Sunday Morning Open Thread: For SCIENCE!

From commentor James J, in Madison. First of many from the BJ community, I’m assuming.

Mr. Charles P. Pierce:

In 2017, the country needs a series of marches across the landscape to remind itself that scientific progress and American democracy are inextricably bound for their mutual survival. The current president* has leaked a budget that decimates the federal government’s role in all manner of scientific research, from the fight against epidemic disease to the war on climate change. Which was why, walking through the drizzly day on the White House end of the National Mall, you saw epidemiologists sharing umbrellas with geologists, or a group of microbiologists huddling low under a spreading cherry tree alongside a knot of anesthesiologists. People walked around dressed as bees and as lobsters and as Beaker, the lab assistant from the Muppet Show. People walked around in overalls and in lab coats. They wore the now-classic pussy hats repurposed to resemble the configurations of the human brain and they wore stethoscopes around their necks…

There was a great deal of infighting—”Some very ugly meetings,” said one person familiar with them—about how specifically political the march should be. The older and more conventional scientists—most of them white males, for all that means in every public issue these days—tried to make the march and the events surrounding it as generic as possible.

The younger scientists, a more diverse groups in every way that a group can be, pushed back hard. The available evidence on Saturday was that their side had carried the day. Given the fact that, for example, Scott Pruitt, who took dictation from oil companies when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma, is now running the EPA, they could hardly have lost. More than a few signs reminded the current president* that, without science, he would be as bald as a billiard ball.

Generally, though, there was more than a little sadness on all sides that it ever had come to this, that a country born out of experimentation had lost its faith in its own true creation story, that a country founded by curious, courageous people would become so timid about trusting the risks and rewards of science…

Apart from sharing reports & pics, what’s on the agenda for the day?


(I’m guessing from her twitter bio that this was in Boston. It is very Bostonian.)



The First Round of the French National Elections are Only Hours Away

France holds the first, primary round of its national elections tomorrow. There are eleven candidates running from the extreme right to the far left. The Daily Beast‘s Christopher Dickey and Erin Salezky have the details:

Let’s be just that blunt. These elections could fuck us all. They have turned into an insane gamble—Russian roulette (and we use the term advisedly) with at least two of the chambers loaded—and the implications for the United States are huge.

The biggest winner in the forthcoming French presidential elections may well be Russian President Vladimir Putin, in fact. And while he might have played a few of his usual dirty tricks—indeed, in 2014 a Russian bank funded the party of Marine Le Pen, the current first-round leader in the polls—Putin can now sit back and watch the French themselves try to destroy the European Union and the NATO alliance he hates so much.

Less than three weeks from now, in the final round of the presidential elections, the only choice left to the voters of France could well be between Le Pen, a crypto-fascist, or Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a charismatic communist, both of whom are strongly anti-EU and anti-NATO.

Victory for either one would mean an end to the political, diplomatic, and economic order that has protected the United States as well as Europe for the last 70 years, preventing the kinds of cataclysms—World Wars I and II—that cost millions of lives in the first half of the 20th century while containing first Soviet and now Russian adventurism.

There are other possibilities, but as the French prepare to go to the polls (or flee them) this Sunday, April 23, the possible outcomes are a total crapshoot. The four top candidates in a field of 11 are in a virtual dead heat; the differences between their scores is within the acknowledged margins of error by the pollsters. The top two finishers will vie against each other in a run-off on May 7. And the reason something like panic has set in among many French, from the heights of the political establishment to conversation over espressos at the counters in working-class cafés, is that the candidate with the most solid base is Le Pen, while the one with the most momentum is the far-left Mélenchon.

Much, much more at the link.

Sp we wait for the results of tomorrow’s primary. And then we wait for another two weeks to see just how much more interference there is in the French elections by the Russians before knowing just how much damage may then be done to the EU and NATO. Campaigning for tomorrow’s elections was suspended, per French election law, last night, but events that could effect the election continue. This includes the potential political fallout from Thursday’s attack on French law enforcement at the Champs Elysees* and an orderly arrest of an armed man at the Gare du Nord in Paris earlier today.

