So if you have a website, an important blog or you are just very active on social media, the Department of Homeland Security is going to put you on a list and will start collecting information about you. The DHS has already announced that it will hire a contractor to aid in monitoring media coverage, and they will definitely need plenty of help because it is going to be a very big job…

The article above then quotes from another news story describing this Orwellian plan:

As part of its “media monitoring,” the DHS seeks to track more than 290,000 global news sources as well as social media in over 100 languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Russian, for instant translation into English. The successful contracting company will have “24/7 access to a password protected, media influencer database, including journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc.” in order to “identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event.”

This is quite vile, but no surprise. From its very inception after 9/11 Homeland Security was designed to violate numerous rights listed in the Bill of Rights. We are now seeing those violations play out. Worse should certainly be expected as well.

I hope they track Behind the Black. If they try to squelch me the publicity might do the site good.

Meanwhile, where is Trump in this? That this program is going forward under his watch illustrates once again that Trump really is not that much different than the swamp in Washington he claims a desire to drain. He has undeniably forced a lot of positive change in DC, but his lack of understanding of the philosophical battle allows him to permit this kind of abuse. This program centers power in the executive branch, something that Trump doesn’t really mind.

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New NOAA weather satellite has serious problem

Can’t anybody here play this game? The cooling unit required to take infrared images in the new NOAA weather satellite GOES-17, launched in March, is not functioning properly.

“This is a serious problem,” Volz said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “This is the premier Earth-pointing instrument on the GOES platform, and 16 channels, of which 13 are infrared or near-infrared, are important elements of our observing requirements, and if they are not functioning fully, it is a loss. It is a performance issue we have to address.”

Detectors for the infrared channels must be cooled to around 60 Kelvin (minus 351 degrees Fahrenheit) to make them fully sensitive to infrared light coming from Earth’s atmosphere. For about 12 hours each day, the cooler inside the Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, is unable to chill the detectors to such cold temperatures, officials said.

Infrared images from weather satellites are used to monitor storms at night, when darkness renders visible imagery unavailable. The three visible channels from the ABI are not affected by the cooling problem.

“The other wavelengths, the near-infrared and infrared wavelengths — the other 13 — need to be cooled to some extent beyond the capability of the system at present,” said Tim Walsh, NOAA’s program manager for the GOES-R weather satellite series. “There’s a portion of the day centered around satellite local midnight where the data is not usable, and that’s what we’re addressing.”

GOES-17 is the second of a four satellite constellation being built by NOAA costing $11 billion.

It appears that an identical cooling system was installed on the first of this satellite constellation, GOES-16, and has been working perfectly in orbit since November 2016. Why the new unit isn’t working remains a puzzle.

The real issue here is the cost and complexity of these satellites. Because they are so complex and take so long to build, replacing them is difficult if not impossible. Wouldn’t it be better to launch many cheaper satellites to provide redundancy at a lower cost?

This is a pattern we see throughout the government aerospace industry. NASA’s Webb and WFIRST telescopes are big and take decades to build. God forbid they fail at launch. SLS and Orion are big and take decades to build. God forbid they fail at launch. The Air Force’s numerous military satellites are big and take decades to build. God forbid an enemy takes one out.

In all these cases, failure means we get nothing after spending a lot of time and money. And replacing the loss will take years and billions of dollars.

Common sense says it is time to rethink this entire operation. Unfortunately, this is the federal government. The concept of rethinking anything, or even thinking at all, is too often a completely alien concept. I do not expect anything to change, unless we elect new people in Congress and the Presidency who are willing to take a hammer to this whole insane system and smash it bluntly. Trump is kind of this type of new person, but even he isn’t willing to change that much, only some things, such as the EPA, that irk him in particular. Otherwise, he has left much of the federal bureaucracy alone — as can be seen by his administration and NASA both gearing up to fund both LOP-G and WFIRST— thus continuing this pattern of big and expensive projects that take forever to build.

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29 Republicans and all Democrats vote to kill Senate balanced budget proposal

Apropos of my post earlier today: In the Senate yesterday twenty-nine Republicans and every Democrat voted to kill a balanced budget proposal offered by Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

Paul’s plan would have reduced spending by $404.8 billion in the fiscal year that starts October 1. After the budget balanced in five years, spending would be held to 1 percent increases per year, resulting in a budget that was 14.6 percent bigger in 10 years that it is now.

This very mild proposal to trim the equivalent of a penny from every dollar spent was too much for these spend-thrifts. The article at the link lists all 29 Republicans who voted against it, all of whom were liars when they said during their campaigns that they support a balanced budget, fiscal responsibility, and smaller government.

Let me repeat it so no one has any doubts about what I mean: These Senators are liars. They didn’t misconstrue the facts. Their statements weren’t misguided. They simply lied during their campaigns, and they have so done repeatedly.

The only saving grace about this story is that the trend has been to replace these crooks. Since 2010 the voters have been favoring candidates who mean what they say, on both sides of the aisle. And the result has been an increase in the numbers of real conservatives in Congress. Their influence is growing.

We also might be getting outright socialists and communists elected on the Democratic side, but at least they are being honest about who they are, unlike the lying Democrats who in the past were also outright socialists or communists, but tried to hide their beliefs behind equally offensive lies.

