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 on: November 19, 2018, 01:49:11 pm 
Started by Kiwithrottlejockey - Last post by Kiwithrottlejockey

from the print edition of the Los Angeles Times…

Danger spins from the sky

The Robinson R44, the world's top civilian helicopter, has a long history of deadly crashes.

By KIM CHRISTENSEN and BEN WALSH | Sunday, November 18, 2018

Police investigate the site where a Robinson R44 helicopter crashed in Newport Beach in January, killing the pilot and two passengers. — Photograph: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times.
Police investigate the site where a Robinson R44 helicopter crashed in Newport Beach in January, killing the pilot and two passengers.
 — Photograph: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times.

THE FLIGHT lasted all of a minute.

The four-seat helicopter had barely lifted off from John Wayne Airport when it nosed down, clipped two houses and slammed into a third, killing the pilot and two of his three passengers.

“It was like a train hitting a wall,” said Paddi Faubion, who saw the January 30 crash from her balcony in a gated Newport Beach neighborhood.

The cause has yet to be determined, but the type of helicopter is well known to accident investigators: the Robinson R44. It is the world's best-selling civilian helicopter, a top choice among flight schools, sightseeing companies, police departments and recreational pilots.

It also is exceptionally deadly.

Robinson R44s were involved in 42 fatal crashes in the U.S. from 2006 to 2016, more than any other civilian helicopter, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of National Transportation Safety Board accident reports.

That translates to 1.6 deadly accidents per 100,000 hours flown — a rate nearly 50% higher than any other of the dozen most common civilian models whose flight hours are tracked by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Family-owned Robinson Helicopter Company disputed the L.A. Times' analysis, contending that the FAA undercounts the flight hours for the R44, leading to an inflated accident rate. The company vigorously defended its record, maintaining that its aircraft are safe and reliable when flown within their operating limits.

Still, safety issues have dogged the Torrance manufacturer over its 45-year history, the L.A. Times found, and both the company and the FAA have been slow to address design features and operating characteristics that have caused or contributed to accidents.

Scores of R44 pilots and passengers have been killed in preventable post-crash fires, or in helicopters that dropped from the sky when they suddenly lost lift. Others have died when main rotor blades peeled apart in flight or sliced through tail booms or cockpits.

Some pilots or their surviving family members said they were stunned to learn — after accidents — of the R44's safety issues, and they questioned why regulators had not taken stronger action.

Gail Bechler, whose husband, Jim, died in a fiery 2012 accident that investigators concluded was his fault, said she was shocked to find out that his R44's fuel tanks had “split like a Coke can” in a relatively low-impact crash — and that there had been many others like it.

“I thought, wait a minute, they can continue to make this same part even after they knew? I just remember thinking, ‘Who is going to die next?’” she said. “Those helicopters should have all been grounded and there should have been a giant red flag and a recall.”

More than 600 people have died in Robinson crashes around the world since 1982. At least 65 wrongful-death and product liability lawsuits have been filed across the U.S. since then, accusing Robinson of concealing or willfully ignoring safety issues and dodging accountability — allegations the company denies. Many of the lawsuits were resolved with confidential settlements.

The company president, Kurt Robinson, contested his helicopter's place atop the L.A. Times' accident-rate ranking. He said the FAA flight-hour totals used to calculate the accident rate are a “guesstimate.”

The FAA rejected that claim. The agency's estimates, published each year by a group of professional statisticians and currently available through 2016, are based on a survey sent to operators in the field. Federal aviation officials routinely use the data to calculate accident rates.

Even using the company's estimated flight hours — nearly 40% more than the FAA's — the R44 still had the highest rate, at 1.17 fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours.

Robinson noted that U.S. fatal R44 crashes declined to two in 2017, which he said reflected the company's efforts to reduce the accident rate. He also argued that the vast majority of Robinson accidents are the fault of pilots — not the machine — and that many are students or hobbyists with little time at the controls.

“When people say that ours have more accidents than the others, well, ours are not being flown by professional people,” Robinson said. “Ours are being flown much, much more at the entry point of the market.”

For the masses

The company was born in 1973 in the Rancho Palos Verdes home of engineer Frank Robinson, who became enamored of helicopters as a kid in Washington state.

“When I was 9 or 10, I saw a picture in the Seattle newspaper of Igor Sikorsky hovering in a VS-300 prototype,” Robinson said in a 2010 lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society in England. “Right then and there, I decided that's what I want to do.”

He earned a degree in mechanical engineering and then spent 16 years working for aircraft manufacturers, including major helicopter makers Bell and Hughes. Neither was making the helicopter for the masses that he envisioned.

“I wanted to design a very simple — with an emphasis on simple — low-cost helicopter that could be produced efficiently and sold to the public at a price that many people could afford,” Robinson said in his lecture.

He replaced his living room furniture with drafting tables, set up a workshop in the garage and farmed out parts fabrication to a business partner in Hawaii. He built a prototype of the two-seat, piston-engine R22 in a hangar at nearby Torrance Airport, now home to the company's 600,000-square-foot factory.

The R22 hit the market in 1979. With a bargain price tag of $40,000, it soon became the most popular civilian helicopter in the world and a favorite of flight schools.

Developed from the R22, the R44 made its debut in 1993 and is now the company's most popular model, largely because it can carry more passengers.

Today the R44 sells for about $475,000, the R22 for about $300,000 and the R66 — a five-seat turbine-powered model introduced in 2010 — for about $900,000. In all, Robinson has made more than 12,000 helicopters, with at least 60% of recent sales going to foreign buyers.

“They put people in the air who otherwise would not be able to afford to fly helicopters or buy helicopters,” said Ilyas Akbari, a Los Angeles aviation attorney whose firm has brought about a dozen lawsuits alleging that design defects make Robinsons unforgiving of pilot mistakes and inherently unsafe.

