Monthly Archives: January 2013

Anticipating domestic surveillance boom, colleges rev up drone piloting programs

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Doctoral candidate Brittany Duncan assembles an unmanned aerial vehicle in a lab at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. John Brecher / NBC News

“We want them to think about how to apply this military hardware to civilian applications.”

The University of North Dakota, which launched its unmanned aircraft systems operations major in 2009, has similar success stories. Professor Alan Palmer, a retired brigadier general of the North Dakota National Guard, said 15 of the program’s 23 graduates now work for General Atomics in San Diego, which makes the Predator and Reaper drones used in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

NBC News | Jan 31, 2013

By Isolde Raftery

Randal Franzen was 53, unemployed and nearly broke when his brother, a tool designer at Boeing, mentioned that pilots for remotely piloted aircraft – more commonly known as drones – were in high demand.

Franzen, a former professional skier and trucking company owner who had flown planes as a hobby, started calling manufacturers and found three schools that offer bachelor’s degrees for would-be feet-on-the-ground fliers: Kansas State University, the University of North Dakota and the private Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

He landed at Kansas State, where he maintained a 4.0 grade point average for four years and accumulated $60,000 in student loan debt before graduating in 2011. It was a gamble, but one that paid off with an offer “well into the six figures” as a flight operator for a military contractor in Afghanistan.

Franzen, who dreams of one day piloting drones over forest fires in the U.S., believes he is at the forefront of a watershed moment in aviation, one in which manned flight takes a jumpseat to the remote-controlled variety.

While most jobs flying drones currently are military-related, universities and colleges expect that to change by 2015, when the Federal Aviation Administration is due to release regulations for unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace. Once those regulations are in place, the FAA predicts that 10,000 commercial drones will be operating in the U.S. within five years.

Although just three schools currently offer degrees in piloting unmanned aircraft, many others – including community colleges – offer training for remote pilots. And those numbers figure are set to increase, with some aviation industry analysts predicting drones will eventually come to dominate the U.S. skies in terms of jobs.

At the moment, 358 public institutions – including 14 universities and colleges – have permits from the FAA to fly unmanned aircraft. Those permits became public last summer after the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The government issues the permits mainly for research and border security. Police departments that have requested them to survey dense, high crime areas have been rejected.

Some of the schools that have permits have been flying unmanned aircrafts for decades; others, like Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, received theirs recently to start programs to train future drone pilots.

Alex Mirot, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle who oversees the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Science program there, said this generation of students will pioneer how unmanned aircraft are used domestically, as the use of drones shifts from almost purely military to other applications.

“We make it clear from the beginning that we are civilian-focused,” said Mirot, a former Air Force pilot who remotely piloted Predator and Reaper drones used to target suspected terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere for four years from a base in Nevada.

“We want them to think about how to apply this military hardware to civilian applications.”

Among the possible applications: Monitoring livestock and oil pipelines, spotting animal poachers, tracking down criminals fleeing crime scenes and delivering packages for UPS and FedEx.

With U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, drone manufacturers also are eager to find new markets. AeroVironment, a California company that specializes in small, unmanned aircrafts for the military, recently unveiled the Qube, a drone designed for law enforcement surveillance.

The FAA hasn’t allowed police agencies to fly drones over populated areas – because of concerns about airspace safety, as drones have crashed or collided with one another abroad. But that hasn’t stopped some agencies from buying them in anticipation of their eventual approval. The Seattle Police Department, for example, has two small aircraft, which two officers occasionally fly around a warehouse for practice. For now, a police spokesman said, federal rules are too restrictive to use them outside.

The domestic market is so nascent that there isn’t even agreement on what to call unmanned aircraft – “remotely piloted aircraft,” “unmanned aerial vehicles” – UAVs – or by the most mainstream term, “drones.” The latter makes many advocates bristle; they say the term confuses their aircraft with the dummy planes used for target practice – or with the controversial planes used to kill suspected terrorists abroad.

