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Tax Cuts and Debt

During the Obama years, Congress and the conservative talking heads blasted and ridiculed him for deficits and racking up the debt. Every day we had to listen how he was bankrupting our country, how debt was killing us. Remember when the Republican Congress was willing to shut down the government rather than raising the debt ceiling?

What happened to all that fiscal responsibility and loathing of debt?

The U.S. budget deficit this year is already 21% higher than last year. U.S. borrowing is expected to hit $329 billion in the current quarter. This will be the largest third quarter deficit in eight years and will equate to a 74% rise over last year.

Nobody seems to be complaining about that now. Are we no longer worried about our grandchildren?

Mnuchin is the bankruptcy expert. Remember, his was the guy who flourished during the 2008/2009 housing crisis. Millions of Americans lost their homes. Mnuchin got very rich.

Trump is doing to our country what he did to many of his businesses. He is running it into the ground. He is bankrupting it. When it gets nasty, he will walk away, personally much richer than before.

You can’t money-launder the United States national debt away with borrowing schemes from Russian oligarchs. So for the next 50 years, the middle class, our children and grandchildren, will be paying for the debt so the fat cats today got their tax cuts. Ross, DeVos, Mnuchin, Trump, all the kleptocrats we put in charge, are sucking the country dry, and we’re letting them.

Trump always says that our leaders have been stupid. Maybe they have been.

But right now, it’s us, the country, who are stupid.

 

 

 

There isn’t an American alive who has not heard the name Chappaquiddick, an odd name that nobody before 1969 would have known how to even pronounce.

With both of his famous brothers assassinated, Senator Ted Kennedy was the star of the Democratic party and well on his way to the White House. One fateful night, he had too much to drink and went for a drive with a young woman who was an aide to his brother before and whom he tried to recruit. He loses control of his car as he drives off a bridge. The car flips over and end up wheels up in the water.

He comes to in the water outside of the car, but the car is closed, and the woman is still insight, fighting to get out. He tries to free her but is not successful and eventually walks away. It’s not clear to the viewer how this was even possible. But that’s his story.

As the night progresses, he makes a number of mistakes, and by morning, the Kennedy spin machine is in full swing. We witness political power gone unchecked, when his aides start fabricating the reality they need for their wonder boy to continue to have a political future.

Ted didn’t run for president for 1972, like he had planned. American history may have been forever changed that night in Chappaquiddick. Ted ran for president in 1980 but did not succeed. However, he did continue to serve in the United States Senate until his death in 2009. As a senator for 47 years, he was the fourth-longest-continuously-serving senator in U.S. history.

The movie Chappaquiddick tells this mystery story for those of us that never really studied the details, and it gives an inside glimpse into one of America’s most powerful families of the 1960s.

Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a hired gun who tracks down missing girls. He is a veteran of the Special Forces and a former FBI agent. Haunted by violent flashbacks to his own childhood under the boot of an abusive father, and traumatized by his experiences as a soldier, he has more demons in his own head than the real world could ever hurl at him.

It’s not clear what drives such a man to a career where he would encounter brutal violence by the real scum of humanity, those that think it’s right to drug young girls so they can use them as prostitutes and sex slaves. Joe’s favorite weapon in his fight seems to be a hammer.

That should give you an idea that this is not shoot me up gangster movie. This is a film where you sometimes end up closing your eyes because you really don’t want to see what’s going to happen next.

He lovingly cares for his elderly mother in his New York City home. When she gets killed while somebody is trying to get to him, he realizes that the case he is working on may not be as simple as he thought. And that is the start of his one-man war against some very powerful people.

The plot is mysterious and riveting at the same time. I have to admit, to fully understand it, I had to look it up on Wikipedia afterwards to fill in some of the blanks.

The Perjury Trap

Everyone on Trump’s side now talks about Trump talking to Mueller is a “perjury trap.” It should not be this hard to protect an innocent man. There is no perjury if the president simply tells the truth. Just do what Rick Gates did. Tell the truth!

The president has been telling the American people for a year and a half now that he is innocent and has done nothing wrong. I suggest let’s get the “witch hunt” over with. Let the president testify. He has nothing to hide, per his own statements, and if he just tells the truth, there is nothing to worry about.

