Monday, April 29, 2013

Virgin Galactic spaceship breaks sound barrier

Virgin Galactic announced today that its space vehicle, SpaceShip Two, made its first rocket powered flight. SpaceShip Two is a joint venture of Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, the aircraft design firm founded by famed designer Burt Rutan.

The flight, which took place at Mojave, California’s Mojave Air and Space Port, began with SpaceShip Two carried aloft by the WhiteKnight Two according to a news item on the Virgin Galactic website. The WhiteKnight climbed to 47,000 feet where SpaceShip Two was released approximately 45 minutes into the flight. After its release, SpaceShip Two’s rocket engine was ignited for a 16 second burn that propelled the spacecraft to 55,000 feet and Mach 1.2. SpaceShip Two’s independent flight lasted approximately 10 minutes, culminating in a landing at Mojave.

Today’s test of SpaceShip Two’s rocket engine begins the final phase of testing before SpaceShip Two enters commercial space service. The company plans to make a full space flight before the end of 2013. The date for commencing commercial spaceflight service has not yet been set, but the flights will depart from Spaceport America in Las Cruces, N.M.

The company is already taking bookings for its commercial spaceflights on its website. Pioneer status, which costs $200,000, guarantees the “Future Astronaut” one of the first 500 seats on SpaceShip Two. For those who don’t want to pay in full, a $20,000 down payment secures a spot on the waiting list after the first 500. Charters of SpaceShip Two are also available for $1 million. Virgin Galactic notes that since SpaceShip Two has six seats, a charter customer get six seats with Pioneer status for the price of five. The price of the flights also includes trips to see construction of the spacecraft, spaceflight training, and visits to Sir Richard Branson’s private island in the Caribbean, game reserve in South Africa, chalet in the Swiss Alps, and Moroccan mountain estate.

Originally published on

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Boston bombing exposes threat of homegrown Muslim terror

Dzhokar_Tsarnaev_with_brotherThe Tsarnaev brothers’ brief reign of terror has shed light on a growing threat to the safety of Americans: homegrown Islamic terrorists. While the brothers were originally from Chechnya, their family had been in the U.S. for almost a decade according to the N.Y. Times. The brothers, age 15 and 8 at the time, were already Muslim but were almost certainly radicalized long after they became American immigrants.

Homegrown radicals are people who were either born in the United States or who immigrated here prior to becoming terrorists. In many cases, homegrown Islamic radicals become radicalized in isolation. Rather than attending mosques, they listen to and read sermons of radical mullahs on the internet. Many homegrown radicals were converted to radical Islam by the sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in the U.S. He later fled to Yemen where he was killed in 2011 by a drone strike. Some homegrown radicals were born into Muslim families; others converted to Islam later in life.

Unlike some early post-9/11 attacks and arrests, homegrown terrorists are not always directly affiliated with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. They may not have traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, or other Middle Eastern countries for training. They often receive information from jihadist internet sites such as al Qaeda’s “Inspire” online magazine, but may not receive direct instructions from al Qaeda leaders. In some cases, al Qaeda may not even be aware of the homegrown radical’s existence.

One of the most famous instances of homegrown terrorism was the 2009 Fort Hood massacre in which Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan murdered 13 people and wounded 32 others. After the attack, it was revealed that Hasan, a native Virginian, had been in email contact with Anwar al-Awlaki. Hasan, who had attended the same mosque as two of the September 11 hijackers, reportedly jumped onto a desk and yelled, “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before he began shooting.

Homegrown radical terrorists go back far further, however. In late 2002, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo murdered 10 people in sniper attacks around the District of Columbia. The Baltimore Sun detailed how Malvo’s writings described the pair’s “jihad” against the United States even though prosecutors did not consider Islamic terrorism a motive. The N.Y. Times described how Muhammad planned to extort millions of dollars from authorities with their sniper attacks and then use the money to set up jihadist training camps and fund more attacks.

