Vacuum Bomb Ushers in Cold War 2.0

newVideoPlayer(“russianvacbomb_gawker.flv”, 475, 376);

Nuclear weapons are so last century—these days everyone has them, and international treaties make them virtually impossible to use anyway. That’s why Russia has been working on a new type of apocalypse-bringing device, the Vacuum Bomb. It creates a huge and destructive shockwave, but doesn’t have any of those pesky fallout side effects. That means you can flatten a country, and safely move right on in there.

The bomb was tested this week, dropped from a Tupolev Tu-160—the same bombers that have been buzzing around the UK borders in recent months. Footage released afterwards showed multi-story buildings crumpling, so it looks like the test went pretty well.


[originating url]

China accused of information warfare

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is contining to develop viruses to attack computer systems, warned the US Department of Defense (DoD).

“The PLA has established information warfare units to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems and networks,” the annual DoD report on China’s military warned. At the same, Chinese armed forces are developing ways to protect its own systems from an enemy attack, it said, echoing similar warnings made in previous years.

These capabilities are part of China’s ongoing military modernisation efforts, which have seen the country add dozens of high-tech fighters and ballistic missiles to its arsenal. China isn’t alone in building the capability to attack an enemy’s computer systems. The US and other countries have developed similar abilities.

The PLA’s virus-writing efforts have been underway for years, reflecting the importance that China apparently attaches to information warfare. As early as 2000, the DOD warned, “China has the capability to penetrate poorly protected US computer systems and potentially could use CNA [computer network attacks] to attack specific US civilian and military infrastructures.”

In recent years, the PLA has begun training more seriously for computer attacks, including them as part of larger military exercises in 2005.

The main focus of China’s military modernisation efforts are Taiwan, an island nation that China views as a renegade province. China has long threatened to attack Taiwan if the island formally declares independence, and the expansion of China’s military capabilities are largely geared towards a possible attack against Taiwan.

“A limited military campaign could include computer network attacks against Taiwan’s political, military, and economic infrastructure to undermine the Taiwan population’s confidence in its leadership,” the report said.

But the US, which would likely intervene in a Chinese attack on Taiwan, is also a potential target, it said.

[originating url]

Military pumps up China’s influence, Pentagon says

(CNN) — China’s modernizing military will make it a more muscular player in world events, a U.S. Defense Department report says.

China’s developing capabilities “will increase Beijing’s options for military coercion to press diplomatic advantage, advance interests or resolve disputes,” the Pentagon says in its annual report to Congress on China.

The Pentagon says that Beijing remains preoccupied with military contingencies in the Taiwan Strait — but adds that the Chinese military is also improving its ability to win possible conflicts over resources or territory. (Watch how China has become a modern, high-tech adversary Video)

To that end, the report says, the Chinese army is transforming itself from a force designed to fight wars of attrition on its own territory to one capable of winning short but intense campaigns against high-tech adversaries.

It says China’s military expansion is in part designed to protect its access to raw materials around the world, especially coal and oil supplies. At present, the report says, “China can neither protect its foreign energy supplies, nor the routes on which they travel.”

The report notes key developments such as China’s testing of an antisatellite missile in January and the greater accuracy and range of its missile forces, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“New air- and ground-launched cruise missiles that could perform nuclear missions will similarly improve the survivability and flexibility of China’s nuclear forces,” it adds.

It also says that China continues to modernize its Navy with better air-defense systems and new submarines, while its offensive air power has been improved with the acquisition of Su-30 strike aircraft and F-10 fighters.

Military spending continues to grow more quickly than the expansion of the economy, with Beijing announcing an increase of nearly 18 percent in its defense budget in March.

Looking at the situation with Taiwan, the report says the balance of forces continues to shift in the mainland’s favor, with military exercises and deployments contributing to an atmosphere of intimidation. The report adds that tension could also increase as Taiwan prepares for its next presidential election, planned for March 2008.

Despite the pace of modernization, the report says, the People’s Liberation Army remains untested in modern warfare and most of China’s leaders lack military experience.

That gives rise to a greater potential for miscalculations, according to the report, which “would be equally catastrophic whether based on advice from operationally inexperienced commanders or from ‘scientific’ combat models.”

• Beijing modernizing force, strategy, according to report to Congress
• Development “will increase Beijing’s options for military coercion,” report says
• Army gaining capability to fight high-tech adversaries
• Successful missile tests of particular concern, Pentagon says

[originating url]

Dems see big changes as Senate secured

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Republican George Allen of Virginia conceded the election for his U.S. Senate seat to Democratic challenger Jim Webb. Senator-elect Webb — after making his way through a crowd of supporters — said he looks forward to helping change foreign policy. The Webb victory gives the Democrats control of both houses of Congress.