This honesty will maybe finally allow us to deal with the issue of the out-of-control federal budget. Or it will bankrupt us with more legislators willing to spend money like it is water. In the latter case, however, the result will be because this is what the American people choose to do, rather than being deceived by their leaders. And if that is what we choose, then at least we will deserve the hell we bring down upon ourselves.

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The federal government’s blank check

Three articles this morning about actions taken by Congress in connection with the budgets for NASA and NOAA illustrate the bankrupt nature of our federal government.

The first story describes how several legislators from the House Appropriations Committee have inserted amendments into their budget bill that will restore a $10 million NASA climate monitoring program that the Trump administration had shut down.

The second story describes how that same budget bill generously funds both NASA and NOAA at levels far above their own requests.
» Read more

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Contamination found in shuttle engines to be used by SLS

Now we know why the first launch is likely delayed: It appears that contamination has been found in the used and refurbished shuttle engines that the Space Launch System is using.

A “routine quality assurance inspection” of the core stage, he said, discovered contamination in tubing in the engine section of the core stage, which hosts the vehicle’s four RS-25 main engines and associated systems. That contamination turned out to be paraffin wax, which is used to keep the tubes from crimping while being manufactured but is supposed to be cleaned out before shipment.

“The prime contractor determined the vendor was not fully cleaning the tubes and it was leaving residue in the tubes,” McErlean said. “This was retained as a requirement in the prime contractor’s spec, but it was not properly carried out.” Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage, but he did not disclose the vendor who provided the contaminated tubing.

The contamination was initially found in a single tube, he said, but later checks found similar residue in other tubes. All the tubing in the core stage is now being inspected and cleaned, a process he said is not straightforward because of the “mass of tubing” in the engine section and also because cleaning is a “non-trivial process.”

Some obvious questions immediately arise:

1. These engines were previously flown on the space shuttles, numerous times. How did the paraffin wax, used “to keep the tubes from crimping while being manufactured,” remain in the tubes during all those shuttle flights?

2. Assuming the tubes were a new addition or replacement during the refurbishing process, it still seems astonishing that a subcontractor could be so lax. Did they really believe the wax did not need to be thoroughly cleaned?

3. While they have admitted that they will likely have to delay the launch because of issues with the core stage, why do they deny this contamination problem is the cause? More important, how much is it costing to fix? And how much time are they actually losing to fix it?

4. Finally, this is only one of many similar problems that we have seen with this entire project. Boeing and NASA have gotten so far about $40 billion to build this rocket, and have been working on it since 2006, more than a dozen years ago. Furthermore, they supposedly are building it using shuttle equipment in a Saturn rocket-type design in order to save money and time. Instead, they have wasted billions and taken more than three times longer than it took us to win World War II to get to a point where the program still has not flown.

Does anyone really believe this project is anything but a huge boondoggle? And if so, can they please tell me how it will be possible for the United States to really explore the heavens with a project run this incompetently?

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ULA picks Aerojet Rocketdyne engine for Vulcan upper stage

Capitalism in space: ULA has chosen an Aerojet Rocketdyne engine to power the upper stage of its next generation rocket Vulcan.

The company has not yet made a decision on the engine for the first stage, where Blue Origin’s BE-4 still appears favored over Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 engine. This decision on the upper stage could partly be a political move, giving Aerojet the upper stage in order to make it easier to give the lower stage to Blue Origin.

ULA is forced to play politics here because politicians are involved. A number of power members of Congress want Aerojet Rocketdyne to get the business, and ULA risks offending these legislators should it abandon that company entirely.

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House committee boosts NASA budget while micromanaging its projects

A NASA budget proposal released earlier this week by the House Appropriations Committee boosts NASA’s budget to $21.5 billion, while also micro-managing some of NASA’s planetary projects.

The bill, though, does specify funding for some programs. It calls for spending $545 million on the Europa Clipper mission and $195 million for a follow-on lander. NASA requested only $264.7 million for Europa Clipper and nothing for the lander.

NASA said in the budget proposal it was seeking to launch Europa Clipper in 2025 on a commercial vehicle, while the bill calls for the use of the Space Launch System and a launch by 2022. In its budget proposal, NASA estimated needing $565 million in 2019 to keep Europa Clipper on track for a 2022 launch but warned of “potential impacts to the rest of the Science portfolio” if funded at that level.

The bill also included $3.5 billion for SLS/Orion, continuing that boondoggle as it continues to fall behind schedule and go over budget. Also in the bill was a half billion dollars for LOP-G, confirming Congress’s desire to get this new boondoggle running, even though the rocket and capsule necessary to fly it, SLS/Orion, hasn’t even come close to completion after almost two decades of work and almost $40 billion so far in spending.

Overall, this NASA budget proposal illustrates once again why we have Trump. Congress is corrupt, is only interested in distributing money to its corporate buddies, and doesn’t care if that cash ever produces anything. In fact, it appears they prefer that nothing ever get built, as a real space effort would carry risk, and we can’t have that!

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House passes law reforming commercial space licensing rules

The House yesterday passed a new law to reform the commercial space licensing rules.

