Month: August 2016

Why Colin Kaepernick is like George Washington

By Christopher Sebastian Parker

If you haven’t heard by now, the star quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, refused to stand for the national anthem over the weekend.

This wasn’t the first time, and he plans to continue until conditions for people of color improve:

I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed.… When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent…I’ll stand.

His has already been a controversial tenure as successor to Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young as the face of one of the most successful franchises in NFL history. He doesn’t fit the mold.

For starters, he’s black. (OK, biracial. But in America, he’s considered black.) Further, after achieving some success, reaching a Super Bowl a few years ago, and two consecutive conference championship games, his play has been bereft of consistency lately. He may lose his starting job to Blaine Gabbert – someone who, on his best day, is average by NFL standards. To top it all off, he now plays for a coach, Chip Kelly, who’s been accused of racism.

This is what makes his stand so amazing. With millions of dollars at risk, he took a principled stand, one that quite literally may cost him dearly. Yes, he’s willing to sacrifice, something that’s the essence of patriotism. More on that later.

Taking a stand by refusing to stand

After observing the continued oppression of people of color in the United States, a country in which “freedom and justice and justice for all is stressed,” the quarterback decided to take action. He wants America to honor its promise to all Americans, not just the ones who are white. He says he will stand for the national anthem once things improve: when the country realizes the principles represented by the flag.

Of course, this isn’t the first time a famous athlete has taken a public stand on the gap between American values and social practices in the U.S. The late, great Muhammad Ali, at great personal sacrifice, refused to serve in the U.S. military because, as he stated:

[the Vietcong] never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father.

Ali was subsequently stripped of his championship belts, and was banned from making a living during the prime of his boxing career.

Likewise in 1968, a time during which the country was polarized over race, two track stars added fuel to the fire. During the Olympics of that year, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, each of whom won medals in the 200-meter race, each raised a black-gloved fist on the podium as the national anthem was played. It was a means of protesting continuing injustice in the U.S.

They, too, sacrificed, as they both experienced financial hardship resulting from their actions.

Why the quarterback’s critics are wrong

So how did America react to Kaepernick’s one-man protest?

Let’s begin with the less thoughtful comments. As soon as the news broke, I knew it’d be just a matter of time before the word “nigger” would start flying in the quarterback’s direction.

My priors were confirmed. Here is some of the immediate reaction on Twitter.

These folk are easily dismissed on the grounds that intolerance of any kind is inconsistent with American values, of which tolerance is one.

These people undermine themselves.

Others, like blogger Ethan Ralph, have leveled another criticism, one ultimately rooted in class, that goes something like this. America’s been good to him: He’s rich, after all! Since America’s been so good to him, the argument continues, he has no reason to criticize it.


First, such people don’t consider his life story, including whether he’s ever been victimized by prejudice.
He has. This feeling doesn’t disappear when one “makes it.” Second, real patriots are required to care about one’s countrymen – regardless of one’s station in life.

Another set of critics, including former teammates, claim that the quarterback is disrespecting the military when he fails to stand for the anthem.

Wrong again.

The critics swing and miss on this big time. The military fights to protect American values and beliefs. Protest and dissent are “as American as apple pie.” In fact, America is founded on dissent and protest. In short, if these people have an issue with the quarterback, they should also be pissed off with the likes of George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Why the quarterback is right

Ultimately, American patriotism is about a commitment to the values on which a country is founded: freedom, equality and tolerance, among others, absent interference from others. But patriotism doesn’t end with commitment. It also entails the willingness to sacrifice one’s self-interest for the common good, so that the American dream is available to all.

Washington and his colleagues were so committed to the idea of America, they were willing to sacrifice their lives so that the rest of the colonists could pursue their dreams – well, the white ones, anyway.

Likewise, in the 1960s. Ali, as well as Smith and Carlos, were so committed to social justice that each did irreparable harm to their respective abilities to earn a living.

Colin Kaepernick is no different. In his fight for social justice, he’s willing to sacrifice millions in salary and endorsements, and perhaps even his career, to make life better for his fellow Americans.