Industry attracting engineers and pilots

Students at Embry-Riddle train on flight simulators that closely resemble the Predator, an armed military drone with a 48-foot wingspan, because the FAA will not issue a drone license to a private institution.

Without guidance from the FAA, Embry-Riddle has struggled with how to create a robust program that will turn out employable graduates.

“As of now there aren’t rules on what an (unmanned aircraft) pilot qualification will be,” Mirot said. “You have to go to employer X and ask them, ‘What are you requiring?’ And that becomes the standard.”

The bachelor’s degree program also includes 13 credits in engineering, so students understand the plane’s whole system, Mirot said.

Embry-Riddle recently graduated its first student with a bachelor’s degree, but those who graduated earlier with minors in unmanned aircraft systems have fared well, Mirot said.

“I had a kid who deployed right away and he was making $140,000,” Mirot said. “That’s more than I ever made. Yeah, he’s going into Afghanistan, but he had no previous military experience or security clearance.”

Mirot said many of his students aspire to be airline pilots. But with salaries for commercial airline pilots starting as low as $17,000 in the first year, they plan to start in unmanned systems to pay off their loans, then maybe apply for an airline job, he said.

The University of North Dakota, which launched its unmanned aircraft systems operations major in 2009, has similar success stories. Professor Alan Palmer, a retired brigadier general of the North Dakota National Guard, said 15 of the program’s 23 graduates now work for General Atomics in San Diego, which makes the Predator and Reaper drones used in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Engineering and computer science students, too, are in demand by the drone industry. At least 50 universities in the U.S. have centers, academic programs or clubs for drone engineering or flying. Many of the engineering students work on projects making the drones “smarter” – that is building more sensitive sensors – and studying how the robots interact with humans.

George Huang, a professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, who builds drones the size of hummingbirds, said nearly all his 20 students work as researchers for the Air Force. This means they’re earning between $60,000 and $80,000 a year while still enrolled, instead of the $15,000 stipend that graduate students typically receive from their schools.

At the University of Colorado in Boulder, doctoral candidate Sibylle Walter said unmanned systems appeal to her because the results are immediate. In the past, she said, aerospace students typically ended up at Boeing or another big company and spent years working on one element of a project. Instead, she is working with her adviser to build a supersonic drone capable of flying up to 1,000 mph.

“The link between education and application is much more compact,” Walter said of the unmanned aircraft. “That translates to this new boom. You can build them inexpensively – you don’t need $100 million to build one.”

Ethical warfare?

Despite the promise of numerous civilian applications, drones continue to be controversial because of their role as weapons of war.

At Texas A&M University, which has an FAA permit to fly drones, computer science student Brittany Duncan is unusual among her peers: She’s a licensed pilot, a computer scientist and a woman. She probably could land a high-paying job for a military contractor, but she’s intent on staying in academia, studying robot-human relations, specifically how robots should approach victims of a natural disaster without scaring them.

On a recent hot, dusty morning, Duncan, 25, pulled a small aircraft from the back of a 4×4 pickup. Wearing black work boots and Dickies, she quickly assembled a remote-controlled aircraft that resembled a flying spider, then launched the aircraft – equipped with sensors and a video camera – over a pile of rubble to practice capturing footage.

At her side was Professor Robin Murphy, her adviser and a veteran of real-world unmanned aircraft operations, having flown over the World Trade Center after 9/11, the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan, after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster there (although she stayed in Tokyo). She believes drones could revolutionize public safety.

“I could show you a photo of firefighters from today, and it could be a photo of firefighters from 1944,” Murphy said. “They haven’t had a lot of boost in technology. [Unmanned aircraft] could be a real game-changer.”

Duncan knows there is resistance from communities where drones have been introduced. In Seattle, for example, the ACLU argued that drones could invade privacy. But as Duncan sees it, this makes her work even more relevant.

“That’s the most important thing to me – that people understand good can come from drones,” Duncan said. “Every technology is scary at first. Cars, when they went only 6 mph, people thought there would be a rash of people getting run over. Well, no, it’s going slow enough for you to get out of the way. And it’ll change your life.”

