When The Media Does Not Tell The Truth, It Puts All Of Us At Risk

Tommy Waller at the Center for Security Policy posted an article today about a recent media story that totally misinformed the public. The media story in question  was a two-and-a-half-minute segment on an NPR show discussing the threat of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) strike from North Korea.

Exactly what is an EMP strike and how does it work? Our electrical grid, satellites, computers, etc. all depend on an even flow of electricity. If you disrupt that flow and burn out a significant amount of the equipment that distributes that electricity in the process, you can cause some serious problems to America. It could be months before food, water, gasoline, natural gas, electricity, etc., could be delivered to the people impacted by an EMP. Detonating a nuclear bomb in the atmosphere will disrupt the electronics for a large area. There is some discussion about how large that area would be, but think of the impact of wiping out the electrical power and the equipment that distributes it in a large section of America.

A website called future science details a brief history of the impact of an EMP:

Starfish Prime

On July 1962, a 1.44 megaton United States nuclear test in space, 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the mid-Pacific Ocean, called the Starfish Prime test, demonstrated to nuclear scientists that the magnitude and effects of a high altitude nuclear explosion were much larger than had been previously calculated.  The detonation time was July 9, 1962 at 09:00:09 Coordinated Universal Time, (which was 8 July, Honolulu time, at nine seconds after 11 p.m.).  The coordinates of the detonation were 16 degrees, 28 minutes North latitude, 169 degrees, 38 minutes West longitude.7  The actual weapon yield was very close to the design yield, which has been described by various sources at different values in the very narrow range of 1.4 to 1.45 megatons. 

The Thor missile carrying the Starfish Prime warhead actually reached a maximum height of about 1100 kilometers (just over 680 miles), and the warhead was detonated on its downward trajectory when it had fallen to the programmed altitude of 400 kilometers.  The nuclear warhead detonated at 13 minutes and 41 seconds after liftoff of the Thor missile from Johnston Island.9

Starfish Prime also made EMP effects known to the public by causing electrical damage in Hawaii, about 1,445 kilometers (898 miles) away from the detonation point, knocking out about 300 streetlights, setting off numerous burglar alarms and damaging a telephone company microwave link.7

Starfish Prime was the first successful test in the series of United States high-altitude nuclear tests in 1962 known as Operation Fishbowl.  The subsequent Operation Fishbowl tests gathered more data on the high-altitude EMP phenomenon, especially the Bluegill Triple Prime and Kingfish test of October, 1962.8

The EMP damage of the Starfish Prime test was quickly repaired because of the ruggedness (compared to today) of the electrical and electronic infrastructure of Hawaii in 1962.  Realization of the potential impacts of high-altitude nuclear EMP became more apparent to some scientists and engineers during the 1970s as more sensitive solid-state electronics began to come into widespread use.

The relatively small magnitude of the Starfish Prime EMP in Hawaii (about 5600 volts/meter) and the relatively small amount of damage done (for example, only 1 to 3 percent of streetlights extinguished)10 led some scientists to believe, in the early days of EMP research, that the problem might not be as significant as was later realized.  Newer calculations7 showed that if the Starfish Prime warhead had been detonated over the northern continental United States, the magnitude of the EMP would have been much larger (22 to 30 kilovolts/meter) because of the greater strength of the Earth’s magnetic field over the United States, as well as the different orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field at high latitudes.  These new calculations, combined with the accelerating reliance on EMP-sensitive microelectronics, heightened awareness that the EMP threat could be a very significant problem.

As late as the 1980s, some distinguished scientist published articles which cast doubt on the magnitude of the E1-EMP.  Those scientists did not have access to some critical classified information that has subsequently been declassifed.  This primary mistake that these scientists made was apparently a large underestimation of the coherence of the pulse.  The initial electrons are knocked out of atmospheric molecules almost simultaneously over a large region.  The electrons then spiral almost simultaneously around the Earth’s magnetic field lines.  This results in a very narrow pulse of extremely high field strength, but one that last for less than a microsecond.  Each high-energy electronic emits only a very weak pulse, however a typical nuclear weapon produces about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 ten septillion) of these high-energy electrons all spiraling around the geomagnetic field lines simultaneously.

We have the information showing the dangers of an EMP. Although much of that information is classified, enough of it is available to scientists for them to understand the risks.

However, not all scientists are paying attention.