So, who’s the real patriot: the quarterback, or his critics?

The Conversation

Christopher Sebastian Parker, Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Washington


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Photo credit: Au Kirk


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Proxima Centauri b: Earth’s nearest exoplanet neighbor

By Jonti Horner and Tanya Hill

After years of searching, an international team of astronomers says they’ve found definitive evidence of a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun. The details are published in Nature today, and this is potentially the single most exciting exoplanet discovery to date.

The planet, named Proxima Centauri b (Proxima b for short), is probably slightly more massive than the Earth, and is about the right distance from Proxima that it could have liquid water on its surface.

Proxima Centauri is a faint red dwarf star, just 4.24 light years from Earth. Despite its proximity, the star is too faint to be seen with the naked eye, which leaves its neighbour, Alpha Centauri, as the closest star that can be seen without a telescope.

Proxima is almost certainly bound to Alpha Centauri, which is itself a binary star, moving with it through space in a stately celestial waltz.

A view of the southern skies over the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, showing positions of the stars Proxima Centauri and the double star Alpha Centauri. Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO/ESA/NASA/M. Zamani

Proxima has been the target of planet-search observations since the dawn of the exoplanet era. The new discovery used observations taken from the European Southern Observatory between 2000 and 2014, and an additional suite of data taken between January 19 and March 31 this year.

The technique used for the discovery is the Doppler wobble method, where observers measure the line-of-sight velocity of a star with exquisite precision, and watch for any evidence of the star rocking back and forth in space.

Introducing Proxima Centauri b

The evidence is strong that Proxima Centauri is host to at least one planet. The new world orbits the red dwarf star roughly every 11.2 days, at a distance of about seven million kilometres (far closer than Mercury orbits the sun).

The orbit of Proxima b within its habitable zone, compared with the same region of our solar system. ESO/M. Kornmesser/G. Coleman

Because the planet has been inferred from the line-of-sight wobble of its host, its mass remains uncertain, with the true value depending on the tilt of its orbit.

From the observations, we can tell that Proxima b is relatively tiny, with a minimum mass just 1.27 times that of the Earth, and this is where things get interesting.

Unlike the blazing furnace of the sun, Proxima is a tiny glowing ember. As such, a planet as distant from Proxima as the Earth is from the Sun would be frozen solid. But huddle close to the ember, and the temperature could be just right.

That’s why in theory, assuming Proxima b is truly Earth-like, it is in just the right place for liquid water to exist on its surface.

A truly habitable world?

Proxima b is about the right size and in about the right place, but could it really be habitable? Possibly, but it takes a lot more than the right kind of orbit to birth a habitable world.

Because Proxima b orbits so close to its parent star, it has almost certainly become tidally locked. This means Proxima b keeps one face perpetually pointed towards its star and bathed in daylight, with the other side facing away, in permanent night.

An artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. The double star Alpha Centauri AB appears to the upper-right of Proxima itself. ESO/M. Kornmesser

For many years, researchers thought that this would be a death knell for habitability, that the night-time side would be so cold that any atmosphere the planet had would freeze out onto its surface on that side, leaving it an airless, frozen husk.

But more recent climate models have suggested hope that with the right atmosphere, and the right weather, heat could be transported from day-side to night-side, keeping the warmth needed to stay habitable.

Would such a planet be truly habitable? We honestly don’t know – there’s just so much still to learn.

Megaflares and magnetic shields

Tidal locking isn’t the only hurdle that Proxima b faces in the race to habitability. Proxima is an active star, and experiences huge outbursts (“megaflares”) which could strip the atmosphere from any planet.

Artist’s impression of a megaflare from a dim red dwarf star. Casey Reed/NASA

Once again though, this might not prove fatal. If the planet has a strong magnetic field, like the Earth, this would act as a magnetic shield, protecting the planet’s atmosphere from the worst vagaries of Proxima’s activity.

The mass of the planet suggests that, with an Earth-like composition, the planet could have a magnetic field.

