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January 2, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Greater White-fronted Geese!

Bird-wise, it was definitely a Happy New Year's Day for me! Thanks to an e-mail alert from Shannon Updike, and some assistance from Diane Lepkowski who arrived soon after I did, I was able to see and photograph the Greater White Fronted Geese yesterday. It was the best view I ever had! (I saw several of them on Bell's Lane last February 2, about 200 yards away.) Yesterday's birds were on a pond behind (Sentara) Rockingham Memorial Hospital, east of Harrisonburg, part of a flock of nearly 100 Canada Geese and a couple dozen Mallards. Also present were two Snow Geese, one Bufflehead (female), and an American Coot. I didn't see the Cackling Goose that was reported there, however.

Then on the way back to Staunton, I checked out Strickley Road for a third time (!), hoping to get a better view of the Snow Bunting than I had last week. The field seemed utterly empty, unfortunately, but after lengthy, careful scanning, I eventually noticed a few Horned Larks quietly foraging, and then a few more. That got my hopes up, and finally I spotted the the Snow Bunting. It was still too far away for a good photograph, so I may have to go back there once again!

Greater White-fronted Goose

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Snow Bunting, Snow Goose, American Coot, Greater White-fronted Goose, Great Blue Heron, Bufflehead (F), and in center, Horned Lark. (Roll mouse over the image to see a closeup of the Greater White-fronted Goose.)

The Red-tailed Hawk shown above was perched in a tree along Route 11 on the north edge of Staunton, as I was leaving town. One second later, it flew away! The Great Blue Heron was on Bell's Lane, where I stopped on the way home to look (in vain) for the Short-eared Owls just before dusk. [Enlarged versions of those photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.]

Strickley Road, Blue Ridge

Strickley Road, with the Blue Ridge in the background. (Madison Run Gap is on the right.) The brownish field to the right of the road is where the Snow Bunting and Horned Larks have been seen.

On a side note, I thought it was odd that I saw two "snow birds" (Snow Bunting and Snow Goose) yesterday, after having seen two "horned birds" (Horned Lark and Horned Grebe) on the same day last week.


January 6, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Trump's military-industrial complex

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

President Dwight Eisenhower, farewell address, Jan. 17, 1961

Based on his choices to head his incoming administration, President-elect Donald Trump seems either unaware of Eisenhower's warning, or has ignored it. Trump has chosen three former top military officers to serve in his administration, more than any other recent administration. Several other cabinet positions are going to millionaire business persons from Wall Street or otherwise with close connections to the corporate elite. In some cases, the nominees have little evident knowledge of, or experience with, the subject matter covered by their departments. It does not bode well for good government, and calls into question Trump's reformist talk of "draining the swamp" in Washington.

Trump's most significant cabinet choice last month was that of Gen. (ret.) James "Mad Dog" Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense. (Federal law requires Congress to pass a special authorization for any former military officer to serve in a civilian position if less than five years has passed since he or she left the service.) Mattis was reportedly angry that the Trump team chose someone (Vincent Viola, a businessman) to be Secretary of the Army without consulting with Mattis first. (See CNN.com.)

As noted on November 30, the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be Attorney General is controversial due to his weak record on civil rights issues -- so much so that legal experts and academics from across the country have mounted a campaign to get the Senate to reject him. [Some of his past statements on immigration are disturbing to me. Also controversial is Betsy DeVos, an Ohio billionaire/philanthropist who has been active in the school choice movement. She was a major donor to the Trump campaign. Since I believe that reforming our education system is a high priority, I'm willing to wait and see how she does as Secretary of Education.]

The table below summarizes the cabinet positions and other key advisory positions which Trump has already selected. The column showing each person's career background makes it clear how strong the military and industrial emphasis is. Apart from those two categories, nearly everyone else is a high-ranking Republican politician.

