Category Archives: Behind The Black

Sunspot observatory shut down for child porn investigation?

According to one New Mexico television station, the Sunspot Observatory was shut down last week in connection with a investigation into child porn.

A federal search warrant reveals that Sunspot Solar Observatory was shut down as FBI agents conducted computer forensic searches for child pornography.

The source of child pornography was traced to an IP address used at the observatory and a source within the building observed a computer with “not good” images on it, the warrant states.

An investigation by the FBI revealed that a janitor is the main suspect in the search, however he has not been charged with a crime even though his name in on the warrant.

This might also explain why the post office was searched, assuming they were trying to trace further porn material there.

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On the radio + September 18, 2018 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast

The Batchelor podcast is embedded below the fold in two parts. Meanwhile, I will be on the radio for extended appearances both tonight and tomorrow night. Tonight I make what I think will be my first appearance on Beyond Reality Radio from approximately 12 midnight to 2 am (eastern). Tomorrow I make another one of my long appearances on Coast to Coast from 12 midnight to 2 am (pacific).

Every one of these should be a blast.
» Read more

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The volcano Llullaillaco

Llullaillaco volcano in South America

Cool image time! The image on the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows a volcano not on Mars or the Moon or any of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, but here on Earth in South America!

Llullaillaco is a stratovolcano at the border of Argentina and Chile. It lies on a high plateau close to the Atacama Desert. At an elevation of 6723 m ASL, it is the second highest active volcano in the world. About 150,000 years ago the volcano’s southeastern flank collapsed, producing a debris avalanche that traveled 25 kilometers. The youngest dated rocks are about 5600 years old; but there are local reports of activity from the 1800s. The perspective image looking east was acquired December 19, 2014.

If you click on the link you can see the full image. It was taken by one of the instruments on the Earth-observation satellite Terra, launched in December 1999. Though the website for this image does not state so, I suspect that some of the colors we see here are false colors, as some of the data comes from the infrared.

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Update on SpaceX and Boeing’s private commercial crew capsules

Link here. The key piece of news is that both companies now believe they meet NASA’s safety requirements.

[D]uring a panel discussion at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space Forum here Sept. 18, executives of the two companies said they now believed their vehicles met that and related safety requirements.

John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for the commercial crew program at Boeing, said the company was assessing three separate requirements, including the overall loss of crew as well as ascent and entry risks and loss of mission. “Our teams have been working that for a number of years,” he said, noting those analyses have driven changes to the vehicle design, such as increased micrometeoroid and orbital debris protection. “Where we are now is that our analysis shows we can exceed the NASA requirements for all three of those criteria,” he said.

Benjamin Reed, director of commercial crew mission management at SpaceX, said his company was in a similar situation. “We’re looking right now to be meeting the requirements,” he said.

Kathy Lueders, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, didn’t confirm that the companies have, in fact, met those safety requirements. “We’re learning from a NASA perspective about how to understand the assessments that we’re getting from each of the contractors and how to apply it,” she said. “We at the NASA team are assessing the modeling that each of the providers has done.”

It should be understood that the requirements being discussed here really have nothing to do with actual engineering, but are based on a statistical analysis that estimates the risk to any passenger. In other words, it is a pure guess, and can be manipulated any way anyone wants. This is why NASA’s manager above is so vague. What she is really saying is that NASA is slowly being forced to accept the analysis of the contractors.

The article at the link also details the present schedule, which appears mostly unchanged (though Musk indicated there might be a slight delay in Dragon during his BFR presentation earlier this week), and the efforts by both companies to make their capsules reusable.

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British test satellite uses net to capture target

A British test satellite has successfully used a net to capture a cubesat target, demonstrating the technology that someday could be used to clean space junk from Earth orbit.

“It worked just as we hoped it would,” said Prof Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre. “The target was spinning like you would expect an uncooperative piece of junk to behave, but you can see clearly that the net captures it, and we’re very happy with the way the experiment went.”

If this were a real capture, the net would be tethered to the deploying satellite, which would then tug the junk out of the sky. As this was just a demonstration, the net and the box (which was actually pushed out from RemoveDebris to act as a target) will be allowed to fall to Earth on their own. Their low altitude means it should take only a couple of months before they burn up in the atmosphere.

I have embedded below the fold a video showing the net capture. It is quite spectacular. This was one of three different experiments on RemoveDebris that are testing space junk removal methods. The next is the use of a harpoon.
» Read more

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China’s Long March 3B rocket successfully launches two GPS-type satellites

The new colonial movement: China today successfully launched two more of its Beidou GPS-type satellites, using its Long March 3B rocket.