With that extra mass comes extra radiogenic material, helping to keep the planet’s interior molten, which, in turn, could help to drive a dynamo creating the magnetic shield required to protect the atmosphere.

The future

The race is certainly on to learn more about Proxima b. First, perhaps, will be observations that attempt to tie down the tilt of the planet’s orbit. Is it so perfectly aligned that it transits Proxima?

The odds aren’t great, but now we know the planet’s orbital period, we can predict when transits across its host star would be, and train our finest telescopes on the dim red dwarf to see whether it winks.

If it does, then the tilt of the planet’s orbit, and hence its mass, will become immediately apparent. Furthermore, such transits would allow astronomers to study Proxima b’s atmosphere – assuming it has one – through spectroscopic observations during the primary and secondary transits.

Far more likely, however, is that we will not see the planet transit. If it did, we’d probably have already have found it! In that case, all is not lost. In the coming years, it might be possible to directly image the planet, separating its light from that of its star.

Proxima’s proximity works in our favour, here. The planet’s orbital radius will place it, at most, 0.4 arcseconds from Proxima. That’s an angular separation equivalent to the width of an average human hair at a distance of about 75 metres.

A tiny gap, for sure, but one that is within the reach of instruments such as SPHERE, on the Very Large Telescope in Chile. The problem is the planet will be very, very faint compared to its host star.

If SPHERE can’t image Proxima b, then the proposed next generation of telescopes, either on Earth or in space, should be able to manage it.

Artist’s concept of the New Worlds Observatory, which might one day be used to directly observe Proxima b. NASA and Northrop Grumman

And then, of course, there’s Breakthrough StarShot. If we really do have the technology to fire nano-spacecraft to our nearest stellar neighbours in the coming years, this discovery just ensured that Proxima, rather than Alpha Centauri, will be our first destination.

The Conversation

Jonti Horner, Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland and Tanya Hill, Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Senior Curator (Astronomy), Museum Victoria


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Photo credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A police officer’s perspective: I know how deep racism runs in the US

By Heather Panter

I served as an police officer and a detective for more than 12 years, and I have felt a particular connection to the the tragic events of recent weeks. There is clearly a massive gap between black Americans and the police departments that are supposed to serve them.

As a white American, I do not know what it’s like to be three times more likely to be suspended in school because of my skin colour, or to stand out in a crowd as a minority because of my skin colour. I do not know what it’s like to be twice as unlikely than other Americans on average to get a job I apply for because of my skin colour.

I also don’t know what it’s like to be significantly more likely to be arrested than people of other racial groups, or to be three times more likely than average to be killed by the police because of my skin colour. I don’t know what it feels like to know that if found guilty of a crime, I could be given a 20% longer prison sentence based on the colour of my skin.

This is, of course, the reality for 13% of the US’s population – the black population.

Yet I do know something about the strained relationship between black communities and American police officers, and I know it firsthand.

I know what it’s like when a community you serve declines to co-operate with you during a criminal investigation because of the uniform you wear. I know what it’s like to try your hardest to earn the trust of (understandably) untrusting communities to only see another member of the police community murder a black teen on national news.

I know what it feels like to respond to a 911 call only to have the caller request a black officer because “you can’t trust white cops”. I know what it is to be constantly told that I am a racist just because I am white and I wore a uniform. I know what it’s like to be hated because of the combination of my profession and the colour of my skin.

You see, no non-police member of a black community knows what it’s like to put on the most hated uniform in the country, just as a white police officer doesn’t know what it is to have the skin of an oppressed community.

This is the tragedy of our differences – but it also shows the immeasurable value of each personal experience when trying to bridge fractured relationships.

Americans need to know about and acknowledge these very observable gaps between themselves and their police. They need to openly discuss any intentional or unconscious discrimination that plagues all walks of society. Americans need to understand just how difficult policing is in a country where you are ten times more likely to be killed by a gun than you would be in any other developed country.

But the implications of overlooking and denying racism needs to be openly examined and discussed too – and American police departments have specifically avoided doing that for far too long.

