Politicization of the National Security Apparatus & French 75

As Trump’s cabinet begins to take shape, key positions are being filled by generals who have not spent the customary (and sometimes legally mandated) gap time between military and political service, raising concerns of politicization down the ranks of military command.

The past week has seen President-Elect Trump nominate an unprecedented group of businessmen, right-wing politicians, and lobbyists into his Cabinet, leading to what many are calling the wealthiest and most controversial Presidential administration in history. A less-discussed but equally important group of Trump’s nominations are his choices for the leadership of the military and civilian intelligence organizations of the government for the coming years. As of this writing, Trump has selected Gen. Jim Mattis, USMC (Ret.) as Secretary of Defense, Gen. Michael Flynn, US Army (Ret.) as his National Security Advisor, and Maj. Vincent Viola, US Army (Ret.) as Secretary of the Army. All of these positions are significantly influential in terms of advising and directing the foreign policy of the United States, both through the Executive branch of government, and through the military/intelligence apparatuses themselves. Several other Secretary and advisory positions within the Trump cabinet are being filled with retired military figures, but have little or no influence over foreign policy or overseas operations.

It is not the fact that retired military officers are being called to serve in a cabinet, as the United States has a long and proud history of continued service by retired military figures, but rather the acceleration of their nomination so soon after retirement, that is unusual. This is especially true in the case of Gen. Mattis, as any former-military candidate for the Secretary of Defense position is mandated by law to to have at least a seven year gap between the end of their active military service and appointment to a senior civilian leadership position. Gen. Flynn (nominated for National Security Advisor) retired as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (a military position within the DoD) in 2014, though he is an Executive appointee, and not subject to Congressional approval. By elevating both to civilian leadership positions without a sufficient “cooling-off” period, the Trump administration runs the risk of A) politicizing the offices to which these men are being nominated, and B) degrading the cornerstone principle that US foreign policy is civilian-controlled. Both are dangerous for a multitude of reasons, but ultimately conclude in a less-effective foreign policy and increased risk to Americans both at home and abroad.

By creating a pipeline that leads from military service to civilian cabinet positions, the Trump administration sets a precedent for the active military leadership to act not necessarily in the best tactical or strategic sense, but to include partisan political considerations in their planning. Not only is this against Department of Defense regulations, it is demonstrably detrimental at every level to the conduct and execution of operations in the field. The American military remains a long way from embedding political officers with individual units, but general officers who attempt to curry political favor in the hopes of securing a future cabinet position directly undermines the trust the American people have that the military acts in their interests, under their oath to (and only to) the Constitution.

Similarly, Trump’s selective disdain for the intelligence apparatuses of the country (except for when they agree with his own aims) is equally dangerous, with perhaps broader implications for safety of Americans abroad and at home. If the Trump administration begins to eschew objective analysis of gathered intelligence in favor of partisan politics and internal jockeying, much of the advanced warning methods used by these organizations to predict and prevent attacks (not just terrorist, but clandestine, cyberspace, and overt military) may atrophy to the point of uselessness. The key to effective analysis and dissemination of national intelligence is the apolitical, non-partisan nature of the organization. These organizations do not, and should not make policy decisions on behalf of the President or other branches of government. They exist to provide the most accurate informations to support and inform separated and unattached policy makers. By injecting “his own people [into the intelligence community] as well”, the Trump administration undermines the foundational tenant of the national intelligence apparatus to put the needs of the country before all others.

As it stands, the incoming administration is already seeking to undo Obama’s legacy of the past eight years, and yet most of these are matters of policy that naturally ebb and flow with the political zeitgeist. Where Trump makes himself unique, and most dangerous, are his apparent attempts to influence and subsume the very entities that ensure the safety and sovereignty of the United States. By design, the military and intelligence organizations are kept separate from the government branches they advise, in order to prevent selfish political concerns overriding the priorities of the country. To weaken the barriers between the tools of the state and its leadership threatens not only the integrity of the organizations in the eyes of the people, but also the security of the country and its citizens outright. It behooves the American people, through the other branches of Government designed to check and balance the Executive, to ensure that the tools of American foreign policy remain tools, and not in turn wield themselves.