Duncan said she considers the implications of working on machines that are for now mostly used for war. Despite conflicting reports on civilian casualties in drone strikes, she’s convinced that unmanned aircraft offer a more-ethical battlefield alternative because they take the pilot’s “skin” out of the game.

“If you’re flying a UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter and look down and think someone has a surface-to-air missile, you’re going to shoot first and figure it out later because you’re a pilot and your life is in danger,” she said. But with drones, “(You) can afford to make sure that someone is a combatant before they engage – because you don’t have your life on the line. It takes your emotion out of the equation.”

While that debate continues, the Department of Defense is showing no loss of appetite for drones, despite the drawdown in Afghanistan. This year, it plans to spend $4.2 billion on various versions of the unmanned aircraft, 15 times more than it did in 2000.

For Professors Mirot and Palmer, that is evidence that their programs will stay relevant, no matter how the domestic deployment of drones plays out.

Looking ahead

There is an ironic twist to Randal Franzen’s move to climb aboard the cutting edge of aviation: When he went to Afghanistan, he learned that his assignment was to monitor surveillance video from a tethered balloon near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border – a military technology that – minus the cameras – dates to the Civil War.

From the base miles away, he monitored the rural area for Taliban activity, but mostly watched Afghans going about their daily lives. The retrained drone pilot said he found it fascinating.

“I grew up in Montana, swam in irrigation ditches, and they do the exact same thing – they’re just trying to make a living, raise some cattle and kids and do the exact same thing as everyone else,” Franzen said. There were moments that caught him by surprise – such as when he saw a man leading 10 camels through the desert while talking on a cellphone, walking several feet ahead of his wife, who was dressed in a full burqa.

Now home in Colorado, Franzen figures he’ll take at least one more far-flung military assignment as he waits for the domestic drone market to open. This time, though, he’d like to put his newfound remote flying skills to better use.

“I had three offers yesterday to go back and do the same thing for three different companies,” he said. “I talked to them about flying. I’d rather pilot something. I’d like to go play with something cooler.”

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Americans Tracked by Predator Drones: DARPA’s Big Eye 1.8-gigapixel Camera for Air Surveillance Unveiled

“We’re moving to an increasingly electronic society where our movements ARE going to be tracked…”1.8 gigapixel ARGUS-IS. World’s highest resolution video surveillance platform

Image by BAE Systems

DARPA has revealed the ARGUS-IS its mega digital camera – with a 1.8-gigapixel resolution. The camera is expected to take clear images of objects as small as 15 centimeters from an altitude of six kilometers.

DARPA has revealed the ARGUS-IS its mega digital camera – with a 1.8-gigapixel resolution. The camera is expected to take clear images of objects as small as 15 centimeters from an altitude of six kilometers.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is an agency of the US Department of Defense, has finally revealed details of their next-generation eye in the sky – the ARGUS-IS. The super high-resolution photo system is expected to be attached to drones and used for precision guided air surveillance.

The so called “Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Imaging System” (ARGUS-IS) is described as one of the highest-resolution surveillance systems in the world.

One gigapixel is equal to 1,000 megapixels. For comparison: Modern professional digital cameras have a resolution of about 20 megapixels.

One petabyte is equal to 1,000 terabytes. One terabyte is equal to 1,000 gigabytes

It uses four lenses with stabilizers and 368 photo matrixes, five megapixels each. The system allows a high-res picture to be taken of objects as small as 15 centimeters across from an altitude of up to six kilometers. The system is also able to view approximately 25 square kilometers of terrain at a time and track moving objects with up to 65 simultaneous windows.

With such capabilities, experts believe that six drones equipped with the camera would make it possible for the US to keep an eye on the entirety of Washington DC, while – for the sake of comparison – four such cameras would provide a complete surveillance of Paris.

At speed of 12 images per second the ARGUS-IS creates 600 gigabytes of data. During one day of operation the system would collect about six petabytes of information. As a drone cannot carry enough equipment to process such data torrents, the images would most likely be sent to two processing subsystems: one in the air and the other located on the ground.

