Monday, December 30, 2019

'Knives Out' Review

I walked into “Knives Out” expecting a fast-paced murder comedy based on watching the trailer for the movie. That is not what I got.

That isn’t to say that “Knives Out” isn’t worth your time. I and my teenage son both thoroughly enjoyed the film despite it not being what either of us expected.

The movie centers around the suicide of a murder mystery novelist, Harlan Thrombey, played by Christopher Plummer). As the police attempt to close the case, a private detective, Benoit Blanc, played by 007 alum Daniel Craig with a syrupy Southern accent, shows up after being hired by a mysterious client. Blanc probes the family relationships and turns up a number of possible motives that the star-studded family had for wanting Harlan dead.

Unexpectedly, the plot centers on Harlan’s nurse, Marta, who comes from a Hispanic immigrant family. Ana de Armas, who is a Cuban immigrant in real life, is a newcomer whose first big English-speaking role seems to have been in 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049.” Immigration policy figures into the plot as Marta’s mother is revealed to be an illegal immigrant. The knowledge that members of her family could be deported understandably affects Marta’s actions, even though she is herself what one of the other characters refers to as an “anchor baby.”

Immigration also figures into an uncomfortably awkward scene in which two branches of the family argue over immigration policy. Donald Trump is not mentioned by name, but the flower-child sister-in-law, played by Toni Collette, makes a Hitler reference and mentions children in cages. Harlan’s son-in-law, Richard, played by an unrecognizable Don Johnson, argues that even illegals with good hearts should have consequences for breaking the law. The situation becomes even more awkward when he asks Marta for her opinion on the issue and praises her family for immigrating “the right way.” The two branches of the family trade partisan barbs such as calling each other “Nazis” and “social justice warriors.”

Although the scene isn’t particularly pleasant, neither is it unfair. The arguments of both sides are true to form and could be taken from pretty much any internet discussion or comments thread on the subject. The discussion could probably have been taken word-for-word from any number of family discussions around the country over Thanksgiving and Christmas. The movie is evenhanded in its disdain for both political wings and the film is not a vehicle for attacks on Republicans or the president.

If there is a political message to the film, it is about the humanity of immigrants. The film doesn’t preach, but Marta and her family come across as sympathetic. To some, that will contrast with how they often see immigrants portrayed as murderers, drug-dealers, and criminals. Marta represents the silent majority of immigrants who are hardworking and law-abiding. While some immigration hardliners may not appreciate this compassionate portrayal of illegal immigration, it is relevant to the plot.

While the movie is not the slapstick comedy that I expected, it is darkly humorous. There were laugh-out-loud moments but the core of the movie is the investigation into Harlan’s death. If you want a more consistently funny murder-comedy, go watch “Clue,” the 1985 movie based on the popular board game starring Tim Curry and a plethora of ‘80s stars.

But that doesn’t mean you should skip “Knives Out.” While it isn’t laugh-a-minute, it is worth your time if you like the mystery genre. The movie is more like an episode of “Columbo” or “Murder She Wrote” than “Police Academy.”

There are no complaints about the craftsmanship of the movie. The acting is excellent on all levels and its fun to see the aging Johnson, Collette, and Jamie Lee Curtis, as well as Chris Evans playing the parts of spoiled rich brats. It is Craig and de Armas who steal the show, however.

“Knives Out” is a good movie. It is thought-provoking and keeps you guessing to the end. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it but know going in that it is not a lighthearted romp. With numerous plot twists, it’s also a good movie to see in a theater rather than watching on Netflix or Hulu in a setting with distractions.

In the end, “Knives Out” is a classic example of the mystery genre with a sense of humor.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, December 27, 2019

A Few Flying Stories

Recently, I’ve had a couple of people ask me about my main job as a pilot so I thought that I’d do something a little different today and tell a few flying stories. Flying is statistically very safe, especially in jets, but you’ll have some problems if you fly enough. At this point, I’ve been flying turbine airplanes professionally for 17 years so I’ve seen a few interesting things.

I got my start as a civilian flight instructor flying single-engine prop planes. Interestingly enough, I had very few mechanical problems with these piston-engine planes, but I do recall a trip where I developed an engine problem after taking off from Williamsburg, Virginia in a Cessna 172.

As we climbed out, the engine started running rough and I could tell that it wasn’t developing full power. Eventually, it got to the point where we were at full throttle and, even though we should have been climbing, we were barely maintaining altitude. I was concerned that the misbehaving engine would quit entirely so we turned toward Newport News, which was the nearest airport at that point.

The problem with that was that Newport News was on the on the other side of the James River at that point and we were heading into a stiff wind, which slowed our progress. I was second-guessing my decision and wondering what I would do if the engine quit while we were only a few thousand feet above the river when I saw it: A fleet of ships including what appeared to be several aircraft carriers moored in the middle of the river. For a split second, I thought, this might be my only chance to get a carrier landing. A light Cessna could probably have landed safely on the carrier deck with the strong headwind but fortunately, I didn’t have to find out. The engine kept running and we landed safely and on terra firma.

It turned out that the ships were the Ghost Fleet. Officially called the James River Reserve Fleet, the ships are mothballed in the middle of the river in case they are needed for a national emergency.

Several years later, I had a real engine failure. I was flying as a First Officer for Atlantic Coast Airlines. ACA was a regional airline that contracted to both United and Delta for short-haul flights. I had just completed training on the Dornier 328 Jet and had started line training, called “initial operating experience” or “IOE,” with a training captain. It may surprise some to learn that since airliners – even small ones – are so expensive to operate, that new pilots do their initial training in the simulator and usually fly the real airplane for the first time with a load of paying customers in the back.

