“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tensions rise over Crimean peninsula

 By Frida Ghitis (CNN)

All of Ukraine shares a history with Russia. And the entire country is home to millions of Russian-speaking citizens. But in the Crimean region many of Ukraine's internal conflicts -- particularly its divisions regarding Russia -- are magnified.

 The majority of residents are ethnic Russians. The rest are ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars. Many of the ethnic Russians feel a strong allegiance to Moscow. Some would like the region to break away and become independent of both Kiev and Moscow. Others would like it to become a part of Russia.

In a region where national borders have shifted with political and military convulsions for centuries, Crimea has changed rulers many times. During much of the Soviet period it was part of the Russian republic. Then in 1954, in a surprising and not wholly understood move, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine. At the time, the redrawing of borders was not as meaningful as it is now. The Crimea was still inside the USSR, still ruled from Moscow.

 Crimea was the stage for major historical events. In 1945, one of the most important of all Allied meetings was held there, when Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill joined Joseph Stalin at a Black Sea resort for the Yalta Conference, where they planned the last phases of the war and started drawing the map of post-war Europe.

The peninsula was also the setting for the Crimean War in the 19th century, as the Great Powers fought each other for control of the Old World and of the pivotal Black Sea.
Crimea has strong historic, political, cultural and geographic links to Russia. But perhaps most important, it has paramount strategic value.

Take a look at a map to see it more clearly.

Look at the city of Sevastopol near the southern tip of the Crimean Peninsula. Sevastopol has long been a major naval port for Russia. Today it is the headquarters for Russia's Black Sea fleet.

Imagine you have Russian cargo -- say, weapons you want to send to your ally in Syria. The best route is through the Crimea, sailing toward Istanbul, then across the Dardanelles into the Mediterranean. In fact, the Russian navy needs Sevastopol in order to have access to the Mediterranean and to the Indian Ocean during the winter months. It has a smaller civilian port at Novorossiysk, a much inferior option.
Sevastopol became the subject of heated negotiations when the Soviet Union was collapsing. In 1990, Ukraine and Russia agreed to grant special status to the area, with a long-term lease for the naval facility running until 2047. The arrangement is vaguely reminiscent of the U.S. lease at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay.
With the collapse of the pro-Moscow regime in Ukraine last week, Russia sees a threat to its larger goal of maintaining a sphere of influence over its "near abroad," what used to be the Soviet Union. It wants to protect its natural gas pipelines across Ukraine. And it has a specific concern with preserving its facilities in Sevastopol. It also wants to protect Ukraine's ethnic Russians from discrimination.

The danger is that Russia will use the situation of Ukraine's Russian speakers as a pretext to achieve its other goals. It did that in 2008 when it invaded the Republic of Georgia and gave official recognition to breakaway regions as independent states.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would defend Ukraine's Russians "uncompromisingly." At the same time, President Vladimir Putin ordered military exercises on Ukraine's border and put 150,000 troops on alert. Russia's Interfax news agency said the Defense Ministry reported that "constant air patrols are being carried out by fighter jets in the border regions."

 Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback, an advanced two-seat fighter-bomber and attack aircraft
Some 26,000 Russian troops are believed to be stationed in Sevastopol. Ukraine's new President warned Moscow that if Russian troops leave their bases "it will be considered military aggression."
The unfolding drama -- seized government buildings, military forces on alert, uncompromising language -- gave cause for alarm to the countries' neighbors. Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski called it "a very dangerous game," warning, "this is how regional conflicts begin."

In Crimea, armed men seize regional government HQ and raise Russian flag

Ukraine Protests
Pro-Russian demonstrators protested outside government buildings in Crimea, Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Darko Vojinovic/The Associated Press)

Armed men seize Crimean headquarters

Meanwhile, armed men seized the regional government headquarters and parliament in Ukraine's Crimea on Thursday and raised the Russian flag, alarming Kyiv's new rulers, who urged Moscow not to abuse its navy base rights on the peninsula by moving troops around.
"I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet," said Olexander Turchinov, acting president since the removal of Yanukovich last week. "Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory [the base] will be seen by us as military aggression.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry also summoned Russia's acting envoy in Kyiv for immediate consultations.
There were mixed signals from Moscow, which put fighter jets along its western borders on combat alert, but earlier said it would take part in discussions on an International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial package for Ukraine. Ukraine has said it needs $35 billion US over the next two years to stave off bankruptcy.
The fear of military escalation prompted expressions of concern from the West, with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urging Russia not to do anything that would "escalate tension or create misunderstanding".
Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski called the seizure of government buildings in the Crimea a "very dangerous game".
It was not immediately known who was occupying the buildings in the regional capital Simferopol and they issued no demands, but witnesses said they spoke Russian and appeared to be ethnic Russian separatists.

