Over-Hyped Russian Hypersonics?

Over-Hyped Russian Hypersonics?

Authored by Michael Brenner via ConsortiumNews.com,

Deployment of Russia’s hyper-sonic missiles is causing heartburn in the West. Media headline the news as a dramatic breakthrough on a par with the first Sputnik. “Experts” are rushed into play like those self-styled pundits pronouncing when the initial exit polls appear on Election Day. Pentagon officials assure us that the United States is at the top of the nuclear game and able to respond to (if not exactly match) anything that the Russians can put out there.

Ninety eight percent of all this instant reaction is “fog-horning.” It simply signals that something big and important is out there even though we don’t have a clear picture of its actual shape or dimensions — or its significance. That’s normal. What counts is moving swiftly to the “searchlight” stage of close observation and hard thinking.

Whether analysts, official or otherwise, get there is problematic. We’re out of practice when it comes to serious strategic appraisal. After all, we’ve been flailing about in Afghanistan for almost two decades with no realistic aim or evaluation of the chances of achieving it by whatever means at whatever cost. The disorientation on Syria is even greater. There, we haven’t as much as figured out who are the “bad guys” and who are the “good guys” — except for ISIS.

If you can’t differentiate friend from foe for want of rigorous strategic analysis, your actions are predictably erratic — little more than the expression of mental fibrillations. The same can be said for the rest of the Missile East.

The Washington consensus is sure about one thing: Russia is a mortal enemy. We sanction the Russians, we denounce the Russia, we coerce our European partners into ostracizing them, we conjure frightful images of Vladimir Putin while ignoring just about everything he says (as if they were Hitlerian rants). Still, no one seems able to provide a crisp formulation of what the Russian threat is — other than getting in our way in places where we demand to have full sway: Syria, Libya, Iran, Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia.

Of course, we also accuse them of working relentlessly to undermine American democracy. Yet, that remains debatable as does everything that bears the dubious label of “Washington consensus.” Anyway, whatever minuscule role the Kremlin might have in the accelerated unravelling of the American Republic, it barely registers amidst the hammer blows struck by the craziness of President Donald Trump, his enablers and a largely compromised, abject resistance.

Cold War Dread

Understandably, it is not that easy to overlook nuclear weapons. It wasn’t that long ago that many of us were tormented by the dread of a prospective Armageddon, when the Cold War carried manifest dangers, when the air was thick with hostility and menace.

In October 1962, Americans were terrified over Soviet missiles in Cuba, as this newspaper map showing distances between Cuba and major North American cities demonstrates.

Those acute fears gradually faded over the 40 years of the nuclearized Cold War. We came to live with the Bomb — if not to love it. Subsequently, concerns shifted to the risks associated with nuclear weapons proliferation among less stable states in more fraught places.

The reasons for this sedating were three-fold.

  • Above all was the “balance of terror.’’ Leaders among the major nuclear powers absorbed the fundamental truth that not only was the notion of “winning” a nuclear war an oxymoron — but also that any use of nuclear weapons inexorably would escalate into acts of collective suicide. The survivors would envy the dead — as Nikita Khrushchev one said. That conviction became formalized in the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction.

  • Second, it was reified by a number of treaties and understandings: START I,II (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), the Anti-BallisticMissile Treaty (ABMT), the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, introduction of the Hot Line between the White House and the Kremlin, and the several arms reduction accords signed when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow. Their collective purpose was to ensure that no conceivable advantage might be gained that would jeopardize — however slightly — the balance of nuclear power, i.e. the assurance that any resort to nuclear weapons was tantamount to the death of civilization.

  • Finally, a number of technological developments reinforced Mutual  Assured Destruction: the deployment of submarine launched ballistic missiles — SLBM (immune to location and possible destruction in a “first strike” — thereby, guaranteeing a retaliatory capability); improved controls that reduced the chances of an “accidental” or miscalculated launch; and the moratorium in placing ballistic missile defenses around major population centers that could have the effect of removing their “hostage” status.

The last has turned out to be a largely redundant measure since the strenuous efforts of the Pentagon/NASA as well as their Soviet/Russian counterparts to devise a workable BMD all have come up well short of producing anything meaningful.

