January 2007
By Alan W. Dowd

Star Power in China
According to a recent report authored by China’s National Defense University and excerpted by a state-run newspaper, the Chinese military is eager to defend the country’s interests in space. “We should strive to develop coordinated land, sea, air and space systems,” according to the report. Western media outlets note that this marks a significant departure for Beijing.

Even so, the Pentagon has been sounding the alarm over China’s space aspirations for some time:

-A 2000 Pentagon report concluded that China is developing jamming equipment to disable GPS receivers, micro-satellites to latch on to satellites and destroy them, and lasers to blind US orbiters.

-In 2001, a blue-ribbon commission of US military leaders concluded that America’s dependence on space “makes its space systems potentially attractive targets” to a growing number of hostile nations. The commission mentioned China’s race into space by name.

-As Space.com detailed in 2005, the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on China reiterated that Beijing is developing space-based anti-satellite weapons (ASATs), ground-based lasers designed to blind low-orbiting satellites and a fleet of reconnaissance and intelligence satellites of its own.

-In its 2006 report, the Pentagon focused attention on Beijing’s development and integration of photo-reconnaissance satellites, communications satellites and systems aimed at command and control.

-And just a few months ago, the US Air Force Space Command’s top general, Kevin Chilton, predicted that foreign countries will target and attack US satellites in the future. Although he did not mention China by name, he concluded that “I’m convinced they’ll strike at these capabilities, if nothing else to attempt to level the playing field.” 

Expensive Suits
Consider what Lawrence McQuillan and Hovannes Abramyan of the Pacific Research Institute have recently uncovered:

-Last fall, a woman sued Bacardi after someone spilled flaming rum on her in a bar. She claimed the product was defective.

-When the fiancé of a Chicago attorney had second thoughts and called off their engagement, the attorney filed suit for pain and suffering. Worse, a jury awarded her $178,000 in damages. Call it a punishment for prenuptial preemption.

-In California, a death-row inmate sued a journalist for writing a book about him, claiming that the book “defamed his good name.” This is a man who was convicted of killing 16 people. The case was thrown out, but not before the writer spent $30,000 in legal fees.

-More than three out of four—76 percent—of the members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have been sued. They win over 80 percent of their cases, but the fear of lawsuits is having a devastating effect on their profession, according to McQuillan and Abramyan, with almost 15 percent of ACOG fellows leaving obstetric medicine.

Add up all the anecdotes, and you have a mountain of costly lawsuits. McQuillan and Abramyan estimate that the tort system may cost the US economy as much as $198 billion annually. Find out more at http://www.pacificresearch.org/.

Bracing for the Next Disaster
The US Conference of Mayors has released a massive survey of how mayors in cities of all shapes and sizes are preparing their communities for disasters and terrorism. The survey comprises 183 cities in 38 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Respondents included the mayors of tiny Bothell, Washington (population 30,150), and the megalopolis of metropolitan New York (population 8 million).

-80 percent say they have not received sufficient federal resources to achieve full communications interoperability enabling first responders to communicate with various agencies and jurisdictions.

-70 percent report they are not prepared to handle the initial phases of a pandemic flu outbreak without federal assistance.

-56 percent report that they have updated their disaster evacuation plans, in the wake of what happened after Katrina.

-28 percent have developed cooperative agreements with nearby military bases to supply first responders with equipment and personnel to stabilize their cities in the event of an emergency or disaster.

Find out more at http://www.usmayors.org/.

As a contributing editor to The American Legion, Dowd writes columns and news briefs on national security, foreign affairs and U.S. politics each month for the magazine's "Rapid Fire" section.