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Mother Russia: South Florida sees a boom in ‘birth tourism’

March 22, 2019

MIAMI (AP) — Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship. They pay anywhere from $20,000 to sometimes more than $50,000 to brokers who arrange their travel documents, accommodations and hospital stays, often in Florida.

While the cost is high, their children will be rewarded with opportunities and travel advantages not available to their Russian countrymen. The parents themselves may benefit someday as well. And the decidedly un-Russian climate in South Florida and the posh treatment they receive in the maternity wards — unlike dismal clinics back home — can ease the financial sting and make the practice seem more like an extended vacation.

The Russians are part of a wave of “birth tourists” that includes sizable numbers of women from China and Nigeria. President Donald Trump has spoken out against the provision in the U.S. Constitution that allows “birthright citizenship” and has vowed to end it, although legal experts are divided on whether he can actually do that.

Although there have been scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. Russians interviewed by The Associated Press said they were honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even showed signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.

There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.

The Russian contingent is clearly large. Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, told the AP that about 150 Russian families a year use his service, and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area.

South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather but also because of the large Russian-speaking population. Sunny Isles Beach, a city just north of Miami, is even nicknamed “Little Moscow.”

“With $30,000, we would not be able to buy an apartment for our child or do anything, really. But we could give her freedom. That’s actually really cool,” said Olga Zemlyanaya, who gave birth to a daughter in December and was staying in South Florida until her child got a U.S. passport.

An American passport confers many advantages. Once the child turns 21, he or she can apply for “green card” immigration status for the parents. A U.S. passport also gives the holder more travel opportunities than a Russian one; Americans can make short-term trips to more than 180 countries without a visa, while Russians can go visa-free only to about 80.

Traveling to the U.S. on a Russian passport often requires a laborious interview process for a visa. Just getting an appointment for the interview can take months. Some Russians fear that travel opportunities could diminish as tensions grow between Moscow and the West, or that Russia might even revert to stricter Soviet-era rules for leaving the country.

“Seeing the conflict growing makes people want to take precautions because the country might well close its borders. And if that happens, one would at least have a passport of a different country and be able to leave,” said Ilya Zhegulev, a journalist for the Latvia-based Russian website Meduza that is sharply critical of the Kremlin.

Last year, Zhegulev sold two cars to finance a trip to California for him and his wife so she could give birth to their son. Trump denounced birthright citizenship before the U.S. midterm election, amid ramped up rhetoric on his hard-line immigration policies. The president generally focuses his ire on the U.S.-Mexico border. But last fall he mentioned he was considering executive action to revoke citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil. No executive action has been taken.

The American Civil Liberties Union, other legal groups and even former House Speaker Paul Ryan, typically a supporter of Trump’s proposals, said the practice couldn’t be ended with an order. But others, like the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration, said the practice is harmful.

“We should definitely do everything we can to end it, because it makes a mockery of citizenship,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken Russian lawmaker, said the country can’t forbid women from giving birth abroad, and many of them also travel to Germany and Israel.

“Trump is doing everything right, because this law is used as a ploy. People who have nothing to do with the U.S. use it to become citizens,” Zhirinovsky said. Floridians have shown no problem with the influx of expectant mothers from Russia.

Yachmenev, the agency manager, says he believes it’s good for the state because it brings in sizable revenue. Svetlana Mokerova and her husband went all out, renting an apartment with a sweeping view. She relished the tropical vibe, filling her Instagram account with selfies backed by palm trees and ocean vistas.

“We did not have a very clear understanding about all the benefits” of a U.S. passport, she said. “We just knew that it was something awesome,” added Mokerova, who gave birth to a daughter after she was interviewed.

Zemlyanaya said that even her two nights in the hospital were a treat, like “a stay in a good hotel.” In contrast to the few amenities of a Russian clinic, she said she was impressed when an American nurse gave her choices from a menu for her meals.

“And then when she said they had chocolate cake for dessert, I realized I was in paradise,” Zemlyanaya added. She even enjoyed how nurses referred to patients as “mommies,” as opposed to “rozhenitsa,” or “birth-giver” — the “unpleasant words they use in Russian birth clinics.”

Zemlyanaya said she was able to work remotely during her stay via the internet, as were the husbands of other women, keeping their income flowing. Yachmenev said his agency doesn’t allow any of the costs to be paid by insurance.