Owning up

To improve the lethally distrustful relationships between the black community and policing, there are several things that must be done.

First, the policing community has an obligation to be transparent with all communities regarding use of force and the impact that racism has upon it. The police must acknowledge that racism exists in American policing, just as with other professions. If a police force is aware that a shooting is unjust or an incident is tainted with bias, it must immediately acknowledge and denounce it, and see that those responsible are brought to justice.

This is a critical social obligation. This would entail effective prosecution in a swift manner for any criminal charges that might have occurred after a criminal investigation has been conducted. Police communities should focus more attention on community policing tactics so further personal attachments can be built to neighbourhood beat cops.

The policing community cannot lead this effort alone. Black communities will have a part to play in opening up better communication and reaching understanding with the forces they so distrust.

But there’s something more fundamental that needs to change too: white Americans must acknowledge that their country was built on the backs of subordinated black and Native American identities. We must acknowledge the mass of laws and practices that’s been called “the new Jim Crow”, a system that perpetuates white social and political dominance while incarcerating black Americans in their hundreds of thousands. We must acknowledge and confront the effects of systemic and personal bias on real people and their communities.

After all, the first step towards overcoming structural racism within society and policing alike is to acknowledge that it exists. It’s long past time that all Americans did so.

The Conversation

Heather Panter, Senior lecturer, Liverpool John Moores University


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Photo credit: Jamelle Bouie


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Colin Kaepernick and the morals of honoring Old Glory

By Matt Johnson

By now, you probably know that Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers did not stand for the honoring of the national ensign during the national anthem this past Friday evening in a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. The act of defiance or of disrespect, depending on your moral perspective, has been trending on Facebook, Twitter, and pretty much the entire social media sphere over the past 24 to 48 hours. And as you know, opinions are abound.

Everyone is giving their opinion or has an opinion on this matter. For example, many took to Facebook to express their disdain of the football player while many took to Facebook to show their support. And of course, the national media, one never to shy away from throwing a little fuel on the fire, jumped on this story like a gang of bandits jumping on a train for a train heist.

For example, The New York Times has already published their two cents. In the article Why Colin Kaepernick Didn’t Stand for the National Anthem, the classical paper explains that,

On his Twitter feed, Kaepernick curates a timeline of events that have found a place in the national discourse about race, politics and police behavior, including a protest by white supremacists in front of an N.A.A.C.P. headquarters in Houston, an article about how Arizona teenagers were forced by their school to change out of their Black Lives Matters shirts, and the fatal police shooting of an armed black man in Milwaukee.

And ABC News reported,

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

But as with the burning of the national ensign during the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention, respectively, or during the Ferguson protests and altercations from a couple of years ago, this Colin Kaepernick event can be explained and understood through moral foundations.

Moral foundations are the set of morals that liberals and conservatives prefer to express, more or less, in their daily lives when they are faced with certain events. Or rather, these morals are expressed in greater detail depending on the event. In the case of Colin Kaepernick not standing up for the national anthem before the football game, he was protesting the unfair treatment of traditionally disenfranchised groups, for example, blacks, Asians, Latinos, and the American indigenous people.

Here’s an example of the liberal foundations, fairness and tolerance:

His moral argument, which is two-fold, included the intolerance of these groups along with the lack of fairness by the dominant groups: those of European ancestry. As he explicitly pointed out, he’s not going to stand up and honor a flag that he perceives still symbolizes the oppression of people of non-European ancestry. And as The New York Times reported, he posted examples of this oppression through his Twitter feed.

In contrast, Colin Kaepernick is receiving his much deserved criticism in the eyes of those who express these conservative moral foundations. In their view, he disrespected the national anthem and ensign. And in doing so, he disrespected the authority and tradition of both the song and national symbol. He also committed sacrilege. From the  perspective of many of those who express these moral views, he’s no better than those who burn the American flag in protest.

