Unfortunately for President Obama, the Russians utilized an actual and effective response to the weak and ineffective sanctions placed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis by the United States. Where President Obama laid sanction freezing accounts and financial dealings on a number of Russian oligarchs who are reputedly close to Russian President Putin, the institutions he placed such sanctions on had little if any dealings and no accounts or holdings of the Russian targets of the economic sanctions. Then the Obama administration announced further sanctions in the form of travel restrictions on Russian government and industry officials including Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. The Russians responded by placing a freeze on selling RD-180 rocket engines manufactured by NPO Energomash to the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance (JLA). Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin went further and appeared to take great glee announcing in addition to the refusal to sell the vitally necessary rocket engines to JLA that additionally Russia simply “doesn’t plan to continue cooperation” with the United States on the International Space Station after 2020 and added a suggestion where he stated, “I propose that the United States delivers its astronauts to the ISS with the help of a trampoline.” This likely has set JLA scrambling seeking a new rocket engine provider otherwise they are either out of business or need to immediately set to work on design and development of an in house produced rocket engine. Such an endeavor would be costly, time consuming but also would have the advantage of providing a United States source for the future removing any reliance on outside the border dependence.
There will be those who will attempt to blame this entire fiasco on Elon Musk and SpaceX as Mr. Musk testified before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee a few months back in hearings over whether or not to open up bidding to provide launch vehicles for United States military and special satellite and payload launches instead of the current practice of simply holding closed bid allowing only JLA to present bids. The blame game will point to the testimony given by Mr. Musk that there was a serious deficiency and risk taking single source bids and especially from JLA as they were completely dependent on Russian provided rocket engines for their main Atlas V booster and rocket systems. We can definitely expect the Senators from Washington State, home to Boeing, and Maryland, home of Lockheed Martin, to protest the loudest and bring as much scorn as humanly possible, or Senatorially as they are of a special breed apart, on Elon Musk. This will be another instance of the old guard, established with near monopoly control of an industry blaming every hardship and difficulty on the upstart new kid on the block in an effort to vilify them out of contention in a desperate attempt to retain their monopoly and cash cow, which in this case pays them with American tax payer’s money. The American spirit that the small guy has an equal chance to the gold ring and if he plays it straight and fair he is presumably guaranteed an equal access to any government contract. I just love American sloganeering about equality and other such, especially when it pertains to the little guy or start-up companies having equal footing when it comes to competing for government contracts like the government isn’t a fully vested partner with so many of these major and established companies. There will be those with what will be the greatest act of indignation of severe distress and harm caused by this disruptive attempt to disrupt the United States space program which has operated so efficiently and smoothly that any bumps or wrenches in the machinery must be prevented at all costs. Then will come the finger pointing at Elon Musk and SpaceX spouting viscous vindictive invectives impugning his person and his company with special emphasis on how opening up the bidding on launching of military and special satellites and payloads will increase costs, make these launches far more risk susceptible, and threaten secrecy and require added onerous requirements when assembling such satellites and payloads. Then there will be the references to the important history and dependable service of the rockets provided throughout the history of the United States space program and raising questions of the intelligence in rocking the boat at this point. Basically the argument will be to deny that competition might force improvements and added efficiency and eventual greater potential for savings by allowing more competition, after all, it would be un-American to snub the established and longstanding standard efforts of JLA in providing the needs of the space program over the decades since the initial challenge to reach the Moon with an astronaut and return them safely to Earth. We may even get to see President Kennedy’s speech challenging the United States as a nation to go to the moon before the end of the decade.
The interesting item which applies to this as inclusively as possible is the warning from President Dwight David Eisenhower who as the commanding General over the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II was more than qualified to have the specific knowledge, stated in his farewell address on January 17, 1961 stating, “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.” The sole item that President Eisenhower might have gotten wrong is that the symbiotic relationship between the Federal Government and so many of the top established industry leading corporations, financial institutions, information technology companies, automobile manufacturers and companies throughout the full spectrum where government largess and corporate welfare provide so many of these institutions are almost completely dependent on the government for their profits and not solely with the military. As with so many warnings, this warning too went pretty much unheeded until it was too late and the problem had become institutionalized and intrinsically intertwined not only with numerous government agencies and departments but also with the politicians in Congress and the White House. Nowhere is this more true than the space agency both civilian and NASA. Hopefully the American people will demand that these bids to provide launch capabilities be opened to all companies for bids as this was the manner that many of the greatest advancements which made much of human space exploration possible came through completely open application methods where NASA placed a requirement out offering a prize for the person or company which came up with the best and most complete solution. This was essential in the development of much of the spacesuit designs, the Moon buggy and numerous other items which contributed to the race to the Moon’s success. It worked well then and I bet it would work today and some of the sources of the best solutions will be people who simply amaze the world and come out of their garage with the best space glove or whatever is required. Let the competitions begin and let’s be amazed.