Let’s do it!

Right after reading Quantum Space, I picked up Quantum Void. The characters were so fresh in my mind that I went right from Book 1 to the sequel.

The reader is back with Daniel Rice, the White House science staffer who has become a national science celebrity due to his front-line dealings with Core, the alien cyborg technology we got to know in Quantum Space. With us also is Nala Pasquier, one of the world’s foremost particle physicists, and Marie Kendrick, the NASA scientist come alien technology specialist.

The book is divided into two main sections. First we follow four humans traveling to an alien planet 350 light years away and making first contact with the two alien intelligent species living there. To do that, they use space compression achieved by creating four-dimensional “bubbles” which, as a side effect, compress three-dimensional space. This technology makes space travel obsolete. “Beam me up, Scotty” has become reality.

The second part of the book deals with Nala and her colleague Thomas being involved in a major science accident at Fermilab. The two get “sucked” into a four-dimensional vortex and find themselves alive and well, kind of, on the “other side.” Now they have to figure out how to get back.

Quantum Void does a great job with its “first contact” with aliens story. Here are, for a change, truly alien aliens, and at least to me that makes the story seem real and plausible. I can overlook the unlikeliness that the aliens manage to give Marie a device that puts images into her brain. How did the aliens figure out how human brains work and how they could interface to them? It reminded me of Nelf Rings, a story with a similar alien artifact that does magic to human brains. But well, it’s science fiction, isn’t it?

I truly enjoyed the illustrations of what three-dimensional space would look like from the 4th dimension. There were some stretches that seemed a bit far-fetched, like pealing three-dimensional objects out of three-dimensional space, their primary way to get food and supplies when they needed it. But the writing of messages on three-dimensional objects using a pen from the 4th dimension was described brilliantly.

I realize, as I write this review, you must think I am nuts that I enjoy spending my time reading this crazy stuff. It sure sounds crazy when you read this review, doesn’t it, four-dimensional bagels and all.

But to this time-travel nut and 4th dimension connoisseur, it’s pure joy.

So I now wait for Quantum Time, Book 3 in the series. (I just realized I missed Book 0). Hurry up and write, Douglas.

Three astronauts, two Russians and one American, are leaving the International Space Station in a Soyuz capsule. They spent months in orbit and all three are glad to be able to return home. All goes according to plan, until a minute or two after the capsule enters the top of the atmosphere, it vanishes. Ground based radar loses contact. To an observer, the contrail streaking across the Kazakhstan sky ends abruptly with a flash of light. Neither the Russian space agency nor NASA have any idea what happened.

Dr. Daniel Rice, one of the staffers to the White House science advisor, is called to investigate what might have happened. Fermilab, the facility in Illinois where quarks were discovered, seems to have the technology and scientists who might have insight into the phenomenon, so that’s where the investigation starts.

Daniel discovers a world of high-tech, quantum physics, and, most important of all, the 4th dimension. He is racing against the clock since he knows that the Soyuz capsule’s life support can’t keep three humans alive and breathing for much longer than a day. But government bureaucracy and corporate greed cause obstructions and challenges. In his quest to save three humans, he encounters a world way beyond his wildest expectations.

I like solid science fiction stories, where the science is big, the fiction is credible and plausible, and fantasy is kept to a minimum. The 4th dimension plays a huge, crucial role in the plot of Quantum Space.

I have been fascinated with the 4th dimension all my life. As a youth, I read about Hinton’s cubes in a quest to understand the 4th dimension, to comprehend it. I have collected and read a variety of books on the subject, from Abbott’s Flatland, all the way to artsy coffee table books like Fourfield. A tesseract is a four-dimensional cube. My readers with a mathematical or physical background will immediately know what a tesseract is and will have certainly marveled at what one would look like. Others that have not encountered this strange and wondrous object will probably have a hard time even understanding what it might be. I am of the first kind, and I have even written code, projecting a tesseract into three dimensions and projecting that onto a two-dimensional computer screen, in an effort to visualize it. I rotated the tesseract over its four different axes so it’s easier to visualize what such an object would look like. Since all graphics software renders only in three dimensions, I could not use off-the-shelf software and had to write my own transformation matrices implementing the 4th dimension to accomplish the task.