I was on my second day of IOE in the DoJet, fresh out of the simulator, when we took off from Greensboro, N.C. One of the worst-case scenarios that pilots train for is an engine failure on takeoff, called a “V1 cut” in the simulator. The phrase refers to losing an engine at V1, a speed on the takeoff roll where it is too fast to abort the takeoff but too slow to immediately lift off. The pilot has to keep the airplane on the runway while it accelerates to Vr, the speed where the nose is rotated upward to fly the airplane off the ground. That day in Greensboro, we got a V1 cut for real.

At most companies, the pilots alternate legs, taking turns flying the airplane while the other works the radios, programs the FMS (flight management system computer), and does other cockpit chores. The training captain was flying that leg when, between V1 and Vr, we experienced an engine failure.

In the simulator, engine failures usually cut and dried. The engine just quits and you follow the checklist. My real-life V1 cut wasn’t that simple. Rather than simply quitting, the engine temperature spiked and exceeded its maximum limit. The captain pulled the power back on that engine and found that the engine temperature was acceptable as long as the throttle stayed at idle power. Modern airplanes are checklist driven and we had no checklist for such a situation. We declared an emergency and ran the checklists that we thought appropriate to set the airplane up for a landing back at Greensboro. Ultimately, we landed safely and were told that the hot section of our turbofan engine had come apart and left pieces on the runway.

I found out later that the engines in the DoJet were notoriously unreliable and short-lived, something that is uncommon for jet engines. ACA was replacing the Pratt & Whitney 306Bs at an alarming rate. Ironically, years later I flew a Citation Sovereign corporate jet with an updated version of the engine, the 306C. By that point, Pratt had apparently gotten the bugs out of it because I flew the Sovereign for more than 1,200 hours with no engine problems.

I flew the Dornier for about a year until I was furloughed (laid off) amid the airline bankruptcies of the mid-2000s. The company lost its contracts with its mainline partners and tried unsuccessfully to become a low-fare carrier as Independence Air. The company went out of business in 2006.

A third big emergency took place several years later when I was working for a fractional jet company called CitationAir. Fractionals are an aviation timeshare company in which people and businesses buy shares of corporate jets. Their share entitles them to a certain number of flight hours per year.

At the time, I was flying a Citation X, the fastest civil aircraft in the world. We had just taken off from Westhampton airport on Long Island (where I once saw then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she boarded an air force Gulfstream jet) when we got an EICAS (engine indication and crew alerting system) message that we had a hydraulic failure on the plane’s “A” system.

The X has two separate hydraulic systems and, naturally, the one that we lost was the important one. The A system contained the “gear, steer, and whoa” items, the landing gear extension, the nosewheel steering, and the brakes.

Many people think being unable to extend the landing gear is one of the worst things that can happen in an airplane, but it’s really not a big deal. Jets are built with lots of redundancy and there are plenty of backup systems to lower the wheels. In many airplanes, alternate extension is as simple as removing the up-locks that hold the landing gear in their bays and letting gravity drop them into place. In our case, the X had a pneumatic bottle that used nitrogen to blow the landing gear down.

In our situation, the bigger problems were the inability to steer the airplane on the ground and loss of the main brakes with their anti-skid systems. We would have to keep the airplane straight on the runway without the primary nosewheel steering and use emergency brakes to stop. Without the anti-skid, blowing a tire was a possibility if we weren’t careful. To make matters worse, the checklist imposed a penalty of about 3.5 times the normal landing distance when we used emergency brakes. This meant that we would need a runway about 10,000 feet long.

Again, the other pilot happened to be the flying pilot on the leg so it was my job to run the checklist for the emergency. As I mentioned earlier, in an emergency, modern pilots don’t rely on memory except for a few specific, time-critical situations such as fires. In most cases, the procedure calls for looking up the emergency in a thick, emergency/abnormal checklist book. In this case, the hydraulic failure affected so many systems that the checklist was pretty extensive. It helped that we had practiced the situation in the simulator at FlightSafety International.

We decided to divert to Stewart/Newburgh, N.Y. An air force C-5 Galaxy transport squadron is based at Stewart so they had a long runway. They also had a Cessna Citation Service Center where we could get the airplane fixed easily. We notified our company dispatcher as to what was happening as well as explaining to our passenger that he would not be landing in Chicago, then set up the airplane for the landing.

As we landed, the other pilot braked us to a stop on the runway since, without nosewheel steering, we couldn’t turn off onto a taxiway. A pneumatic backup gave just enough control to keep us on the runway.  I vividly remember sitting on the runway surrounded by airport fire trucks as we waited for the Cessna employees to hook up a tug to tow us to the service center. When we got out of the airplane, the fuselage was covered with hydraulic fluid from a line in the nose wheel bay that had ruptured. The system pressure of 3,000 PSI had emptied the hydraulic fluid from the entire system within seconds.

The company diverted another airplane to Stewart to pick up our passenger and so that he could continue his flight with a minimal delay. Exceptional customer service and quick backups if there was a mechanical problem were part of what he was paying for.

These were three serious incidents from almost 30 years of flying, but life-threatening problems are usually few and far between. For the most part, the drive to the airport is scarier than anything that happens in the air. That was especially true while I was based in Houston!

