Sunday, March 31, 2013

The resurrection of nature

It's no secret that vast stretches of once fertile earth have been turned into desert wastelands.

That can't be good for anybody.
Is it possible to restore these areas?
Yes we can - and it's not that hard.

Kansas Couple: Indoor Gardening Prompted Pot Raid

From:  CBS St. Louis

File photo of a garden. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
File photo of a garden. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) — Two former CIA employees whose Kansas home was fruitlessly searched for marijuana during a two-state drug sweep claim they were illegally targeted, possibly because they had bought indoor growing supplies to raise vegetables.
Adlynn and Robert Harte sued this week to get more information about why sheriff’s deputies searched their home in the upscale Kanas City suburb of Leawood last April 20 as part of Operation Constant Gardener — a sweep conducted by agencies in Kansas and Missouri that netted marijuana plants, processed marijuana, guns, growing paraphernalia and cash from several other locations.
April 20 long has been used by marijuana enthusiasts to celebrate the illegal drug and more recently by law enforcement for raids and crackdowns. But the Hartes’ attorney, Cheryl Pilate, said she suspects the couple’s 1,825-square-foot split level was targeted because they had bought hydroponic equipment to grow a small number of tomatoes and squash plants in their basement.
“With little or no other evidence of any illegal activity, law enforcement officers make the assumption that shoppers at the store are potential marijuana growers, even though the stores are most commonly frequented by backyard gardeners who grow organically or start seedlings indoors,” the couple’s lawsuit says.
The couple filed the suit this week under the Kansas Open Records Act after Johnson County and Leawood denied their initial records requests, with Leawood saying it had no relevant records. The Hartes say the public has an interest in knowing whether the sheriff’s department’s participation in the raids was “based on a well-founded belief of marijuana use and cultivation at the targeted addresses, or whether the raids primarily served a publicity purpose.”
“If this can happen to us and we are educated and have reasonable resources, how does somebody who maybe hasn’t led a perfect life supposed to be free in this country?” Adlynn Harte said in an interview Friday.
The suit filed in Johnson County District Court said the couple and their two children — a 7-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son — were “shocked and frightened” when deputies armed with assault rifles and wearing bulletproof vests pounded on the door of their home around 7:30 a.m. last April 20.
“It was just like on the cops TV shows,” Robert Harte told The Associated Press. “It was like ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ ready to storm the compound.”
During the sweep, the court filing said, the Hartes were told they had been under surveillance for months, but the couple “know of no basis for conducting such surveillance nor do they believe such surveillance would have produced any facts supporting the issuance of a search warrant.”
Harte said he built the hydroponic garden with his son a couple of years ago. He said they didn’t use the powerful light bulbs that are sometimes used to grow marijuana and that the family’s electricity usage didn’t change dramatically. Changes in utility usage can sometimes lead authorities to such operations.
When law enforcement arrived, the family had just six plants — three tomato plants, one melon plant and two butternut squash plants — growing in the basement, Harte said.
The suit also said deputies “made rude comments” and implied their son was using marijuana. A drug-sniffing dog was brought in to help, but deputies ultimately left after providing a receipt stating, “No items taken.”

Wikileaks Was Just a Preview: We're Headed for an Even Bigger Showdown Over Secrets

