Friday, March 31, 2023

A Crack In the Dam?

Update 6-8-2023:  Breaking news has it that Mr. Trump has been indicted in the classified documents case,  and has been ordered to appear in the Miami federal court for it Tuesday 6-13-23.  The indictment is sealed,  so nobody yet knows what is in the indictment.  My best guess is that it will address improper possession of classified materials,  improper storage of classified materials,  and obstruction of justice by lying about not having any more of the classified materials,  when he did in fact have them.  

That last provoked the search that found them in unsealed boxes in an unlocked storage room at his home,  which had no approvals to store them after he left office.  He will claim he declassified them as his defense,  and he had the authority to do that until he left office,  but he did NOT follow the procedure for doing so,  which generates a paper trail that can be tracked and confirmed.  There is clearly no such paper trail for the materials in question. 

That leaves the other special prosecutor investigation into the role Mr. Trump played in causing the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.  The federal grand jury in DC will likely do that one.  It actually makes sense to try them in the federal courts nearest the venues where the crimes occurred.  The classified documents thing happened in Florida,  while the insurrection thing happened in DC. 

And,  we have yet to hear from the Georgia prosecutors over the election interference felony case under investigation there.  We all have already heard the infamous phone call.  I really would expect to see Georgia state felony indictments issued over that one. 

There are the state felonies in NYC for which Mr. Trump was recently indicted,  and which will go to trial in coming months.  

And,  because he cannot keep his big mouth shut like the judge ordered,  he faces more civil litigation over the recent defamation case.  

Mr. Trump is indeed in a rather enormous batch of very severe legal troubles.  The max penalty in the classified document case is 10 years behind bars for each and every separate document mishandled (and there hundreds of them).  In any event,  if he's in court,  how can he campaign for office?  If he's in jail,  how could he possibly govern anything?  

Looks to me like the dam is now in the process of bursting.  We're past leaking from cracks.

Update 5-10-2023: Well,  some of the cracks in the dam have begun to leak.  He just lost the civil suit against him on charges of sexual abuse and defaming.  The judgement was for $10 million.  Upcoming:  the felony indictments in NYC.  Even more important:  whatever DOJ finally does with the classified documents and the Jan. 6 insurrection.  "Teflon Don's" teflon is now demonstrated to be thin enough to get on with these other cases.  So,  just get on with them!  He's not the only one.  I also see that egregious liar George Santos is in actual custody,  awaiting felony charges.  There are many more such figures that also need to be held accountable.  

Update 4-5-2023 post-arraignment:

Well,  he’s a indicted felon now!  See update appended below at end of original article.


Minor updates 4-3-2023 below in this color.


Former President Donald J. Trump just got indicted by the New York DA’s office.  It’s supposedly felony-level,  and has something to do with the hush money case he denied and apparently tried to cover up.  Perhaps soon we will know what the charges really are,  but for now,  the indictment is still sealed.

Whatever the detailed facts,  and however weak or strong the case is,  this has set a good precedent:  no one is above the law,  not even a former President.   There are more serious possible crimes that Mr. Trump may be soon charged with,  still under investigation.  Hopefully,  this precedent-setting indictment will encourage those other prosecutors to get off their duffs and get on with their jobs,  too.

There is the election-tampering case under investigation in Georgia.  We’ve all heard the recorded phone call,  of Mr. Trump pressuring a Georgia official to “find” enough votes that didn’t really exist;  just enough to overturn the 2020 election result in that state,  which is the actual proof that this was indeed pressure.  That’s a more serious crime than the New York hush money case,  with a bigger criminal penalty,  and based on that phone call recording,  pretty much a slam-dunk case. 

That Georgia prosecutor needs to get on with his job.  He should already have done something.

And there’s at least two really serious cases being investigated by the US Department of Justice (DOJ).  One is about Mr. Trump’s roles leading up to,  and during,  the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.  The other is about the roles played by Mr. Trump,  and his lawyers,  concerning the discovery of over a hundred classified documents improperly stored at an unapproved location:  Mar A Lago.  Plus,  possible obstruction of justice regarding the classified documents.  

