Friday, July 24, 2009

Microwave This! Pain from Above

Microwave weapon will rain pain from the sky
by David Hambling

THE Pentagon's enthusiasm for non-lethal crowd-control weapons appears to have stepped up a gear with its decision to develop a microwave pain-infliction system that can be fired from an aircraft.

The device is an extension of its controversial Active Denial System, which uses microwaves to heat the surface of the skin, creating a painful sensation without burning that strongly motivates the target to flee. The ADS was unveiled in 2001, but it has not been deployed owing to legal issues and safety fears.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) in Quantico, Virginia, has now called for it to be upgraded. The US air force, whose radar technology the ADS is based on, is increasing its annual funding of the system from $2 million to $10 million.

The transmitting antenna on the current system is 2 metres across, produces a single beam of similar width and is steered mechanically, making it cumbersome. At the heart of the new weapon will be a compact airborne antenna, which will be steered electronically and be capable of generating multiple beams, each of which can be aimed while on the move.

The ADS has been dogged by controversy. J├╝rgen Altmann, a physicist at Dortmund University in Germany, showed that the microwave beams can cause serious burns at levels not far above those required to repel people. This was verified when a US airman was hospitalised with second-degree burns during testing in April 2007.

The airborne version will not make it any less contentious. "Independent of the mode of production, with this size of antenna the beam will show variations of intensity with distance - not just a simple decrease - up to about 500 metres," says Altmann. Shooting it on the move with any accuracy will be difficult, he adds.

Dave Law, head of the technology division of the JNLWD, says the new antenna will operate at the lowest possible effective power level and will have a sophisticated automated target-tracking system.

In a recent cost-benefit analysis, the US Government Accountability Office rated the ADS worst out of eight non-lethal weapons currently in development.

The New Scientist July 23, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

'threat groups' identified for B.C., Alberta oil industry

Five 'threat groups' identified for B.C., Alberta oil industry
Report sees no organized energy threat
By Kelly Cryderman, Calgary Herald
July 14, 2009

CALGARY - Violent acts or blockades against northern Alberta's oil and gas industry will likely continue in the years ahead, but the disruptions are unlikely to be organized or widespread unless disparate groups come together, says a new report.

The Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute report -- sponsored
by Nexen Inc. --was completed before the two most recent explosions at EnCana
facilities in northeastern B. C.

However, author and political scientist Tom Flanagan says his conclusions still
hold true. "I don't see any evidence of an organized group doing it," Flanagan said of the Dawson Creek blasts.

The report, part of a series of institute studies directed by the global energy
company, identifies five "threat groups" --individual saboteurs, ecoterrorists,
mainstream environmentalists, First Nations and the Metis people.

"All except the Metis have at various times used some combination of litigation,
blockades, occupations, boycotts, sabotage, and violence against economic development projects which they saw as a threat to environmental values or aboriginal rights," Flanagan's report said.

"However, extra-legal obstruction is unlikely to become large-scale and widespread unless these various groups make common cause and cooperate with each other. Such co-operation has not happened in the past and seems unlikely in the future because the groups have different social characteristics and conflicting political interests."

When speaking of First Nations in northern Alberta, Flanagan wrote that there
exists the potential for "warrior societies"--where aboriginal groups brandish
firearms or set up blockades.

"There is no history of warrior societies operating in northern Alberta, but that does not mean it could not happen," the report said.

"A nightmare scenario," he wrote, "would be a linkage between warrior societies
and eco-terrorists."

He said his report was written from the point of view of threats specific to the
oil and gas industry.

"It's what keeps the ship floating in Alberta. Without it, we'd have a province
of one million people rather than three million, and I wouldn't have a job," Flanagan said in an interview.

"I'm sympathetic to the continued prosperity of the industry, so I point out the
difficulties they face."

However, environmental writer Andrew Nikiforuk said Flanagan's report focuses on
the wrong security issues.

"Energy developments are generally secure when you make sure that surface owners--whether they are farmers or aboriginals--are treated with respect . . . and where regulators don't allow development to undermine groundwater, air quality and health of the local community," Nikiforuk said.

