Reset

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We got early warning. On March 6 2009, newly-minted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, a “Reset” button, meant to symbolize a reset of US-Russian relations.

The actual button was mounted on a small platform which had “RESET” and what was supposed to be Russian for “RESET” printed on it. The problems here are two. First, the Russian version wasn’t even printed in Russian (Cyrillic) but in an Anglo-phonetic, “PEREGRUZKA,” which doesn’t mean “reset,” rather “overcharge.” Russian for “reset” is сброс, and is pronounced “sbros.” It would appear, for all the world to see (this event was a photo op, telecast worldwide), that the United States Department of State has no Russian-speakers. Pathetic.

State Department’s next noteworthy event was the total debacle of Benghazi, which they attributed to a video. So while Secretary Clinton started out her tenure at State as the Junior Senator from New York, she ended it as Mrs Bill Clinton – lying to the American people (including to the faces of the families of the fallen as they received their loved ones’ remains at Andrews AFB).

That sort of sums up the administration of Barack Obama – beginning full of promise (“the most open and transparent presidency in American history”), and finishing up as most deceitful (“if you like your insurance policy, you can keep it”). But most importantly – most profoundly – the most inept at foreign policy in American history. Like George W Bush, who looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and could “see his soul,” Barack Obama thought he could “reset” relations with a Russia who had been ravaged by history (it’s own, as well as the world’s) for centuries. President Obama’s faith in the sound of his own voice is monumental. That is coupled with a pathological belief that for America to be the world’s most powerful nation is, well, unfair. And he has been systematically dismantling the instruments of our influence in the world – our economy, our military, our vast oil and gas reserves. Our very credibility. In five short years, he has undone over two hundred years of American voracity and dependability to our allies and American resistance and steadfastness to our adversaries. No one believes what the United States of American says anymore.

Israel, our most stalwart ally in the most dangerous region of the world, has come to believe that the United States cannot be counted on to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb. The Europeans were aghast when President Obama set a “red line” that Bashar Assad should not cross, and then did nothing when he did – actually, he did worse than nothing, he handed leadership in the Middle East to Russia. PRC is threatening separate islands administered by ROK and Japan, and Vladimir Putin has assumed Crimea much as Saddam Hussein claimed Kuwait as Iraq’s 19th province. Welcome to the world without American leadership, and this is only the beginning.

First Look

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In view of Richard Jolly’s March 11 win over Alex Sink in Florida’s 13th Congressional District special election, much speculation is being flung about as to what this means for November. The first election during an election season will invariably spawn tales of woe (from the losers) and glee (from the winners), but there are some interesting factors in this race worth examining.

For one thing, Florida’s 13th was won by President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and Alex Sink was hand-picked by the Democrats – and generously supported by them – to hold the seat. Richard Jolly isn’t a particularly good candidate, and is (hide your children) a lobbyist. Ms Sink had narrowly missed being elected governor, and enjoys wide name recognition. All of this went into a confidence among Democrats that she would defeat Mr Jolly. She lost 49% to 47%, even though there was also a Libertarian candidate in the race (4% of the vote). Republicans, of course, say that Ms Sink actually lost 53% to 47%, and that’s hard to dispute. Also, much was made in the media during the campaign that it was a referendum on ObamaCare, although neither candidate made that claim.

What’s at stake in November is the ability of Republicans to win a net of six Senate seats in order to take control of that body, removing Democratic control of any of the legislative agenda, formally reducing the president to lame duck status. This will be a turnout election – GOP voters are energized by opposition to Obama and his healthcare charade, and Democrats seem depressed by the tide of events. Since World War II, a presidential election typically generates a 63% turnout, while midterms average ~48%, and a low overall turnout is expected to help Republicans, as their percentage should be higher than Democrats’. Also worrying for Democrats is the post-World War II trend of a president’s favorable rating impacting midterm elections results – if a sitting president enjoys favorables over 50%, the party in power generally loses only 14 House seats, but below 50%, the average is a loss of 36. I have been unable to find a comparable statistic for the Senate, but doubt that is substantially different. President Obama’s favorables are hovering between 43% and 39%. And finally, Democrats are defending twenty of the thirty-three Senate seats (61%) up for election this cycle.

According to Larry Sabato’s political science unit at the University of Virginia, four Democratic seats are now leaning Republican – Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, with no Republican seats leaning Democratic. Thrown into the mix are New Hampshire (where former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is leaning toward challenging sitting Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen) and Colorado (where Republican US Representative Cory Gardner is challenging Democratic Senator Mark Udall). Mr Sabato also lists Alaska’s Democratically held seat as a toss-up.

