Saturday, March 9, 2013

Droning On And On


Can the President kill an American?

That’s the question, isn’t it?

Can the President kill an American?

Well, OK, Obama looks pretty fit, I’m sure he could kill a guy if it really came down to it. Maybe stab somebody to death with his little flag pin or something, or borrow a shiv from his Secret Service detail.

But can he do it legally? From the air? With a robot?

Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone within the sovereign territory of the United States to kill an American citizen not actively engaged in hostile actions against our national interest?

That’s the real question.

The Attorney General of the United States says the answer to that question is no.


No, the President can’t just use a drone to gun down American citizens.


Well, whew, that’s a relief.

Glad we settled that. Because, man, that’s been keeping me up at night, the thought that Barack Obama might just decide to target me for death from the sky. Because, of course, that’s exactly what Hitler did, right? Sure. Right after Der Fuhrer gave everybody free government health care and a cell phone, he sent in the Gestapo Flying Robot Gunships to kill them all. It’s in the history books, you can look it up – it’s right next to the chapter about how Jesus founded America from the back of a T-Rex while fighting off the Nazi Communists Of Climate Change.

Forgive me if I don’t run outside with my assault rifle right now and look to the skies for the hovering Evil Obama Death Robots of Death

On the other hand, I can sort of see why Senator Paul and his posse might be concerned.

No, seriously, I mean given the nauseating volume of bilious yellow paranoia he and his fellows have heaped on the President these last few years, I suppose it’s not beyond imagination that Paul might be a little apprehensive. I guess if I’d been spewing ridiculous hysteria and talking shit about the most powerful man in the world, the man who commands deadly flying robots, I’d also maybe worry that Barack Obama would unleash the Predators from the computer terminal on his desk and start offing random conservatives from the comfort of the Oval Office. Rush Limbaugh? Kapow! Glenn Beck? Brazzzp! John Boehner? Mitch McConnell? Sarah Palin? Boom! Zap! Powie! Mitt Romney? ZZzzzslrp! Oh yeah! Hell yeah! Right in the magic underwear! Whoohoo! Like shooting womp rats from my T-16 back on Vulcan! Zap! Zap! Next, world domination! Oh Yes! Yes! Get some! Get some! Pew! Pew! Muwahahahahaha!

But I digress.

I’ve written about drones before, in detail, and their use against Americans overseas and the fact that it causes me little in the way of teary-eyed sleep loss.

But can the President of the United States of America authorize the military or the CIA to use a weaponized drone to kill a citizen of the United States on United States soil if that citizen isn’t actively engaged in hostile actions against the United States? 

I think it’s a pretty big step to get from the first case to the second (hypothetical) one, but Senator Paul felt it was important enough to spend fourteen bladder bursting hours droning on and on about it.

Can the President kill an American?

You know, that question, that one right there, speaks more clearly than anything else as to the current state of our country, our rights, and the overall nature of the hysterical posturing dimwits we’ve elected to manage our republic.

You see, because the answer to that question, whether or not the president can just kill whomever he feels like, isn’t exactly clear.

It should be clear.

It should be obvious.

It should be unambiguous, you shouldn’t have to ask the Attorney General or the prospective head of the CIA – it should be spelled out in the job description in no uncertain terms.

It should be well regulated and codified in law for every American to see.

It shouldn’t even be a question – but it is.

And it’s a question because legislators like Rand Paul and the rest of the overpaid, overfed louts in the House and Senate have made it so.

Can the President of the United States kill you, an American?

Well, let’s see, he can disappear you, or rather he can authorize your indefinite detention under military confinement without a trial, without access to a lawyer, without basic civil rights or even the basic level of access to civil jurisprudence that we give daily to Charlie Manson. He can have the question put to you, just as hard and just as long as he likes, just so long as he doesn’t call it torture. He can authorize active surveillance and the monitoring of your phone calls and emails and tweets and texts and social media posts without a review by a court of law. He can authorize the search of your home without a warrant or authorization by a judge and he can have it done in secret so that you don’t even know you’ve been violated and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. He can authorize the confiscation of your property if anybody thinks you might be engaged in terrorism. He can have you and your children strip-searched in the airports and put on a secret no-fly list without the right to confront your accuser or the right to appeal your guilt or the right to petition the government for redress. He can make the library give up a list of the books you’ve checked out.  He can authorize the secret infiltration of your church, your social clubs, or your school, for the express purpose of spying on you simply because you look like you might, just might, be a subversive – he just can’t openly call it racial profiling even though that’s exactly what it is. He can have you snatched off the street in a foreign country and rendered into the custody of another foreign power for interrogation – and this time he can even call it torture if he likes.

And he can very likely do a number of other things to you as well. What exactly? Well, see, you’re not allowed to know that, it’s a secret.

When legislators just like Rand Paul, acting in fear and rage and panic, passed the Patriot Act and the Protect America Act and a dozen other laws with secret provisions and draconian authority and have since continued to renew those very same laws, well, they gave the President those powers.

And us? We citizens? We let them do it, and we rewarded them for it and we asked for more.

We gave that power to the President.

Or rather, we gave the previous President those powers.

And the people cheering Rand Paul’s impressive filibuster today? Those people were just fine with that power, that nearly unlimited presidential authority to deny Americans their rights under the Constitution, just so long as it was directed at those dirty bearded (alleged) terrorists being held in a cage down in Cuba, some of which are indeed Americans.  They were the same folks who were lined up ten deep begging for a chance to personally pull the lever on Army Major Nidal Hasan, an American, without a trial and damn his Constitutional rights (and yes, full disclosure, me too. Given a chance I’d strangle the cowardly son of bitch with his own beard. But I digress. Again). These are the very same people who talk of the Second Amendment in hushed reverent tones and dream of taking their guns to Washington – who exactly were they planning on using those weapons against when their little revolution comes? Will those targets, those Americans, get a trial? Will their Constitutional rights as American citizens be respected?  Go on, make me laugh.

As I’ve said many, many times, if you give the Jesus Lovin’ Midwestern Texas Conservative Patriot the power, you’ve also given it to his Tofu Eatin’ Chicago Bunny Humping Socialist ‘Merica Hatin’ successor. 