My flying career hasn’t turned out the way that I intended. In the beginning, I planned to be an airline pilot just as most other people looking at aviation careers do. September 11, the airline bankruptcies, and the Great Recession changed my plans and nudged me towards a career in corporate flying. While it wasn’t on my radar (pun intended), flying business jets has been a fun and rewarding career that allows me a lot of time with my family and a lot of time for writing.

But how I got to this point is another story.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Believing In Christmas Is Logical

I have a confession to make. I doubt sometimes.

I was raised in a Baptist church. I was in one of the families that, if church was being held, we were there. I was saved at an early age and grew up believing without question. For many years, I never seriously considered the possibility that God was not real or that the Bible was not accurate.

A few years ago, that changed for a couple of reasons. First, I started a job and had a coworker who was an atheist. The nature of flying jobs is that you spend a lot of time with the other crewmembers and get to know them very well. On long trips, the two of us spent a lot of time talking, solving the world’s problems and discussing the nature of God and religion.

They say that it isn’t polite to discuss politics and religion, but that is because too many people can’t disagree agreeably. My atheist friend, who I’ll call Rob, and I were different. We both liked logic and reason and could have long discussions over difficult topics in a calm manner. Sometimes we would agree and sometimes we would agree to disagree.

Rob was unlike the stereotypical atheists. He was sympathetic to religion, once telling me that he wanted to believe but simply could not. Still, he saw the value of religion as a tool for instilling morality, which he thought made the world a better place. When our families had dinner together and my kids said the blessing, he bowed his head in a very unatheistic manner along with the rest of us.

In fact, Rob, despite his atheism, was one of the most moral and charitable people that I’ve ever known. He was generous to a fault and always ready to help others who were in need. As we walked around various cities on layovers, he would frequently give money to homeless people. I remember more than once watching him slip money into the pockets of people sleeping on the street. His charitable heart put me to shame.

Rob was an analytical guy. In his examination of spiritual matters, he ultimately came to the conclusion that the universe and mankind were the result of random chance. We discussed the astronomical odds against the earth forming just at the right spot in a solar system and orbiting just the right type of star to allow life to develop as well as the minuscule chance that evolution would blindly steer developing life into a higher intelligence. He acknowledged the slim probabilities but maintained that the one chance out of billions was the number that had come up.

The second factor in my questioning was my diagnosis with skin cancer. I wrote about my stage one melanoma after it was removed almost two years ago now. While my cancer experience was much less traumatic and invasive than many, it was the first time that I had faced a real health crisis that could have killed me. In the wake of the melanoma, I realized with my gut what I had known intellectually for years: that death could come at any time.   

With that realization and with my place in eternity on the line, I didn’t want to trust blindly in a religion that I’d never really tested. If we do due diligence before buying a house or car or committing to a new job, shouldn’t we research our religious beliefs? If God is real, what we believe about him and what we do about those beliefs is the most important decision of our lives.

Religion is really a two-fold question. The first question is whether God exists. The second, in a world with many different religions preaching wildly diverging beliefs, is which is the most correct and appropriate path to God.

Logically, there are three possible outcomes. The first possibility is that there is no God, in which case, the whole point is moot. The second possibility is that there is a God but you pick the wrong belief system, which could be disastrous for your soul. Finally, the third possibility is that there is a God and you choose wisely with the result being that you spend eternity in heaven. This is the optimal outcome, but it is especially important to avoid the second.  

There are many evidences for God including the improbability that random chance got us to where we are, but one of the most interesting to me is a scientific study in which British researchers found evidence that consciousness continues after death. The AWARE study found that 40 percent of patients with cardiac arrest were conscious while they were clinically dead and prior to resuscitation. Dr. Sam Parnia pointed out that the memories described by the patients were not merely hallucinations but “detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events.”

So, I did what countless people down through history have done before me. I questioned God and put him and the Bible to the test. I looked at other religions to see how they compared. I read about ancient history and the documentary evidence for the Bible. I read about the problems and inconsistencies in the Bible. I wrote about this spiritual journey in another article after I came to the conclusion that God is real and the Bible is as true as imperfect humans can make it.

The Bible As History” by Werner Keller became one of my new favorite books. I was astonished at how much archaeology backed up Biblical accounts. Although direct archaeological support for the Flood and the Exodus are still scant at this point, there is an abundance of evidence for Israel’s kingdom period. Further, over the past few years, I’ve watched as reports of new discoveries roll in that lend more support to Biblical claims. Although the Flood and the Exodus are difficult to prove, they are also difficult to disprove.

Two other very good books, Lee Strobel’s “The Case For Christ” and Warner Wallace’s “Cold Case Christianity,” built a similar case for the validity of the New Testament. Both men began their investigations as skeptics and ultimately found that the evidence for the God of the Bible was so strong that they became believers.

In contrast, the skeptical claims against the Bible crumbled as I investigated them. Prophecies from Islam seemed vague and unfulfilled compared with those of the Bible. There seems to be no archaeological support at all for the Book of Mormon. Other religions teach that good works earn your way into heaven or that people sent to hell are given a second chance. The lack of exclusivity from these religions argues against them. If they are true and you don’t pick them, it’s no harm and no foul. Atheist claims often seem to rely on the position that they cannot understand God and therefore deny his existence or, as with Rob, hold that natural processes, however improbable, must be true.  

But Christianity is different. It claims to be an exclusive path to God. It also has both archaeological and documentary evidence to back up its claims. If Christianity is true and you don’t pick it, you’ve missed the boat.

