Month: August 2019

Republicans Have Finally Documented Election Fraud

In VERY unsurprising related news, the perp is a Republican.

This is not a surprise. Much like the Soviets, you know that Republicans are doing whatever they accuse the Democrats of doing:

The irony is pretty rich. For years, and with ever-increasing intensity, Republicans have claimed with virtually no evidence that our democracy is menaced by election fraud. It has been their all-purpose excuse for voter suppression tactics, their rationalization for election defeats, and a central element of a Big Conspiracy Theory alleging that Democrats want open borders so they can drown good white taxpaying citizens in a sea of illegal voting by immigrants and other minorities seeking to give themselves welfare benefits.

So now, from North Carolina, there’s finally a clearly documented case of election fraud that actually appears to have changed an election result. The cruel irony for Republicans is that operatives from their own party — particularly “consultant” Leslie McCrae Dowless — allegedly did the deed.

As Philip Bump notes, this is very much a blue-moon development:

The last time there was a federal election that needed to be rerun was more than 40 years ago, when a close race combined with a faulty voting machine in Louisiana to prompt the calling of a new election. Politico’s Steven Shepard has a good history of past do-overs, including that Louisiana race, a history that makes clear that this is probably the first federal election in which the results were tainted by fraudulent activity.

To be clear, the illegal activity in North Carolina’s Ninth District didn’t resemble the “voter fraud” scenarios Republicans have insisted on imagining in recent years:

[This] wasn’t an election tainted by people showing up to cast illegal ballots, the fraud allegation that has been leveled scores of times by President Trump alone. Instead, it focused on allegedly corrupt actions by a man working for a consulting firm hired by one of the candidates.

So tighter voter-ID laws or voter-roll purges or more closely scrutinized voter-registration drives, the most frequent GOP prescriptions for “election security,” wouldn’t have mattered at all. You could make an attenuated case that opportunities for early voting or voting-by-mail — in this case voting by absentee ballot — that Democrats have recent championed are the problem. But what happened in North Carolina is the functional equivalent of old-fashioned, 19th-century ballot-box stuffing. Unused absentee ballots were fraudulently filled out with signatures forged, and actually filled-out absentee ballots cast for the “wrong” candidate were discarded. As the Brennan Center wryly observes, this activity was much closer to voter suppression than to the voter fraud alleged to justify voter suppression. And as Bump notes, the silence from Republicans about it all has been deafening:

 [T]here has been almost no outcry from Republican elected officials. Trump hasn’t mentioned the situation in North Carolina. A review of congressional tweets shows no Republican officials who have linked the events in the 9th District to their party’s campaign against voter fraud — and plenty of Democrats who have noted that silence.

It should be noted that extremely aggressive use of absentee ballots has been a central part of Republican electoral strategy for decades.

Now we know why.

Making a List and Checking it Twice

I am not referring to Santa Claus, I am referring to Jeff Bezos and Amazon who have created an enemies list.

How charming:

When Amazon scrubbed plans to build a second headquarters in New York City earlier this year, the reason appeared rooted in a debate about unions, tax subsidies and housing costs.

Then there was the burn book.

In a private dossier kept at the time, whose existence has gone previously unreported, Amazon executives cataloged in minute detail the insults they saw coming from New York politicians and labor leaders, according to a copy viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

By late January, Amazon executives had been pummeled at two public hearings. The burn book, which was kept in a Microsoft Word document called “NY Negative Statements,” had separate sections for a half-dozen politicians and officials who had gone from thorns in the company’s side to formidable opponents of a deal that now looked to be in jeopardy.

The document recorded how opponents mocked the helipad Amazon planned to build, pushed the Twitter hashtag #scamazon, and brought up the company’s work for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a sore spot among some Amazon employees. It was an eight-page, bullet-pointed, Calibri font testimony to Amazon’s sensitivities.


After this article was published online, an Amazon spokeswoman said the document was compiled as preparation for city council hearings.

No, it wasn’t a prep for council meeting, it was the airing of grievances by and for a billionaire and a company that believe that they should be lauded as visionary prophets, and not the abusive and extortative sh%$-heels that they actually are.