“It is such a double-edged sword with this company,” Akbari said. “It is a glaring problem, but nobody wants to fix it.”

Unique rotor design

Whether the lightweight design of Robinson helicopters makes them dangerous has long been the subject of debate — and litigation.

Helicopters generally share a basic design: A main rotor system attached to a vertical drive shaft, or mast, provides the lift and thrust. A tail rotor stabilizes the aircraft.

But those systems vary, and Robinson uses its own version of a two-bladed main rotor that teeters on a hub atop the mast.

All teetering rotor systems are susceptible to a phenomenon called mast-bumping, which occurs when the seesawing becomes so extreme that the hub or the inner ends of the rotor blades strike the mast.

Mast-bumping often occurs in low-gravity — or “low G” — conditions, which can be induced by incorrect pilot inputs or turbulent weather.

In some helicopters, it might cause only minor damage. In Robinsons, it has been catastrophic: Rotor systems break off or the blades cut into cockpits or tail booms, according to aviation experts and incident reports by U.S. and foreign accident investigators.

“Due to their unique main rotor design, during a sudden and prolonged or severe low-G condition Robinson helicopters can roll rapidly to the right and likely break up before a pilot can recover,” New Zealand government accident investigators said in a 2016 report on a fatal R44 mast-bumping.

From 1981 through early 1992, about two dozen R22s were involved in fatal U.S. crashes linked to a loss of control. Many bore signs of mast-bumping, but exact causes could not be determined because there were no survivors or onboard data recorders.

Then on June 29, 1992, near Richmond, California, another R22 broke up, killing the pilot and his flight student.

This time was different: The student was carrying a cassette recorder to capture her flight lesson on tape, which revealed no warning of trouble. The helicopter broke apart in midair so suddenly it interrupted the pilot in midsentence. As the helicopter plunged toward San Pablo Bay, the recorder also picked up the student's muffled cry of “Help!”

The NTSB blamed the accident on an “undetermined event” and launched an extensive review of fatal Robinson crashes — 31 in the R22 and three in the then-fledgling R44. It ruled out common mechanical issues, such as engine failure or fuel system problems, but did not come up with an explanation for the sudden loss of control.

In early 1995, the NTSB asked the FAA to ground Robinson helicopters to allow for further research and testing. The FAA responded by issuing Special Flight Aviation Regulation 73, which requires extra instruction about mast-bumping risks and low-G conditions, along with specific flight checks for pilots of the R22 and R44.

No other make of helicopter is subject to such a regulation, according to the FAA.

“I have felt it was a good thing, a mandated type of training that prevented accidents,” said Kurt Robinson, who took over the company from his father in 2010.

The new rule's impact is unclear. The causes of many helicopter crashes remain a mystery even after the NTSB — tasked with scrutinizing every U.S. civil aviation accident — finishes its job.

The Los Angeles Times reviewed all investigation reports issued since the new regulation took effect and identified 10 fatal Robinson crashes in which investigators saw signs of mast-bumping.

In 2016, the government of New Zealand placed Robinson mast-bumping on its “watch list” of most serious transportation safety concerns, citing 14 fatal accidents over the previous 20 years.

Several government agencies there have since banned the use of Robinsons by their employees.

The company protested the watch-list designation and said mast-bumping accidents are “entirely avoidable” when pilots use good judgment and follow operating procedures. Kurt Robinson rejected any link between mast-bumping and design.

“There is absolutely nothing to do with our hub or rotor system that affects or causes it,” he said.

He said that some New Zealand pilots had been practicing maneuvers known as cyclic pushovers, which can cause mast-bumping and are prohibited by Robinson operator handbooks. The company has helped retrain Kiwi pilots, he said.

“People who like adventure are attracted to our products,” he said. “But there's also a limit. You have to instruct them and tell them there are things you can't do.”

Pilots' experience

Robinson's contention that its pilots are less experienced is borne out to some extent by the L.A. Times' analysis.

Though the federal government does not track the flight hours of pilots across the board, it does log the experience level of those involved in accidents. Robinson pilots in deadly crashes had tallied a median of 1,017 flight hours, the least of any major helicopter maker.

At the same time, reports by the NTSB detail examples of experienced pilots who were killed in what the agency said should have been survivable accidents.

Take the case of Jim Bechler, an Orange County attorney who had piloted Robinson helicopters for more than 30 years and bought a new R44 in 2008. He was flying home from a business meeting near Temecula when he stopped to refuel at Corona Municipal Airport.

Minutes later, as the helicopter lifted off with 40 gallons of fuel in its tanks, its rotor blades clipped a metal canopy over the fuel island. The R44 flailed briefly, dropped a few feet to the pavement and burst into flames.

Bechler burned to death. He was 61.

The NTSB blamed the November 2012 accident on his failure to clear the overhang. But the safety board also said he “most likely would have survived” if no fire had occurred. His family settled out of court with the company.

Safety board records detail many such low-impact R44 crashes in which dozens of occupants died or suffered serious burns when the all-aluminum fuel tanks — which sit behind the cabin — exploded in otherwise survivable accidents.

In July 2006, Robinson addressed the issue not by fortifying its tanks, but by trying to fireproof pilots and passengers.

“To reduce the risk of injury in a post-crash fire, it is strongly recommended that a fire-retardant Nomex flight suit, gloves and hood or helmet be worn by all occupants,” said Robinson Safety Notice 40.

The warning was deemed impractical by many pilots and widely ignored. A year after it was issued, four people burned to death in a low-impact crash in Washington state. None were wearing fire-resistant gear.

