President Trump has continued to lash out with bizarre and outrageous public pronouncements. He has threatened to destroy North Korea. He says athletes who protest police brutality should be fired. And he has no sympathy for the people of Puerto Rico, which has been devastated by a pair of hurricanes. In any other country, people would take to the streets to demand that the president be removed. But we’re chill…too chill.
Trump’s political genius is centered around his manic style. He issues one outrageous statement after another, so that the media and critics can only begin to respond to each before it gets eclipsed by the next one, with the net effect that nothing ever gets fully processed. If elected president, he’ll probably do the same thing. Hey, it worked for George W. Bush!
After a hard-fought primary campaign, Bernie Sanders capitulated and endorsed his rival Hillary Clinton for the presidency. In the final analysis, Clinton gave up little more than lip service to Bernie’s agenda of a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition at public universities, and universal healthcare. To the contrary, Clinton is now moving to the right, considering a general as vice president and asking the platform committee not to oppose the TPP free trade agreement.
“If Donald wins the general election, who the heck knows what he’d do as president?” —Ted Cruz
March 15, 2017 — In the most devastating attack on American soil, a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile carrying at least two nuclear warheads struck downtown Seattle just after 8 am, killing tens of thousands of residents at the height of the morning commute. “There’s nothing left…the city is just gone,” a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced after hours of silence from the nation’s capital, which went on lockdown after the explosion. There has been no word from President Trump, who has presumably been taken to a safe location.
“The imperialist forces should now understand that Seattle is but the beginning, and the whole of the United States might turn into a sea of fire due to the foolhardy insults of the American tyrant,” Pyongyang announced in a statement released through its official Korean Central News Agency.
January 20, 2017 — Derided as a carnival barker who can read a crowd but never reads a book, President Donald Trump defied the pundits at an inauguration ceremony observers from across the American political spectrum called artful, unifying and universally inspiring.
Taking the microphone on a chilly but beautiful Washington morning before a crowd of several hundred thousand spectators — all of whom were treated to a People’s Breakfast on the Washington Mall beforehand — Trump focused on bringing the nation together after last year’s brutal four-way race between him, Democrat Hillary Clinton and independents Bernie Sanders and Paul Ryan.
“We may disagree about how to make America great again,” he said, an open smile across his face, “but we all want to make her great — and we love her. Toward that end,” he said, citing presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Mine will be a team of rivals — a team of smart, talented, diverse people. And I will listen to them!” he said, drawing applause as he pointed to Vice President Clinton and new economic czars Sanders and Paul Krugman.
Referencing one of his key campaign promises, he pledged to “begin building the wall” along the border with Mexico, but allowed that “there’s no way we can or should ask Mexico to pay for it.” At the same time, Trump said, “I’ve been listening to my excellent brain and my conscience, both of which say the same thing: if you haven’t committed a serious crime, you’re welcome to stay here — in your new home — and citizenship is yours if you want it.”
December 24, 2016 — During her primary battle against Bernie Sanders, President-Elect Hillary Clinton co-opted many of Sanders’ campaign promises to alleviate poverty and income inequality, and to go after Wall Street. Analysts say tacking left helped her seal the deal with the progressive base of the Democratic party.
Today, however, the Clinton transition office released a list of her cabinet picks — which read like business as usual. “It’s as though the Bernie surge never happened,” approvingly editorialized The New York Times, which endorsed Clinton.
Clinton’s choices are drawn from familiar center-right figures who served in the Obama and Bill Clinton administrations. Private equity executive Timothy Geithner is returning to his former post as secretary of the treasury. Clinton plans to nominate controversial Harvard economist Lawrence Summers to replace Janet Yellen as the head of the Federal Reserve Bank. In a move sure to dispirit liberals, she plans to nominate Republicans like Senator Orrin Hatch — “best friend I ever had in the senate” — as secretary of state and, most controversially, nonagenarian Henry Kissinger as national security adviser and to a new position, Director of Unmanned Aerial Defense — running the nation’s drone program, which Clinton announced last week she plans to expand.