These documents were found there by the FBI raid,  after Mr. Trump’s lawyers legally certified that they were not there!  These were documents that Mr. Trump claimed he declassified,  which he had the authority to do,  although we have seen precisely ZERO evidence that he ever actually did the required actions to do that declassification.  Without that paper trail,  those documents were NOT declassified!

I handled classified information as part of my job about 30-50 years ago.  Back then I had the necessary clearances to be doing that.  If I had mishandled classified information the way those Mar A Lago documents were mishandled (and lied about),  I would still be in jail today!  That one appears to be a slam-dunk conviction for Trump (it was his home in which these documents were found,  he is responsible),  and at the very least it portends perjury convictions for some of his lawyers.  DOJ’s special prosecutor really needs to move forward on that one.  No one is above the law,  not even “Teflon Don” Trump!

But the most serious is the January 6 insurrection,  which could easily have escalated into an attempted coup to overthrow the US government.  Mr. Trump and some of his associates are the most culpable for causing that event,  but there are others whose roles deserve investigation,  and some of them were or are serving in both Houses of Congress.  The House January 6 committee did a lot of DOJ’s work for them,  but not all of it.  What we already know is rather damning for Mr. Trump,  but I think DOJ ought to investigate deeper into the circumstances of Mr. Trump’s limousine ride back to the White House from the Ellipse,  if they are not already doing so.

There is some reason to believe that Mr. Trump wanted to go to the Capitol during the insurrection,  and not back to the White House.  It was apparently his Secret Service agents who forced his return to the White House,  according to one Jan 6 committee hearing.  An informed speculation about this would be that Mr. Trump wanted to lead the insurrection himself,  thus spurring it to even greater levels of violence,  certainly not to try to calm it down.  An increase in violence would justify a declaration of martial law,  and if enough of the military supported him,  then a coup to overturn his own government,  and install him as dictator.

This is not as far-fetched as it sounds upon first hearing.  Mr. Trump has been the “fearless leader” of a leader cult among far-right groups,  including Qanon among many others,  since he first ran for office.  These groups all share an almost-religious devotion to their leader,  and a distrust of democratic institutions (supposedly corrupted by a world-girdling “deep state”),  to the point of preferring a military dictatorship instead of our government. Nearly all these groups intend to round up and imprison or execute all their opposition.  Their overthrow and punishment of this putative “deep state” is nearly always referred to as “the storm”.

My take on it is that DOJ and its special prosecutor need to get their act together and just get on with their indictments.  It’s already way overdue that they act.

There are a lot of people out there who actually believe these “deep state” and “stolen election” conspiracy theories,  being led there by the propaganda spewed by Fox News personalities,  and some other far-right sources,  all of which are “infected” with Russian disinformation,  which disinformation is where the "pro-Putin/anti-Ukraine" wing of the GOP comes from.  They and the many right-wing extremist groups are Trump’s base voters.

To a great extent,  this base has controlled the Republican Party since Trump first ran for office.  Which is exactly why that party no longer offers credible policy initiatives (not even a party platform for the 2020 election),  but instead just these culture war-agenda things,  which are made-up lies intended to divide us. 

Don’t get me wrong.  We do need conservative voices and elected officials to act as a brake on the more leftist extremists of the Democratic Party (of which there are some,  but not very many).  But today’s Republicans are not that credible and well-intended brake.  They have not been for many years now.  I’ve seen more conservative economic policies out of the Democrats,  than anything I’ve seen out of the Republicans,  for more than 30 years now.   Do not listen to what politicians of any stripe say,  look only at what they actually do.  

Get rid of Trump,  and there are other evil clones just like him,  ready to pop up and take over,  doing the same conspiracy-theory evils that Trump did,  instead of proper governance.  Until that party is no longer controlled by its extremists,  and can actually propose credible public policy,  I cannot see voting for it.  Too dangerous,  as Jan 6 demonstrated.  And a lot of folks still need to go to jail for that one.  

 Update 4-5-2023 post-arraignment:

Well,  he’s a indicted felon now!

We’ll see what happens,  if and when this goes to trial,  tentatively this coming January.  I have downloaded and read the indictment and the supporting statement of facts.  I think it will take multiple key witnesses to make this case to a jury.   The talk is that the prosecutors have them (the key witnesses),  although they are not indicated in the statement of fact document.  But Trump can still run for President,  and hold the office,  even if convicted of these crimes!

