Author: majbuzzcut

DHS waives contracting laws in bid to speed up border wall construction

In a move to speed up the construction of 177 miles of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, the Trump administration is waiving a set of laws that applies to how the Department of Homeland Security can work with federal contractors. The 10 laws the waiver applies to stipulate that the department allow open competition for contracts, justify its contractor selections and secure bonds that protect the government from financial loss should the project not be completed correctly, among other things. “Under the president’s leadership, we are building more wall, faster than ever before,” the department said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has the authority to waive these contracting laws under a 2005 provision that gives him sweeping authority to do so when building border barriers. The option has previously been used to waive environmental impact reviews for sections of the border wall. Trump’s administration has invoked the waiver law 16 times, compared with five times under former President George W. Bush. The wall sections to which Wolf’s waiver applies will be built in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. This is just the latest step the Trump administration has taken to advance its immigration agenda. Last week, DHS deployed 100 Customs and Border Protection agents to work with Immigrations Customs and Enforcement in a handful of U.S. cities that have not cooperated with the federal government in enforcing immigration laws. That move drew criticism from Democrats, including Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, who sent the department a letter over the weekend demanding that it “reverse course” on the decision. Among the 100 agents deployed were members of an elite unit known as BORTAC, essentially the SWAT team of CBP. “Because this initiative is unnecessary, unwelcome, dangerous, menacing, retaliatory and unlikely to achieve its stated goal,” Warren and Markey said, “we write to demand that you reverse course and to pose questions to better understand your rationale for employing paramilitary-style immigration personnel equipped with ‘stun grenades and enhanced Special Forces-type training, including sniper certification’ in Boston and elsewhere in the United States.” Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced its intent to redirect $7.2 billion in funds appropriated for the Pentagon to build the border wall, an action Democrats called a “slap in the face to the members of the Armed Fores and their families.” The Trump administration announced where the funding for $3.8 billion of that $7.2 billion would come from last week. In details first reported by the Washington Post, the Department of Defense plans to divert funding from the construction of 17 aircraft, among other previously planned expenditures.

This is welcome news!  Getting that wall/fence built should be DHS’ #1 priority.  Hopefully the DHS Secretary took that letter from those two self-serving, bloviating Democrat Senators and gave it the Nancy Pelosi treatment…and ripped it up.

