Saturday, October 28, 2006

America the Beautiful

This is a little video I made. I'd like to see a little more humanity shown to the unfinished business this country has.

While we ponder allowing millions of people who crossed our borders, or stayed too long, the benefits of our great country, we have hundreds of thousands of our own citizens living on the streets, ineligible for any government benefits, mostly because they have no address, because they have no home.

While we allocate $40 million to help Israel settle "refugees", building them houses and infrastructure, job training, etc, this is where our citizens are. How many houses could we have built here? How many of our own citizens, who live like refugees in their own country, could we have helped. How many houses could we have built with all of the money spent on the Iraq war? We can spend billions to kill strangers, but we can't spend it to save the lives of our neighbors.

Do you think we should maybe take care of our own people, find a real solution to Iraq instead of what we're doing - so maybe our men and women can get home to their families. Can't we find a better way to spend our money besides prisons and wars?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Live ammo on Great Lakes - where is the Chicago press on this one?

The Coast Guard has been firing live ammo in 34 "safe zones" on the Great Lakes, including Lake Michigan. Due to public outcry, they have suspended this little operation to hold public hearings. The treaty with Canada, that prevents militarization of the Great Lakes, and has been in place since after the War of 1812, was quietly changed to allow the Coast Guard to mount guns on their boats.

From the stories I've read, Canada has agreed to look at it as a law enforcement maneuver rather than a military one. We are supposedly being protected from smugglers and terrorists. The live fire zones are within 5 nautical miles of shore.

A quick search using several search engines, turned up no coverage by our newspapers. Granted this doesn't mean there was no coverage, just that my search terms "great lakes live ammo" showed nothing, nothing but Canadian newspapers, boaters organizations, and Great Lakes organizations.

Here's a sampling of what the Canadians said:

Canadian Press

Published: Friday, September 01, 2006

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) - The U.S. coast guard is giving the public an extra 60 days to comment on a proposal to conduct target practice on the Great Lakes with live ammunition, a member of Congress said Thursday.

The comment period was to expire Thursday. But U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra, a Republican, said the coast guard agreed to extend it.

The plan calls for establishing 34 permanent zones over open water a few kilometres from the Great Lakes shorelines for the shooting exercises. Crew members would fire at floating targets from cutters and small boats using machine-guns, rifles and 9mm guns, Lanier said.

Some of the zones are near recreational spots and areas crisscrossed often by pleasure, charter and fishing boats, such as Grand Haven, Marquette, Sault Ste. Marie and the Keweenaw Peninsula. Most are near coast guard stations.

"The coast guard has provided remarkably little information about their proposal," Anne Woiwode, director of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, told the Detroit Free Press newspaper.

"If they do this during the fishing season, I think it would be a recipe for problems," Jim Fenner, president of the Ludington Charter Boat Association, told the Muskegon Chronicle newspaper.

Car ferries that operate in summer from Ludington and Muskegon to Wisconsin would be in live-fire zones.

Notice this is heavily covered in the Michigan papers.

For a look at the map of lower Lake Michigan the Coast Guard offers a drawing of the locations of the zones. One issue that came up at a meeting in Grand Haven, Mi, that was attended by Neighbors for Peace, was the problem with lead polluting the water from the bullets. No major EPA study was done, nor was the Army Corps of Engineers involved. The Coast Guard did an internal study that determined it wouldn't be a problem.

Apparently the federal government has not yet realized that fresh water will be a scarce resource in the near future and we happen to be sitting on a great deal of it, and they want to pollute it.

The hearing for our part of the Lake is in Waukegan on November 1 and begins with an open house at 4pm. From 5:30 to 8 is the public meeting. Participants will have to 2 minutes to comment. This is not a question and answer session. Do you think maybe they don't want us to come?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Meet the candidates, even the ones the mainstream press doesn't cover

This year, Moore, Schakowsky, our dear governor and the Cook County board presidency are all up for grabs. I was disturbed that Schakowsky signed the little card we got in the mail, backing Todd Stroger. It also bothers me that the Green Candidate for governor can't even participate in a debate with the other two gubernatorial candidates, because he didn't raise enough money.

