Pres. Trump’s Performance: Keeping his Promises

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So, this is the day when journalists and editorial pages are supposed to write about President Trump.  I can’t pass up an opportunity to do what I’m meant to do as a journalist.  So, let’s consider three major areas of reporting on the current Administration:  actions of Russia in the 2016 election, foreign policy and the US economy.

The truth about elections is that every major country tries to influence every other major country’s elections.  It was widely reported that the prior US Administration sent prominent campaign consultants Israel to help Ehud Barak and his left of center party win an election.  As long as there have been elections and political intrigue, nations have sent their operatives to influence the outcome of other country’s elections.  Yes, Russian operatives used phony social media accounts to stir up controversy.  Yes, Wikileaks published and promoted coverage of emails of the Democrat Party, it’s committees, candidates and officials.  However, last month, US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein read indictments to the press including the assertion that no Russians changed any votes or altered the outcome of any election in the USA in 2016.

So, with all the real and phony voices on the Internet, ever citizen must seek out accurate and credible information about their regions, candidates and officials.  Read, listen and watch many sources including those you disagree with.

The US Constitution clearly places conduct of Foreign Policy in the executive branch, often with the advice and content of the Senate.  President Trump has been roundly criticized for his Foreign Policy.  Let’s look at the results.  North Korea has not launched a missile outside its borders or conducted a test of nuclear weapon yet this year.  The NATO Allies agreed at the recent summit to meet the defense spending targets next year that they previously committed to hit in 2024.  Yes, the NATO Allies promised the prior Administration they would spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024.  No, they didn’t agree to spend more than that.  What Pres. Trump got them to do is meet that spending target by next year. Regarding Iran, Pres. Trump and his Administration are unwinding the Iran nuclear deal and restoring sanctions against Iran to end that nation’s nuclear weapons program and support of international terrorism. Iranian citizens have taken to their streets to protest their repressive rulers for the first time since 2009.  Pres. Trump promised during his election campaign that he we get NATO Allies to spend more on defense and he promised to unwind the Iran nuclear deal.

And regarding the US economy, yes there are tariffs and threats of tariffs from the US against other countries and vice versa.  Yes, the rich had their tax rates reduced by 2 percentage points. However, a greater percentage of Americans participate in the workforce than at any time since the 1970s.  Unemployment among women, Asians, Blacks and Hispanics is at all-time lows.  Millions of families have left the Foodstamps program, because they can now feed themselves.  Consumer optimism and small business optimism have both reached heights not seen since the 1980s  President Trump promised during his election campaign to renegotiate trade deals and reduce tax rates.

Pres. Trump has done what he said he would do. Our enemies fear us. More Americans are working. Is this what failure looks like?

 

Opinions expressed on St Thomas Place are those of the writer, unless otherwise documented, and should not be confused for the opinions of any university or government organization who have actual public relations offices to speak on their behalf.

 

Updating this Website

You may notice a huge time gap between my Independence Day 2017 blog post and the one about Astronauts flying SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft.  During that time, I wrote for TVOverMind (linked above — Television Reviews), began my Masters degree and wrote for Reporting Texas and The Texas Standard (linked above — General Assignment Reporting) and KVR News (linked above — Video and Audio Journalism). Also linked above are photo and written pieces I prepared for my fall 2017 courses: UT Renaming Buildings and Austin Public Transit Grows Park-n-Ride.

In the Spring of 2018, while working on my Masters degree, I wrote for The Texas Standard as an Intern and for Reporting Texas as a reporter.  The Texas Standard is a statewide NPR news program produced out of KUT and the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin.  Reporting Texas is the online presence of the UT-Austin Journalism School.

I wrote over 25 pieces for Texas Standard’s website to support the show’s weekday broadcasts. I wrote most of them based on guest appearances and reported pieces prepared by other reporters.  I reported an agribusiness piece myself on Texas agriculture responding to possible tariffs form China. I did all the interviews and went out on site with one of the farmers. Then I edited the piece together from key quotes, based on a script approved by the Texas Standard producers.