U.S. President Gerald Ford and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev sign joint communiqué to limit strategic offensive arms, 1974. (Wikimedia)

Unfortunately, two policy developments have awakened the nuclear issue from its somnambulant state. One is Washington’s abandonment of arms control treaties that were important parts of the nuclear stability package. George Bush removed us from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty(while observing its provisions), and effectively voided restrictions on ballistic missile defense in the vain hope of countering remote threats from prospective nuclear powers (Iran), bolstering the sense of security of some East Europeans (a non-solution to a non-problem)and – frankly – to get under the Russians’ skin. Barack Obama had neither the conviction nor political courage to reverse those retrograde moves.

Under Donald Trump, there has been a comprehensive plan to break free of all manner of restrictive commitments — military, diplomatic or economic. Deployment of regional BMD systems directed at Russian, Chinese and North Korean forces has been expanded despite their demonstrated efficiencies (one version could not even protect Saudi oil complexes or U.S. air bases in Iraq from primitive Iranian missiles).

Modernization of Nuclear Arsenals

The other troubling development concerns the modernization of nuclear arsenals by both the United States and Russia. President Barack Obama committed us to a trillion-dollar program to refine and upgrade American warheads and delivery systems over the next 20 years. The strategic rationale is obscure.

The Russian hypersonic missile development is a parallel development. In a purely technical sense, they obviously are “ahead” of us. And that irritates the hell out of the American security establishment.

Does being “ahead” have any practical meaning, however? Is there a genuine contest for advantage that translates into their gaining an upper hand in some sense or other? The clear answer is “NO!” It is strategically meaningless. Why? Because it in no way alters the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction.

Theoretically, there are only two imaginable ways to do that. The most significant would be development/deployment of a massive, truly effective BMD system that shields population centers and other critical, high value sites from retaliatory attack. That has shown itself to be impossible – even if the initiator of an attack succeeded in reducing the other side’s retaliatory forces by some significant fraction.

A totally disarming first strike in principle could be the second method logically to qualify MAD. It cannot be done, though.Fortunately. The combination of SLBMs, cruise missiles, and increased warhead lethality makes the idea of a disarming first strike a pipe dream of military strategists disengaged from reality.  Hypersonic weapons do not change that calculus.

Accuracies of MIRVed warheads were lowered to 100 feet many years ago.(CEP, or Circular Error Probability = 50 percent chance of landing within radius.) Reducing that to 20 feet, therefore, is pointless – the silo is destroyed either way unless its missile has been “launched on warning” (tripwire automaticity as ultimate assurance of retaliatory strike). Similarly for missile defense.

Then, there is the question of an incoming missile’s speed. Current ICBMs that may give 18 minutes warning do not permit any defensive measures to be taken. If they arrive on target within six minutes, there is no additional benefit to the attacker. Today’s missiles that follow a straight trajectory cannot be intercepted — with or without their distracting decoys.

The fact that “swerve” capable hypersonic missiles can mambo their way to the target adds nothing to their effectiveness. Anyone who tells you that the Russians gain a strategic advantage thereby is lying — either in order to extract larger sums for R & D from the Treasury or to accentuate irrational fears of Russia.

President Vladimir Put visiting an exhibit of advanced weapons before meeting with Russia’s Defence Ministry Board, December 2019. (The Kremlin)

Finally, no reasonably sane leader would risk national suicide for a 1 percent chance of getting away with a first strike and surviving retaliation. There is no stake worth even contemplating it. Indeed, that logic holds even were there an impossible 50 percent chance of pulling it off.

Today, the United States and Russia are not engaged in a life-or-death struggle for world domination or for ideological vindication. Ascribing anything like that notion to Vladimir Putin is simply a sign of mental derangement – ours, not his. The same holds for the super-power competition between the United States and China.

So, if this line of reasoning is compelling, why did Russia’s leaders bother with investment of great sums to produce hyper-sonic missiles? The answer is a matter of speculation. Doubtless, technological and bureaucratic momentum has much to do with it. These sorts of long-term programs take on a life of their own — just as they do in Washington. The is no more reason for the United States to squander a trillion dollars in refining our nuclear arsenal as two successive administrations have committed us to doing.

In Russia’s case, there likely is another factor at work. Historically, Moscow leaders have exaggerated American technical capabilities; they have something of an inferiority complex on this score despite their own remarkable accomplishments. It is particularly acute in the nuclear realm — most especially in regard to ballistic missile defense.

This goes back to Nixon’s proposed Safeguard system, followed two decades later by Reagan’s Star War’s plans. Neither of which in actuality had the potential to alter the strategic balance. This free-floating strategic anxiety should be placed in historical perspective. There is a touch of paranoia in the Russian strategic mind — engraved by the events of the 20th century.

