Day: November 25, 2017

Misreading Putin


Last Saturday, President Trump stated that he thought Russian president Putin “meant what he said” when he denied interfering in the American presidential election. Whereupon Senator John McCain shot back that he was shocked that our chief executive “would take the word of a KGB official over that of the American intelligence community.” Leaving aside certain obvious questions, such as whether Trump may be justified in suspecting the trustworthiness of some past leaders of the intelligence community and whether Trump was actually agreeing with Putin’s disclaimer, let’s focus on McCain’s designation of Putin as a “KGB official.” This is the same characterization that one hears repeatedly on Fox-news; indeed Fox-news celebrity Charles Krauthammer usually begins his remarks about Putin by referring to him as the “KGB agent.”

 What is being criticized is not the recognition that Putin learned political tricks while working for the KGB earlier in life. It is rather the attempt to view him and his regime as an extension of the Soviet Communist one. This is a glaring misreading of the cultural and political changes in Russia since the 1990s. There isn’t much evidence that Putin was ever anything but a Russian nationalist, who worked for the Soviet rulers of the Russian empire before they fell from power. Identifying Putin as a left-over Soviet Communist is misleading, and perhaps like characterizing Mussolini in 1930 as a Marxist, because he was a socialist before the Great War. This linkage between Putin and Soviet Communism seems especially popular among geriatric Cold Warriors who may already be nostalgic for the Cold War. It also plays well among a GOP base that like to imagine that they’re still confronting the “evil empire” that President Reagan famously denounced.

But much has changed since the early 1980s. Most of the Western fan base of the present Russian government is situated on the very conservative Right. It is certainly not found among leftists, if we make an exception for the Nation’s Steven Cohen, a leftist Russia expert whom those sympathetic to Putin like to quote. But Cohen’s efforts to show Putin in a favorable light is hardly typical of the Left or of Putin’s neoconservative critics in the U.S.  More typically we find an international gay activist like Jamie Kirchik denouncing Putin as a reactionary homophobe. This Russian despot, complains Kirchik, has banned the presentation of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle in Russian schools and has openly associated gay marriage with Western decadence. Putin has also gone out of his way to advance the moral and social teachings of the Russian Orthodox faith and attacks current Western notions of secularism. At the same time he is refurbishing Orthodox monasteries and churches throughout Russia and boasts that in the last three years atheism has declined in his country by 50%. In June, 2015 Putin announced his intention of “reinstating” what is left of the Russian royal family in their ancestral residence. This is widely regarded as the first step toward restoring the Russian monarchy.

While Western societies rush into a multicultural, PC society, Putin is presenting himself as the defender of Western Christian civilization. He is also, not incidentally, a traditional Russian nationalist pursuing the Russian policy of expansion on his country’s Western border. Although former Soviet satellites are justified in fearing Russian expansionist politics, some Eastern European heads of government now view the Cultural Marxist ideology coming out of the West as even more pernicious for their way of life than Putin’s efforts to reclaim the Soviet empire. Despite Hungary’s unhappy history with Russia, its premier Viktor Orban has expressed sympathy for “elements of Putin’s worldview.” This has also been heard from other traditionalist leaders in Eastern Europe, who, like Hungary, are interested in Russian gas deliveries as well as having a protector against a socially disruptive “Western liberalism.” A complaint made against former National Front head Marine Le Pen during her presidential campaign earlier this year was her praise of Putin’s conservatism.  

Please note that I have not come to praise the Russian president. A Russian nationalist, he seems hell-bent on geopolitical expansion, and his stirring of the pot in the Middle East should be of some concern to our country. Further, because one feels traditionalist repugnance for the cultural transformation undergone by the West in recent decades does not mean that one has to lavish praise on Putin. But it is plainly stupid or dishonest to claim that we are still fighting the Commies or the Soviet “evil empire” when Putin and his government challenge us.  Pat Buchanan has a point when he describes Putin as a “paleoconservative” who stands for a new international Right: “He is seeking to redefine the “Us vs. Them” world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent West.” This dialectic, according to Buchanan, changes radically the locations of the two opposing sides at the outset of the Cold War: when Soviet Russia was viewed as the champion of the international Left and the U.S. as the defender of Judeo-Christian-classical civilization locked in combat with “godless Communism.” Whether this change is good or not, I shall leave to others to decide. More relevant here is that the platitudes of the Cold War era no longer apply to the current American-Russian confrontation.         