ARGUS-IS sensor (Image by BAE Systems)
ARGUS-IS sensor (Image by BAE Systems)

However, it would be functionally impossible to send all of ARGUS’ data to the ground. That’s where DARPA’s persistics system comes in; this records information according to points of interest. Only essential information is sent to the control room on the ground for storage and later review. The technology weblog ExtremeTech says to make this happen DARPA will need a wireless device able to transmit 100Gb of data per second.

The ARGUS-IS first came to public attention about three years ago. Speculation became fact at the beginning of this year in a documentary showing video footage of the imaging system in action, although the camera itself remained shrouded in mystery for security reasons.

The footage revealed that the high-resolution camera can spot details like a bird flying around a building and the color of a person’s clothes. But it’s not able to reveal facial features. Still, experts say that drones could be sent at a lower altitude to create the right angle to record someone’s face.

What was not revealed by the documentary was the future implementations of the ARGUS-IS – or if it’s already been used by the US military.

Image by BAE Systems
Image by BAE Systems
Image by BAE Systems
Image by BAE Systems

Image by BAE Systems

Becoming a victim of TSA’s goons

TSA child pat-down molestation

While flying on a plane going west
My luggage lock was supposedly the best
It met all of TSA’s requirements and rules
But still they broke it looking for liquids and tools

[May be sung to the tune of Bob Dylan’s Dream (1963), or not]

smmercury.com | Jan 30, 2013

by Lamar Hankins

Last summer, I bought new luggage that came with a Travel Sentry Lock for a trip on JetBlue, traveling from Austin to California to take our grand daughter to Disneyland.  The lock on my luggage was missing when I retrieved the bag in Long Beach.  Inside was a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Notice of Baggage Inspection, the TSA stamp on the notice so light that it is nearly impossible to read.  It appears to provide the date followed by “BW18105,” but I have no idea whether this code has any significance.

My luggage, bought three days before our trip, is a Kirkland Signature 26″ Spinner Bag with TSAOO2 stamped on its TSA-approved lock.  The lock had three cylinders, with a key hole for use by TSA.  As explained in the instructions that came with the lock, the purpose is to allow access by TSA without damaging the lock.  Nevertheless, my lock was missing when my bag arrived in Long Beach.  My wife’s identical bag and lock arrived unscathed, but it had not been inspected by TSA.

I am aware that TSA is given the job of inspecting luggage using standards not generally known to the public.  That awareness does not lessen the feelings I have had, every time my luggage has been inspected (this makes three times), that my privacy has been violated – my underwear has been rifled; my prescription drugs have been viewed; and my other possessions have been molested.  When a lock made to TSA’s specifications goes missing after an inspection, I have feelings that my government has violated my person and possessions.  The least TSA could do is replace the lock, though I am sure that would take an act of Congress for an item worth no more than $15.

I am a law-abiding senior citizen.  I don’t deserve to have my property violated and destroyed by TSA, though I know that TSA will blame the conveyor belts and take no responsibility for its actions.  But the loss of my $15 lock is insignificant when compared to TSA’s other common offenses.

Last year, we frequently read about the new TSA x-ray machines that show body parts.  To avoid exposing your body to TSA meant that you didn’t fly or you subjected yourself to genital groping by a TSA employee.  Last week, TSA announced that it was discontinuing use of these revealing machines in favor of machines that indicate suspicious areas on a diagram of a human body.  I learned first hand, however, on a flight to Oregon last fall, that these machines can’t distinguish fatty tissue from bomb-making material.  I’m usually good-humored about my fat, but I don’t like it when government employees think it is funny, which is how a TSA employee reacted to the extra adipose tissue under my arm pit.