In 2009, the company began to bolster its new R44 tanks with flexible bladders, which are puncture-resistant and designed to contain fuel in low-impact crashes. A year later, it offered them as a voluntary retrofit for helicopters already in service — at owners' expense of about $6,800 for parts, plus labor.

Kurt Robinson said it took until 2009 to develop a suitable bladder for his helicopters, disputing allegations in wrongful-death lawsuits that the company could have acted sooner.

“It's one thing to sit on the sideline and say, ‘You've got to improve that’,” Robinson said. “It's another thing, from an engineering standpoint, to say, ‘How are you going to do this?’ This is not a simple thing to do.”

Robinson said some R44s with all-aluminum tanks continue to fly, despite his company's best efforts to urge owners to retrofit them.

No preparation

Larry Wells, a pilot for the FAA, was practicing hovering, landing and liftoff maneuvers near Jackson, Mississippi, on September 1, 2009, when his Robinson R44 began to shudder violently.

“When the vibration started, I looked in to check the gauges, but by that time the vibration was so bad I could not read them,” Wells recalled.

At 1,000 feet above the ground, everything was a blur as he fought to regain control. Seconds later, the helicopter tore through the treetops and slammed into a house, killing his passenger, Charles Farmer, a 59-year-old co-worker.

Wells, then 57, broke more than 60 bones and spent six weeks in a coma. His left arm was partly paralyzed and he now walks with a limp.

The NTSB ruled the crash was caused by “the pilot's failure to maintain adequate main rotor rpm, for undetermined reasons.” Wells contends the accident was not his fault and might have been averted if Robinson had divulged what it had known for 16 years about a phenomenon known as mast-rocking, or chug.

The company had documented the sort of severe vibrations that Wells experienced in a once-confidential analysis referred to in court records as the “Robinson chug report.” Dated January 13, 2007, it was written by chief engineer Pete Riedl and detailed incidents of R44 mast-rocking from 1993 to 2006, attributing it to a fore-and-aft movement of the main rotor shaft and gearbox assembly.

Instead of sharing the report with pilots, owners or the FAA, the company argued in legal proceedings that it contained proprietary information. It eventually surfaced in a lawsuit stemming from the deaths of two Canadian men whose new R44 broke up in flight near Desert Center, California.

“Nobody had ever mentioned to me in any safety course, no Robinson helicopter pilot, no communique, no nothing had ever mentioned to me a vibration problem with the R44,” Wells testified in a deposition.

He sued Robinson, which disputed that mast-rocking caused his crash. In July 2015, a federal jury in Mississippi awarded Wells $2.8 million for his injuries and economic damages, along with $700,000 to Farmer's widow. Before jurors began deliberations on punitive damages, the two sides reached a confidential settlement.

In an interview, Kurt Robinson described the vibration as a “red herring” that was more of an annoyance than a safety issue and said the company addressed it years ago by changing to firmer rubber gearbox mounts.

“I will tell you I've never seen anybody hurt with that,” he said.

The NTSB cited other mast-rocking accidents, including a 2009 hard landing in which three Alaska state troopers walked away from their heavily damaged R44. They were in the air for 90 seconds when it shook “to the point where I felt that the aircraft was about to come apart,” pilot Scott Quist told the NTSB.

“Nothing in my training prepared me for this condition,” he told investigators.

The NTSB concluded that mast-rocking was the cause of Quist's accident and took Robinson to task for not sounding alarms about the potential danger.

“As a result, not all operators are familiar with the phenomenon, as the accident operator was not,” the agency noted.

The safety board closed its file on mast-rocking but did not declare the issue resolved. In 2013, the board expressed concern that the company had never found the root cause of the problem and thus could not ensure that it would not recur.

“They haven't figured it out,” former NTSB chairman Christopher Hart told the Los Angeles Times late last year.

Robinson said that doesn't matter, because the stiffer mounts have eliminated the problem: “We knew how to solve it and we did.”

Robinson participates in NTSB investigations involving its helicopters and submits its findings to federal authorities.

It does not analyze its findings to determine accident causes. Nor does it retain detailed records of accidents or incidents, compile statistical data to track recurring issues or tally how many people have been killed or injured in its helicopters.

That lack of historical data is troubling to aviation safety experts.

“When the answer is, ‘We don't keep databases because every time something goes wrong we fix it’, that doesn't answer the question of just what is the story, what is going on here?” said Hart, the former NTSB chairman. “Without data, you are at a loss. You are shooting in the dark.”

Aviation consultant William Lawrence, a retired Marine Corps colonel and helicopter test pilot and instructor who has testified as a paid expert against Robinson Helicopter Company in a dozen lawsuits, contends the company willfully ignores safety issues to avoid liability.

“In my near half-century of aviation experience, RHC is the only aircraft manufacturer I have found in the world that does not focus on safety,” he wrote in a report filed with a lawsuit stemming from a New Jersey crash. “I believe RHC divests itself of all records in an attempt to have ‘plausible deniability’ related to responsibility.”

Kurt Robinson dismissed such criticism and said victims' lawyers often are merely seeking big payouts. He said the company keeps accident reports and other records for “only as long as the FAA requires us to” and that throwing them away does not impede its commitment to safety.

“We look at every accident trying to rack our brains out and say what improvements can we make to the helicopter, what things can we tell pilots through safety notices that will enhance safety for them,” he said.

In Southern California, three R44s have crashed since January 2017, killing three people and injuring six others, NTSB records show. The safety board has not determined causes for those accidents, which remain under investigation.

The helicopter that crashed in Newport Beach in January, killing the pilot and two passengers, was operated by a flight school and touring company and was headed to Catalina Island.

Six months earlier, an R44 on a sightseeing flight lost power and landed hard on a city street in Sherman Oaks, injuring the pilot and two passengers.