Rand Paul has nobody to blame but his fellow Congressmen, including his own father, those who wrote and passed the bills, and his own political party whose President signed that power into law, and his conservative Supreme Court who turned a partisan eye away and allowed that power to stand.

You give it to Bush, you give it to Obama.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

So, yes, given the current state of affairs, I suppose it’s not entirely out of line to wonder if the President, any president, thinks he has the authority to zap citizens into bloody mush on the streets of America.

And he does, you know.

That’s right.

Despite what Eric Holder said in his letter to Senator Paul, the President can kill innocent Americans.

The President, this one and the one before him, they have pointed guns at innocent law-abiding American citizens. In public. On TV. With the very real threat of killing those innocent law-abiding citizens right along with the supposed enemies of America.  I’m not talking collateral damage, not exactly, I’m talking about using the military to deliberately kill innocent Americans on American soil with malice aforethought.

Or rather, over American soil.

And we would have let them do it too, both of them, Bush and Obama.

See, every single time armed Air Force fighters are scrambled to intercept a suspect aircraft, private or commercial, in American airspace that’s exactly what the President is threatening to do, kill Americans.

And we would let the President authorize the shoot-down of an airliner in order to prevent another 9-11, wouldn’t we?

And we’d do it knowing that the innocent would die right along with the presumed guilty.

We’d kill them all, mothers and fathers and children, old and young, Americans and not, innocent and guilty, without trial, without warrant. Not without remorse or regret, certainly, but nonetheless we’d tell ourselves that it was necessary, that those dead Americans were heroes who died to protect a greater good, to prevent another 9-11. We might even build them a memorial after it was over, if we could get Congress to authorize the expenditure.

We’d hate it, but we’d let the Air Force blast them right out of the sky.

That’s exactly the iron fist the President flexes whenever he sends fighters up to intercept a jetliner.  

So, yes, the President can authorize the killing of innocent Americans on, over, American soil.


I’ll pause for a minute while you think carefully about the full ramifications of that.


Okay, sure, I hear you say in that argumentative tone you use when you’re glancing nervously over your shoulder, watching the sky. Sure, OK. But that’s different, Jim, it’s not the same thing. And the president would only order a shoot-down under extraordinary circumstance, when all else has failed, when danger is close and the threat is clear and present and imminent. When people are about to die!

Of course, the President has never ordered the actual shoot-down of a civilian airliner, not yet. But it could happen, we can’t rule out the possibility. That’s why we have fighter jets sitting ready around the country right now. We all remember the falling towers and the burning Pentagon and that smoking hole in the middle of a cornfield outside of Shanksville, PA, don’t we? And we could easily imagine a similar nightmare happening again. 

And, so if he had too, well, Boy, the President better do it, because we’d damned well hold him accountable if he didn’t. Right?

When Senator Paul first asked the Attorney General in a letter on February 20 about the use of armed drones directed against Americans on American soil, this was Eric Holder’s response:

The U.S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. We reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront. But it is possible, I suppose to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the  President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack. Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of this authority.

Given our actions regarding national security since September 11th, 2001, on both sides of the Aisle, what in Holder’s response is in any way controversial? Or is in any way whatsoever “frightening” or any more an “affront to the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans” as Senator Paul proclaimed the Attorney General’s response to be than any other option we have on the table?  Is it more frightening than the prospect of blowing an airliner full of innocent people out of the sky? Is it any more frightening than the fact that we live in a country where our former Vice President wanders around extolling the morality of fucking waterboarding?

Honestly, at this point, how damned frightened can you possibly be?

You want to talk about frightening? Rand Paul belongs to the very same political party who was outraged when the President wouldn’t commit to leaving “all options” on the table when it came to dealing with Iran and North Korea – and by “all options” they specifically meant nuclear war.  You got any idea how many innocent people, American and otherwise, would die horribly if such an “option” was actually used?

Again, consider the ramifications. Consider the full ramifications of the nuclear option and all that would come after its use including the endless acts of terrorism in revenge.

Just so I’m clear here: you’re OK with nuclear war, but you’re frightened by flying robots with guns?

That about right?

I guess that’s no more contrary than any other partisan political position.


Snark and sarcasm and political theater aside, let’s get down to brass tacks: Rand Paul isn’t exactly wrong.

You, every one of you, American or otherwise, should be concerned about this power.

You should be asking what the limits are.

You should be demanding that your elected representatives stop acting like spoiled petulant children and start doing their jobs.

Rand Paul was a grandstanding jackass with his little filibuster, and he accomplished exactly nothing other than to keep his name in the headlines for 2016 … but he wasn’t entirely wrong.

Look, here’s the thing, you can’t put the Djinn back into the bottle.

Drones and other UAVs and RPVs are just too damned useful.

We spent billions developing these things and the technology is long past the experimental stage.

And we’re going to see more and more of them, at home and abroad, on the battlefield and off it.  Drones extend our reach, both civilian and government, they give us a cost-effective middle ground between satellites and the surface of the earth.  They are an incredibly versatile and valuable tool.

And you’re going to see a lot more of them in a lot more places doing a lot more things with a lot more capability.

Sure drones can kill people, there’s no question in that regard. 

And sure, a government can abuse the use of drones in a thousand different ways to make a mockery of civil and legal rights.

And yes, there is no doubt whatsoever that drones and similar technologies could most certainly be used as another tool of totalitarianism and oppression – and given the nature of human beings, it’s likely that they will be used as such, somewhere, sooner or later.


No, not “so what?” but rather “So, tell us something we don’t know.”  

Tell us something that the men who wrote the Constitution didn’t know. No kidding? Technology can be used to enslave us? Well, of course it can.

But it can also free us.

Drones and other advanced technology can save lives too.

Drones can help to ensure civil and legal rights.

Drones can be used to enforce government compliance with the Constitution, to ensure liberty and justice and the American Way (whatever the hell that is).

Every technology has both benefit and bane.

Drones can be armed and used to kill, but they can also be used to find children lost in the wild or track criminals or rapidly survey the damage from hurricanes so that emergency relief can be quickly directed to where it’s needed the most. 