Essentially, the bill shifts a majority of commercial space regulation to the Department of Commerce, and matches somewhat closely the recommendations being put forth by the Trump administration.

The bill appears to be almost identical to the version I analyzed in great detail in an op-ed for The Federalist last year. It has the same positives and negatives. While it definitely aims at simplifying the licensing process for space (abolishing such agencies as NOAA’s Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs that recently tried to claim it had the right to license all photograph of Earth from space.), it does not appear to completely make Commerce that “one-stop shop” for all licensing, allowing the FAA and FCC to retain their space licensing responsibilities. Moreover, it appears, as I noted in my op-ed, to avoid the more essential legal problems, such as the Outer Space Treaty, that hamper private space today and will hamper private space even more in the future.

Regardless, it does appear that the turf war over licensing between Commerce and the FAA is over. Though the law still must get through the Senate, it does appear that Commerce has mostly won. It will get the majority of this bureaucratic bauble. What that bureaucracy will do with it, however, is the real question.

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Justice Dept Inspector General makes criminal referral against McCabe

While Robert Mueller desperately searches (without success) for some crime he can pin on Donald Trump, an actual criminal referral has been issued by the inspector general of the Justice Department (an Obama appointee) against fired FBI official Andrew McCabe.

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog has sent a criminal referral for fired FBI official Andrew McCabe to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington. The move follows a recent DOJ inspector general report that found McCabe leaked a self-serving story to the press and later lied about it to then-Director James Comey and federal investigators, prompting Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire him on March 16.

A source confirmed to Fox News that the referral was sent.

This story follows yesterday’s where almost a dozen members of Congress called for criminal investigations by the Justice Department against Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and a number of other FBI officials involved in abusing their positions of power to spy on the presidential campaign of their political opponents. It appears that the some people in Washington are finally getting up the nerve to actually consider prosecuting these violators of the Constitution and the rule of law.

As I said yesterday, in a sane world the entire journalist world would go nuts covering the recommendation that a former Secretary of State and presidential candidate as well as the fired head of the FBI both be investigated for criminal activity. In the past this story would garner giant screaming headlines and wall-to-wall coverage. We no longer live in a sane world however.

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NASA might scale down the first manned SLS flight

In order to meet its present schedule and budget, NASA is considering scaling down its first manned SLS flight in 2023 by using the same smaller version of SLS that will fly the first unmanned test flight in 2020.

The SLS has been in development for the last decade, and when complete, it will be NASA’s main rocket for taking astronauts to the Moon and Mars. NASA has long planned to debut the SLS with two crucial test missions. The first flight, called EM-1, will be uncrewed, and it will send the smallest planned version of the rocket on a three-week long trip around the Moon. Three years later, NASA plans to launch a bigger, more powerful version of the rocket around the Moon with a two-person crew — a mission called EM-2.

But now, NASA may delay that rocket upgrade and fly the same small version of the SLS for the crewed flight instead. If that happens, NASA would need to come up with a different type of mission for the crew to do since they won’t be riding on the more powerful version of the vehicle. “If EM-2 flies that way, we would have to change the mission profile because we can’t do what we could do if we had the [larger SLS],” Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, said during a Congressional hearing yesterday.

NASA clarified that astronauts would still fly around the Moon on the second flight. However, the rocket would not be able to carry extra science payloads as NASA had originally planned. “The primary objective for EM-2 is to demonstrate critical functions with crew aboard, including mission planning, system performance, crew interfaces, and navigation and guidance in deep space, which can be accomplished on a Block 1 SLS,” a NASA spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge.

The problem here really is that Congress keeps throwing money at this boondoggle. It will fly, but it will never be able to make the exploration and colonization of the solar system possible. It is simply too expensive and has a far too slow launch rate. Instead, it will allow for NASA to do stunts in space, while elected officials can preen and prance about, bragging about the jobs they brought to their districts.

And the nation’s debt will grow, and grow, and grow.

I hold to my prediction that private companies will bypass SLS in the 2020s, doing far more for far less. The differences between them will become downright embarrassing to SLS and Congress.

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44 Democrats waived background checks for Imran Awan

Every Democrat in the House who hired Pakistani Imran Awan to run their computers, 44 in total, also exempted him from the required background checks.

All of them appear to have waived background checks on Imran Awan and his family members, even though the family of server administrators could collectively read all the emails and files of 1 in 5 House Democrats, and despite background checks being recommended for such positions, according to an inspector general’s report. The House security policy requires offices to fill out a form attesting that they’ve initiated background checks, but it also includes a loophole allowing them to simply say that another member vouched for them.

Among the red flags in Abid’s background were a $1.1 million bankruptcy; six lawsuits against him or a company he owned; and at least three misdemeanor convictions including for DUI and driving on a suspended license, according to Virginia court records. Public court records show that Imran and Abid operated a car dealership referred to as CIA that took $100,000 from an Iraqi government official who is a fugitive from U.S. authorities. Numerous members of the family were tied to cryptic LLCs such as New Dawn 2001, operated out of Imran’s residence, Virginia corporation records show. Imran was the subject of repeated calls to police by multiple women and had multiple misdemeanor convictions for driving offenses, according to court records.

