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Droning about drones

March 8 2013 Leave a comment

predator drone (creativecommons)I don’t understand the drone debate. Even the Huffington Post is asking why more Democrats weren’t on hand to support Rand Paul’s tedious and pointless stunt.

What am I missing about these drones? They’re basically remote-control aeroplanes, so I find it quite baffling why everyone seems to think the president needs to explicitly state that they can’t be used on American soil. What the feck?!

To be clear, the missiles that can be fired from a drone can also be (and much more commonly are) fired from other weapons systems. And it doesn’t mater what type of platform fires it, you won’t see it coming. So what’s the significance of the drones?

Dozens of countries have these things and I’m not aware of a similar issue in any of them. I’m also not aware of any other weapon system that has caused politicians to demand an express promise that they won’t be used domestically — including nerve agents.

Indeed, America has in fact used nukes domestically (for testing). Has there been pressure not to use tanks or B2 bombers at home?

The stupidest thing about it all is that the controversial aspect of drones is — almost exclusively — related to their use against people in Pakistan and other countries that America is not at war with. It has nothing to do with the president wanting to use them against Americans.

If Barack Obama wanted to drop a Hellfire missile on your ass, he wouldn’t have to use a drone. He could use any type of plane he fancied. Or any Navy vessel. Or he could just set up a tripod on the White House lawn. What difference a drone makes is completely beyond me.

And why supporters of Obama go along with it is just bizarre. Isn’t the whole thing just another shameless Republican excuse for holding up the normal functioning of government…?

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Categories: war & peace Tags:

Guns don’t kill…

December 17 2012 Leave a comment

…but they sure help people who want to.

handgun control

Categories: politics, war & peace Tags:

Why does Fox’s CIA “expert” want to torture his daughter?

December 15 2012 Leave a comment

mike-baker-fox-newsFox News interviewed someone they described as “former CIA operative Mike Baker” about enhanced interrogation techniques yesterday, in response to a report by the Senate’s intelligence committee that found they were ineffective.

That doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Members of the FBI have complained about the use of water boarding, sleep deprivation and other techniques since early on in the war on terror. But the issue is still unsettled over at Fox.

It’s bizarre to think that small-government conservatives are happy for the federal government to torture people in secret through the CIA, while at the same time claiming to be so distrusting of the government that they demand to be allowed to keep a small arsenal at home. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

Anyway, there was one line that particularly caught my attention — at the end of the segment, when Baker makes this extraordinary claim about current US military guidelines for interrogations: “I couldn’t break my teenage daughter with the Army field manual techniques, it’s just not gonna happen.”

He couldn’t “break” his daughter? What on earth is he talking about? Why would he want to?

Let’s imagine the situation: his daughter has fallen in with the wrong crowd and is suspected of committing an act of domestic terrorism. They call in her dad to speak to her. What does he do?

Well, apparently, this guy thinks he would need to water board her to get the truth. I think that says all we need to know about the CIA’s expertise in interrogating suspects. And I’m sure his daughter is really charmed by the analogy.

The idea that you need to “break” someone to get information from them is feeble-minded nonsense — it’s the stuff of Jack Bauer and Hollywood movies. Even the police would blush at such attitudes.

Of course, Baker was certain the report basically represented the views of civil liberties groups and throughout the interview he gave no indication that a subtle thought had ever crossed his mind.

“It’s inane to say that they didn’t work ever. The reality is always a little bit more complicated — the reality is sometimes enhanced techniques work, sometimes they don’t.”

The report isn’t public, but I’d be very surprised if it said that enhanced interrogation techniques don’t work ever. Still, who expects competent analysis from the CIA these days?

Categories: war & peace Tags: , ,

Apocalypse when?

November 21 2012 Leave a comment

Jim Rickards is still at it. The former LTCM general counsel is obsessed with gold and seems to think the rest of the world is too. Indeed, he reckons gold is so important that it could lead to a new world war:

Rickards envisages the Chinese getting pissed at US monetary easing and retaliating by using its gold reserves as a financial weapon of mass destruction.