With all the major posts filled, liberal supporters are pushing for ex-Obamaite Van Jones to get a spot like deputy undersecretary of agriculture.
January 21, 2017 — As expected, newly inaugurated President Bernie Sanders threw down the gauntlet, telling a joint session of the Republican-dominated Congress, “Enough is enough. The American people elected me to carry out a political revolution and now, goddammit, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Decrying Republican intransigence — “the politics of saying no for its own sake, and for the sake of the top 1%” — Sanders warned congressmen and senators that they would pay a heavy price if they refuse to pass three pieces of legislation within the next 10 days: a $15 minimum wage, free public college tuition and Medicare for all.
“You can do this the easy way, and respect the mandate represented by my victory,” he said, “or you can make tens of millions of Americans come here to Washington, surround your offices and your homes, and refuse to leave until you do the right thing.”
Senate Majority Mitch McConnell struck a defiant tone following Sanders’ speech, calling it “blackmail” and “using democracy as a cudgel.” But GOP insiders say Sanders is likely to get much of what he wants.
“He ran on this income inequality stuff,” said a top-ranking party official who requested anonymity. “He’s been talking about it for decades. No one can claim there’s a bait and switch, or that they didn’t know exactly what he’d do if elected. How can we justify blocking the people’s will when it’s this clear?”
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)
Originally published at ANewDomain.net:
Conservatives have been spoiled. For at least as long as I’ve been alive – I’m 51 – right-wingers have scarcely had to break a sweat in political debates. Until recently, all it has taken to reduce a liberal to a blubbering, conceding mess was a cheesy ad hominem attack.
You hate the troops!
You hate the cops!
Why do you hate America so much?
Though undeniably tentative and fragile, there are indications that the Right’s reign of terror in public discourse may come to an end someday.
A case in point is President Obama, whose first six years in office were characterized by relentless timidity even when he enjoyed amazing poll numbers and control of both houses of Congress. After the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in November 2014, he was expected to follow the liberal Democratic tradition of accepting that the Republicans should get their way on everything because that was obviously the will of the American people.
Instead, he inaugurated his lame-duck final couplet with aggressive moves on immigration reform and, last week, normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba, both through executive action. Republicans howled – but nothing happened. To the contrary, Obama seems more powerful than ever.
Some sort of turning point in the ideological zeitgeist seems to have been reached with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s appearance on “Meet the Press” two weekends ago. Blisteringly belligerent as usual, Cheney didn’t even try to appeal to logic or reason while defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” under the Bush Administration in the wake of the Senate torture report.
“Torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11,” Cheney said.
For many years after September 11 attacks, this was the kind of off-the-cuff mindfart that progressives and Democrats didn’t know how to counter. (No, that’s not torture. That’s tragedy.) Anything that harkened back to 9/11, no matter how irrelevant or stupid, was rhetorical kryptonite to liberals who didn’t want to appear weak in the War on Terror.
Cheney caught the worst of it, but standard Republican talking points and rhetorical style took a beating over the last week on a number of issues.
Arizona Senator, Vietnam POW and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain reacted to the alleged hack of Sony Entertainment by the North Korean government in his standard bellicose way, declaring it “an act of war.” An act of war, naturally, calls for a military response. The declaration by President Bush that 9/11 was an act of war, for example, prompted Congress to authorize the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by a nearly unanimous vote. (Which worked out splendidly!)
Interestingly, McCain’s ferocity fell largely upon deaf ears. More in touch with ordinary Americans was President Obama, who countered that the hackers had actually carried out “an act of cyber-vandalism that was very costly, very expensive.”