The Center for Security Policy article reports:

At 5:10AM ET on 27 April 2017, the Morning Edition program at National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast a segment titled “The North Korean Electromagnetic Pulse Threat, Or Lack Thereof.”  An audio recording of this segment can be found here:   http://www.npr.org/2017/04/27/525833275/the-north-korean-electromagnetic-pulse-threat-or-lack-thereof

The 2 minute 26 second segment was in response to an interview of Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey from 26 April, where Ambassador Woolsey discussed the EMP threat posed by North Korea:  http://www.npr.org/2017/04/26/525675203/former-cia-director-james-woolsey-on-trumps-first-100-days)

In the 27 April broadcast, NPR’s science editor – Geoff Brumfiel – gave prominent treatment to Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.  Mr. Lewis not only dismissed the North Korean EMP threat but ridiculed it by laughing out loud at the comments of a former Director of the CIA discussing a real, present, and existential threat to the nation.

Mr. Lewis, who claims to be a nuclear expert, has been denigrating EMP for the last 6 years.   Aside from his brief time as an intern the Pentagon, he has never served in the DOD or intelligence community and his formal education is in policy studies and philosophy rather than engineering or nuclear weapons design.  Yet NPR’s editors thought it appropriate to champion not only his “analysis” but his obtuse laughter at a sobering subject that is one of the most important of our time.  It is clear by the way Geoff Brumfiel edited this broadcast that he sought to denigrate not only the topic of EMP, but also James Woolsey, the U.S. Military, and the U.S. Congress – since the Ambassador has warned for years about the EMP threat and the DOD and Congress have appropriated billions of dollars to protect America’s strategic forces against it.

This is an example of irresponsible journalism.

The article at the Center for Security Policy continues:

Evidently, National Public Radio, an organization whose operating expenses are paid in part by the U.S. taxpayer, considers it appropriate to promote ridicule of anyone concerned with the threat from Elecromagnetic Pulse, when the nation’s most informed authorities on EMP consider it to be a real, present, and existential threat to the country and it’s population.

In response to this abject failure in journalism, Center for Security Policy founder and president – Frank J. Gaffney Jr. – recently authored a formal letter to Senator Roy Blunt and Congressmen Tom Coles, who serve on their chambers’ respective Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittees.   This letter calls on these men and these subcommittees to hold NPR accountable for dereliction of its public trust.

We encourage all Americans who are concerned about EMP to join Frank, The Center for Security Policy, and The Secure the Grid Coalition in holding to account National Public Radio.  We encourage you to inform your own elected representatives of this journalistic malfeasance and to confront NPR directly through messages to its Ombudsman and Management by submitting your own comments at the following link:

https://help.npr.org/customer/portal/emails/new?i=1&s=Morning%20Edition

The article at the Center for Security Policy reminds us that we need to beef up our missile defense programs to protect us from this threat. We also need to remember that when North Korea (or Iran) blows up a missile in mid-flight, it may not be an accident–it may be a practice run.

How Much Is Big Bird Actually Worth?

Steven Hayward posted an article at Power Line today about President Trump’s plan to cut funding for Public Broadcasting. The article illustrates the fact that in some cases, executives of nonprofit organizations make salaries that don’t sound as if they are appropriate for an organization that is nonprofit.

The article reminds us of two conflicting statements made by NPR about their budget:

On average, less than 1% of NPR’s annual operating budget comes in the form of grants from CPB [the taxpayer-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting]  and federal agencies and departments.

…Federal funding is essential to public radio’s service to the American public. Its continuation is critical for both stations and program producers, including NPR. . . Elimination of federal funding would result in fewer programs, less journalism—especially local journalism—and eventually the loss of public radio stations, particularly in rural and economically distressed communities.

Both of those statements cannot be true. I have no idea which one is.

The article further reports:

According to tax filings — the most recent of which covers 2014 — then-president and CEO Melvin Ming was paid more than $586,000 in salary and benefits in the nine months before retiring, which included a $37,500 bonus and $18,700 in benefits. The year before that, Ming cleared $672,391 in salary, bonuses and benefits.

That’s five times the average pay for CEOs at nonprofits, according to Charity Navigator. (It’s twice as much as the CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting gets paid.)

The average compensation for the other 10 top officials at Sesame Workshop in 2014 was a very handsome $382,135 — which is about six times the median household income in the U.S.