The list of unsuccessful terror attacks by homegrown terrorists is already long. In 2009, a Tennessee native and Muslim convert shot and killed a soldier at a recruiting office in Little Rock, Ark. Also in 2009, the FBI broke a terror ring in Raleigh, N.C. headed by an American convert to Islam. Another high profile homegrown terrorist plot was the attempt to blow up a Portland, Ore. Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2010. The man had corresponded via email with Al Qaeda leaders prior to the attempt. An army private from Texas who attempted to bomb Fort Hood in 2011 had planned to use similar devices similar to those that the Tsarnaev brothers built. That same year two Arab-Americans plotted to attack synagogues in New York City. Also in 2011, a New York convert to Islam attempted to attack government buildings around Bayonne, N.J. with pipe bombs. In 2012, a Muslim convert from Brooklyn made death threats against the creators of “South Park” after the show depicted the prophet Mohammed. That same year a Massachusetts man plotted to bomb the Pentagon with a remote control airplane.

Georgia was home to at least one homegrown Islamic radical. In 2011, Jameela Barnette of Marietta mailed a bloody pig’s foot to Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and a Curious George doll to Greg Ball, a state senator from New York. Ms. Barnette, who referred to herself as a “Messenger of Allah and Defender of Islam” told Examiner that her actions were based in her Muslim faith. She said that she believed that suicide bombings and terrorist attacks are justified. Barnette died on Christmas Day 2011 when she ambushed police officers with a gun and knife as they responded to a panic alarm in her home.

The problem of homegrown terrorism is not based on race or skin color. Ryan G. Anderson was a white Muslim convert and a U.S. Army National Guard tank crewman who tried to spy for Al Qaeda in 2003. According to the Defense Human Resources case study, Anderson told undercover agents, “I wish to desert from the U.S. Army. I wish to defect from the United States. I wish to join al-Qaeda, train its members and conduct terrorist attacks.”

Colleen LaRose, also known as “Jihad Jane,” was also a white Muslim convert. In 2009, LaRose received orders from Al Qaeda, again via the internet, to kill a Swedish artist who had blasphemed Mohammed by drawing his head on the body of a dog. LaRose worked with two other homegrown terrorists on the plot and actually traveled to Europe to stalk her prey. She was arrested when she returned to the U.S.

A World Opinion poll of Middle Eastern Muslims shows that an average of about 30 percent supports groups that attack Americans. According to a Pew poll of American Muslims, eight percent believe that suicide bombing is often or sometimes justified and five percent have a favorable view of al Qaeda.

The study estimates that there are approximately 1.5 million Muslims over the age of 18 in the U.S. Slightly more than half are males and approximately 30 percent of the males are 18-29 years old. Although there are female suicide bombers, the majority are young men and the 18-29 age group is a high risk category. If, of the estimated 243,000 young American Muslims, only five percent are potential radicals, that still leaves over 12,000 possible homegrown terrorists.

The Boston Marathon bombing may signal a new phase in the War on Terror in which al Qaeda takes full advantage of the resources provided by homegrown American radicals. In the years since September 11, the terrorist group has been unable to launch another successful attack in the United States. Several attempts at complex, coordinated attacks have been foiled by security agencies in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The success of the low tech and simple assault in Boston may inspire al Qaeda to reassess its strategy, focusing instead on instigating large numbers of small attacks using homegrown bombers and gunmen.

Originally published on

Friday, April 19, 2013

Pressure cooker control

Boston bomber linked to radical Muslim cleric

The International Business Times reports that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the FBI’s Suspect Number One for the Boston Marathon Massacre who died today after an early morning gun battle with police, was influenced by a radical Muslim cleric in Australia. Tsarnaev’s Youtube channel contains numerous links to videos featuring Feiz Mohammad. Tsarnaev and Mohammad also apparently shared an interest in boxing.