Bradley Manning


by: Matt Taibbi

I went yesterday to a screening of We Steal Secrets, Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney's brilliant new documentary about Wikileaks. The movie is beautiful and profound, an incredible story that's about many things all at once, including the incredible Shakespearean narrative that is the life of Julian Assange, a free-information radical who has become an uncompromising guarder of secrets.
I'll do a full review in a few months, when We Steal Secrets comes out, but I bring it up now because the whole issue of secrets and how we keep them is increasingly in the news, to the point where I think we're headed for a major confrontation between the government and the public over the issue, one bigger in scale than even the Wikileaks episode.
We've seen the battle lines forming for years now. It's increasingly clear that governments, major corporations, banks, universities and other such bodies view the defense of their secrets as a desperate matter of institutional survival, so much so that the state has gone to extraordinary lengths to punish and/or threaten to punish anyone who so much as tiptoes across the informational line.
This is true not only in the case of Wikileaks – and especially the real subject of Gibney's film, Private Bradley Manning, who in an incredible act of institutional vengeance is being charged with aiding the enemy (among other crimes) and could, theoretically, receive a death sentence.
There's also the horrific case of Aaron Swartz, a genius who helped create the technology behind Reddit at the age of 14, who earlier this year hanged himself after the government threatened him with 35 years in jail for downloading a bunch of academic documents from an MIT server. Then there's the case of Sergey Aleynikov, the Russian computer programmer who allegedly stole the High-Frequency Trading program belonging to Goldman, Sachs (Aleynikov worked at Goldman), a program which prosecutors in open court admitted could, "in the wrong hands," be used to "manipulate markets."
Aleynikov spent a year in jail awaiting trial, was convicted, had his sentence overturned, was freed, and has since been re-arrested by a government seemingly determined to make an example out of him.
And most recently, there's the Matthew Keys case, in which a Reuters social media editor was charged by the government with conspiring with the hacker group Anonymous to alter a Los Angeles Times headline in December 2010. The change in the headline? It ended up reading, "Pressure Builds in House to Elect CHIPPY 1337," Chippy being the name of another hacker group accused of defacing a video game publisher's website.
Keys is charged with crimes that carry up to 25 years in prison, although the likelihood is that he'd face far less than that if convicted. Still, it seems like an insane amount of pressure to apply, given the other types of crimes (of, say, the HSBC variety) where stiff sentences haven't even been threatened, much less imposed.
A common thread runs through all of these cases. On the one hand, the motivations for these information-stealers seem extremely diverse: You have people who appear to be primarily motivated by traditional whistleblower concerns (Manning, who never sought money and was obviously initially moved by the moral horror aroused by the material he was seeing, falls into that category for me), you have the merely mischievous (the Keys case seems to fall in this area), there are those who either claim to be or actually are free-information ideologues (Assange and Swartz seem more in this realm), and then there are other cases where the motive might have been money (Aleynikov, who was allegedly leaving Goldman to join a rival trading startup, might be among those).
But in all of these cases, the government pursued maximum punishments and generally took zero-tolerance approaches to plea negotiations. These prosecutions reflected an obvious institutional terror of letting the public see the sausage-factory locked behind the closed doors not only of the state, but of banks and universities and other such institutional pillars of society. As Gibney pointed out in his movie, this is a Wizard of Oz moment, where we are being warned not to look behind the curtain.
What will we find out? We already know that our armies mass-murder women and children in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, that our soldiers joke about smoldering bodies from the safety of gunships, that some of our closest diplomatic allies starve and repress their own citizens, and we may even have gotten a glimpse or two of a banking system that uses computerized insider trading programs to steal from everyone who has an IRA or a mutual fund or any stock at all by manipulating markets like the NYSE.
These fervent, desperate prosecutions suggest that there's more awfulness under there, things that are worse, and there is a determination to not let us see what those things are. Most recently, we've seen that determination in the furor over Barack Obama's drone assassination program and the so-called "kill list" that is associated with it.
Weeks ago, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul – whom I've previously railed against as one of the biggest self-aggrandizing jackasses in politics – pulled a widely-derided but, I think, absolutely righteous Frank Capra act on the Senate floor, executing a one-man filibuster of Obama's CIA nominee, John Brennan.
Paul had been mortified when he received a letter from Eric Holder refusing to rule out drone strikes on American soil in "extraordinary" circumstances like a 9/11 or a Pearl Harbor. Paul refused to yield until he extracted a guarantee that no American could be assassinated by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime.
He got his guarantee, but the way the thing is written doesn't fill one with anything like confidence. Eric Holder's letter to Paul reads like the legal disclaimer on a pack of unfiltered cigarettes:
Dear Senator Paul,
It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: "Does the president have the additional authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" The answer is no.
Eric Holder
You could drive a convoy of tanker trucks through the loopholes in that letter. Not to worry, though, this past week, word has come out via Congress – the White House won't tell us anything – that no Americans are on its infamous kill list. The National Journal's report on this story offered a similarly comical sort of non-reassurance:  MORE

Environmental group: Thousands of pesticides dodge regulation

From:  Raw Story

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 14:25 EDT
 A helicopter spreads pesticide on August 15, 2005 in Los Angeles, California. (AFP)
Thousands of pesticides are allowed onto the US market without rigorous safety testing, putting people, animals and crop pollinators like bees at risk, a US environmental group said Wednesday.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said the culprit is a congressional loophole dating back to 1978, which has allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to approve more than 10,000 pesticides with minimal testing.
This “conditional registration” was meant for rare cases — such as a disease outbreak or a public health crisis — but instead has been used for 65 percent of the 16,000 pesticides on the market, the NRDC said.
“One of the problems we also realized was that the EPA’s database is a mess,” said Mae Wu, an attorney at NRDC who has spent two years on the group’s latest investigation.
“They weren’t tracking the conditional registrations properly at all,” she told reporters, noting that the public was never involved in the vetting process and supposed temporary pesticides were falling into a “black hole.”
The NRDC highlighted two products that have made it to market without rigorous toxicity testing — a germ-killer, known as nanosilver, used in textiles and clothing and clothianidin, a pesticide that endangers bees.
The group urged the EPA to review all its conditionally registered pesticides, cancel the registrations for nanosilver and clothianidin, and start a publicly searchable database of approved pesticides.
When asked for comment, the EPA sent AFP a statement saying it “is working aggressively to protect bees and other pollinators from pesticide risks through regulatory, voluntary and research programs.”
The EPA is also “accelerating the schedule for registration review of the neonicotinoid pesticides because of uncertainties about these pesticides and their potential effects on bees,” it said.