Most of the families his agency serves have monthly incomes of about 300,000 rubles ($4,500) — middling by U.S. standards but nearly 10 times the average Russian salary. Yachmenev said he expects that birth tourism among Russians will only grow.

Business declined in 2015 when the ruble lost about half its value, but “now we are coming back to the good numbers of 2013-14,” he said.

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Miami and Varya Kudryavtseva in Moscow contributed to this report.


Trump floats idea of Brazil becoming NATO member

Washington (AFP)
March 19, 2019
President Donald Trump raised the possibility Tuesday that Brazil could become a member of NATO as he hosted far-right President Jair Bolsonaro for security talks at the White House.
“I… intend to designate Brazil as a major non-NATO ally or even possibly, if you start thinking about it, maybe a NATO ally,” Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden.
“I have to talk to a lot of people, but maybe a NATO ally, which will greatly advance security and cooperation between our countries.”
Asked earlier as he hosted Bolsonaro in the Oval Office whether Brazil should be granted NATO privileges, Trump replied: “We’re looking at it very strongly. We’re very inclined to do that.”
“The relationship that we have right now with Brazil has never been better,” Trump added. “I think there was a lot of hostility with other presidents. There’s zero hostility with me.
“And we’re going to look at that very, very strongly in terms of whether it’s NATO or something having to do with alliance.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which marks 70 years since its founding in April, last month cleared the way for Macedonia to become its 30th member.
Trump has been unstinting in his criticism of NATO’s European members, accusing them of freeloading on the protection offered by the US military while not spending enough on their own armed forces.
Before taking office Trump called NATO “obsolete” and soon after a NATO summit last July summit he questioned whether the US would honor the alliance’s founding principle of mutual defense for newest member Montenegro.
Source: Space War.

Israel’s first Moon mission blasts off from Florida

By Ivan Couronne

Washington (AFP)

Feb 22, 2019

An unmanned rocket took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday night carrying Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft, aiming to make history twice: as the first private-sector landing on the Moon, and the first from the Jewish state.

The 585-kilogram (1,290-pound) Beresheet, which means “Genesis” in Hebrew, lifted off at 8:45 pm (0145 GMT Friday) atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Take-off was followed live back in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watching alongside engineers from the control center of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The Israeli craft was placed in Earth orbit, from where it will use its own engine to undertake a seven-week trip to reach the Moon and touch down on April 11 in a large plain.

The rocket also contains an Indonesian satellite and a satellite of the US Air Force Research Laboratory.

The mission is part of renewed global interest in the Moon, sometimes called the “eighth continent” of the Earth, and comes 50 years after American astronauts first walked on the lunar surface.

“This is history in the making – and it’s live! Israel is aiming for the #moon and you’re all invited to watch,” said a Twitter message from SpaceIL, the non-profit organization that designed the Israeli craft.

It was backed notably by businessman and philanthropist Morris Kahn, who financed the development of a craft. “Make us proud,” he said Thursday.

Entrepreneurs, not government space agencies, financed the mission, which was initially projected at $10 million but eventually grew to $100 million.

Other partners are IAI, Israel’s space agency its Ministry of Science and Technology.

So far, only Russia, the United States and China have made the 384,000-kilometer (239,000-mile) journey and landed spacecraft on the Moon.

China’s Chang’e-4 made the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon on January 3, after a probe sent by Beijing made a Lunar landing elsewhere in 2013.

Americans are the only ones to have walked on the lunar surface, but have not been there since 1972.

For Israel, the landing itself is the main mission, but the spacecraft also carries a scientific instrument to measure the lunar magnetic field, which will help understanding of the Moon’s formation.

Technically, it is far from a trivial mission.

After its initial boost from the Falcon 9, the Beresheet’s British engine will have to make several ignitions to place the spacecraft on the correct trajectory to the Moon.

When it arrives, its landing gear must cushion the descent onto the lunar surface to prevent Beresheet from crashing.

– India plans to follow –

Beresheet carries a “time capsule” loaded with digital files containing a Bible, children’s drawings, Israeli songs, memories of a Holocaust survivor and the blue-and-white Israeli flag.

At a cost of $100 million, “this is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission. The superpowers who managed to land a spacecraft on the Moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding,” IAI said in an earlier statement.

“Beresheet is the first spacecraft to land on the Moon as a result of a private initiative, rather than a government.”

