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December 6, 2013

News Briefs December 6, 2013

Court looks at protest ban at Calif. military base

The Supreme Court seemed likely Decd. 4 to reinstate the trespassing conviction of a man who was caught protesting military activities in a place he had been ordered to avoid: the zone designated for demonstrators outside the main gate at a California air force base.

Protester John Dennis Apel tried to persuade the court that his case raised important First Amendment issues. But the justices focused instead on the federal law under which Apel was convicted, which gives commanding officers authority to prevent people from entering military installations.

When Erwin Chemerinsky, the constitutional scholar representing Apel, tried to get the court to turn to Apel’s free speech rights, Justice Antonin Scalia cut him off.

ìYou can raise it, but we don’t have to listen to it,î Scalia said.

Apel has been visiting the designated protest zone at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast for 14 years. He had previously run into trouble at the base when, in 2003, he threw four ounces of his own blood on the Vandenberg sign.

That incident led to the first of several orders barring him from entering any part of the base, including the protest area on a public highway that passes near the main gate. The military owns the highway but grants the state and Santa Barbara County an easement so the public can use it. The protest zone was set up in the late 1980s as part of the settlement of a federal lawsuit.

A federal appeals court overturned Apel’s conviction because the military shares control of the highway with local authorities. Chemerinsky also said the law cannot be enforced outside the base fence and green line painted on the road that marks the start of the area in which access is restricted.

There was little support on the court to reading the law in favor of Apel.

Justice Anthony Kennedy was one of several justices who said that allowing the public to use the highway under an agreement with local authorities does not mean that the military has forfeited all control. ìThe military commander can make reasonable regulations,î Kennedy said, suggesting that he sees the order barring Apel as reasonable.

The Obama administration is eager to get the ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals erased from the books because it could affect similar arrangements at roughly three dozen bases in the nine Western states covered by the San Francisco-based court.

The justices could throw out that ruling and yet still give the appeals court the chance to consider Apel’s First Amendment claims. The administration favors this approach, although it said Apel’s rights were not violated.

A decision is expected by late June. The case is U.S. v. Apel, 12-1038. AP

U.S. seeks limited military ties with Myanmar

The Obama administration is urging Congress to support limited U.S. engagement with Myanmar’s powerful military, even though Myanmar has ties with North Korea.

Political reforms after five decades of repressive military rule have ended Myanmar’s diplomatic isolation. But there’s considerable opposition in Congress to forging U.S. ties with Myanmar’s armed forces because of its human rights record and suspicions that it is involved in weapons deals with North Korea against U.N. sanctions.

Senior administration officials told a congressional panel Wednesday that the U.S. can strengthen the hand of reformers by providing training on human rights and on how a military should operate in a democracy. AP

U.S. will no longer report Guantanamo Hunger strikes

The U.S. military will no longer disclose to the media and public whether prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are on hunger strike, a spokesman said Dec. 4, eliminating what had long been an unofficial barometer of conditions at the secretive military outpost.

Hunger strikes have been employed by men held at Guantanamo since shortly after the prison opened in January 2002 and the U.S. has long disclosed how many are refusing to eat and whether they meet military guidelines to be force fed.

Officials have now determined it is no longer in their interest to publicly disclose the information, said Navy Cmdr. John Fiolstrat, a spokesman for the military’s Joint Task Force-Guantanamo.

The U.S. holds 164 men at Guantanamo, most without charge. President Barack Obama had vowed to close the prison upon taking office but was thwarted by Congress, which imposed restrictions on transfers and releases. The military has long offered members of the media highly scripted tours of the detention center and would provide general information about prisoners, though not identifying them by name.

The Miami Herald reported that as of Dec. 2, when the statistics were apparently released for the last time, that there were 15 men on hunger strike, up from 11 in mid-November. AP

Vermont F-35 opponents say will continue fight

Opponents of a plan to bring the F-35 fighter plane to the Burlington International Airport say they’re undeterred by the Air Force’s decision to base 18 of the planes with the Vermont Air National Guard.

South Burlington lawyer James Marc Leas says they’re planning to use a combination of continued public pressure and legal actions to keep the planes from being based in Vermont, scheduled for 2020.
The Air Force announced Dec. 3 that the Air Guard station at the South Burlington airport would be the first Air National Guard unit to get the planes.

Opponents worry about increased noise from the planes and the danger of a crash posed by the new airplanes.

The guard says they can fly the planes to minimize noise and the planes are safe. AP

Charlotte, N.C., putting together offer for Boeing

Charlotte, N.C., officials are putting together a bid for Boeing’s new plant to build its 777X jetliner.

The Charlotte Observer reported that former city aviation director Jerry Orr said Chicago-based Boeing has sent the city a request for a proposal for the plant.

Officials say the next generation aircraft plant could create more than 8,000 jobs.

Documents obtained by the newspaper show Boeing wants land for the plant at little or no cost, as well as tax incentives. It also says it needs a technically skilled workforce.

Boeing has sent requests for proposals to more than a dozen cities around the country.

The company already has a plant in North Charleston, S.C., that makes the 787 Dreamliner.

The deadline for bids is Dec. 10. AP

Pennsylvania asked to bid on attracting Boeing plant

Pennsylvania is among the states hoping to compete for a new Boeing aircraft assembly plant.

Department of Community and Economic Development spokesman Steve Kratz said Dec. 4 the company contacted the state on Tuesday, asking for proposals to attract a plant to build the new 777X aircraft.

Kratz says the state is looking at what it might offer as a competitive proposal that also takes into account the use of taxpayer dollars.

He says the large number of potential jobs makes Gov. Tom Corbett very interested.

The company is approaching states, asking them to bid on the production of the plane after its machinist union members rejected a proposed contract with concessions on pensions and health care costs. AP

Alabama looking to attract Boeing assembly plant

Governor Robert Bentley says Alabama will be among the states submitting a proposal next week to land the assembly plant for Boeing’s new 777X aircraft.

Bentley met Dec. 5 with the state’s chief industrial recruiter, Greg Canfield, to work on the proposal.

Bentley and other officials met with Boeing executives two weeks ago to try to get the company to develop the plant in the Huntsville area.

Bentley says Boeing has had operations in Huntsville for more than 50 years, and already owns a large tract of land at the Huntsville airport.

Bentley declined to make any comparisons between what the state may offer Boeing and the incentive package that was used to land an Airbus assembly plant in Mobile. AP

Kansas joins bidding for Boeing contract

Kansas is assembling an economic incentive package geared at landing a new Boeing contract to build the aviation giant’s 777X commercial aircraft.

Administration officials say Dec. 4 they can’t divulge details of the Kansas package, citing a nondisclosure agreement signed with Boeing when talks began in recent weeks.

Gov. Sam Brownback has said that Kansas would make a run at landing the contract, which could result in between 7,000 and 10,000 new aviation jobs in the Wichita area.

Unlike Missouri, where legislators are meeting to approve a financial package, Kansas is relying on existing economic incentive programs related to job training, workforce development and provisions that could allow the expensing of new equipment purchases over several years. AP




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