Drones can be used to snoop on the average citizen and be used to violate privacy rights in a hundred different ways from visual observation to monitoring of electronic emissions and heat signatures (and not just in the hands of the government. Imagine a drone equipped with the kind of advanced sensors that are widely available on the civilian market, let alone military equipment. Now imagine them under the control of, oh, say paparazzi. Now imagine you were Kate Middleton sunbathing topless … but I digress), but those same drones could be used by the media to observe police and government operations (over, say, an Occupy or Tea Party Rally) like a suped up police cruiser dashcam. That’s why the Founders felt freedom of the press was so important, not so that Glenn Beck could spew his idiotic conspiracy theories unchecked or so that bottom feeding yellow journalism could publish pictures of the Queen’s royal tits , but so that the citizens have an unrestricted method to observe the very government that was observing them.

If you want to impose limits on government power, then instead of Libertarians and Conservatives demanding more guns to protect themselves from government what they should be demanding are drones of their own – because that would make the use of guns a whole lot less likely.

Drones are simply too useful, both to government and for civil use, to abandon now.

Eventually they’ll be used not only for that border patrol conservatives are so keen on, along with tracking illegals entering this country on foot via the deserts of the American Southwest, but they will also be used by the average farmer to survey crops and livestock.  Farmers band together now in state Cooperative Extensions (Farm Co-Ops) for grain sales and help with the harvest and planting and advice on pests and yields and so on – I see the day when Co-Ops buy and operate their own agricultural drones equipped with special IR and UV sensors designed by NASA to analyze the health of crops and animals.  It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that those drones will be equipped with tanks and sprayers and capable of precision crop dusting beyond the capability of manned aircraft, and do it more cheaply, faster, and without risk to a human pilot.

The use of drones in search and rescue should be obvious – and demanded by the public as capability immediately available at the state level for areas where the manned Civil Air Patrol and National Guard units are unavailable or too costly.

Did you know that drones mounted with transmitter/receivers could serve as temporary cell phone relays over disaster areas – or sporting events? And do it cheaply and with much greater height of access than a traditional tower, without leaving an impact on the environment the way a fixed tower does – and, when it needs servicing or upgrade, it can be flown to the service center instead of requiring that somebody put on climbing gear.

With a little effort and a little imagination, you should be able to envision thousands of uses for drones, thousands of uses that would markedly improve our daily lives, that would ensure liberty and justice and the American Way for all citizens.

Drones are merely a tool, they are neither inherently good nor inherently evil.

Like any technology, from a club to a nuclear bomb, it’s how you use them that matters.

And in that regard Rand Paul is certainly right, we need to establish the rules now.

That’s the legislature’s job. Establishing those rules, setting boundaries, limiting power, examining the ramifications.  It’s got nothing to do with Left or Right, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat.  It is simply a facet of our ever advancing technology, our ever changing world, no different than the advent of the automobile or the internet.

There may indeed come a time when a President may have to authorize the use of armed drones against Americans on the soil of the United States.

And because of that, the Attorney General was absolutely correct in his statement. 

Congress is derelict in its duty if it does not acknowledge the possibility for partisan reasons.  They don’t have to like it, just as they don’t have to like the idea of shooting down a plane full of Americans, but they do have to acknowledge the possibility and plan for the eventuality.  That’s their job.

But like all power, that power should not be left to the opinion of any one man, even if he is the President of the United States. Or the Attorney General. Or a Senator.

How we use this technology should not be determined by grandstanding, or filibuster, or partisan coup counting.

It should be decided by the people, in the manner specified by the Constitution – i.e. via elected representatives of our republic doing their jobs in a rational and adult manner, without hysteria and histrionics and hyperbole.  If Americans want that option taken off the table, even under the most dire of circumstances, then Congress needs to put forward the proper legislation to make that a law. If we want to keep armed drones as an option within the confines of the United States, then Congress needs to sharply define that power and its limitations and write it into the President’s job description in black and white.

They don’t need a filibuster to do that.

They just need to do the job they were elected to do.

But then again, that’s how we should be doing a lot of things.

No Senator should ever have to ask the question Rand Paul did.  To do so is to admit publicly that neither he nor his fellow Congressmen are doing their jobs.  Congress makes the law, by definition. They shouldn’t ask the Attorney General for his opinion, they should give it to him – as a clearly defined law.

The Legislative Branch makes the laws, the Executive Branch enforces the law. That’s how our government is supposed to work.

If Rand Paul doesn’t like Eric Holder’s answer, then the Senate shouldn’t have given the Attorney General room for interpretation in the first place.

The use of force against citizens by their government, be it rendition or torture or indefinite detainment or no-fly lists or pepper spray or death from the sky, should never be open to interpretation by any one person. 

It should be clearly defined. Tightly bounded. And sharply limited.

And it would be, if only Congress was doing its job.


  1. Congress will do it's job when citizens get back to exercising their responsibilities. Until then, Congress will continue to be ruled by those others who exercise their whims.

    1. Except way too many "citizens" are absolutely nut-balls crazy (on BOTH sides) and shouldn't be given the right to SPEAK, let alone vote! I think maybe Congress is just a reflection of how truly balls-to-the-wall goofy the American citizens have become. It may only be the minority on each side, but they seem to always be the ones yelling the loudest and going to all the rallies. The regular folks out here (with brain cells that do seem to be able to function) have been hiding away, afraid to even get into any of the debates at all because, well, it'd be like debating a pigeon. He'd squwack a lot, shit on your head, then fly away considering himself the winner of the debate, and really, how do you counter that kind of crazy?

    2. I don't think anything will (or can) change in Congress until we rethink how districts are drawn. As long as the Congress gets to choose it's voters instead of the other way around, we will have extreme partisans of both flavors dominating the discussions. If we mandated that Congressional districts must be drawn to make them more competitive rather than more safe, we would see legislators swing back toward the center, and compromise and commonsense might rule the roost.

    3. Heather, How do you counter that kind of crazy?, ....you take a shower, wash your hair and step back into the fray.

      That today's 'citizen' is so goofy is, in part, directly attributable to how apathetic the 'regular folks' are. That the regular folks aren't demanding sane and reasoned public policies gives the nut balls free rein to dominate the debate. Irresponsibility breeds more irresponsible results.