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine congratulated the Israeli team for carrying out the mission, saying, “this is a historic step for all nations and commercial space as we look to extend our collaborations beyond low-Earth orbit and on to the Moon.”

After China earlier this year, and now Israel, India hopes to become the fifth lunar country in the spring with its Chandrayaan-2 mission. It aims to put a craft with a rover onto the Moon’s surface to collect data.

Japan plans to send a small lunar lander, called SLIM, to study a volcanic area around 2020-2021.

As for the Americans, a return to the Moon is now the official policy of NASA, according to guidelines issued by President Donald Trump in 2017.

“This time, when we go to the Moon, we’re actually going to stay,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said last week.

To achieve this, the US space agency is changing its model and no longer wants to design the missions itself.

NASA, which has installed equipment on Beresheet to upload its signals from the Moon, said last week it aims to land instruments later this year or next year and that it is inviting private sector bids to build and launch the US probes.

The US space agency plans to build a small space station, dubbed Gateway, in the Moon’s orbit by 2026, and envisages a manned mission to Mars in the following decade.

Source: Moon Daily.


US steps up winter-warfare training as global threat shifts

February 20, 2019

MARINE MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, Calif. (AP) — Hunkered down behind a wall of snow, two U.S. Marines melt slush to make drinking water after spending the night digging out a defensive position high in the Sierra Nevada. Their laminated targeting map is wedged into the ice just below the machine gun.

Nearly 8,000 feet up at a training center in the California mountains, the air is thin, the snow is chest high and the temperature is plunging. But other Marines just a few kilometers away are preparing to attack, and forces on both sides must be able to battle the enemy and the unforgiving environment.

The exercise is designed to train troops for the next war — one the U.S. believes will be against a more capable, high-tech enemy like Russia, North Korea or China. The weather conditions on the mountain mimic the kind of frigid fight that forces could face in one of those future hotspots.

“We haven’t had to deal with these things. We’ve been very focused on Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. William F. Mullen, head of the Marines’ Training and Education Command. “What we really have to do is wake folks up, expose them to things that they haven’t had to think about for quite a while.”

After 17 years of war against Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents, the military is shifting its focus to better prepare for great-power competition with Russia and China, and against unpredictable foes such as North Korea and Iran. U.S. forces must be able to survive and fight while countering drones, sophisticated jamming equipment and other electronic and cyber warfare that can track them, disrupt communications and kill them — technology they didn’t routinely face over the last decade.

“If you were to draw a line from here to the DMZ between North and South Korea, both of these sites are on the 38th parallel. And so the weather here accurately replicates the weather that we would encounter in North and South Korea,” said Col. Kevin Hutchison, the training center commander. “What you’re seeing here is Marines fighting Marines, so we are replicating a near-peer threat.”

As a snowstorm swirls around them, Mullen and Hutchison move through the woods, checking in with the young Marines designated as the adversary force of about 250 troops who must prevent more than 800 attackers from gaining control of nearby Wolf Creek Bridge. An Associated Press team was allowed to accompany them to the Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center south of Lake Tahoe and watch the training.

Lance Cpl. Reese Nichols, from Pensacola, Florida, and Lance Cpl. Chase Soltis of Bozeman, Montana, dug their defensive position a day ago, and they’ve been watching all night for enemy movement, while using a small burner to melt snow to stay hydrated.

The hardest part, said Nichols, is “boiling water 24/7. And the cold. It’s cold.” The cold and wet conditions force the Marines to use snowshoes and cross-country skis to get around. They wrap white camouflage around their weapons, struggle to keep the ammunition dry and learn how to position their machine guns so they don’t sink into the powdery snow.

“It’s kind of overwhelming coming up here. Many of them have never been exposed to snow before,” said Staff Sgt. Rian Lusk, chief instructor for the mountain sniper course. “You’re constantly having to dig or move up the mountain range. So, it’s physically taxing, but more than anything, I think, it’s mentally taxing.”

The Marine Corps has changed its training in the mountain course and at Twentynine Palms Marine base 400 miles south. Instead of scripted exercises, trainers map out general objectives and let the Marines make their own battle decisions, replicating a more unpredictable combat situation.

Rather than fighting from forward operating bases that stretched across Iraq and Afghanistan, complete with security forces and chow halls, troops now have to be more independent, commanders say, providing their own protection and support. And they must prepare for a more formidable, high-tech enemy.