Study: Pesticides scramble bees’ brain circuits

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 14:47 EDT
Pesticides used by farmers to protect crops or bee hives can scramble the brain circuits of honeybees, affecting memory and navigation skills needed to find food, scientists said Wednesday.
This in turn threatened entire colonies of bees whose pollinating functions are vital for human food production, they wrote in the journal Nature Communications.
The team observed honeybee brains in the lab after exposing them to neonicotinoid pesticides used on crops, and organophosphates, the most widely used group of insecticides in the world — in this case coumaphos — sometimes used to control mite infestations in beehives.

Exposed to similar concentrations of the two pesticides as they would encounter in the environment, the learning circuits of the bee brains soon stopped working, said the researchers.
“Together, the two classes of pesticide showed a greater negative effect on the bee brain and are predicted to inhibit honeybee learning,” co-author Christopher Connolly of the University of Dundee’s Medical Research Institute told AFP.
“Pollinators perform sophisticated behaviours while foraging that require them to learn and remember floral traits associated with food,” added colleague Geraldine Wright of Newcastle University’s Centre for Behaviour and Evolution.
“Disruption in this important function has profound implications for honeybee colony survival because bees that cannot learn will not be able to find food.”
The finding comes amid a fierce debate on the continuing use of neonicotinoids.
Two weeks ago, European nations rejected a proposed two-year ban on the brain-targeting group of insecticides following opposition by the agrochemical industry.

Beekeepers in Europe, North America and elsewhere are worried by so-called colony collapse disorder — a phenomenon in which adult bees abruptly disappear from beehives — which has been blamed on mites, a virus or fungus, pesticides or a combination thereof.
Bees account for 80 percent of plant pollination by insects. Without them, many crops would be unable to bear fruit or would have to be pollinated by hand.
The researchers said their findings should prompt a rethink of pesticide use.
“Our data suggests that the widespread use of coumaphos as a miticide is an unnecessary risk to the health of honeybees,” said Connolly, and proposed organic acids may be more appropriate for hive mite control.
“In terms of crop protection pesticides, it is claimed by the agrochemical industry that alternatives to the neonicotinoids would be more toxic to bees.
“A direct comparison of the alternatives appears to be the only way forward” to find the least harmful alternative, he said.
Commenting on the study, apiculture (beekeeping) professor Francis Ratnieks of the University of Sussex said the concentrations used in the study appeared to be high.
“It is no surprise that insecticides at high concentrations are harmful, but we don’t know whether the low levels of neonicotinoid insecticides in the nectar and pollen of treated plants… are harmful in the real world.”
Furthermore, coumaphos was not legal for use in much of Europe and not widely used in the United States, said Ratnieks, quoted by the Science Media Centre in London.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Home-schooling family who fled to U.S. from Germany face deportation: Parents face charges and $9,000 fine for taking kids out school as Obama officials prepare to send them back


  • A lawsuit against the Department of Justice will be heard April 23
  • Federal government based decision on an international law ruling
  • White House petition seeks 100,000 signatures in 30 days
  • Germany fines parents for home schooling and sometimes revokes custody
  • An estimated 2 million children in the US are home schooled
By David Martosko
The Obama administration is arguing in federal court that a homeschooling family from Germany should be deported back to their homeland, despite what they say is religious persecution. The German government prevented Uwe and Hannelore Romeike from teaching their five children at home instead of sending them to government-run schools, fining them and threatening to prosecute them if they don't obey.
When they took their three oldest children out of school in 2006, police showed up at their house within 24 hours, only leaving after a group of supporters showed up and organized a quick protest.
But their legal troubles were just beginning. Germany began fining the family, ultimately racking up a bill of more than 7,000 Euros ($9,000).
After they fled to the United States in 2010, the Romeike family initially were granted political asylum and found a home in Tennessee. They had a sixth child. But then U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appealed the asylum decision in 2012.