Analysis: The Urgent Need for a United States Space Force

In June 2018, President Trump directed the Department of Defense to “begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.” The reason for a space force is simple: space is the strategic high ground from which all future wars will be fought. If we do not master space, our nation will become indefensible. Since that time, entrenched bureaucrats and military leaders across the Department of Defense, especially in the Air Force, have been resisting the President’s directive in every way they can. And this December, although Congress voted to approve a Space Force, it did so while placing restrictions on it—such as that the Space Force be built with existing forces—that will render it largely useless in any future conflicts. At the heart of the problem is a disagreement about the mission of a Space Force. The Department of Defense envisions a Space Force that continues to perform the task that current space assets perform—supporting wars on the surface of the Earth. The Air Force especially is mired in an outmoded industrial-age mindset. It sees the Space Force as projecting power through air, space, and cyberspace, understood in a way that precludes space beyond our geocentric orbit. Correspondingly, the Defense Department and Congress think that the Air Force should build the Space Force. So far, this has amounted to the Air Force planning to improve the current Satellite Command incrementally and call it a Space Force. It is not planning to accelerate the new space economy with dual-use technologies. It is not planning to protect the Moon or travel corridors in space to and from resource locations—raw materials worth trillions of dollars are available within a few days’ travel from Earth—and other strategic high grounds. It is not planning to place human beings in space to build and protect innovative solutions to the challenges posed by the physical environment. It is not developing means to rescue Americans who may get stranded or lost in space. In short, the Air Force does not plan to build a Space Force of the kind America needs. In its lack of farsightedness, the Air Force fails to envision landmasses or cities in space to be monitored and defended. Nor does it envision Americans in space whose rights need defending—despite the fact that in the coming years, the number of Americans in space will grow exponentially. This lack of forward thinking can be put down to human nature and organizational behavior: people in bureaucratic settings tend to build what they have built in the past and defend what they have defended in the past. We have seen this kind of shortsightedness before. In the 1920s, the airplane and the tank were developed by the Army. Even the most respected military leaders at the time, Generals John J. Pershing and Douglas MacArthur, opposed independent development of the airplane and the tank because they saw them as subservient to the infantry. Infantry had always been the key to military success, and the generals’ reputations were built on that fact. For them, slow and cautious steps were prudent, and revolutionary steps were reckless. These generals defended the status quo even to the point of court-martialing General Billy Mitchell, who had the audacity to say that the airplane was going to change the character of war and needed to be developed independently in order to achieve its full potential. This type of status quo thinking in the 1920s resulted in needless loss of life during World War II. More airmen were lost in the European theater alone than were marines in the entire war. And countless soldiers died in America’s Sherman tanks, whose shells would bounce off Germany’s Panzer and Tiger tanks. Frontal infantry attacks were launched in order to get Sherman tanks behind the German tanks to fire at close range—the only range at which they could be effective. Many more of our fighting men would have come home and the war would have been shorter if American generals had taken a revolutionary approach to tanks and planes from the beginning. On the other side, consider that a major reason we won World War II when we did was the revolutionary—not slow and cautious—approach we took to developing nuclear weapons with the Manhattan Project. Likewise today, instead of blindly following the bureaucrats and generals in the Defense Department, we need a Manhattan-type project in order to develop the kind of Space Force needed to meet future military challenges. America’s greatest competitor for the high ground of space is Communist China, which is already fully engaged in building effective space capabilities. America is not, and unless it gets off the mark soon, China will dominate the economy and domain of space. Our Air Force today can be compared to a race car that has been winning every race for the last 70 years by averaging 100 miles an hour. We are still in the lead, but China is gaining and averaging 150 miles an hour. The Chinese will quickly surpass us if we do nothing—and when they do, they will set up roadblocks that will make catching up difficult if not impossible. Today, while America is building lighthouses and listening stations that can see and hear what is happening in space, China is building battleships and destroyers that can move fast and strike hard—the equivalent of a Navy in space. China is winning the space race not because it makes better equipment, but because it has a superior strategy. The Chinese are open about their plan to become the dominant power in space by 2049, the centennial of the end of the Communist Chinese Revolution and of the founding of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong. If China stays on its current path, it will deploy nuclear propulsion technology and solar power stations in space within ten years. This will give it the ability to beam clean energy to anyone on Earth—and the power to disable any portion of the American power grid and paralyze our military anywhere on the planet. America is developing no tools to defeat such a strategy, despite the fact that we are spending billions of dollars on exquisite 20th century military equipment. Over the past two centuries, we have seen that technology drives economic prosperity and that economic prosperity is essential to sustaining national security. China’s plan is to profit from the multi-trillion dollar space marketplace while simultaneously acquiring global domination. We are capable of forestalling China’s plan, but only if we begin to build a Space Force soon and on the right plan. To do this, we must first understand China’s strategic goal, which is to dominate the sectors of economic growth that historically have held the key to world power: transportation, energy, information, and manufacturing. Space presents unique economic opportunities because space technology operates on network principles. A network can deliver power, information, or goods from one node to many nodes at a fraction of the increase in cost per customer, as compared to the linear system on which most of our land-based economies are modeled. Compare the cost of sending 100 letters to the cost of sending 100 emails. A space infrastructure, by its nature, is a network system—and these types of systems will always translate to economic advantage. The first nation to build such an infrastructure will dominate the global economy of the 21st century and beyond. China is developing the kind of technologies required to do so: hypersonic missiles and aircraft, 5G telecommunications, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, quantum computing, and robotics. Last January, China landed the Chang’e 4 spacecraft on the far side of the Moon. The mission provided valuable knowledge in terms of commercial and military applications. At one time this sort of mission was not beyond U.S. capabilities, but it is today, and it shows a commitment to space that we lack. To be sure, China has yet to achieve the ability to launch a manned spacecraft, but this is also a capability that we no longer possess—the U.S. relies on Russian rocketry to man and resupply the International Space Station. China’s goal is to have the capability to shut down America’s computer systems and electrical grids at any time or place of its choosing, using directed energy and 5G technologies from space. Space is the strategic high ground from which China will seek to gain control of our media, businesses, land, debt, and markets. Although American companies are working on these new technologies, they are doing so in separate silos. Real power lies in tethering or combining the technologies together in space to achieve a dominant economic advantage. If we choose to compete with China in space, we have a cultural advantage. We are more creative and innovative than China, because we have an open society and a free market. But we must be ambitious and act soon.