The rocket launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China, and almost certainly dropped its stages near habitable regions, as happened in June. The question is whether China has successfully clamped down on the distribution of any images of such events, taken by local residents. It failed to do so in June.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

25 China
16 SpaceX
8 Russia
7 ULA
5 Europe (Arianespace)

This launch puts China once again in the lead over the U.S. in the national rankings, 25 to 24. Moreover, with every launch this year China extends its new record for the most launches by that nation in a year.

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All instruments check out on the Parker Solar Probe

The initial check out of the Parker Solar Probe, now on its way to the Sun, has shown all instruments are functioning properly.

“All instruments returned data that not only serves for calibration, but also captures glimpses of what we expect them to measure near the Sun to solve the mysteries of the solar atmosphere, the corona,” said Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland.

The mission’s first close approach to the Sun will be in November 2018, but even now, the instruments are able to gather measurements of what’s happening in the solar wind closer to Earth.

The spacecraft will make its first fly-by of Venus in October.

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New data says going to Mars involves significant radiation exposure

New data from Trace Gas Orbiter, part of Europe’s ExoMars project, says a journey to Mars will expose humans to significant radiation.

The results imply that on a six-month journey to the Red Planet, and assuming six-months back again, an astronaut could be exposed to at least 60% of the total radiation dose limit recommended for their entire career.

The ExoMars data, which is in good agreement with data from Mars Science Laboratory’s cruise to Mars in 2011–2012 and with other particle detectors currently in space – taking into account the different solar conditions – will be used to verify radiation environment models and assessments of the radiation risk to the crewmembers of future exploration missions.

This data was gathered during the spacecraft’s journey to Mars during a time of falling solar activity. Thus, the radiation exposure came more from cosmic rays than from solar activity.

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Republican wins special election in black/Hispanic district in Texas

Is this significant? A Republican today won a special election for a Texas state senate seat in a predominately black and Hispanic district that was won by Hillary Clinton by 12% and hasn’t been held by a Republican for more than a hundred years.

It is dangerous to extrapolate the results from a single state legislative district to the wider nation. Nonetheless, for a Republican to win such a seat in a district whose two biggest demographics are Hispanic and black suggests we might yet see a historic shift this coming election. If the Democrats can no longer depend on these voters, they will find it difficult to win any national elections.

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A Martian shoreline?

Collapsing cliff in Tempe Fossae

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced and cropped to post here, was part of the August 31 image release from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). (Click on the image to see the full image.) It shows a slowly separating cliff feature in a region dubbed Tempe Fossae

As part of that monthly mass release, no caption was provided for this image. However, we can gain some understanding by looking at the larger context.

Tempe Fossae is located at the margins between the low flat northern plains and the high southern highlands. The location is also part of the vast drainage region to the east of Mars’ gigantic volcanoes. This is obvious from the overview image below and on the right. The location of this image is indicated by the white cross.

Mars overview

In this area of that drainage the canyons appear to follow southwest to northeast trending fault lines. Tempe Fossae is one of the smaller of these canyon complexes. All however appear to drain out into the northern plains.

Most of the MRO images of features in this area focus on the canyon cliffs. This image however focused on this one isolated small cliff in the middle of the canyon. To my eye it appears that these features document the slow drying of that vast intermittent ocean in Mars’s northern plains. The cliff is actually two steps, with the higher one appearing to mark an older shoreline. The lower cliff is abutted by a low flat area where it appears as if there had once been ponded water, now dried.

close-up of cracked area

The cracks in the cliff itself suggest it is slowly breaking apart and falling down towards that low flat area. In fact, the entire feature reminds me of the sand cliffs that are sometimes found along shorelines. The sand is not very strong structurally, and with time sections will separate and then fall down. The image to the right zooms in on this cracked region. The presence of sand dunes reinforces my impression.

I imagine that as the water drained down from the glaciers on the sides of the volcanoes and filled that intermittent sea, the shoreline regions would have had the most water. At Tempe Fossae the canyons might have been partly filled. As the water level drained out and lowered, first the upper cliff edge was exposed, then the lower. The draining water probably helped created these cracks as it flowed down through them.

Finally, the last remaining pits of water ponded at the base of the cliff, eventually drying out. With time, the weakly structured sand cliffs, already carved partly by the flowing water, began to slump apart and fall downward, producing the cracks we now see. I expect that some time in the near future, on geological time scales, there will be a landslide and the outer section will collapse downward.

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Vulcan found?