Feiz Mohammad is a member of the fundamentalist Wahabi sect of Islam according to The Australian. In 2005, the police investigated Mohammad for his DVDs, the “Death Series” and “Signs of the Hour.” The Australian reports that the Australian Federal Police looked into whether the series broke sedition laws and incited violence. In the videos, Mohammad called Jews “pigs” and denounces non-Muslims as “kaffirs,” which he says is “the worst word ever written, a sign of infidelity, disbelief, filth, a sign of dirt.” He also called upon Muslim children to “put in their soft, tender hearts the zeal of jihad and a love of martyrdom.”

Mohammad is well known in Australia for blaming women for rapes in 2007. The Sydney Morning Herald quotes Mohammad as saying that rape victims had “no one to blame but herself. She displayed her beauty to the entire world…” with “strapless, backless, sleeveless, nothing but satanic skirts, slit skirts, translucent blouses, miniskirts, tight jeans: all this to tease man and appeal to his carnal nature.”

In 2010, Mohammad gained international notoriety when he called for the beheading of a Dutch politician. Geert Wilders was the producer of a film that was critical of Islam. He also said that the prophet Mohammed was “a warlord, terrorist and pedophile” according to The Age.

According to the International Business Times, there are no known direct links between Mohammad and al Qaeda, but he has broadcast sermons from Anwar al-Awlaki, the group’s spiritual leader, on his website. Awlaki was killed by U.S. predator drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

Tsarnaev’s fascination with Feiz Mohammad provides a possible motive for the terrorist bombing in Boston earlier this week. As more information about the Tsarnaev brothers becomes known, their purpose in carrying out the attacks may become clear.

Originally published on

Islamic links to Chechen terrorists in Boston are likely

Yesterday the FBI publicly released photos of the two men believed to be responsible for the Boston Marathon massacre on April 15, which killed three people and left more than 100 wounded. Today, the FBI reported that one of the two men has been killed in a gun battle in Massachusetts. The men are reported to be brothers from the Chechen area of southern Russia by RT. Chechen radical Muslims are responsible for a long list of terror attacks. Given the nature of the attack and the history of recent attempted terrorist attacks in the United States, it is likely, although far from certain at this point, that the two men are Islamic radicals.

The two men are reported to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and his brother, Tamerlan. Tamerlan was the suspect reportedly killed by police after a gun battle and car chase through Watertown, Mass. last night.

The nature of attacks suggests the possibility of involvement by Al Qaeda sources outside the United States as well. Bomb making is a very technical task, which may explain why many homegrown terrorists use weapons such as guns that are more readily available in the United States. The Pakistani immigrant who attempted to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square in 2010 received explosives training in Pakistan, but the bomb still fizzled.

Bombings have long been a favorite tactic of Islamic terrorists and the tactic has come of age during the Iraq War. A common tactic has been to detonate a second bomb near the scene of the first explosion targeting security forces and rescue workers. The Boston attack included two bombs.

The nature of the bombs themselves also suggests Islamic terror. An army private who attempted to bomb Fort Hood in 2011 had planned to use similar devices. The plans for the bombs in both the Fort Hood plot and the Boston attack are available online in the Al Qaeda magazine, “Inspire.”

The target of the Boston bombings also suggests Islamic terror. While domestic secular terrorists sometimes do commit bombings, they usually have specific targets. Ku Klux Klan bombings targeted black churches. In the 1960s, the leftist Weather Underground targeted police and government buildings. Antigovernment terrorist Timothy McVeigh targeted the federal building in Oklahoma City. Eric Rudolph normally attacked abortion clinics, but on one occasion bombed a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta. He is best known for the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. While the bomb was placed in a park, Rudolph called police with a warning before the bomb exploded in an apparent attempt to minimize the loss of life.

Islamic terror, however, often focuses on creating a large death toll. Public gatherings are popular targets for Islamic terrorists. Past targets include airliners, restaurants, subways, churches, synagogues, mosques, and crowded marketplaces. These targets are designed to make a political or religious statement by killing as many people as possible. This seems to have been the motivation of the Boston bombers.