Department (or position) Name Background
State Rex Tillerson Exxon-Mobil
Defense Gen. (ret.) James Mattis U.S. Marines
Treasury Steven Mnuchin Goldman Sachs
Justice (Atty. Gen.) Jeff Sessions U.S. Senate
Agriculture ???
Commerce Wilbur Ross Investor / banker
Labor Andy Puzder CKE Restaurants
Health & Human Serv. Rep. Tom Price U.S. House
Interior Rep. Ryan Zinke U.S. House
Energy Rick Perry ex-gov. of Texas
Veterans ???
Homeland Security Gen. (ret.) John Kelly U.S. Marines
Housing & Urban Dev. Dr. Ben Carson Ret. doctor
Education Betsy DeVos Businesswoman
Transportation Elaine Chao ex-Labor Sec.
Environ. Prot. Scott Pruitt Atty. Gen. of Okla.
Amb. to United Nations Nikki Haley Gov. of S. Carolina
Nat. Sec. Adv. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn U.S. Army
W.H. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus Repub. Nat. Chairman
W.H. Chief Counselor & Strategist Steve Bannon Breitbart News
W.H. Counselor Kellyanne Conway Trump campaign

SOURCE: Washington Post, Google, politico.com

"Electoral College" picks Trump

Today, Vice President Joe Biden presided as the electoral votes were officially tabulated on the floor of the U.S. Senate, the final step in making Donald Trump the President-Elect. The 438 people who comprise the Electoral College do not actually gather in the same place, so that term is a bit misleading. Instead, the electors from every state gathered in their respective 50 state capitals (plus D.C.) on December 19, at which point the actual election took place. This year there were rumors of widespread defections of Trump electors, which would have resulted in the election being decided in the House of Representatives, with each state having an equal vote.

The "widespread panic" over the prospect of Trump becoming president sparked a movement to persuade the electors to "vote their conscience," regardless of the popular vote in their state. (electorstrust.org) [Very little came of that effort, however, and as shown in the table below, more Democratic electors defected (5) than Republican ones did (2).] Somehow it was reasoned that the original intent of the Founding Fathers to entrust the selection of the president to an elite group of wise men should count more than the express legislation in the states, many of which impose harsh penalties for "faithless" electors. The most dramatic example of that phenomenon in modern times came in 1960, when Sen. Harry F. Byrd (D-VA) received 15 electoral votes, 14 of which should have gone to John F. Kennedy: eight from Mississippi, six from Alabama, and one from Oklahoma. (270towin.com) As I pointed out on Facebook, it was ironic that some people cited a democratic ideal (the alleged individual rights of the electors to "vote their conscience") to justify a blatantly elitist manner of choosing the president.

Candidate Electoral
Votes
Popular
Votes

(or states with faithless electors)
Donald Trump 304 62,979,879
Hillary Clinton 227 65,844,954
Colin Powell 3 WA
Faith Spotted Eagle 1 WA
John Kasich 1 TX
Ron Paul 1 TX
Bernie Sanders 1 HI

SOURCE: politico.com, 270towin.com;

So, what are we to make of the fact that Hillary Clinton won 2,865,075 votes more than Trump? Other than an indication that Trump has only a weak mandate to enact his agenda, not much. Those who cite the popular vote totals to suggest that Trump is not the duly-elected chief executive are deeply mistaken, and their attitudes have a corrosive effect on our democracy. (Of course, Trump's own comments during the campaign about the election being "rigged" have had the same corrosive effect.) Democracies thrive when all the major players agree in advance on the rules, and abide by the outcome afterward. Those who think it is obvious that the Electoral College is hopelessly archaic apparently don't understand the constitutional basis for national unity, giving the states a prominent role in how the Federal government is chosen. Likewise, those who complain that it's too hard to amend the Constitution to do away with the Electoral College just don't get it.

Along those lines, there is a movement to nullify the Electoral College by getting most of the states to pass legislation that would award all of their (respective) electors to whichever candidate won the nationwide popular vote. Technically, it may be constitutional, since there are provisions for such interstate compacts, but it would be grossly (and ironically) un-democratic, in the sense that the will of the voters of those states [would be ignored]. See every-vote-equal.com

So, to repeat what I have suggested on Facebook, I would propose a consitutional amendment such that any candidate who wins an absolute majority (not just a plurality) the nationwide popular vote and a plurality of the vote in a majority of the states (i.e., 26 or more at present) is declared the president-elect. If those two conditions are not met, then the choice would revert to the traditional Electoral College system, except that the electoral votes would be automatically determined by the elections in each state, without the need for (potentially faithless) human electors. [States could apportion the electors in some fashion, if they so desire; at present, Maine and Nebraska choose electors from each congressional district, plus two statewide.]

The Blog Is Back!!?