"Most terrorism experts would say Alberta has made itself terribly insecure again by rapidly expanding oil and gas pipelines, and by becoming the number 1 supplier of oil to the United States. We've become a target for global terrorists, who might have an interest in disrupting U. S. oil supplies," he said.

At the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, spokesman Travis Davies said
in a statement that the oil and gas industry has worked with all levels of government to ensure energy security.

"The safety of our neighbours and employees is a top priority. In terms of nonviolent campaigns against Canadian energy sources, industry consults with stakeholders in order to understand their issues, and focuses on communicating
our demonstrated safety and environmental performance, as well as the stringent
regulatory requirements in place for all oil and gas projects," Davies wrote.

The Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute describes itself as an independent research body that focuses on Canadian foreign policy, defence policy and international aid.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Noctlucent Clouds Descend the Latitudes

Wired Science reports :

Mysterious, glowing clouds previously seen almost exclusively in Earth’s polar regions have appeared in the skies over the United States and Europe over the past several days.

Formed by ice literally at the boundary where the earth’s atmosphere meets space 50 miles up, they shine because they are so high that they remain lit by the sun even after our star is below the horizon.

The clouds might be beautiful, but they could portend global changes caused by global warming. Noctilucent clouds are a fundamentally new phenomenon in the temperate mid-latitude sky, and it’s not clear why they’ve migrated down from the poles. Or why, over the last 25 years, more of them are appearing in the polar regions, too, and shining more brightly.

“That’s a real concern and question,” said James Russell, an atmospheric scientist at Hampton University and the principal investigator of an ongoing NASA satellite mission to study the clouds. “Why are they getting more numerous? Why are they getting brighter? Why are they appearing at lower latitudes?”

Noctilucent clouds were first observed in 1885 by an amateur astronomer. No observations of anything resembling noctilucent clouds before that time has ever been found. There is no lack of observations of other phenomena in the sky, so atmospheric scientists are fairly sure that the phenomenon is recent, although they are not sure why.

Over the last 125 years, scientists have learned how the clouds form. At temperatures around minus 230 degrees Fahrenheit, dust blowing up from below or falling into the atmosphere from space provides a resting spot for water vapor to condense and freeze. Right now, during the northern hemisphere’s summer, the atmosphere is heating up and expanding. At the outside edge of the atmosphere, that
actually means that it’s getting colder because it’s pushed farther out into space.

The recent observations of noctilucent clouds at all kinds of latitudes provide an extra impetus to understand what is going on up there. Changes are occurring faster than scientists can understand their causes. “I suspect, as many of us feel, that it is global change, but I fear we don’t understand it,” Wickwar said.

“It’s not as simple as a temperature change.”

I had never witnessed NLCs before, and to be honest, I wondered if I would actually notice them if I did get the chance to see them. Wow, was I wrong ... these literally startled me! Thankfully, I was called to go meet a friend this evening, otherwise I wouldn't have been outside to see them. I walked out of my garage, and glanced up expecting to see a mostly dark sky, and this BRIGHT, electric blue bank of NLCs was filling most of the north sky ... gorgeous!

- Mark Poe

Vancouver: Police Reducing Justice to "Charade"

Lying police are reducing our justice system to a laughable charade.

By Ethan Baron

We expect police, upon whom the whole system rests, to tell the truth.

Over and over again, we have seen that they don't.

Any police officer's testimony must now be treated with suspicion.

On Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Leask ruled that senior RCMP officers Cpl. Martin Stoner and Staff.-Sgt. Peter Lea lied while testifying in the drug-trafficking case of former boxer Robert Della Penna.

Stoner had already misled another judge while seeking the wiretapping authorization, Leask said in the Vancouver court. Both Stoner and Lea then lied during Della Penna's trial.

After Leask threw out the wiretap evidence, the Crown threw in the towel, saying it had no further evidence. Della Penna and three others accused of operating a ring shipping marijuana and ecstasy to the U.S. and smuggling cocaine into Canada were acquitted.

This incident is part of a disturbing collection of cases that have revealed lies, deception and callous manipulation of the justice system by police.