Big Bird is big business. The article states:

Last year, Sesame Workshop had $121.6 million in revenues. Of that, $49.6 million came in distribution fees and royalties and $36.6 million in licensing of toys, games, clothing, food and such. In 2014, only 4% of its revenue came from government grants.

I suspect there are other programs on Public Broadcasting that would do quite well if they chose to market items related to their television shows. I truly think it is time to give the free market the chance to work its magic in the area of Public Broadcasting.

Why It Is Important To Check The Accuracy Of News Sources

This is not a perfect blog. Over the years I have been fooled a few times by stories that were not accurately reported by my sources, but generally I have checked the source before I reported anything. However, political bias is very subtle and can be difficult to spot. There are also many forms of political bias. Recently NPR posted a map that convinces me that they are either totally ignorant of geography or supporting an agenda I totally disagree with.

An article at Breitbart.com today reports the following:

National Public Radio (NPR) published a map that erases the existence of Israel and replaces it with “Palestine,” a watchdog group reported.

The map, which has since been removed by NPR, accompanied a feature on health titled, “What Are You Afraid Of In 2016? Globetrotters Share Their Fears.”

In November, media monitoring site HonestReporting pointed out that CNN Money also published a map of the Middle East that did not include Israel in an article titled, “Beyond ISIS: 2016’s scariest geopolitical hot spots.”

“It is completely unacceptable for NPR to publish an image that erases Israel from the map. That nobody at NPR recognized just how problematic this image is on multiple levels speaks volumes about the deficiencies in the editorial process,” HonestReporting’s Managing Editor Simon Plosker said.

“NPR should do the right thing and either restore Israel to its legitimate place or come clean and acknowledge that the map, in the context of the article, is meant to signify a fear of the Muslim world. Given this choice, NPR should consider removing the image in its entirety,” he added.

This is the map:

NPR map erases Israel

There are other mistakes in the map, but to omit Israel is simply inexcusable. It is interesting to note that in the grand scheme of things, Israel is probably the safest place for Americans in the Middle East.

The Unintended Consequences Of Accountability

This article has two sources, an article in the U.K. Telegraph posted on March 30 and an article posted at Real Clear Politics yesterday.

As the British government struggles to keep pace with the expenses involved in providing a safety net for its citizens, some government programs are being phased out and combined with other programs. One of the programs under scrutiny is the sickness benefit program.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary. is attempting to combine dozens of different out-of-work benefits into a single payment with the aim of ensuring an individual is always better off working than collecting benefits. As part of that process, there is an assessment of the people on the sickness benefit program to determine whether or not they are fit to work. Some 878,300 people on that program decided to come off the program rather than submit to the assessment. We need to learn from this experience.

The article at Real Clear Politics looks at disability payments in America:

In 1960, when vastly more Americans were involved in physical labor of some kind, 0.65% of workforce participants between the ages of 18 and 64 were receiving Social Security disability insurance payments. Fifty years later, in a much healthier America that number has grown to 5.6%.

In 1960, 134 Americans were working for every officially recognized disabled worker. Five decades later that ratio fell to roughly 16 to 1.

I am sure that in most cases disability payments are warranted. In fact, I am sure that everyone who is disabled does not necessarily look disabled. I can think of one example in particular where a person received severe neck damage in a work-related car accident and on some days appears to be perfectly normal. On other days, that person can barely move. Unfortunately, there is no way of predicting which days are which. However, I do think there are people among us who would rather ride in the wagon than help pull it. The problem is that at this point we have too few people pulling the wagon and too many people sitting in the wagon.

Government workers have no incentive to cut disability payments–their jobs depend on administering these programs–if you cut the programs, you might have to cut the number of administrators. Government spending has become like the hamster on the exercise wheel–it keeps moving (and growing) but nothing is actually being accomplished.

If we are serious about ever balancing the federal (and states) budget, we need to take a serious look at who is receiving payments from that government and what the basis for those payments is. Until we are willing to help people enter the workforce instead of helping them enter generations of dependency on government, we will not solve our financial problems.

Click And Clack Are Retiring

Today’s Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Magliozzi Brothers, Tom and Ray, of the NPR Radio Show “Car Talk” (where they are known as the Tappet Brothers) are retiring. They will stop recording new shows in October. “Car Talk” began taping 35 years ago at Boston’s MBUR radio station. I have no idea how good their advice was, but they were extremely entertaining. I also enjoyed the ‘puzzler’ that they would inject into the show. I am sorry to see them go.

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