And two months before that, an R44 suddenly lost power and crashed on a golf course maintenance yard in Santa Barbara, seriously injuring the pilot and two passengers, a young couple on a sightseeing tour. All escaped just before fire destroyed the helicopter.

“I was very happy when they emerged alive,” said golfer Kevin Keating, who saw the R44 fall from the sky. “Oh, man, were they lucky.”


• Kim Christensen is an investigative reporter on the Los Angeles Times' projects team. He has more than 30 years in newspapers, starting with the Dayton Daily News in his hometown in Ohio. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes, at the Oregonian in 2001 and at the Orange County Register in 1996, for investigations of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and of fertility fraud at UC Irvine. He joined the L.A. Times in 2005.

• Ben Walsh is the editor of the Data Desk, a team of reporters and computer programmers in the Los Angeles Times newsroom. He works with reporters and editors to collect, organize, analyze and present large amounts of information. His education includes a master's degree from the Missouri School of Journalism as well as undergraduate training at DePaul University in Chicago. He frequently teaches practical computer programming skills to journalism students and professionals.


 on: November 18, 2018, 01:22:55 pm 
Started by Kiwithrottlejockey - Last post by Kiwithrottlejockey

A moronic fucking clown blunders into California to see for himself the damage caused by the California wildfires of the past few days…

President Donald J. Trump waves as he arrives on Air Force One at Beale Air Force Base on Saturday to visit areas hit by the California wildfires. — Photograph: Evan Vucci/Associated Press.
President Donald J. Trump waves as he arrives on Air Force One at Beale Air Force Base on Saturday to visit areas hit by the California wildfires.
 — Photograph: Evan Vucci/Associated Press.

(click on the photograph to read all about the stupid fuckwit's visit to California in the wake of the disastrous wildfires)

 on: November 17, 2018, 03:01:40 pm 
Started by Kiwithrottlejockey - Last post by Kiwithrottlejockey

from The Seattle Times…

A day at the office for President Trump

Trump pouts, tweets, watches TV and avoids doing his job.

By DAVID HORSEY | 11:09AM PDT — Friday, November 16, 2018

DONALD TRUMP has never been eager to tackle the mundane duties of the presidency, preferring the adulation of adoring crowds in his permanent campaign, but, since the mid-term elections in which Democrats made dramatic gains in the House of Representatives, Trump has been spending even less time doing the things all other presidents have done.

News reports suggest he is angry and depressed at the prospect that the second half of his presidential term will be plagued by investigations led by Democrats in the House, as well as by impending revelations from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's probe of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The work he has shirked range from placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veteran's Day to attending the annual gathering of Asian and Pacific Rim leaders at the APEC conference. With his wild tweets and inflammatory rhetoric, Trump is fighting mightily to keep his job, but, strangely, he doesn't actually want to do many of the important things that job entails.


• See more of David Horsey's cartoons at The Seattle Times HERE.


 on: November 17, 2018, 03:01:07 pm 
Started by Kiwithrottlejockey - Last post by Kiwithrottlejockey

from The Seattle Times…

GOP out of fashion in King County

Trump's dead weight sinks GOP in King County.

By DAVID HORSEY | 10:24AM PDT — Thursday, November 15, 2018

ELEPHANTS have long been endangered in Africa; now, in the wake of the 2018 mid-term election, the party that has long used the elephant as a mascot appears equally in peril in King County. Not that long ago, Bellevue and the Eastside suburbs were a bastion of GOP power in the state. Now, there is not a single Republican left holding a partisan office that is fully inside the county boundaries.

The most dramatic shift is in the 8th Congressional District where Kim Schrier is the first Democrat ever to win that congressional seat. The voters who swung this election are the college-educated females who have increased in numbers in the suburbs — women who generally loathe Donald Trump. As long as Republicans keep embracing their unpopular and divisive leader, they may face extinction, not just in King County, but in suburban districts across the country.


• See more of David Horsey's cartoons at The Seattle Times HERE.


 on: November 16, 2018, 03:39:42 pm 
Started by Kiwithrottlejockey - Last post by Kiwithrottlejockey

from The Washington Post…

U.S. military edge has eroded to ‘a dangerous degree’,
study for Congress finds

Commission evaluating defense strategy warns United States “might struggle to win,
or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia”.

By PAUL SONNE and SHANE HARRIS | 11:43AM EDT — Wednesday, November 14, 2018

China is rapidly modernizing its forces in an attempt to match the U.S. might in Asia. United States Navy aircraft carrier CVN-70 Carl Vinson — Photograph: The Washington Post.
China is rapidly modernizing its forces in an attempt to match the U.S. might in Asia. United States Navy aircraft carrier CVN-70 Carl Vinson.
 — Photograph: The Washington Post.

THE United States has lost its military edge to a dangerous degree and could potentially lose a war against China or Russia, according to a report released on Wednesday by a bipartisan commission that Congress created to evaluate the Trump administration’s defense strategy.

The National Defense Strategy Commission, made up of former top Republican and Democratic officials selected by Congress, evaluated the Trump administration's 2018 National Defense Strategy, which ordered a vast reshaping of the U.S. military to compete with Beijing and Moscow in an era of renewed great-power competition.

While endorsing the strategy's aims, the commission warned that Washington isn't moving fast enough or investing sufficiently to put the vision into practice, risking a further erosion of American military dominance that could become a national security emergency.

At the same time, according to the commission, China and Russia are seeking dominance in their regions and the ability to project military power globally, as their authoritarian governments pursue defense buildups aimed squarely at the United States.

“There is a strong fear of complacency, that people have become so used to the United States achieving what it wants in the world, to include militarily, that it isn't heeding the warning signs,” said Kathleen H. Hicks, a former top Pentagon official during the Obama administration and one of the commissioners. “It's the flashing red that we are trying to relay.”