That was part of a speech given at Hillsdale College in November 2019 by Lieutenant General Steven L. Kwast (Ret). Lt Gen Kwast is a retired Air Force three-star general and former commander of the Air Education and Training Command at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy with a degree in astronautical engineering, he holds a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He is a past president of the Air Force’s Air University in Montgomery, Alabama, and a former fighter pilot with extensive combat and command experience. His awards include the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross.  He is the author of the study, “Fast Space: Leveraging Ultra Low-Cost Space Access for 21st Century Challenges.”  Lt Gen Kwast is saying exactly what I’ve been saying for over a decade now.  And, his resume and experience only give this position credibility.  Consider this your “Read of the Day.”  If you read only one thing here at The Daily Buzz, then READ THIS!!  Then, pass it along to your friends and family members…and your member of Congress and your two U.S. Senators.  For more from this excellent speech, click on the text above.    🙂

National Margarita Day: Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian explains what makes the perfect margarita

Margaritas. You know ’em, and you probably love ’em. But what makes some versions of this popular happy hour cocktail — and Cinco de Mayo staple — better than others? Well, according to Food Network star Geoffrey Zakarian, the answer is pretty basic: the ingredients. “Like everything else, ingredients and product. Only the best limes squeezed to order. Pure cane sugar. Great tequila,” the celebrity chef told Fox News. However, the ingredients aren’t the only elements that push a margarita from just any drink to your favorite drink. It’s also how you use them. “You must not over-sweeten the drink. It can’t taste sweet the first sip. If it does, by the time you finish the 8-ounce glass, it will leave a sugary residue, and you won’t want another one,” Zakarian said. “It’s a classic mistake making them too sweet,” Zakarian said. To avoid this amateur folly, Zakarian shared a recipe that delivers those authentic tequila flavors, but with a fruity — and spicy — twist. Click here for the recipe.

Happy National Margarita Day!!   Cheers!!    🙂

Elon Musk’s Plan to Settle Mars

Last Week my wife Hope and I traveled to Boca Chica, Texas, to meet with Elon Musk. While we talked inside the SpaceX onsite headquarters, a mariachi band played outside, providing entertainment for long lines of people queued up to apply for multiple categories of jobs building craft to take humans to Mars. Hundreds were already hired and at work in the complex. Soon there will be thousands. Musk calls his design the “Starship.” It’s a methane/oxygen-driven, stainless-steel, two-stage-to-orbit rocket with a payload capacity equal to the Saturn V booster that sent Apollo astronauts to the Moon. The Saturn V, however, was expendable, with each unit destroyed in the course of a single use. Starship will be fully reusable, like an airliner, and therefore promises a radical reduction in payload-delivery costs. Starship has yet to be demonstrated. Yet here was Musk, building not the first experimental ship to prove the concept but, as we witnessed touring the place the next day, a shipyard and a fleet. Is he mad? According to conventional aerospace-industry thinking he certainly is. But there is a method to his madness. I have known Musk for some two decades now. In 2001, I was among those who helped convince him to make Mars his calling. His plan is based to a significant degree on my own work, which is generally known as the Mars Direct plan. Published in 1990 and elaborated in detail in 1996 in my book The Case for Mars, Mars Direct was a radical break with previous NASA thinking on how human Mars missions might be accomplished. But Musk’s Starship plan is far more radical still. With the exception of a period in the 1990s when NASA, under the guidance of Mike Griffin, the associate administrator for exploration, did embrace an expanded version of Mars Direct, the space agency has stuck with a paradigm set forth by Wernher von Braun in a number of variations between 1948 and 1969. According to those ideas, orbital stations should first be built, providing platforms for on-orbit construction of giant interplanetary spaceships using advanced propulsion systems, which would travel from Earth orbit (or currently, rather more absurdly, lunar orbit) to Mars orbit. Departing from these orbital motherships, small landing craft could take crews down to the Martian surface to plant the flag, make a few footprints, and then return to orbit after a short stay. In contrast, both Mars Direct and the Starship plan use direct flights from Earth orbit to the surface of Mars, with direct return from the surface to Earth using methane/oxygen propellant made on the Red Planet from local materials. Both plans shun any need for orbital infrastructure, orbital construction, interplanetary motherships, specialized small landing craft, or advanced propulsion. Both involve long duration stays on Mars from the very first mission. For both, the central purpose of the mission is not to fly to Mars but to accomplish something serious there. But there is a difference. In Mars Direct, the modest earth-return vehicle and the crew’s habitation module both stage off the booster that delivers them to orbit, landing on the Red Planet with a combined useful-habitation-plus-payload-mass of about 40 tons. In Musk’s plan, a Starship is flown to orbit and then refueled there by six tanker Starships, after which the whole ship is flown the Mars, delivering a useful habitation-plus-payload mass of as much as 200 tons. So, while the Mars Direct plan might send crews of four to six astronauts at a time to the Red Planet, a Starship could accommodate 50 or more. Musk’s plan offers more mission capability than Mars Direct does, but that capability comes with a price. Specifically, if the crew is to come back, you need to refuel a Starship, which needs about 1,000 tons of propellant. In the Mars Direct plan, the much more modest earth-return vehicle sent to the Red Planet in advance of the crew requires only 100 tons. The Mars surface-power and other base requirements needed to support Starship operations are a factor of ten higher than those needed to implement Mars Direct. So a large base needs to be built in advance, with several Starships sent one-way to Mars and loaded with lots of base equipment, ten football fields’ worth of solar panels, and robots to set it all up. Not until all that is in place can the first crew carrying Starship arrive. That makes the system suboptimal for exploration. But exploration is not what Musk has in mind. If Mars Direct may be likened to an evolvable version of the Apollo program, Musk’s plan is like D-Day. He needs a fleet. So he’s creating a shipyard to build a fleet. But why build a fleet before testing even one ship? There are several reasons. The first is that Musk wants to be prepared to take losses. By the time the first Starship is ready for its maiden test flight, he’ll have three or four more already built and on deck, ready to be modified to fix whatever caused the first to fail. Launch, crash, fix, and repeat, until it works, and then keep launching, improving payload and cutting turnaround time, advancing performance, flight by flight, ferociously. But there is another reason to build a fleet. It’s to make Starships cheap. NASA built five space shuttles over a twelve-year period, each one costing several billion dollars. Musk is creating a shipyard designed to ultimately mass-produce Starships at a rate of 50 or more per year. That may sound crazy, but it is not impossible. In 1944, the United States produced escort aircraft carriers at a rate of one per week. Scores of separate teams worked simultaneously, each on its own part of the ship for a few days before passing the job on to the next team. If Musk set up a similar line with a workforce of 3,000, that would mean labor costs on the order of $6 million per ship, or between $15 to $20 million each, with materials and avionics included. If he can get costs that low, then once the base on Mars is operational, with a growing industrial and greenhouse agricultural capacity, Starships carrying 100 passengers each could fly to Mars and stay there if necessary to provide housing, at a hardware cost per passenger of less than $200,000. So make the ticket price $300,000 — the net worth of a typical homeowner, or about seven years’ pay for an average American. In colonial times, working stiffs booked passage to America in exchange for seven years’ work. It’s a price many people can pay — and have paid — when they really want to make a move.