Why am I telling you all this in a book review? Because you have to have thought about the 4th dimension and you have to be fascinated with it to understand and appreciate the book. Douglas Phillips gets it and with Quantum Space he wrote the book that I have always wanted to read. He says on his website that he is writing the books he has wanted to read but didn’t find. What a great motivation!

Well, Douglas, you found a kindred spirit here, and I thoroughly enjoyed Quantum Space.

April 1, 1976 was the day I reported to military boot camp in Leipheim, Germany. I was a 19-year-old boy and the service was my first real job. No man ever forgets the day he goes into the military. I remember it fondly.

On April 1, 1976, that very same day, on the other side of the world, in a garage in Palo Alto, California, another boy, this one 20 years old, by the name of Steve Jobs, along with this engineer friend Steve Wozniak, founded Apple Computer.

Four years later the military discharged me, and I got ready to go to college, for math and computer science.

Four years later, on December 12, 1980, Apple launched its IPO, selling 4.6 million shares at $22 per share. The shares sold out almost immediately and the IPO generated more capital than any IPO since Ford Motor Company in 1956. Apple was worth $1.2 billion.

Then in 1997, Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy. Microsoft and its many partners in the personal-computer market were eating Apple’s lunch. Then they called back Steve Jobs.

Today, 42 years and 4 months later, exactly 15,554 days after that auspicious day of April 1, 1976, Apple became the first company in history to reach a market cap of $1 trillion. Nobody had ever reached that before. Exxon, which for decades was the most valuable company on the planet, is at $338 billion today, almost exactly a third of Apple’s value.

Congratulations, Apple. You are an inspiration to all entrepreneurs, and I must admit there have been many crossroads in my career and the life of my own company when I found myself asking: What would Apple do now?

In the video above (at location 2:40) Tara Dowdell quotes Trump as stating the U.S. contributes 90% to NATO, and the actual number is only 22%. There are some misleading statistics at work here that need more analysis.

[chart credit: NATO]

There are direct and indirect contributions to NATO. Direct contributions are made to finance requirements of the Alliance that serve the interests of all 29 members. They are not the responsibility of any single member. Costs are borne collectively, often using the principle of common funding.

The chart on the left shows direct contributions by NATO country. So here is Dowdell’s 22% figure. Germany, with 14%, carries the second largest burden.

But that does not represent the correct picture, and I believe that Trump didn’t refer to direct contributions. Trump often speaks inaccurately or imprecisely, to say the least, but I am sure that when he said that the United States contributes 90% of the cost of NATO, he meant the sum of the military spending goals of each country. So let’s analyze those separately.

I have been on record many times in this blog with posts about military spending of the United States. In this post of 2016 I show that the United States spends more on defense than the next nine countries combined. Trump’s increase of military spending this year of more than $70 billion alone is more than the entire military budget of Russia.

For NATO, the member countries agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. So the chart below is another matter entirely, and it shows the defense expenditures by NATO country as a share of the GDP in percent.

[chart credit: NATO]

This chart is pulled from the NATO website where there is a wealth of information and many charts.

Here you can see that the United States is the only country that far exceeds the 2% mark. Only four countries are above this guideline. Besides the United States, those are Greece (surprisingly), the United Kingdom, and Estonia. Everyone else is below or way below 2%. Note that some countries, like Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Canada has significant increases since 2014. Trump tried to take credit for those increases recently, even though he had nothing to do with them. They were prompted by Obama pressure, and mostly by voluntary military buildup in the Baltic nations, which are close to Russia and feared Russian aggression after watching the Ukraine debacle.

Those are just percentages. When looking at the real numbers per country, the United States military spending in 2017 was $685 billion. The military spending of all other NATO countries combined was $271 billion. This means that the United States spent 71.7% of all military dollars of NATO. Not quite the 90% of Trump’s exaggeration, but a quite staggering amount.

Trump has said that “Germany owes the United States a trillion dollars for its defense.” This statement is obviously ludicrous. Nobody put a gun to the head of the United States and made it spend more on military than all other NATO countries combined. This has been going on for more than 70 years now. We all know about the $600 hammers and $10,000 toilet seats. I have been vocal in this blog about our defense budget and the price of a single F-35 fighter. Here is an interesting example about a $1200 coffee cup. The United States just loves its military and loves spending vast amounts of money on that military. Others simply can’t keep up, or don’t want to keep up.