Judge blocks town’s illegal immigration law

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (Reuters) — A federal judge Tuesday temporarily barred Hazleton, Pennsylvania, from implementing a law designed to prevent illegal immigrants from living in the town.

Judge James Munley of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued a temporary restraining order against Hazleton City Council, preventing it from enforcing its Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance.

The measure has become a model for other U.S. towns that blame illegal immigrants for a range of social problems.

The law, which had been scheduled to take effect Wednesday, would fine landlords found to be renting space to illegal aliens, close down businesses that hire them, and allow legal employees to sue the businesses for employment lost during such a shutdown. A related law also establishes English as the town’s official language.

The restraining order is valid until November 14.

In a 13-page opinion, Munley said immigrants risked “irreparable injury” by being evicted from their apartments if the law is enforced. He also said he was not convinced by the city council’s argument that illegal immigration increases crime and overburdens social services.

“Defendant offers only vague generalizations about the crime allegedly caused by illegal immigrants but has nothing concrete to back up these claims,” Munley wrote.

He added that since the plaintiffs — representing the town’s Hispanic community — claim the law affects constitutionally protected rights, it is in the public interest to delay enforcement of the ordinance until a court can consider its constitutional implications.

About a third of Hazleton’s 31,000 residents are immigrants from Central America. According to local civil rights activists, about a quarter of the town’s immigrant population is in the United States illegally.

The law, passed by the city council in July and revised in September, is seen as a template for similar laws passed by 10 other towns around the country, according to the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the groups that has joined in a lawsuit challenging the measure.

Thirty-two towns are considering similar measures.

New Jersey Court Backs Full Rights for Gay Couples

Cindy Meneghin, right, and her partner, Maureen Kilian, heard about the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage Wednesday at their lawyer’s office in Newark. With them was Sarah, left, their daughter.

TRENTON, Oct. 25 — New Jersey’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights and financial benefits as heterosexual couples, but ordered the Legislature to decide whether their unions must be called marriage or could be known by another name.

In a decision filled with bold and sweeping pronouncements about equality, the New Jersey Supreme Court gave the Democratic-controlled Legislature 180 days to either expand existing laws or come up with new ones to provide gay couples benefits including tuition assistance, survivors’ benefits under workers’ compensation laws, and spousal privilege in criminal trials.

All seven justices agreed that the state’s Constitution demands full legal rights for same-sex partners. But its ruling, 4 to 3, revealed a split in how to proceed. The majority said that lawmakers, not the court, should decide whether to call those arrangements a marriage, a civil union or something else. The three dissenters went further, asserting that gay couples, like their heterosexual counterparts, must be allowed to wed.

The New Jersey court did not go as far as Massachusetts, which in 2003 became the first state to permit gay marriage. Instead, it could be considered the new Vermont, which created civil unions for gay couples in 2000, in the politically, legally and culturally charged world of same-sex marriage.

“Our decision today significantly advances the civil rights of gays and lesbians,” Justice Barry T. Albin wrote for the majority. “We have decided that our State Constitution guarantees that every statutory right and benefit conferred to heterosexual couples through civil marriage must be made available to committed same-sex couples.”

But the ruling passed along the thorniest question, of whether true equality demands the same name, to the Legislature, saying “such change must come from the crucible of the democratic process.”

Within minutes of the court’s 3 p.m. announcement, three Democratic Assemblymen, working with Garden State Equality, a gay rights organization, said they would introduce a bill demanding marriage.

But reaction from their fellow legislators was guarded, with some saying privately that civil unions, not marriage, would be the likely result. In a joint statement, the Assembly speaker, Joseph J. Roberts Jr., and the Senate president, Richard J. Codey, both Democrats, called the 180-day deadline “unreasonable” and said, “The only remaining issues now confronting the Legislature are ones of terminology and clarification.”

For people involved in the legal battle over gay marriage, the decision is an important shift from recent court rulings in New York, Washington state and California that essentially rejected gay couples’ claims on marriage and the benefits it confers. And by issuing a nuanced and complicated 90-page ruling that left observers struggling to declare who won and who lost, the court may have neutralized gay marriage as an issue in the Nov. 7 elections, when eight states will consider ballot measures to ban same-sex marriage.

“The decision certainly minimizes what the radical right thought they might have had as a mobilizing tool in the last days of the election,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy organization.

