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China To Parade High-Tech Weaponry In Signal Of Strength, And Shop Window

By Megha Rajagopalan

BEIJING (Reuters) – From ballistic missiles to fighter jets, China has rolled out a host of high-tech weaponry ahead of a parade next week commemorating victory over Japan in World War Two, in a signal of Beijing’s growing confidence in its military might.

China has poured capital into developing its home-grown weapons industry with an eye toward export markets as it projects greater military power in disputed waters in the South and East China Seas.

Qu Rui, a military official and deputy director of the office organizing the parade, says all the weapons and equipment on show would be Chinese-made, 84 percent shown for the first time. “They represent the new development, new achievements and new images of the building of the Chinese armed forces,” he said at a recent briefing.

Chinese officials have repeatedly said the military parade is not directed at any other country, but diplomats and experts say countries with which Beijing has territorial disputes, including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, may react with uneasiness to the broad display of military power.

“It’s possible that Japan and Southeast Asian countries will interpret this as a kind of warning to them,” said Xie Yue, a political scientist at Tongji University. “I can’t say whether that’s warranted or not.”

State media has reported that the parade, which involves more than 10 foreign military delegations including Russia, is the first in which China has showed off such a broad array of weapons.

BIGGEST DISPLAY YET

Qu said 12,000 Chinese troops would take part, along with 500 pieces of equipment and nearly 200 aircraft. Air echelons on display will include bombers, fighters and carrier-based aircraft.

Several ballistic missiles – including one that analysts say is capable of reaching a U.S. base in Guam – were spotted during parade rehearsals, Shao Yongling, a senior colonel from the PLA Second Artillery Command College, told the state-owned Global Times newspaper.

The Second Artillery Force, the nuclear force, is set to display seven types of missiles including conventional and nuclear models, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing unnamed military sources. “The scale and number of missiles will surpass any previous outing,” the source told Xinhua.

The parade will also involve modern tanks and missile-launchers, state media has reported. An upgraded long-range bomber will also be on display, flying in formation over Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Thursday, a leading pilot of the formation told Xinhua.

The latest version of the J-15 aircraft carrier-based fighter jet has also been seen in rehearsals, Beijing-based air defense expert Fu Qianshao told the Global Times. Medium-sized early warning and control aircraft, used for surveillance and other missions, will lead ten formations at the parade.

A formation of military helicopters flew over Beijing during a parade rehearsal last weekend as tanks rolled through parts of the capital.

Sino-Japan relations have long been affected by what China sees as Japan’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during the war. Western and Chinese historians estimate millions of Chinese civilians were killed.

Jack Midgley, a defense expert at Deloitte, said next week’s parade was not necessarily meant to send a message to the West or other countries in the region.

“It’s to demonstrate China has achieved first-world status with its military, and to display its products for foreign buyers,” he said, adding much of the weaponry will already be familiar to foreign military analysts and intelligence services.

(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

Photo: Paramilitary policemen and members of a gun salute team fire cannons during a training session for a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War Two, at a military base in Beijing, China, August 1, 2015. China will hold the parade on September 3, Picture taken August 1, 2015. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Can States Slow The Flow Of Military Equipment To Police?

By Jake Grovum, Stateline.org (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Police in Minneapolis-St. Paul trained military-grade launchers and used flash bang and tear gas grenades on protesters at the 2008 Republican National Convention. The Richland County, S.C., Sheriff’s Department got an armored personnel carrier to help fight drug and gambling crime. And Ohio State University police acquired a 19-ton armored truck that can withstand mine blasts.

These are just a few examples of the growing militarization of police in America. It’s been ongoing for more than a decade, but rarely grabbed the nation’s attention until civil unrest erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, last August after the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot by a white police officer.

Now, eight months after the confrontations in Ferguson between heavily armed police and protesters, lawmakers in more than a half-dozen states are trying to rein in the militarization of their own police forces. They point to Ferguson and say they want to prevent similar highly weaponized responses in their states.

The legislative response — backed by Democrats and Republicans, in red states and blue states — is a reaction to what one sponsor of such a bill calls the “law enforcement-industrial complex,” a play on the “military-industrial complex” term first used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“You get these pictures that just shock the conscience,” said Republican state Senator Branden Petersen of Minnesota, referring to news footage of heavily armed police patrolling streets or carrying out sting operations. His bill would bar law enforcement in the state from accepting gear that’s “designed to primarily have a military purpose or offensive capability.”

But Petersen and those backing similar efforts in other states — they’ve come up in California, Connecticut, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Vermont — face an uphill climb, partly because of the way law enforcement acquires the gear.

The equipment flows through a Pentagon surplus operation known as the 1033 Program, which makes available gear that the military no longer wants. Local agencies — including state and local police, and others such as natural resources departments — make requests through a designated state coordinator, who with Defense Department officials, has final say. There’s no federal requirement for state or local lawmaker approval or oversight, and any gear distributed is free of charge. About $5.4 billion worth has been distributed since the program began in 1997.