In the interests of democracy, Here are the website addresses for ALL of the candidates running for these offices. The guy running aainst Schakowsky looks really intersting and quite different. He won't take money from ANYONE!!! You can purchase his gear if you like.

For alderman:
So far we have 4 candidates, in alphabetical order we have:

Chris Adams
Jim Ginderske
Don Gordon
Joe Moore

For representative in the 9th Congressional District we have:

Jan Schakowsky
Michael Shannon

For governor we have:
Rod Blagojevich
Judy Baar Topinka
Rich Whitney
Angel Rivera

Cook County Board President:
What can be said here. Due to the machinations and stalling by the leaders of the Democratic Party in Chicago, we were unable to discern the status of Stroger's ability to continue his office, consequently, the deadline to file as an independant candidate expired, so we are left with someone who presided on the board, while it racked up a $400 million deficit, or someone who has no experience in county government but is the son of the last officeholder. This is the only race that has no viable outsider candidate.

Tony Peraica
Todd Stroger

For links to blog entries (not just ours), news articles, current officials' websites, and Wikipedia entries, click on civicfootprint

An informed voter is an effective voter. We obviously can no longer rely on mainstream media to bring us all the information we need to make an informed choice.

Do you want to maintain the status quo, satisfied with our elected officials, or do you want a change?

UPDATE!!! An alert and informed reader provided us with yet another choice for governor that the press didn't bother to mention, at least not enough for us to notice. Angel Rivera is running what he calls a cyber campaign. Link to the website above under governor.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Federation of American Scientists put North Korean nuclear test into perspective

VP of Strategic Security, Ivan Oelrich provides a technical assessment of N. Korea:

North Korea’s Bomb: A technical assessment.

Last Sunday, North Korea apparently tested a nuclear explosive. The “apparently” is needed because the explosion was so small—by nuclear standards—that some have speculated that it may have been a large conventional explosion. What is the technical significance of the test, what does it mean, and what should we do now?

There is no question that the political and security implications of the test are huge and almost entirely negative. The technical implications are more mixed; the technical significance of the test is somewhat less than meets the eye.

There was early confusion about how large the explosion actually was, with U.S., French, and South Korean seismologists reporting a yield equivalent to about 500 tons of high explosive, that is half a kiloton, while the Russians reported that the yield was in the range of 10 to 15 kilotons, or twenty to thirty times larger. From the beginning, the source of this huge discrepancy was difficult to understand. Soon, the Russian seismic data were released and it became clear that even their own data did not support the Russian claim. Most reports as of yesterday had settled on the lower yield figure of about half a kiloton.

The assumption is that the low yield indicates a major failure of the test. It is actually easier to build a medium-sized nuclear weapon than a small one. The simplest Manhattan Project style weapons will naturally have yields in the ten to twenty kiloton range. It is quite difficult to design and build a nuclear weapon that reliably produces a limited yield. Sophisticated nuclear powers have done it, with some bombs and nuclear artillery shells, for example, having yields of a fraction of a kiloton. That was most likely not the aim of North Korea, nor is the country likely to have the technical sophistication to build a very low-yield nuclear weapon. It follows that the low yield was a mistake, a test failure. (It is fair to ask how the North Koreans could accomplish by accident what only the most sophisticated nuclear powers can do by design. The difference is reliable yield. If the North Koreans repeated their test, they might get a yield of several kilotons, or a yield of zero. Making a bomb that will sometimes be a dud is easy, making a bomb that is exactly the same “dud” each time is difficult.)

So how has the situation changed with this test? From a technical perspective, less that we might first think. The outside world knew that the North Koreans had plutonium available from fuel rods that had been removed from the reactor at Yongbyon. We knew that at least some of the plutonium had been separated out of the fuel rods and, since separation is a fairly straightforward process, it was a fair assumption that most or all of the plutonium had been separated. So we knew about their plutonium supply (and the test tells us nothing more about that except that now they have a little less), but another key question remained: Could they fashion the plutonium into a bomb? We did not know, although the U.S. intelligence community concluded as far back as in the early 1990s that North Korea probably had built a couple of nuclear weapons.