Another radio pieces that I’m particularly proud of is 25 Years Later: Reflections on the Branch Davidian Siege. This piece is based on a segment for which I found the guest and did the reporting.  The Host interviewed a former Assistant United States Attorney who had unique knowledge of the siege. Ronald Sievert, now a professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, ran the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Austin at that time. Sievert candidly shares his recollections and reflections of that singular tragedy.

I also wrote four medium length pieces for Reporting Texas in February, April and May of 2018. I wrote a piece on Travis County voting systems that the Austin American-Statesman picked up.  I also wrote pieces on Texas agriculture expanding international sales, the Texas nursing shortage and the effort to rename Confederate-named schools in Austin.

Voltaire, Alex Jones, the echo chamber and curated newsfeeds.

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“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it”

  — often attributed to Voltaire

Over the weekend, Apple, Spotify, YouTube and Facebook removed content produced by Alex Jones and his website InfoWars.  Some commentators have praised the decision, others question it.  The InfoWars app continues availability in the Apple and Google app stores, where its downloads are booming.  As of this writing, the app jumped from obscurity on the Apple App Store, to the number 4 news app, behind the New York Times (#1), but ahead of both CNN (#5) and FoxNews (#6).

For those of you who don’t know, Alex Jones made a name for himself in the 1990s with videos like “Prison Planet” and discussions of UN troops in America. Of course Art Bell and George Noory made names for themselves discussing even more far out topics like time travelers, rods from space and aliens among us.  No one has suggested a ban on Art Bell, George Noory, or the show they made famous: Coast-to-Coast AM.  But then Coast-to-Coast always maintains a positive attitude and Alex Jones frequently gets very angry ranting against his topic of choice.

I think the bottom line regarding Jones and the tech giants is that private companies have the right to set restrictions on the content they distribute.  So, no I’m not going to praise or condemn Facebook and YouTube for removing Jones.  I generally find his shows detestable, so I don’t tune to his radio broadcast or stream his videos.  I don’t like him, so I turn him off.  I don’t call for him to be silenced.  And when someone cites him favorably in discussion, I generally walk away and talk to someone else.

But here’s the question of the day: do we want the online portals and platforms we rely on for news to curate our available news sources according to the political views of company executives?

I’d like to think I’d be just as upset, if a conservative tech company banned Melissa Harris Perry or Rachel Maddow.  Fox News generally maintains a roster of liberal leaning co-hosts like Juan Williams, Geraldo Rivera and Alan Colmes (before cancer).  Glen Beck generally doesn’t hire left leaning hosts for The Blaze.  But I don’t want an echo chamber, so I also read BBC, the UK Guardian, and NPR — even the New York Times. I seek out many views.  We should all seek out many views.

This marks another reason why I’ll spend less time on Facebook:  I now have to spend more time seeking out a plurality of views on the topics I care about.  But I’m not so mad that I’m going to trade in my iPhone for a Windows phone, or swap Siri for Alexa.

Opinions expressed in this piece are my own and should not be confused with those of my employers, the University of Texas, the Texas National Guard, the U. S. Army or any other institution with its own public affairs department.

 

 

NASA Announces SpaceX and Boeing Astronauts

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Photo credit: Space.com. Nine Commercial Crew program Astronauts stand in flightsuits with a NASA spokesperson.  The four on the left will fly SpaceX Crew Dragon.  The five on the right will fly Boeing CST-100 Starliner.

 

HOUSTON — On August 3d, 2018, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine introduced the American Astronauts who will be the first to fly US space vehicles into orbit since 2011. The Astronauts are Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover. NASA retired US Space Shuttles Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavor from spaceflight in 2011 and US Astronauts have ridden Russian Soyuz spacecraft since then.  Boeing and SpaceX have each designed and tested space vehicles for the Commercial Crew Program which will launch Astronauts into orbit from US soil.

