Category: Politics

Orbital Spin: Damage To The International Space Station Soyuz Reentry Craft Becomes Vehicle For Anti-American Propaganda

On August 30th, the International Space Station experienced an unexpected and much reported upon loss in pressure due to a puncture in the Soyuz reentry capsule attached to it.

The 2 millimeter hole was quickly found by cosmonauts and patched with multiple layers of a resin intended for this purpose.

Rumors in certain Russian news services erupted, claiming deliberate sabotage by American astronauts on board, usually citing unknown or anonymous sources.  Even major players in the Russian science community, such as the internationally recognized space news source Sputnik offered old Soviet style innuendo and misdirection intended to encourage distrust, even hostility, toward America.

Sputnik reported,  for example:

The situation around a hole in the fabric of a Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft, docked to the International Space Station (ISS), is more complicated than it was expected, Dmitry Rogozin, the chief of the Russian space agency Roscosmos stated.

Dmitry Rogozin, the chief of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, confirmed that a commission of Russia’s Energia Rocket and Space Corporation had failed to determine the origin of the hole yet.

“The results that we have received fail to provide an objective image [of the situation] to us. Further work will be continued by a commission created by the [Roscosmos] corporation itself. The situation is far more difficult than we have expected,” Rogozin told reported.

Rogozin refused to comment on media reports alleging that US astronauts could have been responsible for the emergence of the hole on Soyuz.

A source told Sputnik on Thursday that an internal investigation, held by Energia, which is the spacecraft manufacturer, showed that the hole had been deliberately made by a drill bit. The company, however, failed to identify the perpetrators.”

In fact, Rogozin commented on his Facebook page that, “The recent gossip and rumors circulating about the incident at the ISS hinder the work of Roscosmos experts and are designed to subvert the friendly relations among the crew members of the space station.”

“All statements citing unnamed sources are inadmissible until Roscosmos special commission concludes its work,” the CEO stressed.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said earlier in the day that it was inadmissible to accuse either Russian or American ISS crewmembers of the incident since “it is a unified crew with no political disagreements whatsoever.”

TASS,  the Russian News Agency, published an article seeming  seeking to mitigate the rumors, but then reinforced them, noting

Russia’s Kommersant daily reported on Tuesday citing its unnamed sources that the Roscosmos probe was considering, among other likely causes of the damage to Soyuz, deliberate actions by US astronauts, who in this way wished to speed up their return home.

According to the newspaper, the astronauts might have drilled the hole because one of the crew members was unwell. Urgent evacuation of all crewmembers would allow for getting full treatment, while the compartment where the hole was found would have burned down in the atmosphere. Roscosmos said it would refrain from making comments on the issue until the special probe reported its findings.

The Russian cosmonauts who repaired the damage, stopped the leak and averted a potential disaster merit recognition, international recognition and respect. Russia’s advances and contribution to both the ISS and science in general are significant and largely on par to ours or anyone’s at this stage.  Many, no most, of those accomplishments are largely unknown outside the scientific community, a fact which is unfortunate, unnecessary, and should be corrected.  However, such accomplishments are diminished when, in instances like this one, where after members of the Russian media often loudly accuse their American counterparts of ill-conceived political spin, they themselves jump blindly off the creditability cliff.

Pot, kettle and all of that.

TASS, Sputnik and the Russian media corps should consider the reputations of their admirable and praise worthy scientific community, and the sabotage they often do to it with such “reporting”.

American hands aren’t completely clean on this issue. Our press can be easily agitated and unapologetic when it makes mistakes, but come on, we’ve yet to accuse, however indirectly, Russian cosmonauts of deliberately endangering the lives of their fellow scientists, as well, it should be noted, as their own.

-The Sentinel

 

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Sessions Steps Over The Line With Immigration Judges Again

Attorney General Jeff Sessions angered immigration judges today by giving them unwanted advice on how to handle their cases, according to Buzzfeed News. In a speech given to 44 new judges in Virginia, Sessions explicitly called for the new recruits to fight back against immigration lawyers.

“Good lawyers, using all of their talents and skill, work every day—like water seeping through an earthen dam—to get around the plain words of the [Immigration and Nationality Act] to advance their clients’ interests. Theirs is not the duty to uphold the integrity of the act. That is our most serious duty,” he said.

“When we depart from the law and create nebulous legal standards out of a sense of sympathy for the personal circumstances of a respondent in our immigration courts, we do violence to the rule of law and constitutional fabric that bind this great nation. Your job is to apply the law—even in tough cases,” Sessions added.

Current and former immigration judges disagreed.

“The reality is that it is a political statement which does not articulate a legal concept that judges are required to be aware of and follow,” Dana Marks, a spokesperson for the National Association of Immigration Judges, the union that represents the country’s 350 immigration judges, told Buzzfeed. “It did appear to be a one-sided argument made by a prosecutor.”