      How do you counter 'teh Crazy' ? Through constant and untiring scorn and derision. Stand back up and quit backing away from it. Demand reality based solutions. Demand reality based discussions. Demand reality based journalism, demand reality based education. Demand reality based legislation. How do you counter the crazy? You push back harder, and then push some more.

    4. I was at the Rally to Restore Sanity in D.C. and, believe it or not, there are a LOT of us regular, sane people in this country. The wackos just yell louder and draw more attention to themselves.

  2. Feeding the corvids, are we? "[...] nor shall any person [...] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.--Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution"

    It isn't Congress's decision. Nor the President's.

    The Amendment does not say "citizen," only "person."

    I don't think "The President talked to his counselors and decided to kill someone" qualifies as "due process of law." Do you? That power is also forbidden Congress by the Constitution. It is reserved to the Judiciary.

    As for the advantages of drones, perhaps, perhaps. But they have been used to make lives of Arabs in the Gaza strip into a living hell. These things: they are a huge advance in ways to oppress a civilian population, and the steadily more militarized US police forces can hardly wait to get their hands on them, and the arms manufacturers can hardly wait to sell them.

    The paranoid fantasies of the radical right are, in fact, coming true. The constitution has been abrogated, the idea of "due process," which predates our Republic, set aside. So far only overseas. But who knows what will come in the future?


    1. Raven, couple things:

      You're welcome to pretend to be bird on your own blog, but it's getting somewhat tedious here. Charades require that everybody go along with the gag, but I never agreed to share in this fantasy of yours. So please, let's drop it. OK?

      As to the Constitution part, oh please, you're going to quote the Fifth to me? C'mon. First, I used the word "American" instead of "person," because I was quoting Senator Paul. Let's not go implying that I harbor some nationalistic disregard for the plight of the Palestinians, Okay? Let's keep the goal posts firmly rooted at the end of the field for now.

      nor shall any person [...] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, unless that the person in question shoots at the police while robbing a bank and is shot dead in return, or decides to join forces with the enemy on the battlefield against the United States, or any of a dozen other scenarios including the ones I very specifically outlined in this post as a cautionary tale.

      he paranoid fantasies of the radical right are, in fact, coming true. The constitution has been abrogated, the idea of "due process," which predates our Republic, set aside. So far only overseas. But who knows what will come in the future?

      No shit. Obvious Crow is Obvious. That's the implied point of this entire essay. The very point.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. [hopefully better version]

      I'm sorry the croak bothered you and I won't do it again here.

      I was not even thinking of criticizing you as a chauvinist. I'm sorry I even implied that. Again, it was not my intention.

      And I wish I had read your original article more carefully--I'm sorry. In my defense I can only say that I was very tired at the time, and wish I had held back.

      More later, when I have had more sleep.

  3. They always seem to forget who put the Patriot Act in place.

    1. Let's also not forget who haven't rescinded it. Like the sequester, it's just a law and can be undone just as easily as it was done in the first place.

    2. Ray, be specific about the "who". You mean, of course, Congress hasn't rescinded the Patriot Act, like they haven't yet acted to rescind the sequester.

      If there happened to be any right wingnuts reading here, they would naturally assume you're talking about the President, since of course their usual sources of information tell them that the President writes budgets and makes laws and can un-make them.

    3. Kajo, Your reminder should be mandatory on all blogs!

  4. Here is a list of drone strikes on Pakistan during GWB's administration and the expanding list of Obama's dead count during his administration


    Marilyn (non-minion..chuckle)

  5. I realize this was not the point of your post, but "Like shooting womp rats from my T-16 back on Vulcan!" may well be my favorite phrase you've ever written. (Beating my previous favorite, which had something to do with chasing shit-covered cats through the Yukon.)

    1. There's some Full Metal Jacket in that paragraph too. Star Wars, Star Trek, and Stanley Kubrick. I think I'm going to hell for that.

    2. Mixing your Sci-fi metaphors - I don't suppose you'll get the blow back from that such as the President recently did.

    3. Find a way to weave in a Monty Python quote into all that, and the Pulitzer is yours, man. (No, I'm not being snarky; that would be awesome)

      I suppose, in a way, you did. You went forth and brought us a shrubbery. But I digress.

    4. Weave in some Doctor Who as well, maybe using a sonic screw driver.

  6. Thank you for bringing into consideration a different (and useful) view of the subject of drones. There is a positive side to this tool that has not been presented to the public yet on any site I've seen but I'll sure be looking for it now. Too many people have been focused specifically on the harm without even looking for what good might come with their use.

    As usual, I appreciate your ability to see to the heart of the issue and write about so the rest of us can see it.

    You da' Man!!!

    1. IllanoyGal, if you look, you'll see that most articles or cable network videos that display a picture of a drone display the war drones with missiles, not the benign camera-equipped drones used for research or surveillance.

      So most people who don't do a bit of Googling on their own assume a drone is a destructive device, period.

    2. You're right, KaJo, and like many people, I've let myself be distracted as these videos were hollering out "squirrel". I should have been doing more research.

      The point I was about to make, however, was that these legislators are hired to examine the issues and produce cogent laws to control what needs to be controlled and to consider the consequences, both now and in the future. Far too many of them are not doing their job. We hired them, we need to conduct performance evaluations. And we aren't doing a very good job of that. Think about your last annual review. How about we ask our legislators, "How many bills did you produce, what were they supposed to control, how many did you co-sponsor, how did you vote on bills issued by other legislators, how many lobbyists did you see and what bills were they pushing, how much time did you spend working across the aisle?" (Among many other questions.)

      I know, we have elections. But, instead of actually checking to see if the nominee is really qualified to do the job, most people seem to think of it as a popularity contest. That isn't how I got my job. I had to prove that I was capable of being an asset. Too many of our electorate these days seems to think that if you can spin a good tale and don't look like a gargoyle, you'd make a good congressman (state and local legislator as well).

      Another part of our national problem is that far too many think that politics is a dirty business. Well, it is. And it needs to be kept clean. And, again, we've fallen down on our job of holding our legislators accountable. But that's a subject for another day.

      Anyway, Jim is correct, we have to demand that our legislators do the job for which they were hired. Holding hearings on a subject just to grandstand in front of the cameras for national attention is not doing the job.