The US was the first nation to land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth 49 years ago, in July 1969. From then until 2011, the US lead the world in uncrewed space exploration and crewed space flight, sending probes to all the planets and leading construction of the International Space Station (ISS).   For the US to turn to its Russian rivals and their 1970s-era Soyuz spacecraft to carry American Astronauts into orbit, tarnished the national pride just a bit.  American Astronauts once again piloting spacecraft designed and built in the USA, from American soil to orbit, will polish some of that tarnished national pride.

“The health of NASA and American space exploration is as strong as it’s ever been and getting stronger every day,” NASA Administrator Bridenstine acknowledged the Trump Administration and gratefully thanked US Senators and US Representatives who “make that happen.”  The Commercial Crew Program began during the Obama Administration.

Bridenstine introduced the Astronauts who will fly the Boeing CST-100 first.  Eric Boe, Christopher Ferguson, and Nicole Aunapu Mann will test pilot the Boeing spacecraft into orbit.  Sunita Williams, a former ISS Commander, and Josh Cassada will be the first US crew to fly the CST-100 to the ISS.

Following the CST-100 Astronauts introductions came the SpaceX crews.  Robert Behnken  and Douglas Hurley, both test pilots and former Space Shuttle astronauts, will take the Crew Dragon into orbit in April 2019.  Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will pilot the Crew Dragon to the ISS later next year.

The CEO of Boeing’s space division and Space X President took the stage along with the NASA brass and their respective Astronauts. Boeing space division CEO Leanne Caret took the podium briefly and spoke as though it was just another day of achievements for Boeing.  SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell photographed of her Astronauts from the podium with clear and genuine excitement.  Shotwell enthusiastically thanked Elon Musk and announced her scheduled flight dates.  Shotwell confirmed a scheduled uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Nov 2018 and a crewed launch in April next year. Boeing plans to conduct CST-100 uncrewed and crewed launches during 2019.

Absent from the proceedings: Lockheed-Martin and Blue Origin.  Neither Lockheed-Martin nor Blue Origin are participating in Commercial Crew Program. The Commercial Crew Program task was to take Astronauts to ISS and back to Earth.  As lead contractor for the NASA Orion space vehicle, Lockheed-Martin is designing a vehicle that will fly to much higher orbits than the ISS. Blue Origin, developer of private vehicles for space tourism, will not have ISS on it’s destination list, at least not immediately.

Views expressed in this piece are my own and should not be confused with those of my employers, the University of Texas, the Texas National Guard, NASA or any other institution with its own external communications department.

 

 

 

Independence Day 2017

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The United States of America is a country about an idea, and as long as that idea resonates in the hearts of men and women, the USA will endure. That first statement is little bit poetic and I think it’s more accurate to say, “We are a country about a couple of ideas: human rights and self-government.”

The first idea is that “all men [and women] are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This quote comes from our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. And maybe when it’s expressed in that archaic language from 1776, it sounds a little bit old and dated. It doesn’t sound new, or hip or cool.

But don’t we all believe that we should be free to be who we were born to be? Or who we choose to be? After a certain age, no one else should be telling us what to think, or what to do, or how to be, or whom to associate with. As long as we aren’t hurting anyone else, leave us alone. Maybe in this day of robo-phone call marketing and social media constantly dinging updates in our iPads, it’s more accurate to say something a little different. Maybe it’s more like this: everyone will try to tell us what they think, what they think we should think, but each of us has the right and responsibility to choose what we do think. Would-be leaders and elected officials and celebrities will constantly bombard us with messages about who they think we should be, but we each get to choose for ourselves. Or to make it up for ourselves, if we happen to be one of Nietzsche’s supermen.  Choosing for ourselves, self-government.  Being who we chose, human rights.