Why Tax Incentives Suck

Because, in addition to having a payback time that is measured in millennia, if that, they are fundamentally corrupt and corrupting:

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday vetoed legislation that would have extended the state’s controversial tax break law, and he recommended a sweeping overhaul of a program state investigators say benefited powerful insiders at the expense of taxpayers.

“For the past six years, New Jersey has operated under a severely flawed tax incentive program that wasted taxpayer money on handouts to connected companies instead of creating jobs and economic growth,” Murphy said in a prepared statement.


The veto follows weeks of talks between the governor’s office and legislative leaders, as well as months of public scrutiny, including a WNYC-ProPublica investigation that detailed how South Jersey political boss George E. Norcross III and his associates helped craft — and benefit from — the tax break program.

Of the $1.6 billion in incentives awarded to companies in his hometown, Camden, $1.1 billion flowed to businesses and nonprofits owned by or connected to Norcross, the news organizations found. Norcross has denied any wrongdoing and defended the incentives as a tool to revive the state’s impoverished cities.


Murphy called Friday for shrinking the tax break initiative by capping overall awards at $400 million and targeting tax credits for small businesses, while beefing up the state’s ability to monitor hiring and direct awards to underdeveloped areas. He would replace the two expired tax break programs with five smaller programs catering to high-growth industries, mixed-use projects, historic preservation and the redevelopment of contaminated land.

Politically connected insiders benefiting from government subsidies is not a bug, it’s a feature.

Yet more of the neoliberal policies that privatize profits and socialize losses.

This Is a Point That I Have Been Making for a While

When discussing issues of patent, copyright,a d trademark, it is important to note that, “Intellectual Property Isn’t Property.”

It never has been.

If I steal your car, you no longer have the use of that car.

If I excerpt your essay, you still have that essay.

You cannot take IP in the same way that one could a spoon:

Frank Luntz’s rebranding of the estate tax as the “death tax” was an impressive bit of marketing genius, but perhaps the greatest branding coup in modern American politics was the introduction of the term “intellectual property” into the policymaking lexicon. Intellectual property guarantees the owner exclusive rights to the use of an idea, but the uglier-sounding term “intellectual monopoly” is actually more accurate.

It may be too late to cast intellectual property out of our parlance in favor of intellectual monopoly, but it’s worth addressing the underlying philosophical claim to ideas as property. There is a strong consequentialist case for intellectual property in theory, but IP does not satisfy the Lockean definition of property and therefore shouldn’t grant the holder property rights under a natural-rights framework.


To examine where property rights come from, let’s turn to John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. To avoid a lengthy discussion about the merits of Locke’s arguments, let’s take the existence of property rights as he discusses them as a given: If I own myself and I put a part of myself, through my labor, into an unclaimed physical object, I should have exclusive claim to it in the same way I should have exclusive claim to my body and labor.

Why doesn’t this logic work for ideas? Most obviously and importantly, because physical property is scarce and rivalrous. If I take a piece of wood from the wilderness and whittle it into a spoon, anyone who uses that specific spoon is depriving me of my ability to use it.

This is at the nub of the problem Locke is trying to solve. Because physical objects are scarce and rivalrous in use, rights to use and control are necessarily exclusive: If one person gets to use and control the spoon, nobody else does. Locke is wondering how such exclusive rights got going if (as Locke believed) the physical world was given to people in common by their creator. He solves the riddle by asserting the right of self-ownership. Since our bodies and minds start out under our exclusive control, mixing our labor with external objects can bring them out of the common pool and into the realm of private property.

Ideas, on the other hand, are non-rivalrous, meaning their use by one party doesn’t prevent another from using them. If I come up with a new design for a wooden spoon and someone else uses the same idea (whether they learned it from me or developed it independently), my ability to use that design isn’t impeded.

What is impeded is my ability to monetize my design while denying others the ability to do the same. And in cases where the cost of innovation is high but the cost of imitation low, that impediment could end up mattering a great deal for society. Encouraging innovation by helping creators to monetize their creations is at the heart of the consequentialist case for IP. These considerations are, however, outside the scope of a Lockean case for intellectual property.


Furthermore, while you have a right to the products of your mind just as you have a right to the products of your body, there’s an important distinction that must be made between an idea in your head and one that’s known to others. If I come up with an original idea for a widget, song, book, or joke, I could tweet it, tell it to a few close friends, or take it to the grave. This is a natural extension of someone’s right to their own mind.