Beyond the Cusp
This end of 2013 may be depicted in history as the period where China cemented her role as the up and coming super power ready to take up the call when the United States collapses into a financial and economic shambles. There are three items in particular signaled that China is ready and desires a seat at the head of the table, not just a seat among coequals. The first of these was covered with headlines it deserved as China claimed an unparalleled maritime and air defense zone over the East China Sea that includes the Senkaku Islands, islands which are claimed and recognized as belonging to Japan which China has disputed over the years. The Japanese, Philippine and South Korean governments all denounced China’s claim giving orders to their military and civilian air and shipping companies that they were not to recognize this bullying from China and continue to operate as normal. This was a blatant challenge of the Chinese claim as the Chinese demanded that air traffic must gain permission from Chinese air controllers in order to penetrate into their newly claimed zone. The United States was far more compliant as their military has orders to continue as normal and ignore Chinese demands while civilian and private cargo flights are to request Chinese approval before entering these claimed areas of the South China Sea. The United States partial recognition and capitulation was seen by her allies as surrender before the Chinese giving them reasons to doubt the will of the United States to back the treaties and promises made to the nations in the far Pacific Ocean and South China Sea. Now that Far East Asia has been given a taste of the new Obama America similar and in kind to that received by the Saudis, Egyptians and Israelis over President Obama’s weak and tepid doctrines and responses to Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Libya including specially Benghazi, Syria and the basic abandonment of Iraq and soon Afghanistan, they too are having doubts about depending on the United States and her word.
The second event announcing the Chinese arrival and crossing a definitive demarcation was their successful landing of an unmanned probe on the Moon. The Chang’e 3, named after a lunar goddess in traditional Chinese mythology, landed on the lunar surface Saturday, December 14 softly placing the probe to survey the lunar surface and dig into the soil and test samples. Xinhua news agency said, “The dream for lunar exploration once again lights up the China Dream.” This is all part of an ambitious Chinese space program which includes the building and manning of a fully operational spacestation by 2020. Where, in my opinion, that will prove to be a formidable task to complete in such a short period but this landing is a huge step towards that goal. The Chinese most definitely have the technology to place a spacestation on the Moon and likely even keep it supplied and operational on a permanent basis. The question is not one of capability but of affordability. Such an operation would probably consume funding equal to their entire current military budget and then some. The only feasible way to finance such a venture would require two items, mining the Moon which contains almost unmeasurable quantities of Helium-3, also called Deuterium which is an isotope of hydrogen that has a neutron next to the proton in the nucleus, which can be used in energy generation by fusion along with claiming sole possession of the Moon and collecting a sizeable charge from any nation wishing to land on the Moon and even more so if they require or wish to use the Chinese facility. Betting that the Chinese would respect the United Nations treaty which made space universal and a place free from the claims by any one nation may not be the wisest way of proceeding.
The final was more of a brandishing of their naval sword as a Chinese warship cut across the bow of the United States missile cruiser Cowpens on December 5, 2013 causing the latter to take emergency procedures in order to avoid a collision. United States warships were in the area observing China’s new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was on maneuvers. The Chinese warship crossed the Cowpen’s bow at a distance of less than 200 yards. Other commentary has claimed that the Chinese actions “was particularly aggressive” and definitely “unhelpful in trying to increase cooperation between the two navies.” This was also a further move by the Chinese to demonstrate their newly claimed area of the South China Sea is unwelcome waters for other nations by their acting with disregard of the United States warship probably intending to send a warning for all to stay out. Such maneuvers are uneasily reminiscent of Cold War provocative maneuvers and challenges which occurred regularly between the Soviet Navy and the American Navy. This may simply be a foreboding of things to come as China spreads her newly established blue water navy further into the Pacific Ocean that she had previously operated. This along with the other actions will have allies of the United States in the Pacific near China worried and rightfully so. Japan especially as the Japanese and Chinese have a less than amicable history and there is little love lost between these two nations. South Korea also will feel the threats strongly as they may also find North Korea being more forceful and bold as China becomes another force in the Pacific Ocean.