Last Saturday, President Trump stated that he thought Russian president Putin “meant what he said” when he denied interfering in the American presidential election. Whereupon Senator John McCain shot back that he was shocked that our chief executive “would take the word of a KGB official over that of the American intelligence community.” Leaving aside certain obvious questions, such as whether Trump may be justified in suspecting the trustworthiness of some past leaders of the intelligence community and whether Trump was actually agreeing with Putin’s disclaimer, let’s focus on McCain’s designation of Putin as a “KGB official.” This is the same characterization that one hears repeatedly on Fox-news; indeed Fox-news celebrity Charles Krauthammer usually begins his remarks about Putin by referring to him as the “KGB agent.”

 What is being criticized is not the recognition that Putin learned political tricks while working for the KGB earlier in life. It is rather the attempt to view him and his regime as an extension of the Soviet Communist one. This is a glaring misreading of the cultural and political changes in Russia since the 1990s. There isn’t much evidence that Putin was ever anything but a Russian nationalist, who worked for the Soviet rulers of the Russian empire before they fell from power. Identifying Putin as a left-over Soviet Communist is misleading, and perhaps like characterizing Mussolini in 1930 as a Marxist, because he was a socialist before the Great War. This linkage between Putin and Soviet Communism seems especially popular among geriatric Cold Warriors who may already be nostalgic for the Cold War. It also plays well among a GOP base that like to imagine that they’re still confronting the “evil empire” that President Reagan famously denounced.

But much has changed since the early 1980s. Most of the Western fan base of the present Russian government is situated on the very conservative Right. It is certainly not found among leftists, if we make an exception for the Nation’s Steven Cohen, a leftist Russia expert whom those sympathetic to Putin like to quote. But Cohen’s efforts to show Putin in a favorable light is hardly typical of the Left or of Putin’s neoconservative critics in the U.S.  More typically we find an international gay activist like Jamie Kirchik denouncing Putin as a reactionary homophobe. This Russian despot, complains Kirchik, has banned the presentation of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle in Russian schools and has openly associated gay marriage with Western decadence. Putin has also gone out of his way to advance the moral and social teachings of the Russian Orthodox faith and attacks current Western notions of secularism. At the same time he is refurbishing Orthodox monasteries and churches throughout Russia and boasts that in the last three years atheism has declined in his country by 50%. In June, 2015 Putin announced his intention of “reinstating” what is left of the Russian royal family in their ancestral residence. This is widely regarded as the first step toward restoring the Russian monarchy.

While Western societies rush into a multicultural, PC society, Putin is presenting himself as the defender of Western Christian civilization. He is also, not incidentally, a traditional Russian nationalist pursuing the Russian policy of expansion on his country’s Western border. Although former Soviet satellites are justified in fearing Russian expansionist politics, some Eastern European heads of government now view the Cultural Marxist ideology coming out of the West as even more pernicious for their way of life than Putin’s efforts to reclaim the Soviet empire. Despite Hungary’s unhappy history with Russia, its premier Viktor Orban has expressed sympathy for “elements of Putin’s worldview.” This has also been heard from other traditionalist leaders in Eastern Europe, who, like Hungary, are interested in Russian gas deliveries as well as having a protector against a socially disruptive “Western liberalism.” A complaint made against former National Front head Marine Le Pen during her presidential campaign earlier this year was her praise of Putin’s conservatism.  

Please note that I have not come to praise the Russian president. A Russian nationalist, he seems hell-bent on geopolitical expansion, and his stirring of the pot in the Middle East should be of some concern to our country. Further, because one feels traditionalist repugnance for the cultural transformation undergone by the West in recent decades does not mean that one has to lavish praise on Putin. But it is plainly stupid or dishonest to claim that we are still fighting the Commies or the Soviet “evil empire” when Putin and his government challenge us.  Pat Buchanan has a point when he describes Putin as a “paleoconservative” who stands for a new international Right: “He is seeking to redefine the “Us vs. Them” world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent West.” This dialectic, according to Buchanan, changes radically the locations of the two opposing sides at the outset of the Cold War: when Soviet Russia was viewed as the champion of the international Left and the U.S. as the defender of Judeo-Christian-classical civilization locked in combat with “godless Communism.” Whether this change is good or not, I shall leave to others to decide. More relevant here is that the platitudes of the Cold War era no longer apply to the current American-Russian confrontation.         