There are two basic routes to a nuclear weapon, either using plutonium or enriched uranium. Enriching bomb-grade uranium is more difficult than producing plutonium in a simple nuclear reactor (although this is becoming less true with the continuing developments of gas centrifuges). Once a bomb-builder has the uranium, however, the construction of the simplest uranium bomb, a so-called “gun-assembled” bomb, is relatively easy. Plutonium is the opposite: producing the material is the easier step (especially if one does not worry about radioactive environmental contamination) but plutonium demands a more sophisticated and challenging bomb design, an “implosion” bomb. The Iranians seem to be on the uranium route (like Pakistan); the North Koreans have followed the plutonium path (like India).

Before the test, we did not know whether the North Koreans could build an implosion bomb or not. Had the test been successful, we would now know that they could, although we would still not know how close they were to a useable weapon; their test device might have weighed tons and been a once off, rigged up, laboratory experiment. But the test was not successful, so we still don’t know whether the North Koreans can build a workable implosion bomb. Presumably the North Koreans learned something from the test so the probability of the next test being successful is somewhat higher than the probability that the first test would have been successful. This is not much of difference, leaving us in pretty much the same position we were in before the test. So the political implications of the test are huge but the technical implications are quite limited.

Why might the test have failed? An implosion bomb uses conventional high explosives to compress plutonium until it becomes “critical,” that is, it will sustain a run-away chain reaction. The pressure from the conventional explosives has to be carefully controlled, for example, it must be symmetric or else it is like squeezing a ball of putty in your hand: pressure on one side doesn’t compress the plutonium, it just squirts it out the other side. The most likely reason for the failure is some problem with the compression and there is any number of reasons why the compression might not be adequate. Assuming the test was carefully instrumented (and given North Korean technology, this is not certain), the North Koreans should be able to narrow down the cause, which will give them a much improved chance for success with their next test.

We might be able to learn something ourselves about the test if radioactive debris escaped from the test site. It is not easy to completely contain an underground nuclear explosion. Russian tests often leaked. The US was much better at containing tests but even US tests leaked in a couple of cases. Of course, it is much easier to contain a half kiloton test than a ten kiloton test but some radioactive material might have leaked out. Detecting that would, first, confirm that the test was, in fact, nuclear and analyzing it might provide some limited information about the design of the weapon and the source and age of the plutonium.

What does this mean about possible responses? First of all, there is something to be accomplished by responding. When the North Koreans broke out of the safeguards on their reactor, making several bombs’ worth of plutonium available, it was a disaster for the control of their weapon program. The outside world could keep an eye on the reactor and account for the materials there but once the material left the site, trying to track it was hopeless; the volume of the plutonium is small, any of thousands of buildings could house it. But there was one remaining important hurdle that would generate a clear signal if jumped by the North Koreans: a test. Had the test been successful, then the cat really would be out of the bag. There would be no way to track some uncertain quantities of plutonium and the North Koreas would have a design that, in principle, could be replicated to produce more bombs in any of hundreds of nondescript light industrial facilities. (I say “in principle” because a more sophisticated nuclear power would require more than one test, but the North Koreans may have substantially lower reliability and confidence requirements.)

But the test was not successful. The North Koreans no doubt learned a great deal from their test but they have not proven to themselves, or the world, that they have a design that works. If the first test were successful, the marginal value of subsequent tests would have been relatively much smaller but with an unsuccessful test, the value of the next test will be as great or greater than the last test. We should not give up and say this is now a lost cause. There is much to be gained by using threats of sanctions and other tools to stop follow-on tests.

I didn't see this in the mainstream media. All I saw was fear, fear, fear and commentary by the usual suspects. Where have all the journos gone, long time passing........