Here’s an example of the conservative moral foundations, authority, sacredness, and tradition:

In addition, his actions have perceived consequences. As Jonathan Haidt explains in his book The Righteous Mind, from where the moral foundations’ hypothesis derives,

Sanctity…makes it easy for us to regard some things as ‘untouchable’…Why do people so readily treat objects (flags, crosses), places (Mecca, a battlefield related to the birth of your nation), people (saints, heroes), and principles (liberty, fraternity, equality) as though they were of infinite value? [T]he pyschology of sacredness helps bind individuals into moral communities. When someone in a moral community desecrates one of the sacred pillars supporting the community, the reaction is sure to be swift, emotional, collective, and punitive.

And as Haidt correctly elucidates, the response to Kaepernick perceived disrespect was “swift, emotional, collective, and punitive.” As an example, here is what happens if you put in Colin Kaepernick’s name in the Twitter search engine,

This is but one of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of responses a person will find on Twitter, or social media for that matter, calling out the football player on his perceived indiscretions. Sure! There are a lot of people supporting him in different ways. For instance, many people don’t agree with his premise, but agree with the exercise of free speech. However, for those who disagreed, and some disagreed vehemently, the retort of Colin Kaepernick was swift and penetrating.

One Twitter user hoped that a very patriotic football player would make him pay on the field at some point during this 2016 season, while many others have been quick to point out his perceived hypocrisies of being raised by a white family and making millions of dollars as a professional athlete.

The bottom line is that his actions and the response to his actions can be explained and understood through moral foundations. And although the silent majority of social media users have been quiet on the matter, most people are not politically active on social media, the loud majority have been expressing the two sets of moralities in very interesting ways with respect to this situation.

And in a way, Colin Kaepernick has provided us an opportunity to discuss two very important issues: historical discrepancies of disenfranchised groups and patriotism. The question is, can we have this discussion with the current state of news media and political partisanship? Is it possible for us to have this conversation when citizens talk past each other and not to each other? Is it possible for us to have this conversation when the people of this country, in general, don’t take the perspective of the other or understand the distinctions between different political and moral beliefs? And is it possible for us to have this conversation when we think the right answer is one or the other, black or white?

Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought experiment in moral foundations.

Matt Johnson is an economics and science writer for The Systems Scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook

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Copyright ©2016 – The Systems Scientist

We’ve been wrong about the origins of life for 90 years

By Arunas L Radzvilavicius

For nearly nine decades, science’s favorite explanation for the origin of life has been the “primordial soup”. This is the idea that life began from a series of chemical reactions in a warm pond on Earth’s surface, triggered by an external energy source such as lightning strike or ultraviolet (UV) light. But recent research adds weight to an alternative idea, that life arose deep in the ocean within warm, rocky structures called hydrothermal vents.

A study published last month in Nature Microbiology suggests the last common ancestor of all living cells fed on hydrogen gas in a hot iron-rich environment, much like that within the vents. Advocates of the conventional theory have been sceptical that these findings should change our view of the origins of life. But the hydrothermal vent hypothesis, which is often described as exotic and controversial, explains how living cells evolved the ability to obtain energy, in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible in a primordial soup.

Under the conventional theory, life supposedly began when lightning or UV rays caused simple molecules to join together into more complex compounds. This culminated in the creation of information-storing molecules similar to our own DNA, housed within the protective bubbles of primitive cells. Laboratory experiments confirm that trace amounts of molecular building blocks that make up proteins and information-storing molecules can indeed be created under these conditions. For many, the primordial soup has become the most plausible environment for the origin of first living cells.

But life isn’t just about replicating information stored within DNA. All living things have to reproduce in order to survive, but replicating the DNA, assembling new proteins and building cells from scratch require tremendous amounts of energy. At the core of life are the mechanisms of obtaining energy from the environment, storing and continuously channelling it into cells’ key metabolic reactions.

Did life evolve around deep-sea hydrothermal vents? U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Where this energy comes from and how it gets there can tell us a whole lot about the universal principles governing life’s evolution and origin. Recent studies increasingly suggest that the primordial soup was not the right kind of environment to drive the energetics of the first living cells.