But many travelers endure real humiliation: strip searches, breast massages, genital gropes, an accusation that a woman had a penis, exposing a 17-year old girl’s bra by pulling her top down, and other humiliating experiences, at times in front of dozens of onlookers, such as in this report:

“Mother is 89 years old, has terminal cancer, weighs 67 pounds, has a colostomy bag and English paperwork from (the) Japanese Government stating so. She speaks no English. They herded everyone through the new machine. Then they select Mother as well as Mrs. EX for extra pat down. Why? No one knows. They get separated, Mother understands nothing. Mrs. EX is not allowed to translate or assist. They call for a Chinese speaking screener, which of course is totally unhelpful. They touch this 89 year old Great Grandmother everywhere. Imagine how that feels for a Japanese citizen! The same with my wife. My goodness, these two little Japanese ladies are going home to Japan, for crying out loud. Incidentally, now they have no view of their belongings in the tray. After ten minutes of touching, groping and needless questioning, they are on their own to look for their belongings. Mrs. EX had two trays, one had her Rolex wristwatch inside. Now there is only one tray and the watch is missing! No help, no assistance, nothing. On top of it, now they have to rush to board. The two ladies are completely upset, crying.”

In a report dated December, 2010, I found this account of an incident at the Austin airport:

“When a computer malfunction caused the lines at the airport to back up and many missed their flights,  Claire Hirschkind, age 56 was one of the first to the security checkpoint.  She said that she could not go through the backscatter machine because she wears a pace maker.  TSA officials told her that she would have to get a ‘pat down’ and she agreed so long as her breasts were not touched.  TSA officers said that they would touch her breasts and when Hirschkind refused to comply she was arrested.  She says that the police pushed her to the ground, handcuffed her and then dragged her across the airport ground while she cried.”

In September, 2011, a Santa Monica, CA, woman wrote about her TSA search experience on her blog:

“Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked — utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault. . . . Upon leaving, still sobbing, I yelled to the woman, ‘YOU RAPED ME.’ And I took her name to see if I could file sexual assault charges on my return. This woman, and all of those who support this system deserve no less than this sort of unpleasant experience, and from all of us.”

The TSA employee hired a lawyer and threatened to sue the blog writer for $500,000, claiming defamation.  It seems that publicly reporting TSA’s abuse leads only to more problems for a citizen.  Although an almost endless stream of TSA abuse reports can be found with a web search, few elected officials have publicly voiced their opposition to this abuse.

For all of this abuse and more, I am ashamed of my government.  It appears that the terrorists did in fact win by causing our government to resort to totalitarian measures, the least of which involve the destruction of my property.  When a government agency engages in sexual assault and emotional abuse at its whim, it engages in an “egregious abuse of power,” as described by a 58-year old woman who endured an invasive body search in Birmingham, Alabama, last November.  And TSA takes no responsibility for its actions.  It even says so on its Notice of Bag Inspection and on the TSA website.  It has become a government agency that behaves no better than King George’s appointees to the colonies 250 years ago.

TSA’s behavior reflects the attitude of a despotic government, which already has access to my emails, my phone records, my phone conversations, and my financial transactions.  After writing about this publicly, I could well be placed on some special TSA list that will assure heightened scrutiny and harassment whenever I fly (which, fortunately, is seldom).

This is not the America that was falsely described to me in public school.  It is not the land of the free, because we have no recourse for such treatment.  It is the land of goons – those hired to terrorize or harm others – who, at their whim, abuse powerless citizens.

Suicidal Sensors: Darpa Wants Next-Gen Spy Hardware to Literally Dissolve

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Darpa wants to build small military hardware that can literally destroy itself according to pre-programmed instructions, as this demonstration image indicates. Image: Darpa

Wired | Jan 28, 2013

By Spencer Ackerman

Forget about a kill switch. Planned obsolescence? Already obsolete. The Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers want tomorrow’s military hardware to literally cease to exist at a predetermined point. Welcome to the age of suicidal sensors.

Darpa isn’t imagining planes or ships that melt into a metallic puddle when their replacements come off the production line. The research agency is thinking, in one sense, smaller: sensors and other “sophisticated electronic microsystems” that litter a warzone — and create enticing opportunities for adversaries to collect, study and reverse-engineer. Since it’s not practical to pick them all up when U.S. forces withdraw, Darpa wants to usher in the age of “transient electronics.”