NATO was created to form an alliance where all other members stand up for each other when one of them is attacked. After the end of World War II, that was critically important for the safety of Europe. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, I am sure it irked Russia that many of its satellites quickly switched sides and joined NATO, including Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Hungary. It didn’t look good for the Soviet ideology, and it does not look good for Russia today.

But in all those years the spirit of NATO was invoked only one time, and it was surprisingly in the defense of the United States after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and what transpired after that.

The United States started what many consider an illegal war in Iraq, and many of the NATO allies came to support America. NATO members spent massive amounts of money and many of their soldiers died in Afghanistan and Iraq in alliance with the United States.

So who owes whom money?

The United States spends massive amounts of money on its military presence in Europe and Europe has started taking it for granted. I remember growing up as a boy in Germany in the 1960s. I lived in a city with a large American military presence. As post-war children, we never really understood why the Americans were there. To us, it had always been that way. Today, almost half of all Germans want the American army to leave. They don’t see the point anymore. I suspect the same is true in many other European countries.

Trump says that the current arrangement “is unfair to the American taxpayer.” Well, it may be unfair, but it’s not Germany sticking it to the American taxpayer, it’s the American Congress and the administration, and the past administrations, all spending way too much money on military – and thus taking value and prosperity away from the taxpayer. But then, of course, there is the military industrial complex, which feeds a large sector of our economy. Maybe war is good after all?

With our current commander-in-chief, I wonder if the United States would honor its NATO obligations if Russia were to suddenly invade the Baltic states, or Poland? Talk about a world crisis!

In the end, perhaps NATO has run its course. Trump may be on to something. Maybe it’s time to let it fizzle out.

John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) was a 21-year-old alcoholic when he went out bar hopping with his friend Dexter (Jack Black) in his VW bug. Late at night, Dexter passed out and drove the bug into a pole at 90 miles per hour. He walked away with hardly a scratch. John was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

But that didn’t stop him from drinking. He kept at it for another six years before he found himself in a group of Alcoholics Anonymous sponsored by Donny (Jonah Hill).

As he came to terms with his situation he discovered that he had a knack for dark humor and he started drawing cartoons. Eventually he was able to publish them in the local paper in Portland and, while many people were offended due to the nature of his subjects, he found an international following and fame.

The movie is based on the real life story of John Callahan. Adapted by Gus Van Sant from Callaghan’s autobiography, it is a powerful treatment of addiction and alcoholism, and it illustrates vigorously what it does to a person’s dignity and well-being. Obviously most people do not have Callahan’s zest for life and humor, and his luck and skill to pull off a successful career, partly based on his experiences in life.

A couple of observations: Joaquin Phoenix does a remarkable job with this role. Jack Black looks like he gained an incredible amount of weight. I hardly recognized him. And – this is the most remarkable fact – I didn’t even realize that Donny was played by Jonah Hill (see the person on the right in the photo above). He looks so different from his usual roles, he is so much slimmer, it never even crossed my mind that it was Jonah Hill. Now I want to watch the movie again just to observe his performance.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is a powerful movie that is NOT a comedy, as the trailer might make you believe.

Brazil has more homicides than another 154 countries together. I thought we had problems in the U.S.

Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story

Tyler and Grace, a young couple in rural Arkansas, are out for a walk in the Ozarks, when Grace suddenly disappears into thin air on the trail right in front of Tyler. When Tyler tries to explain this to the authorities later he is arrested for suspected murder of his girlfriend.

Luke is Tyler’s cousin. His hobby is building primitive weapons, hunting with primitive weapons and tools, and playing survivalist in the woods of Arkansas. When he hears about Grace’s disappearance, the believes Tyler, and he goes on a quest to figure out what happened. On this way, a mystery woman who claims to be a writer, befriends him and they retrace the steps of Tyler and Grace.

Sure enough, there seems to be a “portal” in the woods. They traverse the portal and end up in “another dimension.” But they don’t have much time to reflect. Luke finds himself in a net, trapped like game in the woods by tribal savages.