      (And I need to post comments the next day, not late at night when my brain seems to have shut down for the day and I forget half way through my comment just what the heck I was trying to say.) (sigh)

  7. When the Republicans were cobbling together the Patriot Act, they forgot to include that those Presidential powers only applied to white Republican Presidents.
    They didn't think they had to include that.
    They were wrong.

    And so we have the current comedy routine.

    I'm an old guy in Australia who is delighted with every American who doesn't buy into the above crap.
    Thank you all.

    1. Thats because their tiny limited minds couldn't CONCIEVE of the possibility of a Black Democrat getting into THEIR White House.

    2. Yeah, it's a real riot that they thought they could put up some old guy and an idiot MILF in 2008 and just assume victory, followed in 2012 by another rich white guy and an Ayn Rand acolyte who got their asses handed to them as well. The GOP can only think that Obama must have won by cheating, cause that's what they have been doing for years. Democracy is not a factor.

      Bill Clinton was the most popular and successful Moderate Republican President ever. Obama is to the right of Clinton, and the stupid GOP'rs cannot see that he is really one of them. Maybe Barry should put on 'white face' for the next four years. Then Congress might settle down and start getting some shit done. Tommy D

  8. I would not cheer if a commercial airliner were shot down. We have all apparently been convinced that throwing out our values in the service of a so-called "greater good" is an appropriate reaction to tragedy. We performed or outsourced torture using the same sloppy logic that is being applied here. So it's okay to kill five terrorists over a field in Pennsylvania, but what if it the plane is over a well populated area? We are going to allow one or two people to judge just how many lives can be saved against how many will die based on feedback that is minutes old? If "your" guy or gal kills 1000 people on the ground sending a plane down to protect a National monument, does that make it okay? And wouldn't a clever SOB use the knowledge of our ability to accept an airplane being shot down as a way to maximize casualties? Just take over the plane closer to a city. Then you basically have a bigger version of the rockets fired from Gaza at Israel. Sure they aren't aimed, but they hit something. I applaud Senator Rand, whom I rarely agree with, for at least publicly embarrassing Congress by making the filibuster. It's unfortunate it is used so often it's now a cheap gimmick. Congress has personalized this into "Obama" killing civilians so they can be allowed to cheer him if the are a D and curse him if they are an R. It's shameful.

    1. Well, some of your worst-case-scenario is helpfully imagineered for you in the soon-to-be-released "Olympus Has Fallen" movie. Make a decision about what you'd do if you were in the place of the administration officials dealing with the hostage-taking of the fictional President.

    2. Nobody's going to be cheering when a commercial airliner is shot down. Nobody here is even so much as suggesting people should.

      We are going to allow one or two people to judge just how many lives can be saved against how many will die based on feedback that is minutes old?

      *Someone* has to make that call. And given the various delays involved -- discovering that a plane is going way off course, determining that it's not just a pilot error that's already being corrected, ATC attempting to contact the pilot, ATC contacting the air force base on call, sending the call up through channels, sending the order to launch jets back down through channels, getting the fighters in the air, intercepting that stray plane -- it's very likely that those "one or two people" may not HAVE more than a few minutes at best to make that decision.

      By the time you'd get a vote through committee, it'll already be over one way or another.

      Then AFTERWARDS it's time for everyone involved to sort out what happened, whether it was the right call, and how to make sure it won't be necessary to make that call the next time.

      And wouldn't a clever SOB use the knowledge of our ability to accept an airplane being shot down as a way to maximize casualties?

      I'll let you think about that one for yourself. Feel free to come back once you've realized why that is a bloody stupid argument.

    3. It's true. We seem to be outsourcing "justice" along with everything else.... Just wait until they "outsource" the military - o wait... they already have... *sarcasm*

      To paraphrase the immortal words of the Joker (Batman, 1989), what this country needs is an enema. Followed by some anti-psychotic meds so maybe we can get back on-track to regaining a smidgen of the respect we lost when GWB Jr. was President.

    4. I actually am too stupid to understand how knowing that an airliner would get shot down would lead me, if I was suicidal, to try to do so over a populated area so the debris would fall down and cause more damage. I look forward to being educated.

  9. Making me think as usual. Good job

  10. Unlike many liberals, I supported the use of drones against terrorists even under Bush. I was concerned about the apparent feeling that he could order such a strike just on his say-so, without a clear legal basis, but it didn't seem to be being used inappropriately. But many did, and I respect the fact that continue to do so even when it is "their" guy in office. That's called integrity.
    On the other hand, all of a sudden we have a whole lot of new-found concern from the right, as if they suddenly realized this was going on. But the reality is, it's who has the power, not the power.
    As you say, most of us recognize the necessity of actions like shooting down an aircraft in order to prevent it from causing a catastrophy, even though there are innocents aboard too. For those that don't (although I do not think anyone said "cheer") like Eric Gulotty, what do you suggest instead? Let the aircraft hit its target?

    Oh, and for the Raven; does that mean we should have held trials before each battle during the civil war? Or trials before the police can engage criminals in the act?

    1. The constitutionality of Lincoln's actions in the Civil War is still debated. I do not understanding the issues well enough to discuss the debate.

      I am not arguing that the police may engage criminals in the act. But the police don't get to engage them before the act. The idea of monitoring every public act and many private acts of citizens--that is the stuff of police states, and deserves to be questioned. And, in fact, John Brennan, whose appointment to CIA director Paul was filibustering, is probably (his work is secret--it is hard to be sure) one of the people who has worked to massively expand government surveillance during the the Bush II administration. I want to see this questioned, even if the questions come from the likes of Rand Paul.

    2. Um, stop and frisk isn't engaging them before the act? Or is there another definition for engaging that I need to know about?

      Right now I'm questioning almost everything, no matter which side of authority it's on.

      Ann C.

    3. Um, yes. Me bad. However, unless there is some reasonable suspicion based on specific facts, stop and frisk is illegal.[1] Hoovering up huge amounts information--mass surveillance--, just because someone might be thinking about committing a crime is the stuff of totalitarianism.

      1. The relevant decision was Terry v. Ohio. And justice William O. Douglas dissented, saying that that decision was "a long step down the totalitarian path."