In a sneak preview of the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, likely contender and Florida Senator Marco Rubio catered to part of his Greater Miami constituency of Cuban exiles by calling for the continuation of the half-century-old trade blockade of the Caribbean island. “I don’t care if the polls say that 99% of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba,” he said. It’s not quite that extreme yet, but most Americans do support Obama’s decision to recognize the end of the Cold War 23 years after the fact.
Rubio’s rhetoric was met with a yawn (and lucky for him). Obama’s actions are largely seen by the political class as a fait accompli, all over but the shouting at passport control in Havana.
This is a remarkable transformation. Twenty or even ten years ago, any Democrat who had endorsed, much less carried out, such a move would be deemed to have committed political suicide. Republican talk radio would have screamed that it was un-American, procommunist, and treasonous. Sure, they’re saying the same thing now, but no one cares because, well, it’s stupid.
Of course, it would have been stupid back then. The difference is, people can see that now.
Then, in New York City, there was Saturday’s shooting of two police officers as they sat in their patrol car in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, apparently by a deranged man with a long criminal record. New York’s new mayor Bill de Blasio, a progressive Democrat whose political allies don’t include top NYPD figures, took a blast of heat from police union leaders, one of whom spat that de Blasio has blood on his hands. (Apparently he drew a straight line between the shooter’s post-Ferguson/post-Staten Island anti-cop rants on Instagram and the mayor’s revelation that he tells his biracial son to be careful when he encounters police officers.)
To be sure, de Blasio is having trouble with the NYPD — but this kerfuffle is nothing close to the existential crisis a liberal Democratic mayor in the same pickle would have had to endure just a few short years ago. Most New Yorkers recognize that this is police overreach. A few weeks after New Yorkers of all races reacted with disgust to a grand jury decision not to indict the Staten Island police officer who murdered Eric Garner on video, not even the cold-blooded assassination of two cops on the streets of Brooklyn erases that memory or allows a return to the Giuliani years, when cops could do no wrong in the eyes of officialdom. If the mayor tells his kid to watch out for the cops, who can blame him?
So what has changed?
It might be a bona fide political shift from right to left, but that’s not my take. What we are seeing, I suspect, is popular exhaustion with right-wing talking points and bullying rhetoric. There’s a certain point at which repetition stops working and becomes annoying – and it feels like that’s where we’re at.
In the future, if conservatives want to be taken seriously, they’re going to have to go back to the old William F. Buckley days and attempt to construct calm, logically reasoned arguments in favor of their ideas. Name-calling and appeals to rank emotionalism aren’t cutting it anymore.
Originally published at Breaking Modern:
The as yet unidentified hackers who broke into Sony Entertainment’s incompetently protected servers have provoked a lawsuit filed by former employees angered by the company’s lack of security, a cluster of gossipy news stories about the quality of the next James Bond film and Angelina Jolie’s professional relationships, and a media ethics debate over whether publishing emails, salary information, movie scripts and other leaked material is effectively aiding and abetting the cyber thieves.
Now a New York movie theater has canceled a showing of Sony’s newest movie in response to a terrorist threat issued by the hackers.
What nobody’s talking about seems like the biggest story of all: the possible motivation of the self-styled “Guardians of Peace.”
Suspicion immediately fell upon North Korea due to the hackers’ complaints about an upcoming film, “The Interview,” which stars James Franco and Seth Rogan. “How bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to,” one communiqué declared, referring to the movie’s plot, about assassinating North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
For what it’s worth, the government of North Korea has officially denied involvement. Seth Rogan believes them. “There’s no way it’s them’ because it seems too savvy of Hollywood politics.”
Regardless of the identity of the hackers, one question worth exploring is: has Hollywood crossed the line?
Political assassination plots are nothing new for American films. Based on the Frederick Forsyth spy novel, the 1973 thriller “The Day of the Jackal” showcased the scheming of a man who tried to kill French president Charles de Gaulle during the 1960s. But the movie came out after de Gaulle had already died of old age.
The Quentin Tarantino revenge fantasy “Inglorious Basterds” depicts something that plainly didn’t happen, the arson and machine-gun killing of Adolf Hitler in a French movie theater. And anyway, that was Hitler, only the worst guy ever.