 

French 75 (Makes 1 cocktail)

For this week’s drink, The International is turning to some more military cocktails that were repurposed for civilian life, and in keeping with the season’s festivities, we’re adding champagne! Contemplate the muddling of the American foreign policy toolbox while this French 75 cocktail muddles your head. But beware: it’s not named after an artillery piece for nothing. Fire for effect.

  • 1-1/4 ounce Hennessy Cognac
  • 3/4 ounce Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 ounce Simple Syrup (or a tad less)
  • Brut Champagne
  • Lemon Twist for Garnish

Combine Hennessy, lemon juice, and bar syrup in a cocktail shaker filled one third full of ice. Shake thoroughly for ten to fifteen seconds. Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top off with champagne. Garnish with lemon twist. (From Business Insider)

American Brain Drain Under a “Post-Truth” Regime & Mind Eraser Cocktail

It’s official, everyone, we live in a ‘post-truth’ world! Everything is made up and the facts don’t matter! How did we get here? What happens now? What will a future America devoid of objective certainty look like? History might hold a clue, but at this point, there might not be anyone left to listen.

It’s become increasingly apparent in American politics that facts, those snippets of objective, evidence-based, indisputable information, no longer hold sway over the public discourse.  To hear some tell it, we live in a ‘post-truth’ world where “there are no such things as facts.”  America, and indeed the world, is currently experiencing an upswell in populist sentiment that rejects, amongst other things, elitist institutions and organizations that appear to dictate policy and societal direction. The image of a cold, unfeeling elitist who speaks unto the masses and drags them kicking and screaming into their future has been used for decades to stoke anti-intellectual sentiment in America. Caught up in this wave, though, are the researchers, developers, and innovators who advance the frontiers of scientific knowledge and in many cases are dependent on public money (in the form of government grants or institutional budgets) to fund their activities. When the electorate is disdainful of, or actively hostile towards, these so-called ‘scientific-technological elites’, so too are the government officials they elect, and consequently the purse strings are slowly drawn closed. What happens then is an exodus of academic and creative human capital, commonly known as ‘brain drain’. Researchers, innovators, and other developers end up relocating themselves, their research, and in many cases their businesses, to friendlier countries.

Throughout modern history, that friendlier country has been the United States of America, and consequently the country has been at the forefront of every major scientific, technical, and industrial advance that influences how we live today. America’s policies have allowed everyone from Albert Einstein to Elon Musk the opportunity to grow their field and develop unprecedented technologies, not to mention contribute significantly to the US economy in the form of patent licensure and direct commerce. Today in America, major fields of research and innovation are the target of scepticism, indifference, or outright hostility even as they seek to improve the world we live in. Medical research using fetal tissue, green technology to reduce global warming, even funding to explore space have all been the victims of a growing distrust in the intellectual process and scientific fact. Even in fields that are well-regarded and -supported, Immigration policies are making it increasingly difficult for qualified students and innovators to learn and remain in the United States. Combined with the fact that many other countries now have systems and infrastructure in place to support similar fields of study, America faces an unprecedented period of brain drain where it stands to lose its position as the most innovative, creative, and scientifically capable nation in history.

Where could all these academics and innovators go, do you ask? China and India, for a start. Currently the majority of Chinese- and Indian-born college graduates (many of them in STEM fields that are shrinking in the US) are returning to their home countries to start research opportunities and businesses not available to them in America. The resultant leaps in innovation, science, and development have generated not only massive corporations like Alibaba and Biocon, but are driving global scientific and technological progress at a rate to soon overtake the United States.  The trend is also apparent in immigrants from other countries, such as those in Latin America and Eastern Europe, though presently China and India are the closest runners-up. Regardless of their destination, each scientific emigrant from the US represents a significant loss of human capital and economic contribution at a time when the US is not educating enough scientifically-minded Americans to fulfill the existing demand. This trend is not likely to reverse under a society and administration that do not value scientific fact.