(That title is a reference to a certain Elton John song.) It has been over four weeks since the last time I blogged about politics: December 3, to be exact. ("Congressional elections in Virginia: RIGGED!!?") Frankly, the mere thought of a Trump administration fills me with feelings of dread and depression. I understand that his style of outrageous remarks and gratuitous insults is all part of a strategy aimed at paralyzing his opponents, and judging by the way many Democrats (as well as Independents like me) have reacted, it's having the desired effect. It's the modern form of cyber-discourse known as "trolling," and Trump is an expert at it. But the cold, hard reality of a U.S. government led by Donald Trump is fast approaching, and it's time to face up to it.

(NOTE: I will deal with the controversy over the effect of Russian "hacking" on the elections tomorrow.)


January 16, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Is Trump a serious president-elect?

Last February 29, I asked (rhetorically), "Is Trump a serious candidate?" He already had a strong lead in the primary races, but was not acting in the dignified manner that one would expect of a front-runner. One might have thought that winning the presidential election would provide him an opportunity to mature, but sadly, nothing has changed: He continues to spout bizarre, obnoxious "tweets" about people who cross him, and makes erratic, impromptu remarks on a wide variety of policy areas. Are people supposed to take his words seriously? Such tendencies raise troubling questions about his capacity to lead this country. Is he indeed a serious president-elect???

The latest dust-up started when Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said that Trump's election victory was not legitimate, and Trump flew into another fit of outrage. Over a dozen Democratic members of Congress (mostly African-American) have announced that they will not attend Trump's inauguration on Friday, to express their rejection of his democratic legitimacy. To me, it's a silly argument that does not merit a serious response. I tend to agree with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin (a conservative), who wrote that there are so many ways that Trump violates the presidential norms of behavior that harping on his supposed "illegitimacy" completely misses the point.

Fortunately, some Democrats spoke out against the extraordinary boycott led by Lewis, including Sen. Joe Manchin (WV). I watched him on CBS "Face The Nation" on Sunday morning, and was pleased that he criticized Lewis's statement as "uncalled for." (See thehill.com.) The peaceful transfer of power is a delicate matter, and the lack of national unity at this difficult time puts our country in great peril. Ironically, such a reaction is exactly what the Russians were trying to achieve with their cybernetic ("hacking") of U.S. e-mail servers and disinformation; see below. Even though I dread what Trump may do once in office, he was legitimately elected, and those who say otherwise make our country weaker.

Is Trump a Russian stooge?

Protests about Trump's supposed "illegitimate" election are based largely on the Russian cybernetic attacks of last year, but very few informed people think that those things had a decisive effect on the presidential election. Given the fact that hardly any expert thought that Trump had much of a chance to win the election, the idea that the interference was aimed at tipping the outcome in Trump's favor just doesn't make sense. So what were the Russians' intentions? To me, it's obvious, that the Russians were mainly trying to sow doubt and suspicion about our democratic processes, and the way many Democrats (such as Lewis) have responded, the Russians have succeeded marvelously. A fairly balanced and thorough report (by the FBI and DHS) on "Russian Malicious Cyber Activity" dated December 29 can be seen at us-cert.gov (Hat tip to Connie.)

But to hear some people talk, the Russian cybernetic attack signifies that Trump is a mere puppet or stooge of Vladimir Putin. The idea that a multi-billionaire might end up being manipulated in such a way seems extremely remote. (I doubt that there is much to the opposition research "dossier" on Trump's alleged sexual perversions, and would prefer not to worry about that. See independent.co.uk.) Given Trump's authoritarian tendencies, there may well be an affinity between him and Putin, but as I keep reminding people, many of the provocative things Trump says are done mainly to annoy or distract his opponents, and I think the notion of a U.S.-Russian partnership are greatly exaggerated. (I will deal with the strategic and foreign policy aspects of that relationship in the near future.)

Testimony before Senate committees by Ret. Gen. James Mattis (presumed Secretary of Defense) and Rex Tillerson (presumed Secretary of State) has conflicted with Trump on the extent of the Russian threat, yet another cause for concern. They have likewise expressed firm support for NATO, which Trump has questioned. Will he take advice from his cabinet?