Portal to the Forgotten is sold as a time travel story, and that’s how I stumbled upon it. But it really has little to do with time travel. The protagonists are simply tossed into a world that is completely different from their own, with seemingly no way back.

The author romanticizes his characters. Luke, for instance, happens to be a primitive hunter. He drives his pickup truck into the wilderness, parks the truck, walks away, sort of like they do in Naked and Afraid, and builds tools, hunts animals, and lives off the land. That’s his hobby. Supposedly he is REALLY good at that. Now what are the odds of such a person ending up jumping through a portal into a primitive prehistoric world, without any weapons or tools? Yes, the plot in this story is too contrived.

Luke is the perfect primitive hunter, better than any of the tribal adversaries. Moon turns out to be a one-man army – think of Rambo. Grace, a martial artist, is also a fighter in her own right. So the people stumbling into the “other dimension” are all super heroes with super hero skills.

The land where they end up is not quite the past, or perhaps the deep past, but a prehistoric world full of different tribes, some more advanced than others, but who all are killing each other. The world is so savage, that every time two human males of different tribes cross paths, one of them dies. Of course, our super hero crew always wins, and the savages fall like leaves. Still, a society where human males always kill each other on contact would not survive very long, but that seems to be the world they are thrown into. And let’s not forget, there is the obligatory Nazi named Karl who time traveled to the same world in an effort to steal ancient technology, kind of like in Indiana Jones. True to expectation, it’s the Nazi and his mission who makes everyone’s lives complicated.

Portal to the Forgotten is a somewhat clumsy story with an unlikely plot. It starts out interesting, but as it evolves, it gets boring. There is a lot of editing needed. Sometimes the author uses wrong words or poor grammar. The book could use some professional editing. There is a lot of exposition, where the author tells us what the protagonists are thinking. So we are constantly in the heads of the protagonists, and their thoughts are often just puerile.

For instance, at one point in the story, still back in the Ozarks, Moon had passed out drunk and naked and Luke had brought her into the cabin and put her into bed. So it’s established that Luke had seen Moon naked before.

But later, in savage land, there is the following passage:

“While you are whittling on that, I’m going to bathe.” She stood. “I trust you won’t look.” Luke immediately turned red. He hated himself for it. “That is so cute.” He turned redder and scraped harder and faster, wished she would just go bathe. He heard her behind him taking her clothes off. He was tempted to look, but he was too embarrassed to say anything, much less turn around.

Gschwend, John. Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story (p. 55). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

The passage continues for a while where Moon is all prissy about standing in front of the fire to dry off and making Luke close his eyes. So these two adult super heroes are stranded in a wild country and they are worried about seeing each other naked? The book is full of descriptions of such unlikely and inconsistent behavior, it makes the characters unreal and incongruent.

Portal to the Forgotten has too much crammed into the story that does not belong there or add to the plot. The science is babble-science. I like my science fiction to the SCIENCE fiction. The plot is contrived and the characters are just not very interesting.

There is a sequel, but I won’t read it.


 

[click for picture credit – reddit]

80% of the French soccer players are Africans

50% of them are Muslim

liberté, égalité, fraternité et diversité

 

Trump said in front of the world today that “there was no collusion.”

What I saw on that stage today was collusion. There was collusion all along and it was going on right in front of our eyes today. What we all witnessed was collusion.

Remember when Obama first became president and everyone chastised him after his first trip abroad for “selling out the United States?”

Obama did nothing of the sort. He systematically cleaned up our image in the world and established respect and dignity.

What Trump did today was sell out the United States. Trump trampled on the foundation of our democracy and our values. He undermined the justice system, the law enforcement community and the intelligence services of his own county, our country, to protect his own ass.

Russia is a nation-state built on organized crime. Putin is a thug and a killer who hijacked an entire country. And our president kowtows to him.

Trump and ilk in the White House are so corrupt and morally bankrupt, and we are getting so used to that, we have been desensitized. I am starting to feel sullied by our own government.

We need to go to the polls and vote democrat this fall and throw out all the Republican enablers in the Congress. They are no better than the crooks in the White House.

Throw them all out, we must!

John McCain’s Finest Hour

Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake. President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world. It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world. Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable. No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.

— Senator John McCain – July 16, 2018

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