“The gory killing of a sitting foreign leader is new territory for a big studio movie,” Jeanine Basinger, professor of film studies at Wesleyan University, told the New York Times.
It’s kind of fascinating that the American press hasn’t been able to put itself in the shoes of North Koreans, enough of whom obviously support their leader to the extent that he continues to enjoy the tacit consent of the governed.
Imagine, if you can, how Americans would respond – even conservative Republicans – if, say, Iran, Russia, or some other political rival of the United States were to produce a motion picture depicting the violent assassination of President Obama. Many Americans would view such a film, even if it was marketed as a comedy as “The Interview” is, as something just short of an act of war.
Here in the United States, threatening the life of the president is a serious felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison. Why wouldn’t we expect other countries to take the threat against their leaders seriously too?
Americans don’t get that the citizens of other countries are just as patriotic as we are. Just like us, people in other nations don’t like it when we disrespect their leaders.
Not long ago, everyone, including the United States government, understood that treating heads of state disrespectfully exposed everyone’s leaders to the same treatment. Under international law and tradition heads of state have been considered immune from prosecution. Even when the US deposed an unfriendly leader in a coup d’état, such as when Jean-Claude Duvalier fled Haiti in 1986, they facilitated his comfortable exile in places like the French Riviera.
It was the United States that broke this understanding between nations.
It began in 1989, with George Herbert Walker Bush’s overthrow of Panamanian President Manuel Noriega. The first Bush administration treated Noriega like a common criminal, trumping up dubious drug possession charges (a “110-pound” stash of cocaine found in his compound turned out to be tamales wrapped in banana leaves), kidnapping him to face charges in the United States on barely discernible legal grounds, and then sentencing him to two decades in a federal prison.
More recently, Bush the second boxed in former US client dictator Saddam Hussein, refusing to fly him out of Iraq, signed off on a ridiculous show trial conducted by his political enemies and then delivered him from U.S. custody to be unceremoniously hanged to death – while cell phone video cameras rolled – in 2006. Saddam went out looking classy – “Down with the invaders!” he shouted repeatedly before his death — the U.S., not so much.
Then there was the 2011 killing of Colonel Moammar Qaddafi. Again, the United States didn’t leave the Libyan dictator a way out. Instead, NATO fighter jets and an American drone bombed his convoy, causing him to fall into the hands of opposition forces, who killed him.
Given this recent history, it isn’t surprising that Americans don’t see the big deal about a silly comedy movie fantasizing about killing a man they see as a silly neo-Stalinist dictator. But isn’t this just another case of American exceptionalism?
We see the world one way.
No one else agrees with us.
Originally published by The Los Angeles Times:
Los Angeles, where garbage is trashed.
Where bodies turn up at waste processing facilities.
Where fear of bodies inside garbage dumpsters prompts the dumping of their contents all over downtown streets.
Where on the coast, it’s on the land and in the sea
This is a place where trash-talking is taken literally; Kobe Bryant recently said fellow Lakers were “soft like Charmin.”
Now the Times’ David Zahniser reports about one of the less charming aspects of the holiday season: “The holidays are a time for giving, and in Los Angeles, many have the good fortune to provide generously for others. But once everybody receives their new stuff, a lot of the old stuff gets pitched onto the street. In the final days of the year, many of L.A.’s streets and sidewalks are littered with discarded furniture, mattresses, oversized televisions and other household objects.”
More than 33,000 tons of trash were removed from city streets in 2013-14.
Lest you be tempted to take solace in the fact that this statistic has remained fairly static over the last few years, give not into temptation: “The number of tons of discarded items picked up has stayed roughly the same. Sanitation officials believe that’s because the products being tossed out are being made with lighter materials. They also contend scavengers are taking a lot of the heavier stuff, like metal.”
Thank God for the scavengers. After them, the deluge.