The federal Board of Immigration Appeals sided with the government despite a 2011 policy that gives the government broad discretion to pursue only high-priority cases.
ICE would not provide details about the case, or its reasons for pursuing the Romeikes.
'We do not comment on pending litigation,' ICE public affairs officer Brandon Montgomery told MailOnline.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike fled Germany with their five children because the government there criminalized home schooling
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike fled Germany with their five children because the government there criminalized home schooling. A sixth child was born after they took up residence and Tennessee and won permanent asylum on human rights grounds. The Obama administration appealed and seeks their deportation back to Germany

The Romeikes teach their five school-age children at home, including computer lessons along with reading, writing, math, history, music and other subjects
The Romeikes teach their five school-age children at home, including computer lessons along with reading, writing, math, history, music and other subjects
The Home School Legal Defense Association sued the US Department of Justice because a judge in that agency's Executive Office for Immigration Review was responsible for the decision.
A three-judge panel in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case of Romeike v. Holder on April 23.
Michael Farris, that organization's founding chairman, told MailOnline in a telephone interview that the even if the federal government doesn't believe home schooling is a human rights issue that qualifies for political asylum, it can still let the family remain in the US and home school their children.
'The attorney general absolutely has the discretion to let these people stay,' Farris said of the devoutly Christian family.
'I really wonder what would've happened to the Pilgrims under this administration,' he said recently on the Fox News Channel.
Christopher Bentley, a Tennessee spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, said his agency was involved in the case early on.
'I can't talk about any asylum cases in particular,' he cautioned, 'but our office would have responsibility for initially determining whether they qualified for asylum in the United States.'
'We're the first step in establishing "credible fear," and then making a determination of whether they qualify for asylum in the United States. They have to claim that their government can't protect them from persecution because they're part of a specific group. That's the basis for any asylum grant.'
White House petition seeks asylum for German home schooling family
'We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the Obama Administration grant full and permanent legal status to Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their children,' the petition reads. If it attracts 100,000 signatures by April 18, it will trigger a response from the administration
At the point where the Romeikes were granted asylum, the Department of Homeland Security was off the case. But after the Board of Immigration Review heard the case and overturned the asylum ruling, DHS re-entered the picture, since it's the agency charged with enforcing immigration judges' decisions.
Farris has started a petition to pressure the White House to let the family remain in the country. It has attracted more than 21,000 signatures toward a goal of 100,000, which must be reached by April 18 in order to trigger a response from the Obama administration.
'Every state in the United States of America recognizes the right to homeschool,' the petition reads, 'and the U.S. has the world’s largest and most vibrant homeschool community. Regrettably, this family faces deportation in spite of the persecution they will suffer in Germany.'
An estimated 2 million children in the US are home schooled.
But the practice is illegal in Germany. An estimated 200 families teach their own children there anyway, even at the risk of fines, criminal prosecution and, in some cases, the loss of custody of their children.

Uwe Romeike supervises one of her daughters during a reading lesson in their Tennessee home
Uwe Romeike supervises one of her daughters during a reading lesson in their Tennessee home. The Obama administration seeks their deportation back to Germany, where home schooling is illegal
Germany made school attendance mandatory in 1918. During the Nazi era, that law was made even more restrictive to ensure that young Germans were indoctrinated with Adolph Hitler's national socialist ideology.
The German Supreme Court has ruled that it wants to 'counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies,' Farris explained. 'And that's a direct quote.'
'We want to give them a safe harbor. That's what asylum is for.'
That court ruled in 2007 that parents who home school their children can have their custody rights limited or eliminated entirely.
German families have sought refuge in both Canada and New Zealand in recent years, citing the same reasons as the Romeikes. Both cases were denied.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. Attorney General Eric Holder could intervene and allow the Romeikes to remain in the country on humanitarian grounds, even if the Obama administration doesn't believe home schooling parents should qualify for asylum as a matter of principle.
The school day in the Romeike household is a conducted around the kitchen table, with Uwe making the rounds as her children study
The school day in the Romeike household is a conducted around the kitchen table, with Uwe making the rounds as her children study. An advocacy group sued the federal government over their deportation order, and a federal appeals court will hear the case in April
Federal law allows refugees to stay in the United States permanently if they can show they are being persecuted for reasons including their religion or their membership in a 'particular social group.'
But in its argument against the Romeikes' asylum, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement called home schoolers too 'amorphous' to qualify.
'United States law has recognized the broad power of the state to compel school attendance and regulate curriculum and teacher certification' along with the 'authority to prohibit or regulate homeschooling,' ICE wrote.
When the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned the judge's initial grant of asylum, it based its decision on a case where the European Court of Human Rights ruled that 'the public education laws of Germany do not violate basic human rights.'
A science curriculum is part of the Romeikes' home schooling curriculum, including access to a microscope and laboratory equipment
A science curriculum is part of the Romeikes' home schooling curriculum, including access to a microscope, laboratory equipment and other things they would have if they attended traditional schools. The German government forbids home schooling, and the US government wants them deported back to their home country
The Home School Legal Defense Association's argument is that the federal government should not substitute international law for US law.
'I think we have a really good case,' Farris said.
He believes there are likely only three possibilities that would explain why the Obama administration is working so hard to deport the Romeike family.
'It could be that the government is just anti-homeschooling, or anti-religious-freedom,' Farris said. 'Or perhaps they have some deal with the German government.'
'I don't know which it is, but none of the options is pretty.'
Romeike family

Why Not Separate Marriage and State?