The program is a key source of tactical equipment, along with clothing (everything from parkas to mittens), office supplies, exercise equipment, and appliances. Police say it’s invaluable in providing supplies they cannot afford and gear that can save officers’ lives.

But others call it a shadowy program that lacks oversight and lets police request anything they want, regardless of whether they need it. Some say it even tramples the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the U.S. military from operating on American soil.

As Petersen put it: “The 1033 Program is a workaround.”

One reason the reaction to images of militarized police in Ferguson has reverberated in other states is the 1033 Program has been an equal-opportunity distributor, sending equipment all over the country to satisfy law enforcement requests.

A Stateline analysis of 1033 Program data shows that the 50 states hold nearly $1.7 billion worth of equipment, an average of nearly $34 million per state. Per capita, equipment values held by states range from less than $1 for Alaska, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii to more than $14 for Alabama, Florida, New Mexico, and Tennessee.

The type of gear the states have also varies widely. Alaska law enforcement, for example, has 165 rifles and almost $170,000 in night vision equipment, among other items.

But law enforcement in Florida, has 47 mine-resistant vehicles, 36 grenade launchers, and more than 7,540 rifles. In Texas, there are 73 mine-resistant vehicles and a $24.3 million aircraft. In Tennessee, there are 31 mine-resistant vehicles and seven grenade launchers. North Carolina has 16 helicopters and 22 grenade launchers.

The steady flow of gear has made the program popular among law enforcement, some of which say it’s necessary to combat criminals who have access to ever-more-powerful weaponry.

“Our chiefs used the program to obtain both practical and tactical equipment. They called it a really vital resource for acquiring vital public safety tools especially in a time of tight budgets,” said Andy Skoogman of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

He said police have found ways to repurpose battlefield gear, including armored vehicles, for civilian law enforcement needs.

“Those vehicles have been used to transport citizens, officers, and equipment when the roads are closed due to snow, flooding, and severe weather,” Skoogman said. “This program has really helped acquire key equipment.”

National police groups sound similar notes.

“This equipment has undoubtedly improved the safety of our nation’s law enforcement officers and enhanced their abilities to protect citizens and communities from harm,” Yost Zakhary, then-president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said in a statement last year as criticism of the program mounted. “I have seen firsthand the life-saving benefit of the 1033 program.”

The Pentagon also defends the program. “Ninety-five percent of the property that is transferred to local law enforcement through this program is not tactical,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said last August. “It’s not weapons. It’s shelving, office equipment, communications gear, that kind of thing — furniture. I think it’s important to keep this thing in perspective.”

None of that has stymied the push to reform the program. Last year, President Barack Obama’s administration released a review, which called for more local engagement and transparency, better federal coordination, and additional training requirements.

That’s the tack many state lawmakers have taken in proposing bills to change the program. New Jersey became the first state to do so earlier this month, when Republican Governor Chris Christie signed a bill increasing local oversight of the 1033 Program after it passed unanimously in both legislative chambers. (Christie vetoed a separate bill that would have given the state’s attorney general oversight of the program.)

In California, a bill introduced would also give local governments a say over what law enforcement can receive. In Tennessee, a bipartisan bill would limit the type of offensive weapons law enforcement can receive. Another bill there would provide more local control.

Some bills simply aim for transparency. A bill in Montana, sponsored by Republican Representative Nicholas Schwaderer, would require local authorities to notify citizens of any request for equipment — even a Facebook post would satisfy the requirement.

The Montana bill also would bar some types of equipment. But Schwaderer said the reporting requirement as “the most helpful part of this bill,” which is his top legislative priority this session. He said he’s alarmed by the way some agencies have amassed gear in the last decade without input from the public.

“This foundation sets a massive precedent in Montana and the country as to what kind of society we want to have,” Schwaderer said of his bill. “If you get to the point where you need a grenade launcher, we’ve got the National Guard.”

Whether any other state follows New Jersey’s lead in changing the program this year is uncertain. Some sponsors admit they face tough opposition from law enforcement officials and lawmakers who support them.

There’s little interstate coordination among lawmakers pushing the measures, although groups like the 10th Amendment Center, a think tank focused on limited government and states’ rights, have tracked some of the bills, and the American Civil Liberties Union has fought the militarization of police departments for years.

Some localities already have taken steps to pare down or roll back military weapons and equipment. In Minneapolis, the police department stopped bringing it in several years ago, and is trying to return or destroy what it still has.

And because of Ferguson, some citizens’ groups say they are more aware of how their police departments have been transformed and of the possible dangers an overly militarized police force poses.

As Anthony Newby, director of the Minneapolis-based Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, put it: “Ferguson really shed light on the fact that we are really just one or two decisions away from being in that position. It was just a reminder for us to really track it, and see if there’s a way to stop that from ever being an issue.”

Arms Peddlers Discover Your Town… And Tax Dollars

It can be tough policing the mean streets in these days of desperation, when drug cartels and other hardened criminals are out there… somewhere… you really can’t know where, until they strike, and another civilian is marked with a V — for Victim.