But once an idea is out in the open, it’s analogous to someone selling or giving away physical property they appropriated from nature. As long as something is transferred voluntarily, the original owner can’t make a claim to this property once it changes hands (or in this case, minds). To maintain otherwise would violate the right to free exchange, a natural extension of the right to property.

Meanwhile, physical property could theoretically remain private forever, while even the staunchest supporters of IP rights believe ideas should enter the public domain at some point. Suppose Alice goes through the traditional process of Lockean appropriation to produce a spoon. That could be hers through the end of her life, but if she gives it to Bob it becomes his. He can then give it to Charlie, and so on. At no point in this chain does the spoon go back into the commons for someone else to appropriate. To believe that intellectual property is, in fact, property, one must also accept the possibility of this infinite chain of private ownership.

The solution to this conundrum is to understand that IP is public interest law, as it states in the Constitution, it exists, “To promote the progress of science and useful arts.”

It is there to serve the public interest, by making the public pay for its benefits.

In other words, it’s socialism.

Your Brexit Dogs Breakfast Update

 Boris Johnson has moved to suspend Parliament in order to ensure that Brexit goes forward.

While suspending (proroguing) Parliament is usually a fairly routine thing, it tends to be used to clear the decks of legislative items that have piled up over a session, use of the procedure to explicitly prevent parliament from weighing in on a major issue, as Johnson is doing now, is not:

Boris Johnson has set up an extraordinary confrontation with MPs when they return to Westminster next week by announcing that he has asked the Queen to suspend parliament for five weeks from mid-September.

The prime minister claimed there would be “ample time” to debate Brexit, as he wrote to MPs on Wednesday, saying he had spoken to the Queen and asked her to suspend parliament from “the second sitting week in September”. The Queen approved the order later on Wednesday.

MPs will then not return to Westminster until 14 October, when he said there would be a new Queen’s speech, setting out what he called a “bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda for the renewal of our country after Brexit”.

I do not know enough about UK politics to tell whether the spectacle of people completely losing their sh%$ over this action is a legitimate expression of outrage or political posturing.

My prediction remains the same though, a Brexit, no-deal or deal, will be much worse than the Brexit supporters predict, and much better than the Brexit supporters predict.

I do think that, unlike Theresa May, Johnson understands the nature of the negotiations though, as evidenced by his willingness to walk away.

More significantly, he’s willing to put EU migration rules on the table, which would have the effect of severely curtailing remittances to EU nations from their nationals working in Britain, which would have a devastating effect on the economies of a number of EU members, most notably the Baltic states.

I think that any chance for a graceful transition has passed now, sit it will be a profoundly bumpy ride.

Don’t Give to the DSCC

The DSCC is pulling out the stops to support a candidate, in the Primary, who compared environmentalists to Stalinists and literally drank a glass of fracking fluid.

All this in a state which is not comfortably blue.

Way to support progressive ideals:

Before the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in a 2020 Senate race, it pressured consultants from at least five firms not to work with a leading progressive in the race, the candidate told The Intercept.

Andrew Romanoff, who is one of more than a dozen candidates vying for Republican Sen. Cory Gardner’s seat, told The Intercept that multiple consultants turned down jobs with his campaign citing pressure from the DSCC.

“They’ve made it clear to a number of the firms and individuals we tried to hire that they wouldn’t get any business in Washington or with the DSCC if they worked with me,” Romanoff said. “It’s been a well-orchestrated operation to blackball ragtag grassroots teams.”

At least five firms and 25 prospective staff turned down working with his campaign, said Romanoff, who has raised more than $1 million in individual contributions so far. “I spoke to the firms, my campaign manager spoke to the staff prospects,” he said. “Pretty much everyone who checked in with the DSCC got the same warning: Helping us would cost them.”

A consultant who spoke to The Intercept on the condition of anonymity said that their firm had been far along in talks to work for Romanoff when they got word that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the DSCC weren’t happy. The firm was told by a top DSCC staffer that they “absolutely under no circumstances could work for Andrew Romanoff, so we withdrew our offer to be his consulting firm.”