The glove has been tossed at the feet of the United States by China, will President Obama pick up the glove or run scared from any confrontation and simply resign giving the whole of the Far East over to Chinese hegemony. Hope and Change has worked well in Basically Transforming the United States. Maybe somebody should have asked for what we were hoping and what we were changing and into what would that change lead. Why do I have so little faith that the majority of Americans remain clueless and actually work to remain clueless?
Beyond the Cusp
If anything about Detroit is true, it was no surprise and everybody has watched this train wreck coming down the tracks for at least a decade or two if not longer. Detroit is not the first city to declare bankruptcy nor is it the first major city to go broke, but it may be the first major city to die from severe bankruptcy. One of the first cities of the modern era in the United States to dance around bankruptcy was Flint, Michigan which reinvented itself and made a comeback. There have been a number of the old steel mill cities which have found it necessary to reinvent themselves and come close to destitution. New York City is the largest of American cities to experience the threat of bankruptcy and received some assistance from the Federal Government in order to redirect the way the city was managed and adjusted the manner that the city government acted and its direction and New York City made a successful comeback. But Detroit is the first major city to not only go financially bankrupt but has also fallen to a level of collapse in the areas of population, functioning infrastructure, employment opportunities, functional education system, or anything which is considered as a basic service or property any modern city would possess. Detroit has few remaining operative emergency vehicles, the police take close to an hour to respond to an emergency situation, the majority of the citizenry are functionally illiterate, and it has an unfunded mandate in the form of retirement funds owed that would bankrupt most cities which have functioning systems. Detroit has slipped beyond the cusp and may very well never make a comeback. We may only have one choice concerning Detroit, plow it under and see if it can be transformed into a productive piece of farmland.
But enough about Detroit as there is a larger problem which has been made all the more evident by the calamity that has struck Detroit, and that is the financial disaster that is the National Government which is very close to bankrupt. We have been observing the Federal Government slowly circling the whirlpool of unfunded liabilities which is being enlarged through deficit spending that has risen beyond anything even imaginable just a few decades ago. We have heard for as long as can be remembered about how Social Security is almost broke, how Medicare costs are spiraling beyond the Government’s ability to fund, Government employee retirement benefit payments are ballooning out of control, and among other items, just the interest payment on the national debt is taking an ever larger chunk percentage wise from the national budget despite the inflated amount being spent. There is one thing which is allowing the United States to avoid the imminent financial doom that the payments of only the interest of the debt should have and that is the low interest rates. This is much of the reasoning at the Federal Reserve which is twisting and contorting monetary policy to near the breaking point in order to keep the interest rates at a level which allows payment of the interest on the debt to remain manageable. The government has even found it necessary to manipulate the definition of inflation in such a way as to hide the real rate of inflation which would require interest rates to be increased. What other reason can one give for omitting the cost of fuel, electricity, and food from the cost of living for the determination of the inflation rate? This has been done in order to cherry pick what items are used to measure inflation rates so as to minimize the official measure of inflation rates thus allowing the Federal Reserve to claim there is no measurable inflation that requires an increase in the interest rates allowing the Federal Government to make the payments on the debt.
Eventually the interest rates will have to be adjusted higher when the Federal Reserve finally reaches the point where they can no longer keep the lie that inflation rate is minimal if not negligible and they have to take steps to prevent inflation from hitting runaway rates. The Federal Reserve will find that necessity will require a fairly healthy rise in interest rates simply because the inflation resulting from the printing of money required under the Quantitative Easing, of which there have been three separate injections of which the third is one that has been spread over many months for as long as it was deemed necessary and is still being implemented each month. When the interest rates take off they will toll the knell of reckoning because should the interest double, the payments on the debt would double, if they triple the debt payments will triple, and should they grow by more the debt payments will rise accordingly. There have been pessimistic estimates that because of the games being implemented pretending to be a financial strategy that when the interest rates increase and the piper must be paid, the interest rates could rise by a multiple of five or more, that would mean at least a fivefold increase in the interest rates taking them from one and a half percent to seven and a half percent. There is no possible way the Federal Government will be able to operate should the interest rates have any sizeable increase and such an increase appears each day to be more and more inevitable. One has to worry of what happens when the United States follows the model of Detroit and hangs the sign on the doors reading, “Gone Out of Business.”
Beyond the Cusp