From:  National Review

COMMENTARY:  John always steals his ideas, having none of his own.  See Rebuild America, our Reform of Marriage Project

by John (I Beat Women, got any?) Fund 

 Cultural civil war can be avoided by getting government out of marriage.

There is no question that the media, political, and cultural push for gay marriage has made impressive gains. As recently as 1989, voters in avant-garde San Francisco repealed a law that had established only domestic partnerships.

But judging by the questions posed by Supreme Court justices this week in oral arguments for two gay-marriage cases, most observers do not expect sweeping rulings that would settle the issue and avoid protracted political combat. A total of 41 states currently do not allow gay marriage, and most of those laws are likely to remain in place for some time. Even should the Court declare unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes, we can expect many pitched battles in Congress. The word “spouse” appears in federal laws and regulations a total of 1,138 times, and many of those references would have to be untangled by Congress absent DOMA.
No wonder Wisconsin’s GOP governor Scott Walker sees public desire for a Third Way. On Meet the Press this month he remarked on how many young people have asked him why the debate is over whether the definition of marriage should be expanded. They think the question is rather “why the government is sanctioning it in the first place.” The alterative would be to “not have the government sanction marriage period, and leave that up to the churches and the synagogues and others to define that.”
Governor Walker made clear these thoughts weren’t “anything I’m advocating for,” but he gave voice to many people who don’t think the gay-marriage debate should tear the country apart in a battle over who controls the culture and wins the government’s seal of approval. Gay-marriage proponents argue that their struggle is the civil-rights issue of our time, although many gays privately question that idea. Opponents who bear no animus toward gays lament that ancient traditions are being swept aside before the evidence is in on how gay marriage would affect the culture.
Both sides operate from the shaky premise that government must be the arbiter of this dispute. Columnist Andrew Sullivan, a crusader for gay marriage, has written that “marriage is a formal, public institution that only the government can grant.” But that’s not so. Marriage predates government. Marriage scholar Lawrence Stone has noted that in the Middle Ages it was “treated as a private contract between two families . . . For those without property, it was a private contract between two individuals enforced by the community sense of what was right.” Indeed, marriage wasn’t even regulated by law in Britain until the Marriage Acts of 1754 and 1835. Common-law unions in early America were long recognized before each state imposed a one-size-fits-all set of marriage laws.
The Founding Fathers avoided creating government-approved religions so as to avoid Europe’s history of church-based wars. Depoliticizing religion has mostly proven to be a good template for defusing conflict by keeping it largely in the private sphere.
Turning marriage into fundamentally a private right wouldn’t be an easy task. Courts and government would still be called on to recognize and enforce contracts that a couple would enter into, and clearly some contracts — such as in a slave-master relationship — would be invalid. But instead of fighting over which marriages gain its approval, government would end the business of making distinctions for the purpose of social engineering based on whether someone was married. A flatter tax code would go a long way toward ending marriage penalties or bonuses. We would need a more sensible system of legal immigration so that fewer people would enter the country solely on the basis of spousal rights.

The current debate pits those demanding “marriage equality” against supporters of “traditional marriage.” But many Americans believe it would be better if we left matters to individuals and religious bodies. The cherished principle of separating church and state should be extended as much as possible into separating marriage and state. Ron Paul won many cheers during his 2012 presidential campaign when he declared, “I’d like to see all governments out of the marriage question. I don’t think it’s a state decision. I think it’s a religious function. I am supportive of all voluntary associations and people can call it whatever they want.”

Supporters of traditional marriage know the political winds are blowing against them. A new Fox News poll finds 49 percent of voters favoring gay marriage, up from just 32 percent a decade ago. And among self-described conservatives under 35, Fox found support for gay marriage is now at 44 percent. Even if the Supreme Court leaves the battle for gay marriage to trench warfare in the states, the balance of power is shifting. Rush Limbaugh, a powerful social conservative, told his listeners this week: “I don’t care what this court does with this particular ruling. . . . I think the inertia is clearly moving in the direction that there is going to be gay marriage at some point nationwide.”

But a majority of Americans still believe the issue of gay marriage should be settled by the states and not with Roe v. Wade–style central planning. It might still be possible to assemble a coalition of people who want to avoid a civil war over the culture and who favor getting government out of the business of marriage.
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.