Mullen recalled speaking to a commander in Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “He said that within two minutes of keying his handset he had rockets coming in on his position,” said Mullen, who spent two days at Twentynine Palms, watching a battlefield exercise, before flying to the Bridgeport base in California’s Toiyabe National Forest.

The key in both places, said Mullen, is whether the Marines can stay undetected and adjust their battle plan quickly when faced with unexpected threats. Back on the mountain, Mullen and Hutchison have seized on that issue. The attacking force, members of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendleton, California, spotted one of the adversary’s fighting positions and fired on it. The simulated attack didn’t hurt anyone, but the competition is real for the defending forces from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, out of Twentynine Palms.

“You took casualties today, and you didn’t respond to it,” Hutchison told the platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Brendan Dixon of Hampton Roads, Virginia. Why, pressed Mullen, didn’t Dixon move his Marines to a safer location?

In the face of questioning from senior leaders, Dixon held his ground, confident his forces were in the right place to defend the bridge. It turns out, he was right. Moving toward the bridge, the attacking forces became trapped on a ridgeline, exposed to the enemy and unable to move through a ravine filled with snow. Gunfire exploded across the ridge.

The final assessment by the trainers was that the attackers suffered 30-40 percent casualties, while Dixon’s troops lost about 10 percent. The attacking force, said Hutchison, made some decisions that would have resulted in Marine deaths in a real battle, but it’s better to learn now, than in combat.

“In the Far East, whether it’s in northern Europe, etc., we’re replicating that here. And what we’re finding is, it’s an extremely challenging problem,” said Hutchison. “And it’s a problem that, frankly, if we don’t train to, it’s going to cost a lot of Marine lives.”

US Congresswomen openly endorse BDS

February 11, 2019

The first two Middle East Congresswomen, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, have openly endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Michigan congresswoman Tlaib said on Saturday that she wanted to highlight “issues such as racism and Israel’s violations of the Palestinians’ human rights”.

Meanwhile Omar, the congresswoman for Minnesota, said she is working to bring some balance to the US position, which currently gives priority to Israel…

… She added: “I know that if we saw that in another society we would criticize it – we do that to Iran and any other place that upholds its religion.”

In response, Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin slammed Tlaib and Omar’s open support for the BDS movement, urging his colleagues to “to reject the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred that we are starting to see infiltrating American politics and even the halls of Congress”.

The Republicans also accused the Democratic Party leadership of encouraging “hate speech and intolerance towards Israel”. Alvin Rosenfeld, director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism at Indiana University, said that “there is obviously a serious fight going on within the Democratic Party with respect to how to deal with BDS and some within their party who advocate for it”. “Should the party swing to the far left and appear to be way out of line with America’s traditional ties to one of its strongest allies, Israel, the party will surely suffer at the polls,” he told AFP.

However, Omar has defended her views on Israel, saying she finds it “exciting” that her views are sparking debate. “I think it is actually exciting because we are finally able to have conversations that we weren’t really willing to before,” she told CNN.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Why a Department of the Space Force?

Bethesda, MD (SPX)

Feb 08, 2019

Over the last 20 years several issues regarding the National Security Space (NSS) organization and management have been reviewed and assessed. Both the Rumsfeld Commission in 2001 and the Allard Commission in 2009 noted that there are many pockets of excellence and positive trends within the NSS community.

However, the commissions also noted growing performance shortfalls, vulnerabilities and potential gaps in capabilities. Many of the capabilities are thin and fragile. Important space-based capabilities are currently provided by obsolete on-orbit assets, while new generation satellites have experienced unacceptable cost and schedule growth, technical performance problems and cancellations.

Many of the necessary actions to address these adverse trends, such as those identified by the 2001 Space Commission and the 2003 Defense Science Board Study on Space Acquisition, have been slow to change. There has been a lack of clear accountability and authority regarding strategies, budgets, requirements and acquisition processes across the NSS community. In other words, “no one’s in charge.”

To exacerbate the situation, career management practices have often been counterproductive and the technical talent pool has been insufficient. These commissions stressed the need for fundamental change in order to correct the problems. In particular, the Allard Commission recommended a top-to-bottom reform to create stronger leadership and improved management for National Security Space. In the absence of needed improvements and a lack of progress, it would appear that NSS operations should have its own organization and management structure, and that structure could become the Department of the Space Force.