Some of this sentiment is conveyed by Putin’s remarks in announcing the deployment of hypersonic missiles: “We’re used to being in the position of catching up. That no longer is the case. Russia is the   only country that has hypersonic weapons.”

To some unknowable degree these neuralgic points in the Russian psyche have been stimulated by the aggressive American program to surround Russia with BMD systems. “Might it just be conceivable that the United States could perfect them, make it work, and somehow jeopardize the credibility of our nuclear deterrent? Why are they expending so much money and effort? Why do those BMD sites make Poland and the Baltics feel more secure when they are in fact militarily useless and it makes no sense for us to attack them?”

Informed analysis suggests that the answer is negative to all these questions. The alternative explanation: U.S. leaders are inclined to do feckless things; they are strategically obtuse.

The broader lesson is that there is truth to the old adage: “Russia never is as strong as it seems; Russia is never as weak as it seems.” We wrote it off as a world power in the 1990s and never since made the proper adjustment. That perception may have contributed to the glaring failure of the United States’ intelligence community in missing Russia’s remarkable break-throughs in weaponry. 

It’s intelligence that counts more than Intelligence.


Tyler Durden

Sat, 01/18/2020 – 21:40

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The Quiet Crisis: Deaths Caused By Alcoholism Have More Than Doubled

The Quiet Crisis: Deaths Caused By Alcoholism Have More Than Doubled

Opioid overdoses may have leveled off last year after soaring over the last ten, but Americans are still dying in droves from another, far more popular substance: alcohol.

According to a series of studies cited by MarketWatch, the number of Americans drinking themselves to death has more than doubled over the last two decades, according to a sobering new report. That far outpaces the rate of population growth during the same period.

Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism studied the cause of death for Americans aged 16 and up between 1999 and 2017. They determined that while 35,914 deaths were tied to alcohol in 1999, it doubled to 72,558 in 2017. The rate of deaths per 100,000 soared by 50.9% from 16.9 to 25.5.

Over that 20-year period, the study determined that alcohol was involved in more than 1 million deaths. Half of these deaths resulted from liver disease, or a person drinking themselves to death, or a drug overdose that involved alcohol.

For more context: In 2017 alone, 2.6% of roughly 2.8 million deaths in the US were alcohol-related.

One doesn’t need to be a chronic alcoholic to suffer from alcohol: Nine states – Maine, Indiana, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio and Virginia –  saw a “significant” increase in adults who binge drink, a dangerous activity that can lead to deadly car crashes and other fatal accidents, according to a report released Thursday by the CDC.

And across the country, Americans who binge drink are consuming more drinks per person: That number spiked from 472 in 2011 to 529 in 2017, a 12% increase.

Historically, men have been more predisposed to “deaths of despair” than women: But a study published in “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research” found that the largest increase in recent years in these types of deaths occurred among non-hispanic white women.

Public health crises tied to substance abuse have been plaguing American for decades. So, what is it about our contemporary society that’s causing deaths to skyrocket?

There’s some food for thought.


Tyler Durden

Sat, 01/18/2020 – 21:15

It Was Rod: DOJ Court Filing Reveals Rosenstein Behind Strzok-Page Text Dumps

It Was Rod: DOJ Court Filing Reveals Rosenstein Behind Strzok-Page Text Dumps

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authorized the release to the media of text messages between ‘FBI lovebirds’ Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, many of which revealed deep animus towards then-candidate Donald Trump while they were investigating him during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to Politico.

In a Friday night court filing submitted shortly before midnight, Rosenstein says he made the decision to protect Strzok and Page from the damaging effects of lawmakers and others releasing the texts for use as political ammunition.

In the messages, Strzok and Page regularly disparaged Trump and appeared to seek to reassure each other he could not be elected. Both called Trump an “idiot” and said Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton deserved to win.

The texts also included murky discussions of an “insurance policy” to guard against Trump’s election. Trump backers have interpreted the reference as a plan to use the then-ongoing investigation into ties between Trump advisers and Russia as way to prevent him from taking office or undermine his presidency, but Strzok and Page have denied any such intent. –Politico

Lisa Page – who sued the DOJ and FBI in December over the release, appears to be pissed.

