Saturday, February 14, 2009

The End of the Space Age?

The recent collision between an Iridium satellite and a dead Russian satellite created at least a thousand pieces of space debris. On that day, there were 151 more probable in orbit collisions. There is a real possibility of a slow motion chain reaction, where each collision begets several addition collisions until LEO (Low Earth Orbit) is unusable. LEO operations are already more expensive because of space debris. There is a real possibility that, if left unchecked, space debris could put an end to commercial exploitation of, at least, LEO.

If you thought that environmental concerns could be left on Earth, you were wrong.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Where We Are

The Democrats control both Congress and the White House for the first time since 1994. This follows Republican rule of the White House since 2001 and Republican control of Congress for most of that period. I believe that the Republican defeats in the last two elections are, at their core, due to poor governance. Today, America is economically, financially and militarily weaker than we were eight years ago and our standing in the world is substantially reduced. Not only is America weaker, but our enemies are stronger, in part due to oil revenues and nuclear weapon development.

The Democrats now have a chance to govern. In two years we will have a chance to judge Congress, and in four, Obama. When that time comes, I intend to look at this post to see how they've done. To first order, I believe that good governance should result in definite signs that things are turning around in two years, and some real gains in four. To make that judgement, here's my assessment of where we are right now. If you see anything wrong or missing, please let me know and, if I agree, I'll make changes.


  • The federal government is $10 trillion in debt.

  • The projected deficit for fiscal 2009 is $1.2 trillion (not counting the stimulus package).

  • The economy is losing half a million jobs a month, a total of three million in the last year.

  • Total debt, government, commercial, and personal, is about $53 trillion.

  • The Dow Jones is around 8,000, down from around 14,000 a year earlier.

  • The S&P 500 is around 800, down from around 1,400 a year earlier.

  • The top 5% of tax returns contained over 36% of the nation's income (2006 data).

  • The bottom 50% of tax returns showed a per-return, inflation adjusted increase of less than 1% between 2000 and 2006.

  • Home foreclosure filings in January 2009 totaled 274,399 [Reuters].

  • Major financial institutions have failed completely, others avoided failure only with massive government subsidies, and many more are on the brink of collapse.

  • Two of the three major American car manufacturers require massive government subsidies to avoid bankruptcy.

  • The official unemployment rate is 7.6%.

  • U.S. GDP has been down every quarter for about a year. It was down 6.8% in the last quarter of 2008.

  • Foreign Affairs

  • Iraq is, relatively, peaceful and arguably democratic.

  • The ruling parties in Iraq have very close ties with Iran. Iran also has very close ties with rulers in the Kurdish areas.

  • America has approximately 150,000 uniformed forces and 190,000 'contractors' (aka mercenaries) in Iraq.

  • The Taliban have the initiative in Afghanistan and are making major gains.

  • The Taliban have repeatedly cut NATO supply routes through Pakistan; in one case destroying hundreds of trucks filled with supplies. In another, destroying a hundred foot long bridge. NATO is being forced to develop alternative supply routes.

  • Major news stories say Kyrgyzstan will close the Manas air base used to support and supply NATO forces in Afghanistan.

  • The Taliban control substantial and growing swaths of territory in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  • The Taliban leadership lives more-or-less openly in Quetta.

  • The Taliban just cut a deal with local government leaders to impose Sharia on the Swat in exchange for a cease fire.

  • The Taliban just launched a successful attack in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

  • Basically, the Taliban are kicking our butts. These are the guys that harbored al Qaeda at the time of the 9/11 attack. They are still close allies.

  • The Isrealis and Hamas just ended three weeks of major fighting.

  • Particularly prior to Obama's election, much of the world viewed America as a country that tortures people, invades others, and pursues a largely go-it-alone, my-way-or-the-highway foreign policy. Many perceive America as a bully.

  • America has suffered major Islamic extremist terrorist attacks in the first few months of the last two presidential administrations. That would make us due for one now.

  • North Korea tested their first nuclear weapon in 2006.

  • North Korea conducted a number of long range missile tests, including multiple simultaneous launches (important for defeating missile defense).

  • Iran has made major strides in developing the technology and infrastructure to support development of nuclear tipped missiles.

  • Governing Operations

  • The Republican and Democratic parties are bitterly divided and partisan; so much so that two Republican senators refused an invitation to watch the Super Bowl at the White House and an economic stimulus package passed with only three Republican votes in Congress. Nearly all economists, left, right and center, agree a large stimulus is needed to avert economic catastrophe.

  • Government is generally viewed as grossly incompetent.

  • U.S. intelligence services regularly spy on American citizens, in America, communicating with others in America, without a warrant.

  • The U.S. government operates a network of out-of-country prisons specifically intended to evade the rule of law. Guantanamo being the crown jewel of the network.

  • Medical

  • In 2008 there were almost 46 million Americans without health insurance. RWJF. America is the only industrialized country without nearly universal health care insurance.

  • The World Health Organization (WHO), in 2000, ranked the U.S. health care system as the highest in cost, first in responsiveness, 37th in overall performance, and 72nd by overall level of health (among 191 member nations included in the study).