Politics: a walk down memory lane

Having put a great deal of effort into warning fellow Republicans about various pathological tendencies within the party (e.g., simplistic populism, narrow exclusivism, excess focus on social/moral/cultural issues), it would be quite hypocritical of me to cast aside those warnings and voice support for Donald Trump. The Grand Old Party is now reaping the bitter fruit it has sowed over the past ten years or more. In light of my departure from Republican ranks, I thought it would be appropriate to review my immediate post-election blog reflections for the past four election cycles:

November 3, 2004: "Victory, Redemption, Reconciliaton" -- (This was when I was just starting to blog on a regular basis, pioneering a new form of political communication that was eventually picked up by many other conservative Republicans in this area.) Having devoted a great deal of time and energy to campaign work on behalf of the Republicans, I was a gung ho party loyalist and made much of George W. Bush's popular vote majority, as a mandate to pursue what then still seemed to be a conservative agenda. I kept under wraps my qualms about Bush's capacity to govern effectively largely. (Over the first half of the first year of Bush's second term, however, my doubts began to grow, as expressed in various blog posts.)

November 5, 2008: "Barack Obama's historic victory" -- I strained to explain the race by John McCain, whose choice of a vice presidential candidate (Sarah Palin) doomed what little chance he had after the economic meltdown in late September. Even though Obama won a bigger margin of the nationwide popular vote than Bush had four years earlier, I still characterized the win as "not decisive." Oops -- not very "fair and balanced"! But at least I was very candid about the election serving as a referendum on the Bush presidency, about which I had become sharply critical over the preceding two years. I stand by my mildly scornful take on the likelihood that Obama's worldwide popularity might translate into positive foreign policy achievements. In light of the subsequent rise of ISIS, one might question with my assertion that Iraq was "being steadily pacified," but I think Obama's precipitous military withdrawal from that country, as well as his diplomatic clumsiness, are primarily to blame for that.

November 7, 2012: "Decision 2012: Obama wins by a clear margin" -- I tried to keep my hopes up in the final weeks of the campaign, but the advantages of incumbency (plus the "fortuitous" hurricane that struck the New York City area) were too much for Mitt Romney -- a.k.a. "Mr. Nice Guy" -- to overcome. My ties to local party politics had greatly withered, and the campaign appearance by Romney (and Paul Ryan) at Fishersville, and an appearance by Ryan in September, were about the only organized events that I attended that year. is a "true conservative" candidate "The fact that Romney has failed to clearly distinguish his agenda from that of Dubya is a discouraging sign that most people in the GOP have not really absorbed the lessons of the 2001-2008 period."

November 9, 2016: "Believe it or not: Trump is elected president" -- That piece was especially difficult for me to write, as I had such negative feelings about both major party candidates. I called attention to what has since become known as "Trump Derangement Syndrome," the hysterical reaction by many leftists to the impending Trump presidency, previously considered almost unthinkable. One of the more controversial observations I made on Election Night was that Trump's surprise victory to a great extent was the visceral reaction by "Middle America" (white, rural, heartland-dwelling) against contemporary popular culture. Many leftists sadly remain convinced that voting for Trump signifies an endorsement of his odious attitudes toward women and certain foreign ethnic or religious groups.


January 16, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Ducks on the (unfrozen) pond

The arctic blast we had a few days ago had a nice side-effect for birders, forcing many ducks to congregate in larger ponds that did not freeze over. One such pond is in the former quarry south of Fishersville, so I headed over there last Thursday after seeing reports of many different duck species there. Even though they were far away (about 200 yards), it was still nice seeing the boldly colored (and aptly named) Redheads. Also present were several American Wigeons and Ring-necked Ducks, plus a few American Coots and several dozen Canada Geese.

Montage 12 Jan 2017 - ducks

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Wigeons (M & F), Ring-necked Ducks (3 M, 1 F), Mallard (M), Redheads (M), Canada Goose, American Coot, and in center, American Kestrel (F).

Yesterday, Jacqueline and I stopped at the pond behind Hardees in Verona, and I was surprised to see several Hooded Mergansers there, along with a Great Blue Heron. On the way home, I spotted an American Kestrel along Bell's Lane, but the photos I took were obscured by tree branches. This afternoon, I photographed a White-breasted Nuthatch out back, and then a Red-tailed Hawk at the intersection of Route 11 and Bell's Lane. I was headed there in search of Northern Harriers or Short-eared Owls, but struck out once again.