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When Does Being a Jerk, or Just a Guy, Become Sexual Harassment?


First, a caveat that is totally non-controversial: Real sexual harassment is never OK.

But what is real sexual harassment?  To my mind, sexual harassment exists when a predator, generally but not exclusively male, uses power – either physical power or the power of position (a boss, for instance) – to force a victim to submit to sexual activities.  Important to note, this definition includes even those in positions of power who are unsuccessful in using that power over someone’s livelihood.  This also always includes any attempt by an adult to seduce or pressure a minor (girl or boy) to submit to and participate in sexual activities, even if nothing takes place.

However, except in those boss-subordinate and adult-minor scenarios, sexual harassment has to involve more than two people talking.  It has to be more than a guy complimenting a woman on her good looks, nice new hairstyle, fetching dress or outfit, or something else along those lines.  Also, when a guy asks a woman on a date, unless sex is explicitly part of the date, that is not sexual harassment, either.

Things are out of balance, and research has documented several ways in which this is the case.  Here are examples of real sexual harassment.  Everything Harvey Weinstein has done to those whose careers he can advance or crush is sexual harassment.  Everything Kevin Spacey did to a fourteen-year-old boy at a party (at Spacey’s home), where liquor and drugs were being used, especially lying on top of him to initiate sexual activity, is sexual harassment.  Al Franken was being sexually harassing when he forced a deep-tongue kiss on that unwilling (and rightfully disgusted) woman.  Those are all clear-cut cases of sexual harassment.

However, if an adult man asks an adult woman on a date, just because there is an age difference between them, that is not evidence of sexual harassment.  For proof of this, consider that there are many positive, healthy, and loving May-December relationships.  Even more extreme are those who consider compliments to be prima facie cases of sexual harassment.  Absent any intimidation, when a man asks a woman to go out for dinner or a drink or a date, that is not by any realistic standard a case of harassing her.

Why is drawing such lines important?  Because both society and the media have lost any sense of balance between what is sexual harassment and what isn’t.

Several new studies conducted by YouGov have uncovered a remarkably out-of-balance view of what constitutes sexual harassment.  First, in one study addressing the experience of sexual harassment, 70 percent of women believe that other women have been harassed, but only 21 percent believe they themselves have been harassed.  Assuming that the number is solid, then that number is 21 percent too high.  Still, it shows a vast gulf between perception and experience.  More important, consider what a YouGov poll cited by Fox News’s Laura Ingraham on Monday defines as sexual harassment, which varies widely between younger and older Americans.  More than one third of Americans under 30 think it is sexual harassment when a man (who’s not in a relationship with the woman) compliments a woman’s looks, and 25 percent of women under 30 says it’s sexual harassment if a man who’s not in a relationship with her asks her out for a drink.

This is where reason must step in.  Sexual harassment exists where sex acts are involved or threatened, especially when the sex involves a minor or is linked to job- or career-related power coercion.  But are civil compliments or an attempt to start a dating or social relationship sexual harassment?  If so, by their own standards, a third of young American women are going to wind up being spinsters because they offer no opening for men of their age, men who don’t have positions of career power over them, to create relationships.  Instead, these men are branded sexual harassers merely because they were trying to be nice or to open the door to a possible consensual relationship, starting with a social drink in a safely public place.

It has gotten so bad that Democratic strategist and Al Franken apologist Richard Goldstein (whom I’ve never before agreed with on any subject) told Laura Ingraham that “any single woman can get any senator kicked out of office.  You allege it, and they’re out,” which he defined as the new standard.  In that environment, where the charge becomes the fact, it is time to rethink the difference between real, hurtful, hateful sexual harassment that might be criminal and is certainly life-altering to the victim and innocently intended behavior that might nonetheless offend a sensitive woman who has been taught that the world revolves around her.

Where do we go from here?  First, the inner views of an overly sensitive young woman who harshly judges innocently intended compliments and invitations should remain her inner views and not reach the light of day.  For if she goes public with charges conflating innocent actions with rape, molestation, and real sexual harassment, her target will become the real victim.  Second, there need to be real consequences for a woman who turns something innocent into the public equivalent of forcible rape or brutal molestation.  Finally, there needs to be an awareness, in America, that the accusation does not equal automatic conviction, as happened in the Duke lacrosse case (and thousands of other false charges that didn’t go public but still created devastation in their wakes).