Originally published on

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How to brief an approach

A common skill for pilots that is likely to be tested on an interview is how to brief an instrument approach. Briefing an approach is the art of confirming the details of an approach with your fellow pilot without overwhelming him with irrelevant information. There is an abundance of information on an approach plate, some of which is vital to the safety of the flight and some of which does not apply at all.

A sample approach plate is the ILS 35R for Centennial Airport in Denver found nearby. Most companies and airlines use Jeppesen approach plates similar to the one depicted here, however military pilots and some general aviation pilots might be more familiar with approach plates published by the FAA. These are also called “NOS charts” because they were once published by the National Ocean Service. NOS charts are public domain and can be found online at no charge on sites such as A NOS chart has been included for reference, but most interview briefs will be conducted with Jeppesen plates.

Ideally the approach should be briefed while the airplane is in cruise and before the descent. The crewmembers should obtain the ATIS information and set up the navigation radios for the approach before conducting the briefing. If the ATIS is not available, the weather forecast from the dispatch release or preflight briefing can be used.

Briefing a Jeppesen approach plate is simple thanks to its logical format. Start at the top with the airport, date of the plate, approach number and title to confirm that both crewmembers are looking at the same approach plate and that both plates are current.

Most briefings skip the top line, which contains communications frequencies. Air traffic control gives the pilot the next frequency when they are handed off, but the frequencies on the approach plate are useful in order to preset tower and ground frequencies in the radio’s standby field. The ATIS frequency can also be found there.

The next line of the plate contains navigation information. In the case of ILS 35R, the plate contains the localizer frequency (111.3) and identifier (IAPA). The final approach course is 350 degrees. Verify that the nav radios are set to the proper frequency and HSI needles are set to the inbound course as you brief. The decision altitude (DA) for the approach is 6,085 feet above mean sea level (MSL), which is 200 feet above the ground (AGL). If your airplane has a place to set the DA, verify that it has been done correctly. If the DA, cannot be set exactly, round up. For example, if you can only set the DA in 100 foot increments, set 6,100. The elevation of the touchdown zone of the runway is 5,885 feet.

The circle on the right side of the page gives the minimum safe altitude. This provides 1,000 feet of clearance within 25 nautical miles of the fix referenced. In this case, the fix is CASSE, the locator out marker with the identifier AP. The safe altitude is 8,100 MSL in the direction of flight, but rises to 13,100 in other directions. The boundaries for the altitudes are noted as 140 degrees to (320 degrees from) and 250 degrees to (130 degrees from) CASSE.

To follow a logical order, skip the missed approach procedure for now and look at the notes. Several notes apply to this approach. ADF or DME is required to identify CASSE and radar is required. The glideslope and VGSI (visual glide slope indicator), in this case a PAPI (precision approach path indicator) on the right side of the runway, are different so the airplane may not appear to be on the visual glideslope if it is tracking the ILS.

The transition altitude and transition level in the notes section are used when flying outside the United States. This tells pilots where to change between standard and local altimeter settings. In the U.S., this is done at 18,000 feet (Flight Level 180), but in different countries these altitudes may change.

The plan view in the center is the “God’s eye” view of the approach which looks down like a typical map. In most cases, aircraft will be given radar vectors to join the final approach course, but if you expect to fly a transition you should brief it. The ILS 35R does not have transitions, but there is a speed restriction, 210 knots at FIRPI intersection. The note labeled “1” at FIRPI points out that radar or DME is required to identify the fix. At this point, verify that the frequency for CASSI (260) is set in the ADF.

The plan view also notes obstructions and terrain with their MSL heights. The brown areas in the bottom left corner denote high terrain. The highest point on the chart is marked with a black arrow. In this case it is 8,068 feet MSL to the southwest. Obstructions and terrain may be briefed if they are applicable. For example, in particular pilots arriving from the west would want to consider the high terrain that will be encountered as they are vectored for the approach.