Other judges noted that asylum laws were actually designed to be flexible enough for judges to make calls driven by their morality. “We possess brains and hearts, not just one or the other,” Jeffrey Chase, a former immigration judge, told Buzzfeed. “Sessions is characterizing decisions he personally disagrees with as being based on sympathy alone, when in fact, those decisions were driven by sympathy but based on solid legal reasoning.”

Why would Sessions would feel he has the right to comment on these judges decisions at all? Buzzfeed explains:

Unlike other US courts, immigration judges are employees of the Justice Department whose evaluations are based on guidelines Sessions lays out. In that role, Sessions already has instituted case quotas, restricted the types of cases for which asylum can be granted, and limited when judges can indefinitely suspend certain cases. Advocates believe the Trump administration has made these decisions in order to speed up deportations. His comments on sympathy to immigrants appeared intended to bolster a decision he made recently to limit when asylum can be granted out of fear of domestic or gang violence.

Sessions also told the judges that they should focus on maximum production and urged them to get “imaginative and inventive” with their high caseload. The courts currently have a backlog of hundreds of thousands of deportation cases.

Prison Reform On Uncertain Ground In 2018

One has to wonder if Congressional dysfunction has reached a breaking point.

Imagine legislation that was drafted with the help of presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and, unsurprisingly, supported by President Trump himself. Imagine that this same bill is supported by such stalwarts of “The Resistance” as the Urban League and the Equal Justice Initiative, and also backed by prominent conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. The Koch brothers and Grover Norquist are advocates, and so is liberal commentator Vann Jones. In fact, imagine a bill so bipartisan that it passed even this deeply divided House on a 360–59 vote.

That legislation would be the “FIRST STEP Act,” a prison-reform bill. And, this being Washington in 2018, it is almost certainly not going to become law. Indeed, it looks doubtful that the Senate will even vote on it.

The FIRST STEP Act is hardly radical. It doesn’t reduce inmate sentences or otherwise deal with the intensely punitive approach to justice that has given the United States the world’s largest per capita prison population. Nor does it remedy the ongoing racial issues that continue to infect our criminal-justice system.

Instead, it would make a number of extremely modest humanitarian reforms to the way we treat prisoners. For example, it would make female health products more available in federal prisons and all but end the practice of shackling female inmates during childbirth. It would try to keep inmate families together by expanding visits, phone privileges teleconferencing, and opportunities to transfer to prisons closer to home. It would increase mental-health and substance-abuse treatment for inmates.

It would also provide a modest $250 million over five years for new inmate-education and -rehabilitation programs, and establish incentives (including time credits) for prisoners to participate. Prisons would also be required to conduct “risk assessments” of soon-to-be-released inmates and to tailor programs to meet these inmates’ needs.

Over the long run, most experts believe the legislation would save money. For example, studies have shown that every dollar spent providing needed mental-health and substance-abuse treatment to inmates ultimately saves taxpayers $1.27 to $5.47 in reduced crime and incarceration costs. One should always be skeptical of claims that government spending will save money, but this initiative clearly passes the common-sense test. Similarly, keeping families together is likely to reduce future welfare costs as well as crime. And since nearly all prisoners will eventually be released, programs to reduce recidivism are also likely to prove cost-effective.

So why is such a modest and humane bill almost certain to die?

In part, the FIRST STEP Act is a victim of the infighting and turf protection that helps explain Congress’s 18 percent favorability rating. Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who as chairman of the Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the bill, favors a much more expansive bill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which he is co-sponsoring with Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat. Grassley and Durbin are insisting that the FIRST STEP Act be rolled into their bill. But their legislation, which is indeed worthwhile, is being blocked by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell because the White House won’t sign off on some provisions. In the meantime, prison reform goes nowhere.

An even more significant roadblock is being provided by Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), who opposes nearly all efforts at criminal-justice reform. Senator Cotton, one of the few Americans who believe we have an underincarceration problem, in his words, has mounted an effective guerrilla campaign to undermine the bill’s support on the right. For example, Cotton is reportedly pushing law-enforcement groups to oppose the bill. His efforts have been drawing fruit. Recently the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association withdrew its endorsement of the bill after being pressured by Cotton’s office. Republicans, always fearful of being called “soft on crime,” will find it difficult to buck law enforcement.

Complaints about congressional gridlock are often exaggerated. The Founders intended legislating to be slow, deliberate, and challenging. But when even commonsense legislation with broad bipartisan support can’t so much as get a vote, one has to wonder if congressional dysfunction has reached a breaking point.

There is one possible way that this innovative bill could make it through Congress and onto the President’s desk. If determined members of the Senate refuse to vote in the upcoming confirmation of the candidate to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy there may be enough pressure to move the opposition out of the way.  Senators Cotton and McConnell both have vested interest in seeing a smooth confirmation hearing, and stand to lose critical local support in their home states and from the administration if their actions cause unnecessary delays or, worse, derail the confirmation entirely.