Something must be done, since any bogus sexual harassment charge horrifically damages the man so accused.  This is especially true in our current societal state, where, as noted, the charge is the conviction.  Everyone so charged seems to be assumed guilty – by the press, by political opponents, and by activists eager to tar the reputation of any man who fails to live up to their standards.

Ned Barnett is a political campaign expert, military historian, and communications professional.  He owns Barnett Marketing Communications in Las Vegas.

First, a caveat that is totally non-controversial: Real sexual harassment is never OK.

But what is real sexual harassment?  To my mind, sexual harassment exists when a predator, generally but not exclusively male, uses power – either physical power or the power of position (a boss, for instance) – to force a victim to submit to sexual activities.  Important to note, this definition includes even those in positions of power who are unsuccessful in using that power over someone’s livelihood.  This also always includes any attempt by an adult to seduce or pressure a minor (girl or boy) to submit to and participate in sexual activities, even if nothing takes place.

However, except in those boss-subordinate and adult-minor scenarios, sexual harassment has to involve more than two people talking.  It has to be more than a guy complimenting a woman on her good looks, nice new hairstyle, fetching dress or outfit, or something else along those lines.  Also, when a guy asks a woman on a date, unless sex is explicitly part of the date, that is not sexual harassment, either.

Things are out of balance, and research has documented several ways in which this is the case.  Here are examples of real sexual harassment.  Everything Harvey Weinstein has done to those whose careers he can advance or crush is sexual harassment.  Everything Kevin Spacey did to a fourteen-year-old boy at a party (at Spacey’s home), where liquor and drugs were being used, especially lying on top of him to initiate sexual activity, is sexual harassment.  Al Franken was being sexually harassing when he forced a deep-tongue kiss on that unwilling (and rightfully disgusted) woman.  Those are all clear-cut cases of sexual harassment.

However, if an adult man asks an adult woman on a date, just because there is an age difference between them, that is not evidence of sexual harassment.  For proof of this, consider that there are many positive, healthy, and loving May-December relationships.  Even more extreme are those who consider compliments to be prima facie cases of sexual harassment.  Absent any intimidation, when a man asks a woman to go out for dinner or a drink or a date, that is not by any realistic standard a case of harassing her.

Why is drawing such lines important?  Because both society and the media have lost any sense of balance between what is sexual harassment and what isn’t.

Several new studies conducted by YouGov have uncovered a remarkably out-of-balance view of what constitutes sexual harassment.  First, in one study addressing the experience of sexual harassment, 70 percent of women believe that other women have been harassed, but only 21 percent believe they themselves have been harassed.  Assuming that the number is solid, then that number is 21 percent too high.  Still, it shows a vast gulf between perception and experience.  More important, consider what a YouGov poll cited by Fox News’s Laura Ingraham on Monday defines as sexual harassment, which varies widely between younger and older Americans.  More than one third of Americans under 30 think it is sexual harassment when a man (who’s not in a relationship with the woman) compliments a woman’s looks, and 25 percent of women under 30 says it’s sexual harassment if a man who’s not in a relationship with her asks her out for a drink.

This is where reason must step in.  Sexual harassment exists where sex acts are involved or threatened, especially when the sex involves a minor or is linked to job- or career-related power coercion.  But are civil compliments or an attempt to start a dating or social relationship sexual harassment?  If so, by their own standards, a third of young American women are going to wind up being spinsters because they offer no opening for men of their age, men who don’t have positions of career power over them, to create relationships.  Instead, these men are branded sexual harassers merely because they were trying to be nice or to open the door to a possible consensual relationship, starting with a social drink in a safely public place.

It has gotten so bad that Democratic strategist and Al Franken apologist Richard Goldstein (whom I’ve never before agreed with on any subject) told Laura Ingraham that “any single woman can get any senator kicked out of office.  You allege it, and they’re out,” which he defined as the new standard.  In that environment, where the charge becomes the fact, it is time to rethink the difference between real, hurtful, hateful sexual harassment that might be criminal and is certainly life-altering to the victim and innocently intended behavior that might nonetheless offend a sensitive woman who has been taught that the world revolves around her.

Where do we go from here?  First, the inner views of an overly sensitive young woman who harshly judges innocently intended compliments and invitations should remain her inner views and not reach the light of day.  For if she goes public with charges conflating innocent actions with rape, molestation, and real sexual harassment, her target will become the real victim.  Second, there need to be real consequences for a woman who turns something innocent into the public equivalent of forcible rape or brutal molestation.  Finally, there needs to be an awareness, in America, that the accusation does not equal automatic conviction, as happened in the Duke lacrosse case (and thousands of other false charges that didn’t go public but still created devastation in their wakes).