Montage 16 Jan 2017 - ducks

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, White-breasted Nuthatch, Hooded Mergansers (3 F, 1 M). Enlarged photos of all four species in this montage can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.


January 19, 2017 [LINK / comment]

The eve of destruc inauguration *

Well, the dreaded day is finally upon us. I really hope my fears and misgivings about the incoming Trump administration prove to be unfounded, but very little has been said or done in recent days to raise my level of confidence. The war of words between the President-elect and CIA Chief John Brennan (see BBC), Rep. John Lewis, leader of the House Democratic boycott, and others suggest a leader who is incapable of tolerating the slightest offense.

The inaugural festivities tomorrow evening are likely to be paradoxical, with multi-millionaires flattering each other in luxury while the working class voters who put Trump into office figuratively gaze through the window from the outside. The contrast reflects the tensions within the Republican Party, which is undergoing a profound (and probably permanent) transformation into the opposite of what it once stood for. Even though Trump rode a wave of populist resentment into office, there will be no repeat of the 1829 White House keg party, when the rural ruffian supporters of newly-inaugurated President Andrew Jackson (the very model of what it meant to be a true Democrat for many decades) damaged White House furniture while whooping it up. Any trouble from Trump's supporters is likely to involve street clashes between "Bikers for Trump" and anti-Trump protesters. At a time when police in America are regarded with more hostility and scorn than at any time since the 1960s, the possibility of political violence in Washington is especially high.

Even though the term populist aptly describes his base of electoral support, it remains to be seen to what degree will the Trump presidency be meaningfully "populist." I wrote on Facebook that I have studied populist regimes in Latin America, so this is familiar theme to me. In particular, there have been three populist regimes in modern Peru: Gen. Juan Velasco (in power 1968-1975), Alan Garcia (in power 1985-1990), and Alberto Fujimori (in power 1990-2000). The first two pushed a radical, left-wing agenda, the first via a military regime and the second via a democratic regime that proved to be too fragile. Both failed miserably. In contrast, Fujimori surpised everyone by reneging on his vague campaign promises and adopting a harsh free-market economic stabilization program, coupled with a fierce anti-terrorism campaign implemented with authoritarian means. (He launched an "auto-coup" in 1992, shutting down the Congress for almost a year, and having a new constitution drafted.) Fujimori achieved spectacular success in policy, but it went to his head, as his government became entangled in a variety of corruption scandals, and he left office in disgrace soon after being elected (fraudulently) to a third term in 2000.

In terms of his base of support and egoistic tendencies, Trump reminds me a lot of Fujimori, and while I don't think he's a "fascist," his bully-pulpit style does smack of authoritarianism. As I concluded on Facebook, "Chances are, we're in for one hell of a scary ride under Trump. But little if anything will get solved." For more background, see "What The Trump Era Will Feel Like: Clues From Populist Regimes Around The World" at forbes.com; hat tip to Emily, a former student of mine at Sweet Briar College.

Even when I identified as a Republican, I generally avoided the polemics over social and cultural issues. The libertarian in me says "live and let live," and my religious upbringing reminds me of when Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." So all of the kulturkampf angst about issues such as abortion, gays marriage, drug abuse, etc. fails to excite me very much. When the cast of the Broadway play "Hamilton" scolded Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence last fall, I was only mildly offended. People who make a living on a stage tend to have an exaggerated sense of their own importance, so it's par for the course. Besides, I'm in no position to judge the aesthetic merits of that play. But having said all that, I must say that the article in Reason.com ("Finally: The Case Against Hamilton"; hat tip to Nick Sorrentino) makes a compelling case about the underlying reasons for the upset election outcome of last November:

"The election of Donald Trump and the leave vote in the United Kingdom aren't just political decisions. They're a cultural revolt against the pomposity of upper-crust liberals who don't have to live with the consequences of their own values. Hamilton is where the modern day Marie Antoinettes tell unemployed forklift drivers to eat cake."

Personally and professionally, I don't really fit into either the "elite" or the "populist" social categories, which gives me perhaps a more neutral perspective on some of the ongoing clashes in American society today.

* That's a not-too-subtle reference to the 1965 protest song by Barry McGuire, "Eve of Destruction," which I will explain in an upcoming blog post.