The evidence for Christianity is not limited to scholarly works and logical reasoning, however. There have been many instances in my life where there has been evidence of the supernatural. I described in the discussion of my melanoma how a prophetic dream led me to the doctor after several dermatologists had ignored the cancer on my face. My wife and I also once experienced what seems to have been a physical manifestation of a spirit that left a mark on her body with no physical explanation.

I discussed all this with Rob, who said that he wished he could have similar experiences and then maybe he could believe too. In Rob’s case, the resistance to belief seemed to be rooted in a bad experience with the church from years earlier. This was a tragic example of how hypocrisy and bad behavior by God’s people can undermine the Gospel.

My experience with Rob is one reason that I’ve been so critical of the church’s support for Donald Trump. Rob’s belief was made even more difficult by what he saw as hypocrisy in supporting a man whose life and actions contradicted their beliefs and principles.

So why am I writing this on Christmas Eve? A common theme for generations has been that the original Christmas gifts were God’s gift of his son Jesus (“Yeshua” in his original language) to save mankind and the offer of forgiveness for our sins. It’s true that these gifts form the foundation of both Christmas and Christianity in general, but modern seekers are not limited to the Biblical narrative.

Another Christmas gift that God has given to 21st-century seekers is the gift of accumulated science and scholarship that backs up the first century Gospels. We have at our disposal 2,000 years of research that can help us determine that God’s gift of Jesus and his offer of forgiveness are true and our only hope of salvation.

The tragedy is that all too often the actions of Christians alienate seekers like Rob. Emotional reactions to hypocrisy and bad behavior can trump the objective truth of the evidence. All believers should strive to not be the reason that people turn away from God and should pray for those like Rob who have been led astray.

Even with all I’ve experienced and read, sometimes faith doesn’t come easy. But questioning God is not sinful and can ultimately make your faith deeper. Sometimes belief is more of a choice than an emotional response.

Jesus told Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” Today, we can’t physically see Jesus face-to-face, but we can see the evidence of his existence and his actions more than any other generation since that of Thomas and the other disciples. We just have to look at the evidence and decide how to react to it.

Merry Christmas.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Here’s Who Broke Ranks On The Impeachment Votes

The final impeachment vote tallies are in and the results are slightly different from what we reported immediately after the vote last night.
On Article I, alleging abuse of power, the official vote tally was 229-198. Three Democrats crossed the aisle to vote “no” while no Republicans broke ranks. The three Democrats were Jared Golden (Maine), Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.). Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) voted present.
Roll Call notes that Peterson is from a strong pro-Trump district while Golden said that he believed that Trump abused power but did not obstruct Congress. Gabbard’s present vote was a protest against “fragmentation and polarity.” Van Drew is rumored to be switching parties to become a Republican.
Three congressmen did not vote on Article I. This included two Republicans, Duncan Hunter (Calif.), who recently announced his resignation after pleading guilty on corruption charges, and John Shimkus (Ill.), who was on a trip to Tanzania to visit his son in the Peace Corps. Duncan was warned to cast any more votes by the House Ethics Committee. The sole Democrat not to vote, Jose Serrano (N.Y.), was hospitalized with Parkinson’s disease. He is not seeking reelection.
The final tally for Article II, alleging obstruction, was identical to Article I.
We initially reported that one Republican voted in favor of the impeachment. However, Jake Sherman of Politico tweeted that Michael Cloud (R-Texas) changed his vote from “yea” to “nay.” Rep. Cloud told the Dallas Morning News that his “yes” vote was due to a clerical error.

Pelosi Threatens To Delay Sending Impeachment To The Senate

ollowing last night’s impeachment of President Donald Trump by the House of Representatives most observers expected House Democrats to name impeachment managers, i.e. prosecutors, and to refer the matter to the Senate for a trial. In 2019, however, that would be too simple. Today, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is hinting that the House may delay in sending the impeachment resolution to the Senate.
The pretext for the possible delay stems from statements made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans over recent weeks that suggest that Senate Republicans are working with White House lawyers to dispose of the matter as quickly as possible. McConnell told Sean Hannity, “There’s no chance the president’s going to be removed from office” and now Democrats using that statement to claim that the fix is in.
“So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us,” Pelosi told reporters after last night’s vote, per Politico. “That would’ve been our intention, but we’ll see what happens over there.”
Senior Democratic aides said that Democrats complete the steps for sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate before early January. Earlier this week, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had proposed that the Senate take up pre-trial matters on January 6 while requesting that the Senate allow impeachment managers to call witnesses.
McConnell rejected Schumer’s request, saying, “The House chose this road. It is their duty to investigate. It is their duty to meet the very high bar for undoing a national election. If they fail, they fail. It is not the Senate’s job to leap into the breach and search desperately for ways to get to ‘guilty.’ That would hardly be impartial justice.”
The witnesses that Democrats had asked to subpoena were also subpoenaed by the House. The Trump Administration ordered those witnesses, not to contest the congressional subpoenas but to ignore them.
Even though the House has already passed the articles of impeachment, refusing to refer the matter to the Senate gives Pelosi a measure of control over how the trial is run. It also gives the Speaker a chance to correct what many see as the mistake of ramming the impeachment through too quickly and without enough evidence.
Without their self-imposed deadline, Democrats could have asked courts to enforce the subpoenas and pursued other leads such as testimony from Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-born Republican fundraiser who worked with Rudy Giuliani. Parnas is currently under house arrest in New York on charges of ” funnel[ing] foreign money to candidates for federal and state office so that the defendants could buy potential influence with the candidates, campaigns, and the candidates’ governments,” per the indictment. Parnas is also facing bribery charges in Ukraine.
Delaying the impeachment referral to the Senate has been advocated by a number of Trump critics in recent days. Former Republican congressman David Jolly and Charlie Sykes discussed the plan in a Bulwark podcast earlier this week. Afterward, Sykes wrote a Bulwark article describing the strategy.
“The key here is that there is no requirement that the House immediately send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. This is Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s final card to play,” Sykes wrote. “So here is a modest proposal: the House should (1) vote to impeach on Wednesday, and (2) withhold sending any articles which pass to the Senate unless and until a majority of senators commit to holding an open and fair trial in accordance with the Constitution.”
An open and fair trial is a reasonable request. As my Resurgent colleague, Steve Berman, wrote this morning, voters deserve to know the truth about what happened in connection with the Ukrainian aid. Even if you are a Trump supporter who is totally fine with a quid pro quo for aid, you should have the facts about President Trump’s actions and character.
When the Trump Administration was offered the chance to present evidence and witnesses that could have exonerated the president during the House impeachment process, they refused. Maybe Mr. McConnell can convince the White House to help Congress find the truth.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Impeaching Trump Was The Right Thing To Do