And this notion of a Creator, is that a little bit dated as well? Hasn’t evolution and cosmology explained the origin of humanity and the entire universe without the need for a creator? Well, let’s stop and think carefully about that for a moment. Even celebrated scientist of the 1970s and 1980s Carl Sagan – the Neil deGrasse Tyson of his time — said toward the end of his life, “Science should not rule out God, until God can be proven not to exist.” And Albert Einstein – the Stephen Hawking of his time – said, “God does not play dice with the Universe.” I can also tell you that Sir Isaac Newton [also the Stephen Hawking of his own time], the man who literally wrote the book on Physics and Calculus [it’s called Principia and I studied from a version of it translated into modern
English]…. Anyway, Sir Isaac Newton actually wrote several books on physics and mathematics, but he wrote more books and essays on faith and Christianity than he did on physics and math. Being a student of physics myself [I hold a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics from West Point], I keep up with these things.

As humans launch bigger and better telescopes higher above the atmosphere, to see farther out and older light than has ever been seen before, the patters that emerge show a beginning. Even in quantum mechanics, the math takes us right back to Planck Time – a fraction of an instant after the beginning of the universe. A few weeks ago, one of those orbiting telescopes finished observations, taken over many years, that prove light bends when it passes a strong source of gravity – proving Einstein and quantum mechanics. Now, does this notion that science does show a beginning, prove that the Southern Baptists are right and God is Jay-zus Kriiist of Nazr’uth (aka Jesus Christ)? Maybe. And the secularists out there are probably wondering who this Hay-zeus Tchryst is anyway [You thought Jesuschrist was just a swear word, didn’t you? Admit it.]. It doesn’t prove that anyone’s interpretation of the Divine is right, or wrong. But it strongly suggests that there is One – a Creator. The rest we have to take on faith and as the Oracle told Neo, “Make up your own damn mind.” Me, personally, I’m not just a man of science, I’m also a man faith, and I do have a faith relationship with the Creator and Yeshua the Messiah, whom God sent. That’s how I’ve made up my own d@mn mind. But you, do your own homework and make up your own mind.

The idea here is that human rights come from Nature and Nature’s God and can be neither created, nor destroyed. They can be debated, surrendered, fought over, and sometimes taken away, missed, or unacknowledged. But like Newton’s Laws of Motion, human rights exist independent of any government’s, or court’s ability to grant or abridge them. Like an electron or a photon of light, human rights need only an observer with a point of view to see them and like static electricity, or sunlight, they are self-evident.

Abraham Lincoln made an observation that each generation must appropriate the founding of America for itself. That is what makes us Americans. Unlike Englishmen (Englishwomen), the French, or the Germans, most of us in America can’t trace our lineage back to the days of tribes. Except the indigenous Native Americans – they can trace their tribes back to 10,000 years ago when they walked across the landbridge from Asia – where the Bering Straights are now, they sea between Alaska and Siberia. Most Americans don’t have those thousand plus years of ineffable French-ness, or Italian-ness handed down in custom and oral tradition to tell us what it means to be American.

I recently spent the better part of a year in part of the world where they have cities that are older than most countries in Europe. I spoke to men from the Pashtun tribes who can trace their lineage back to Biblical Adam, or at least to the Babel event, when languages were confused and families scattered all over the world. The Pashtuns, who lack enforceable borders and a country recognized in the UN, nevertheless, have an e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y well-developed sense of e-x-a-c-t-l-y what it means to be Pashtun. They know who they are and where they came from, and it has been passed down from grandfather to grandson and grandmother to granddaughter since before the beginning of history. Think about that for a moment. The Pashtuns have unbroken oral tradition that goes back father than the Siberian Landbridge. They know who they are. Unmistakably. But Americans tend to lack that ineffable American-ness. Until they appropriate the founding for themselves. Much like the Jewish Passover, when Jews say, “I came up from Egypt,” or “My Creator brought me up from Egypt,” Americans need to appropriate the founding for themselves.

Americans need to understand that we are a self-governing people with home-rule back to 1495. Yes, I’m from Florida. So, I date home-rule back the original town councils in St. Augustine, in Olde Espanish Florida. For the rest of the country, homerule goes back to the Pilgrims in 1620, or in the case of Texas back to 1836. But I digress. Americans need to understand that we have a tradition as old as some city halls in Germany and some cathedrals in France, of making up our own damn minds, of disagreeing without being disagreeable, of winning and governing from the center.  We have a tradition debating and losing and waiting until the next election cycle to “throw the bums out.” Or “!!Tida ellos por la calle!!” as they no doubt used to say in St Augustine.