Something must be done, since any bogus sexual harassment charge horrifically damages the man so accused.  This is especially true in our current societal state, where, as noted, the charge is the conviction.  Everyone so charged seems to be assumed guilty – by the press, by political opponents, and by activists eager to tar the reputation of any man who fails to live up to their standards.

Ned Barnett is a political campaign expert, military historian, and communications professional.  He owns Barnett Marketing Communications in Las Vegas.



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How Much Should Taxpayers Invest in Elon Musk?


Many Americans know a little about the life and times of Elon Musk, the visionary futurist and dynamic billionaire. Musk grew up in South Africa, moving eventually to Canada and then the United States. He received Bachelor’s degrees in physics and economics at the University of Pennsylvania, and spent just two days in a Ph.D. program at Stanford before deciding to become a cutting-edge tech sector entrepreneur instead. He has never looked back since.

Few people realize that Musk played an important part in the creation of PayPal. More familiar is Musk’s role as the CEO of Tesla, an innovative and increasingly successful auto manufacturer that produces stylish electric cars. He also helped found SolarCity, one of the leading companies in the United States that manufactures solar panels. Currently, Musk is planning an integrated network of satellites that could provide broadband internet access to the entire planet, and he is exploring artificial intelligence and the potential for “brain-computer interfaces.”

Perhaps Musk’s greatest claim to fame is his role as founder and CEO of SpaceX, a company that has made enormous strides in the commercialization of space flight. Not only does SpaceX deliver payloads (cost-effectively) into space, for private companies and for NASA and the U.S. military, but it also has ambitious plans to build a human colony on Mars. In the near term, it plans to send two space tourists on a lunar fly-by in 2018. It is no wonder that Musk has been repeatedly recognized for his boldness and vision. Forbes, in fact, has named him as the 21st most powerful person on earth –and, one assumes, his Martian ranking must be even higher.

Like all celebrated inventors/entrepreneurs, however, Musk has had his share of failures and detractors, and more importantly his successes have always come at a price. Increasingly, that price is borne by taxpayers, in the form of costly subsidies, tax breaks, and government contracts. According to the Los Angeles Times, Musk’s companies have received, or will receive, government subsidies and tax breaks totaling $4.9 billion! It is thus reasonable to ask: is Elon Musk worthy of such a giant investment of taxpayer dollars?

Musk is, as one would expect, a brilliant self-promoter. Indeed, his fame is part of his entrepreneurial strategy. Where his penchant for self-aggrandizement becomes politically problematic is in the field of lobbying, where Musk’s companies excel. SpaceX, for example, has spent at least $4 million on lobbying since 2002, and, surely not coincidentally, it has received massive contracts from NASA to send supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

The initial contract, valued at $1.6 billion, was cheap compared to the multi-billion-dollar commitments that NASA has since made to SpaceX – and costs per mission are escalating in a troubling way. SpaceX is also increasingly the space transport company of choice for the U.S. Air Force, which employs SpaceX to launch highly sensitive national security payloads. Moreover, thanks to the way SpaceX’s contracts with the government are written, even in the case of rocket failures SpaceX gets paid virtually all of its fees.

Meanwhile, NASA has shown favoritism towards SpaceX in at least one instance of rocket failure, seemingly concealing the findings contained in accident reports. The recent explosion during testing of SpaceX’s Block 5 Merlin engine, slated for use in manned missions, raises the stakes considerably. The public has the right to know whether SpaceX’s lobbying efforts, and the Musk brand’s sheer notoriety, lead the government to treat SpaceX with kid gloves. Given that the company will soon be shuttling not just supplies, but astronauts, to the ISS, the question is not merely academic or financial. It could become a matter of life and death.

Conservatives may also be troubled by the fact that Musk steers most of his political donations to Democrats (he gave the maximum allowable amount to President Obama’s reelection campaign), and he has sharply criticized President Trump and even resigned from two advisory panels in protest against the President’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Musk is by no means as political or as “progressive” as many other California billionaires, but his agenda, insofar as he has one, is more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

Musk’s ventures can also stimulate corruption and wasteful government spending. For example, much controversy surrounds the “Buffalo Billion” project in Western New York, which is investing state funds on a massive scale to underwrite the construction of a factory to produce solar panels for Musk’s SolarCity company. Much of the state money has apparently been steered to contractors that donate money to Governor Cuomo, however, and it remains to be seen whether the promised 1,500 jobs will materialize. SolarCity has also faced scrutiny for its sales and pricing policies, and it has paid a $29.5 million penalty to the federal government for allegedly misrepresenting how much it invested in new facilities.