Earlier this year, the DSCC’s companion organization in the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, made it official policy to cut off funding and vendors to Democrats who challenged incumbent Democrats. Putting the policy in writing ratcheted up what had been more of an informal understanding in prior cycles. But if the DSCC’s intervention in Colorado is any indication, the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm is taking the blacklist one step further, by discouraging consultants from working not only for challengers to incumbent Democrats, but also for progressives running against the establishment’s preferred candidate in a seat currently held by the GOP. In Romanoff’s case, the DSCC did so before it had been clear whether Washington’s choice, Hickenlooper, even planned to run.

(emphasis mine)

I understand that the party establishment feels that it must put its thumb on the scales to support uninspiring corporatist candidates to be victorious.

After all, this strategy worked so well to get ……… checks notes ……… Donald Trump ……… elected.

There is bright side for real Democrats who want to run for office, but cannot get high powered DC consultants to work for them though, it’s that these consultants are about as useless as tits on a bull.

The Koch Suckers Lose One

Despite millions of dollars in Koch brothers money, a Phoenix referendum to kill light rail fails decisively:

Voters in Phoenix have soundly rejected a proposal that would have halted the expansion of the city’s light rail system — a proposition that had the backing of dark money linked to the notorious anti-transit Koch brothers.

In a 62-to-38 percent vote, residents turned aside Proposition 105, which would have redirected a previously passed tax away from light rail towards other transportation improvements. It would also have required “terminating all construction, development, extension, and expansion of” light rail.

The vote was 107,370 against Prop 105 to 64,666 in favor. A second ballot proposition that would have capped spending on city services until its pension debts are reduced was defeated by a two-to-one margin.

The effort to end light rail in Phoenix was part of the legacy of the petroleum tycoon and conservative radical Charles Koch and his late brother David, who funded grassroots activist campaigns to kill transit projects in cities around the country.

It’s a pity that David Koch didn’t live a few more days to see his rejection by the people of Phoenix.

Well, that Was Exciting

Lmfaooo Baltimore always got some shit wit us but I gotta love my city 😂😭💯

— tayyfromthetrap (@tayyfromthetrap) August 29, 2019

This is Completely Nuts

I was driving down to Fells Point to pick up Nat from the Fells Point Corner Theater, where she is ASM for the play Perfect Arrangement tonight, and after we got on local streets, we were passed by at least a dozen police cars with lights flashing.

About a mile from the theater, I thought that I heard a large number, 20 or so, gunshots.

It appears that there was a shooting incident, with an officer wounded and the suspect killed:

A male suspect is dead after a Baltimore police officer was shot in the leg in the Southeast District on Wednesday around 11 p.m.

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the suspect was pronounced dead at the hospital after he was struck by gunfire by responding officers.

Harrison said the suspect is believed to be the man who tried to run over a police officer and fired at another early Tuesday morning while trying to stop an SUV that attempted to strike another officer. He said the vehicle Wednesday is the one that was used during the attacks on the officers Tuesday.

A woman was injured during Wednesday’s incident, but Harrison said it was unclear whether she was hurt by gunfire or the resulting shrapnel. She and the officer are in good condition, Harrison added.

The commissioner said officers encountered the suspect at Fayette and North Caroline streets and that officers began firing at the suspect. Harrison said he did not know whether the suspect fired at officers, but added he was believed to be armed.

Harrison said that after the exchange, the suspect got back into his car and drove down Caroline Street as officers chased him.

After picking up my thespian child, we went home, and there were dozens of cars and at least 20 officers at the site of the incident.


Mandy Rice Davies Applies*

In the annals of self-serving security bullsh%$, this is in the top 10:

After promising to offer tools to let users limit “cookies,” tiny files that help internet and advertising companies track users, Alphabet Inc.’s Google suggested it won’t go any further, saying in a blog post that blocking cookies entirely could be counterproductive for user privacy.

The post from late last week has drawn criticism in recent days from some privacy advocates who say Google’s Chrome internet browser should catch up to the stricter practices of rivals Firefox and Safari.

Ad tech companies and some digital publishers are wary of a major crackdown on cookies, saying it would hurt their businesses.

In its post, Google said blocking cookies will encourage the rise of other, more nefarious methods of tracking internet users.


