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Missile Defense and NAFTA, Old issues revisited

8:20 pm in Uncategorized by rich2506

This has to be the least surprising news I’ve seen in awhile. Star Wars/ABM/Missile Defense is worthless! Na-a-awwww! Re-e-eally?!?!? Gee, who’d a thunk it? I did a paper on this back in college during the late 1980s, concluding that, yes, “shooting down a bullet with a bullet” can be done, but missile warheads are very small, move very quickly and devices used to detect them are not difficult to fool.

A Polaris Missile in a museum

Polaris Nuclear Missile (Photo: Gene Hunt / Flickr)

Any system for stopping missiles is very easily overwhelmed with lots of real warheads, chaff (clouds of small bits of metal) and decoys. To take just one of the more obvious examples, a multi-stage ballistic missile takes about 30 minutes to get from Russia to the United States. Over 20 of those minutes are spent in space where there’s no air friction, where a decoy can be as simple as a balloon coated with metal-based paint. Such a decoy can’t be deployed until the real warhead is in space and will quickly burn up on re-entry, but it’s pretty much impossible to separate such a decoy from a real warhead when your detection devices are hundreds to thousands of miles away. A single warhead could pop out 20 to 30 decoys, and with small air-sprays, they can all follow different, widely divergent paths. If you want to stop them mid-course, all of the warheads, both the real ones and the fake ones, have to be stopped, or at least a good 80-90% of them. An ABM system will have very little time between the time all the balloons burn away and the warheads impact their targets. A system would have to be extraordinarily fast and capable to deal with the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of remaining warheads. And:

The GMD system, however, is widely considered to be ineffective. Despite the billions of dollars spent, the system has not had a successful intercept test since 2008, with two failures in 2010. A recent report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences found that, “The current GMD system has serious shortcomings, and provides at best a limited, initial defense against a relatively primitive threat.”

In other words, the US spent from the Eisenhower era to the 1972 ABM treaty developing anti-missile defenses, private entrepreneurs continued researching means and methods from 1972, with the government again picking up the tab for research in 1983, whereupon the government has continued to fund research and development ever since. What has the US accomplished in all that time? Doesn’t sound like six decades of research has accomplished very much.

What has the impact been on US-Russian relations?

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9:15 am in Uncategorized by rich2506

In their “Abbreviated Pundit Round-up” Daily Kos today details a few of the many ways Republicans are trying to cripple the government so that it’s unable to assist regular citizens. One of the items that makes no logical sense from the perspective of regular taxpayers/citizens is Amtrak. The Staggers Rail Act of 1980 freed railroad companies to focus on freight lines and to pretty much ignore passenger rail via the founding of Amtrak. Passenger rail wasn’t all that profitable as people appeared to prefer either driving for shorter distances or flying for longer trips. 9-11 led to increasingly tight and inconvenient rules for air travel (I had to dispose of several bottles of liquids before getting on a plane a few years ago, and no, the expense wasn’t huge, but it was quite annoying to have to do that) and it made for lengthy delays at airports. Not surprisingly, that’s led to increased popularity for Amtrak.

With other countries having high-speed rail, that’s made airplanes even less appealing as long and medium-distance transportation. Could the US simply turn rail back over to private industry? Probably, but as the linked piece indicates, freight lines aren’t really compatible with the new high-speed passenger lines.

[Freight railway] owners worry that the plans will demand expensive train-control technology that freight traffic could do without. They fear a reduction in the capacity available to freight. Most of all they fret that the spending of federal money on upgrading their tracks will lead the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the industry watchdog, to impose tough conditions on them and, in effect, to reintroduce regulation of their operations.

Just seems to me that conservative/right-wing plans to destroy Amtrak would give America the worst of both worlds, we’d keep our annoying and inconvenient restrictions on air travel, but we wouldn’t be able to just use Amtrak as an alternative. Would private service be cheaper? Probably, but that’s not because private service is inherently better than government service. The main difference is that private lines could concentrate on medium-distance services of 50 to 500 miles and not have to worry about longer-distance lines of over 500 miles (The Boston to Washington Northeast Corridor is 440 miles long) whereas Amtrak has to run much longer-distance lines that run from California to Illinois or from Chicago to New Orleans. So yes, privatised rail service would see a big drop in costs for rail passengers, but those relatively few people who use long-distance passenger rail would get clobbered with either very expensive service or no service at all, being forced to go by air or having to drive.

Last night, I was at the public meeting that was considering an occupation of Philadelphia, modelled on the successful Occupy Wall Street action. As a traditional-news reporter was asking questions, it occurred to me that one of the major reasons I was so excited about it was that it pushes the Republican assault on government off of the front pages and that it drives the Republican/Tea Party-inspired drive for austerity and cutting the budget onto the back pages and out of peoples’ view. If we can keep the attention of American citizens focussed on what we citizens need as opposed to what the plutocrats and oligarchs want, we’re far more likely to succeed.