I noted that his lawyers were warned by the judge to urge him not to publicly say inciteful things.  Yet that is exactly what he did upon his return to Mar A Lago!  It is my opinion that the only reason there was not trouble in the streets of Manhattan with angry Trump supporters during the arraignment,  is that they were outnumbered by anti-Trump protesters,  and they knew it.  (Although,  the legal fate of some thousand of Trump’s supporters who stormed the Capitol may have also played a role.)  Note also that “Trumpist” Marjorie Taylor Greene and that egregious liar George Santos both left quickly because of the size of the anti-Trump crowd.

My hope is that the issuance of this indictment may shame or spur-on the other prosecutors,  in Georgia and at the Department of Justice,  to get on with their cases with more alacrity.  I would expect to see at least one more indictment,  maybe two,  issued by them.  There is the possibility of three,  or even four,  indictments.  The federal cases are actually quite strong,  as long as justice is administered in an even-handed way:  regardless of the wealth and power of the defendants (plural,  because there are multiple possible defendants).

What you have to understand about all the Trump-caused chaos we have seen since 2015 is that he is the focus of a couple of a “fearless leader cults”.  Those cults are only loosely-organized,  and they overlap quite a bit,  but they are together the majority of his voter base. 

Cults can be religious or political,  or even both.  It doesn’t matter.  They are dangerous because they are based on belief,  not reason.  You cannot negotiate or debate with cults and cult members. Example:  1993 standoff with the Branch Davidian leader cult based around David Koresh (aka Vernon Wayne Howell) in Waco.  There have been many such throughout history.

I wrote an earlier article about such fearless leader cults,  published on this site.  That article is “Beware of Leader Cults”,  posted 9 February 2020.  Besides scrolling down,  you can reach it by using the navigation tool left side of page.  Click on the year,  then the month,  and finally on the title,  since I posted 3 articles that month.  That article on cults should convince readers that I know what I am talking about,  and that I can recognize one of these leader cults when I see it. 

Since I posted that article,  I have split the Trump cult into his “Trumpist-GOP” political support and the more emotional belief system-oriented cult of rank-and-file voters that is mostly (but not entirely) based on the Qanon conspiracy theory.  That Trumpist-GOP (“Trumpism”) cult is not quite the same as the Trump/Qanon cult,  but they do overlap very strongly.  This reworked spreadsheet lists both of the (revised) Trump cults I have identified,  plus all the others I looked at for comparison.  The list is NOT comprehensive.  

I would particularly like to call the reader’s attention to a list of parallels between the two Trump cults (taken together) and the Adolf Hitler cult that was the Nazi party in Germany.  It should alarm you enough to perhaps question your own beliefs.  Given what happened in 1930’s Germany,  we cannot let this Trump cult gain power again in the US.  We very narrowly averted their becoming a dictatorship in January 2021,  as indicated in paragraphs 8,  9,  and 10 in the original article just above.

Comparison …

Name                                  Hitler/Nazi          Trump cults

Revered leader                 Adolf Hitler         Donald J. Trump

Atrocious behavior          yes                        yes

Enemy of the people       non-Germans        Dems/”deep state”

Scapegoat for ills              Jews                     immigrants

###enemy “thugs”          Jews/commies       “Antifa”

Name of takeover            (Reichstag fire)     “the storm”

Slogan                                 ***see note       “make America great again”


***The Nazis did not have an official slogan,  but based on what they promised,  and how similar it was to the Trump promises in the 2016 campaign,  it might as well have been “make Germany great again”,  had they created one. 

###There is NO actual organization named “Antifa”!  That is a category for classifying groups used by federal law enforcement and intelligence groups,  it is NOT a specific organization.  The closest thing we in the US have ever had to a violent leftist organization,  was the “Weather Underground” antiwar terrorist bombers,  back in the late 1960’s.  As for the Nazis,  they claimed the Jews and the Russian communists were one group,  to be feared and eliminated.  They claimed this,  despite the fact that Jews were also lethally persecuted in communist Russia,  including before the communist takeover in Russia.


Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Balloon Flights and Countermeasures

Since posting Ref. 1,  I have heard a lot of nonsense in the media and on the internet about “steering” balloon vehicles.  Since the first manned hot-air balloon flights in the 1700’s,  people have tried and failed to actively maneuver round balloons with various steering surfaces and propellers.  It requires an elongated shape,  in order to reduce the drag enough to make that work.  We call them “airships”,  “blimps”,  and “dirigibles”.  They work well,  as long as the wind is not too high or the weather too bad.

Round balloons have always gone,  and apparently will always go,  only where the wind blows them.  The only thing you can do with a round balloon is change its altitude,  looking for winds going in the direction you desire.  Even if you can do that,  it is still very imprecise steering,  at best. 

The recent revelation that the Chinese launched a spy balloon to fly over America,  got me to looking at how such a flight across the Pacific might be made,  using the prevailing winds (really,  the jet streams).  As it turns out,  this same means was tried by the Japanese military during World War 2,  to transport incendiary and explosive bombs by balloon to the continental US. 

Figure 1 shows information about the jet stream winds,  obtained (as the figure says) from Wikipedia.  In the northern hemisphere,  there is the polar jet,  and there is the subtropical jet.  These flow with varying speeds,  usually fairly strongly,  and at different altitudes for the two jet streams.  Paths are quite variable,  but some basic trends are shown.  There are some other winds up in the stratosphere,  but these are weaker,  and not very predictable,  there being no particular pattern to them.   The subtropical jet would be the way from east Asia to North America,  but with enormous uncertainty! 

Figure 1 – Basic Information About The Jet Streams,  Particularly Over the Pacific

During World War 2,  the Japanese launched a lot of “Fu Go” balloon bombs from Honshu island,  some of which actually made it to Canada,  the US,  and a very few to Mexico.  Information about these is given in Figure 2,  again obtained from Wikipedia,  as the figure says.  The bulk of these were the paper Type A flown by the Imperial Japanese Army.  Payloads varied somewhat,  but the main intent was to start forest fires.  Not many actually reached North America,  and little damage was actually done.  Fear was the greatest result.  They used hydrogen as the lifting gas.

Figure 2 – About the Japanese “Fu Go” Balloon Bombs of World War 2

Balloon-borne spy equipment would be a cheap alternative to launching spy satellites.  If photography were the goal,  smaller,  cheaper,  lighter camera optics are suitable,  since the range camera-to-target is only a few miles,  not several hundred miles.  A satellite-borne camera must have large,  heavy,  and expensive folded-path optics to serve that function.  That kind of satellite is what set the size of the Space Shuttle cargo bay.  Note that targeting precision is required to make spy photography worthwhile,  and balloons cannot deliver that,  except by the merest chance.

If intercepting communications were the goal,  then one would fly a set of antennas,  each capable of a particular radio frequency band,  along with some sort of receiving equipment,  some means of transmitting the information for its recovery,  and a power supply for this stuff.  The lower range-to-target makes this type of communications intercept a lot more feasible than a satellite-based form,  particularly if the lower-power networks are part of your goal.  The purpose might even be to support cyber warfare,  among many other ends.  For communications interception,  targeting precision is not required,  since the ”target” is quite diffusely spread about.  Balloons could well serve that function.

While balloon vehicles have long been considered obsolete as a military technology,  the more recent introduction of stealth to military systems may actually help provoke a reprisal of balloon technology for spy purposes (and we’ve learned a lot since the Civil War).  Stealth coupled with the shorter-range effects of atmospheric flight may offer opportunities to collect communications intercept information that is not so easily obtained otherwise.  This may in fact be why the Chinese have done this. 

If constructed in the right way,  a balloon can actually be quite stealthy.  The modern gas bag is clear non-metallized polymer film,  transparent to radar,  and able to show no infrared signature,  merely by soaking out cold.  There’s no optical signature on a cloudy day or at night;  it only stands out against a dark sky on a clear bright day.  You only see it if you happen to be looking in that direction.

It is the balloon payload that will have the radar and maybe the infrared signature,  and even then not very much,  simply because it has to be so small in comparison to the gas bag size,  in order to fly very high.  Optically,  there is little payload signature for the same reason:  small size.