All I can say is this: I very much look forward to Rod’s deposition. https://t.co/so43a38WBh

— Lisa Page (@NatSecLisa) January 18, 2020

Strzok has separately sued the agencies as well – for which Rosenstein’s admission was submitted as part of the government’s defense. The former DAG says that public disclosure of the texts was inevitable in connection with testimony he was set to give the next day in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

“With the express understanding that it would not violate the Act and that the text messages would become public by the next day in any event, I authorized [Justice’s Office of Public Affairs] to disclose to the news media the text messages that were being disclosed to Congressional committees,” wrote Rosenstein.

In November, the Justice Department asked U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to throw out Strzok’s suit, which challenges both his firing from the FBI and the release of the texts. However, Strzok’s attorneys countered in a court filing last month that one reason to allow the suit to proceed was that Justice Department was being vague about just who made the final call to give the messages.

Arguing that an air of mystery continued to surround the disclosure, Strzok lawyer Aitan Goelman called “revealing” Justice’s decision to seek dismissal of the suit without identifying the responsible official.

“An agency cannot avoid Act liability for a disclosure actually made for an improper purpose by eliciting a sanitized after-the-fact rationale from an official who does not have all of the facts,” Goelman wrote. –Politico

According to Rosenstein, his aides originally suggested that he should delay sending the texts to Congress until after his testimony in front of the House, however he thought it would be “inappropriate” to do so for that reason. He also said he decided to give them to the media prior to his testimony over concerns that they would be cherrypicked and weaponized.

“The Department’s Office of Public Affairs … recommended providing the text messages to the media because otherwise, some congressional members and staff were expected to release them intermittently before, during and after the hearing, exacerbating the adverse publicity for Mr. Strzok, Ms. Page and the Department,” wrote Rosenstein. “Providing the most egregious messages in one package would avoid the additional harm of prolonged selective disclosures and minimize the appearance of the Department concealing information that was embarrassing to the FBI.”

See the filing below:


Tyler Durden

Sat, 01/18/2020 – 20:50

“Hard” Of Hearing: PornHub Being Sued By Deaf Man For Lack Of Closed Captioning

“Hard” Of Hearing: PornHub Being Sued By Deaf Man For Lack Of Closed Captioning

Visuals are sometimes difficult to enjoy without context.

At least, that’s the argument being made by Yaroslav Suris, who is suing the popular online porn site claiming that its lack of closed captioning for the deaf and hearing-impaired is discriminatory. 

Suris is claiming that the website violates his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to TMZ, who first broke the story. 

He claims that the deaf and hearing impaired can’t understand the audio tracks of videos on the website and claims that some of his favorite titles – with names like “Hot Step Aunt Babysits Disobedient Nephew,” “Sexy Cop Gets Witness to Talk” and “Daddy 4K — Allison comes to Talk About Money to Her Boys’ Naughty Father” – are difficult to follow.

This is a man who obviously appreciates artistic integrity of the actors and actresses…

He also says that he would pay for a Premium subscription to PornHub, but that it is pointless to shell out the money for it without closed captioning. Because we all know there isn’t enough free porn out there – and there definitely isn’t enough free porn with closed captioning. 

He is suing PornHub not only to request closed captioning, but also for damages.

PornHub, on the other hand (no pun intended), actually does have some closed captions.

PornHub’s VP, Corey Price responded by saying: 

“We understand that Yaroslav Suris is suing Pornhub for claiming we’ve denied the deaf and hearing impaired access to our videos. While we do not generally comment on active lawsuits, we’d like to take this opportunity to point out that we do have a closed captions category.”

We hope Yarslav doesn’t spend too much of his spare time on the site, however. He could wind up deaf and blind. 


Tyler Durden

Sat, 01/18/2020 – 20:25

Why Laws Against Hate Speech Are Dangerous

Why Laws Against Hate Speech Are Dangerous

Authored by Fjordman via The Gatestone Institute,

In November 2019, Germans celebrated the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany 30 years earlier. That same month, Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a speech to the German federal parliament (Bundestag), advocated more restrictions on free speech for all Germans. She warned that free speech has limits:

“Those limits begin where hatred is spread. They begin where the dignity of other people is violated. This house will and must oppose extreme speech. Otherwise, our society will no longer be the free society that it was.”

Merkel received great applause.

Critics, however, would claim that curtailing freedom in order to protect freedom sounds a bit Orwellian. One of the first acts of any tyrant or repressive regime is usually to abolish freedom of speech. Merkel should know this: she lived under a repressive regime — in the communist dictatorship of East Germany, where she studied at Karl Marx University.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects freedom of speech, specifically speech critical of the government, and prohibits the state from limiting free speech. The First Amendment was placed first in the Bill of Rights because the American Founding Fathers realized that freedom of speech is fundamental to a free society. US President George Washington said:

“For if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences… reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.”