This story is particularly disturbing. Either all 44 Democrats were incredibly stupid, or they actually wanted Awan capable of passing classified information to his sources in Pakistan. Either way, everyone of these Democrats is culpable, and if the latter is true, they are also traitors.

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Congress pumps pork money to NASA in omnibus budget

The omnibus budget that Congress plans to pass this week for 2018 gives NASA $20.7 billion, significantly more than requested and funding almost every pork project Congress could conceive of, including a second mobile launcher for SLS.

The budget gives SLS and Orion more than $3 billion, funds all the Earth science and education projects the Trump administration wished to cut, as well as WFIRST, which the Trump administration wants to cancel because of cost overruns. In general, the NASA budget is a microcosm of the entire spending bill, which does nothing to cut any program anywhere, including Obamacare and a number of liberal programs that the Republicans have repeatedly promised to shut down, until they are in a position to do so. Then they act like leftist Democrats and fund everything.

This is posted between Tucson and Phoenix. I am heading up to the Grand Canyon for a four day cave expedition, which is why I can’t do a more thorough analysis. This really isn’t necessary however, as it is very clear that the Republican leadership in Congress are continuing their corrupt passion for spending money that does not exist. And they wonder why they may lose seats in 2018.

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Trump mentions interest in creating military “Space Force”

Blather and pork: In comments to soldiers in San Diego President Trump yesterday expressed interest in creating a military “Space Force” similar to the Air Force

“My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a warfighting domain, just like the land, air and sea,” Trump said during a Tuesday speech at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. “We may even have a Space Force, develop another one, Space Force. We have the Air Force, we’ll have the Space Force. We have the Army, the Navy.”

The administration’s National Security Strategy, released in December, repeatedly identifies space as a contested domain, a somewhat more dire take than its Obama-era predecessors, which recognized “threats posed by those who may wish to deny the peaceful use of outer space.”

“You know, I was saying it the other day — because we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space — I said maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the Space Force,” Trump said. “And I was not really serious, but I said, ‘What a great idea.’ Maybe we’ll have to do that. That could happen.”

Trump as usual is talking off the cuff, but might very well have a negotiating purpose. There are members of Congress who want it. Trump could possibly be considering a trade, I give you that, you let me cut this.

Or not. It is dangerous to over analyze many of Trump’s off-the-cuff statements. Many times he just does them to get some publicity and to annoy his opponents. Note also that top Air Force officials dodged this issue when asked at hearings to comment on Trump’s statement.

Bottom line however remains the same: Spending money on a Space Force dedicated to fighting in space would be, at this time, a complete waste of money. It would be pork, pure and simple.

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NASA’s interim administrator to retire in April

NASA’s interim administrator, Robert Lightfoot, has announced that he plans to retire in April.

Lightfoot’s retirement leaves NASA without any leadership, as the Senate has shown no interest in confirming Trump’s candidate for the position, Congressmen Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma).

All 49 Democrats in the Senate are expected to vote against to Bridenstine’s confirmation, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) is also reportedly also opposed, Space News reported. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) is not in Washington as he undergoes treatment for cancer, leaving Bridenstine short of the 50 votes needed for confirmation.

Bridenstine is not a perfect choice, and I have reservations about his commitment to commercial space, but the reasons for the Democratic opposition is, as far as I can tell, the same as all their other opposition to every other Trump or Republican proposal: pure spite. “We hate it because of YOU!”

The lack of a politically appointed administrator at NASA however is not necessarily a bad thing, considering that the important stuff happening right now is not at NASA but in the private sector. Having NASA adrift for awhile might actually work to weaken NASA’s pork projects, SLS and Orion, that are in direct competition with private space.

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The ever-receding Space Launch System

Today a story at Space News reveals that NASA has decided to forgo construction of a second mobile launcher for its Space Launch System (SLS). Instead, they will modify the one they have.

The mobile launch platform, originally built for the Constellation Program and currently being modified to support the SLS, will be used for one launch of the initial Block 1 version of the SLS, designated Exploration Mission (EM) 1. That platform will then have to be modified to accommodate the taller Block 1B version that will be used on second and subsequent SLS missions.

Agency officials said late last year they were considering starting work on a second mobile launch platform designed from the beginning to accommodate the Block 1B version of the SLS. They argued that doing so could shorten the gap of at least 33 months between the first and second SLS missions caused in part by the modification work to the existing platform.

The first mobile launcher was built and modified for an estimated $300 to $500 million. NASA obviously has decided that the politics of building a second won’t fly. The cost is too great, as would be the political embarrassment of admitting they spent about a half a billion for a launcher they will only use once. (That this mobile launcher is leaning we will leave aside for the moment.)

What this does however is push back the first manned SLS/Orion launch. At present, the first unmanned mission is likely to go in June 2020 (though don’t be surprised if that date sees further delays). If it takes 33 months after that launch to reconfigure the launcher for the first manned mission, that manned mission cannot occur any sooner than April 2023. That second launch however is planned to be the first to use SLS’s new upper stage. To put humans on it untested seems foolish, doesn’t it? NASA is going to have to fly an extra mission to test that upper stage, which is going to add further delays to the schedule.

