The Boring Company, Elon Musk’s underground transit venture, planned an unveiling of its first tunnel Tuesday, two years after the billionaire entrepreneur complained about Los Angeles traffic and vowed to “just start digging” as a remedy.
Musk has advertised his 2-mile (3.2 km) tunnel as the first step toward developing a high-speed subterranean network for whisking vehicles and pedestrians below the congested streets of the second-largest city in the United States.
The tunnel, an initial proof-of-concept, has been excavated along a path that runs not through Los Angeles but beneath the tiny adjacent municipality of Hawthorne, where Musk’s Boring Company and his SpaceX rocket firm are headquartered.
In a tweet earlier this month, Musk said the big reveal would include “autonomous transport cars & ground to tunnel elevator cars.”
Boring’s website describes a system of passenger- and automobile-carrying “skates” that can zip through the tunnels by way of electric power once they are lowered underground from street level.
Musk, best known as head of the Tesla Inc electric car manufacturer and energy company, launched his foray into public transit after complaining in December 2016 that L.A.’s traffic was “driving me nuts,” promising then to “build a boring machine and just start digging.”
In May, the company gave the world a preview of the first tunnel, posting a fast-forward video of the interior shot by a camera traveling the length of the cylindrical passageway, which measures about 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter.
Musk also created a stir by promising free trips through the tunnel once it opened — “like a weird little Disney ride in L.A.” — to get public feedback before proceeding with a larger system.
It remained doubtful, however, whether permits Musk received to dig what was then billed as an experimental tunnel would allow the public inside.
“There will be no cars or people in the research tunnel,” according to the minutes of a special Hawthorne City Council meeting in August 2017 to review an easement for the project.
On its website, the Boring company said that “due to unbelievably high demand, tours through the Hawthorne test tunnel are by invitation only.”
If successful, the Hawthorne tunnel is envisioned as eventually connecting to a network of other tunnels, yet to be approved or built.
Last month, the Boring Company scrapped plans for a slightly longer 2.7-mile segment under a West Los Angeles neighborhood, settling litigation brought by community groups opposed to that project.
But Musk’s company announced it was moving ahead with a proposed tunnel across town to connect Dodger Stadium, home of the city’s Major League Baseball team, to the existing subway line.
In June, Boring was selected by the city of Chicago to build a 17-mile underground transit system linking that city’s downtown to O’Hare International Airport. The company also has proposed an East Coast Loop that would run from Washington, D.C., out to the Maryland suburbs. (VOA)
As Britain prepares for the NATO leaders’ meeting outside London December 3-4, the alliance said Thursday it had agreed to redistribute costs and cut the U.S. contribution to its central budget.
NATO’s central budget is relatively small at around $2.5 billion a year, mostly covering headquarters operations and staff, and different than its defense budget. U.S. President Donald Trump often complains of inequitable burden-sharing, with only nine of the 29 member countries meeting the 2% of gross domestic product target for the alliance’s defense spending.
Regarding the central budget, “The U.S. will pay less, Germany will pay more, so now the U.S. and Germany will pay the same,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Paris Thursday.
The United States currently pays about 22% of NATO’s central budget. Beginning 2021, both U.S. and Germany will contribute about 16%.
NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal to create a working group of “respected figures” to discuss reform in the alliance and address concerns about its future.
The announcement to reduce the American contribution is seen as a move to placate Trump, who has considered withdrawing from the alliance but has since taken credit for its promised reforms.
“In 2016, only four allies spent 2% of GDP on defense,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, adding that there are now nine countries, including the U.S., meeting the 2% target, with 18 expected to do so by 2024.
“This is tremendous progress, and I think it is due to the president’s diplomatic work,” he said.
Leaders of the 29 member states will attempt a show of unity during the summit but the alliance is facing questioning about its relevance and unity, particularly after the October withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO.
“It’s exactly in the wake of that decision that you had [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron say what he said about the alliance being ‘brain-dead’ and referencing the lack of American leadership in the sense of leading in a community and not just going out on your own,” said Gary Schmitt, a NATO analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.
U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Syria prompted Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The move spurred Macron to vent his frustration over what French diplomats say is NATO’s lack of coordination at a political level, and triggered fear among allies that the assault will undermine the battle against Islamic State militants.
Meanwhile, a simmering war between Russia and Ukraine has become the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment, with the American president allegedly having withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate running against Trump. Kyiv needs the aid to counter Moscow’s aggression.
The two conflicts in Europe’s eastern and southern flank further complicate Washington’s already-strained relations with other NATO members. Meanwhile, despite American efforts to reassure European leaders of Washington’s continuing commitment, anxiety about U.S. neglect of NATO under Trump persists, said Hans Kundnani, Senior Research Fellow in the Europe Program at Chatham House.
Kundnani noted a series of American officials who have come to reassure Europeans not to take Trump’s tweets too seriously and focus on what is happening on the ground, particularly the military reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank. Still, Kundnani said that in the last year Europeans have started to realize it’s “not really good enough” and they’re now facing the “reality of the of the crisis in NATO.”
“Some of them are hoping that Trump will be out of office in in a year’s time but the real fear is that Trump wins a second term,” said Kundnani, adding that some Europeans are hoping that “U.S. gradual withdrawal from Europe” might “snap back to the status quo ante if Trump is not re-elected.”
Diverging European responses
“The upcoming celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary will be marked by important divisions within the alliance — not just across the Atlantic, but also within Europe,” said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
In Paris, the view is “strategic autonomy,” said Donfried, with many in France concluding that Washington’s security guarantee can no longer be relied on. Warsaw is promoting “strategic embrace” developing close bilateral relationship with Trump to guarantee its own security, while Berlin is advocating “strategic patience.”
Germany in the middle is a little bit divided between the “Atlanticists” and the “post-Atlanticists,” Kundani said, adding that “Europeans are very much arguing” about these approaches.
Donfried said that against this backdrop, NATO allies are approaching the London summit with a sense of foreboding, knowing that they carry the responsibility to articulate alliance’s common purpose and ongoing relevance.
“If they don’t, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will be raising a glass in Moscow to the fraught state of the alliance at 70,” she said.
Another summit goal for most European leaders, is to simply avoid a Trump flare-up, like those that have happened in past meetings.
Many have discovered this can be achieved through flattery. “They can talk about all the things that they’ve done and very smartly suggest that President Trump has generated the kind of pressure to make those things happen,” Schmitt said.
“They can actually praise President Trump, even though this is very hard for them to do because of the personality clashes.”
Many will be watching Trump’s encounters with Macron, including their bilateral meeting, as well as with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson has pleaded for Trump to stay out of the upcoming British election during his London trip.
The senior administration official said that Trump is “aware of this” and “absolutely cognizant of not wading into other countries’ elections.”
Other potential clashes are simmering too. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Emmanuel Macron’s NATO “brain-death” warning reflects a “sick and shallow” understanding, telling the French president “you should check whether you are brain dead.”
The French foreign ministry has summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris to protest the statement. (VOA)