We have a tradition of self-reliance and looking to our friends and families for support, before we look to outsiders. We have a tradition of being self-made men (and women) and work our way up in a chosen profession from the level of page, copy-boy or sweeper-of-floors to being the “Most Trusted Man in America” like Walter Cronkite or the Anchor of NBC Nightly News like Lester Holt. We have a tradition of kindness and generosity like private citizens donating a $1 Billion to relief efforts after the World Trade Center fell, or sending $100s of millions in private relief to islands in the Pacific that were devastated by a Tsunami during the Bush 43 Administration. And we have a tradition of recognizing when we are wrong and changing, like Robert E. Lee taking a knee next to a freed slave at the Meeting House during Reconstruction. No, our history isn’t without injustice or misdeed. But who else sent people to the Moon? Who else could lead the Allies to victory over tyranny in both the European and Pacific Theaters of War during World War II? In what other country would a man like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, take as his examples, both Jesus Christ and Gandhi, walking the path of love and nonviolence, to lead his people? The Rev. Dr. King led his people to vote and politely demand that local councils, state legislatures and the U. S. Congress recognize the human rights they were born with. Yes, Americans have done things we should be ashamed of. But we have also done things that worth of reverence and emulation. As Jason Lee’s character said in Vanilla Sky, “the sweet just ain’t as sweet, without the sour.”

So, the USA is a country about two ideas, really, human rights and self-government.  As long as men and women yearn to be free and make of their own lives, what they choose, these two ideas will endure and America will endure with them.


The opinions expressed above are my own, unless otherwise quoted or cited, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U. S. Defense Dept, Texas Military Dept, Dept of the Army, or Texas Army National Guard.  Each of these organizations has its own Public Affairs Officer, who should in no way be confused with me.

Memorial Day 2017

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Memoiral Day Weekend! The start of summer movie season and a little bit more.

Time stands still for no one. Memorial Day comes around toward the end of May every year and we celebrate with backyard barbecues and the beginning of Summer Blockbuster Movie season. We have some really good movies out right now and some that are kind of …interesting. But Memorial Day started as Decoration Day in the years following the U. S. Civil War. Memorial Day began as a time when the widows of soldiers who did in that Civil War went to clean and decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in burial sites near their towns and communities. Memorial Day began as a day to remember those soldiers (sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen) who died fighting for every American’s freedom and way of life, and the freedom of many, many more.

When we were kids, of course there were the barbecues and maybe a ceremony or parade. The high school marching band and the Veterans of Foreign Wars would march down Main Street and play patriotic music. For my generation we had Star Wars and Superman movies to see (or see again).

Now that I have classmates who have died in the recent wars, and I have friends and fellow graduates who lost husbands, wives, fiancés, children, siblings….My perspective has changed. Now that I have have been part of an Afghan Army Advising Team that had active threat streams targeting us and our counterparts, my perspective has changed.  Some people will spend a good chunk of time this weekend bringing their children, nephews and nieces to the military cemetery, or war monuments, to honor departed fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, loved-ones and friends. Others will barbecue and go to the movies or concerts.

There’s a meme that’s gone around Facebook the last few years with the widow at the military grave bawling her eyes out next to a toddler and an infant. That touches my heart. I have a dear friend who loved flying helicopters more than almost anything in the world. But she may not ever fly a helicopter again because she loves her fiancee who died fighting in Iraq more than she loves flying. Fortunately, it’s her son that she actually loves more than anything else in this world. I have classmates and fellow graduates from West Point who died in these recent wars. I know a graduate from the class after mine who lost her son to combat this year. My heart moves for these stories and others.

Some people will never quite get past the loss of their loved-ones in combat. And maybe they never should. I don’t know. I’m not them. I haven’t walked thru their experiences or lost anyone I loved more than my own life, yet. So all I can say to them is, “Grieve as you need to and live as you can.”