Last night the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. As an independent conservative, I believe that the vote to impeach the president was richly deserved, a position which I realize is not held by a great many other conservatives, including many of my fellow Resurgent contributors. Even though I believe that the vote was justified, it is difficult for me to celebrate what is undoubtedly a dark day for my country.
While it’s true that some Democrats set out to impeach Donald Trump from his first day in office. It’s also true that Trump’s actions provided them with a heckuva lot of ammunition in their effort.
People will accuse me and others of opposing Trump and favoring impeachment because we don’t like him, but that’s a chicken and egg argument. I opposed Trump because I saw him as unfit. Like many others, I hoped when he was elected that he would rise to the occasion. He did not. The impeachment is a mess of his own making. Even though I’ve never been a Trump fan, I didn’t support impeachment until there was strong evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors as well as a significant shift toward impeachment in public opinion.
Few remember that when an impeachment resolution was introduced in the House earlier this year, it was killed in July thanks to the votes of 137 Democrats as well as Rep Justin Amash, the Michigan congressman who left the Republican Party last spring. If Democrats just wanted to impeach Trump without cause, they have had almost a year to do so. But they didn’t until now. Something happened in the past six months to shift the votes of more than 100 congressmen.
The something was the whistleblower and the other witnesses who came forward to testify to Mr. Trump’s efforts to use foreign aid, paid for by the taxpayers, to induce a foreign country to investigate his political opponent. The phone call at the heart of the matter was made the day after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified to Congress about his investigation into the first set of allegations Donald Trump conspired with a foreign government to interfere in an election.
That more direct evidence of his abuse of power has not become public is due entirely to the fact that the Trump Administration has stonewalled Congress, ignoring subpoenas and refusing to allow officials to testify. The Administration apparently hoped that congressional Democrats would fight the obstruction in the courts and that the matter would not be resolved before the election. This obstruction became the second article of impeachment.
Finally, as the House prepared to vote to hold Mr. Trump accountable, his shadow diplomat, Rudy Giuliani, a man I once admired, returned to Ukraine to carry out his mission of finding dirt on Hunter Biden with the help of the Ukrainian government. Even at this late date, there has been no grand jury indictment or formal federal investigation of Biden.
Given these facts it is difficult to reach a conclusion other than that the president is both shameless and utterly unafraid of facing any consequences for his actions. Since the president was previously accused of seeking foreign help in the 2016 election and then obstructing the investigation, it seems obvious that the president either cannot learn from past mistakes, is utterly unrepentant for his actions, or both.
Even though the facts were on the side of Trump’s critics, the Democrats made a hash of the process. Self-imposed deadlines pushed Pelosi and company towards a vote when the country was split with a slight plurality favoring impeachment. If the Democrats had kept digging and subpoenaed more witnesses (Lev Parnas, the indicted Ukrainian-American who assisted Giuliani, for example), they might have increased public opinion to the point where Senate Republicans would have to take the matter seriously.
Regardless of the outcome in the Senate, the digging won’t stop. President Trump is likely to claim “TOTAL EXONERATION” in an all-caps tweet, but investigative journalists, and possibly congressional Democrats as well, will keep keep unraveling the loose threads of the Ukraine and other Trump scandals. There is likely to be a steady drip of revelations of Trump corruption from now until Election Day.
None of this makes me happy. I’m not happy that a president had to be disgraced with impeachment. I’m not happy that we have a corrupt president. I’m not happy that Republicans, my former party and many people I used to respect, are so in the tank for Trump that none can admit his faults publicly.
I’m not happy, but I do appreciate House Democrats and Rep. Amash for stepping up to the plate and doing their constitutional duty. President Trump needed to be rebuked and Republicans have fallen far short of their promise to hold him accountable.
In fact, Republican acquiescence and fear of challenging the president was a factor in both their 2018 midterm disaster and last night’s impeachment vote. Americans voted to restrain Trump last year and Democrats have done that where Republicans did not.
However, the worst part is that becoming the third president in American history to be impeached is unlikely to make Donald Trump mend his ways. If and when the Senate acquits him, he will be emboldened rather than chastened. A second-term Trump who never has to face voters again will be even more dangerous to American institutions than the first-term Trump who has labeled impeachment “unconstitutional” and a “coup.”
Ultimately, preserving our balance of powers and a limited presidency is going to be up to the voters. If we still believe in the rule of law and the idea that presidents are not kings, then President Trump must be defeated. If conservatives and libertarians want our Republican Party back, he must be beaten badly.
But the battle doesn’t end there. Voters need to be engaged and party nominating processes need to be reformed to ensure that we never have a choice as horrific as the one we had in 2016 between two corrupt, incompetent candidates. And both parties in Congress need to take back the authority that they have delegated to presidents of both parties who have become increasingly lawless.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