    4. " However, unless there is some reasonable suspicion based on specific facts, stop and frisk is illegal"

      Like walking in New York while black?

      Sorry, I couldn't resist, even tho you're right.

      Ann C.

    5. The relevant decision as you say was Terry vs Ohio, and based on that, and subsequent cases since, which only expanded on, or further loosened the parameters of that precedent, today there isn't anything about stop and frisk that can be said to be illegal. Stop and frisk is now, for all intents and purposes, thoroughly legal, or should I say, it has now been declared to be the new law of the land.

      To infer that stop and frisk is somehow likely to be 'illegal' is simply to misrepresent the reality. Try telling that to the nearly 700,000 people in New York who were stopped and frisked last year. Unless or until those cases get overturned in a new Supreme Court hearing, stop and frisk isn't 'illegal'.

    6. I am aware that racial harassment (feh to the euphemism "racial profiling") by police is common and I also know that Terry has been turned into an infinitely expansible cover for all manner of invasive police practices. As you may guess, I think neither are morally defensible, any more than I think that Citizens United is morally defensible, though they are currently the law.

    7. If that's the case, why did you attempt to make the case that stop and frisk is illegal?

      Does your reality ping pong back and forth as much as your contradictory assertions?

    8. Because I was close the first time and right the second, and wrong the third?

      Far as I can quickly tell the standard set out in Terry is still the law, but the law is more honored in the breach than the observance. ALCU on stop and frisk in NYC and There's an App for That.

    9. The NYPD app for that is a club over the head or a taser.

    10. The NYCLU app is a recorder, with a few other features. It deploys surveillance against police abuses.

      Did you know that Occupy Wall Street had a mini surveillance drone back in late 2011? A little hobby quadcopter with a videocam. I don't know if it's still in use.

  11. Drones over America, taxes, voter fraud, abortion, gun control, immigration...these are all, at times the "MOST DANGEROUS EXISTENTIAL THREAT TO AMERICA" spewing out of talking heads. There are a handful of topics that mouth breathers screech about to attack libruls or black Presidents; domestic drone attack is just the latest.

    Nearly all of these threats to the American way have little to no influence or experience in most people's lives. I have never faked a vote or been targeted by a drone. I have never had an abortion. But, it pisses me off that religious nutballs, wrapped in the flag and spouting selective Bible verses want to impose restrictions on what I can and cannot choose to do with my body, or in my bedroom or romper room (same, same). Or whether I can choose to terminate my pregnancy. (Not withstanding that I am a man. Which illustrates the gender roles imposed on us by Obama, denying me the God given right to carry the next baby Jesus to term.)

    Whether the spew is about fanciful armed drones over America, or this week's illegals taking away my recycling or trash, the REALLY BIG threats to our way of life are kept carefully suppressed by our elected Congress critters. Since the Clinton years the Fed and Treasury have been running a US Gov't sized money laundering scheme for too big to fail banks and Wall Street. Bush allowed his people to nuke the economy while splatting brown people and tearing up the Constitution. The 'War on Terra' has kept the entire country fearful and on edge to keep their eyes off the real conflict. The current "Worst Socialist Ever" in the White House is happy to build on Cheney/Bush's gift of executive fiat to schwack people by drone overseas, spy on Americans and sign laws written by, and for the benefit of our largest industries.

    The Dow reached a record level this week. Multi-national corporations are raking in record profits and CEO pay surpasses Bush era largess. Wall Street is handing out bonuses like candy again and the revolving door between finance and the Fed/Treasury spins like a top. But, what we the people are told is that Obama is saddling industry with onerous regulations, and "uncertainty" is holding back real recovery from the Bush meltdown. Working people have received negative pay raises, unions are hammered and employees are laid off for cost cutting and efficiency. Yet, the 1% and business seem to be doing just fine in terms of profit and tax dodging.

    Fuck drones, both the flying ones and the Congressional ones. I don't give a shit about abortion or gun control. But, I do care about our elected officials (aka 'Investment Properties') fucking over the country on behalf of their masters. It is a rigged game, and there is little to be done about it except ride it out for now. Many of us may be eating Costco discount cat food in retirement, but you can remain confident that the President probably will not waste a Hellfire on your ass. It will just feel like it. Tommy D

    1. Anonymous -Tommy D,

      You have nailed it! All the hoopla about drones, gun control, constant whining about the economy and high unemployment, abortion, etc. is meant to distract the public while big business and their lobbyists continue to buy 'our' legislators' favors through campaign donations, investment information, and who knows what other 'contributions' - business as usual. Obama's election and re-election really threw a wrench in their machine so as we've seen, the Repugnants have been reluctant to be cooperative. You are correct, it is a rigged game and a majority of Americans are too busy trying to make a living, raise their families, etc. to pay attention. The golden rule is alive and well!

    2. Tommy D, me boyo. I want to shake your hand, sir. Then I wanna buy you a pint!

    3. Well, Cheers Neocelt!! It's good to be appreciated. Make it a Riggwelter or Old Peculier. I'm not picky, as long as the pint comes from Masham. Tommy D

  12. My solution is pretty simple, actually. If you can control a drone in Pakistan from Florida, why not program all commercial aircraft in America to become drones and be controlled from the same base if they fail to respond when there is a suspected hijacking? Do we really think there are plane controls that you can fight to control like in the movies? It's mostly done by computer. This is a lot less sexy than firing a missile, but I think would be much more effective.
    Which brings me to the thrust behind Senator Paul's rant. We used to have rules against assassination, and now we have seen so many thrill novels turned into movies, we think that is the only solution is to fire a bullet. This has been mentioned by Mr. Wright many times. How many Al Qaeda #2s have we killed? Are we really certain they were the bad guys the Government said they were? We take it on faith.
    We have policed ourselves through worse times than this without having to assassinate criminals. The only reason John Brennan got the top CIA job was because he effectively used drones to kill combatants who, if they were American citizens on American soil, would have to be tried and convicted before being put to death.
    Like it or not, Right Wing terror groups are going to be the most serious threat in the near future. They are armed, have brains molded by propaganda, and have little to lose. I would rather they be captured and brought to trial. That's not how we deal with terrorists these days. We shoot them and declare victory.