The loss of American human capital is not restricted only to developing economies.  Canadian universities of late have been actively courting American scientists and researchers, unveiling hundreds of millions of dollars and world-class facilities ready for immediate use. The Canadian government has similarly declared support for fields of research and innovation that are threatened or unsupported under US policies.  So when your friend says “I’m moving to Canada”, it might be because her research proposal just got funded by the Canadian government.  

What would the impact of brain drain be on the American economy? It would be difficult to estimate, especially as America has never been on the negative side of a human capital exchange. The impact could be something like never having Google or Tesla or Pfizer contribute to the US economy.  Instead, let’s look at what happens to those countries that have faced similar situations to the US right now and see how brain drain (or lack thereof) affected them.  Ireland is still recovering from the 2008 Great Recession, but suffered high emigration rates, including to Canada, especially among those with advanced degrees. This brain drain once threatened the recovery of the Irish economy to the point where a ‘double-dip’ recession seemed likely.  Recently, government support for advanced research and development has led to a net increase in Irish academic expatriates returning home, with a corresponding increase in economic growth and opportunity.  American policymakers would do well to learn from the Irish lesson as we at home still struggle to regain traction after the 2008 recession.

Conversely, we can also look at the impact supporting scientific progress and innovation have on an economy.  Poland’s support for innovation and entrepreneurship is credited for allowing it to emerge from the 2008 recession with net economic growth, with no years of net negative growth. Europe has also reaffirmed its commitment to fostering innovation and development in their respective economies, the net result of which is expected growth and recovery amongst every nation to do so. Europe currently faces many issues similar to America, especially in terms of immigration and a growing populist or far-right sentimentality, yet it seems apparent that the way out of economic and social turmoil, so often cited as the primary reason for populist movements, is the embracing of scientific discovery and technological innovation, not its rejection.

It becomes obvious, then, that America cannot afford to lose its best and brightest. The degradation and loss of the scientific infrastructure already present in America would be a major setback to the pace of scientific discovery as a whole, to say nothing of the immediate economic impact.  What can we as ordinary citizens do to stop this cycle? For a start, contact your federal, state, or local representative and tell them that you support increased funding for American scientific, innovative, and entrepreneurial institutions and organizations. Start with the Federal Committee on Science, Space, Technology and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Tell your state and local representative to support in-state funding for science and technology.  And when you can, support American small businesses, especially those working to create innovative and creative solutions for the world we live in.

Still not convinced? We’ve paired our story with a Mind Eraser cocktail, so you can see for yourself what America with ‘brain drain’ would be like!

Mind Eraser (makes 1 cocktail)

  • 2 oz. Kahlua coffee liqueur
  • 2 oz. vodka
  • Club soda

Fill a rocks glass with ice and pour in vodka. Next, layer in the Kahlua so it floats over the vodka. Top with a layer of club soda.

Drink by placing a straw in the glass and consuming as rapidly as possible, ideally all at once. It’s not called a Mind Eraser for nothing, you know! Disclaimer: one cocktail may not be enough if you’re trying to drink to forget.

Climate Change Skepticism & a Frozen Cranberry Cosmo

A recent report published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows a large rift in the Pine Island glacier, one of two glaciers in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet which are responsible for preventing large chunks of ice in the sheet from floating out to sea and melting. These two glaciers form a large part of the total ice in Antarctica, which accounts for about half of the fresh water on the entire planet. Why is this important? Well, scientists that study glaciers have some pretty compelling evidence that, when the surface ice exposed in these rifts comes into contact with liquid ocean water, melting accelerates, similar to how ice in your whiskey tumbler melts faster when you crack it before putting it in the glass.

When the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts, sea levels will rise globally around 10 feet. Here’s how your community will fare when that happens. And yes, scientists who study global warming phenomena think it’s a WHEN and not an IF. Furthermore, these recent reports concerning the rift in the Pine Island glacier suggest that it will melt sooner than we expected, perhaps in many of our lifetime.