Stay frosty and sleep well!

* This was a strange attack in terms of what is being reported as motivation. While it is true that a note regarding ISIL was found next to the deceased shooter after he had been killed by French police, he had a long criminal history and it has been reported that he hated law enforcement as a result. So while ISIL has claimed responsibility, it is unclear what, exactly, ISIL actually had to do with the attack. Cheurfi’s lawyer had this to say:

Jean-Laurent Panier, who defended the suspected Champs-Elysée gunman in a theft trial, said he showed “no sign that he belonged to any movement, or of radicalisation”.

Mr Panier added: “He was very solitary, someone who was particularly isolated. He lived with his mother and had contact with his father, and there was a family that tried to support him but felt powerless.”

Cheurfi had a long criminal record and spent more than a decade in prison for attempted murder.

The lawyer painted a picture of a naive man, who took part in a theft and was “left to face the music” when his accomplices fled.

“I never got a sense that this was someone who would be radicalised,” Mr Panier said.

And:

He had been questioned in February over threats to kill police officers but allowed to go free.

He was not on the police “S” watchlist of known terror suspects although he appeared on the counter-terrorist services’ radar last December, according to ‘Le Monde’, slightly earlier than previously thought.

At the time, police were tipped off that he wanted to “kill police officers to avenge Muslims killed in Syria”, said the newspaper citing security forces. He was also seeking weapons and a way of contacting an Isil contact in Iraq or Syria. A judicial inquiry was opened in Meaux but this was not terror-related.

Regardless, whatever political impact results does not have to, and likely will not be, related to whatever Cheurfi’s actual motivations were.



Late-Night Open Thread: What, Again?

Strong-willed toddlers go through a phase when they announce that they are a favorite cartoon character, or a superhero, or a bear. Ensues a period of days or weeks during which caregivers, for convenience, agree that toddler will be addressed as Spongepants Squarebob, or Ms. Mighty Morphin, or A Bear. Sooner or later, either the toddler gets bored with the rigors of performance art, or a crisis arises when toddler must be forcibly overridden because reality trumps performance — ursine behavior regardless, toddlers are *not* permitted to defecate in ‘the woods’ (i.e., nap corner of the daycare playroom).

Donald Trump is enjoying his second childhood in the Oval Office so much, he’s decided to pretend he’s A Legislator… again. Which fortunate Republicans will be given the thankless task of persuading the President-Asterisk to pull up his pants, and stop making things worse for the GOP?

Per the Washington Post:

President Trump is pushing Congress toward another dramatic showdown over the Affordable Care Act, despite big outstanding obstacles to a beleaguered revision plan and a high-stakes deadline next week to keep the government running.

The fresh pressure from the White House to pass a revision was met with skepticism by some Capitol Hill Republicans and their aides, who were recently humiliated when their bill failed to reach the House floor for a vote and who worry now that little has changed to suggest a new revision would fare any better.

The effort reflects Trump’s sense of urgency to score a victory on Obamacare replacement and move on to other legislative objectives, notably tax restructuring. Passing an Affordable Care Act revision would also allow the president to show progress toward a major campaign promise as he completes his first 100 days in office…

House GOP aides in Washington worked furiously to scale back expectations for a quick vote on the legislation, citing the fact that lawmakers have not been fully briefed on the discussions. There was no deadline for finishing the legislation as of Thursday evening, and GOP leaders have not committed to plans for a Wednesday vote, according to one House GOP leadership aide…
Read more



Annals of Strategic Communication: The Carl Vinson Task Force Miscommunication

Joint Publication 5-0/Joint Operation Planning defines strategic communication as:

Focused United States Government efforts to understand and engage key audiences to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of United States Government interests, policies, and objectives through the use of coordinated programs, plans, themes, messages, and products synchronized with the actions of all instruments of national power.

The misstatements and miscommunications regarding where the USS Carl Vinson Task Force is and what it is doing have made US strategic communication, both in general and in regard to the DPRK, much, much harder and much more problematic.