Is Trump to be taken seriously, or literally, or both, or neither?

A big part of what divides people in America is how they understand Donald Trump, who is prone to making filthy trash talk about his opponents, and grandiose, outrageous boasts about himself. Last September, Salena Zito wrote of Donald Trump in the Atlantic that "When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally." For example, his supporters take him seriously (as being capable of governing) but not literally (e.g., they discount his promises about building a wall), while members of the press take him literally (e.g., starting a trade war with China) but not seriously (e.g., he's a buffoon or a clown). I suppose those people (presumably his opponents) who take him seriously and literally must be truly petrified with fright; see Charles Lane in the Washington Post. Me? Up until recently, I haven't been taking him seriously or literally, but now that he is on the cusp of power, I no longer have that luxury.


January 19, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Finally: Short-eared Owls!

Late this afternoon, I drove out to Bell's Lane once again in hopes of seeing Short-eared Owls, and wouldn't you know it, I finally got lucky! As I was approaching the high point where we saw those owls on December 17 (the Christmas Bird Count), I saw two large birds flying in the distance with distinctive swooping wing beats. Could it be? A quick look through the binoculars left no doubt: YES! One of them landed on a bare branch at the top of a tree, joining another that was already there, while the third one flew away. I stopped my car and took several photos from about 80 yards away, and then slowly moved forward to get in better photographic position a couple more times until I was only about 30 yards away. It was about 5:00, with daylight fading fast, so the photos I took weren't as sharp as I would have liked, but still much better than any of that species that I had taken before. One of them flew off, but the photos I took in mid-flight were poor quality. Nonetheless, I was gratified that my persistence finally paid off. It was also very opportune, as I was able to show those photos to other members of the Augusta Bird Club at the monthly "Birds and Brews" social hour less than an hour later!

It was almost four years ago (February 18, 2013) that I last got a good look at (and photo of) a Short-eared Owl, in the Swoope area.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl, along Bell's Lane today. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.


January 20, 2017 [LINK / comment]

#45: Donald J. Trump is inaugurated president

Putting to rest fears of some kind of disruption, the inaugural ceremonies for the nation's 45th president, Donald J. Trump, went off without a hitch today. The incoming and outgoing First Families (Obamas and Trumps) and Second Families (Bidens and Pences) assembled at the White House for a trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building. With all the hard feelings from the 2016 campaign, it must have been extremely tense. Watching on TV it seemed surreal, hard to believe.

Just before noon, Vice President Mike Pence took the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts, and [after] a hymn, it was Trump's turn to recite the oath. It started to rain as soon as President Trump began his inaugural address, which was short (only about 18 minutes) and direct. He used the same plain language that he did in his campaign speeches, and he apparently wrote almost all of it himself. It started off on a good note, with gracious words to former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle, but it quickly returned to his standard populist campaign rhetoric in a very blunt way. The following key excerpts are from the (revamped) whitehouse.gov website.

January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
Everyone is listening to you now.

That was obviously aimed at the "middle America" demographic base which carried Trump to electoral victory. He then went through a litany of instances in which other countries allegedly have taken advantage of the U.S., with devastating effects on the middle class in small towns across the Heartland. That set up the main focus of the speech:

From this moment on, it's going to be America First.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.
We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
I will fight for you with every breath in my body -- and I will never, ever let you down.

In sum, his speech was a breathtaking in style and content, a sharp break with tradition. The strongly nationalistic views of the new chief adviser Steve Bannon were on full display, and mainstream Republicans were probably horrified. Trump did not cover every key issue or mention particular problem areas in the world, keeping a sharp focus on his main goals. Those of us who hoped that he might shift gears and become more pragmatic once he actually became president were disappointed. If he succeeds with a economic and trade policy based on "protection" as the organizing principle, they will have to re-write all the economics textbooks, as such an approach has rarely if ever worked in the real modern world. Anything is possible, but some things are more likely than others.

I was also struck by Trump's ambitious promises, such as "... Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth." Really? I had been thinking that Trump was continuing to act unpresidential in the days leading up to his inauguration so as to set extremely low standards for what could be considered a successful term in office. Granted, many of his followers don't take some of his words at face value (as I noted yesterday), but by promising so much, he has made success that much harder for himself.