“Many folks were expecting Google to do something. When major competitors have come out with a much praised user feature, you can imagine they would come out with something that competes with that,” said Jonathan Mayer, an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton University. “This notion that blocking cookies is bad for privacy is completely disingenuous.”

“I interpret the announcement as giving Google an opportunity to try to show forward momentum on privacy while at the same time not doing anything that would negatively impact its own business interests,” said Jason Kint, chief executive of Digital Content Next, a trade association for online publishers that has argued online tech platforms are harming competition and consumers. Google’s digital ad business uses data on users collected partially through cookies


The debate extends to the issue of who benefits financially from browser cookies. Google cited its own research showing that publishers lose an average of 52% of their advertising revenue when their readers block cookies.

The results differ substantially from an academic study published this spring, which found that publishers only receive about 4% more ad revenue for an ad impression that has a cookie enabled than for one that doesn’t.

So, Google is claiming that other sites aren’t already using these “nefarious methods”, (They are, I’m talking to you Verizon & AT&T), and that it will cost them money, so please turn off your cookie blocker.

Google, go Cheney yourself.

*Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Freddy Mercury is a Busy Man

So, now Kirsten Gillibrand is dropping out of the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Her campaign never took hold, partially because she decided to run almost exclusively as the #MeToo candidate in a race where there are a number of qualified women running, and partially because she was deeply loathed by a significant portion of the party base.

I’m not sure why she was so disliked, though her role in Franken leaving the Senate was a part of it, but she was, at least based on reporting and comments on the net, despised.

Tweet of the Day

And the award for “Best Use of the Distracted Boyfriend” meme goes to:

In my intro stats class today, I told students the median is a ”resistant” measure of a distribution’s center & is often preferred to the mean in the case of salary data, etc. I jokingly referenced this meme and in the 15 mins’ break they had, a student created this MASTERPIECE!

— Anna J. Egalite (@annaegalite) August 27, 2019

Not a Serious Car Company

Buried in a what appears to be a rather run-of-the-mill article about a an independent Tesla service center that specializes in keeping Roadsters, Tesla’s first car, running.

The bigger story is that Tesla has stopped supporting a car less than 7 years after they ended production on the model, so this guy has to fabricate circuit boards, body panels, etc.

While there appears to be no law requiring that an automobile manufacturer maintain parts beyond the term of the warranty, 7 years is seriously deficient.

Bret “Bedbug” Stephens

The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.

— davekarpf (@davekarpf) August 26, 2019

Unfair to Bedbugs

The latest Twitter sh%$-storm comes courtesy of Brett Stevens.

There was a news report of (not kidding here) of a bedbug infestation at the New York Times offices, and GWU professorr David Karpf made what he himself admits was a throw away tweet that this was a metaphor for Times columnist Brett Stevens.

Until this all blew up, it had 9 likes and no retweets.

Then Stevens sent him an email, which was cc:ed to the university Provost, subject line, “From Bret Stephens, New York Times”, demanding that he show up and say it to his face.

This was clearly an attempt to use his position at the NYT to intimidate and threaten what he thought (incorrectly) was an non-tenured professor.

As a so-called journalist who has made the condemnation of safe spaces and hyper-sensitivity, (spoiler, it’s really about him justifying bigotry and lying) the hypocrisy is stunning:

David Karpf is a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University in D.C. On Monday night, he became a subject of great media interest himself after reading reports about the bedbug infestation at the New York Times and writing in a tweet that the bedbugs were perhaps a metaphor for the continuing presence, at the paper, of conservative columnist Bret Stephens. (Stephens has developed a reputation in certain circles for writing provocative but intellectually flimsy columns about climate change and the alleged threat of political intolerance on college campuses; Karpf, in addition to being an academic, is a former member of the Sierra Club board of directors.)

While the tweet might have seemed like an innocuous remark, Stephens apparently didn’t think so: He emailed Karpf—in a message with the subject line “From Bret Stephens, New York Times” on which George Washington provost Forrest Maltzman was CC’d—to accuse him of setting a “new standard” for online incivility and to challenge Karpf to “come to my home,” “meet my wife and kids,” and “call me a ‘bedbug’ to my face.” (Stephens wasn’t tagged in Karpf’s original post, so it wouldn’t have shown up in his Twitter notifications; he wrote in his email to Karpf that someone had “pointed out” the tweet to him.)