Scientists have found a super-earth orbiting 40 Eridani-A, a star located sixteen light years away and proposed by Gene Roddenberry in 1991 as the home star for his race of logical Vulcans.

It turns out the letter authors’ prediction was right — a world really does orbit the primary star of the three-star 40 Eridani system. (Whether it’s home to a logic-based alien society, though, is anyone’s guess!)

The world is a super-Earth, the most common type of planet in the galaxy (though a type that’s missing from our solar system). At twice Earth’s radius and eight to nine times its mass, 40 Eridani b sits on the line that divides rocky super-Earths from gaseous ones. The planet orbits its star every 42 days, putting just inside the system’s habitable zone — in other words, where it’s nice and hot. At 16 light-years away, it’s the closest super-Earth known and therefore a good potential target for followup observations.

The discovery was made by a survey taking place using a relatively small telescope right here in the Tucson area, on top of Mount Lemmon. Most cool!

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Instrument on GRACE-FO fails

The U.S/German science two-satellite constellation, launched in May, has not gathered any science data since July because one instrument on one satellite has shut down.

It appears the problem is related to an electrical problem. The article provides little information, though they say they will switch to a back up system later this month. I wonder why this has taken so long.

The article at the link calls this “a glitch.” That is a lie and bad journalism. Any failure that shuts down a spacecraft for months and requires the use of a back up is a major failure, not a mere “glitch.” I wish news organizations would stop using that word, as it only exists to help minimize the seriousness of a problem.

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Air Force estimates Space Force cost at $13 billion for first 5 years

Pork! Air Force has now released its first estimate for establishing a Space Force, with an estimated cost of $13 billion for first five years.

A copy of the Air Force memo was obtained Monday by The Associated Press. The memo says the first-year cost of a Space Force would be $3.3 billion, and the cost over five years would be an estimated $12.9 billion.

As I have said, this is nothing more than pork. At this stage all that needs to happen is a reorganization that would put all space activities in a single office in the Air Force. This is also what the Air Force has wanted to do. Creating a whole new military branch at this time is overkill, and will merely result in too much bureaucracy, for only one reason, to spend money.

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Kenya creates space agency

The new colonial movement: Kenya today announced the official establishment of its own space agency, the Kenya Space Agency Board (KSAB).

KSAB was established by President Uhuru Kenyatta through a March 2017 gazette notice and will be headed by the Kenya Defence Forces’ Major General (Rtd) James Aruasa.

The array of KSAB’s responsibilities include co-ordinating space-related activities, recommending national space policies and establishing centres of excellence in space science.

It appears to me that there a power struggle is going on in Kenya over space, with the wrong people winning. A university team recently built the nation’s first cubesat, getting it launched as a secondary payload. This space board however seems entirely run by the government and its military. I fear that this turf war is going to squelch any future Kenyan space development.

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Curiosity fails again to drill into Vera Rubin Ridge

For the third time Curiosity has failed to drill into the rock on top of Vera Rubin Ridge.

Last night we learned that our drill attempt on “Inverness” was not successful, reaching only 4 mm into the rock.

The only successful drill attempt on the ridge occurred when they moved down off the top of the ridge to a slightly lower geological layer.

They are moving Curiosity to another candidate drill site on the ridge, where they will try again. While they imply in their reports that it is solely the hardness of the ground that is stopping them, I still wonder if the improvised drill technique, using the robot arm to push down rather than the drill’s jammed feed mechanism, is partly to blame. I would think that they have placed limits on how hard the arm can push to protect it.

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SpaceX’s first BFR passenger is Yusaku Maezawa, owner of Japanese fashion company

Yusaku Maezawa

Capitalsm in space: SpaceX’s first BFR passenger will be Yusaku Maezawa, the owner of Japanese fashion company, shown on the right.

Maezawa began his statement by echoing John Kennedy with these words, “I choose to go to the Moon.” He purchased the entire first flight, and will invite six to eight artists to join him on the flight and ask them to create art afterward inspired by the flight. They are aiming for a launch in 2023.

BFR

Musk began the presentation tonight with an overview of the status of BFR, noting that they plan unmanned test launches before putting humans on the rocket. The image an the right shows the habitable upper stage.

During the question and answer session after the announcement Musk was asked questions about the present stage of BFR design, and whether it has been finalized. He said they plan “a lot of test flights” and are aiming for first orbital flights in 2 to 3 years, “if things go really well.”