In November I predicted that the first manned SLS/Orion mission would not happen before 2025. At the time it was assumed that the second flight of SLS would have to launch the unmanned Europa Clipper mission, in order to test that upper stage. Now however it appears that the Trump administration wants to shift Europa Clipper to a commercial launch vehicle, probably Falcon Heavy.

This means that either astronauts will be flying on an untested SLS upper stage, or NASA will have to add a test launch in April 2023, followed some time thereafter by that manned mission. Since NASA does not at present have a budget for a third mission, I am not sure what is going to happen here.

What I do know is that SLS is certain to get delayed again. By 2025 we will have paid close to $50 billion for SLS and Orion, and the best we can hope for is a single manned mission. And that one mission will have taken 21 years to go from concept to launch.

This is not how you explore the solar system. With a schedule like this, all SLS and Orion are doing is distributing pork to congressional districts and to the big space companies (Boeing and Lockheed Martin) that are building both. Establishing the United States as a viable space-faring nation is the last thing these players have in mind.

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Parkland Underscores How Americans Pay For Garbage Government While Doing Its Job Ourselves

Link here. Essentially, the article outlines how, at every single level, government in the U.S. is failing, while demanding more money and more power as a reward. Parkland is only a recent single example.

Each day Americans wake up to hear new revelations of government incompetence that enabled the Parkland, Florida school shooting. First it was the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s failure to follow existing protocols to investigate a highly detailed tip that the shooter was planning and had the means to do exactly what he did. The FBI and local police received at least four separate tips warning of the shooters’ plans and means, and local police had received 45 calls summoning them to the family’s home since 2008.

Then we learned of the police officer — the only person initially onsite able to return the shooter’s deadly force and tasked by his salary-paying community with doing precisely that — hesitated for approximately four minutes to enter the high school as students lay dying. Then local sources told reporters three other Broward County police officers joined that onsite officer in hiding behind their vehicles until police from another jurisdiction showed up. Reports say the Broward County police didn’t even follow the others inside.

Then it was that police didn’t know they were watching the wrong security tape, putting them off the shooter’s whereabouts by 20 minutes, leaving a mass murderer to endanger more people longer. To add insult to literal injury, the hesitating onsite school police officer, Scot Peterson, was allowed to resign and will receive a lifetime public pension of approximately $60,000 a year plus benefits.

The list of failures above for Parkland is actually not complete. However, they do provide a metaphor for our government, which functions about as badly in every other area as well. Readers of Behind the Black will of course be aware of SLS/Orion, NASA’s own failed boondoggle that will never get us into space.

What must happen is a major house-cleaning. Many thought Trump would do it. I continue to see Trump as a transitional figure, willing to slash and burn in a few areas (EPA) but not in most other areas (FBI, Justice Department, NOAA, NASA, to name a few). Essentially, almost everyone working in Washington needs to be fired. Many can reapply for the work, but no one should be guaranteed a job.

Unfortunately, I do not see this happening. Instead, I see this cabal in Washington teaming up with corrupt elected officials and a corrupt national press to defend their positions of power, even as they fail again and again to simply do their jobs. Witness for example how so-called conservative Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has teamed up with Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) to criticize the mere suggestion by the Trump administration that ISS will be transitioned to private hands by 2024, no longer getting federal funds.

This is just one example. The power in Washington is deep and profound, and the people who have it will not give it up lightly.

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Off to Israel

I am about to leave on a ten day trip to Israel, which is why I have not commented yet on the Trump budget [pdf] and how it effects NASA and science.

The links above will give you a chance to form your own opinions, and to comment here. I will absorb them myself and post on the subject at some time I think during the trip, though in truth it generally doesn’t matter that much what a president proposes in his budget. Congress makes the decision, and usually ignores the president’s suggestions, especially if such ideas threaten their pork.

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Trump signs two-year budget deal

Big spending wins! The new two-year budget deal, which provides increased spending and eliminates the sequestration budget caps, has been signed into law by President Trump.

I know people might think me insane when I say this, but Trump’s comments upon signing the bill remind me of Ronald Reagan when he signed compromise bills with the Democrats that were not what he really wanted. Trump calls it a victory, but also said this:

“Without more Republicans in Congress, we were forced to increase spending on things we do not like or want in order to finally, after many years of depletion, take care of our Military,” he wrote. “Sadly, we needed some Dem votes for passage. Must elect more Republicans in 2018 Election!”

Trump continued to praise the bill as a victory, because of the big spending boost to the military. He criticized Democrats for “waste” in the bill. “Costs on non-military lines will never come down if we do not elect more Republicans in the 2018 Election, and beyond,” he said. “This Bill is a BIG VICTORY for our Military, but much waste in order to get Dem votes.”

Though I strongly think we have plenty of waste in the military as well, and that the Defense Department didn’t need any increases and could have been cut considerably, in many ways Trump’s comments here reflect reality. For the American public to get its federal government under control, that public is going to have to vote out the people who presently run it in an uncontrollable manner. And while there are many establishment Republicans to which this description applies, the vast majority of the legislators who are pushing out-of-control spending are Democrats.