Peaceful parade, violent protests

The officials then retired to dine in private inside the Capitol, so the inaugural parade didn't start until mid-afternoon, and by the time it ended in the early evening, hardly anyone was left in the bleachers in front of the White House. That was a weird scene. Attendance at the late-afternoon festivities may have been suppressed by the violent street protests taking place about a half mile away.

Anticipating sharp clashes, police had cordoned off a large portion of central D.C., but it didn't stop anarchists from starting a riot along 12th Street NW, just outside the secured zone. It looked and sounded pretty dramatic on TV, but it was contained and over a hundred people were arrested. Tomorrow there will be an even bigger protest by women against Trump, and the anarchists will probably try to infilitrate the peaceful protest ranks and foment more violence. I happen to sympathize with those women, who have every right to feel outraged and insulted by the many hurtful words and deeds of the new president.

The ban on emoluments

Some people have argued that President Trump's worldwide business holdings by their very nature put him in the position of violating the Constitution, which prohibits public officials from receiving any gifts or favors from foreign countries:

Article I. Section 10. Clause 8. No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

If foreign officials were to stay at one of Trump's many hotels around the world, that provision might apply. During his press conference earlier this week, Trump announced that he would turn over all profits from those operations to the U.S. Treasury, but few people are satisfied with that proposed arrangement. There are actually two other clauses pertaining to emoluments, including one in Article II concerning the president, but they don't seem to apply to this question. So what is an emolument? According to Webster's New World Dictionary (Third College Edition), it means "gain from employment or position; payment received for work; salary, wages, fees, etc."

In short, Trump's vast business empire creates a massive headache for those seeking to ensure he complies with the law, and with ethical norms. Trump probably should have gone much farther in divesting his problematic assets, but he may be reluctant to take a loss by cashing in now. What else could we have expected? There will no doubt be complaints and accusations of corruption throughout Trump's entire term, making it harder for him to govern effectively.

As dubious as I am of President Trump's agenda and suitability to lead the country, I also have deep reverence for the institutions of American government, so I plan to give him the benefit of the doubt at least for the first few weeks of his presidency. During this "honeymoon" period, I hope he acts in a way that unifies the country.


January 21, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to Mont... Highland County!

I was going to lead a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club to Montgomery Hall Park this morning, but -- once again -- nobody else showed up! So, I quickly changed plans and hurried west to Highland County, where Allen Larner was leading a field trip that was originally scheduled for January 7. I only stopped briefly at the Confederate Breastworks (at the top of the mountain ridge which defines the county line), getting a nice view of the thick layer of fog that blanketed the lowlands. Then I proceeded directly to the house across from Snowy Mountain where Margaret O'Bryan used to live, where we always visit. I was guessing that was where the group would be, but as it turned out I arrived first. The skies turned sunny, and I was excited to see three Bald Eagles about a quarter mile away. After 20 minutes or so, I headed south and soon found the other two carload of birders. So returned to the place I had just visited, and thanks to Allen Larner's "eagle eyes," I saw a Golden Eagle almost a mile away. We both saw a probably Golden Eagle on the way back south, but I couldn't get a photo of it. (Arghh!) We then drove around looking for Snipes, to no avail, and after that searched for Rough-legged Hawks, likewise without result. We did see a few good birds here and there, including a noisy Kestrel circling overhead.

After a rest stop in Monterrey, Allen and two other birders headed south to Lake Moomaw in Bath County, while I headed back to Staunton. (I had scheduled a field trip to Lake Moomaw for Saturday, December 10, but had to cancel it because of freezing temperatures.) On the way back to Staunton I made brief stops near a wildlife preserve southwest of the town of Headwaters, at Confederate Breastworks (again), and at Chimney Hollow, but didn't see hardly any birds. Overall, it was kind of a mediocre day, bird-wise.

Montage 21 Jan 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-capped Chickadee, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel (M), Downy Woodpecker (F), and American Goldfinch.

One day earlier (Friday, which was Inauguration Day!), I stopped at the pond behind Hardees in Verona, where I had seen several Hooded Merganser the week before. The sun was finally shining after several days of gloom and doom, and I was hoping to get a better photo of those stunning ducks. After a minute, I spotted them, and got some nice photos after a few of them swam in my direction. Now if I could only get within 20 yards rather than 40 yards...

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser, in Verona on Friday. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.


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