Musk made it clear that Maezawa chose SpaceX for the flight, rather than the other way around. Musk also said that Maezawa was paying them a lot of money for the flight, though they were not going to reveal the amount. Musk did note that the price was not trivial, and that Maezawa has already made a significant deposit. Maezawa had first approached them for a Dragon/Falcon Heavy flight, but because of the limitations of of those spacecraft, they decided it better to go with the bigger rocket.

Musk noted that the first test hops of the upper stage to test its landing capabilities will take place at Boca Chica in Texas. The launch site for the orbital missions is not yet decided.

Musk estimated that the cost for developing BFR is going to probably be around $5 billion, which he also noted rightly is quite small for this kind of project. He also said that right now they are only devoting 5% of SpaceX’s resources to this mission. As they complete the crew Dragon project, they will then begin to shift resources to BFR. He estimated that will happen sometime late next year.

Overall, it strikes me that they really do not have all the details yet worked out, with the rocket or their flight schedule. As Musk openly admitted when asked if they are sure about the schedule, “We are definitely not sure.” This is not necessarily a bad thing, since it is often better to keep an open-mind in planning something this ambitious. At the same time it tells us not to expect any of this to happen, as described.

One final point: Musk at one point said he wants a base on the Moon. “It’s 2018, why don’t we have a base on the Moon?” To me, this was an almost direct dig at NASA’s Gateway/FLOP-G project, which isn’t a base but locks us in lunar orbit. Musk was being very careful to avoid criticizing NASA, his biggest customer, but anyone who knows what is going on will quickly recognize that BFR is in direct competition with SLS/Orion/Gateway.

Based on SpaceX’s history, going from first orbit flight to flying the world’s largest rocket in only ten years, I am very confident that this company could get that first base on the Moon, long before NASA even gets Gateway launched.

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A Trip Through Victorian Paris, France

An evening pause: This footage was taken from 1896 to 1900 in Paris, and has been cleaned up and shown here at the correct speed with sound added to match the visuals. What you will see:

0:08 – Notre-Dame Cathedral (1896)
0:58 – Alma Bridge (1900)
1:37 – Avenue des Champs-Élysées (1899)
2:33 – Place de la Concorde (1897)
3:24 – Passing of a fire brigade (1897)
3:58 – Tuileries Garden (1896)
4:48 – Moving walkway at the Paris Exposition (1900)
5:24 – The Eiffel Tower from the Rives de la Seine à Paris (1897)

What strikes me is the dignified behavior and dress of the people. We are of course mostly looking at Paris’s high class streets, but nonetheless there is something in the culture that requires them to behave as civilized as they can.

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Trump unclassifies FISA warrants, interviews; orders release of unredacted FBI text messages

Trump has today unclassified both the FISA Carter Page application and the FBI interviews connected with that application. He also ordered the release, unredacted, of all FBI text messages of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.

This information I think is going to demonstrate that the certain people at the FBI have been running an anti-Trump/pro-Democratic Party operation, concocting a false claim of Russian-Trump collusion in order to remove a duly elected President. Moreover, comparing the previously released redacted text messages with the unredacted messages is almost certainly going to reveal that someone at the FBI has acting to obstruct the investigation.

I wonder if anyone will ask the question “Who?”

I should also point out that Trump himself could have read these documents whenever he wanted. He doesn’t need to declassify them to see them, and form judgements from them. Moreover, the redactions only apply to the public, not to Trump. He could have seen this anytime, and acted immediately, if he had chosen.

Instead, he chose to wait and wait, and then release this now, at a moment when all eyes are aimed at the fake scandal being perpetrated by the Democrats against his Supreme Court nominee.

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Cryo-volcanism had less influence on shaping Ceres than predicted

The uncertainty of science: A careful analysis of the Dawn data has found that though cryo-volcanism has occurred repeatedly on Ceres, it had less influence on the dwarf planet’s surface than previous models had predicted.

At the same time, the data also suggests that Ceres has been more active throughout its history than predicted. They found about 22 domes that are apparently past cryo-volcanoes that have flattened out.

“Given how small Ceres is, and how quickly it cooled off after its formation, it would be exciting to identify only one or two possible cryovolcanoes on the surface. To identify a large population of features that may be cryovolcanoes would suggest a long history of volcanism extending up to nearly the present day, which is tremendously exciting,” said Sizemore. “Ceres is a little world that ought to be ‘dead,’ but these new results suggest it might not be. Seeing so much potential evidence for cryovolcanism on Ceres also lends more weight to discussions of cryovolcanic processes on larger icy moons in the outer solar system, where it’s likely more vigorous.”