The picture of the national security landscape that the 12-person commission sketched is a bleak one, in which an American military that has enjoyed undisputed dominance for decades is failing to receive the resources, innovation and prioritization its leaders need to outmuscle China and Russia in a race for military might reminiscent of the Cold War.

The military balance has shifted adversely for the United States in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, undermining the confidence of American allies and increasing the likelihood of military conflict, the commission found after reviewing classified documents, receiving Pentagon briefings and interviewing top defense officials.

“The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia,” the report said. “The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.”

In its list of 32 recommendations, the commission urged the Pentagon to explain more clearly how it intends to defeat major-power rivals in competition and war. It assailed the strategy for relying at times on “questionable assumptions and weak analysis” and leaving “unanswered critical questions.”

Eric Edelman, a top Pentagon official during the Bush administration, who co-chaired the commission along with retired Admiral Gary Roughead, said the report wrestled with the consequences of years of ignored warnings about the erosion of American military might.

Russia and China have “learned from what we've done. They've learned from our success. And while we've been off doing a different kind of warfare, they've been prepared for a kind of warfare at the high end that we really haven't engaged in for a very long time,” Edelman told Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA and a fellow member of the commission, during an episode of Morell's podcast, “Intelligence Matters”.

Edelman said people had lost sight of how complicated the international security environment had become for the United States, and argued that for a lot of reasons the American public and Congress haven't been as attentive to the urgency of the situation as they should be.

The commission said that despite a $716 billion American defense budget this year, which is four times the size of China's and more than 10 times that of Russia, the effort to reshape the U.S. defense establishment to counter current threats is under-resourced. It recommended that Congress lift budget caps on defense spending in the next two years that in the past have hobbled the military's ability to plan for the long term.

“It is beyond the scope of our work to identify the exact dollar amount required to fully fund the military's needs,” the report concluded. “Yet available resources are clearly insufficient to fulfill the strategy's ambitious goals, including that of ensuring that (the Defense Department) can defeat a major-power adversary while deterring other enemies simultaneously.”

The call for even more robust defense spending comes as the Democrats take over the House and seek rollbacks of key Pentagon programs. It also comes after the White House instructed the Pentagon to pare back its planned budget for the coming year by about 4.5 percent, or approximately $33 billion, after the federal deficit increased sharply following last year's tax cut.

White House national security adviser John Bolton recently said he expected the defense budget to remain relatively flat in the coming years as the administration seeks to cut discretionary spending, and suggested the Pentagon would need to reshape the military with funds derived from cuts to other areas. It promises to be a dramatic shift after two years of increased defense spending and repeated statements by President Trump that he is rebuilding the American military like never before.

Money saved from planned Pentagon changes will prove insufficient to make the kind of investment the military needs to execute the new national defense strategy, the commission found. It also said Congress should look at the entire federal budget, including entitlement spending and tax revenue, to put the nation on more stable financial footing, rather than slash defense spending.

Critics of the report's findings said the commission recommends catchall defense funding that is unrealistic given the current environment. One of the commission's members, retired Army officer Andrew Krepinevich, wrote a dissent to the findings arguing that the commission failed to apply analytic rigor to its own recommendations even as it accused the Pentagon strategy of lacking analytic rigor.

“The commission rightly calls attention to the erosion of the American military's conventional edge and the necessity for the country to understand the urgency of the problem,” said Elbridge Colby, a former Pentagon official under Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and who oversaw the strategy's development. “But it doesn't give due support and credit to the hard choices that Secretary Mattis made, which are crucial to solving this problem.”

To counter Russia and China, the commission said the Navy should expand its submarine fleet and sealift forces; the Air Force should introduce more reconnaissance platforms and stealth long-range fighters and bombers; and the Army should pursue more armor, long-range precision missiles and air-defense and logistical forces.

In its recommendations, the report advocated seeing through the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and putting a top Pentagon official in charge of developing additional air and missile defenses.

Another area of focus for the commission was innovation.

It described Pentagon acquisition programs as too risk-averse, and urged the Defense Department and Congress to create a new category of pilot programs aimed at “leap-ahead” technologies that could serve as breakthroughs to help retain American military dominance.

The report also resurfaced questions about the civilian-military divide that arose after Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, took over as defense secretary, thanks to a vote in Congress that waived a requirement for military officers to be out of uniform for 10 years before serving in that role.

In his nearly two years as secretary, Mattis has relied more on current and former military officers for expertise than his recent predecessors have.

Without singling out Mattis, the commission warned that “responsibility on key strategic and policy issues has increasingly migrated to the military,” and urged Congress to exercise oversight to “reverse the unhealthy trend in which decision-making is drifting increasingly toward the military on issues of national importance.”


Paul Sonne is a national security reporter for The Washington Post, where he covers the U.S. military and writes about defense policy at the Pentagon. He joined The Post's National desk in 2018 after nearly nine years as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in Moscow, London and Washington, most recently covering national security from the D.C. bureau. As Moscow correspondent for The Journal, he covered Vladimir Putin, the 2014 Winter Olympics and the conflict in Ukraine. Before that, Sonne wrote political, general news and corporate stories out of The Journal's bureau in London. He started his career as an intern for The New York Times and the Associated Press. Sonne graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Russian literature and received his master's from the University of Oxford, where he studied Russian history and politics as a Marshall Scholar.