It’s a weak foundation  for prison reform advocates to stand on, but uncertain ground is better than having no place to stand at all.

The Great F-22 Fighter Shortage

With the U.S. Air Force considering the retirement of the Boeing F-15C Eagle, Lockheed Martin’s stealthy fifth-generation F-22 Raptor will be the only air superiority fighter in the service’s inventory.

While there is no doubt that the Raptor is far and away the best air superiority fighter ever built, the U.S. Air Force only has about 186 surviving Raptors in its inventory. Of those 186 remaining Raptors, only 123 are “combat-coded” aircraft with another twenty that are classified as backup aircraft inventory machines. The rest are test and training assets. Even then, some of those aircraft are undergoing long-term repairs after suffering from accidents—such as one Alaska-based aircraft that made a belly-landing in Florida in April —and are not flying.

In total, there are only six front line F-22 squadrons—rather than the required 10—all of which have fewer aircraft than a normal fighter unit. Five of those squadrons have 21 primary authorized aircraft and two backup inventory jets while one operational Hawaii Air National Guard unit has 18 primary authorized aircraft and two backup jets. Test and training units are also shortchanged—with the Weapons School and the elite 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron being forced to share roughly a dozen jets at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

This leaves the Air Force and our nation desperately short of fighter capacity and is a matter that the Air Force, the Trump administration and Congress will very soon need to address.

U. S. Intelligence Confirms: North Korea Dismantles Nuclear Testing Facility

Praising his “good relationship” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday welcomed reports that Pyongyang has started dismantling a facility seen as a testing ground for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

New satellite imagery shows “that North Korea has begun the process of dismantling a key missile site, and we appreciate that,” Trump said at an event for military veterans in Kansas City, Missouri.

Hitting back at criticism that his June 12 summit with Kim in Singapore has so far yielded few concrete results, Trump suggested his newfound rapport with Kim was bearing fruit.

“We had a fantastic meeting with Chairman Kim and it seems to be going very well,” Trump said.

After the summit, Trump had declared the North Korean nuclear threat was effectively over, but some US media reports suggest he has been privately furious at the pace of subsequent progress on the denuclearization issue.

US-based website 38 North published imagery Monday indicating Pyongyang has begun taking down a processing building and a rocket-engine test stand that had been used to test liquid-fuel engines at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

Sohae, on the northwest coast of North Korea, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit, but rocket engines are easily repurposed for use in missiles and the international community has labelled Pyongyang’s space program a fig leaf for weapons tests.

38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez called the move an “important first step” for Kim in fulfilling a promise Trump said the North Korean leader had made.

But some experts urged caution and one US defense official played down the news, saying the Sohae site was not a priority in terms of monitoring the North’s denuclearization efforts.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the imagery was “entirely consistent” with commitments Kim made to Trump during their summit in Singapore.

“We’ve been pressing for there to be inspectors on the ground when that engine test facility is dismantled, consistent with Chairman Kim’s commitment,” Pompeo said Tuesday at a news conference in California.

“They need to completely, fully denuclearize. That’s the steps that Chairman Kim committed to and that the world has demanded,” Pompeo added.

– ‘Good feeling’ –

On Tuesday, Trump told the Veterans of Foreign Wars group that he was hopeful the question of repatriating the remains of US troops killed during the Korean War would be addressed shortly.

The long-simmering topic was highlighted in a joint statement signed by Trump and Kim, with the US and North Korea committing to recovering remains, “including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”

“At the very end of our meeting, I said to Chairman Kim — good relationship, good feeling — I said, ‘I would really appreciate if you could do that’,” Trump said.

“He said, ‘It will be done.'”

On June 20, Trump erroneously said 200 human remains had already “been sent back” from North Korea, but the issue is far from resolved and Pyongyang has already canceled at least one meeting to discuss the return of the remains.

We are “working to bring back the remains of your brothers-in-arms who gave their lives in Korea,” Trump said Tuesday.

“I hope that very soon these fallen warriors will begin coming home to lay at rest in American soil.”

In a sign of Washington’s impatience with what it sees as North Korean foot-dragging on the denuclearization issue, Pompeo was in New York last week urging UN member states to keep tough economic sanctions in place to pressure Kim into moving forward.

China and Russia have argued that North Korea should be rewarded with the prospect of eased sanctions for opening up dialogue with the United States and halting missile tests.

South Korea has also pushed ahead with its reconciliation with the North since a landmark inter-Korean summit in April.

Seoul’s defense ministry said Tuesday it was considering withdrawing some troops from the border Demilitarized Zone on a trial basis — a move which could expand into a gradual pullout.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.

The DMZ was designated as a buffer zone, but the areas to the north and south of it are heavily fortified.

More than 35,000 Americans were killed on the Korean peninsula during the war, with 7,700 of these US troops still listed as missing in action — most of them in North Korea.