Domestic Drones and Their Unique Dangers

From:  Common Dreams

COMMENT:  Paired with the last article the actual intentions of those in power and the culpability of those supplying the technology is clear.  They know, the profits trump all considerations of ethics and the Constitution.  

Dismissive claims that drones do nothing more than helicopters and satellites already do are wildly misinformed

The use of drones by domestic US law enforcement agencies is growing rapidly, both in terms of numbers and types of usage. As a result, civil liberties and privacy groups led by the ACLU - while accepting that domestic drones are inevitable - have been devoting increasing efforts to publicizing their unique dangers and agitating for statutory limits. These efforts are being impeded by those who mock the idea that domestic drones pose unique dangers (often the same people who mock concern over their usage on foreign soil). This dismissive posture is grounded not only in soft authoritarianism (a religious-type faith in the Goodness of US political leaders and state power generally) but also ignorance over current drone capabilities, the ways drones are now being developed and marketed for domestic use, and the activities of the increasingly powerful domestic drone lobby. So it's quite worthwhile to lay out the key under-discussed facts shaping this issue.AR Drone: almost certainly the world's first Wi-Fi enabled iPhone-controllable miniature flying device.
I'm going to focus here most on domestic surveillance drones, but I want to say a few words about weaponized drones. The belief that weaponized drones won't be used on US soil is patently irrational. Of course they will be. It's not just likely but inevitable. Police departments are already speaking openly about how their drones "could be equipped to carry nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun." The drone industry has already developed and is now aggressively marketing precisely such weaponized drones for domestic law enforcement use. It likely won't be in the form that has received the most media attention: the type of large Predator or Reaper drones that shoot Hellfire missiles which destroy homes and cars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and multiple other countries aimed at Muslims (although US law enforcement agencies already possess Predator drones and have used them over US soil for surveillance).
Instead, as I detailed in a 2012 examination of the drone industry's own promotional materials and reports to their shareholders, domestic weaponized drones will be much smaller and cheaper, as well as more agile - but just as lethal. The nation's leading manufacturer of small "unmanned aircraft systems" (UAS), used both for surveillance and attack purposes, is AeroVironment, Inc. (AV). Its 2011 Annual Report filed with the SEC repeatedly emphasizes that its business strategy depends upon expanding its market from foreign wars to domestic usage including law enforcement:
AV's annual report added: "Initial likely non-military users of small UAS include public safety organizations such as law enforcement agencies. . . ." These domestic marketing efforts are intensifying with the perception that US spending on foreign wars will decrease. As a February, 2013 CBS News report noted, focusing on AV's surveillance drones:
"Now, drones are headed off the battlefield. They're already coming your way.
"AeroVironment, the California company that sells the military something like 85 percent of its fleet, is marketing them now to public safety agencies."
Like many drone manufacturers, AV is now focused on drone products - such as the "Qube" - that are so small that they can be "transported in the trunk of a police vehicle or carried in a backpack" and assembled and deployed within a matter of minutes. One news report AV touts is headlined "Drone technology could be coming to a Police Department near you", which focuses on the Qube.
But another article prominently touted on AV's website describes the tiny UAS product dubbed the "Switchblade", which, says the article, is "the leading edge of what is likely to be the broader, even wholesale, weaponization of unmanned systems." The article creepily hails the Switchblade drone as "the ultimate assassin bug". That's because, as I wrote back in 2011, "it is controlled by the operator at the scene, and it worms its way around buildings and into small areas, sending its surveillance imagery to an i-Pad held by the operator, who can then direct the Switchblade to lunge toward and kill the target (hence the name) by exploding in his face." AV's website right now proudly touts a February, 2013 Defense News article describing how much the US Army loves the "Switchblade" and how it is preparing to purchase more. Time Magazine heralded this tiny drone weapon as "one of the best inventions of 2012", gushing: "the Switchblade drone can be carried into battle in a backpack. It's a kamikaze: the person controlling it uses a real-time video feed from the drone to crash it into a precise target - say, a sniper. Its tiny warhead detonates on impact."
What possible reason could someone identify as to why these small, portable weaponized UAS products will not imminently be used by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the US? They're designed to protect their users in dangerous situations and to enable a target to be more easily killed. Police agencies and the increasingly powerful drone industry will tout their utility in capturing and killing dangerous criminals and their ability to keep officers safe, and media reports will do the same. The handful of genuinely positive uses from drones will be endlessly touted to distract attention away from the dangers they pose.
One has to be incredibly naïve to think that these "assassin bugs" and other lethal drone products will not be widely used on US soil by an already para-militarized domestic police force. As Radley Balko's forthcoming book "Rise of the Warrior Cop" details, the primary trend in US law enforcement is what its title describes as "The Militarization of America's Police Forces". The history of domestic law enforcement particularly after 9/11 has been the importation of military techniques and weapons into domestic policing. It would be shocking if these weapons were not imminently used by domestic law enforcement agencies.