Altitude control for lifting-gas balloons is by venting lifting gas or by adding new lifting gas from on-board reserves.  Or it can be by dropping selected ballast.  Or by using both methods.  Until recently,  helium has been the usual lifting gas,  but flammable hydrogen is the stronger lifting gas.  Any degradation of the gas bag by the effects of hydrogen exposure is of little concern for a one-way spy flight,  as long as it takes several days to have effect.   The greater lifting power of hydrogen confers the capability of reaching higher altitudes,  with a given set of design proportions.   See Figure 3.

Figure 3 – The Why and How of a Spy Balloon

You must traverse the Pacific at an altitude low enough to catch the subtropical jet,  to have a practical travel time to North America.  Once you reach North America,  you need to rise to an altitude that is relatively invulnerable to any countermeasures against it.  Spy balloons are subject to the same international customs as spy planes.  Such intruders may be,  and often are,  shot down,  if territorial airspace is violated.  Such are not to be shot down until such territorial airspace actually is violated.

Over the last 30-40 years,  we have fielded fighter aircraft with service ceilings in the 58,000-65,000 foot range.  If an infrared-guided missile is to be used to shoot down the balloon,  the fighter has to get within about a mile or two of the balloon’s position,  or the seeker cannot lock on,  if it can at all.

If a radar-guided missile is to be used,  the seeker lock-on range is significantly longer at a single handful of miles,  but there is less likelihood of a radar signature large enough for the seeker to acquire at all,  especially as that range increases. 

For a gun attack,  the fighter needs to be co-altitude,  and at a real “up-close-and-personal” range under 1000 yards.  If some sort of dogfight-style air-to-air laser is to be used,  the co-altitude and short range requirements relax a little,  but only a little!  There are some lasers that can aim from much longer range and lower altitudes (even from the surface),  but the beam guidance equipment required is still rather large and heavy.   That’s why very little of those laser technologies are yet fielded.

The Chinese spy balloon was flying somewhere near 60,000-66,000 feet,  if the news reports are accurate.  The F-22 that shot it down was reportedly flying at 58,000 feet,  but has a service ceiling of 65,000 feet,  per Wikipedia.  The Sidewinder infrared-guided air-to-air missile that it reportedly used has a seeker lock-on range of about 2 miles,   or maybe 3 miles at most.  Had that Chinese balloon been flying above about 70,000-75,000 feet,  the F-22 could not have shot it down with a Sidewinder. 

We still have a few U-2 aircraft flying,  mostly the TR-2 variant,  but these are unarmed.  They can reach altitudes around 80,000 feet,  although adding armament would likely lower that.  There was an interceptor version of the SR-71 spy plane called the YF-12A,  which was armed.  Those could fly around Mach 3 at around 85,000 feet,  like the SR-71.  But all of those high-speed craft are long-retired now.   

Basically,  what that says is that if the Chinese spy balloon had been flying up nearer 70-75,000 feet,  we simply could not have shot it down.  If we were to arm a U-2,  then all the Chinese need do to counter that capability,  is to fly up nearer 100,000 feet.  Even if we pulled a YF-12A out of retirement,  it could not reach a balloon flying at or above 100,000 feet. 

Can a balloon fly that high with a significant payload?  Yes!  The third Project Excelsior flight in 1960 carried a gondola with a space-suited man (then-Captain Joe Kittinger,  USAF) to about 103,000 feet on its third mission,  from which he tested bail-out procedures and equipment.  The lifting gas was helium.  Kittinger set a long-standing record for high-altitude free-fall parachute jumps on that third flight.

In more recent years,  there have been two civilian free-fall parachute-jump flights that far exceeded Kittinger’s record.  Both were from manned gondola-bearing balloons,  at around 130,000 feet.  Again,  the lifting gases were helium.  You can fly even higher with hydrogen.  See Figure 4

A few of the old experimental rocket X-planes could reach such altitudes,  near or above 100,000 feet,  but they required hours-to-days to prepare for launch,  and were dropped from old bombers that served as carrier planes.  Fast response is a requirement here.