Some people don’t quite understand the sacrifice of courageous military men and women who died fighting for their freedom. Some people just enjoy a sunny weekend, grilling food in their backyards, drinking beverage of choice, and going to rock shows or movies.

Some of us military folk have looked down on those who just barbecue and go to movies and concerts for Memorial Day. We think we’re superior because we understand the sacrifice that made it possible for the others to celebrate. I’m not sure that either celebrating without knowing why, or the smug sense of superiority is really very good. I think our relatives and friends who died for our freedom and way of life, would want us to do all of these and more, but do it to honor their memory and without feeling smug.

Thanks for reading. If you liked or hated what you read, please tell your friends.  If you liked it and want to read more, feel free to peruse my blog, and also click follow.  Lastly, please remember that DoD, Texas Military Department, the U. S. Army and the Texas National Guard all have actual spokespersons and Public Affairs Offices and I am none of these.  These opinions are my own.

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Texas Adoption Bill

The Texas Legislature made some waves earlier this month when the House sent the Senate a Bill about the rights of conscience in Child Welfare Services.  It’s called HB 3859.  This link goes to the text of the bill.  The New York Times, and Atlantic Monthly, have written about it. Equality Texas is particularly opposed to it, saying the bill would trample the rights of Gay and Lesbian couples.  ABC News complains loudly the bill could allow Texas Adoption Agencies to ban Jews, gays, and Muslims.

If you want to, take a few minutes and go to the link and read the bill for yourself. We won’t go away while you’re gone.  We’ll still be here.  We promise.

Are you done reading, yet?  Good.  The whole Bill is about four pages long in 10 point font, a little longer if I make the writing bigger for old eyes.  The Texas Legislature isn’t like Congress in that respect.  Congress likes bills hundreds of pages long, or even thousands, written in complex legalese that require a JD to even pronounce the words.  The Texas Legislature drafts short bills in plane understandable language.

Does the text contain the name of any religion?  It does not.  Does it specifically call out gay, lesbian, transgendered children or couples? It does not.

Then what does it do?  This bill simply protects the right of conscience of any private agency that works in child welfare.

  • If there were a Muslim Adoption Agency in Irving, Texas, that wanted to ensure Sunni couples adopted Sunni children and Shi’a couples adopted Shi’a children, they would be protected.
  • If there were an LGBT organization in Austin that wanted to step up and make sure LGBT kids get placed with LGBT families, as long as they have a religious explanation, they would be protected.
  • I dare say, that a Child Welfare Agency full of Secular Humanists who refused adoptions to Christians would also be protected by this law, as long as they explained their position in religious terms and referred them to another agency.

What this Bill actually does is protect everyone’s right of conscience.  I expect that if it were to become law and be challenged in court, it would even protect Atheists who have religious reasons to keep Christians from adopting.  The bill would require any agency refusing services on religious grounds to refer those seeking services to another agency that would help them, or to the Texas Department of Child and Family Services.

What this Bill doesn’t do is allow anyone to use threat of law suit or government force to coerce someone else to violate sincerely held beliefs.  Don’t we need more of that?  Don’t we as a society want more protection for all sincerely held beliefs, even if those beliefs aren’t exactly the same as anyone else’s?  Don’t we want more liberty and less coercion?

On thing we do need to ensure is that while Texas is requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, the Legislature and State Agencies make adoptions easier and less expensive. Not harder.

If we’re truly pursuing Virtue here, then we need to make it easier for couples (or singles) who would nurture children and help them flourish to adopt, regardless of creed, belief or religion. As a society we should keep children out of the hands of the violent and the abusive regardless of creed, belief or religion.

Thank you for reading.  We do appreciate you.  If you liked (or hated) what you read here, please tell your friends and click the follow button.

And lest I forget, these views are my own and I’m not writing here to represent the Texas Military Department, the Texas National Guard, the U. S. Army or the DoD.  All these organizations have Public Affairs Offices and spokespeople who should not be confused with me.