I think, however, that the Occam’s Razor explanation for what happened is the most likely one. Here’s what I think happened:

  1. Admiral Harris, Commander US Pacific Command (USPACOM), informed Secretary of Defense Mattis that he had issued a Fragmentary Order cancelling the Carl Vinson Task Force’s port call in Australia and redirecting the strike group to the Sea of Japan to show the colors.
  2. The DOD notified the White House – most likely either through the Liaison Officer or through the National Security Staff.
  3. A copy of the Fragmentary Order was filed.
  4. Secretary Mattis misspoke on 11 April, because he hadn’t actually seen the FRAGORD, that the Carl Vinson Task Force was headed immediately to the Sea of Japan.
  5. The President was briefed, without any specific details, because no one on the National Security Staff had them, that the Carl Vinson Task Force was headed to the Sea of Japan.
  6. The President stated the Carl Vinson Task Force was headed to the Sea of Japan in his Fox Business News interview.
  7. The Carl Vinson Task Force steamed south from Singapore, as ordered, to take part in a scheduled exercise with the Australian Navy.
  8. As is often the case, the US Navy, through the Public Affairs Office, released pictures of the Carl Vinson Task Force passing through the Sunda Strait – 3,500 miles from the Sea of Japan off of the Korean peninsula.

Talking Points Memo has a full timeline at this link.

How did all this miscommunication happen? Simply put – there are almost no political appointees at the Pentagon (or anywhere else in the US government) right now. Secretary of Defense is, essentially, working without a team. He has no deputy, under, assistant deputy, and deputy assistant secretaries, nor does he have any directors, deputy directors, and/or special assistants at the Department of Defense – though several designees have been named for some of these positions. He also does not have any Service Secretaries in place  – though we have have three designated nominees. And none of the deputy, under, assistant deputy, and deputy assistant secretaries, nor does he have any directors, deputy directors, and/or special assistants at each of the Services. All the Secretary of Defense has is whichever Trump campaign and transition personnel are on the DOD and Service Beachhead Teams – none of whom have been chosen by Secretary Mattis. Right now you have a DOD Secretary, the DOD and Service Beachhead Teams from the transition, and then the career civil servants (both Senior Executives and General Schedule) and uniformed military personnel. Basically the entire layer of politically appointed managers, senior to junior, are completely missing. As a result, things are going to fall between the cracks, such as the exact nature of Admiral Harris’s FRAGORD to reposition the Carl Vinson Task Force.

Aside from the bog standard embarrassment of having the President, the Secretary of Defense (a retired USMC 4 Star), and the White House Press Secretary (a US Navy Reserve Commander) not knowing where a carrier strike group is, this is also a significant strategic communication problem. This morning the Associated Press reported (h/t and via: Talking Points Memo) that both our Asian-Pacific partners and competitors are disconcerted and wary given the President and the Administration’s seeming inability to communicate accurate information.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Unpredictable. Unhinged. Dangerous.

Many South Koreans are using those words to describe the president of their most important ally, rather than the leader of their archrival to the North. They worry that President Donald Trump’s tough, unorthodox talk about North Korea’s nuclear program is boosting already-high animosity between the rival Koreas.

The Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper said recently that Trump is playing a “dangerous card” with his verbal threats, risking a miscalculation by Pyongyang and a war on the peninsula.

What the US is currently strategically communicating in regard to the ongoing DPRK nuclear weapon and missile development programs is not exactly inspiring confidence on the Korean Peninsula.

Read more



Cleveland Murder Suspect Update

Pennsylvania State Police are reporting that Steve Stephens, wanted by the Cleveland Police Department for the murder, streamed live via Facebook, of 74 year old Robert Godwin, has killed himself after being spotted by law enforcement near Erie, Pennsylvania.

Here is the latest statement from Cleveland Police Chief Williams regarding the case.



The Turkish Referendum: The US is Now on the Wrong Side of History

Turkey held a referendum yesterday in regard to the structure of the Turkish government. On its face it was intended to modernize the 1980 constitution, which was drafted after the last military takeover to preserve the Kemalist system. The referendum involved constitutional reform that increases the power of the President of Turkey.