2019 Brought A Bumper Crop Of UFO Stories

Most of us probably see 2019 as a banner year for weirdness. We’ve had a string of Florida man stories, a $120,000 banana, and the third year of the Trump presidency. As if that weren’t enough, it turns out that 2019 also yielded a bumper crop of UFO sightings and news.

If you’re like me, you probably figured that UFOs became an endangered species when cellphone cameras became ubiquitous. “Pics or didn’t happen” is enough to kill many tall tales, but UFO sightings seem to be persisting even though photographic evidence is often lacking.

As the New York Post reported this week, credible UFO sightings represented a veritable bumper crop in 2019. Among the credible UFO stories this year were:
·        The revelation that the navy is studying UFOs and has captured them on video
·        The claim by naval officers that “unknown individuals” confiscated videos and data of a 2004 UFO sighting involving the USS Nimitz
·        An announcement that the army is partnering with the founder of Blink-182 to study “alien metals”
·        A Sept. 21 Ohio sighting by former law enforcement officer and his scientist wife who came within 50 feet of a mysterious light that was estimated to be 20 feet in size. The husband experienced paralysis when he tried to grab his gun.
·        A Sept. 1 sighting in New Mexico in which elk hunters saw 7-foot tall “figures” and an apparent spacecraft that resembled a circus tent
·        An August 12 sighting on the Garden State Parkway near Atlantic City, N.J. in which a married couple reported seeing a “40-foot triangle craft”
·        A viral video of a strange cluster of lights filmed off North Carolina’s Outer Banks in September

You might be tempted to think that the surge in UFO sightings is par for the course in a country where large numbers of people think the moon landing was fake, that vaccines cause autism, and reject the evidence on the lack of Russian collusion and Deep State conspiracies. However, simply writing off all sightings as fantasies ignores the fact that there is compelling data, such as pictures from naval targeting systems, in a number of the cases.

I’ve always had a curiosity about UFOs and aliens, going back to the 1970s television series based on the air force’s Project Blue Book, a show that really creeped me out, if I’m to be totally honest. However, I’m also a UFO skeptic. The small likelihood of life arising elsewhere in the universe combined with the even smaller likelihood of an extraterrestrial species developing interstellar travel present long odds against alien visitors. The vast majority UFO sightings – probably 99.9 percent -can be explained away as misidentified aircraft, natural phenomena, or hoaxes.

But that still leaves the difficult tenth of a percent that aren’t easily explained away. After the revelations of 2019, however, one thing is certain: The US government is taking UFO sightings seriously. If naval aviators can lock onto “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP),” the navy’s preferred term for UFOs with advanced targeting systems such as the F/A-18 Hornet’s forward-looking infrared radar (FLIR), it is strong evidence that some sort of physical object is out there.

These flying objects that are unidentified aren’t necessarily flying saucers or alien spacecraft. We don’t know what they are and alien technology is simply one explanation. Another interesting theory is that UFOs are spiritual. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, proposed in his book, “Lights In The Sky And Little Green Men,” that UFOs could come from other dimensions and may be connected with angelic and demonic beings. As evidence, Ross notes a link between UFO sightings and the occult.

You can use an online map of UFO sightings by state to see how plausible you think this and other theories are as well as to judge your own likelihood of a close encounter. Interestingly, the South has few UFO sightings compared with the rest of the country, challenging the stereotype of backwoods, Southern rednecks as the typical UFO witnesses.

You may wonder if I’ve ever seen any strange aerial phenomena in my primary occupation as a pilot. The only example that I can think of in my thousands of hours was a little over 15 years ago as I operated an airline flight over the northeastern US. It was a clear winter night and I think that we were over upstate New York when the other pilot and I both witnessed a vivid red streak in the sky above us. The streak lasted only for a second or so before it disappeared.

What was it? We weren’t sure, but our best guess was that it was a meteor, although it didn’t look like any meteor that I’ve seen before or since. It was both larger and more colorful. This may have been because of our altitude and the atmospheric conditions that night, although I’ve seen shooting stars from aloft since then and none resembled what we saw that night. Neither of us jumped to the conclusion that it was an alien spacecraft.

No one knows what the truth is behind UFOs but the new evidence that emerged in 2019 makes the phenomena a little more real. And while the government is cracking down on illegal immigration, a wall and ICE raids won’t deter these particular illegal aliens in their saucer, triangular, or circus tent craft.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Sunday, December 15, 2019

NJ Democrat Van Drew To Switch Parties

Republicans are celebrating the rumored defection of Democrat Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey congressman and one of two Democrats who voted against authorization of the House impeachment inquiry. Van Drew’s decision to leave the Democratic Party became public on Saturday after the congressman met with President Trump on Friday.

As of this writing, Rep. Van Drew does not appear to have spoken publicly to confirm his plan to switch parties. The congressman’s website was last updated on Dec. 12 and he has not tweeted since Dec. 13 and neither references changing parties.  