Right now, Real Clear Politics averages show a nationwide Democrat lead of 0.6% in generic congressional preference, which encompasses 435 House races and 33 Senate races. There will be no substantive polling done in each state until primaries are over, and indeed, the Republicans have shown a talent for shooting themselves in the foot by nominating some questionable candidates to run against Democrats – for example, Sharron Angle (the only person in Nevada who couldn’t beat Harry Reid in 2010).

Einstein’s Legacy

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The profundity of Einstein’s work lies in the elegant sketch of the universe he left us. The universe is an homogenous sea of the interaction of the four fundamental forces – always seeking a mutual balance, motion and time defining each other. The fabric of the universe (space-time) warps in the presence of mass, a phenomenon we call gravity. “A thing,” he told us, “is a product of the field within which it occurs.” The ice cube always melts (the glass of water never freezes) because the “field” within which the ice cube occurs – the glass of water within a room – overwhelms the ice cube. The water heats up the ice as the ice cools the water, but the water always wins. It’s vector analysis.

The principles of physics work the same in Cleveland as in Dallas … or as on Mars (or Alpha Centauri). In his Special Theory of Relativity (Zürich, 1905), Einstein demonstrates the relationship between energy and mass as E=mc2. The total amount of mass-plus-energy is constant – they merely transmute each into the other. Our early work with fission showed this. When an atom of U235 is split, the daughter products (the fragments into which the atom shatters) contain less mass then the original atom. The “missing” mass is given off as heat and light. Our later work on fusion confirms this. When two hydrogen atoms are fused, the resulting atom contains less mass then the two hydrogen atoms. The “missing” mass is, again, given off as heat and light. This is why the Sun shines and warms us from 93,000,000 miles away[1].

Dr Einstein also realized that at vast distances the relationship between event and observer changed. If you were in Los Angeles and I in New York, and we could observe a strobe in, say, Denver, when it lit, you would see it before I did. Our observations would not be simultaneous, even though we were watching the same, singular event. There is a mathematical explanation (the surface of simultaneity radiates endospherically outward at optic velocity from the observer), but the interesting thing is that two observers can see the same thing differently. Relativity.

Professor Einstein’s work was so profound that relativity – physics on an enormous scale – is known as Einsteinian physics, as differentiated from Newtonian physics – physics on a human scale. Einstein, in other words, expanded “Physics” so far beyond the standard model (Isaac Newton’s view of the universe) that it had to be named. And that no one else had done so in the 200 years since Newton, stands Einstein apart from his peers.

Edwin Hubble discovered that our universe is expanding by noting that stars became “redder” as they became more distant. Light was shifting toward the red end of the spectrum as we (us and the star we’re observing) sped away from each other. This is a Doppler effect applied to light, and was predicted in the Special Theory – the frequency being stretched as the object recedes and compressed as it approaches, just as sound waves do. Sir Arthur Eddington demonstrated that the Sun forms a gravitational lens, distorting the path of photons that pass closely enough to it. This was predicted in the General Theory of Relativity (Prussian Academy of Science, 1916), but had to wait for a total eclipse photographed by an astronomer for proof. Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking constructed the mathematical proof for black holes, and recently, physicists have concluded that a supermassive black hole centers each galaxy. Black holes, and their behavior, were predicted by the General Theory. Time slows for the traveler as velocity increases. This was demonstrated by using two very accurate, synchronized clocks, one aboard a jet and one kept at the airfield. The jet flew from coast to coast and returned to the base, and its clock was slightly behind the base-bound clock – by the exact amount predicted in the General Theory. The apparent creation of a Higgs Field in the Large Hadron Collider is only possible at energy densities experienced by the universe ~10-41 second after the Big Bang, when everything in the universe is compressed into a volume smaller than the Earth. The mathematical proof of the General Theory hints at a paradigm shift, which led François Englert and Peter Higgs to postulate the existence of a boson that imparts mass to matter at this early point in the universe’s development. Einstein’s work was startlingly original and continues to be proven as we gain the ability to conduct tests on an Einsteinian scale.

Einstein’s theories are comforting in their intuitiveness – once you grasp what the theory says, it seems obvious, if remarkably subtle. “Everything works like the universe works,” was a favorite conversation-starter. The universe is the ultimate “field,” making everything else a product of it. Water yields to fluid dynamics and gravity, and runs downhill. Everywhere. No exceptions[2]. Everything works like the universe works.

Happy 135th, professor, and thank you for the sketch.


[1] While discussing nucleosynthesis – the formation of heavy elements in stellar cores, and even heavier elements in the conflagration of supernovae – Carl Sagan observed that “Alchemists had the right idea, they just couldn’t get those old stone ovens up to 200 billion centigrade.”

[2] Yes, I know that chemists have produced what they call “superwater” that can be made to run uphill for short distances. But it does so by obeying fluid dynamics and gravity – to make this work, the apparatus must exhibit an uphill ramp immediately followed by a significant downhill escape. Gravity, in other words, drives the whole process.