In many ways, Mr. Musk’s innovations in space travel, clean energy, transportation, and artificial intelligence are the embodiment of classic Yankee ingenuity, and they help to keep the U.S. at the forefront of technological evolution. In this sense, every American should be rooting for Musk to succeed. The truth, though, is that even high-flying visionaries need to be brought back down to earth from time to time, and more importantly the beneficiaries of government spending should always be accountable to the American taxpayer. Otherwise, we, the people, may find ourselves on a Musk-supplied rocket, or perhaps an electric car, to nowhere. That would be a disappointing conclusion to the often-inspiring story of Elon Musk.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy, associate professor of History at SUNY Alfred, blogs at: www.waddyisright.com 

Many Americans know a little about the life and times of Elon Musk, the visionary futurist and dynamic billionaire. Musk grew up in South Africa, moving eventually to Canada and then the United States. He received Bachelor’s degrees in physics and economics at the University of Pennsylvania, and spent just two days in a Ph.D. program at Stanford before deciding to become a cutting-edge tech sector entrepreneur instead. He has never looked back since.

Few people realize that Musk played an important part in the creation of PayPal. More familiar is Musk’s role as the CEO of Tesla, an innovative and increasingly successful auto manufacturer that produces stylish electric cars. He also helped found SolarCity, one of the leading companies in the United States that manufactures solar panels. Currently, Musk is planning an integrated network of satellites that could provide broadband internet access to the entire planet, and he is exploring artificial intelligence and the potential for “brain-computer interfaces.”

Perhaps Musk’s greatest claim to fame is his role as founder and CEO of SpaceX, a company that has made enormous strides in the commercialization of space flight. Not only does SpaceX deliver payloads (cost-effectively) into space, for private companies and for NASA and the U.S. military, but it also has ambitious plans to build a human colony on Mars. In the near term, it plans to send two space tourists on a lunar fly-by in 2018. It is no wonder that Musk has been repeatedly recognized for his boldness and vision. Forbes, in fact, has named him as the 21st most powerful person on earth –and, one assumes, his Martian ranking must be even higher.

Like all celebrated inventors/entrepreneurs, however, Musk has had his share of failures and detractors, and more importantly his successes have always come at a price. Increasingly, that price is borne by taxpayers, in the form of costly subsidies, tax breaks, and government contracts. According to the Los Angeles Times, Musk’s companies have received, or will receive, government subsidies and tax breaks totaling $4.9 billion! It is thus reasonable to ask: is Elon Musk worthy of such a giant investment of taxpayer dollars?

Musk is, as one would expect, a brilliant self-promoter. Indeed, his fame is part of his entrepreneurial strategy. Where his penchant for self-aggrandizement becomes politically problematic is in the field of lobbying, where Musk’s companies excel. SpaceX, for example, has spent at least $4 million on lobbying since 2002, and, surely not coincidentally, it has received massive contracts from NASA to send supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

The initial contract, valued at $1.6 billion, was cheap compared to the multi-billion-dollar commitments that NASA has since made to SpaceX – and costs per mission are escalating in a troubling way. SpaceX is also increasingly the space transport company of choice for the U.S. Air Force, which employs SpaceX to launch highly sensitive national security payloads. Moreover, thanks to the way SpaceX’s contracts with the government are written, even in the case of rocket failures SpaceX gets paid virtually all of its fees.

Meanwhile, NASA has shown favoritism towards SpaceX in at least one instance of rocket failure, seemingly concealing the findings contained in accident reports. The recent explosion during testing of SpaceX’s Block 5 Merlin engine, slated for use in manned missions, raises the stakes considerably. The public has the right to know whether SpaceX’s lobbying efforts, and the Musk brand’s sheer notoriety, lead the government to treat SpaceX with kid gloves. Given that the company will soon be shuttling not just supplies, but astronauts, to the ISS, the question is not merely academic or financial. It could become a matter of life and death.