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SpaceX announcement of first passenger for Lunar BFR

Capitalism in space: SpaceX will have a webcast today at 6 pm (Pacific) to announce the name of the first passenger to fly on a lunar mission using their Big Falcon Rocket (BFR).

The embed of that webcast is below, so if you wish you can watch right here.

Note that my initial post mistaken said this was happening at 6 pm Eastern time. That was an error.

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Statement about closure of solar observatory

AURA, the university consortium that operates the closed Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico, issued a statement today about that closure.

AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location.

The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety.

In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment.

We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.

This news release, while still very vague about the criminal investigation, implies that there was a dangerous criminal suspect on the mountain that federal officials were pursuing, and they evacuated to protect their employees.

This explanation still leaves serious questions. Why for example were local police kept in the dark about this investigation? It makes no sense not to include them, unless they might be a target of the investigation, something that in this case does not appear to be true.

Also, if there was a criminal on the mountain, secrecy is not really an effective way to catch him. It might make sense, but they have not provided us any information that would explain this.

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Multiple launches today

Two launches today:

  • ULA’s last Delta 2 rocket launches ICESat-2 icecap tracking satellite for NASA
  • Indian’s PSLV rocket launches two British satellites

More details about ICESat-2 can be found here.

The PSLV launch raises India’s 2018 launch total to 4, tying Japan. The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

24 China
16 SpaceX
8 Russia
7 ULA
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. and China are once again tied at 24 each.

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Russians considering spacewalk as part of airleak investigation

The Russians are now considering having their astronauts on ISS do a spacewalk to inspect the outside of the Soyuz capsule for evidence of sealant work at the location of the drill hole that caused the airleak.

If the spacewalk is attempted, the cosmonauts would have to get to the Habitation Module, peel off soft thermal layers blanketing the spacecraft and then cut through the meteoroid shielding bordering this section of the spacecraft at a distance of around 1.5 centimeters from its pressurized hull.

To access the area of the hole on the exterior of the Soyuz, Russian officials are developing a spacewalk scenario relying on the available Strela boom, GStM. The telescopic device can be used to carry a cosmonaut secured to a special anchor at the end of the boom to a location aboard the station otherwise inaccessible to spacewalkers due to lack of railings.

The spacewalk would take place sometime in November or December. The goal is to help confirm that the sealant work was done on the ground, as well as help pinpoint when.

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Soyuz capsule was drilled after it was fully assembled

The investigation into the drillhole leak in the Soyuz capsule docked to ISS has revealed that it had to have been done after the capsule was fully assembled.

“During the analysis of those images, traces of drilling were found on the anti-meteorite shield,” the source said, adding that “the top of the drill came through the pressure hull and hit the non-gastight outer shell.”

According to another industry source, the non-gastight anti-meteorite protection is installed right before the spacecraft is taken to the final assembly workshop. “When Soyuz MS-09 has just arrived to the final assembly workshop, it was photographed in details. No hole and no signs of drilling… were found. The spacecraft was drilled later, when it was fully assembled,” the source said. He added that the anti-meteorite shield was also photographed before being installed, and no traces on it were found as well.

The source suggested that the spacecraft could be damaged either during the very last stage of works or during its 90-day stay in the checkout stand, adding that it was highly unlikely that the damage occurred during the transportation to the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan or at the launch facility.

This narrowing of the time frame for the drilling will increase the chances that the Russians will be able to identify who did.

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Republican Congress boosts NIH spending, rejecting Trump proposed cuts

Failure theater: The Republicans in Congress have given the NIH a significant boost in spending, rejecting both Trump’s proposed cuts and reorganization proposals.

Congress has approved a $2 billion raise, to $39.1 billion, for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a 2019 spending bill approved by House of Representatives and Senate negotiators last night.

As expected, the 5% boost matches the Senate’s proposed spending level and surpasses a $1.25 billion increase in a draft bill passed by the House. President Donald Trump’s administration had requested $34.8 billion for the fiscal year that begins 1 October. This is the fourth year in a row that NIH has received a substantial increase, after more than a decade of flat budgets.

Trump had also proposed shifting three Health & Human Service agencies into NIH. Congress ignored this.

This illustrates the bankrupt nature of the Republicans in Congress. Don’t believe them when they argue they want to limit government. They are lying. They pass tax cuts to make you happy and vote for them, then turn around and pour money we don’t have at their Washington friends.

This also illustrates the bankrupt nature of the American voter. We gobble up tax cuts, either ignore or celebrate Congress’s out-of-control spending, and then vote for the elected officials who do this.

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