There was one trainer plane (intended for training space plane pilots) that routinely flew to almost 130,000 feet,  and with a fast response (and no carrier plane).  That was the mixed-propulsion NF-104,  which was an F-104A “Starfighter” modified with attitude thrusters,  plus a rocket engine in the base of the vertical tail.  It flew as a normal jet aircraft until pulling up for the steep “zoom” ascent.  The rocket engine powered that “zoom” ascent.  The jet engine had to be windmill-restarted on the way back down.  Ref. 2 has more information about the NF-104.

Figure 4 – What Altitudes Would Be Relevant

From the viewpoint of the spy balloon builder,  you need a balloon that flies across the Pacific at around 30,000 feet in the subtropical jet.  At just the right time of year,  that will take you near the Aleutians,  into Alaska,  western Canada,  and the northwestern US.  From there it crosses the lower 48 towards the Atlantic.  Although,  “exactly where” is uncertain by at least several hundred miles!

You want to raise the altitude above about 75,000 feet over Alaska and Canada,  and on up to around 130,000 feet or more,  over the continental US.  You can track the balloon by satellites,  and change its altitude on command,  again by satellite,  a capability the Japanese did not have during World War 2.   Your range to the communications targets is about 24 miles vertically,  and closer to 36 miles at 45 degrees to either side of your ground track. You retrieve your data and send it to the satellites overhead,  and they send it “home”.

All of this is indicated on the left side of Figure 5

From the viewpoint of the people trying to intercept and down these things,   you need a fighter craft capable of zooming up well beyond 130,000 feet,  at least briefly,  and it needs an appropriate set of weapons to use against the balloon.  Anticipating a sort of arms race in balloon altitudes,  I’d recommend at least 150,000 foot initial capability.

You have two sub-missions:  (1) identify and evaluate the threat of the balloon,  and (2) if it really is a threat,  shoot it down.  The weapons could be missiles,  guns,  or lasers.  Those two sub-missions could be two flights by two separate aircraft.  If a long-range air-to-air laser is used,  the shoot-down flight does not really need the high-altitude “zoom” capability.  But it does need to be a fast aircraft,  in order to obtain fast response.   Otherwise,  your best bet is guns,  and maybe infrared-guided missiles,  on the “zoom” aircraft.

Seeker lock-on being an “iffy” problem due to the inherent stealth,  I’d recommend using guns.  But I would modify the ammunition:  from projectiles to scatter-shot shells.  That offers more holes in the gas bag per hit,  with a much lower risk of collateral damage on the ground from your ammunition falling back to Earth.   Scattershot falls a lot more slowly than projectiles,  and each particle is much smaller.

All of this is given in the right half of Figure 5.  

Figure 5 – Mission Characteristics for the Balloon and Countermeasures Against It

In Ref. 1,  I ran some rough-sizing numbers for modifying an F-16C to the mixed-propulsion form needed for “zoom” missions like these,  and for sizing the rocket engines that need to be added.  There are plenty of these planes available in the inventory.  As jet aircraft,  they have far superior flying and handling characteristics,  compared to those of the old F-104A.  Being a far more modern design,  the flight control hydraulics should not fail with engine stoppage,  the way they did in the old F-104A.   That would eliminate a very serious failure mode experienced long ago with the NF-104.

In the F-16’s,  there is a 20 mm gun in the left wing root,  and Sidewinders get carried on the wingtips.  I doubt there is enough signature from the balloon payload for a radar-guided missile to lock onto,  so removing the on-board radar and deleting those missiles is the way to get the weight allowance for the attitude thruster modifications and the rocket propellant tanks.  That propellant is carried in tanks on the inboard underwing pylons,  near the center of gravity.  Doing it that way makes the weight-and-balance problem with the modified F-16C far less severe. 


#1. G. W. Johnson,  “Thoughts On the Chinese Spy Balloon”,  posted 5 February 2023,  on

#2. G. W. Johnson,  “Early High-Speed Experimental Planes”,  posted 3 July 2022,  on

To find articles on this site,  you can scroll down,  but the navigation tool left side of page is faster,  especially if it is an older post that you want.  You need the date and title.  Click on the year,  then on the month,  then on the title if there was more than one article posted that month.