It’s classic textbook knowledge that all life on Earth is powered by energy supplied by the sun and captured by plants, or extracted from simple compounds such as hydrogen or methane. Far less known is the fact that all life harnesses this energy in the same and quite peculiar way.

This process works a bit like a hydroelectric dam. Instead of directly powering their core metabolic reactions, cells use energy from food to pump protons (positively charged hydrogen atoms) into a reservoir behind a biological membrane. This creates what is known as a “concentration gradient” with a higher concentration of protons on one side of the membrane than other. The protons then flow back through molecular turbines embedded within the membrane, like water flowing through a dam. This generates high-energy compounds that are then used to power the rest of cell’s activities.

Life could have evolved to exploit any of the countless energy sources available on Earth, from heat or electrical discharges to naturally radioactive ores. Instead, all life forms are driven by proton concentration differences across cells’ membranes. This suggests that the earliest living cells harvested energy in a similar way and that life itself arose in an environment in which proton gradients were the most accessible power source.

Vent hypothesis

Recent studies based on sets of genes that were likely to have been present within the first living cells trace the origin of life back to deep-sea hydrothermal vents. These are porous geological structures produced by chemical reactions between solid rock and water. Alkaline fluids from the Earth’s crust flow up the vent towards the more acidic ocean water, creating natural proton concentration differences remarkably similar to those powering all living cells.

The studies suggest that in the earliest stages of life’s evolution, chemical reactions in primitive cells were likely driven by these non-biological proton gradients. Cells then later learned how to produce their own gradients and escaped the vents to colonise the rest of the ocean and eventually the planet.

While proponents of the primordial soup theory argue that electrostatic discharges or the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation drove life’s first chemical reactions, modern life is not powered by any of these volatile energy sources. Instead, at the core of life’s energy production are ion gradients across biological membranes. Nothing even remotely similar could have emerged within the warm ponds of primeval broth on Earth’s surface. In these environments, chemical compounds and charged particles tend to get evenly diluted instead of forming gradients or non-equilibrium states that are so central to life.

Deep-sea hydrothermal vents represent the only known environment that could have created complex organic molecules with the same kind of energy-harnessing machinery as modern cells. Seeking the origins of life in the primordial soup made sense when little was known about the universal principles of life’s energetics. But as our knowledge expands, it is time to embrace alternative hypotheses that recognise the importance of the energy flux driving the first biochemical reactions. These theories seamlessly bridge the gap between the energetics of living cells and non-living molecules.

The Conversation

Arunas L Radzvilavicius is a theoretical biologist at University College London, UCL


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Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Does the Trump train have any tracks on the ground?

By Robert J. Garrison

Donald Trump’s focus on the size of his rallies and on poll numbers is misguided. All throughout the primaries Trump would pull out polls showing how well he was doing against the GOP field. People chalked this up to his ego and narcissism but in reality it was a manifestation of something much worse, his lack of focus on building a ground game.

A ground game is a local organized team whose job it is to target voters through mailings, calling, voter drives and other GOTV (Get Out the Vote) efforts for a candidate running for office. Donald Trump has been fortunate to be able to run a primary race without much of a ground game. However, a nationwide campaign is very different from a party’s nomination campaign. A candidate must have boots on the ground in order to get as many people to the polls to vote for them. A successful national ground game is a necessity if Trump wishes to reach people outside the GOP sphere, like Independent voters.

Donald Trump is relying on the Republican National Committe, the RNC, to build the ground game for him. Back in May, former RNC National Chairman Michael Steele laughed when asked if the RNC could be a candidate’s entire ground game.

That is part of what they do…I’m sure Paul Manafort and others know they’ve got to put a lot of that ground game in.

In fact, the reason why Donald Trump hired Manafort was to build a ground game and to make sure the campaign headed into the convention with all the delegates that had been won. If Paul Manafort did his job correctly, it would’ve been very easy to change Trump’s campaign infrustructure into a ground game. However reports are not only coming out from the media but also from the campaign, that Paul Manafort did a very poor job.