Karpf described Stephens’ email in a tweet without specifically naming the columnist, then, about an hour later, uploaded a screenshot of it that included Stephens’ name. The posts together created a frenzy of disbelief and derision that led Stephens to delete his own Twitter account, then, during a Tuesday morning appearance on MSNBC, to deny that he’d been trying to get Karpf in trouble with the university (Karpf, in any case, is tenured) and to claim that the “bedbug” remark resembled the kind of dehumanizing language that “totalitarian regimes” use toward ethnic outgroups. On Tuesday morning, I spoke to Karpf about the experience of being a viral figure and the state of bedbug discourse in the digital age. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Slate interviewed Karpf, who added some necessary perspective:

The two things that stand out are that it’s entertaining, and distracting. It does keep occurring to me the reason why this is actually pretty fun for me is that I’m a white guy with tenure, which means that—if he had sent this to me before I had a tenured job, that would have been a powerful and terrifying message, and I’m 100 percent sure that that’s what he expected it to do. When he writes a message where it says, “From Bret Stephens, New York Times,” from his New York Times account, it means that he’s trying to indicate that he’s above me in the social hierarchy. But I’m a professor of strategic political communication, and I have tenure, and I really didn’t do anything wrong. That makes the entire thing bizarre and fun. If I was pre-tenure or I was a woman and had to deal with harassment on Twitter all the time, then I imagine this would be a lot less fun.


If he hadn’t CC’d the provost, then I would think, “Wow, he took this far more personally than he should have.” But also that would mean that an op-ed writer from the New York Times was reaching out to me and wanted to discuss civility in the digital age. And I would have tried to reply to it and said, “First of all, is this a bit? I’m surprised you found this and were upset by it. But second of all, here’s the thinking behind it. Here’s why I thought it was a decent joke. And also here’s why I think it’s entirely appropriate because, being a public intellectual as you are, people get to make silly jokes about you on the internet like I did.”

But the fact that he was CCing the provost, and I assume that he doesn’t know I have tenure when he writes that message, means that he’s not actually asking, “Where is the civility?” He’s certainly not inviting me to come to his house and have this little conversation. What he’s trying to impress upon me is that he’s more powerful than me and I should feel fearful and ashamed.

Conservatives are such delicate snowflakes.

Also, Brett Stevens should be fired for abusing his position as a Times columnist.

This is about as flagrant abuse of his position, and journalistic ethics as I’ve seen since ……… checks notes ……… The entire career of Judith Miller.

Journalism Should Not Be All about Journalists

The fact that conservative activist are looking into journalists’ history with an eye toward criticizing them is not the end of the world.

In fact, this sort of activity qualifies as journalism, but the mainstream press has never been sanguine about scrutiny being applied to them, just witness their meltdown over Bernie Sanders fairly anodyne condemnation of the pollution of media by finance and mergers:

Many journalists are very indignant that Trump allies are reportedly combing through social media to identify embarrassing things they may have posted long ago that can be used to discredit them. In this case, I’m afraid, the outrage seems to be missing the point.

What exactly is happening here? According to the New York Times, a “loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House” has “compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements” by lots of people who work at major media outlets. They plan to release these tidbits at politically advantageous times in order to discredit the employees and the media outlets themselves. This is all portrayed in formal and quite ominous language. There is a name for this that political reporters are all familiar with: opposition research.

But there is another name for this that is also accurate: media reporting.

Considering the fact that stupid tweets by New York Times (and Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, etc) journalists and columnists is something that crosses my twitter feed on a daily basis, the freakout over conservatives doing the same is silly.

Personally, I’m thinking that this is more an attempt to distract the press than it is to shame them:  Every time that some public figure criticizes the press, it seems that all other journalistic activity is subsumed in an orgy of defensiveness.

Well, This is a Bit Less Insane………

Both concepts are insane, that is the nature of nuclear weapons, but an “autonomous” launcher is a bit LESS insane than the second coming of Project Pluto: (aka “The Flying Crowbar”)

How the mainstream media reported an August 8 accident at a top-secret missile test facility in northern Russia should serve as a cautionary tale regarding the dangers of rushed judgments via institutional bias.