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New budget deal dumps budget caps

The swamp wins again! The new budget deal negotiated today between Senate leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York) eliminates the sequestration budget caps that for the past half dozen or so years have put at least a few limits on government spending.

The deal removes sequestration budget caps for two years, increases defense spending and also boosts funding for domestic programs that were priorities for Democrats, such as opioid addiction programs. It also raises the debt ceiling until 2019.

It was unclear if the Senate deal will get enough support when it goes to the House.

According to this report, the deal will raise government spending by $300 billion over the next two years.

Even as the two parties make a lot of noise over the FBI scandal, their leaders move to keep the spigot of cash flowing to their buddies, and thus to themselves. And as they do so the federal debt grows, and grows, and grows. And we get closer and closer to outright bankruptcy and collapse.

Update: Trump has endorsed the deal.

“The Budget Agreement today is so important for our great Military,” he wrote on Twitter. “It ends the dangerous sequester and gives Secretary Mattis what he needs to keep America Great.”

“Dangerous sequester”? The sequestration rule has been the only thing that has kept any reins on budget spending for the past few years. In this matter Trump reveals his old liberal Democrat roots.

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Govt shutdown deal included provision reducing spending oversight of surveillance agencies

The swamp wins: The deal that ended the government shut down included a provision that will allow intelligence agencies to spend billions with much less Congressional oversight.

From the article:

The new wording was requested by the White House Office of Management and Budget at the urging of the Pentagon and was backed by House and Senate appropriations committee leaders over the strident opposition of intelligence committee leadership.

…“Essentially the intelligence community could expend funds as it sees fit,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., warned about the change on the Senate floor Monday. “A situation like this is untenable.” Senate intelligence panel Ranking Member Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., warned covert operations could be funded without oversight and the House Intelligence Committee’s GOP leadership also opposed the wording.

…Steven Aftergood, who directs the government secrecy project at the Federation of American Scientists, has a different view. “The new provision is certainly a departure from the norm that all intelligence activities must be authorized,” he said. “What is not clear is whether this is simply an artifact of the legislative drafting process, with no particular significance, or whether it is intended as a cover for some unauthorized activity,” Aftergood said. “Normally, I would suspect the former. But the fact that steps to correct the language were deliberately blocked in the Senate … makes you wonder if there is something else going on.” [emphasis mine]

Considering the revelations in recent days about the possible secret efforts of FBI agents to overturn the 2016 Presidential election, either Congress is incredibly stupid, or corrupt, or both, to give such organizations more spending power at this time. The highlighted quote indicates to me that they are both, and that there are some people in the government who have done this for very corrupt reasons.

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Proposed budget deal lifts all spending caps

It appears that the spending in the budget deals being proposed in Congress include hefty spending increases and would also end up lifting all the spending caps imposed by the 2011 budget deal.

In order to secure more money for national defense, Democrats are demanding an equal amount of extra funding for domestic social welfare programs. So to get an additional $108 billion for the Pentagon, the Republicans may agree to another $108 billion-plus in ransom money for domestic agencies. But when all the emergency funding is included, the ratio could be closer to $2 of additional domestic spending for every dollar of increased military funding. What a deal.

If this treasury raid deal gets cut, the budget caps from the 2011 budget act will be officially and irrevocably washed away. So will any pretense of fiscal discipline and debt control. “Almost no one here on either side of the aisle wants to control spending,” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tells me. “It’s sad, but it’s the new reality.”

If he’s right, then any allegiance to spending control has been tossed aside at the very time the debt has been spiraling. The $4 trillion federal budget is expected to exceed $5 trillion within eight years. The $20 trillion debt is already headed to $30 trillion over the next decade — even without this new spending spree.

In other words, the corrupt swamp in Washington, from both parties, continue to win in its desire to empower itself at the cost of the nation.

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Republicans call memo about FISA abuses “shocking”

The release to the entire House of a memo from the House Intelligence Committee outlining surveillance abuses by the FBI under the FISA law has resulted in numerous expressions of horror and alarm from many House members after reading the memo.

“It is so alarming the American people have to see this,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said.

“It’s troubling. It is shocking,” North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows said. “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.”

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said he believed people could lose their jobs after the memo is released. “I believe the consequence of its release will be major changes in people currently working at the FBI and the Department of Justice,” he said, referencing DOJ officials Rod Rosenstein and Bruce Ohr. “You think about, ‘is this happening in America or is this the KGB?’ That’s how alarming it is,” Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry said.

All these comments came today, and all refer to abuses by the Department of Justice and the FBI and Obama administration of the FISA.

It is interesting that despite these howls of outrage and horror, the same article above also noted that the Senate today approved a renewal of that same FISA law, with essentially no changes.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 65-34 to reauthorize a FISA provision that allows U.S. spy agencies to conduct surveillance on foreign targets abroad for six years. The bill, which already has been passed by the House, now heads to the White House,where President Donald Trump has said he will sign it into law.

The law had already been approved by the House, which in case anyone might have forgotten, is controlled by the same Republicans screaming outrage above.

These elected officials might mouth platitudes about respecting the Constitution and freedom, but what they do is what counts, and what they do illustrates that they don’t believe a word of what they say.