    1. "why not program all commercial aircraft in America to become drones and be controlled from the same base if they fail to respond when there is a suspected hijacking?"

      What could possibly go wrong with allowing people outside a plane to assume control? When the RSA is hacked you can assume that any system can be.

    2. If any system can be hacked, shouldn't we stop the drone program? It's fascinating that no one ever questions the efficiency of shooting, and always has a scenario where not shooting won't work. This is why we let all this happen in the first place. Then again, I can't know what I'm talking about because I haven't shot any guns.

    3. The drones can get hacked. Their video feeds are often viewed by unauthorized personnel, but risks of having a drone hacked are not anywhere near the risks of having a jet liner full of passengers hacked.

      I never said anything about shooting guns though it is pretty obvious you don't know what you're talking about, but you're an America so don't let that stop you.

      I'm kinda getting the feeling you're simply trolling so I won't respond further.

  13. I thought Rand Paul voted AGAINST the Patriot Act. Am I wrong? And he wasn't in office when the Patriot Act was first authorized.

    1. Perhaps I could have worded it better.

      When legislators just like Rand Paul, acting in fear and rage and panic, passed the Patriot Act and the Protect America Act and a dozen other laws with secret provisions and draconian authority and have since continued to renew those very same laws, well, they gave the President those powers...

      I didn't mean that Rand Paul himself wrote the Patriot Act or the Protect America Act (which is the one with the secret provisions in it). What I meant was that legislators wrote the act and gave the president the very power Paul is railing against. I should have been more specific. When I get a minute I'll fix it in the text.

  14. Thinking, I hope, further, I hope, thinking,

    Congress didn't as much grant this authority as legitimized abuses already in progress. The USA has had assassination programs since the 1970s at least, probably since the 1950s. Both the CIA and the FBI undertook political operations within the USA as far back as the 1960s. They were theoretically shut down in the early 1980s, but there were still rumblings and the rumblings kept getting louder. (An introduction, here.) So it was all ready to go on 9/11.

    It is worth remembering whose appointment, and to what office, Paul was filibustering. John Brennan, now confirmed as CIA director, was one of the architects of the expansion of the national security state under Bush II, and now Obama. In particular he is the man making drone assassination decisions. And he has a history. "[...] he was George Tenet’s chief of staff and then went on to be kind of the precursor to what’s now called the National Counterterrorism Center. And in that role, he touched the early moments of the torture program and, I think more importantly, was involved in the targeting for Cheney’s illegal wireless—warrantless wiretapping program, when it was working without any legal sanction at all. So, as you said at the top of this story, Brennan was considered unacceptable four years ago to lead the CIA. Since then, we’ve learned about his role in the illegal wiretapping program. We’ve learned about his role in drone strikes. And yet, now he’s supposed to be an acceptable candidate? I don’t understand how—I mean, I guess that’s a testament to what kind of hard-nosed person Barack Obama has become and the degree to which his policies really are just a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies."--Marcy Wheeler, interviewed on Democracy Now in January.

    (Continued on next rock...)

  15. Next rock…

    Paul actually started the debate you want to see. He may be a crank, but he did it, and for that he deserves credit. Josh Marshall wrote, "Rejoining just before midnight, what is most amazing to me, refreshing, is that at this moment — 12:24 AM on the East Coast — you actually have a real debate about domestic security and war powers on the floor of the Senate. Not the normal staged nonsense but an actual debate, which got underway when Dick Durbin joined the exchange."

    I worry that no leader now will start the international debate. For the moment, the administration, through Holder has renounced the use of armed drones against US citizens in the USA (but when has the CIA ever been respectful of law?), and I think this will be made law, but this is not enough. What has been done with drones in Gaza and Pakistan ought to be banned by international treaty, and with Brennan has Director of the CIA, the USA is not likely to take the lead on this…

    (more to come)

  16. My last thoughts on this involve an area that you don't seem to be addressing; the use of drones against non-citizens or outside US borders.

    When Attorney General Holder uses the word "American" in taking about Fifth Amendment rights, rather than "person," that is a matter of concern. Surveillance drones are already being used on the Mexican border and in Colombia. The idea of deploying armed drones in Latin America has surely already been floated in Washington; for all I know it has already begun. The potential for atrocities, the sorts of things which go down in history as things to wonder at in horror, is enormous. We need foreign policy and, eventually, international law to prevent this, and I can only hope that sanity will break out, and turn the USA away from further abuses of armed drones.

    1. Uhhh Raven, Or do you request "The" before Raven? Any "armed" drones over Columbia would have come at the REQUEST of the Columbian government and would be used in conjunction with the Joint Anti-Narco Terrorist task force working in that country. We don't just randomly fly around other countries. And YES, I chose those words carefully. I am aware we might secretly do such things. But much like here in our own country, it's not just done randomly. It's done with specific subjects and goals in mind. Also, lets not forget some of the "arms" a drone may carry are of a deffensive nature. They tend to fly in areas and around people who may see an intrest in knocking it out of the sky. It might be a good idea to give drones the ability to defend themselves. If for no other reason than replacing 1 costs a tiny bit more than replacing your family car.

    2. "Raven" is fine. Truthfully, if I'd realized how popular that pseudonym was, I'd probably have chosen a different one, or at least qualified it more; it turns out that many cultures regard ravens as special in some way, and so it's a really popular nym.

      The problem in Latin America, of course, is that it's hard for any country to refuse a "request" from the USA, since that request is usually made in a most pointed and lead-weighted way. Consider Allende, but don't only consider Allende. The bloody intensification of the drug way in Mexico seems to have been the idea of US drug warriors.

      And, for heavens sake, beyond surveillance, what defensive arms can a drone carry that do not also have defensive uses?

    3. Duh, offensive uses. I remember what normal sleep was.

    4. In a similar vein, I've noticed no one seems to have considered that "American citizens on American soil includes American embassies overseas. American embassies are considered "American soil" (and visa vie.)

      Would an American that takes a U.S. embassy hostage be protected under Paul's scenario? No one ever seems to have thought to ask.

  17. I see I edited out an important phrase from my last post: "The idea of deploying armed drones in Latin America based outside of the USA, and therefore under no restrictions of US domestic law…"

    That really is nightmare. And I can only hope it has not already come true.