In the spirit of the holiday season, I’d like to focus on the positive aspect of this phenomenon. Fact is, litter is a sign of prosperity. Or consumerism. Is there a difference? While traveling in Afghanistan in 2001, I was struck by how little litter there was in that war-torn country. The poverty was so deep that everything, including empty plastic bottles, got used by someone for something. Looking around at Los Angeles’ filthy streets, piling up with garbage, it logically follows that what one is witnessing is the exact opposite, the hamburger to the steak, the yin to the yang, the necessary byproduct of Rodeo Drive.
OK, probably not.
In the spirit of those Afghans 13 years ago, however, it occurs to me that there might be ways to put all that garbage to good use. Thus this week’s cartoon.
(The middle panel with the dump truck is inspired by an obscure historical event, the Paris mine collapse of 1774. After it became apparent that the expanding French capital was in danger of falling into a series of abandoned mines that had previously been on the outskirts of the city, Paris officials began filling them up with debris, garbage and even centuries-old human remains excavated from tombs.)
Why Aren’t Rioters Burning Down the Banks?
One in ten Americans take such antidepressants as Prozac and Paxil. Among those in their 40s and 50s, it’s 23%. Maybe that’s why we’re so passive.
Like the blissed-out soma-sucking drones of Huxley’s “Brave New World,” we must be too drugged to feel, much less express, rage. How else to explain that furious mobs haven’t burned the banks to the ground?
Last week, as the media ginned up empty speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects, and wallowed in nuclear cognitive dissonance — Iran, which doesn’t have nukes and says it doesn’t want them, is repeatedly called a grave threat worth going to war over, while North Korea, which does have them and won’t stop threatening to turn the West Coast of the U.S. into a “sea of fire,” is dismissed as empty bluster, nothing to worry about — the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve released the details of the settlement between the Obama Administration and the big banks over the illegal foreclosure scandal.
Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other major home mortgage lenders foreclosed upon and evicted millions of homeowners between the start of the housing collapse in 2007 and 2011. Millions of families became homeless, including 2.3 million children. The vast majority of these Americans are still struggling; many fell into poverty from which they will never escape.
Disgusting, amazing, yet true: the banks had no legal right to evict these people. In many cases, the banks didn’t have basic paperwork, like the original deed to the house. They resorted to “robo-signing” boiler room operations to churn out falsified and forged eviction papers. In others cases, people could have kept their homes if they’d been allowed to refinance — their right under federal law — but the banks illegally refused, giving them the runaround, repeatedly asking for the same paperwork they’d already sent in. Soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, protected from foreclosure under U.S. law, came home to find their homes resold at auction. In other cases, banks even repossessed homes where the homeowner had never missed a mortgage payment.
The foreclosure scandal helped spark the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Promising justice and compensation for the victims, President Obama’s Justice Department joined lawsuits filed by the attorneys general of several states.
Last year, Obama announced that the government had concluded a “landmark settlement” with the banks that would “deliver some measure of justice for those families that have been victims of their abusive practices.” The Politico newspaper called the $26 billion deal “a big win for the White House.” $26 billion. Sounds impressive, right?
So…the envelope, please.
How much will the banks have to pay? What will people whose homes were stolen — there is no other word — receive? Now we know the details.
Remember what we’re talking about. Your house is your biggest asset. You own tens of thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity. One morning the sheriff comes. He throws you and your family out on the street. Your possessions are dumped on the lawn. You have nowhere to go. Your kids are crying. If you were struggling before, now you’re completely screwed. And the bank that did it had no legal basis whatsoever to do what they did.
They took your house, sold it, and pocketed the profits.
What would happen to you if you walked into Tiffany’s and stole a $200,000 necklace?