In an interview in June on Meet the Press, Trumps Campaign Chair Paul Manafort said

Our campaign, frankly, is getting organized. It’s all in words I guess. But we are fully now integrated with the Republican National Committee.

Once again we see that the Trump campaign is relying on the RNC to do the ground game for them.This lack of organization this late in the process is just inexcusable and reckless. More proof of Trump’s lack of organization and focus would be his choice of campaign stops in Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.

Donald Trump campaigning in states like Maine, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and even Minnesota, makes no sense at all. These states are democratic strongholds. Maine and Connecticut haven’t voted for a Republican for president since 1988. New Hampshire last voted for a Republican back in 2000. Minnesota hasn’t gone to a Republican since 1972! Which brings me to my next point. Donald Trump’s lack of focus on the most important thing, the electoral college.

Donald Trump’s focus on the size of rallies and polls numbers is misplaced. Having a large crowd at rallies does not always equate to votes, just ask Mitt Romney. Romney had large crowds at many rallies throughout the Presidential campaign but came up way short of winning the election. The United States is not a democracy but a Republic, which means that we do not elect a president by popular vote. We elect a president through the Electoral College. Donald Trump needs to forget about the polls and keep his focus where it matters, on the Electoral College.

As of right now Hillary Clinton is around 253 and Donald Trump is at around 206 in the Electoral College. That means Donald Trump would need to win all the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Nevada and Pennsylvania to reach 272. This seems highly unlikely since Pennsylvania has always turned out to be fools gold for Republicans since 1988. Not winning Pennsylvania would give Hillary 273 and the win.

If Donald Trump wants to win this race, then he should focus every effort in building a strong ground game in every one of those swing states and a few others like Virginia, Wisconsin and North Carolina to reach the 272 threshold.

Finally with 70 some days left in the campaign, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, says the campaign is going to work on beefing up its ground game in the coming weeks.

So what we’re trying to do this week is get an assessment of where we really are state by state…We’re going to start deploying people who are very talented in different states and bring them to these seven or eight swing states that then we plan on expanding to 10 or 11.

However, Donald Trump has proven he doesn’t listen to his advisors but instead to his instincts. Sometimes those instincts have gotten Donald Trump off track and down the rabbit hole. It is because of this that makes it so hard to predict what will happen. With all that said, during this election cycle we have learned one thing, that all the political pundits and political elites have been wrong on what Donald Trump should be doing. Maybe they are wrong about this as well, or maybe this is  the one time where Donald Trump’s instincts are wrong…we shall see.


Robert J. Garrison is a political and religious writer for The Systems Scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook, or catch up on his articles in the Archives

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Donald Trump | by Gage Skidmore


Copyright ©2016 – The Systems Scientist



Obama’s legacy, and the prospect of a Trump or Clinton presidency

By Joseph Camilleri

As the first African-American US president, Barack Obama assumed office in January 2009 amid public euphoria and high expectations of greater racial harmony and reduced gun violence at home and a more stable and peaceful international order. The mood was best encapsulated by his electrifying slogan:

Yes, we can.

But nearly eight years later a more apt description might be:

No, we can’t.

Police shootings

Recent police use of deadly force in Louisiana and Minnesota was broadcast widely. Law enforcement officers were subsequently executed in Dallas.

Police fatally shot nearly 1,000 people in 2015 and have killed just under 500 in the first six months of 2016. This is more than twice the average rate of police killings reported by the FBI in previous years.

Gun violence more broadly points to the same dismal picture. Between 2010 and 2014, firearms used on US soil accounted for 164,821 deaths. The total number of gun deaths and violent injuries in 2015 was estimated to be close to 100,000.

Violence abroad

The international landscape is no more reassuring.

Obama, who opposed the Iraq invasion, promised among other things to bring the troops home, drastically reduce US involvement in international armed conflicts, close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, develop a more co-operative relationship with Russia and China, bring about a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and significantly advance the prospects of nuclear disarmament.

Very little of this has come to pass.