Nathaniel Persily, who teaches law and political science at the University of Pennsylvania and was a co-author of a recent paper titled “Gay Marriage, Public Opinion and the Courts,” praised the justices for “an incredibly smart and politically astute opinion.”

“The court has placed itself exactly where a majority of the American people are,” Professor Persily said. “A majority of Americans are in favor of equal rights for gays tantamount to marriage, but a majority is also against calling that relationship marriage.”

At the same time, he added: “This must be seen as a win for gay rights. They did not get the name they want, but they are getting more rights than could have been imaginable just a few years ago. Who would have thought 50, 20, even 10 years ago that a unanimous state supreme court would have said that gay relationships are entitled to equal rights as heterosexual relationships?”

But conservative groups opposed to same-sex marriage blasted the ruling as an example of the justices essentially trading judicial robes for legislative pens.

“The court is holding a legal gun to the head of the State Legislature, and saying, ‘Listen, there are two bullets, you get to pick the bullet: either gay marriage or civil unions,’ ” said Matt Daniels, president of Alliance for Marriage, an organization based in the Washington area that supports a federal Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. “And that is not democracy. That is court-imposed policy-making that takes this out of the hands of the people.”

Until now, courts in many other states — including the Court of Appeals in New York in July — had rejected similar lawsuits by same-sex couples, with the common rationale being that only the legislative branch can define or redefine marriage. No legislature has yet done that, though several states, including New Jersey, and dozens of cities and towns have enacted domestic partnership laws to grant gay couples some benefits in recent years.

Nineteen states have adopted constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. Most others have statutory bans, but New Jersey and four other states do not. In addition to Massachusetts, where more than 8,000 gay couples have married in the past three years, Vermont and Connecticut authorize civil unions, which generally offer the same legal protections, if not the same societal status, as marriage.

Wednesday’s ruling caps a legal journey begun in 2002, when seven couples who had been denied marriage licenses in their towns filed the lawsuit now officially known as Lewis v. Harris. Two lower courts rejected their constitutional claim, with the Appellate Division ruling in June 2005 that marriage between members of the same sex was neither a fundamental right nor one covered by the constitution’s equal-protection clause.

Many gay-marriage advocates thought New Jersey’s high court, which heard the case Feb 15, was their best shot at victory.

It is regarded as one of the most liberal and independent in the country, having been among the first to strike down a ban on sodomy and rule in favor of adoption rights for gay couples.

The 4-3 split on Wednesday did not break along traditional political lines: the majority included all three justices appointed by a Democratic former governor, while the three dissenters, who backed the more far-reaching solution of opening marriage to gays, were named by a Republican.

“We do not have to take that all-or-nothing approach,” Justice Albin wrote of the marriage question in the majority opinion.

“We cannot find a legitimate public need for an unequal legal scheme of benefits and privileges that disadvantages same-sex couples,” he said. “We cannot find that a right to same-sex marriage is so deeply rooted in the traditions, history, and conscience of the people of this state that it ranks as a fundamental right.”

The court also expounded about the importance of equal treatment to protect children, diverging from the rulings of other state courts, which had said protecting procreation was one rationale for limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.

“There is something distinctly unfair about the state recognizing the right of same-sex couples to raise natural and adopted children and placing foster children with those couples,” Justice Albin said, “and yet denying those children the financial and social benefits and privileges available to children in heterosexual households.”

In the dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz argued that the semantic distinction of marriage versus civil unions was itself a meaningful one, arguing that the institution “bestows enormous private and social advantages.”

Agreeing that same-sex couples deserve the same rights and benefits as heterosexual ones, she wrote that she “can find no principled basis, however, on which to distinguish those rights and benefits from the right to the title of marriage.”

As the case now moves from the domain of the courts to that of the legislature, some parties are gearing up for a fight.

Several Republican legislators — including State Senator Thomas H. Kean Jr., who is in a close race to unseat United States Senator Robert Menendez — said on Wednesday that they would like to see an amendment to the State Constitution banning same-sex marriage. But with the Democrats in control of both legislative chambers, and Mr. Codey and Mr. Roberts voicing opposition, such a ban seems unlikely.

At the same time, Garden State Equality, the gay rights group, began its lobbying campaign for marriage immediately after the decision, buying several weeks of television time for a new advertisement that began appearing on cable Wednesday night.

The ad features a cancer-stricken police officer, Lt. Laurel Hester, recalling her fight for death benefits for her female partner. Ms. Hester, bald and struggling to breathe, taped the commercial before she died early this year. The ad concludes with words appearing on the screen that read, “Support marriage equality. Your gay neighbors are depending on you.”

[originating url]