Conservatives may also be troubled by the fact that Musk steers most of his political donations to Democrats (he gave the maximum allowable amount to President Obama’s reelection campaign), and he has sharply criticized President Trump and even resigned from two advisory panels in protest against the President’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Musk is by no means as political or as “progressive” as many other California billionaires, but his agenda, insofar as he has one, is more in line with Democrats than Republicans.

Musk’s ventures can also stimulate corruption and wasteful government spending. For example, much controversy surrounds the “Buffalo Billion” project in Western New York, which is investing state funds on a massive scale to underwrite the construction of a factory to produce solar panels for Musk’s SolarCity company. Much of the state money has apparently been steered to contractors that donate money to Governor Cuomo, however, and it remains to be seen whether the promised 1,500 jobs will materialize. SolarCity has also faced scrutiny for its sales and pricing policies, and it has paid a $29.5 million penalty to the federal government for allegedly misrepresenting how much it invested in new facilities.

In many ways, Mr. Musk’s innovations in space travel, clean energy, transportation, and artificial intelligence are the embodiment of classic Yankee ingenuity, and they help to keep the U.S. at the forefront of technological evolution. In this sense, every American should be rooting for Musk to succeed. The truth, though, is that even high-flying visionaries need to be brought back down to earth from time to time, and more importantly the beneficiaries of government spending should always be accountable to the American taxpayer. Otherwise, we, the people, may find ourselves on a Musk-supplied rocket, or perhaps an electric car, to nowhere. That would be a disappointing conclusion to the often-inspiring story of Elon Musk.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy, associate professor of History at SUNY Alfred, blogs at: www.waddyisright.com 



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Angela Merkel's Coming Demise


The failure of German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to form a coalition government in her fourth term of office has, for the first time, given rise to speculations as to her possible demise as the long-time and seemingly indispensable fixture of German and European politics. Such is the respect, bordering on veneration, for ‘Mutti’ Merkel in the European mainstream press, that few bother to look critically at her policies and accept without question her assurances that she “will make sure that her country continues to be well governed.” Yet, there is by now overwhelming evidence that her policies have neither been very successful, nor marked with a great deal of “democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law and human dignity,” as she has accused President Trump’s agenda of lacking. What this could mean, of course, is that Emperor Angela has no clothes, with all this implies for her political future and for Germany and the European Union beyond.

There is much to criticize in most of her policies from her sudden decision to outlaw the nuclear industry only months after legally extending its operations, to mindlessly tying the destiny of the EU to that of the Greek bailouts (“the end of the Euro is the end of Europe”), her support for Russian pipelines, and several others. But limits of space would allow us to focus only at the two policies of which she was the main architect and proponent: energy transition (Energiewende) and the migrants disaster.

As the German minister of the environment (1994-1998), Merkel was an early and enthusiastic supporter of a wholesale transition to renewable energies in a country not known for either much sun or wind, and became a key organizer of the Kyoto Protocol. By the time she first became chancellor in 2005, the renewable energy law (EEG) was in full swing and its disastrous implications soon manifested themselves. In 2017 German households paid 30 cents per KWh compared to 9 cents in the U.S. and 16 cents in France. This led to 300,000 German families unable to pay their bills and having their electricity disconnected. A large portion of their bill (6.88 cents) was made up of renewable energy surcharges. It is estimated that in ten years the average household will pay euro 440 per annum for electricity, while the cost of the Energiewende would explode to euro 520 billion by 2025, to be borne once again by the German taxpayer. Despite these huge expenses, Germany continues to rely on lignite coal to avoid blackouts and will be unable to meet its CO2 emissions promises for years to come. No wonder a prominent former green executive calls the Energiewende “a disaster in the making.”

As bad as Merkel’s environmental policies were, the impact of her migration policies are a lot worse because they affect many other countries. What happened there very simply was Merkel making a decision without bothering to consult even her cabinet, let alone EU authorities or neighboring countries. And she did that totally disregarding established parliamentary procedures in the Bundestag. So much for the rule of law. It bears reminding that Frau Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, not of Europe, though she certainly acted as the latter in this particular case. She then compounded her error by demanding that the Eastern European EU members accept migrant quotas as determined by the European Commission, that is to say by Berlin. This has set in motion a widening fault line between East and West in the old continent that could imperil the EU long after Merkel is gone.