Shane Harris is an intelligence and national security reporter at The Washington Post. He earned a B.A. in Politics from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


Related to this topic:

 • VIDEO: Moscow holds historic military parade on Red Square

 • VIDEO: As China's military grows, Pentagon says U.S. forces ‘atrophied’


 on: November 16, 2018, 03:37:55 pm 
Started by Kiwithrottlejockey - Last post by Kiwithrottlejockey

Yep … Donald J. Trump is a real WINNER alright!!

 on: November 16, 2018, 03:36:31 pm 
Started by Kiwithrottlejockey - Last post by Kiwithrottlejockey

from The Washington Post…

The White House is in meltdown

An angry president, a backstabbing staff, and an administration about to be under siege from Congress.

By PAUL WALDMAN | 10:24AM EDT — Wednesday, November 14, 2018

An angry President Donald J. Trump vents towards journalists on the lawn of the White House. — Photograph: The Washington Post.
An angry President Donald J. Trump vents towards journalists on the lawn of the White House. — Photograph: The Washington Post.

EVERY White House experiences tension and turnover; it's a stressful environment where punishingly long hours are the norm, everyone has his or her own ambitions, and the stakes are extremely high. A certain amount of controlled chaos is inevitable. But there's ordinary White House chaos, and then there's Trump White House chaos.

New reporting paints a picture of the administration descending into a thunderdome of backstabbing and resentment as staffers jockey for position or wonder whether they should get the heck out, all presided over by an erratic, unhappy president. This might sound like a familiar story, but if it isn't already worse than it has been before, it soon will be, especially now that the mid-term elections have cast a cloud over the remaining two years of President Trump's term.

Let's run down a few of the highlights:

  • Trump's trip to France to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I was a disaster, marked by a brooding and petulant president mocked and condemned wherever he went. Angry about his party's mid-term losses, Trump has spent his time in the past week insulting reporters in terms that are unusually personal even for him, spinning out desperate conspiracy theories about stolen elections on Twitter and lashing out at Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron.

  • After deciding not to attend a ceremony honoring those killed in the war because rain apparently made it inconvenient to get there, Trump grew enraged at his staff “for not counseling him that skipping the cemetery visit would be a public-relations nightmare.” Somehow he was not able to figure out for himself that doing so might not go over well.

  • Trump “told advisers over the weekend that he had decided to remove Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and that he also was seriously considering replacing White House chief of staff John F. Kelly.”

  • While Trump is considering replacing Kelly with Nick Ayers, Vice President Pence's chief of staff, “aides told Trump that appointing Ayers would lower staff morale and perhaps trigger an exodus.”

  • First lady Melania Trump's staff issued an extraordinary statement saying a top national security aide, Mira R. Ricardel, “no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” making public a bureaucratic feud that stretches between the White House and the Pentagon.

  • According to the Los Angeles Times, “With the certainty that the incoming Democratic House majority will go after his tax returns and investigate his actions, and the likelihood of additional indictments by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Trump has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment.”

  • Trump's firing of Jeff Sessions and appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, a move meant to protect him from the Mueller investigation, is turning out to be a mini-scandal in its own right, to the point where the president vacillates between singing Whitaker's praises and claiming he doesn't know him.

The root of all this is the mid-term elections, and it's hard to overstate what an impact they'll have on the administration. Nobody likes losing, of course, but nobody hates it more than Trump, particularly after he worked so hard in the weeks leading up to the election, telling his supporters that “I'm not on the ticket, but I am on the ticket, because this is also a referendum about me.” It was indeed, and he was pretty emphatically rejected.

Nothing is more upsetting to Trump than being considered a loser, even temporarily. But I suspect that the prospect of having his tax returns made public has him even more frightened. We don't know what they will reveal, but suffice to say that no sane person believes that all we'll discover when they're opened up is that Trump took advantage of some loopholes and did some creative accounting here and there. Everything we know about Trump's career — not least the recent revelation that he and his family engaged in a years-long conspiracy to commit tax fraud on an absolutely massive scale — suggests that those returns will be a Pandora's box of scandal.

So that would account for the president's dark mood. But if you're one of his staffers, you're probably gripped by an equally strong sense of foreboding, or at a minimum the feeling that the fun times are over. Not only won't there be any more conservative legislation to pass, but also Democrats will be launching one investigation after another, probing everything you’ve done for the past two years. If you're senior enough, you may get hauled before House committees to be grilled mercilessly. You might even need to get yourself a lawyer, which can be a real burden on a government salary.

So you go to work every day wondering when the hammer is going to fall on you. Is one of your colleagues plotting against you? Are you going to get a congressional subpoena? Is today the day that the president turns his wrath on you in his endless search for others to blame for his problems and his mistakes?

When everyone around you feels that way, too, things get a little uneasy. Describing the White House right now, one former Trump aide told Politico, “It's like an episode of ‘Maury’,” referencing the daytime TV show famous for bitter family arguments. “The only thing that's missing is a paternity test.”

But there's no mystery about who the father of this mess is. He's sitting in the Oval Office, scared and angry that the accountability he has outrun his entire life might actually catch up to him.


Paul Waldman is an opinion writer for The Plum Line blog at The Washington Post. Before joining The Post, he worked at an advocacy group, edited an online magazine, taught at university and worked on political campaigns. He has authored or co-authored four books on media and politics, and his work has appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines. He is also a senior writer at the American Prospect.


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 on: November 16, 2018, 03:36:18 pm 
Started by Kiwithrottlejockey - Last post by Kiwithrottlejockey

from The Washington Post…

A frightful portrait of a president out of control

Trump's temperament worsens by the day.

By JENNIFER RUBIN | 10:15AM EDT — Wednesday, November 11, 2018

President Donald J. Trump at the White House on Tuesday. — Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg.
President Donald J. Trump at the White House on Tuesday. — Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg.


During his 43-hour stay in Paris, [President] Trump brooded over the Florida recount and sulked over other key races being called for Democrats in the mid-term elections that he had claimed as a “big victory.” He erupted at his staff over media coverage of his decision to skip a ceremony honoring the military sacrifice of World War I.