By 2011, the US had withdrawn ground combat forces from Iraq, but it continued to train, advise and equip Iraqi security forces. However, the subsequent advances of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria led the Obama administration to embark upon a second military intervention.

Over the last two years US forces in Iraq have steadily increased. It presently exceeds 5,000 service members.

To rescue the faltering war effort in Afghanistan Obama approved in the course of 2009 an additional 17,000 troops, on top of the 36,000 US troops and 32,000 NATO military personnel already there.

However, the much-heralded surge failed to prevent the Taliban’s resurgence. More than 5,000 Afghan troops died in 2015; the Taliban is in a stronger position than at any time since 2001.

In 2011, the Obama administration led yet another military intervention, this time in Libya. And it has since become embroiled in the Syrian civil war, which has left more than 300,000 dead and 11 million people displaced.

The US has also assisted or at least turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s 2011 intervention in Bahrain and is presently complicit in the ruinous war in Yemen. In the meantime, any thought of bringing Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table appears to have been mothballed.

US relations with Russia have spiralled downward. NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe has brought it right to Russia’s doorstep. Its decision to deploy ground-based missile defence systems in Romania and Poland has provoked Russian fury.

Russia has sought to reassert its great power status by applying military pressure on Ukraine, annexing Crimea and projecting its air power on the Syrian conflict. Russia and the US are now intent on retaining and modernising their nuclear arsenals, and thwarting international efforts to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

With tensions rising in the South China Sea, the US, though not a party to the sovereignty dispute, is providing increased military support to several of the Southeast Asian claimants. It is strengthening its alliance arrangements with South Korea, Japan and Australia, and dramatically expanding its naval presence. The number of ship patrol days is expected to rise from more than 700 in 2015 to well over 1,000 days in 2016.

What for the future?

The Obama administration is not single-handedly responsible for the explosion of violence at home and abroad. Congressional obstruction and powerful lobbies have restricted Obama’s capacity to act.

Similarly, the role of other powerful countries, regional players and parties in various conflicts has exacerbated tensions and limited possibilities for negotiation, mediation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

But sustained intellectual and political leadership and an informed and engaged citizenry are singularly lacking in the US. This dual failure is not peculiar to the US, but is especially troubling given American influence in the world.

Ominous clouds are gathering as the threadbare presidential campaign stutters its way to the finishing line. Neither Republican Donald Trump nor Democrat Hillary Clinton can be accused of presenting a coherent picture of the culture of violence that grips the US and much of the world.

On the home front, Trump proposes the erection of a wall to prevent Mexican immigration, proffers justification for police use of lethal violence, and upholds the gun culture that holds sway in his country.

Clinton has confined herself to cautious criticism of police actions and proposals for more careful scrutiny of gun ownership.

On the critical question of the “war on terror”, both candidates have said little of substance. In seeking to cultivate anti-Muslim sentiment, Trump has advocated a ban on Muslims entering the country – subsequently rebadged as “extreme vetting” – and a dose of torture.

Clinton’s line is generally more of the same approach that has yielded pitiful results and helped create mayhem in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Somalia – to name only the most obvious sites of civilian slaughter, destruction of cultural heritage and economic ruin.

On the Middle East’s gaping wound, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Clinton offers no more than a firm guarantee of Israel’s security.

And on NATO’s global expansion, the US “pivot to Asia” and its implicit containment of China, the prospect of a renewed nuclear arms race, soaring global military expenditures (almost US$1.7 trillion in 2015), unprecedented levels of global forced displacement (65.3 million people displaced by war and persecution in 2015), and the fastest-growing global crime, human trafficking, there is a deafening silence from both pretenders to the throne.

The American political class is on the cusp of dangerous irrelevance. Those searching for creative solutions to endemic violence, for ways of revitalising civil society and reforming the UN, for new forms of governance that enhance mutual trust and habits of collaboration, would do well to look elsewhere.

Joseph Camilleri will deliver in September four evening public lectures on the issues raised in this article at St Michael’s, Collins Street, Melbourne.

The Conversation

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University


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Photo credit: U.S. Department of State


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.