A monumental green gabfest has come to an end in Bonn with predictably nothing to show. But not to worry, says the left-liberal Zeit weekly, “since there were not any great expectations for it anyway.” Yet, there was and there is plenty to worry for the assembled eco-cabal from 190 countries, if they were to remove the green shades for even a moment, not least because it coincided with the collapse of the efforts to form a government of three German parties that have very little in common. For they were told in no uncertain terms by chancellor Angela Merkel herself that saying goodbye to the hated coal energy in her country is not in the cards for a long time to come, if ever. Coming from the world champion of renewable energy, this must have hurt.  What they were not told would have hurt a lot more, and that is the reality that this experiment in German wishful thinking is collapsing in front of our eyes, very likely spelling doom for the entire renewable utopia.

Alex Alexiev is chairman of the Center for Balkan and Black Sea Studies (cbbss.org) and editor of bulgariaanalytica.org. He tweets on national security at twitter.com/alexieff and could be reached at alexievalex4@gmail.com.but

The failure of German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to form a coalition government in her fourth term of office has, for the first time, given rise to speculations as to her possible demise as the long-time and seemingly indispensable fixture of German and European politics. Such is the respect, bordering on veneration, for ‘Mutti’ Merkel in the European mainstream press, that few bother to look critically at her policies and accept without question her assurances that she “will make sure that her country continues to be well governed.” Yet, there is by now overwhelming evidence that her policies have neither been very successful, nor marked with a great deal of “democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law and human dignity,” as she has accused President Trump’s agenda of lacking. What this could mean, of course, is that Emperor Angela has no clothes, with all this implies for her political future and for Germany and the European Union beyond.

There is much to criticize in most of her policies from her sudden decision to outlaw the nuclear industry only months after legally extending its operations, to mindlessly tying the destiny of the EU to that of the Greek bailouts (“the end of the Euro is the end of Europe”), her support for Russian pipelines, and several others. But limits of space would allow us to focus only at the two policies of which she was the main architect and proponent: energy transition (Energiewende) and the migrants disaster.

As the German minister of the environment (1994-1998), Merkel was an early and enthusiastic supporter of a wholesale transition to renewable energies in a country not known for either much sun or wind, and became a key organizer of the Kyoto Protocol. By the time she first became chancellor in 2005, the renewable energy law (EEG) was in full swing and its disastrous implications soon manifested themselves. In 2017 German households paid 30 cents per KWh compared to 9 cents in the U.S. and 16 cents in France. This led to 300,000 German families unable to pay their bills and having their electricity disconnected. A large portion of their bill (6.88 cents) was made up of renewable energy surcharges. It is estimated that in ten years the average household will pay euro 440 per annum for electricity, while the cost of the Energiewende would explode to euro 520 billion by 2025, to be borne once again by the German taxpayer. Despite these huge expenses, Germany continues to rely on lignite coal to avoid blackouts and will be unable to meet its CO2 emissions promises for years to come. No wonder a prominent former green executive calls the Energiewende “a disaster in the making.”

As bad as Merkel’s environmental policies were, the impact of her migration policies are a lot worse because they affect many other countries. What happened there very simply was Merkel making a decision without bothering to consult even her cabinet, let alone EU authorities or neighboring countries. And she did that totally disregarding established parliamentary procedures in the Bundestag. So much for the rule of law. It bears reminding that Frau Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, not of Europe, though she certainly acted as the latter in this particular case. She then compounded her error by demanding that the Eastern European EU members accept migrant quotas as determined by the European Commission, that is to say by Berlin. This has set in motion a widening fault line between East and West in the old continent that could imperil the EU long after Merkel is gone.

A monumental green gabfest has come to an end in Bonn with predictably nothing to show. But not to worry, says the left-liberal Zeit weekly, “since there were not any great expectations for it anyway.” Yet, there was and there is plenty to worry for the assembled eco-cabal from 190 countries, if they were to remove the green shades for even a moment, not least because it coincided with the collapse of the efforts to form a government of three German parties that have very little in common. For they were told in no uncertain terms by chancellor Angela Merkel herself that saying goodbye to the hated coal energy in her country is not in the cards for a long time to come, if ever. Coming from the world champion of renewable energy, this must have hurt.  What they were not told would have hurt a lot more, and that is the reality that this experiment in German wishful thinking is collapsing in front of our eyes, very likely spelling doom for the entire renewable utopia.

Alex Alexiev is chairman of the Center for Balkan and Black Sea Studies (cbbss.org) and editor of bulgariaanalytica.org. He tweets on national security at twitter.com/alexieff and could be reached at alexievalex4@gmail.com.but



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