Very cool!!  For more on this article by Robert Zubrin, click on the text above.  Robert is an aerospace engineer, the founder of the Mars Society and the president of Pioneer Astronautics. His latest book is The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility. @robert_zubrin      🙂

Greyhound to stop allowing Border Patrol agents to conduct immigration checks on buses without warrant

Greyhound said Friday it would prohibit U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents without a warrant from boarding its buses to conduct immigration checks as bus companies continue to face pressure from civil rights advocates over the practice. The announcement comes after an Associated Press report said a Jan. 28 Border Patrol memo contradicted Greyhound’s stance that it had to allow the agents on its buses under federal law. The company has maintained it didn’t agree with the checks but had no choice but to comply. The memo addressed to all chief patrol agents and signed by then-Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost before her retirement said agents can’t board private buses without consent from bus companies. “When transportation checks occur on a bus at non-checkpoint locations, the agent must demonstrate that he or she gained access to the bus with the consent of the company’s owner or one of the company’s employees,” the memo states. Border agents regularly climb onto buses within 100 miles of the border to ask passengers about their immigration status. Some have been captured on video, prompting outrage from immigration advocate groups. Civil rights organizations argue the checks are discriminatory and that passengers are routinely profiled under the Trump administration. Greyhound faces a lawsuit in California over the checks, which some claim violate consumer protection laws. The company said it would provide training to its drivers and bus station employees about the new policy, along with stickers to be placed on buses saying it does not consent to searches.

Just crazy..  More political correctness that puts all of us at risk.  When you get on an airline, you have to show an ID and prove who you are, and they ask all sorts of security questions when you check in.  How is this any different?  It’s not.  It’s just that it has, for a long time, happened more so near the border for very obvious, common sense, reasons.  But, now Greyhound is more worried about offending illegal aliens (and their lawyers), who shouldn’t be here in the first place, than it is worried about the safety of the rest of us.  Unreal…