Clearly, Rickards thinks a gold standard would solve all this, but in fact his war game describes precisely the problem with using commodities as currency. He argues that China could hoard a huge amount of gold (using derivatives) and then sell it all into the open market to destabilise the global economy.

What he doesn’t say is why this would be less of a problem under a gold standard. If the dollar was backed by gold, the US would hardly be better off if China (or anyone else) chose to dump (or hoard) huge amounts of the stuff — and I can easily invent a plausible geopolitical scenario in which that could end up happening.

After all, history is full of examples of precisely this kind of thing, all the way back to Sparta and the ancient Greeks. Ever wondered why no country on the planet uses gold to back its money supply today?

By using an arbitrary metal as your currency, you open yourself to attack by anyone who can control enough of that metal — and you devolve monetary policy to foreign miners.

None of what Rickards says makes any sense at all from a security point of view, yet the US military pays him to share this nonsense with them. (I’ll let them read this blog post for free. Though I wouldn’t be offended by an offer of payment…)

The lunacy of Rickards’s apocalyptic prediction is on full display when he describes Chinese “hackers” taking control of the Fed and the Treasury, as well as turning off the internet and the power grid. Scary!

So scary, in fact, that it makes you wonder why China would bother spending trillions of dollars buying gold?!?!

Cyber warfare is a genuine threat, and it also demonstrates why his entire theory is obsolete. China doesn’t need gold to cause economic havoc. It just needs an internet connection and a few people who know how to use a computer, which is why we should work on being China’s friend instead of trying to think of reasons for bombing it.

Oil wars?

November 14 2012 Leave a comment

America’s wars are all about securing energy reserves, according to some people, but the reality is that the war in Afghanistan has probably consumed far more energy than it will ever yield.

A Nato official is quoted in this story on oil pilfering in Helmand saying that the Afghan security forces spend $600 million a year on fuel. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that doesn’t include Nato’s own consumption. Either way, it’s a staggering amount of money — and energy.

How much? Well, let’s look at it:

  • Gasoline costs about $3.50 a gallon at the pump
  • $600 million buys you 171 million gallons of gasoline
  • That’s about 4 million barrels, or two oil tankers full of gasoline
  • You’d need about twice that amount of crude oil — 8 million barrels — to refine that much
  • Two million barrels could fill a football stadium

And that probably doesn’t count the oil used by the army, navy and air force. And this is for just one year. Yikes. The total amount of energy consumed by the war there must be astronomical — and even withdrawal will not eliminate the spending. The Afghans will presumably continue to get free fuel after the American exit.

The story also implies that much of the security force’s gasoline is going to the Taliban, which would hardly be surprising.

Meanwhile, Americans are complaining about reliance on foreign oil and steep prices at the pump.

——–

Further, looking at how much oil this is in comparison to consumption in other countries, let’s just say the Afghan security force is consuming 8 million barrels of crude oil, which is roughly how much crude you would need to get this much gasoline, with a fair chunk of diesel into the bargain.

Afghanistan’s population is 35 million, so 8 million barrels of crude is about half a barrel for every person in the country. It seems that the convention is to use the number of barrels per 1,000 people per day, so that gets us to a figure of around 230 barrels a person — and, divided by 365, we obviously get a number less than one, though not by much. It’s about two-thirds of a barrel per person per day.

That may seem small — Singapore scores 202 barrels a day, for example — but there are several countries that register as one or zero, including Bangladesh (and Afghanistan), according to this random website I’m relying on.

That seems like a huge amount of oil (assuming my back-of-the-envelope sums add up). It’s enough to run an undeveloped country like Laos. Imagine how much good could be done with that kind of money — and how much economic growth it could generate if it was used for development instead of propping up a puppet government.

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