Below the plan view is the profile view, a side view that shows altitudes to be flown. In most cases, controllers will instruct the aircraft to descend as they vector it towards final. The aircraft should be at 8,000 feet as it approaches CASSI. However, if the airplane is instructed to fly to FIRPI, the mandatory crossing altitude is 9,000 feet for that fix. If the approach is an ILS, other altitudes in the profile view can be disregarded. They apply only if the ILS glideslope is out of service and the airplane is flying a localizer only approach.

Also in the case of nonprecision localizer approach, the maltese cross over CASSI and any stepdowns should be briefed. The maltese cross represents the final approach fix. For an ILS, the final approach fix is at glideslope intercept at the published altitude (8,000 feet).

The missed approach point (MAP) should also be briefed. This can be determined several ways. For an ILS, the MAP is the DA on the glideslope. For a nonprecision approach, the MAP can be determined by the “M” on the profile view at 1.8 DME or by the box below the profile view. For a groundspeed of 100 knots, the MAP would be reached three minutes and 47 seconds after crossing CASSE.

Next to the missed approach box is a graphic description of the runway lights, in this case MALSRs and a PAPI, and simplified depiction of the missed approach procedure. Brief the missed approach with either the simplified description here or the textual description above the plan view.

The bottom of the approach plate contains information on the approach’s minimums for a variety of conditions. Ensure that the DA (or MDA if nonprecision) briefed above is correct for aircraft approach category and available equipment. The maximum speed for each approach category is printed with the circling information for reference. Check for notes that affect minimums such as note 1 which states that sidestep or circling to 35L is not authorized at night if the 35L VGSI is not operative.

The full instrument approach briefing might sound something like this:

This is the ILS 35R approach to Centennial airport, February 1, 2013, 41-1.

The localizer is 111.3 and inbound course is 350, set right and left. Glideslope at CASSE is 7,977 and DA is 6,085, which is 200 AGL. Minimum safe altitude is 8,100 to the northeast and 13,100 in all other directions. ADF or DME and radar are required. The glide slope and PAPI are not the same. Frequency for CASSE is 260. There is mountainous terrain to 8,000 feet to the southwest. There is a mandatory 9,000 foot crossing altitude and 210 knots at FIRPI which is 14.5 DME based on the localizer. Inside FIRPI we can descend to 8,000 until intercepting the glideslope. There is a PAPI to the left.

The missed approach point will be the decision altitude of 6,085 feet. The missed approach procedure is to climb straight out to 7,400 then make a right turn while climbing to 9,000 and intercepting the localizer southbound. Holding will be over CASSE at 9,000 with a parallel entry. Minimums for the approach are a half a mile visibility.

Originally published on

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Beware of tax protest conspiracies

f1040-page-0As we approach April 15, the deadline for filing federal income tax returns for most individual taxpayers, many people question whether Americans are really required to pay an income tax. Scores of Youtube videos featuring people such as former IRS agent Joseph Bannister claim that the federal income tax is illegal and that Americans cannot be forced to pay taxes to the IRS. In celebration of the Ides of April, let us once again don our tin foil hats and delve into the world of income tax protesters.

One claim made by tax protesters is that there is no law on the books that permits a federal income tax. It is true that the original income tax signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1861 was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1895. This problem was fixed with the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913. Some tax protesters argue that the 16th Amendment was never properly ratified. Professor Jonathan Siegel of the George Washington University Law School explains that the 16th Amendment had the same ratification process as other amendments and really is part of the Constitution.

Another claim is that even though the Constitution permits an income tax, no federal law ever enacted one. Some tax protesters claim that even after years of searching that they have found no law establishing an income tax. In truth, they need look no further than Title 26 of the U.S. Code, commonly known as the Internal Revenue Code. Subtitle A, chapter one, subchapter A, part one legally establishes an income tax on individuals. This part also defines that wages are included in taxable income, debunking another claim by some tax protesters.

The “861 argument” against paying income tax is based on a section of chapter one of the tax code. Section 861 relates to resident and nonresident aliens working in the United States as well as foreign corporations. Section 861 does not apply to U.S. citizens unless they have income that has already been taxed according to Professor Siegel. If a U.S. citizen has paid taxes to a foreign government, the federal tax code allows them to use these payments as a credit on their federal income tax. Otherwise Section 861 does not apply to U.S. citizens.