The plan turns Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential republic. Among the numerous changes:

  • The role of prime minister will be scrapped. The new post of vice president, possibly two or three, will be created.
  • The president becomes the head of the executive, as well as the head of state, and retains ties to a political party.
  • He or she will be given sweeping new powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.
  • The president alone will be able to announce a state of emergency and dismiss parliament.
  • Parliament will lose its right to scrutinise ministers or propose an enquiry. However, it will be able to begin impeachment proceedings or investigate the president with a majority vote by MPs. Putting the president on trial would require a two-thirds majority.
  • The number of MPs will increase from 550 to 600.
  • Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on the same day every five years. The president will be limited to two terms.

There appear to be a number of observed and reported irregularities in the voting and the tallying of the votes regarding the referendum.

As Arab News reports:

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s two main opposition parties on Sunday said they would challenge the results putting the ‘Yes’ camp ahead in the referendum on expanding the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after alleged violations.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said that whatever the final result, it would challenge two-thirds of the vote, saying: “There is an indication of a 3-4 percentage point manipulation of the vote.”
The deputy head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Bulent Tezcan, denounced “violations” by the election authorities in allowing ballot papers without an official stamp to be used.
Another CHP deputy head, Erdal Aksunger, said it could appeal up to 60 percent of the vote.
“Believe me, this election is not over,” he told CNN Turk, quoted by the Dogan news agency. “This is totally invalid. We are declaring this here.”
He said that the CHP was appealing 37 percent of the ballot box results, and this figure could eventually rise to 60 percent. “Since the morning, we have detected violations,” he said.
Turkish media said that CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was convening a special meeting of its executive board.

The EU had its monitors on site because Turkey still has an open application to join the European Union. Both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) sent monitors.

… observers from the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said on April 17 that the legal framework for the referendum “remained inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic referendum.”

The monitors also said the referendum campaign was conducted on an “unlevel playing field” and that the counting of ballots in the April 16 referendum had been marred by “late procedural changes.”

President Erdogan responded by calling out the EU and its monitors:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan treated a crowd of supporters gathered outside his presidential palace on Monday evening to a speech laced with invective against Europe, saying his victory in a referendum on Sunday took place under conditions that were democratic beyond compare.

“We don’t care about the opinions of ‘Hans’ or ‘George,’” Erdogan said, using the names as stand-ins for his European critics. “All debates about the constitutional referendum are now over.”

This, unfortunately, fits with President Erdogan’s ongoing attempts to reorient Turkey away from an EU he perceives as perpetually dragging its feet regarding Turkish membership (he is not wrong) and from the EU’s attempts to restrict his power and his remaking of Turkish politics and society. Even more unfortunate was the President’s response to the outcome of the referendum.

I think that it is highly likely that despite what the EU monitors have observed and reported, and the challenges by Turkish opposition parties, that the outcome of the referendum will stand. This will significantly increase President Erdogan’s power, which he is eligible to wield all the way through the 2029 Turkish elections if repeatedly reelected. In many ways this referendum put the democratic process to work to achieve a very anti-democratic and authoritarian outcome, or at least an anti-democratic outcome that will allow Erdogan to become more authoritarian. In many ways it is the logical follow on from last summer’s abortive coup. Regardless, it is neither a positive outcome for Turkey, nor was the President’s response to this in his call to Erdogan a good thing.

(Full disclosure: One of my former students, from my first year assigned to USAWC, has been accused by the Erdogan government of participation in the failed coup. I was his front line supervisor/academic advisor and his research advisor/supervisor. I have been unable to reach him or his wife since the night the coup began. The last time I heard from him was in 2015 when I wrote a letter of reference for his application to a Belgian graduate program while he was assigned at NATO headquarters. He is an excellent officer, a true gentleman, and a loyal Turk.)



Monday Evening Open Thread: Good News! — No Physical Casualties At Today’s WH Easter Egg Roll

Maybe that one kid with the hat was a little traumatized, but hey — autograph hunters are the worst, amirite? And under the President-Asterisk’s “reign”, we’re all getting used to being an international laughingstock…

Apart from [facepalm]-ing, what’s on the agenda for the evening?
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