Wells Fargo agrees to $3B settlement in fake accounts case

Wells Fargo has agreed to a $3 billion settlement to resolve its fake account scandal, the Department of Justice announced Friday. As part of the settlement, the bank admitted that it wrongly collected millions of dollars in fees and interest, harmed the credit ratings of some customers and illegally used customers’ private information, officials said. Unrealistic sales goals led to millions of accounts being opened without customers’ knowledge or under false pretenses, Wells Fargo has admitted. The three-year deferred prosecution agreement will clear Wells Fargo & Company and its subsidiary, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., of their potential criminal and civil liability stemming from the practices, as long as the companies comply with certain conditions and continue to cooperate with government investigators. The Securities and Exchange Commission will distribute a $500 million civil penalty to investors as part of the deal. Michael D. Granston, deputy assistant attorney general with the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, said both customers and competitors were harmed by the bank’s actions. “This settlement holds Wells Fargo accountable for tolerating fraudulent conduct that is remarkable both for its duration and scope, and for its blatant disregard of customer’s private information,” Granston said in a written statement. A focus on increasing sales volume and annual sales growth pressured employees to sell existing customers on new financial products, Wells Fargo admitted. Its community banks’ “onerous sales goals” and pressure from management pushed thousands of employees to engage in the illegal conduct that included fraud, identity theft and the falsification of bank records, in addition to generally unethical selling practices. Employees would “game” the numbers by using customers’ identities without consent to open checking, savings, debit card, credit card and other accounts, the bank admitted. Employees forged signatures to open accounts, created PINs to activate unauthorized debit cards and moved millions of accounts. They altered customers’ contact information in order to prevent the victims from learning what happened. Managers were aware of the practices as early as 2002, the bank admitted. Management also knew that the conduct was increasing under the sales goals, with one internal investigators calling it “a growing plague” in 2004 and “spiraling out of control” in 2005. But leadership in the community bank division refused to alter the sales model or its unrealistic goals. U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said officials hope the penalty, plus changes at the bank, will ensure that it won’t happen again. “This case illustrates a complete failure of leadership at multiple levels within the bank,” Hanna said in a written statement. “Simply put, Wells Fargo traded its hard-earned reputation for short-term profits and harmed untold numbers of customers along the way.” Officials said they opted to settle with Wells Fargo with a deferred prosecution deal because of the bank’s cooperation with investigators, its admission of wrongdoing and “significant changes” in management and its board. Last month, five former Wells Fargo executives were charged in connection to the misconduct and the bank’s former CEO, John Stumpf was barred from the banking industry. Officials also issued a $17.5 million civil penalty against Stumpf, reportedly the largest fine ever assessed by bank regulators. U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray said in a written statement that the $3 billion settlement and agreement “go far beyond ‘the cost of doing business.’” “They are appropriate given the staggering size, scope and duration of Wells Fargo’s illicit conduct, which spanned well over a decade,” Murray said.

Molecular oxygen discovered in another galaxy for first time ever

Astronomers have announced a significant discovery: they have found molecular oxygen for the first time ever outside the Solar System. In a research published in The Astrophysical Journal, they noted that it was discovered in the Markarian 231 galaxy, 561 million light-years from Earth. A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals about 6 trillion miles. “This first detection of extragalactic molecular oxygen provides an ideal tool to study AGN-driven molecular outflows on dynamic timescales of tens of megayears,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract. The find is significant since the galaxy is powered by a quasar, a highly active supermassive black hole. Some astronomers believe there are two quasars at the center of the galaxy. though that has yet to be proven. Quasars are considered the brightest objects in the universe and the quasar at the center of Markarian 231 is the closest one to Earth. The researchers used the IRAM 30-meter radio telescope in Spain to make their observations after looking at it for four days. It’s unclear what is causing the oxygen to appear, but it may be due to “the interaction between the active galactic nucleus-driven molecular outflow and the outer disc molecular clouds,” the researchers wrote in the study. Oxygen is necessary for life as we know it, according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, but so far, molecular oxygen has been difficult to find. It has been detected in the Orion nebula, but since it experiences intense radiation from the young stars being formed, it’s possible the water ice is split into a molecular level, allowing for the discovery of oxygen. Oxigen is the third most abundant element in the universe, trailing hydrogen and helium. Some scientists believe oxygen in space is stuck with hydrogen in the form of water ice, which could be why it is hard to detect. In November, NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered that oxygen “behaves in a way that so far scientists cannot explain” on Mars. The Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the Gale Crater since it landed on Mars in August 2012, found that the oxygen in the atmosphere did not behave in the same way that nitrogen and argon did, following “a predictable season pattern, waxing and waning in concentration in Gale Crater throughout the year relative to how much CO2 is in the air.” Instead, the amount of oxygen in the air throughout the spring and summer rose by as much as 30 percent, then dropped to levels that were predicted by known chemistry in the fall.

Fascinating!!   🙂