In contrast to weaponized drones, even the most naïve among us do not doubt the imminent proliferation of domestic surveillance drones. With little debate, they have already arrived. As the ACLU put it in their recent report: "US law enforcement is greatly expanding its use of domestic drones for surveillance." An LA Times article from last month reported that "federal authorities have stepped up efforts to license surveillance drones for law enforcement and other uses in US airspace" and that "the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it had issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007, far more than were previously known." Moreover, the agency "has estimated 10,000 drones could be aloft five years later" and "local and state law enforcement agencies are expected to be among the largest customers."
Concerns about the proliferation of domestic surveillance drones are typically dismissed with the claim that they do nothing more than police helicopters and satellites already do. Such claims are completely misinformed. As the ACLU's 2011 comprehensive report on domestic drones explained: "Unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the surveillance of American life."
Multiple attributes of surveillance drones make them uniquely threatening. Because they are so cheap and getting cheaper, huge numbers of them can be deployed to create ubiquitous surveillance in a way that helicopters or satellites never could. How this works can already been seen in Afghanistan, where the US military has dubbed its drone surveillance system "the Gorgon Stare", named after the "mythical Greek creature whose unblinking eyes turned to stone those who beheld them". That drone surveillance system is "able to scan an area the size of a small town" and "the most sophisticated robotics use artificial intelligence that [can] seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity". Boasted one US General: "Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we're looking at, and we can see everything."
The NSA already maintains ubiquitous surveillance of electronic communications, but the Surveillance State faces serious limits on its ability to replicate that for physical surveillance. Drones easily overcome those barriers. As the ACLU report put it:
I've spoken previously about why a ubiquitous Surveillance State ushers in unique and deeply harmful effects on human behavior and a nation's political culture and won't repeat that here (here's the video (also embedded below) and the transcript of one speech where I focus on how that works). Suffice to say, as the ACLU explains in its domestic drone report: "routine aerial surveillance would profoundly change the character of public life in America" because only drone technology enables such omnipresent physical surveillance.
Beyond that, the tiny size of surveillance drones enables them to reach places that helicopters obviously cannot, and to do so without detection. They can remain in the sky, hovering over a single place, for up to 20 hours, a duration that is always increasing - obviously far more than manned helicopters can achieve. As AV's own report put it (see page 11), their hovering capability also means they can surveil a single spot for much longer than many military satellites, most of which move with the earth's rotation (the few satellites that remain fixed "operate nearly 25,000 miles from the surface of the earth, therefore limiting the bandwidth they can provide and requiring relatively larger, higher power ground stations"). In sum, surveillance drones enable a pervasive, stealth and constantly hovering Surveillance State that is now well beyond the technological and financial abilities of law enforcement agencies.
One significant reason why this proliferation of domestic drones has become so likely is the emergence of a powerful drone lobby. I detailed some of how that lobby is functioning here, so will simply note this passage from a recent report from the ACLU of Iowa on its attempts to persuade legislators to enact statutory limits on the use of domestic drones:
"Drones have their own trade group, the Association for Unmanned Aerial Systems International, which includes some of the nation's leading aerospace companies. And Congress now has 'drone caucuses' in both the Senate and House."
Howie Klein has been one of the few people focusing on the massive amounts of money from the drone industry now flowing into the coffers of key Congressional members from both parties in this "drone caucus". Suffice to say, there is an enormous profit to be made from exploiting the domestic drone market, and as usual, that factor is thus far driving the (basically nonexistent) political response to these threats.
What is most often ignored by drone proponents, or those who scoff at anti-drone activism, are the unique features of drones: the way they enable more warfare, more aggression, and more surveillance. Drones make war more likely precisely because they entail so little risk to the war-making country. Similarly, while the propensity of drones to kill innocent people receives the bulk of media attention, the way in which drones psychologically terrorize the population - simply by constantly hovering over them: unseen but heard - is usually ignored, because it's not happening in the US, so few people care (see this AP report from yesterday on how the increasing use of drone attacks in Afghanistan is truly terrorizing local villagers). It remains to be seen how Americans will react to drones constantly hovering over their homes and their childrens' schools, though by that point, their presence will be so institutionalized that it will be likely be too late to stop.  MORE

Risk and reward at the dawn of civilian drone age

From:  MYWAY


(AP) This photo taken March 26, 2013, shows an Insitu ScanEagle unmanned aircraft launched at the...
Full Image