Crimea

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Readers of these pages know that I have never bought the liberal narrative of a “new” Russia, willing to work with us on issues of international normalization. Vladimir Putin, former KGB colonel, has played Barack Obama, former neighborhood organizer, like a fiddle from the beginning, and has never exhibited anything other than an intense desire to reacquire as much of the “near abroad” (former Soviet buffer states) as the rest of the world will allow him. Russia still occupies two provinces of Georgia.

Catherine II acquired Crimea before Thomas Jefferson acquired Louisiana, and 70% of Crimeans speak Russian rather than Ukrainian. Like much of Eastern Ukraine, Crimea sees itself as being more Russian than European. Having said that, the Russian incursion into Crimea is every bit as illegal as the incursion into Georgia. Crimea was ceded to Ukraine in 1991 during the breakup of the Soviet Union. Of interest to those who favor international law, the port of Sevastopol (where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is hosted) is located on the Crimean Peninsula but is Ukrainian territory. The warm-water port of Sevastopol is why Crimea will never be returned to Ukraine – Russia, since Peter the Great, has lusted for a warm-water port – her southernmost port is Vladivostok, which is closed from September to May due to ice. Catherine the Great gave Russia that port with the conquest of Crimea in 1783.

With all of that as backdrop, let me say again, the re-annexation of Crimea is irreversible. The questions now are two – could it have been avoided and, does Putin intend to stop with Crimea (or does he wish Eastern Ukraine – or all of Ukraine – as well)?

On November 21, President Viktor Yanukovych’s government announces it is abandoning an agreement to strengthen ties with the EU and is instead seeking closer co-operation with Moscow. Protesters took to the streets in Kiev. Protests continued until February 20, when government snipers began shooting protesters, claiming most of the protest’s 82 fatalities. The next day, Europe mediated a plan, under which protest leaders and Yanukovych agreed to form a new government and hold an early election. Parliament slashed Yanukovych’s powers and voted to free his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, from prison. Yanukovych flees Kiev after protesters take control. Pro-Russian demonstrations had been cropping up in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and intensified after Yanukovych’s abandonment of Kiev. At this point, Ukraine is essentially ungoverned territory.

On February 26, Putin orders major military exercises just across the border from Crimea. On the 28th, Spetznas (Russian special operators) take up positions around strategic positions in Crimea. On March 1, Russian regular forces flood into Crimea and take control of the Peninsula without firing a shot. Crimean (read: Ukrainian) troops are told to swear allegiance to Russia or surrender their weapons and return to their barracks. Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, on March 3 (from sanctuary in Russia), belatedly asks Russia to send troops. Also on March 3, Turkey scrambled eight F-16 fighters after a Russian surveillance plane flew along its Black Sea coast, and Russian energy firm Gazprom, the region’s largest supplier of natural gas, announced it will cancel its discount to Ukraine beginning April 1. March 5, The Russian military sank the Ochakov, an anti-submarine ship belonging to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, at the entrance to Lake Donuzlav, blocking sea access to Ukrainian naval vessels.  Crimea will hold a referendum on status March 16, but that is a meaningless gesture. Crimea is now Russian.

Could this have been stopped? Probably not. Was Putin’s decision made easier due to an impotent United States? Most certainly, but that’s a metric of degree, not kind. Europe, who is 37% dependent on Russian oil and natural gas, wasn’t going to physically resist the Russian takeover. Sanctions will not alter the new realities on the ground, but Russia should be expelled from the G-8 (and the WTO, if it can be done) to keep those organizations true to the furtherance of the rule of law, which both cite as a rationale for their existence. The G-8 probably will revert to the G-7, but the WTO is not likely to expel Russia.

Does Putin desire the remainder of Ukraine? Most certainly, but probably won’t press the issue much beyond encouraging referenda in the East (favoring re-absorption into Russia) – which will have no legal merit, but will keep Ukraine in turmoil. He has what he needed – the warm-water port at Sevastopol. That, he will not relinquish short of military defeat.

We should (but won’t) re-establish the missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic in reaction to Russian adventurism in Ukraine. We should (but won’t) immediately open the field to fracking and begin to supply as much LNG to Europe and Ukraine as possible, thus alleviating the effects of Russian petro-blackmail. The XL pipeline should (but won’t) be given the immediate go ahead to begin exerting downward pressure on oil prices, bringing pressure on the Russian economy (which needs oil prices above $100 a barrel). We should (but won’t) add a carrier strike group to patrol the Bosporus (the outlet from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean).

Was this yet another case of failed US foreign policy? No, not really. It is, however, a case in point of our misreading of Mr Putin. “The Cold War has been over for twenty years,” Obama reminded Mitt Romney, but Mr Putin appears to disagree, and, as Clausewitz reminded us, “the enemy gets a vote.”