The president also was angry and resentful over French President Emmanuel Macron's public rebuke of rising nationalism, which Trump considered a personal attack. And that was after his difficult meeting with Macron, where officials said little progress was made as Trump again brought up his frustrations over trade and Iran.

Trump hollered at British Prime Minister Theresa May in a phone call, berated aides and insisted on personnel changes likely to worsen morale in an already besieged White House. It is this on-going funk that may explain his baseless attacks on the voting recount in Florida and his lashing out at CNN reporter Abby Phillip. (“Trump sent political aides in Washington scrambling to prepare detailed briefings for him on the still-to-be-called races. He aired baseless allegations of voter irregularities on Twitter…. Still, the president told aides he felt disconnected from the action in his suite at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Paris — even as he consumed countless hours of television news on the trip.”)

In other words, as bad a Trump's public outbursts may be, he is even less composed, rational and stable behind closed doors. Once more — as we saw with Bob Woodward's book, the anonymous op-ed in The New York Times, Michael Wolff's book, Omarosa Manigault Newman's tell-all, and countless news reports — the people who work most closely with Trump know best how emotionally, intellectually and temperamentally unfit he is for the job. And yet, they continue to mislead the public, and remain silent after leaving, as to the president's ability to carry out his duties.

Trump apologists, as they habitually do, will deny and disbelieve reporting. But foreign leaders, outside friends, members of Congress and others who observe him on a daily basis now spill their guts to the media, perhaps to distance themselves from the White House's downward spiral.

There are several takeaways from all of this.

First, Trump will get worse under pressure. If he is this bad now, imagine what he'll be like if more associates are indicted, the economy goes to seed or the subpoenas start flying. At some point, unless Trump has him fired, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will issue his report. Unless it miraculously exonerates him, the president may have a meltdown that will make his trip to France look like a picnic.

Second, self-described saviors of the country, such as the anonymous op-ed writer, are deluding themselves if they believe they are preventing the president from harming the country. Daily, he threatens democratic norms, blemishes the United States' reputation around the world and makes worse and worse personnel decisions in an effort to surround himself with more compliant aides. If Trump fires Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, it is not clear how many more erratic decisions will be made or how serious the ramifications may be.

Third, all of this points to the gross irresponsibility of Republicans who, for two years, refused to exercise any oversight and continue to spin on his behalf. They would rather excuse the conduct of an unbalanced and hysterical commander in chief then move to limit his powers (e.g., reassert that a first strike is an act of war requiring congressional authorization, claw back power to enact tariffs). They likely will continue to rubber-stamp his executive branch picks, no matter how unprepared and temperamentally unfit they may be. Even more reprehensible, they will heartily endorse him for re-election while maligning his challengers. Maybe if they see control of the Senate slipping away, they will finally cut him loose.

All of this reminds us that Democratic control of the House is only a halfway measure. Unless and until Trump is out of office, the country, our democracy and our security remain at risk.


Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion from a center-right perspective for The Washington Post. She covers a range of domestic and foreign policy issues and provides insight into the conservative movement, the Republican Party and threats to Western democracies. Rubin, who is also an MSNBC contributor, came to The Post after three years with Commentary magazine. Prior to her career in journalism, Rubin practiced labor law for two decades, an experience that informs and enriches her work. She is a mother of two sons and lives in Northern Virginia.


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 on: November 15, 2018, 06:44:56 pm 
Started by Kiwithrottlejockey - Last post by Kiwithrottlejockey

Isn't it absolutely delicious watching Donald J. Trump slowly unravel?

I think it is HUGELY entertaining.

Next year is going to be an even greater amusement show in America than this year and most of last year.

I wonder how Trump's coronary arteries are holding out with all this sulking & hatred & bile & fury & winning?

 on: November 15, 2018, 06:38:22 pm 
Started by Kiwithrottlejockey - Last post by Kiwithrottlejockey

One week later…

from the print edition of the Los Angeles Times…

Sullen Trump avoids usual duties

Reportedly brooding over Mueller probe and election, he skips Veterans Day event and global summits.

By ELI STOKEOLS | Wednesday, November 14, 2018

President Donald J. Trump spoke briefly but did not respond to reporters' shouted questions at his only public appearance on Tuesday, at a short White House ceremony for the start of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. — Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency/Shutterstock.
President Donald J. Trump spoke briefly but did not respond to reporters' shouted questions at his only public appearance on Tuesday, at a short White House
ceremony for the start of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. — Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency/Shutterstock.

WASHINGTON D.C. — For weeks this fall, an ebullient President Trump traveled relentlessly to hold raise-the-rafters campaign rallies — sometimes three a day — in states where his presence was likely to help Republicans on the ballot.

But his mood apparently has changed as he has taken measure of the electoral backlash that voters delivered on November 6. With the certainty that the incoming Democratic House majority will go after his tax returns and investigate his actions, and the likelihood of additional indictments by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Trump has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment, according to multiple administration sources.

Behind the scenes, they say, the president has lashed out at several aides, from junior press assistants to senior officials.

“He's furious,” said one administration official. “Most staffers are trying to avoid him.”

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, painted a picture of a brooding president “trying to decide who to blame” for Republicans' election losses, even as he publicly and implausibly continues to claim victory.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who are close allies, “seem to be on their way out,” the official said, noting recent leaks on the subject. The official cautioned, however, that personnel decisions are never final until Trump himself tweets out the news — often just after the former reality TV star who's famous for saying “You're fired!” has directed Kelly to so inform the individual.