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How the Purge in Saudi Arabia might link to the Democratic computers in Congress

This essay is going to outline some interesting associations that appear to exist between a number of very unconnected news stories in the past few months, links that might help explain how recent events in Saudi Arabia might have something to do with the U.S. Congress and car dealerships in the U.S. and Africa.

First of all I want to emphasize that I really have no idea if the associations I am going to note even exist. I am no expert on foreign policy, other than being a very well-read follower of the news. However, my skills as a historian have often allowed me to spot connections between disparate events that further research very frequently confirms as true. In this regard I think it very worthwhile to reveal what I have noticed, and let the chips fall where they may.

This trail must first begin with President Trump’s first foreign policy trip in May as President, going first to Saudi Arabia followed by visits to Israel and Europe.
» Read more

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More delays expected for launch of Webb telescope

NASA’s chief scientist admitted during House hearings this week that there will possibly be further delays in the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, now set for the 2nd quarter of 2019.

“At this moment in time, with the information that I have, I believe it’s achievable,” he said of the current launch window of March to June 2019, which NASA announced in September after delaying the launch from October 2018. However, he said an independent review “is exactly what we should be doing, and frankly I have directed the team to do just that in January.”

That review won’t start until January, he said, because of ongoing tests of unfolding the sunshade of the space telescope. Previous tests, he said, took much longer than anticipated, playing a key factor in the decision to delay the launch. An updated launch date, he said, would likely come in “January or February.”

Such an independent review was proposed earlier in the hearing by another witness, retired aerospace executive Thomas Young. “In my opinion, the launch date and required funding cannot be determined until a new plan is thoroughly developed and verified by independent review,” he said.

While it does make perfect sense to make sure everything is really really really ready before launch, that this telescope is already 8 years behind schedule and yet might still need more delays suggests that the whole project was managed badly, from start to finish.

The hearing also dealt with the cost increases NASA is experiencing for WFIRST. As is usual, it sounds like NASA’s buy-in approach there has worked, and that Congress will fork up the extra cash to keep that project alive, until it experiences further delays and more cost increases, when Congress will fork up even more money. Then, wash and repeat. The WFIRST budget is already up from about $3.5 billion to more than $4 billion. I predict before it is done it will have cost around $8-$10 billion, and not launch until the late 2020s, at the earliest.

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FAA submits its red tape recommendations to National Space Council

As requested by Vice-President Mike Pence during the first meeting of the National Space Council, the FAA has now submitted its recommendations for streamlining the launch licensing process.

“We came up with our vision for a 21st century licensing process,” [George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation] said. That process, he said, could include licenses that cover different versions of a family of vehicles, launching from different sites on different missions, “on the same piece of paper.” Nield said other elements of that vision include “performance-based” regulations that don’t limit companies on how they can achieve a certain requirement, as well as ways to accelerate the license review process, which can take up to 180 days once a completed application is submitted.

Some of those changes, Nield said, may take longer to carry our, particularly when they involve issues like environmental reviews. He said the FAA is looking at other near-term streamlining approaches, such as the use of a mechanism called “safety approvals” that provides pre-approval of subsystems or processes — and potentially entire launch vehicles — to speed the license review process.

Nield also put in a request for additional staff for his office, which currently has about 100 people. “If we had some additional folks that could look at fixing the process rather than just having everybody having their head down cranking out these licenses, then we could make a significant improvement” in the license review process, he said. [emphasis mine]

While I do think Nield is sincere about reducing regulation, and has generally been a positive force in his job in helping the new commercial launch business, he is still a bureaucrat. The whole point here is to encourage the policy-makers to give his office the job of regulating space, so that Nield’s responsibilities grow.

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The corruption in Washington DC

If you think there has been any draining of the swamp in Washington DC with recent elections, think again. The passage this weekend of the new tax package illustrates that the Republican-led Congress really is little different than the Democratic-led Congress that passed Obamacare without reading it.

PJMedia asked Rounds if he would have time to read the full text before casting his vote.

“No, because the entire bill, there’s two separate parts, first of all, there’s a summary of what each of the parts does, that part we’ve been able to read. The actual text itself will be completed and then it will go into a conference committee where it will come back out again. So most of us have looked at all of the analysis of each one of the sections, section-by-section, that part has been completed,” Rounds told PJM on Capitol Hill on Friday evening.

“But there will still be more work to be completed in terms of the actual fine language within the bill itself.”

In other words, we need to pass the law to find out what’s in it.

This stinks. Though there is some evidence that the new tax law will lower taxes (which generally is a good thing), no one really knows what the law’s full consequences will be. A responsible Congress would never pass such a thing. Congresses before the 1960s never did.

Laws are made of words. If you vote for a law but don’t know the words that actually make up the law you guarantee that some of those words will impose tyranny. This process, and the law that results, is no different than Obamacare, and will likely result in similar disasters.

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More delays in Democratic IT scandal

The attorney for Imran Awan, the computer specialist who had worked for numerous Democratic congressmen, including Debbie Wasserman Schlutz and is now charged with bank fraud, has caused a month delay in the court case in an effort to block the use of a laptop and its contents as evidence.