While Republicans link Van Drew’s defection to impeachment, polling makes that connection questionable, at least as interpreted by Trump apologists. A recent Fox News poll shows 50 percent of voters in support of impeachment. That number is likely to be higher in deep-blue New Jersey. A poll from back in October showed that support New Jersey voters backed impeachment by 50-36 percent.

Van Drew, who was first elected to Congress last year, represents New Jersey’s second district. In 2018, he won the seat that was being vacated by the retiring Republican Frank LoBiondo with 52 percent of the vote.  The district voted for Trump in 2016 but sided with Barack Obama in the two prior presidential elections. LoBiondo, who was first elected in 1994, won the 2016 election with 59 percent of the vote.

Rep. Van Drew is among the most conservative Democrats per Govtrack’s ideology chart, but his voting record would still place him to the left of all House Republicans. Van Drew scores seven percent on FiveThirtyEight’s Trump scoring scale. Regarding his record on other hot button issues, he gets a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood and zero from National Right to Life.  While he scores poorly on taxes with a nine percent rating from Americans for Prosperity, he did garner 80 percent from the National Rifle Association. On conservative issues, he gets 36 percent from the American Conservative Union and a zero from Conservative Review. If he was an established Republican, Van Drew would be listed among the “rinos.”

If Van Drew doesn’t fit well with Republicans, he also is not a typical Democrat. Politico reported that Democratic leaders were losing patience with the soon-to-be-runaway congressman over a number of votes that had angered the liberal base. As a state senator, he voted against gay marriage, increasing the minimum wage and numerous gun control bills. Progressives already considered Van Drew to be something of a Democrat-in-name-only, but it was his rogue vote on impeachment that caused the most trouble.

“The large majority of our party in Cumberland really isn’t or wasn’t happy with [Van Drew’s] approach on impeachment,” Doug Long, a former Cumberland County, N.J. Democratic chairman, said. “That really has little to do with local politics, until it becomes a part of local politics.”

Several Democrats were reportedly planning to primary Van Drew next year and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, cited a recent internal poll which found that 58 percent of second district primary voters wanted a different candidate. Only 28 percent supported incumbent Van Drew.

“What he's reacting to is public polling that shows he can't get renominated,” Nadler said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Van Drew may not be able to secure the 2020 nomination as a Republican either. Even though New Jersey is a left-leaning state, Republican primary voters will be more conservative than the state as a whole. The liberal side of Van Drew’s record is likely to be a liability.

Three Republicans have already declared their candidacy for Van Drew’s seat. One, Brian Fitzherbert, accused the soon-to-be-former-Democrat of “trying to use South Jersey Republicans to cling onto his power.”

“How stupid does Desperate Jeff Van Drew think South Jersey Republicans are? Desperate Jeff knew exactly what Washington Democrats were about when he ran for Congress two years ago,” Fitzberhert said in a statement.

In the big picture, Van Drew’s defection is a win for Republicans and provides a welcome respite from the bad news of the Ukraine scandal, but, under the surface, his flight from the Democratic Party likely has less to do with moral qualms about Democratic positions than with the unpopularity of his stance against impeachment with second district Democrats.

Van Drew’s move may not be enough to preserve his seat. New Jersey Democrats will be angry at him and Republicans will look to more conservative candidates. Moderates and independents are unlikely to trust him after his party switch less than a year into his term.

If Van Drew is able to mount a successful re-election campaign, he may well become a thorn in the side of the GOP. He seems to sympathize with Republicans on a precious few issues aside from impeachment. However, in the modern Republican Party, loyalty to Donald Trump often seems to trump all else.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Fox Poll: Majority Favors Impeachment And Removal

A new Fox News poll released today found that a majority of registered voters now support impeachment and removal of President Trump. When voters who support impeachment but oppose removal are considered, voters favor impeachment by a double-digit margin.

The poll found that a total of 50 percent of voters want to see Trump impeached and removed. An additional four percent of voters wanted Trump impeached but opposed removal. Forty-one percent of voters opposed impeachment.

In comparison, public support for the impeachment of Richard Nixon hovered in the high 40s throughout the spring and early summer of 1974. Support for Nixon’s impeachment rose dramatically in late July after the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to turn over his secret tapes, reaching 57 percent by the time he resigned on August 8. In the case of Bill Clinton, a CBS News poll from December 1998 found that 60 percent opposed the House impeachment vote and 68 percent opposed Clinton’s removal. Approval for Trump's impeachment more closely resembles that of Nixon than Clinton.

As one would expect, there is a stark partisan divide on the impeachment question. Ninety percent of Democrats favor impeachment while 81 percent of Republicans oppose it. Fifty percent of independents want Trump impeached with only 40 percent opposed.

While one individual poll is possibly an outlier that is not a true representation of public opinion, there are now several months of data from polling on the impeachment question. A FiveThirtyEight average of polls shows that the average of recent polls is within the margin of error of the Fox poll. Respondents favor impeachment and removal by an average of 47.8-45.9 percent. Americans support the impeachment inquiry by an average of 52.3-41.9 percent.

Respondents in the Fox poll also believed that Democrats were running the impeachment inquiry fairly by a slim 45-42 margin. Voters were more convinced that President Trump was obstructing the inquiry. Fifty-two percent thought that Trump was not being “cooperative enough” with the inquiry compared with 36 percent who approved of Trump’s strategy of stonewalling.