And, according to a source outside the White House who has spoken recently with the president, last week's Wall Street Journal report confirming Trump's central role during the 2016 campaign in quietly arranging payoffs for two women alleging affairs with him seemed to put him in an even worse mood.

Publicly, Trump has been increasingly absent in recent days — except on Twitter. He has canceled travel plans and dispatched Cabinet officials and aides to events in his place — including sending Vice President Mike Pence to Asia for the annual summits there in November that past presidents nearly always attended.

Jordan's King Abdullah II was in Washington on Tuesday and met with Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, but not the president.

Also Tuesday, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced plans to travel on Wednesday near the U.S.-Mexico border to visit with troops Trump ordered there last month in what is ostensibly a mission to defend against a caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico and still hundreds of miles from the United States.

Trump had reportedly considered making that trip himself, but decided against it. Nor has he spoken of the caravan since the mid-term election, after making it a central issue in his last weeks of campaigning.

Unusually early on Monday, the White House called a “lid” at 10:03 a.m., informing reporters that the president would not have any scheduled activities or public appearances for the rest of the day. Although it was Veterans Day, he bucked tradition and opted not to make the two-mile trip to Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as presidents since at least John F. Kennedy have done to mark the solemn holiday.

Trump's only public appearance on Tuesday was at a short White House ceremony marking the start of the Hindu holiday Diwali, at which he made brief comments and left without responding to shouted questions.

He had just returned Sunday night from a two-day trip to France to attend ceremonies marking the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I. That trip was overshadowed in part by Trump's decision not to attend a wreath laying at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, the burial place for nearly 2,290 troops 60 miles northeast of Paris, because of rain.

Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, and Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did attend to honor the American service members interred there. Trump stayed in the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris, making no public appearances.

Other heads of state also managed to make it to World War I cemeteries in the area for tributes to their nations' war dead on Saturday.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin were the only world leaders to skip a procession of world leaders to another commemoration, on Sunday, at the Arc de Triomphe.

About 80 heads of state walked in unison — under umbrellas in the pouring rain — down Paris' grand Champs-Elysees boulevard. Trump arrived later by motorcade, a decision aides claimed was made for security reasons.

Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush, said the weekend events, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of a war in which 120,000 Americans were killed, were ripe for soaring words and symbolic gestures, which Trump failed to provide.

“Not only did he barely show up, he didn't say anything that would help Americans understand the scale of the loss, or the importance of avoiding another great war,” Burns said. “He seemed physically and emotionally apart. It's such a striking difference between the enthusiasm he showed during the campaign and then going to Paris and sulking in his hotel room.”

He added, “The country deserves more energy from the president.”

Trump took heavy flak on social media, especially for his no-show at the military cemetery.

“President @realDonaldTrump a no-show because of raindrops?” tweeted former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, a Navy veteran. “Those veterans the president didn't bother to honor fought in the rain, in the mud, in the snow - & many died in trenches for the cause of freedom. Rain didn't stop them & it shouldn't have stopped an American president.”

Nicholas Soames, a member of Britain's Parliament and grandson of Winston Churchill, tweeted, “They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn't even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen.”

Trump, clearly feeling on the defensive days later, tried to explain himself on Tuesday in a tweet.

“By the way, when the helicopter couldn't fly to the first cemetery in France because of almost zero visibility, I suggested driving,” he wrote. “Secret Service said NO, too far from airport & big Paris shutdown. Speech next day at American Cemetary [sic] in pouring rain! Little reported-Fake News!”

That tweet falsely described the weather during the Sunday visit to another U.S. cemetery. Rather than “pouring rain,” photos showed the president standing without a hat or an umbrella under overcast skies when he delivered remarks, though he did grasp an umbrella at one point while paying tribute at one soldier's grave.

Just as Trump was returning to Washington D.C. on Sunday evening, Pence was heading to Asia in the president's place, and at his first stop greeted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Trump's absence, experts said, is notable, and a glaring affront to many Asian leaders.

“It matters more in Asia than other regions because ‘face’ is so important,” said Matthew P. Goodman, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former White House coordinator for Asia-Pacific strategy during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. “Your willingness to go out there is a sign you're committed, and not going is a sign you're not.”

Putin is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, looking to expand his country's influence in Asia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea are also attending regional summits. And China’s President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are simultaneously attending meetings across the region looking to broaden their country's influence in the South China Sea and expand multilateral trade agreements.

Although Trump is set to meet with Xi at the Group of 20 summit of wealthy countries this month in Buenos Aires, his absence from the major Indo-Pacific meetings for a second straight year will “have some consequences for our position and our interests in the region,” Goodman said. “Other countries are going to move ahead without us.”

What makes Trump's perceived snub to the Asian powers more significant is that it comes on the heels of his brief European trip, which showcased his growing isolation from transatlantic allies. French President Emmanuel Macron rebuked Trump in a speech, stating that “nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism” as the U.S. president looked on sullenly.

Trump's relations with Latin America, already strained, are little better after the White House last week announced that he was reneging for a second time on a commitment to visit Colombia. He had planned to go there this month on his way back from the G-20 meetings.

In April, he sent Pence in his place to the Summit of the Americas in Peru, citing a need to remain in Washington to monitor the U.S. response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria. He'd planned to visit Bogota on the same trip.

This time there appeared to be no extenuating circumstances preventing a visit.

In a statement, the White House simply said, “President Trump's schedule will not allow him to travel to Colombia later this month.”


• Eli Stokols is a White House reporter based in the Los Angeles Times Washington, D.C., bureau. He is a veteran of Politico and The Wall Street Journal, where he covered the 2016 presidential campaign and then the Trump White House. A native of Irvine, Stokols grew up in a L.A. Times household and is thrilled to report for what is still his family's hometown paper. He is also a graduate of UC Berkeley and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.


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