Tax protesters also cite the names of many people who have allegedly “beat the IRS” in court. What they don’t say is that while these people may sometimes avoid jail time, they are not so fortunate when it comes to avoiding civil penalties and being forced to pay back taxes and penalties. Often tax protesters are sent to jail as well.

Vernice Kuglin, a former FedEx pilot who appears in some online videos as someone who beat the IRS in court, actually was acquitted in 2003 of falsifying W-4 forms and failing to pay taxes. Although she did not go to jail, she agreed to pay more than half a million dollars in back taxes and penalties and had her wages garnished by the IRS according to court documents cited on Tax Protester Dossiers. The Memphis Daily News reported in 2007 that the IRS had filed an additional tax lien against her house for $188,025.

Joseph Banister, the IRS agent who was mentioned in the first paragraph, also escaped jail although he was indicted for conspiracy to avoid taxes. According to Tax Protester Dossiers, Banister was acquitted of the criminal charge, but was disbarred from IRS practice. The California Board of Accountancy revoked his CPA license in 2007. The CBA website cites the cause for discipline as “providing erroneous advice to taxpayers” and “improperly advising them that tax returns were not required….”

Banister’s client in the case that led to his disbarment was Walter “Al” Thompson. Thompson refused to withhold taxes from their wages and file tax documents as required by law. According to, Thompson was convicted, fined $7,500, and sentenced to 72 months in prison on a variety of charges including filing a false return and failing to pay income and Social Security taxes for his employees.

Other tax protesters were also not as lucky as Banister and Kuglin. Sherry Peel Jackson, a Stone Mountain, Ga. resident and former IRS agent, was found guilty on four counts of failing to file tax returns. Jackson appears in some of the internet films espousing tax protest theories. She was sentenced to four years in prison. She surrendered her CPA license to Georgia authorities after her conviction.

Many other tax protesters have gone to jail when they followed their beliefs and failed to file tax returns. Other prominent tax resisters who have gone to jail include Peter Hendrickson, author of “Cracking the Code,” a book of tips on how to avoid paying taxes, who received a 33 month jail term and a $25,000 fine. Larken Rose, a proponent of the 861 argument, received a 15 month prison sentence and $10,000 fine. Irwin Schiff has gone to jail three times for criminal violations of tax laws. He is currently serving a 13 year sentence on tax charges and criminal contempt.

The lesson taxpayers should learn is that if there were an easy way out of paying taxes, nobody would pay them, taxes would not be a major political issue and the Republicans would not put such emphasis on tax cuts. Most obviously, if paying income taxes was not mandatory, people who do not pay taxes would not go to jail. It is not illegal to question the legality of the income tax. It is illegal to refuse to pay taxes or file a return.

Many conspiracy theories are ultimately harmless. Staying inside because of a fear of chemtrails may hamper one’s life, but it won’t ruin it. Believing that that JFK was the victim of a vast conspiracy, that secret forces were behind the September 11 attacks, or that Obamacare requires Americans to receive implants or establishes a secret police force probably won’t cause one to lose their job or family. While it is not against the law to espouse conspiracy theories about the income tax, acting on those theories can cost conspiracy believers years in jails and thousands of dollars in fines and penalties.

Originally published on

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gun control votes may hurt Democrats

Thursday the Senate voted to open debate on a Democratic bill to expand gun control laws. Democrats overcame a filibuster attempt by Republicans that would have prevented the Senate from considering the bill.

The “Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013” (S.649) is sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The vote for cloture on the motion to proceed passed 68-31 with 16 Republicans joining 50 Democrats and the Senate’s two independents. Georgia’s two senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson joined the Republicans voting for cloture.