This new NSS organization could do many things to reduce costs and increase operational effectiveness, while maintaining space superiority. For example, clarify lines of authority and eliminate “stovepiped” systems. A new vision is needed for NSS and that may be called “Vision 2030,” a 21st Century architecture that uses an integrated approach to providing NSS services to the stakeholder community.

Such an architecture might use a single integrated and multifunctional space infrastructure that satisfies the objectives of both the warfighter and intelligence communities. Physically, this might be a multi-layered constellation of satellites that can collect ISR and other security-related information, fuse and process data, and send these data to end users on the ground.

The new Space Force might become the single source of all needed NSS information for a variety of ground and space operations. All defense and intelligence agencies could then share resources in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

Source: Space War.


Ex-Marine pilot dreams of ferrying folks into space

By Ivan Couronne

Washington (AFP) Feb 8, 2019

Mark Stucky fought in the Iraq war, once buzzed a Soviet warplane over the Sea of Japan and has flown all sorts of experimental aircraft.

Now, his dream is a taste of routine and repetition: to make the same trip as often as possible, in the same aircraft, ferrying six wealthy passengers into space.

“Forger”, as he is nicknamed, is a test pilot for the space travel company Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson.

Flying an aircraft called SpaceShipTwo, for a few minutes on December 13, 2018 he flew across the boundary into space over the Mojave Desert in California.

It is this kind of flight that Virgin Galactic hopes to make available on a weekly basis to rich customers, some day.

“This is a test pilot’s dream,” said Stucky, a 60-year-old former Marine with short gray hair.

“I want to do every flight,” he added, although he will have to share them with other Virgin test pilots until flights get going on a regular basis — not before the end of the year, even if all goes well.

Reaching space remains a complex and dangerous feat. A friend of Stucky flying for Virgin died in 2014 after a wrong command in midair caused the aircraft to disintegrate.

Since then the program remains in the test phase. Branson said it will be far enough along in July for him to take a place on the spacecraft. But in this industry delays are common.

Stucky says he would love to take his family along on one of the flights.

“Oh, definitely,” he said in an interview with AFP.

He was in Washington to receive “astronaut wings” from the government aviation agency FAA for private sector crew who have flown beyond 50 miles (80 km) above the surface of the earth. That is considered the edge of space for the United States, although the international norm is 100 km.

His co-pilot Frederick Sturckow also received the honor. Only two previous flyers of the predecessor to SpaceShipTwo, who went up in 2004, have garnered such wings.

“There will always be some level of risk because you’re going to space. That should not be taken lightly,” said Stucky, who has spent most of his working life flying planes for the army and NASA before joining Scaled Composites, a Virgin partner, in 2009.

“Only time will tell. There’s always this one bad flight separating you from being a hero to a goat,” he said.

Stucky added: “Humankind needs a percentage of people that do go out and explore and pave the way for the masses to follow, but I don’t think everybody should do it.”

– Floating in space –

SpaceShipTwo looks like a rocket fitted with wings. It is carried into the air by a large plane that drops it like a bomb, roughly at the altitude at which commercial aircraft travel.

A few seconds later, the pilot ignites the engine and the spaceplane becomes an actual rocket for a minute, blasting straight up — so high that the view stretches from Baja California in Mexico to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Then, in absolute silence, the passengers experience weightlessness and float for a few minutes. Soon gravity kicks back in and SpaceShipTwo heads back down to earth, like a cannonball. Stucky and his co-pilot ease the gliding craft into the Mojave Air and Spaceport.

Some say such missions are no big deal — just going way, way up, and less tricky than flying in orbit around the earth. But Stucky begs to differ.

“I don’t think it’s a dead end technology. I think it’s a way to democratize space for many, many thousands of people. If you want to go orbital right now, you open up space for a handful of extremely wealthy billionaires,” he said.

For the first 600 people who have signed up for such flights, the fare is a cool $250,000. Sales have stopped but Virgin Galactic has said the price will go up when reservations reopen.

Virgin Galactic has a rival in Blue Origin, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who wants to send people higher, up to an altitude of 100 km.

But any idea of a space race is taboo.

“If they beat us, it doesn’t matter to me too much, as long as they beat us not because we were lazy. I want us to do the best that we can, but be safe,” he said.

He said there is one drawback in his new job: being stuck in the cockpit.

“I wish I could go in the back. I really want to unstrap and float around,” he said.

Source: Space Daily.


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