WASHINGTON (AP) - The dawn of the age of aerial civilian drones is rich with possibilities for people far from the war zones where they made their devastating mark as a weapon of choice against terrorists.
The unmanned, generally small aircraft can steer water and pesticides to crops with precision, saving farmers money while reducing environmental risk. They can inspect distant bridges, pipelines and power lines, and find hurricane victims stranded on rooftops.
Drones - some as tiny as a hummingbird - promise everyday benefits as broad as the sky is wide. But the drone industry and those eager to tap its potential are running headlong into fears the peeping-eye, go-anywhere technology will be misused.
Since January, drone-related legislation has been introduced in more than 30 states, largely in response to privacy concerns. Many of the bills would prevent police from using drones for broad public surveillance or to watch individuals without sufficient grounds to believe they were involved in crimes.
(AP) This photo taken March 26, 2013, shows Insitu unmanned aircraft system flight test operator Hannah...
Full Image
Stephen Ingley, executive director of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, says resistance to the technology is frustrating. Drones "clearly have so much potential for saving lives, and it's a darn shame we're having to go through this right now," he said. But privacy advocates say now is the time to debate the proper use of civilian drones and set rules, before they become ubiquitous. Sentiment for curbing domestic drone use has brought the left and right together perhaps more than any other recent issue.
"The thought of government drones buzzing overhead and constantly monitoring the activities of law-abiding citizens runs contrary to the notion of what it means to live in a free society," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said at a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
With military budgets shrinking, drone makers have been counting on the civilian market to spur the industry's growth. Some companies that make drones or supply support equipment and services say the uncertainty has caused them to put U.S. expansion plans on hold, and they are looking overseas for new markets.
"Our lack of success in educating the public about unmanned aircraft is coming back to bite us," said Robert Fitzgerald, CEO of the BOSH Group of Newport News, Va., which provides support services to drone users.
(AP) This photo taken March 26, 2013, show an Insitu ScanEagle unmanned aircraft flying over the airport...
Full Image
"The U.S. has been at the lead of this technology a long time," he said. "If our government holds back this technology, there's the freedom to move elsewhere ... and all of a sudden these things will be flying everywhere else and competing with us." Law enforcement is expected to be one of the bigger initial markets for civilian drones. Last month, the FBI used drones to maintain continuous surveillance of a bunker in Alabama where a 5-year-old boy was being held hostage.
In Virginia, the state General Assembly passed a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by state and local law enforcement. The measure is supported by groups as varied as the American Civil Liberties Union on the left and the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation on the right.
Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing amendments that would retain the broad ban on spy drones but allow specific exemptions when lives are in danger, such as for search-and rescue operations. The legislature reconvenes on April 3 to consider the matter.
Seattle abandoned its drone program after community protests in February. The city's police department had purchased two drones through a federal grant without consulting the city council.
(AP) This photo taken Mwrch 26, 2013 shows flight test pilot Alex Gustafson dismantling an Insitu...
Full Image
In Congress, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., co-chairman of the House's privacy caucus, has introduced a bill that prohibits the Federal Aviation Administration from issuing drone licenses unless the applicant provides a statement explaining who will operate the drone, where it will be flown, what kind of data will be collected, how the data will be used, whether the information will be sold to third parties and the period for which the information will be retained. Privacy advocates acknowledge the many benign uses of drones. In Mesa County, Colo., for example, an annual landfill survey using manned aircraft cost about $10,000. The county recently performed the same survey using a drone for about $200.
Drones can help police departments find missing people, reconstruct traffic accidents and act as lookouts for SWAT teams. Real estate agents can have them film videos of properties and surrounding neighborhoods, offering clients a better-than-bird's-eye view though one that neighbors may not wish to have shared.
"Any legislation that restricts the use of this kind of capability to serve the public is putting the public at risk," said Steve Gitlin, vice president of AeroVironment, a leading maker of smaller drones.
Yet the virtues of drones can also make them dangerous, privacy advocates say. The low cost and ease of use may encourage police and others to conduct the kind of continuous or intrusive surveillance that might otherwise be impractical.
(AP) This photo taken March 26, 2013, shows flight test pilot Alex Gustafson dismantling a Insitu...
Full Image
Drones can be equipped with high-powered cameras and listening devices, and infrared cameras that can see people in the dark. "High-rise buildings, security fences or even the walls of a building are not barriers to increasingly common drone technology," Amie Stepanovich, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Council's surveillance project, told the Senate panel.
Civilian drone use is limited to government agencies and public universities that have received a few hundred permits from the FAA. A law passed by Congress last year requires the FAA to open U.S. skies to widespread drone flights by 2015, but the agency is behind schedule and it's doubtful it will meet that deadline. Lawmakers and industry officials have complained for years about the FAA's slow progress.  MORE