But the good people of Orange Country, Florida, are lucky, because they’ve got the astonishing team of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office keeping watch, ready and able to preempt any criminal gang before it can strike locals with the dreaded V. In fact, a recent ruling by a U.S. Court of Appeals documents the truly incredible vigilance of this dynamic policing duo.

The DBPR/OCSO target in this case was a suspicious enterprise calling itself Strictly Skillz, and the agents spent a month carefully planning a joint sweep operation including a fully armed SWAT team in full battle dress. On the day of the raid, the team first sealed off the parking lot; next, two plainclothes cops entered to size up the danger; and then — BAM! — the SWAT team hit the unsuspecting subjects. Wearing riot gear and brandishing their guns, the team seized half a dozen of the enterprise’s kingpins, cuffed them, and then laid them out on the floor, while officers searched the premises for more than an hour. Alas, nothing criminal was found.

You might assume that this was a narcotics operation, but no. In fact, Strictly Skillz is just a barbershop. What possible criminal activity led to this militaristic show of brute force? “Barbering without a license.” That’s a mere second-degree misdemeanor, but there was no violation, for all licenses at the shop were valid. DBPR could’ve determined that by a routine inspection, but instead the OCSO got involved to muscle the barbers, because… well, because it has a SWAT team and a military mentality, so it thinks it’s above the law.

In this case, the court not only yanked this abusive duo’s constitutional chain, but also ridiculed its Keystone Kops routine of SWATing at barbers. But it’s not funny — for police now run thousands of these farcical SWAT raids a year, and they’re rarely held accountable. They justify their over-the-top response to routine police work with the idea that since they have the equipment, they might as well put it to use.

Multibillion-dollar armament giants have long profited from the constant wars and repressive tactics of police states around the globe, but they’ve now discovered a hot new growth market here at home: The militarization of our local and state police agencies. The people of Ferguson, Missouri, learned about the domestic proliferation of battlefield firepower the hard way when their own police department came after them with a Bearcat tank, two armored Humvees, stun grenades, M-16 rifles and other weapons of war.

It’s been widely reported that this push into combat gear (and the militant mentality that accompanies it) has largely come from a 1990 congressional act authorizing the Pentagon to disperse surplus war equipment around the country. Less known, however, is that our corporate arms peddlers have lately leapt into direct sales of their deadly goodies, holding field demonstrations and trade shows to titillate the fancy of police chiefs and other officials.

Long Range Acoustic Device Corporation, for example, makes the long-range sound cannon that was used in Ferguson, literally blasting away demonstrators with ear-shattering pain. Also, such tear gas makers as Combined Tactical Systems are having a field day supplying and re-supplying police agencies. Then there’s Taser International, whose electrocution gun — which can stop a heart — is now on the hip of nearly everyone with a badge.

In September, corporate militarizers paraded their stuff in — of all places — Missouri at a shebang called Military Police Expo. LRAD, CTS and Taser were there, along with a horde of other venders, to meet and greet, schmooze with and sell to a crowd of “civilian law enforcement and chiefs of police” who were invited to enjoy a shopping spree.

A coalition of citizen groups is organizing to stop this pernicious sale of arms to be used against… well, us citizens. For information, go to www.FacingTearGas.org.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: OregonDOT via Flickr

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U.S. Capital Votes To Allow Concealed Firearms

Washington (AFP) — City council members voted unanimously but reluctantly Tuesday to allow residents and visitors alike to carry concealed weapons in the streets of the U.S. capital.

The measure replaces Washington’s longstanding ban on carrying firearms in public, which a federal judge in July declared unconstitutional.

“We really don’t want to move forward with allowing more guns in the District of Columbia,” said council member Muriel Bowser, a front-runner in the city’s mayoral election in November.

“But we all know we have to be compliant with what the courts say,” she said, quoted by The Washington Post newspaper.

Washington outlawed public ownership of firearms in the mid-1970s, until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the ban violated Americans’ constitutional right “to keep and bear arms.”

Strict regulation remained in place, however, until July when a U.S. District Court judge ruled that a prohibition on carrying guns in public also violated the U.S. Constitution.

Tough gun laws are credited in part with helping to bring down Washington’s once-notorious homicide rate, with just over 100 murders reported last year.

Tuesday’s vote came amid the aftershock of a major security breach Friday when a former U.S. army soldier, carrying a small folding knife, jumped over a fence and into the White House.

Prosecutors revealed Monday in court that the accused, Omar Gonzalez, had more than 800 rounds of ammunition in his car, and had previously been arrested in Virgina with a sawed-off shotgun, among other firearms.

Under the city’s new legislation, gun-owners would still have to apply for a permit to carry a firearm in public, and show police that they have good reason to do so.

It would also remain illegal to carry a gun inside schools, hospital, government buildings, public transit, sports venues, and anywhere within 1,000 feet (300 meters) of a dignitary under police protection.

AFP Photo/Karen Bleier

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