No, 'Skyfall' is not the nickname for the 800 point plummet in the Dow Jones Industrial average on Wednesday in response to signals of an imminent recession not seen since 2007. In the context of today's BradCast, it's the nickname given by NATO to an experimental Russian nuclear-propelled cruise missile project that appears to have gone horribly --- and tragically --- awry a few days ago. The consequences of yet another secretive nuclear accident in Russia have left western nuclear weapons analysts guessing as to what is now actually going on near the disaster site in northern Russia. [Audio link to full show is posted at end of article.]
But, before we get to that story today, a few quick news items of note regarding the 2020 election. Popular Georgia Democrat, Stacey Abrams, has announced the launch of a new project called Fair Fight 2020 to focus on election protection in about 20 swing-states and several (Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi) with gubernatorial elections next year. The effort comes out of Abrams own experience fighting massive voter suppression in her gubernatorial contest last year against Republican Brian Kemp who, as Georgia's Sec. of State, purged roles and helped suppressed minority voters across the state while overseeing his own reported narrow "victory" on the state's 100% unverifiable touchscreen voting systems.
Abrams, who would have become the nation's first African-American female Governor, has also been seen as a potential 2020 candidate for President. She has announced her plan to roll out this new, much-needed initiative to help Dems prepare well in advance (for a change) before next year's elections, in hopes of combating the many, inevitable anti-voter tactics expected by Republicans. The project comes in lieu of running for President or Senator in the Peach State, where she would have a very good chance of unseating Republican Sen. David Perdue next year.
While a Senate run would have been welcomed by many (she has said she is still open to a Veep nod), her Fair Fight 2020 effort is both very important and very much needed to help Dems win back both the White House and possibly U.S. Senate next year. We contrast her effort on today's show with that of California billionaire Tom Steyer, who recently-announced his own, likely-pointless run for the Democratic nod. Steyer has vowed to spend $100 million on his own campaign, instead of using that money to help Democrats --- for example, the nearly 1 million voters who are currently being blocked by Republicans from even being allowed to register to vote in the key battle-ground state of Florida.
Then, we are joined by STEPHEN SCHWARTZ, longtime nuclear weapons policy analyst and former Executive Director and Publisher of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (the folks who bring us the infamous Doomsday Clock), where he now serves as a Senior Fellow. He's here to help us unravel the disturbing nuclear mystery that is currently unfolding in northern Russia.
Last Thursday, an explosion on a Russian missile testing platform in the White Sea resulted in the deaths of at least seven people, including five nuclear scientists. After several days of conflicting information about the incident, Russia finally conceded that an incident with a "nuclear isotope power source" had released radiation during an off-shore test. A town nearby saw a spike in radioactivity at least 16 times its expected normal background radiation and the hospital rooms where the injured were taken were sealed off after patients and the doctors who treated them were mysteriously transported to Moscow for observation.
The accident, as Schwartz details, is believed to have been part of the experimental nuclear-powered missile program that Russian President Vladimir Putin described last year in remarks to Parliament as a cruise missile that is propelled by a small nuclear reactor, allowing it to fly indefinitely on a path too unpredictable to be intercepted by defensive missile systems. The Russians call the project Buresvestnik. NATO has dubbed it Skyfall.
Schwartz cites the lack of information and conflicting details being made available by Russia as a relic of the secrecy mindset of the old Soviet Union. "Old habits die hard," he tells me. "The Soviet Union is gone, Russia remains. But this reaction is quite reminiscent, not just of Chernobyl, but also of the sinking of the Kursk ballistic missile submarine in August of 2000" as well as other nuclear accidents going back to the 1950s Cold War era. "Their first approach is admit only what you have to, to try to make the situation seem not so terrible. And then when you can't do that, you admit as much as you have to, in order to try to deal with whatever the concerns are."
While western analysts like Schwartz have been pouring over local media reports and grainy satellite photos to learn what may have happened and what the ongoing fallout appears to be, Donald Trump tweeted out a reaction in which he described the incident as "Not good!" and claimed that "we have similar, though more advanced, technology". That is either a lie, something that Trump misunderstood, or a program that is so highly classified it remains currently unknown outside of the U.S. government, Schwartz explains, citing a long-shelved Cold War project called "SLAM --- for Supersonic Low Altitude Missile --- that would have been powered by a reactor that had the code name of Pluto". That, he says, was a "dangerous weapon" believed to have been abandoned as of 1964, given the danger of "spewing highly radioactive exhaust everywhere it goes" as it would fly over allied nations on its way to the Soviet Union, among other concerns.
We also discuss why both Putin and Trump appear to be entering into a new nuclear arms race as Russia responds to U.S. missile defense systems being deployed to nations which border Russia. Why would Russia even want to produce such a weapon that amounts to a "flying reactor"? "We've made a lot of claims about our system," Schwartz says. "Most of them are not true. But the Russians have an undying faith in American technology and a fair degree of paranoia about what we're going to do with it. And they've decided that they need to find a way to counter it. Their fear, their paranoia, their desire to make sure that we cannot destroy them as a country has led them to the point where they're testing this exceedingly dangerous weapon."
That effort, he explains today, has now become a disaster with very serious consequences that we are only beginning to learn about as the world's latest nuclear tragedy continues to unfold....
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)