If you’ve ever lost your phone and worried about random strangers sifting through your data, you have a sense of why the idea appeals to Darpa. But you probably never imagined Apple creating a piece of hardware “capable of physically disappearing in a controlled, triggerable manner.” That’s where Darpa comes in. Next month, it’s going to invite interested scientists and manufacturers to a Virginia conference to kick around ideas for creating what it calls “triggered degradation.” Oh, and some of that degradation will occur inside a soldier’s body.

The program to create transient electronics is called VAPR, for Vanishing Programmable Resources. Darpa’s going to say more about it in the coming weeks. But thus far, the idea is to make small hardware that performs just like current sensors, only fabricated from materials that can rapidly disintegrate on command.

“VAPR will focus on developing and establishing a basic set of materials, components, integration, and manufacturing capabilities to undergird this new class of electronics defined by their performance and transience,” its program manager, Dr. Alicia Jackson, tells Danger Room.

Sometimes the hardware will be pre-programmed to self-destruct. Other times a human should be able to step in and signal to the device that the cold grasp of oblivion beckons. All of this is supposed to go much, much farther than a circuit board rigged to explode if it falls into enemy hands. And it’s not totally mad science. Last year, Darpa researchers successfully demonstrated that super-thin electronics made out of silicon and magnesium could be fabricated to dissolve in liquid. “This program follows on that study and seeks to develop the technology through the demonstration of a basic circuit,” Jackson says.

“The efficacy of the technological capability developed through VAPR will be demonstrated by building transient sensors with RF links,” explains a Darpa announcement about the February VAPR confab, “representative of what might be used to sense environmental or biomedical conditions and communicate with a remote user.” Imagine throwing a bunch of sensors around a given swath of forest, ravine or desert that could impart “critical data for a specified duration, but no longer” — after which they “decompose in the natural environment.”

That natural environment might include you. Devices that “resorb into the body” might prove to be “promising transient electronic implants to aid in continuous health monitoring in the field.” That is, if Darpa can figure out a safe, “bioresorbable” material that can safely implant an electronic device, complete with transmitter, inside the most sensitive parts of your body. “One example of a possible biocompatible application for transient devices is a non-antibiotic bactericide for sterilization at surgery site,” Jackson says.

VAPR’s approach views the persistence of battlefield sensors as a problem to be solved. It’s worth noting that some defense companies view it as an opportunity to be exploited. Lockheed Martin is working on something called an Unattended Ground Sensor, a monitoring device designed to look like a rock and recharge with a solar battery, to collect and transmit data on a warzone for decades after most U.S. troops there have packed up and gone home. While there’s no reason those Unattended Ground Sensors couldn’t someday be built out of whatever “transient” materials VAPR ultimately favors, those sensors represent a different attitude toward the virtues of long-term monitoring.

Of course, all this is academic if Darpa can’t figure out what materials can actually make up its transient electronics. And there it concedes that “key technological breakthroughs are required across the entire electronics production process, from starting materials to components to finished products.” (That might be a concession that it’s old BioDesign project, which involved creating a “synthetic organism ‘self-destruct’ option” for artificial lifeforms, didn’t bear fruit.)

Transience can’t mean poor performance while the device still exists. Nor can it mean destruction before a human programmer extracts all the necessary data from the device. Makers can talk this all through at the Darpa “Proposer’s Day,” on Valentine’s Day at the Capitol Conference Center in Arlington, Virginia. A more elaborate description of the VAPR program is supposed to follow.

If it works, transient electronics could provide “fundamental and practical insight into the development of transient electronics of arbitrary complexity” — such as, perhaps, the self-destructing plane or ship of the far, far future. (That might have come in handy in 2011, when the U.S. lost an advanced stealth drone over Iran.) For now, Darpa will have enough of a challenge building a sensor that accepts its days on this Earth are tragically numbered.