Now, we need to figure out ways of both minimizing the extent of glacier melting, and protecting the people that live in vulnerable areas when the sea levels do rise.  Back in the Nixon era, it was a commonly accepted belief that the world was warming, and the debate was over the best measures to counteract global warming. That’s how we ended up with the Clean Air Act, among others. But now the very existence of global warming is the subject of debate, as evidenced by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology retweeting a debunked story from Brietbart. It’s ridiculous that climate change is again up for debate, given the solid body of work that scientists have assembled showing that the world is warming (and most of the data indicates that we humans have something to do with it), not to mention anecdotal evidence like intense droughts in California becoming more common.

So, what are we going to do about it? Saying “I told you so” will be a lot less satisfying when we’re all underwater, so if you have that relative who doesn’t think climate change is real, when you go home for the holidays, come armed with the facts and start a real conversation.  

Beyond discussions at the dinner table, I would argue that we have two issues that need to be a part of a national conversation about climate change. First, America must continue to be an integral part of global steps to combat climate change. This is very much put into jeopardy with the incoming climate-change skeptic administration. So, call your congresspeople and beg them to support our continued involvement in the Paris Climate Agreement. Ask them to call for debate on some of the currently proposed bills concerning climate change.  If you happen to be represented by someone who is a climate change denier, call their office and tell them you disagree with their stance on climate change.

Second, we need to come up with contingency plans for what will happen to our communities when (not if) sea levels do rise. This will need to be handled at a local as well as state and federal level, so if you live in a vulnerable community (especially one that doesn’t routinely have to deal with flooding!), go to your county’s board and civic association meetings and ask what the flood contingency plan is. Call your mayor’s office! Figure out what subsidies your state government offers for putting solar panels on your roof. And maybe…buy a boat and stock it with canned goods and a nice bottle of scotch. Just in case.

Already mourning the loss of frozen cocktails,

The Scientist

 

What I’m Drinking: Frozen Cranberry Cosmo

Here is a recipe for a cranberry cosmo, which combines the need for drinking frozen cocktails while we still cran (thanks Obama) with the festivities of the season.

  • 4oz vodka
  • 1oz lemon juice (about ½ a lemon)
  • 1oz orange liqueur
  • 2oz cranmary simple syrup

Put all of the above in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake and strain into chilled glasses and garnish with whole cranberries or a twist of lemon zest.

Cranberry simple syrup:

  • 1 12oz bag cranberries (about 3 cups)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tbl chopped rosemary
  • 2 ½ cups water

Put everything in a saucepan and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the berries have all popped, ladle them through a fine sieve set over a pitcher and collect the juice. Let the syrup chill until you’re ready to use.

(from mixedgreensblog.com)

Post #1: A Letter from the Bartender

We were all surprised by the results of the presidential election last week. After the initial shock, and concern over what the future might hold, I did some soul searching. I’ve always been interested in politics, but I got turned off by all of the fundraising, the continuous news cycle, the partisanship, and the obstructionism I was seeing at every level of government, from the President and the House down to the Ann Arbor City Council. Perhaps I waited too long to get involved, and I am embarrassed that it took the election of a man who flies in the face of decency to light the fire in me to try to make a difference, but here we are.

I, like many of you, see more and more absurdity every time I turn on the news or open up my Facebook feed. Acceptance of extreme ideas has become commonplace. So what One Drink, Two Drink, Red Drink, Blue Drink aims to do is heal through humor, calling out the absurdity with sarcasm, wit, and facts, and washing it all down with the occasional (read: frequent) stiff drink to help lubricate the discourse. We also aim to provide solutions, not just moaning out a sob story alone at the end of the bar, but motivating our readers to get out and affect change in the world. So we will be including actionable next steps at the end of of our columns.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here looking at the election result. What’s done is done, and people who are imminently more qualified than I am will be writing their dissertations on the subject for years to come. I want to look toward the future. A future where both parties need reform. Democrats who have become elitist, complacent, and disconnected. Republicans who have become beholden to an extremist few. Party apparatuses geared more toward monied interest than governance. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, and we’re not going to get through this sober, so, here goes.

The Bartender