- Even though they qualified for federal loan modifications, the banks seized 1.1 million homes, making 1.1 million families homeless after they were approved for refinancing. Since the average foreclosed home was worth $191,000, the banks stole $210 billion in homes. Under the “landmark settlement,” these wrongfully evicted Americans will receive $300 or $500 each, the value of a modest night out at a nice restaurant in Manhattan (two tenths of one percent of their loss).
- 900,000 borrowers who were entitled under Obama’s Make Home Affordable program to refinancing were denied help and lost their homes. They get $300 or $600.
- 420,000 homeowners who lost their homes while the banks intentionally dithered and “lost” their paperwork get $400 or $800.
- 28,000 families who were entitled to protection against foreclosure under federal bankruptcy law, but got thrown out of their homes anyway, get $3,750 to $62,500.
- 1,100 soldiers entitled to protection against foreclosure because of their military status get $125,000.
- 53 families who weren’t late on their mortgages, never missed a payment, but got thrown out anyway, get $125,000.
So we’ve got more than 2.4 million families — that’s 5 million people — whose homes got bogarted by scumbag banksters. They’re getting a thousand bucks each on average. A thousand bucks for a two hundred thousand dollar theft! Not to mention the heartbreak and stress they suffered.
Why aren’t those five million people stringing up bank execs from telephone poles? It’s gotta be the Paxil.
But what really gets me is the 53 families who are getting $125,000 payouts for losing homes they were 100% up to date on.
Even if you’re a heartless right-winger, you’ve got to have a problem with a bank taking your house when you never missed a payment. Sorry, but these are multinational, multibillion dollar banks. They should pay these families tens of millions of dollars each.
Those 53 families should own Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit received $260 million in pay between 2007 and 2012, the height of the foreclosure scandal.
In 2011 alone, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was given $23 million. In 2012, the company’s board of directors “punished” him for a $6 billion loss in derivatives trading by paying him “merely” $18.7 million.
In 2012 alone, Bank of America paid CEO Brian Moynihan $12 million; Wells Fargo paid $23 million to CEO John Stumpf.
Not bad for some of the worst criminals in history.
That’s how things work in the United States: the criminals get the big payouts. The people whose lives they destroy get $300.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
Aggressive Drone Wars Set a Dangerous Precedent
There’s no denying it: we Americans, we have a lot of nerve.
We love to pick fights, but when someone punches back, man, the whining never stops. And boy, do we love to escalate. Nuclear weapons? We invented the suckers, used them not once but twice – the only country that ever has – the only anybody who ever has – yet we have the balls to slap economic sabotage on the Iranians and North Koreans and smear them as “rogue states” for even thinking about trying to get their own. Which these nations only want – irony alert – because they’re afraid of us.
You know the pattern. We escalate the arms race with some nifty new gadget devilishly designed to kill and maim more efficiently and effectively, then we deploy brute economic and military force (along with wildly hypocritical propaganda about how we’re nice and peaceful and the most trustworthy bunch around) to keep those fancy new weapons all to ourselves for as long as possible. Like cyber warfare. We started it.
The first major state-against-state – completely unprovoked – first strike in cyberspace was the Stuxnet virus unleashed against Iranian nuclear power facilities. A joint American-Israeli effort, it wasn’t enough for us to mess with the Iranians. We had to gloat.
Now it’s drones. Beginning in 2004 with George W. Bush, the drone warfare program against the peoples of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and God knows where else was greatly escalated by an Obama administration marketing itself as a regime ending two wars in public (though not really) while it secretly expands America’s military footprint.
And jokes about it.
Operating as usual in full-on bully mode, the U.S. blithely acts as though it’s entitled to the perpetual exclusive right to invade other nation’s sovereign airspace at will. Rather than assume the dignified posture of silence or the embarrassed sheep business of a kid who got caught in the cookie jar, Obama officials even had the gall to get all sassy and file a formal diplomatic protest after the Iranians shot at one of their spy Predators in November. In a different world, one where Iran had the world’s largest military and was the world’s undisputed number-one arms dealer, the Islamic Republic could have made a credible case under international law for war against the U.S.