Two months ago, also in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, RCMP Staff-Sgt. Ross Spenard admitted he was untruthful to a judge when he concealed information about flaws in a forensic report in the case of Charlie Rae Lincoln, a woman who ended up convicted of stabbing her two-year-old child to death. Spenard also said he'd lied under oath about a former colleague's work status, to protect the man's privacy.

The judge told the jury that Spenard's lies had tainted his evidence so badly it had no value.

Last year, RCMP Const. Ryan Sheremetta was temporarily suspended after giving false testimony in a coroner's inquest into the shooting by Sheremetta of Kevin St. Arnaud on a Vanderhoof playing field in 2004. Sheremetta had claimed he was on his back when he shot St. Arnaud, while evidence showed he was standing.

And of course there's the Robert Dziekanski case, in which Mounties committed outrageous fabrications in their statements after the fatal Vancouver airport incident, only to be shown as liars when a bystander's video came to light. RCMP brass also withheld from the Braidwood inquiry crucial evidence that the officers involved had discussed Tasering Dziekanski while on their way to the airport.

One of the three defence lawyers in the Della Penna case told me yesterday that the Mounties' lying was not an isolated incident.

"I'm always very disturbed when I catch police officers lying, but it certainly happens," says Elizabeth Lewis.

And often enough, Lewis says, officers will fill in evidentiary blanks with "spin" in order to secure a conviction.

Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. president Robert Holmes told me that the officers' deception in the Della Penna case seriously threatens public confidence in the police.

"Is there more of an incidence of police not living up to their obligation to tell the truth than actually gets detected?" Holmes asks. "That may be the case -- we'll never know." Both Holmes and Lewis noted that a great many officers fulfil their duties on the street and in court with honesty and competence. The problem is, some of them don't.

"The leadership in the police forces and the training [officers] go through has to be rigorous in maintaining the truth-telling standard," Holmes says.

That's no lie.

The Vancouver Province July 17, 2009

Beaver Lake Cree vs. Canada

The Beaver Lake Cree Nation vs the Tar Sands
by Drew Mildon
July 15th, 2009

[The following article was written by Drew Mildon, a lawyer at the Canadian law firm Woodward and Company. Woodward and Company is overseeing the Beaver Lake Cree Nation law suit against the Government of Canada. See source here:]

The Cooperative Financial Services delegates flew into Edmonton on Canada day. They brought along with them Emily Beament, a member of the British Press Association, a BBC film crew and Paul Myles from Ecologist Magazine. We drove north to Lac La Biche, passing through Fort Saskatchewan - the refinery and upgrading center of Alberta, the nexus of so many pipelines - pushing the natural gas needed to drive the engines of the oil industry. Past the Dow Chemical plant and the miles and miles of puffing smokestacks. Across the road from all this industry a few skinny cattle graze and you begin to give serious thought to how enticed you'll be next time you see the words "Alberta Beef."

On Thursday morning, we meet our plane at the tiny green terminal building of the Lac La Biche airport. We fly north over the vast green forests, bogs and fens of the boreal. Seismic lines old and new checkering and cris-crossing and carving the wood into unnatural patterns in long desperate lines that stretch as far as the eye can see. Everywhere little squares of SAGD's old and new scar the landscape.

In Fort McMurray the "Beeb" crew tape up the helicopters with duct tape and external cameras for the flight out over the heart of the problem. We slide up the valley of the Clearwater River and its pretty, pretty like river valleys are supposed to be, and then you come up over the rise and its all there in front of you. And. it. is. devastating. There are moments when, 2,000 ft up, the entire horizon is open pit mines and upgraders, a thousand of those tiny trucks down there, each three stories high and carrying 100 tons of tar sands, these hundreds of foot high pipes burning off sour gas in eternal shooting flames (because its cheaper than upgrading it) - and the lakes (no ponds, no) the lakes of strange grayish yellow that go on and on and on. There's a new lake district in Alberta - but you wouldn't want to pop in there to cool off on a hot sunny day. There's another moment, when each of us on that helicopter, each of us committed, by the laws of our childhood, by our faiths, by our sense of duty, by what ever moral or ethical bubble guides us, committed to the care and the protection of this good earth which sustains us, which fills us with food and life and cool, cool water and we all think - "this is too big, too terrible and it cannot be stopped." And I am weeping, weeping with the sickness of it, weeping with the anger and hatred for those who direct this thing, for those who profit from this thing.

Remember the scene in the animated version of Watership Down? Where the rabbits who escaped the warren late catch up and describe the bulldozers and the gas poured down the holes?

In my early 20s I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder - and looking down on this fucked up mess I think: "This will all start over again. I will wake every night now, shivering and shaking and unable to scream and this will be the thing that is in my head - this image I will carry with me all of my life." But it is a good thing to go, and to see, and to bear witness, I think.

We retire to the Benson hunting lodge for the evening. It's a buffalo ranch next to the Beaver Lake reserve, and it is incredible peaceful and serene. In the early morning you wake to the soft snorting of the buffalo and the deer jump golden in the slanting light from their nighttime safety slip among the herd. And we pack up to drive around to some of the SAGD and pipelines in the area. Everything seems mild after the tar sands pits - but you don't have to look long at the miles of gleaming silver pipelines running six-abreast to understand why the caribou went away. On the side of a massive upgrader a huge sign, one presumes about worker safety, reads "Stop and think!!!" Yes, perhaps we should.

But in the evening we are back at the Beaver Lake cultural grounds for the Pow Wow. And it is a hell of a show. It is the plains First Nations at their very finest, at their most joyful and their most proud and it is a truly amazing thing to behold. It is one of those moments when I feel most blessed in my vocation. When we first arrive there are cameras and journalists everywhere, Chief Lameman and the Pow Wow marshals emerge from the tent where they have just completed a pipe ceremony - to respond to the reports and the mics in their faces. And they are soft-spoken, thoughtful - and determined as hell.

We walk into the Grand Entry, following Chief Lameman and his Council, Germaine Anderson, Jerry Gladue, and Hank Gladue. As we stand in the center of the ring and hundreds of swirling dancers in traditional gear move around us - it's enough to make a scrawny white guy a bit nervous. And it is so, so cool. I think the pasty Brits from Manchesters' eyes are going to fall out of their heads. No one is prepared for the precision and power of the spectacle, or the strength and power of Cree drumming and singing. Your body just moves to it. We are honoured by Chief and Council with blankets and as we try to slip quietly to the sidelines we're instructed - "No, no - you have to dance one round with your blankets." I laugh, thinking they're having me off (as the Brits would say). And the photographer for the Journal says "I think he's serious." And I think the photographer just sees a good opportunity for some funny shots of lawyers trying to dance. So after one dance I try to slip away again - only to be told by a grinning Kookum - "No, no, once you start you have to dance until it's over." So someone is having me off - but who am I to complain? The beat rides your blood. Some of the children have recognized Colin from pictures around the Band office - and they gather around him - teaching him their styles.

The next day it's back to the Pow Wow and a breakfast of Bannock burgers and Indian tacos. We aim for the less-professional looking stands, hoping for the perfect home-made bison burger. On the way I'm asked by Colin if there's any sort of "shamanistic" tradition amongst the Cree and I grin - knowing what lies ahead in the next few days. As we walk in, a local healer is standing, chatting with my colleagues.

Throughout the day the announcers at the Pow Wow are welcoming the visitors from over the big pond - and cracking wise about words like "Blimey" (apparently from "God Blind Me!"). That afternoon Colin goes up to give away some presents from the Cooperative - and the announcer invites folks up from outside Treaty 6 and Colin is surrounded by children - the perfect pale slim summer Santa. And Colin and Paul present a check for $100,000 Canadian to Chief Lameman and a director from RAVEN - to help protect the lands, to help constraint the tar sands in their seemingly insurmountable march. Chief Al says - "without the land we have nothing, we must protect it." My boss, big Jack Woodward, standing tall in his misshapen cowboy hat takes the mic, and sets the crowd on fire. He gives them a new copy of an old treaty - says that promises must be kept. And the shouts and war cries fill the Pow Wow ring, and my heart. And I think "Hi, hi. It is an honour to serve the People."