The vote for cloture does not mean that the bill has passed the Senate. Instead it means that the bill will come before an up or down vote by the Senate. If the bill passes the Senate, it must then be passed by the House of Representatives before it can be signed by President Obama.

While some gun control opponents consider the vote a loss, it will put many Senate Democrats in a difficult position. Twenty Democratic seats in the Senate will be up for reelection in 2014 compared to 13 for Republicans. Of the open Democratic seats, seven are in states that were won by Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election (Montana, Alaska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Louisiana, Arkansas, and West Virginia). An additional four seats are in states that were tossups in the presidential election (Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Iowa). Democratic incumbents in these states will be forced to make an uncomfortable choice between their core liberal supporters and the moderate voters that they depend upon to win elections. The difficult position for Democratic senators is underscored by the fact that the only two Democrats to vote against cloture were Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska, both of whom are facing reelection.

The architects of the compromise that allowed the bill to reach the floor of the Senate were Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). Manchin ran a commercial in 2010 touting his endorsement by the NRA. Toomey has an “A” rating from the NRA and has a long pro-gun voting record. Neither Toomey nor Manchin is facing reelection in 2014.

A vote for cloture does not mean that the same senator will vote for the bill. When the bill is voted upon, it will likely receive very few, if any, votes from Republicans. Even Sen. Toomey may well vote against the final bill. Although Senate Democrats could pass the bill with no Republican votes since they hold the majority, it might very well be killed by a lack of support from Democratic senators. If the bill does pass the Senate, its prospects of being passed by the Republican-controlled House are slim.

The vote by 16 Republicans to end the filibuster will expose many of them to harsh criticism from conservatives and Second Amendment supporters, but it is a strategic move that may cause cracks within the Democratic coalition. The strategy may pay off in 2014 if President Obama’s drive for more gun control costs the Democrats control of the Senate.

Originally published on

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Keep eye on Iran during Korean crisis

Over the past few weeks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has engaged in increasingly serious saber rattling. Over the past few weeks, North Korea has severed communications avenues with the South, renounced the 1953 armistice that ended combat operations in the Korean War, and placed its armed forces on standby for war.

War rumblings are nothing new on the Korean peninsula. Since the 1950s, the “hermit kingdom” of the North has been involved in literally dozens of incidents against South Korean and American forces. What makes the current situation more serious than those of the past is North Korea’s newfound strategic nuclear capability. The current situation is so serious that President Obama deployed missile interceptors to protect the American West Coast and sent two B-2 Stealth bombers on mission to South Korea to show force.

The North Korean nuclear program was discovered in 1992, six years after the country signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) according to the Arms Control Association. The years following gave saw a now familiar pattern of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, subterfuge by the North Koreans, and an “Agreed Framework,” negotiated in part by Jimmy Carter, which the former president might well have hailed as the key to “peace in our time.”

The Agreed Framework was followed by 12 years of diplomatic maneuvering in which the U.S. repeatedly imposed sanctions on North Korea and the North Koreans repeatedly assured the world at several rounds of Six Party Talks that they were willing to stop working toward nuclear weapons. In 2006, the North Koreans finally exploded their first nuclear weapon. A second nuclear weapon was tested in 2009 and a third on February 12, 2013.

While working on nuclear weapons, the North Koreans were also developing their ability to deliver their nuclear payloads to South Korea and beyond. One of North Korea’s newest missiles, the Unha-3, potentially has the ability to carry a nuclear payload to the American West Coast.

While the danger presented by the North Koreans is real (the North Koreans have routinely fired upon and killed South Korean and American soldiers and sailors and have even kidnapped Japanese citizens from their homes), many foreign policy experts believe that Kim Jong Un is merely making a show of force either to get concessions from the international community or to consolidate power at home. The North Korean dictator must realize that if he provokes a nuclear war with South Korea, and by extension the United States, he and his nation will cease to exist. A materialistic leader like Kim is unlikely to be suicidal.