With respect to the upcoming election, voters were split on how an impeachment vote would affect their preference for a congressional candidate. Thirty-eight percent said that voting for impeachment would make them more likely to vote for a candidate compared with 36 percent who would be less likely to support a candidate who voted for impeachment. Twenty-five percent said it would make no difference or didn’t know how it would affect their vote.

The poll also showed that Republican talking points are not resonating with voters. Only 37 percent were extremely or very interested in the allegations about Joe and Hunter Biden compared with 54 percent who only somewhat or not-at-all interested. Those numbers have barely changed since October.

The Fox poll also had bad news for Republicans on the policy front. The poll found that many Democratic policies are popular among voters. Sixty-eight percent favor a two-percent wealth tax on people with more than $50 million, 66 percent favor a public option to purchase Medicare, 63 percent favor marijuana legalization, and 53 percent want to keep Obamacare in place with only minor changes. The poll also showed that voters oppose the border wall by a 52-44 margin.

The best news for Republicans in the poll is that Americans reject Democrat calls for Medicare-for-all. Fifty-three percent oppose abolishing private health insurance while only 41 percent support the idea.

The Fox poll confirms that Americans are closely divided on the question of impeachment. While public opinion is against Trump, it is not strong enough to persuade Republicans to break ranks with the president. Nevertheless, polling data does not support the Republican notion that Democrats will pay a price next November for going through with impeachment. Republican defenses of Trump are falling flat outside the party faithful.

If Democrats delayed impeachment and continued to pursue the investigation, they might build public support for impeaching and removing the president in a scenario that followed the Nixon model. The conundrum for Democrats is that 1974 was a midterm election year while the clock is currently counting down to a presidential election. The longer Democrats wait, the more powerful the argument to let the voters decide will become.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, December 13, 2019

McConnell Says ‘No Chance’ Senate Will Remove Trump

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Sean Hannity on Thursday that there was “no chance” that the Senate would vote to remove President Trump from office after he is impeached by the House.
“The case is so darn weak coming from the House,” McConnell said. “We know how it’s going to end. There’s no chance the president’s going to be removed from office.”
“My hope is that there won’t be a single Republican who votes for either of these articles of impeachment, and Sean, it wouldn’t surprise me if we got one or two Democrats,” McConnell added.
Earlier this week, McConnell raised the possibility of a brief trial in which no witnesses are called and the Senate votes summarily on evidence and arguments that would be presented by Democrats acting in the role of prosecutor against the president. At that point, McConnell suggested to Reuters that the Senate “could go down the path of calling witnesses and basically having another trial” or, he added, a majority of senators could decide “that they’ve heard enough and they believe they know what would happen and could move to vote on the two articles of impeachment sent over to us by the House.”
President Trump seems to have embraced the idea having a long trial and turning it into a spectacle in which his defense attempts to put Joe and Hunter Biden on trial. On Dec. 5, Trump tweeted that Democrats should impeach him “fast” so that he could “have Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more testify….”
White House spokesman told reporters last week that the president “wants his case fully made in the Senate,”  adding that, “We need witnesses as part of our trial and a full defense of the president on the facts.”
A vigorous defense could complicate matters for the Trump Administration. One of the articles of impeachment is obstruction on the grounds that the White House has refused to provide documentation and witnesses that were requested by Congress. Witnesses at the White House, the Pentagon, and even civilian attorney Rudy Giuliani all refused to comply with congressional subpoenas. In a long trial, these and other subpoenas might be renewed and enforced. At the very least, uncomfortable questions about why the president’s inner circle is not testifying on his behalf may be raised.
An extended trial would also give Democrats an opportunity to dig deeper and find more witnesses with information that is embarrassing for the president. By forcing a quick House vote, Democrats are passing up the opportunity to find more evidence against Mr. Trump, but a long trial in the Senate could mean that the president fails to benefit from their error.
Further, the Constitution specifies that the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over an impeachment trial. Since John Roberts would control the proceedings, Senate Republicans will likely have fewer opportunities to score partisan points than Democrats did in the House where they controlled the committees conducting the impeachment process.
On the bench, Roberts has a history of avoiding partisanship and has a moderate record with one of his most famous (or infamous) decisions upholding Obamacare’s individual mandate as a tax. The chief justice is not a person who can be expected to toe the Republican Party line.
However, a summary vote to dismiss the impeachment has risks as well. The country is closely divided on impeachment with a slight plurality favoring the removal of Donald Trump. A rubber stamp vote to dismiss the charges against Trump is unlikely to win Republicans many friends among voters skeptical of the president. These voters would include many of the suburban voters who abandoned the GOP en masse in 2018.
In the end, Mr. McConnell seems correct that the Senate will vote to acquit Donald Trump. The numbers for removal just aren’t there. The Constitution requires a two-thirds majority to remove the president, meaning that 20 Republican senators would have to defect and vote with Democrats. The chances of such a mass desertion of the president are nil at this point.
On conducting a short trial, however, McConnell is on shakier ground. Both sides seem to be adopting self-defeating strategies for impeachment with Democrats rushing what they could shape into a public approval nightmare for Donald Trump with a slow drip of investigations over the next year and the Trump Administration pushing for a long trial that it is unlikely to be able to control.
No one knows where the impeachment trial will ultimately lead, but, if it concludes early in the year, I have to wonder if voters will even remember it by November. Such is the nature of the incredibly fast news cycles of the Trump era.

Originally published on The Resurgent