The Crazy Tech Behind America’s Arctic Missile Defense

So, we found a bunch of huge sci-fi satellite dish things…on the top of a mountain…in Alaska…and they look like this! And we just figured out why they’re there and what they do…and it’s really weird! Hey everyone, Amy here. Our friends at Seeker went on a shoot to Alaska recently, and they came back with a story that we just had to tell on DNews. It’s about a huge, ambitious military project called White Alice. By now the whole thing is barely a footnote in the history of the Cold War…but 60 years ago, it was revolutionary for the military, and for Alaska. In order to get why White Alice was so important, you have to understand a few things about Alaska. First: it’s huge, it’s empty, and it’s wild. In the mid 1950’s, it was home to just 215,000 people, spread across an area that’s twice the size of Texas. That made modern communication a pretty big hassle. Stringing telegraph or phone lines between cities meant crossing hundreds of miles of rugged, usually frozen terrain. The huge distances made radio communication flaky; even high-frequency signals fritzed out when the Northern Lights appeared! This was all a big problem because, during the Cold War, the US military needed good comm networks in Alaska.

Pearl Harbor was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and the government feared a far-North sneak attack from the Soviets…remember, Alaska and Russia are 53 miles apart at the Bering Strait. It’s such a narrow divide that the region became known as the “ice curtain”. The US and Canadian air forces set up a series of radar listening posts along the Arctic Ocean, but they needed a way to relay information across the state, and fast. And that is where White Alice came in. Beginning in 1955, the Air Force and Army built a network of communications hubs that used a very new technology to connect with one another. Phone calls and other data were transmitted via microwaves, beamed into the air, bounced off the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and back down to a receiving site. Each hub had two sets of dishes: one set for receiving a signal, and another for broadcasting it back out to the next hub. The process, called “tropospheric scattering”, had (and still has) a lot of advantages over other technologies.

First, bouncing signals off the upper atmosphere means that hubs don’t need a clear line of site to communicate…which is a useful thing in a mountainous place like Alaska. This way, White Alice sites could be 200 miles apart. The signal could also support multiple phone calls at the same time, something few other systems could manage. And, crucially for the military, it was secure. Once a signal is beamed out, it can only be received at one exact spot – making it next to impossible to intercept the signal along the way. All in all, the military built 22 tropospheric scattering sites across Alaska, eventually spending around $300 million dollars. And it wasn’t alone. Similar networks sprung up around the world – the US even connected Hawaii to the Philippines through the Pacific Scatter System. But it might have had the biggest impact on Alaska, uniting the new state in ways that no other technology could have.

But…before White Alice was even complete, a new technology arrived to replace it. In 1957 the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite. US development of satellite communications ramped up, and by 1967, just 8 years after the network’s completion, the government began to divest from the very system it built. Interestingly, White Alice remained in use until the late ‘70s as a civilian phone network. And today, the military still uses tropo scattering networks here and there…because they’re still really secure. But this remains the era of satellites. Now, the reason we have all this footage is that the White Alice hub outside of Nome still stands today…it’s one of the last tropo scattering sites in Alaska to escape demolition.

The electronics there are long dead, but the structures themselves still serve a final purpose: they’re unmistakable landmarks, visible for miles. And they still help hunters and travelers out on the tundra find their way home to Nome. Like I mentioned earlier, this story came out of a much larger trip to the Bering Strait – and the Seeker Daily team has a great video about how the whole world might need the Strait soon. To watch that video now, click here. And as always, thanks for watching..

The decline of American democracy in one graph

There's this graph that I saw recently. It's the most unsettling graph I've seen in American politics in a very, very, very long time. And yet it's really boring to look at. It's just a nearly straight horizontal line. The line doesn't do anything interesting at all. But what the graph shows is something that's somewhat terrifying. What that line shows is the relationship between what the average voter wants, and what they actually get. In a huge study, looking at over 2000 surveys of people's policy opinions, whether people were on the left side of the line which meant they opposed something happening, or on the right side, which meant they all wanted it to happen, it didn't matter. Once you controlled for the opinions of affluent Americans and interest groups and other lobbying organizations — average people, their voice was not heard at all.

Or at the very least their voice didn't appear to matter at all. Average folks only get what they want if economic elites or interest groups also want it. And all this data comes from a time when these groups were arguably less powerful in American politics. America never sold itself as a democracy. It sold itself as a representative democracy. There's accountability from voters onto politicians, but politicians, they get time in office. To step away from the passions of the electorate for at least a little while. And do things that are right for the country, and then voters will judge them on whether they did a good job. So maybe its the case that affluent Americans and interest groups and politicians just — they're always right. And average voters. You can just safely ignore them. But it doesn't look like America's been run so well. We had a massive financial crisis because we didn't do enough to regulate Wall Street, we got into a disastrous war in Iraq. We have median wages that haven't substantially grown in many, many years.

It doesn't seem that we are so incredibly good at running this country. Maybe we need a little more democracy in our representation..

How Powerful Is The G7?

In June, seven of the world’s most influential government leaders met in Germany for the 2015 G7 summit. The group discussed major geopolitical issues including terrorism and sanctions against Russia. So how powerful is the G7? First, its origins: the “Group of Seven”, started out as the “Group of Six”, back in 1975, but it’s not considered a formal institution, and has no formal charter. In the beginning, the G6 included: the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, which were some of the wealthiest countries at the time. They called their first meeting to discuss the looming global oil crisis, but its membership and discussions have fluctuated over time. Canada was added in 1976, The European Commission has been continuously present since 1981. And Russia was added in 1998, then suspended for invading Ukraine in 2014 – so membership can be lost or gained. Nothing guarantees it. What has remained consistent, is the group’s influence: G7 members collectively represent nearly half of the world’s total GDP.

This powerhouse meets for two days every year in a series of private meetings and public media briefings. Most recently, the G7 was criticized after its “Think ahead, act together” 2015 summit, for ending with mere “COMMITMENTS” to progress, rather than any tangible solutions. Although, to be fair, the G7 leaders are not required to make concrete plans. Still, they agreed to extend sanctions against Russia, phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century, and end extreme poverty and terrorism. However, critics note that the success of these commitments hinge on whether the G7 leaders can implement them on a global scale. The other major point of criticism of the G7 is its seeming reluctance to include other major countries in the talks – particularly China and Russia. This has caused many to question their overall effectiveness or relevance. Because member countries represent only 10.

5% of the world’s population, some view G7 politicians as an elite minority governing an underrepresented majority. Nations like India and Brazil have even surpassed some G7 members in GDP, yet still have not been able to join. And the opposition has become quite vocal – including Brazil’s former president who in 2008 remarked that “the G8 doesn’t have any more reason to exist”. So how powerful is the G7? Well, despite their superpower roster, their effectiveness as an organization remains unclear. Their use of vague “commitments” and the lack of representation makes it questionable whether the organization can effect any real change. But they have been able to support democracy throughout the world through financial aid and the use of sanctions. One could argue that the G7s true power lies in the super power’s potential for effecting significant global progress, should they choose to exercise it.

The UN may be a huge organization with just about every country on the planet as a member, but are they really that powerful? Check out our video here to learn all about it. OH, and we’re almost at 500,000 subscribers, so please help us out and subscribe now! Thanks for watching..