Wasserman Schultz fought to prevent law enforcement from looking at the laptop, threatening a police chief with “consequences” and implying it was “a member’s” laptop. She hired an outside lawyer, Bill Pittard, who specializes in the “speech and debate” clause of the Constitution that is designed to protect lawmakers from persecution for political stances, but lawmakers have used to try to stymie criminal probes in the past.

Now, it is Awans’ lawyers who are seeking the right to keep information in the backpack, including the “hard drive,” from being used as evidence.

The Awan attorneys are claiming that the laptop and all other information found in the backpack should be blocked as evidence because they fall under attorney-client privilege. This is absurd. If the court agrees with this interpretation, it will allow criminals to declare almost all evidence inadmissible, just by claiming it was communications between lawyer and client.

Based on all this effort to keep law enforcement from seeing what’s on that laptop, I suspect it contains some very damning information, both to Awan as well as to Wasserman Schultz and many other Democrats who had hired Awan.

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Washington swamp creature hints that SLS could be in trouble

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today expressed strong disappointment with the repeated delays in the the launch of SLS and Orion, noting that the problems could lead to Congress considering “other options.”

“After all these years, after billions of dollars spent, we are facing more delays and cost overruns,” Smith said. While he noted that some delays were caused by factors out of NASA’s control, like a tornado that damaged the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans in February, “many of the problems are self-inflicted.”

“It is very disappointing to hear about delays caused by poor execution, when the U.S. taxpayer has invested so much in these programs,” he added.

Smith, who announced Nov. 2 he would not run for reelection next year after more than three decades in the House, including serving as chairman of the science committee since 2013, warned about eroding support for the programs should there be additional delays. “NASA and the contractors should not assume future delays and cost overruns will have no consequences,” he said. “If delays continue, if costs rise, and if foreseeable technical challenges arise, no one should assume the U.S. taxpayers or their representatives will tolerate this forever.”

“The more setbacks SLS and Orion face, the more support builds for other options,” he said, not elaborating on what those options would be.

Smith is part of the establishment in Congress that has been supporting SLS and Orion blindly for years. Unfortunately, he is retiring this year, and the other members of his committee did not seem as bothered by SLS’s endless delays.

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Senate kills military “Space Corps”

As part of this year’s military budget bill, the Senate has eliminated a House proposal that the military create a new military branch called the “Space Corps.”

The bill also completely overhauls the management of the military’s space effort, as described in detail here.

The NDAA conference report blasts the Air Force for a “broken national security space enterprise,” strips key authorities from the service and shifts much of the management of military space to the deputy secretary of defense.

The second link focuses on the management changes, while the first reviews in great detail the Senate’s budget proposals, which (surprise, surprise!) give the military more money.

In addition to changes in space-related policy, the bill would also fully authorize a pay increase for service members, increase missile defense, and add additional ships and aircraft. “The bill fully funds the 2.4% pay raise our troops are entitled to under law while blocking the President’s ability to reduce troop pay,” according to the summary.

It authorizes funding for a wide variety of additional military hardware including 90 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters across the service branches — 20 more than requested by President Donald Trump’s initial budget — and three additional Littoral Combat Ships.

The bill also “adds $4.4 billion above the President’s initial budget request to meet critical missile defense needs” — authorizing up to 28 additional ground-based Interceptors and “requiring the Missile Defense Agency to develop a space-based sensor layer for ballistic missile defense,” according to the summary.

However, the bill would also set defense spending well above the $549 billion cap under the Budget Control Act [sequestration] and Senate Democrats have vowed to block major increases to defense spending without equal increases for domestic programs.

I am not sure what to make of the management changes, though I like the elimination of the Space Corps, which was an absurd waste of money. The proposed budget increases are disturbing, however. I am especially appalled (but not surprised) at the push to eliminate sequestration, which has been the only bill passed by Republicans that has done anything to control the federal governments wasteful spending.

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NASA still hasn’t established a baseline cost for SLS’s future missions

Despite being told to do so in an 2014 GAO report, NASA has still not developed a budget to determine what it would cost to use SLS for any future beyond-Earth-orbit missions.

Worse, NASA says it doesn’t have to do this.

The government report notes that it previously recommended to NASA and Congress that costs of the first (and subsequent) human missions be calculated and disclosed three years ago in 2014. Since then, the report says, a senior official at NASA’s Exploration Systems Development program, which manages the rocket and spacecraft programs, replied that NASA does not intend to establish a baseline cost for Exploration Mission 2 because it does not have to.

This response must have struck investigators with the General Accountability Office—Congress’ auditing service—as a bit in-your-face. Later in the report, the director of acquisition and sourcing management for the accountability office, Cristina Chaplain, notes that, “While later stages of the Mars mission are well in the future, getting to that point in time will require a funding commitment from the Congress and other stakeholders. Much of their willingness to make that commitment is likely to be based on the ability to assess the extent to which NASA has met prior goals within predicted cost and schedule targets.” [emphasis mine]

In other words, NASA expects Congress to give NASA and SLS a blank check, forever. Sadly, based on the behavior of Congress now and in the past two decades, NASA might very well have reasonable expectations here.

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