In the days following the initial report of the accident, the media exploded with speculation over both the nature of the device being tested at the Nenoksa State Central Marine Test Site and the Russian government’s muted response. Typical of the hysteria was the analysis of Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and editor of the blog “Arms Control Wonk.”

Lewis and his collaborators penned a breathless article for Foreign Policy that asked, “What Really Happened?” According to Lewis, the answer was clear: “The reference to radiation was striking—tests of missile engines don’t involve radiation. Well, with one exception: Last year, Russia announced it had tested a cruise missile powered by a nuclear reactor. It calls this missile the 9M730 Burevestnik. NATO calls it the SSC-X-9 Skyfall.”


They’re all wrong. Here’s the real story of what actually happened at Nenoksa.

Liquid-fuel ballistic missiles are tricky things. Most Russian liquid-fueled missiles make use of hypergolic fuels, consisting of a fuel (in most cases asymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, or heptyl) and an oxidizer (nitrogen tetroxide), which, when combined, spontaneously combust. For this to happen efficiently, the fuel and oxidizer need to be maintained at “room temperature,” generally accepted as around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. For missiles stored in launch silos, or in launch canisters aboard submarines, temperature control is regulated by systems powered by the host—either a generator, if in a silo, or the submarine’s own power supply, if in a canister.

Likewise, the various valves, switches, and other components critical to the successful operation of a liquid-fuel ballistic missile, including onboard electronics and guidance and control systems, must be maintained in an equilibrium, or steady state, until launch. The electrical power required to accomplish this is not considerable, but it must be constant. Loss of power will disrupt the equilibrium of the missile system, detrimentally impacting its transient response at time of launch and leading to failure.

Russia has long been pursuing so-called “autonomous” weapons that can be decoupled from conventional means of delivery—a missile silo or a submarine—and instead installed in canisters that protect them from the environment. They would then be deployed on the floor of the ocean, lying in wait until remotely activated. One of the major obstacles confronting the Russians is the need for system equilibrium, including the onboard communications equipment, prior to activation. The power supply for any system must be constant, reliable, and capable of operating for extended periods of time without the prospect of fuel replenishment.

The solution for this power supply problem is found in so-called “nuclear batteries,” or radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG). An RTG generates electricity using thermocouples that convert the heat released by the decay of radioactive material. RTGs have long been used in support of operations in space. The Russians have long used them to provide power to remote unmanned facilities in the arctic and in mountainous terrain. Cesium-137, a byproduct of the fission of U-235, is considered an ideal radioisotope for military application RTGs.

On August 8, a joint team from the Ministry of Defense and the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics, subordinated to the State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM), conducted a test of a liquid-fueled rocket engine, in which electric power from Cesium-137 “nuclear batteries” maintained its equilibrium state. The test was conducted at the Nenoksa State Central Marine Test Site (GTsMP), a secret Russian naval facility known as Military Unit 09703. It took place in the waters of the White Sea, off the coast of the Nenoksa facility, onboard a pair of pontoon platforms.

The test had been in the making for approximately a year. What exactly was being tested and why remain a secret, but the evaluation went on for approximately an hour. It did not involve the actual firing of the engine, but rather the non-destructive testing of the RTG power supply to the engine.


When the actual testing finished, something went very wrong. According to a sailor from the nearby Severdvinsk naval base, the hypergolic fuels contained in the liquid engine (their presence suggests that temperature control was one of the functions being tested) somehow combined. This created an explosion that destroyed the liquid engine, sending an unknown amount of fuel and oxidizer into the water. At least one, and perhaps more, of the Cesium-137 RTGs burst open, contaminating equipment and personnel alike.


The Russian Meteorological Service (Roshydromet) operates what’s known as the Automatic Radiation Monitoring System (ASKRO) in the city of Severdvinsk. ASKRO detected two “surges” in radiation, one involving Gamma particles, the other Beta particles. This is a pattern consistent with the characteristics of Cesium-137, which releases Gamma rays as it decays, creating Barium-137m, which is a Beta generator. The initial detection was reported on the Roshydromet website, though it was subsequently taken offline.

This makes a lot more sense than a nuclear ramjet, if just because you could test it without the certainty of a radiological incident.

Also, this sort of weapon fits right into Russian, and Soviet, doctrine.