As the crisis is resolved or fades away, the world should learn a lesson from the Korean nuclear proliferation. North Korea’s path to nuclear status is strikingly similar to Iran’s recent nuclear history. Since Iran’s nuclear program was unveiled to the world in 2002, the country has engaged in the same pattern of engaging in diplomatic talks to delay and mitigate sanctions that was so successful for the North Koreans.

Iran’s nuclear program was delayed on several occasions by sabotage ranging from the Stuxnet computer virus to the assassinations of prominent Iranian nuclear scientists. Nevertheless the Iranian government is drawing ever closer to becoming a nuclear power.

The danger of a nuclear Iran can be seen in North Korea’s war rumblings and threats toward its neighbors. Likewise, as a conventional power, Iran has long waged covert wars and operations against its neighbors. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards prop up Hezbollah in Lebanon, aid President Assad’s struggle against rebels in Syria, and have engaged in combat with American soldiers in Iraq.

Iranian proxies have engaged in terror attacks around the world. In 1983, Iran was linked to the Beirut car bomb that killed 241 American soldiers. Iranian agents were responsible for the murder of four dissidents in Germany in 1992. More recently, Iran was implicated in a plot to use Mexican drug gangs to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by blowing up a Washington, D.C. restaurant in 2011.

Iran is an avowed enemy of both Israel and the United States. Although Iran has not joined directly in the previous Arab-Israeli Wars (Iranians are Persians, not Arabs), Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made no secret of Iran’s goal of destroying Israel. As previously documented by Examiner, Ahmadinejad has said that his goal is “to have a world without the United States and Zionism.”

Unlike North Korea, Iran cannot be reliably assumed to not be suicidal. In recent years, the Iranian government has become more and more apocalyptic. When giving speeches, President Ahmadinejad routinely invokes the Mahdi, a messianic figure in Shia Muslim theology, who many believe will return in the latter days to usher in a worldwide Islamic caliphate. It is quite possible that Ahmadinejad believes that it would be worth risking his entire nation to destroy Israel and to summon the Mahdi.

In fact, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one time president of Iran and still a highly placed Iranian official said as quoted in Examiner “… application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” In other words, a nuclear strike that did not destroy the entire Muslim world would be an acceptable sacrifice to destroy Israel.

Iran’s links to terrorism also mean that it would be dangerous as a nuclear power. North Korea, also a state sponsor of terrorism, began trying to export its nuclear technology as soon as it acquired it. Less than a year after North Korea’s first nuclear test, Israeli warplanes destroyed a secret North Korean nuclear facility in Syria. The Syrian civil war might present an entirely different and more serious threat to the region if this site had not been attacked prior to the Arab Spring.

There is every reason to believe that Iran would also be an active proliferator of nuclear technology. Iran might be able to avoid national destruction by transferring a nuclear weapon to a terrorist group that would detonate it anonymously. Without a visible missile launch to point to the origin of the attack, the world might never know who was responsible for the nuclear terrorism.

Iran has worked hard in recent years to expand its sphere of influence in the Middle East, working with both sympathetic Muslim governments and terrorist proxies. With the U.S. role in the region fading as President Obama retreats from Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran’s stature in the region is growing. Even without actually using a nuclear weapon, Iran could exert its influence on the Persian Gulf to threaten vital oil supplies to the rest of the world. An Iranian nuclear weapon would necessarily spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East as other powers such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey struggle to defend themselves from Iranian pressure.

It is becomingly increasingly apparent that Iran and North Korea may actually be working together. The World Tribune notes that since the 1980s, when Iran faced a threat, North Korea would rattle its sabers to distract the world. According to Reuters, collaboration between Iran and North Korea may go even further. A United Nations report from 2010 suggested that North Korea may have aided Iran and Myanmar with nuclear technology in addition to Syria.

In the best case scenario, the current North Korean threat will soon fade away, leaving the world to deal with the rapidly maturing Iranian threat. In the worst case scenario, the current North Korean threat may be purposely distracting from an Iranian threat that is more advanced that believed. In either case, President Obama and the United States should watch Iran closely while dealing with North Korea.

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