Canadian opposition introduces bill that makes secession easier

Reuters| Jan 28, 2013

By Randall Palmer

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA – Canada’s biggest opposition party introduced a bill on Monday that would make it easier for the French-speaking province of Quebec to secede, although the proposal has no chance of becoming law now.

The bill, from the opposition New Democratic Party, would allow Quebec to leave Canada if there were a simple majority vote on a clear question – 50 percent plus one vote, offering clues to NDP policy on the matter if it wins the 2015 election.

Current legislation says a “clear majority” is needed for a province to secede, an undefined number that is described as more than a simple majority.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said the side with the “largest number of validly expressed votes” should win a referendum, provided the question in the vote was unambiguous. His proposal won’t become law because the Conservatives hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

Quebec secessionists came within a hair of winning a referendum to break away from Canada in 1995, gaining 49.4 percent of the vote to 50.6 percent for the pro-Canada side.

Canada Bill Would Ease Quebec’s Secession

That squeaker prompted the federal government to pass the Clarity Act, which requires a clear majority on a clear question. It does not specify what is meant by a clear majority but says it is more than a simple majority.

The NDP, noting the arrangements for a Scottish referendum in 2014 on independence from Britain, would revoke that act.

“There’s no way to look at this otherwise,” Mulcair said. “That’s the rule that’s being followed by the mother of all parliaments in Westminster (the British Parliament).”

The issue has become more pressing with the election last year of a separatist government in Quebec. The separatist Parti Quebecois has only a minority of seats, so it cannot hold a new referendum now. But it could do so if it wins a majority in the next provincial election, expected by mid-2014.

Opinion polls put Quebec support for independence at well short of a majority.

Liberal legislator Stephane Dion, who wrote the Clarity Act, said the NDP was in the absurd position of requiring a two-thirds majority to amend the party’s constitution but a bare majority to break up Canada.

“It’s a decision forever. It’s something that you decide for the next generations,” he told Reuters. “You must be sure that it’s clearly what the people want.”

The NDP’s policy is unlikely to increase its popularity in the rest of Canada, but a majority of its seats are from Quebec and it plainly believes that this will help it retain those seats and fend off the separatist Bloc Quebecois in the next federal election.

Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

vietnam-63-20130126-361

Book: “Kill Anything That Moves”: New Book Exposes Hidden Crimes of the War

By Nick Turse

nickturse.com | Jan 30, 2013

9780805086911_custom-d7bde86a53a684d5facba08cf4d2cf39c664ad32-s6-c10Based on classified documents and first-person interviews, a startling history of the American war on Vietnamese civilians

Americans have long been taught that events such as the notorious My Lai massacre were isolated incidents in the Vietnam War, carried out by “a few bad apples.” But as award-winning journalist and historian Nick Turse demonstrates in this groundbreaking investigation, violence against Vietnamese noncombatants was not at all exceptional during the conflict. Rather, it was pervasive and systematic, the predictable consequence of orders to “kill anything that moves.”

Drawing on more than a decade of research in secret Pentagon files and extensive interviews with American veterans and Vietnamese survivors, Turse reveals for the first time how official policies resulted in millions of innocent civilians killed and wounded. In shocking detail, he lays out the workings of a military machine that made crimes in almost every major American combat unit all but inevitable. Kill Anything That Moves takes us from archives filled with Washington’s long-suppressed war crime investigations to the rural Vietnamese hamlets that bore the brunt of the war; from boot camps where young American soldiers learned to hate all Vietnamese to bloodthirsty campaigns like Operation Speedy Express, in which a general obsessed with body counts led soldiers to commit what one participant called “a My Lai a month.”

Thousands of Vietnam books later, Kill Anything That Moves, devastating and definitive, finally brings us face-to-face with the truth of a war that haunts Americans to this day.

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“Kill Anything That Moves”: New Book Exposes Hidden Crimes of the War

Photo of the day: “Your DNA Will Be Your Data”

dna

Photo taken at London Gatwick Airport…

Thanks to Edo!