Without freedom of speech, you cannot truly be free. Freedom of speech exists precisely to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

What exactly is “hate speech,” and who gets to define it? Those who love justice usually also hate injustice. But what is justice? Social justice? Economic justice? Ecological justice? Religious fundamentalist justice? Climate justice?

Hate may be a negative emotion, but you cannot ban emotions. Envy and jealousy are also widely considered negative feelings. Yet we do not ban them. Envy of people who are wealthier than you is arguably a component of Socialist and Marxist political parties everywhere.

The concept of a “hate crime” is also flawed. If you rob, assault or murder people, that is equally injurious regardless of the motivation of the assailant or of who the victim is. We should not have different penalties depending upon whether the victim is a gay black man, a straight white man, a Muslim woman or a Christian nun, or we will end up with a kind of a legal caste system.

Although the legal system should not be based on feelings or emotions, we see an increasing tendency toward this subjectivity. There is a tendency to censor certain viewpoints because they might “offend” others. The problem is, it is not the inoffensive things that need protecting; it is only the offensive things that do. When, in the US, the National Socialist Party of America wanted to march though Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors, the Supreme Court decided that the Nazis’ right of free speech overrode suppressing the marchers. According to the Bill of Rights Institute:

“In these cases, National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie (1977), and Brandenburg v. Ohio (1968), the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects individuals’ rights to express their views, even if those views are considered extremely offensive by most people…

“American writer Noam Chomsky said ‘If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.’ Individuals who express unpopular opinions are protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment prevents majorities from silencing views with which they do not agree—even views that the majority of people find offensive to their very core. “

Possibly many things people say will be considered offensive to somebody, somewhere. In 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned alive at the stake as a heretic for saying that the universe has no center, and stars are suns, surrounded by planets and moons. The findings of Charles Darwin were challenged by the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925, when a high-school teacher in Tennessee, John T. Scopes, was charged with violating state law by teaching the theory of human evolution.

Just a few years ago, it was uncontroversial to state that there are only two biological sexes. After all, this is a fact that would seem pretty straightforward. Yet recently, even this simple statement has become explosive. When the tennis champion Martina Navratilova questioned the fairness of having transgender men compete in sports again women, but was eventually driven to “apologize.”

In the UK, a physician, David Mackereth, recently lost his government job as a medical assessor after more than three decades for refusing to renounce his view that gender is determined at birth.

People who claim to combat “hate” often seem to be quite full of hate themselves. Some Americans claim that US President Donald J. Trump is a racist, yet themselves express open hatred toward Trump, and those who vote for him. They do not object to hating. They just seem to believe that their hate is the only legitimate one.

In 2013, the American scholar Robert Spencer was banned by British authorities from entering the UK. Spencer the author of many books about Islam and runs the website Jihad Watch.

The Koran sura 9:5 has verse stating:

“When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful.”

The exact translation of this verse can be debated, but the Arabic verb qatala generally means to kill, slay or murder somebody. How come it is all right to publish the original source, prescribing murder, but that it is “hate speech” to point out that quote?

Robert Spencer and others have observed, for instance, that verse 9:5 and other intolerant verses in the Koran have been quoted repeatedly by militant Muslims to justify jihad attacks and violence (for instance herehere and here). Although other religious books also contain violence, as the scholar Bruce Bawer points out:

“Sometimes, when one points out these rules, people will respond: ‘Well, the Bible says such-and-such.’ The point is not that these things are written in Islamic scripture, but that people still live by them.”

Muslims in Britain and other Western nations are free to spread teachings that are hateful towards non-Muslims. Yet because non-Muslims such as Robert Spencer pointed out that some teachings are hateful and have inspired actual atrocities, UK authorities banned Spencer for spreading “hate.”

One sees, then, that restrictions against “hate speech” often do not really ban hate speech; instead they may actually be protecting certain forms of hate speech against legitimate inquiry.

Laws against “hate speech” and “racism” always lead to political censorship, because the definition of what constitutes “hate” is always influenced by politics and ideology. Laws against hate speech or racism should therefore be removed. No person has the right “not to be offended.” Freedom of speech means saying and hearing things with which you may disagree. What remains important is to be able to say and hear them.


Tyler Durden

Sat, 01/18/2020 – 20:00

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