  18. As the daughter would say - man you are awesome - thank the Goddess of all things that the intertubes was created - because the media as we used to know it does not understand that the truth is not political, nor can the facts have a right or left lean. It is what it is.

    1. However, as I understand it, reality has a liberal bias.

  19. IMHO, Rand Paul is the poster child for why homeschooling is a Bad Idea when not leavened by reality-based learning.

  20. Nazis. And Gestapo Flying Robot Gunships. Thank you. Also, thank you for the insightful commentary and well articulated bits of sanity. Thanks for breaking it down into bite sized chunks that we can chew on. But mostly, thank you for the Nazis.

  21. My biggest fear about drones isn't an invasion of privacy. The use of them as an investigative tool should have the same rules (laws) that currently apply. ie Once a REASON to investigate someone (spy on) has been established to a legal satisfaction, and the proper warrant has been obtained it should be able to be used as a tool the same as 2 guys sitting in a van down the street wearing headphones. Currently, once a warrant has been issued for lets say, an illegal pot grower, it is not uncommon for a police helicopter to overfly the residence using it's F.L.I.R. looking for the tell tale "grow lights". In fact, these flights frequently occur PRIOR to a search warrant. The video they bring back of a house glowing like the sun in the middle of houses that glow like a dim bulb is often used as the evidence needed to obtain a deeper warrant for more invasive techniques. A drone would perform similar functions as the helicopter and the van at the same time. My BIGGEST fear is that concerns of their missuse as a flying "booby watcher" will create an unfortunate consequence to us "ground level" observers. Higher neck lines would RUIN summer girl watching season. haha As far as the fear of them being used to rain down death from the skies goes. Our military has had cannons for over 200 years that could do this. They have had planes (now called jets) for over a hundred years that could do this. And they have had helicopters since Vietnam that could do this. Yet, it hasn't happend. Not against an American on American soil anyways. The fear that somehow this will now happen simply because the tool is flown by computer is rediculous. It's just political games.

    1. This is the "grey" area that we have been talking about...where do you draw the line on the use of invasive technology? Data Mining? Where does our right to privacy end and the greater good begin? Do we really want to give up any of our guaranteed rights for "safety"...I don't think that the "anti-terror laws" keep us any safer now than before 9/11.

  22. About the President authorizing the shooting down of commercial airliners (passenger, private, or freight), IIRC, President Bush signed an executive order that also authorized the NORAD commander to give that oder. You know, in case the President was on the john or something.

  23. Write a book, please. I'd buy it.

  24. Holder's answer was to a very specific, narrow question. After the Supreme Court said it was ok to confiscate property through eminet domain, I've figured we Americans are screwed. The coproations won. The drone manufacturers won. Google and their street view has an interior view of my living room wall. And the art on it. I'm thinking a giant middle finger needs to go on my wall. And my office was across the NYSE, so don't get me started on all that bullshit.

    1. Oy! Try to not get typos when posting from a phone keyboard w crappy Verizon. It ain't easy and Verizon doesn't give a shit about your service. "No FiOs for you!" either. Like the Soup Nazi.

    2. LOL! Did my comment with the typos get deleted? I saw the errors get published!

  25. Funny, I typed two comments before. I saw them. I'm not crazy. Just a bad finger typist.

    1. Your comments ended up in the moderation queue, likely because you're posting from a phone.

  26. Like just about everything has a good and bad side or use.
    Drones are no different.

    I just find it unbelievable that after 8 years of George W, drones are now a danger to Americans. No one had a problem with drone until the election of President Obama. Maybe it is the name. Americans' just loved the "Patriot Missile" back in the First Gulf War. Someone needs to come up with a more American red white & blue name for drones.

    If given a choice between our service men and women putting their lives on the line to take out an enemy or using a drone - it is a no brainer. Drone every time.

    1. I like that. How about "Apple Pie Fliers" or "Momma's Little Eyes in the Sky" or even "Mother Hitton's Little Kittons"?


  27. Excellent, well thought out and reasoned discussion of the abdication of responsibility by congress and we fellow citizens.

    Glenn Greenwald also had a good discussion of the Rand Paul filibuster here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/10/paul-filibuster-drones-progressives

    1. Abdication of responsibility .... but yet come November 2014 the R lemmings will still vote for the Rs and the D lemmings will still vote for the Ds.

      Errr, wait, never mind. That's the epitome of abdicating responsibility as a citizen.

    2. Your attempt at creating a false equivalence is abdicating the responsibility of properly utilizing observational reality.

  28. I find myself wondering if Sen. Paul got the idea of using drones to kill Americans from an NBC promo for "1600 Penn" about a month ago, where the President, played by Bill Pullman, tells a young man interested in dating his daughter that he has "flying killer robots roaming the skies."

    Strange coincidence that the Teanuts suddenly started to worry about the presidents ability to target Americans with drones only days after that spot ran on Tea-vee.

    1. Excepting, of course, that there has been the pushback from the crazies for at least a couple of years previous to an event that happened a month ago.

  29. I thought drones were weapons and, like other weapons, could and would be used where and when necessary to enforce laws and/or fight the enemy. It's hard to imagine a situation in which it would make sense to use a drone against a target on American soil (though CPAC is looking pretty tempting, I admit), but if the occasion arose, I can't see why it should be prohibited any more than any other type of weapon if appropriate to the situation.

  30. Here's a Slate article on How Drones Kill Americans.

    Summary: If you're an American don't stand by someone overseas targeted to be killed by a drone or you might be collateral damage.


  31. Very late note on this: "A document signed in 2010 by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano revealed plans to arm drones operated by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with non-lethal weapons, The Arizona Republic reported Thursday." Read a short summary at http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/report-feds-planned-to-arm-drones-on-border, or follow it home from there.

    Be nice to be wrong about some of these things.

  32. As an avid library patron and former library employee, I remember my library posting the Patriot Act warnings when that was passed-- "We may have to release your records to the federal govenment, blah blah blah."

    Then I started working there, and what they always told us was "we don't track patron checkout histories, because Patriot Act." I mean, everything was on computers-- that information was probably recoverable, after all. But I liked the sentiment.

    Your local public library: bastion of privacy and free information access.


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