Map: A divided Ukraine

European loyalties run highest in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country, while the eastern half generally falls more into the Russian orbit. Hover over the red and blue dots to learn more about specific flashpoints in the conflict.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Russia is on the move in Ukraine. Will the West simply appease?

Mark MacKinnon
Simferopol, Ukraine — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Feb. 26 2014, 6:37 AM EST 

Russian troops now control the main access to Sevastopol, the Ukrainian port city that is home to a major Russian naval base, following orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin that put Russia’s military on alert.

A military checkpoint – with a Russian flag and a Russian military armoured personnel carrier and troop transport truck -- was set up on the main highway between the Crimean capital of Simferopol and the naval port of Sevastopol. The checkpoint is north of the city of Sevastopol, and so well beyond the Russian base.

The Globe and Mail saw the uniformed soldiers – some with balaclava masks -- force cars travelling south to slow down. The soldiers shone flashlights into cars, although it was not clear what they were searching for.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said "carefully watching what is happening in Crimea" and would take "measures to guarantee the safety of facilities, infrastructure and arsenals of the Black Sea Fleet.”

The provocative move by Mr. Putin came amid ferocious debate on Wednesday about the future of Crimea, a pro-Russian peninsula here on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

Russia’s western military district borders Ukraine, which last week saw a pro-Western protesters oust the Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovych following violent street battles between protesters and police that claimed dozens of lives.

Some of the protesters who helped oust Mr. Yanukovych have vowed to come to the Crimea and confront pro-Russian groups, and it is likely the Russian troops are watching the entrances to the naval city to head off such demonstrators

Mr. Putin has ordered several such snap military drills in the past, but the timing of this move is certain to raise already sky-high tensions in the country, as well as suspicions that Russia is considering some form of intervention in this former Soviet republic.

Many here in Crimea say they would welcome that.

Several thousand pro-Russian demonstrators gathered Wednesday outside the Crimean parliament building, demanding that legislators declare independence from the new government in Kiev, and call for Russian assistance. The pro-Russian crowd was countered outside parliament by a similar number of Crimean Tatars – a Turkic-speaking mostly Muslim minority – who waved Ukrainian banners as well as their own Tatar flag.

A health official says at least 20 people have been injured in clashes between the two sides.

The protesters shouted and attacked each other with stones, bottles and punches, as police and leaders of both rallies struggled to keep the two groups apart.

“Crimea was part of Russia before. It has only been part of Ukraine for 60 years. We want a referendum, and 100 per cent we will vote to be with Russia,” said Alexander Chechotenko, the 42-year-old owner of a construction company, the crowd around him waved Crimean and Russian flags and shouted “Russia!” and “Referendum!”

Crimea was part of the Russian Empire for almost 200 years before it was transferred to what was then Soviet Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.

“It’s very dangerous right now. Some people are for Russia, some are for Ukraine. People are very aggressive,” said Asan Useinov, a 23-year-old IT programmer who said he didn’t want to see Crimea annexed to Russia. “Of course I’m scared. I don’t want a war in Ukraine.”

Ethnic Russians make up about 58 per cent of the population of Crimea. Ukrainians make up 24 per cent, while Crimean Tatars are 12 per cent.

With a file from Associated Press



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If Dick Cheney is against deflating the bloated Pentagon machine, it must be a good idea

Name the last major US military adventure that was anything less than a disaster and a total waste of money and lives. Take your Pick:

  • United States Intervention in Greek Election, 1947-1949 
  • Operation PBFORTUNE, Guatemala, 1952 
  • Operation Ajax, US overthrow of Iranian Government, 1953 
  • Operation PBSUCCESS, Guatemala, 1954 
  • Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuba, 1961 
  • Operation Powerpack, Dominican Republic, 1965 - 1966 
  • Korean War, 1950 - 1953 
  • United States overthrow of Guatemalan Government, 1907-1933 
  • Operation Blue Bat, Lebanon, 1958 
  • United States Intervention at Panama Canal, 1958 
  • Vietnam War, 1962 - 1973 
  • United States Occupation of Laos, 1962 - 1973 
  • United States Intervention at Panama Canal, 1964 
  • Cambodian Civil War, 1969 - 1970 
  • United States Overthrow of Chilean Government, 1964 
  • Turkish invasion of Cyprus, 1974 
  • Operation Eagle Claw, Iran hostage crisis, 1980 
  • First Gulf of Sidra Incident, Libya, 1981 
  • Contra War, El Salvador, 1981-1990 
  • Occupation of Beirut, Lebanon, 1982-1984 
  • Invasion of Grenada, Grenada, 1983-1984 
  • Operation El Dorado Canyon, Libya, 1986 
  • Iran-Iraq War, 1987 - 1989 
  • Operation Just Cause, Panama 1989 - 1990 
  • Second Gulf of Sidra Incident, Libya, 1989 
  • Persian Gulf War, Iraq, 1991 
  • Operation Desert Shield, 1991 
  • Operation Desert Storm, 1991 
  • Somali Civil War, 1992 - 1994 
  • Operation Provide Relief, 1992 
  • Operation Restore Hope, 1992 - 1994 
  • Yugoslav wars, 1994 - 1999 
  • Bosnian Conflict, 1994 - 1995 
  • Kosovo Conflict, 1997 - 1999 
  • War on Terrorism, 2001 - present 
  • Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan 2001 - present 
  • Operation Enduring Freedom - Philippines 2002 - present 
  • Operation Enduring Freedom - Horn of Africa 2002 - present 
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003 - present 
  • Waziristan War, 2004 - present 
  • War in Somalia, 2006 - present 
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom - Trans Sahara 2007 - present
  • 2010-11 - War in Iraq: Operation New Dawn, On February 17, 2010, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that as of September 1, 2010, the name "Operation Iraqi Freedom" would be replaced by "Operation New Dawn"
  • 2011 - Libya: Operation Odyssey Dawn, Coalition forces enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 with bombings of Libyan forces
  • 2011 - Osama Bin Laden is killed by U.S. military forces in Pakistan as part of Operation Neptune Spear
  • 2011 - Drone strikes on al-Shabab militants begin in Somalia.This marks the 6th nation in which such strikes have been carried out, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya
  • 2011 - Uganda: US Combat troops sent in as advisers to Uganda
  • 2012 - Jordan: 150 US troops deployed to Jordan to help it contain the Syrian Civil War within Syria's borders
  • 2012 - Turkey: 400 troops and two batteries of Patriot missiles sent to Turkey to prevent any missile strikes from Syria
  • 2012 - Chad: 50 U.S. troops have deployed to the African country of Chad to help evacuate U.S. citizens and embassy personnel from the neighboring Central African Republic's capital of Bangui in the face of rebel advances toward the city
  • 2013 - Mali: US forces assisted the French in Operation Serval with air refueling and transport aircraft
  • 2013 - Somalia: US Air Force planes supported the French in the Bulo Marer hostage rescue attempt
  • 2013 - 2013 Korean crisis
  • 2013 - Navy SEALS conducted a raid in Somalia and possibly killed a senior Al-Shabaab official, simultaneously another raid took place in Tripoli, Libya, where Special Forces captured Abu Anas al Libi (also known as Anas al-Libi)

Monday, February 24, 2014

An Armed Society is not a Polite Society!

The Freedom of an Armed Society

"The night of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., I was in the car with my wife and children, working out details for our eldest son’s 12th birthday the following Sunday — convening a group of friends at a showing of the film  “The Hobbit.” The memory of the Aurora movie theatre massacre was fresh in his mind, so he was concerned that it not be a late night showing. At that moment, like so many families, my wife and I were weighing whether to turn on the radio and expose our children to coverage of the school shootings in Connecticut. We did. The car was silent in the face of the flood of gory details. When the story was over, there was a long thoughtful pause in the back of the car. Then my eldest son asked if he could be homeschooled.

That incident brought home to me what I have always suspected, but found difficult to articulate: an armed society — especially as we prosecute it at the moment in this country — is the opposite of a civil society.
The Newtown shootings occurred at a peculiar time in gun rights history in this nation. On one hand, since the mid 1970s, fewer households each year on average have had a gun. Gun control advocates should be cheered by that news, but it is eclipsed by a flurry of contrary developments. As has been well publicized, gun sales have steadily risen over the past few years, and spiked with each of Obama’s election victories.

Furthermore, of the weapons that proliferate amongst the armed public, an increasing number are high caliber weapons (the weapon of choice in the goriest shootings in recent years). Then there is the legal landscape, which looks bleak for the gun control crowd.
Every state except for Illinois has a law allowing the carrying of concealed weapons — and just last week, a federal court struck down Illinois’ ban. States are now lining up to allow guns on college campuses. In September, Colorado joined four other states in such a move, and statehouses across the country are preparing similar legislation. And of course, there was Oklahoma’s ominous Open Carry Law approved by voters this election day — the fifteenth of its kind, in fact — which, as the name suggests, allows those with a special permit to carry weapons in the open, with a holster on their hip.

Individual gun ownership — and gun violence — has long been a distinctive feature of American society, setting us apart from the other industrialized democracies of the world. Recent legislative developments, however, are progressively bringing guns out of the private domain, with the ultimate aim of enshrining them in public life. Indeed, the N.R.A. strives for a day when the open carry of powerful weapons might be normal, a fixture even, of any visit to the coffee shop or grocery store — or classroom.
As N.R.A. president Wayne LaPierre expressed in a recent statement on the organization’s Web site, more guns equal more safety, by their account. A favorite gun rights saying is “an armed society is a polite society.” If we allow ever more people to be armed, at any time, in any place, this will provide a powerful deterrent to potential criminals. Or if more citizens were armed — like principals and teachers in the classroom, for example — they could halt senseless shootings ahead of time, or at least early on, and save society a lot of heartache and bloodshed.

As ever more people are armed in public, however — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point.
And yet, gun rights advocates famously maintain that individual gun ownership, even of high caliber weapons, is the defining mark of our freedom as such, and the ultimate guarantee of our enduring liberty. Deeper reflection on their argument exposes basic fallacies.

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.
This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

As our Constitution provides, however, liberty entails precisely the freedom to be reckless, within limits, also the freedom to insult and offend as the case may be. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld our right to experiment in offensive language and ideas, and in some cases, offensive action and speech. Such experimentation is inherent to our freedom as such. But guns by their nature do not mix with this experiment — they don’t mix with taking offense. They are combustible ingredients in assembly and speech.
I often think of the armed protestor who showed up to one of the famously raucous town hall hearings on Obamacare in the summer of 2009. The media was very worked up over this man, who bore a sign that invoked a famous quote of Thomas Jefferson, accusing the president of tyranny. But no one engaged him at the protest; no one dared approach him even, for discussion or debate — though this was a town hall meeting, intended for just such purposes. Such is the effect of guns on speech — and assembly. Like it or not, they transform the bearer, and end the conversation in some fundamental way. They announce that the conversation is not completely unbounded, unfettered and free; there is or can be a limit to negotiation and debate — definitively.

The very power and possibility of free speech and assembly rests on their non-violence. The power of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as the Arab Spring protests, stemmed precisely from their non-violent nature. This power was made evident by the ferocity of government response to the Occupy movement. Occupy protestors across the country were increasingly confronted by police in military style garb and affect.
Imagine what this would have looked like had the protestors been armed: in the face of the New York Police Department assault on Zuccotti Park, there might have been armed insurrection in the streets. The non-violent nature of protest in this country ensures that it can occur.

Gun rights advocates also argue that guns provide the ultimate insurance of our freedom, in so far as they are the final deterrent against encroaching centralized government, and an executive branch run amok with power. Any suggestion of limiting guns rights is greeted by ominous warnings that this is a move of expansive, would-be despotic government. It has been the means by which gun rights advocates withstand even the most seemingly rational gun control measures. An assault weapons ban, smaller ammunition clips for guns, longer background checks on gun purchases — these are all measures centralized government wants, they claim, in order to exert control over us, and ultimately impose its arbitrary will. I have often suspected, however, that contrary to holding centralized authority in check, broad individual gun ownership gives the powers-that-be exactly what they want.
After all, a population of privately armed citizens is one that is increasingly fragmented, and vulnerable as a result. Private gun ownership invites retreat into extreme individualism — I heard numerous calls for homeschooling in the wake of the Newtown shootings — and nourishes the illusion that I can be my own police, or military, as the case may be. The N.R.A. would have each of us steeled for impending government aggression, but it goes without saying that individually armed citizens are no match for government force. The N.R.A. argues against that interpretation of the Second Amendment that privileges armed militias over individuals, and yet it seems clear that armed militias, at least in theory, would provide a superior check on autocratic government.

As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.
Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite. And as the Occupy movement makes clear, also the demonstrators that precipitated regime change in Egypt and Myanmar last year, assembled masses don’t require guns to exercise and secure their freedom, and wield world-changing political force. Arendt and Foucault reveal that power does not lie in armed individuals, but in assembly — and everything conducive to that."

They got 'Shorty' -- now what? Next steps after 'El Chapo' Guzman's capture

(CNN) -- Could the captured Sinaloa cartel boss who was one of Mexico's most wanted fugitives be heading to the United States for trial?
He will, if U.S. federal prosecutors have anything to say about it.

Drug lord 'El Chapo' no longer on the run 

Bob Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York, said Sunday that American authorities plan to seek the extradition of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
Authorities captured the notorious drug lord Saturday in the Mexican Pacific resort city of Mazatlan.
Notorious Mexican drug lord arrested
Cases are pending against him in New York and several other United States jurisdictions, and it's not clear which requests would take priority.
But just because the United States wants to extradite him doesn't mean Guzman will be heading north of the border any time soon.

"Mexico is going to want to prosecute him. They're going to want the first shot at him," CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes said Sunday. "The extradition to the U.S. could happen at a later date, but I doubt it. I think that the Mexicans are going to want him, and they're going to want to keep him in prison down there."
Guzman escaped from a high-security Mexican prison in 2001, reportedly hiding in a laundry basket. Throughout the years, he avoided being caught because of his enormous power to bribe corrupt local, state and federal Mexican officials.
His nickname, which means "Shorty," matches his 5-foot-6-inch frame.
From New York to Chicago, Texas to San Diego, Guzman and his lieutenants are named in indictments for marijuana, cocaine and heroin trafficking, as well as racketeering, money laundering, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder.
In Chicago, the city's crime commission named Guzman its Public Enemy No. 1 last year.
But more than anywhere else, Fuentes said, the "Public Enemy No. 1" designation is true for Guzman in Mexico.

"He's responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. He's considered one of the richest men in the world, and the Sinaloa considered the most prolific drug-trafficking organization in the world," said Fuentes, former assistant director of the FBI's Office of International Operations.
When Guzman escaped from prison, he had served seven years of a 20-year, nine-month sentence.
Mexico's attorney general's office said there were eight warrants for Guzman's arrest there -- two tied to his 2001 escape, and six more for alleged crimes committed since then.
Authorities said they were taking him to the Altiplano prison outside Mexico City on Saturday, where he was set to be interrogated.
No attorney had yet come forward representing the cartel boss, officials said, and no extradition request had been made.
Eduardo Medina Mora, the Mexican ambassador to the United States, told The New York Times that authorities from the United States and Mexico had been working together on the case for months, but hadn't worked out whether Guzman would be extradited.

"I think it's important that first he faces the charges against him in Mexico," Medina Mora told the newspaper.
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Mexican officials should consider extradition now.
"The normal sequence is, Mexico being a sovereign nation, (it) has the first prosecution. However, there's a history here. He escaped from a prison in 2001. There is corruption in that country. And I would ask that the Mexicans consider extraditing him to the United States, where he will be put into a 'supermax' prison under tight security, where he cannot escape, and be brought to justice with a life sentence," McCaul told ABC's "This Week."
"I think that would be the best course of action for not only Mexico, but also the United States, in ensuring that what happened in 2001 does not happen again."
How likely extradition is, the Texas Republican congressm

 an said, depends on how much pressure the State Department puts on Mexico's government. But he said it would be worth the effort.
"The track record's not good with this individual," he said. "This is an exceptional case. This is the largest, biggest drug lord we've ever seen in the world."
Phil Jordan, who spent three decades with the DEA and headed the agency's El Paso Intelligence Center, said extraditing Guzman is the only way to truly cripple his organization.

"It is a significant arrest, provided he gets extradited immediately to the United States," Jordan told CNN Saturday. "If he does not get extradited, then he will be allowed to escape within a period of time. ... If he is, in fact, incarcerated, until he gets extradited to the United States, it will be business as usual."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Space Dump

US Air Force reveals ‘neighborhood watch' satellite program
Published time: February 23, 2014 14:12


The United States plans to send into orbit a pair of satellites to monitor spacecraft from other countries, as well as to track space debris, the head of Air Force Space Command said.
The United States plans to send into orbit a pair of satellites to monitor spacecraft from other countries, as well as to track space debris, the head of Air Force Space Command said.
The US Air Force lifted the veil of secrecy on its previously classified Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP), which will operate in conjunction with ground-based radars and telescopes to observe potential threats from foreign space objects, General William Shelton said at the Air Force Association meeting in Orlando on Friday.
The program will also be used for tracking thousands of pieces of space debris to avoid galactic collisions.
Referring to the satellite tracking system as a "neighborhood watch program," Shelton said the program "will bolster our ability to discern when adversaries attempt to avoid detection and to discover capabilities they may have which might be harmful to our critical assets at these higher altitudes."
Currently, the Air Force tracks some 23,000 pieces of orbiting debris larger than 4 inches (10.6 centimeters) at some 23,000 miles (37,000 km) above the Earth's surface.
However, since the United States already has in orbit a satellite better positioned to track orbital debris, military experts say the real purpose for the program is to prevent future attacks on its satellite network by potential rivals.
"I think the (Obama) Administration is being more honest when it says that it declassified this program to try and deter attacks on US satellites," Brian Weeden, technical advisor with the Washington-based Secure World Foundation, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
"The US has a lot of very specialized and important national security satellites in the GEO region and it is very concerned about protecting those satellites ... so by telling other countries that it has some ability to closely monitor objects near GEO and their behavior, the US hopes that will deter other countries from attacking its important satellites," Weeden said.
The satellites will also allow the US military to observe what other countries have in orbit.
"There's nothing wrong with that, but it is exactly the sort of thing the US is worried other countries will do to it," Weeden added.
The pair of satellites are scheduled for launch aboard an unmanned Delta 4 rocket at the end of 2014.
The price tag and technical details of the satellite program were not released.

 Fiscal year 2011, wild horse and burro holding costs were $35.7 million dollars  
 47%  of the 75.8 million dollars wild horse and burro program budget
As long as wild horses continue to be placed in long term holding, 
these taxpayer funded costs will increase.

By Scott Sonner / The Associated Press 

RENO, Nev. — The government spent less than 1 percent of its wild horse management budget on contraception programs and more than 60 percent on horse holding facilities last fiscal year, despite a pledge to step up use of fertility control as an alternative to controversial roundups of overpopulated mustang herds on U.S. rangelands, agency records show.
 Wild horse advocates say the fiscal year 2013 budget numbers show the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has reneged on a commitment to control fertility as the best way moving forward to keep herd numbers in check when necessary in Nevada and nine other Western states.

 Instead, the leader of the largest national coalition says she fears the administration is moving to align itself with a growing number of ranching interests, urging an end to the ban on slaughter of horses at overflowing holding pens where costs are skyrocketing.

 “The only explanation at this point is that the BLM is creating a crisis where slaughter of America’s wild horses is the only solution,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. She said the 509 mares that received fertility treatment last year were far short of the annual goal of 2,000 the agency set three years ago.

BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said Wednesday the critics’ claims are baseless, “anti-BLM propaganda.”

 “It has been and remains the policy of the BLM not to sell or send wild horses or burros to slaughter,” he said in an email.

Until recently, mustang advocates felt comfortable that the slaughter ban would remain intact, given public opinion polls showing widespread support nationally for what they say is an icon of the American West. But that’s no longer the case in places such as northern Nevada, where ranchers and rural politicians are pushing for change, citing drought conditions and lack of holding space.

The Nevada Farm Bureau Federation and Nevada Association of Counties filed a federal lawsuit Dec. 30 seeking to force the BLM to use existing authority to sell older horses without the usual prohibition on resale for slaughter in cases when animals are deemed unadoptable. Earlier this month, a BLM resource advisory committee in Nevada also voiced support for some unconditional sales.

 “It’s time to think outside of the box,” said Debbie Lassiter, chairwoman of the Sierra Front Great Basin Northeast RAC.
 In 2012, the number of horses and burros at holding facilities (47,000) surpassed the estimated number on the range (40,000) for the first time since President Richard Nixon signed the Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

 In a 451-page report highly critical of the BLM last June, an independent panel of the National Academy of Sciences said the agency should invest in widespread fertility control of the mustangs instead of spending millions to house them. It concluded the BLM’s removal of nearly 100,000 horses from the Western range over the past decade is probably having the opposite effect of its intention to ease ecological damage and reduce overpopulated herds.

Wild Horse Adoption Set for Saturday

 By: Terri Russell

CARSON CITY, NV - If you've ever dreamed of owning a mustang from the Nevada Range, you have a chance to bid on one Saturday at the Stewart Conservation Camp in Carson City. This is one of four adoptions that can on each year at the camp. The trainers are inmates who in the beginning have no experience with horses whatsoever.
Inmate Roland Moore has fun goofing around with his mustang Rebel.
Standing on Rebel's back with a flag, crawling underneath the horse—it can't be done around just any horse.
But consider, too, Rebel has only been in training about four months. And his trainer is Roland, who until 3 months age had never been around horses.
“I didn't know anything about horses. I just thought you saddled them up and rode off into the sunset, you know, like in the westerns. It's taught me to be a better person,” says inmate Kenneth Parker as he watches Moore.
Parker is the most experienced trainer in this group of inexperienced riders and trainers.
Handsome Jack is his 12th horse; each one of the animals he's trained, he says, has given him a sense of confidence and accomplishment.
Another horse is named Southern Comfort; trainer Sean Hammon has been in the program for 6 months and he too had never been around horses before this.
He canters the horse with no hands around the arena with no effort at all.
A total of 14 mustangs will be up for adoption this weekend. Inmates have been working on their opening routine for a month hoping to show their horses versatility and training.
Outside in the big arena the inmates show other skills their horses have learned. Swinging ropes and snapping whips--most of the animals are okay with it.



Saturday, February 22, 2014

Iron Ore -- the Chinese Connection to the Michoacán Crisis and how President Nena plans to end it.

Luis A. Marentes explains ...

According to the Wall Street Journal, drug cartels have been in the mineral export business to China for a few years. In 2010, for example, police arrested 40 people involved in illegal mining in territory in which ArcelorMittal was supposed to have exclusive rights. This scheme was associated to La Familia, the precursor to the Knights Templar. <b>According to the report, in that year the cartel made approximately $40 million exporting over 1.1 million tons of mineral to China.</b> In response Virgilio Camacho, representing ArcelorMittal, negotiated a deal with local landowners and truckers. Under the deal, the transnational would pay $16-$18 per ton of the iron-rich hematite, yet Chinese buyers offered $65-$85 for the same amount.

Much of the recent coverage of the autodefensas growing uprising in Michoacán has focused on their drug trade, and their extortion and protection rackets. Recent articles by Al Jazeera America and Fusion have also focused on the Knights Templar links to the growing avocado business. Much less has been written about these large mining interests, their relationship to the drug trade and human trafficking. Yet the signals of these links are beginning to trickle, and the state's autodefensas also begin to come into the picture.

A recent article in Imagen del Golfo focuses on mining support for the autodefensas. The article talks about protection schemes between Knights Templars and miners, and emphasizes recent agreements between the autodefensas and the miners. Asked about this in the article, a commander named Simón or El Americano answers "Oh, yes. The Chinese and them [the miners] are supporting [us]."

I have recently affirmed here that  "it is way too early to reach conclusions as to the results of this uprising, but one can clearly see that its causes and consequences are international in nature." At the time my focus was on returned migrants in the autodefensas, and historic linkages between Michoacán and the United States, but a closer examination indicates that the international nexus is much larger.

A recent article by the Mexican collective Jóvenes ante la Emergencia Nacional digs much farther into the current Michoacán juncture, and China again becomes central. Their analysis focuses on the state's natural wealth, its growing infrastructure and investments, linking it to a very important North American economic corridor. It looks at a growing multidimensional struggle for control of resources and trade routes, and also links recent economic, political and military events to a larger worldwide economic restructuring, including recent plans to renegotiate NAFTA and efforts to implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This article, written in Spanish, is well worth reading.

I look forward to investigative reporters digging deeper into the causes and consequences of the current Michoacán crisis to help us understand the many layers that lay behind a conflict that is often reported as one between evil extortionists and a noble popular uprising.

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While at the same time, Patricia Rey Mallén describes how the government of President Pena ...

Plans To Economically Suffocate Michoacán Cartels

The government’s strategy to stop the conflict is based  on reasserting territorial control, which began by sending the air force and navy to the 27 counties of the state, with helicopters and ships. Next on the agenda is to actually capture the cartel members, and for that, vigilantes are invaluable with their knowledge of the ground and of who's who.

“The most important asset of the vigilantes is not their weapons but their wealth of information,” Castillo said. “That is what we are focusing our efforts on, providing them with safety in exchange of information.”

The commissioner also explained how the vigilantes need to turn into “rural guards,” an outdated security figure from the 19th century that might be brought back by the government. They would receive training and weapons licenses.

Castillo believes the nail in the coffin of the Templarios will come from choking off their source of income. That would be accomplished by revising all licenses and ownership of local businesses and industries, like mining, to make sure they are not in the traffickers' hands, as well as monitoring the exports from the biggest port, Lázaro Cárdenas.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

From flames to fiery opposition, protests rock Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand

  Catherine E. Shoichet. Jethro Mullen and Greg Botelho

(CNN) -- Demonstrators pack public squares. Flames shoot into the air. Tear gas sends crowds scrambling.

Dramatic scenes are unfolding during anti-government protests in three disparate countries this week, on three different continents.

The images are striking, and things are heating up quickly. What's happening on the ground?

Here's a cheat-sheet guide to the protests in Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand


What are protesters' demands?
Who's a better economic ally, Europe or Russia? That's the key issue at the heart of Ukraine's protests. Demonstrators want the government to forge closer ties with Europe and turn away from Russia.

But the dispute is also about power. Many in the opposition have called for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych and the ordering of new elections. And both on the streets and in parliament, they've also pushed to alter the government's overall power structure, feeling that too much of it rests with Yanukovych and not enough with parliament.

Who's protesting?

An opposition coalition has been leading the charge against Yanukovych and his allies.

On CNN iReport, protesters and onlookers have shared more than 100 photos and videos of clashes between demonstrators and police. The nighttime images are especially striking -- figures are silhouetted against large bonfires set alight in the streets.

When did demonstrations start?
In November, thousands spilled onto the streets after Yanukovych did a U-turn over a trade pact with the European Union that had been years in the making -- with Yanukovych favoring closer relations with Russia instead.

What's the latest?
Long-simmering tensions exploded anew in Ukraine as clashes between police and anti-government protesters left more than 25 people dead and the capital's central square on fire into early Wednesday.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will raise the possibility of sanctions against the Ukrainian government in remarks in Paris, a senior administration official told CNN.
Also Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande said the violence and crackdowns in Ukraine are "unspeakable, unacceptable, intolerable acts." "Those who committed violent acts have to know they will be sanctioned," Hollande said.


 Photos: Protests erupt in Venezuela
What are protesters' demands?
Demonstrators are demanding better security, an end to goods shortages and protected freedom of speech.
They blame Venezuela's government, led by President Nicolas Maduro, for those problems. Maduro and other officials blame the opposition for the country's security and economic problems.

Who's protesting?
Many demonstrators across the country are students. Prominent opposition politicians have also led protests and joined marches.
Since February 13, more than 1,100 images have been uploaded to iReport, CNN's user-generated platform. Many of the videos and photos are gruesome and depict violent scenes between demonstrators and police.

When did demonstrations start?
Nationwide student protests started this month. On February 12, the demonstrations drew global attention after three people were killed.

What's the latest?
As throngs of supporters chanted their support, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in to authorities Tuesday. He faces charges of terrorism and murder connected with violence during the protests. Lopez has denied the charges. Maduro, meanwhile, has called members of the opposition fascists and compared them to an infection that needs to be cured.


Photos: Protests in Thailand's national election

What are protesters' demands?
Protesters in Bangkok have been calling for months for the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whom they allege is a puppet of her billionaire brother, the deposed, exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Who's protesting?
Opposition to Thaksin and Yingluck is strongest among the urban elites and middle class. That's why the demonstrations have been concentrated in Bangkok. The protesters want to replace Yingluck's government with an unelected "people's council" to see through electoral and political changes.
Thailand residents and visitors have shared dozens of stories of unrest on CNN iReport over the past month. The latest approved photos show demonstrators sleeping in the streets in Bangkok as a form of peaceful protest.

When did demonstrations start?
Protests began in November after Yingluck's government tried to pass an amnesty bill that would have paved the way for her brother's return to the political fray.

What's the latest?
Deadly violence erupted in the heart of Bangkok Tuesday as anti-government protesters clashed with police, and the country's anti-corruption commission filed charges against the Prime Minister.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why would a free people celebrate an absurd holiday “President’s Day”?

U.S. Presidents Aren't Worth Celebrating

Every year, there are conservatives who complain about a “War on Christmas.” If there's ever a War on Presidents Day, sign us up.

Gene Healy | February 18, 2014 

Real patriots spend the third Monday in February thinking about the presidency. In fact, I spent the day reading Thinking About the Presidency, a new book by the distinguished University of Chicago political scientist William G. Howell. And now I think we're screwed.
The book’s subtitle is “the Primacy of Power,” reflecting Howell’s view that “power is the president’s North Star. … The need to acquire, protect, and expand power is built into the office of the presidency itself, and it quickly takes hold of whoever temporarily bears the title of chief executive.”
The demands Americans place on the presidency are virtually boundless: They “invest in the president their highest aspirations not just for the federal government, but for the general polity, for their communities and families, and for their own private lives.” Responding to the incentives that confront them, presidents naturally seek power to meet the insatiable public demands for presidential salvation.
Thus, Howell writes, “from nearly the moment he assumes office, the most self-effacing presidential candidate will quickly be transformed into a great apologist for presidential power.”
You wouldn't exactly call President Obama “self-effacing.” But his background as a former constitutional law professor and liberal state senator, and his campaign speeches denouncing “unchecked presidential power,” led some liberals to believe he'd be “our first civil libertarian president.”
And yet, since assuming office, Obama has broken more campaign-trail promises on executive power than you could fit into a Buzzfeed listicle. A sample:
  1. “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack [absent] an actual or imminent threat.” But “kinetic military action” against Libya is a different story entirely.
  2. “No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient." Still, taking care that Obamacare's firm legislative deadlines are faithfully adhered to would be really inconvenient before the midterms.
  3. “We're not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress.” Unless Congress gets out of line and defunds my czars.
  4. “No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime.” Actually, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the president has “continued to block reform and has even sought to expand NSL powers.”
Obama didn't set out to forge a legacy as the Surveillance State's greatest champion, any more than President George W. Bush had an ideological precommitment to vastly expanding presidential power over the economy. But as Howell notes, “presidents can ill afford to repudiate any power that might enable them to address the onslaught of expectations put before them.”
As law professor Garrett Epps has noted, the Framers did something new under the sun with the creation of the presidency. But “it wasn't their best work.” The Framers thought they'd made separation of powers largely self-executing: Ambition would counteract ambition, so that, in Madison's words, “the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights.”
But the mechanism doesn’t work as planned: The private interests of individual congressmen lead them to cede power to the executive branch and focus on reelection. Congress rarely guards its institutional turf—yet every president ends up leaving the presidency stronger than he found it.
The results are nothing to celebrate. Every year, there are conservatives who complain about a “War on Christmas.” If there's ever a War on Presidents Day, sign me up.

This column previously appeared in the Washington Examiner