In an ideal world – i.e., the kind of society people of goodwill work to create – these devices would be illegal under international law. Like landmines, drones do a lot more harm than good. You’d might as well declare the First Amendment dead and gone now that private corporations, the FBI, CIA, local police and just about anyone else can scan the crowds at antigovernment protests and identify demonstrators with facial recognition software. Who is going to dare to make a radical statement now? As it is, you can’t count on cops not to shoot unarmed African-American men. How many more innocent civilians are going to die due to the faulty judgment of a drone pilot miles away? As the first country to develop drone technology, the U.S. had the chance to keep this genie stuffed inside its bottle; instead, we let the monster loose and told it to run wild.
It doesn’t take a genius military strategist to worry about drone weapons proliferation. The technology is relatively simple and cheap, so cheap that soldiers occupying Afghanistan use throwaway six-pound mini-drones slightly larger than paper airplanes to see what’s around the next mountain.
The FAA is rushing to approve licenses to “tens of thousands of police, fire and other government agencies able to afford drones lighter than traditional aircraft and costing as little as $300,” reports The New York Times, including everything from “remote-controlled planes as big as jetliners to camera-toting hoverers called Nano Hummingbirds that weigh 19 grams.” Police departments from Seattle to Gadsden, Alabama have already bought these creepy devices. And it’s now possible for a private citizen to buy his own drone for $300. A peeping Tom’s dream!
It was only a matter of time – not much time – before other countries followed suit. Which prompts two questions.
What’s to stop a hostile nation-state from attacking the United States with drones?
What if terrorists get drones?
Answer to the first question first: Nothing can stop a nation from Hellfiring us. While there are practical and economic barriers to entry that reduce nuclear proliferation, even the poorest nations can develop a scary drone program. Israel and its American ally claim to be terrified of the prospect of an Iranian nuclear attack against Tel Aviv, but the threat of a conventional weapons attack via drone is really what should be keeping policymakers up at night. Iran unveiled its Shahed 129 drone plane, a device that can fly 24 hours in a row, in September. That’s the one they plan to export. In September an Iranian drone launched from Lebanon successfully took pictures of Israeli military facilities.
The trouble isn’t just the drones themselves. It’s how the United States uses them: aggressively, prolifically, violently and with little concern for legal or diplomatic niceties. “Skip the drone debate, just kill the terrorists before they kill us,” reads the headline of a FoxNews piece by Erick Erickson, one of the Right’s most reliable cretins. But it’s not that simple. When the United States, the first nation to develop and deploy drones for surveillance and military attack purposes, asserts the right to “defend” itself by looking anywhere it wants and blowing up anyone it feels like, including its own citizens and people who have never expressed the slightest desire to attack the United States, it sets a precedent.
“More than 50 nations have or are trying to get [drone] technology,” notes The Times. “The United States will set the standard for them all.” Osama bin Laden said he wouldn’t have hesitated to use a nuke against the U.S. because Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilian targets. Using the same reasoning as the Obama administration, why wouldn’t the government of Yemen be legally justified to deploy Yemeni drones over American airspace and use them to blow up any Americans or anyone else they felt like?
We don’t hold back. Why should anybody else?
While a nation-state might feel constrained by the international community, its allies or domestic public opinion from attacking civilian targets in the United States, an underground resistance organization would be far less likely to refrain from using drones to make a political statement and/or wage remote-control guerrilla warfare. Even terrorist groups care about PR – but, like bin Laden, they could easily make the case that we have it coming.
Though some commentators – mainly and interestingly, liberals aligned with the Obama administration, which makes one wonder if they’d change sides after a GOP electoral sweep – pooh-pooh the terrorist drone threat, this is one time when the smoke rising from the ashes of buildings in an American city isn’t a remote (no pun intended) possibility created by a fevered theorist but rather an absolute certainty. It isn’t a matter of if we’ll get hit by drones. It’s a matter of when.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL