Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ethics Of Drone Warfare

Here are a few notes I took while watching this program.
  • US Military has spend more than $26 billion on drones since Since 2001
  • US Military plans to spend $5 billion per year on drones
  • US Military announced $23 billion budget for drone development in Aug 2011
  • RQ11 Raven - size of a model airplane, 4.2 lbs, launched by hand
  • MQ1 Predator - 27' long, 50' wing-span, 1000 lbs, propellor driven, 40 hours air time, cost $4 million each, 250 owned by US Military
  • MQ9 Reaper - 1/3 longer and 1/3 wider wing-span than MQ1, can carry 7 times the payload, 65 owned by US Military, 400 more ordered
  • Hellfire Misiles cost about $25,000 each
  • Primary targets:, Afghanistan , Iraq, Pakistan 365-420 strikes, Yemen 43-53 strikes, Somalia 3-9 strikes, Libya 1+ strikes, Philippines
  • David Cole asked how Americans would react if Russia killed terrorists in Chechnya with drones.
  • Avery Plaw explained that some drone strikes (signature strikes in particular) are counterproductive.
  • The umassdrone.org database includes 82 enemy leaders or high-value targets and 2101 suspected militants have been killed by drones.
  • The Long War Journal reports that 80 enemy leaders or high-value targets and 2414 suspected militants have been killed by drones.
  • US officials claim that 21 of the top 30 al-Qaeda leadership targets have been killed by drones.
  • The Long War Journal estimates that 5.8% of drone strike fatalities are civilian bistanders.
  • The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that as many as 24% of drone strike fatalities are civilian bistanders.
  • Therefore, drones may be a fairly discriminating compared to the alternatives.
  • umassdrone.org estimates that US non-drone attacks have killed a much higher proportion of civilians. Possibly as high as 37.5% of non-drone attacks are civilians.
  • Avery Plaw stated in conclusion that there are no viable alternatives to go after al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. Leon Panetta had good reason to describe drones as "the only game in town".
  • Personality strikes are targeted at a specific named person who is suspected of being an imminent terrorist threat that cannot be otherwise neutralized
  • Signature strikes are targeted at a "pattern of life" which suggests that they might be a combatant.
  • Armed drones are clearly weapons of war and not tools for law enforcement.
  • Gregory Johnson described a failure of foresight in US leadership with regard to drone use.
  • The threat to American lives when drones are used is neither immediate nor apparent, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
  • What America is doing abroad results in "blowback" in response to US drone strikes.
  • Lack of human intelligence and bad intelligence often results in the wrong people being killed.
  • The US approach in Yemen involves about 300 targeted individuals as a result of the Christmas 2009 underwear bomber incident.
  • The US claims that they are disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Signature strikes are sometimes referred to as "crowd killing" by the CIA.
  • The US tends to count any unidentified male in Yemen over the age of 16 as a suspected militant.
  • There seems to be an unspoken assumption that the US can win this war on terrorism on its own.
  • Gregory Johnson described the story of the cleric who spoke out frequently against al-Qaeda and then was later killed in a drone strike resulting in the population gravitating towards to al-Qaeda.
Source: C-SPAN

Scholars talked about the ethics of drone warfare. The program began with an exchange between Vickie Langohr and Avery Plaw on the definition of drones and the history of their use. Afterward, each panelist presented his perspective on the use of drones, with Avery Plaw defending their use, David Cole criticizing the Obama administration for using them, and Gregory Johnsen arguing that drone casualties were driving Yemeni people towards al-Qaeda. They also answered questions from audience members.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Alex Jones: Brilliant At Pretending To Be An Idiot

Before I quote this blog about Alex Jones and provide a link, I feel a need to share some of my thoughts first.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I occasionally listen to Alex Jones' radio show and I often review some of the posts on the InfoWars.com and PrisonPlanet.tv web sites. I happen to believe that the "conspiracy theories" discussed on these sites are sometimes based upon fairly well-reasoned arguments and often include references to sources of information gathered from "mainstream media" and more legitimate sources.  However, as a sceptic I take most of this information with a grain of salt and I always try to do a little extra research on my own before drawing any conclusions.  As I read InfoWars articles I find that I often have to skim through quite a bit of nonsense before finding some useful information that tickles my brain enough to challenge my way of thinking.

If you read and listen long enough you may find that these guys and gals will occasionally force you to question "facts" that you have stored in your mind. Sometimes Alex and his people poke large holes in the "conspiracy theories" that we've been told by governments and mainstream media sources. Sometimes Alex freaks you out enough to make you rethink some of the conclusions you've made.

So, I have to conclude that Alex Jones does a great service to society because he's not afraid to say thing that are unpopular and occasionally he raises some questions that need to be asked. Unfortunately, I would imagine that some of the InfoWars audience takes the conspiracy theories at face value and that could be a bit dangerous. If some of Alex Jones' listeners fail to expose themselves to a variety of news sources then I fear it might be a bit unhealthy. After listening to Alex Jones for a couple of hours you can't help but feel a little uneasy about the world around you even if you disbelieve most of what he says. Fear uncertainty and doubt are very powerful motivators.

Alex Jones and his people are entertainers, and so it seems logical that their primary goal is attracting new audience and maintaining existing audience. If you are familiar with the concept of a "shock jock" you may understand why the InfoWars content often sounds crazy.  Often crazy gets people's attention and that's how these people make their money.

Source: RamblingBeachCat.com

When Alex Jones recently appeared on CNN with Piers Morgan and had what appeared to be catastrophic shut down of all higher brain functions, many believed that they were watching someone who didn't realize just how crazy (and bad) he was making himself look. On the contrary, his behavior was probably very carefully orchestrated and played perfectly to his large, disposable cash spending audience

Just like I've pointed out with Glenn Beck and Michael Moore, pundits on the extreme end of the political spectrum have an audience that tunes into them specifically to have their beliefs validated and enhanced, not to be challenged or to think critically.

If Alex Jones got on the air after the Boston Marathon Bombing and said "Hey guys, this wasn't some elaborate plot; it was just a couple of angry, deranged/radical individuals," then his listeners would tune out and find someone else who DOES think that every national tragedy is layered in cover ups and false flag operations.

As one commenter on a Fark.com thread said recently, many conspiracy theorists have an elaborate story pre-loaded in their heads for every time a dog farts. Alex Jones then swoops in to make sure that dog fart is backed up with an exhaustive amount of unrelated research, out of context mainstream media reporting, and a healthy dose of hyperbole and theatrics.

The man knows his audience and he knows how to keep them listening...all while turning a very healthy profit. Let's take a look at Alex Jones and how he's turned his brand of crazy from some deeply held (and bizarre) beliefs into a very profitable brand of crazy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

War of words - US media now calls Chechen Islamists "jihadists" instead of "freedom fighters"

Source: Russia Today

In the last 48 hours, an astounding change has occurred in the lexicon of the mainstream media in the United States, as Chechen Islamists are no longer being referred to as “rebels” and “freedom fighters”.  In the wake of the news that Chechens were involved in the Boston bombing (an assertion that has not actually been proven despite the media having already convicted the Tsarnaev brothers), the language immediately shifted.

In late January 2013, the NY Times carried a story from Reuters entitled “Rebels Killed in Chechnya”  in which terrorist leaders Khuseyn and Muslim Gakayev were referred to as“two of the most wanted Islamist rebels.”  The use of the word“rebels” is a clever propaganda ploy used to legitimize their cause in the minds of readers, portraying a terrorist war as simply a resistance struggle.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tapes Depict Proposal to Thwart Bomb Used in Trade Center Blast

Source: New York Times

Published: October 28, 1993

Law-enforcement officials were told that terrorists were building a bomb that was eventually used to blow up the World Trade Center, and they planned to thwart the plotters by secretly substituting harmless powder for the explosives, an informer said after the blast.

The informer was to have helped the plotters build the bomb and supply the fake powder, but the plan was called off by an F.B.I. supervisor who had other ideas about how the informer, Emad A. Salem, should be used, the informer said

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Airport Security Is Killing Us

Source: Businessweek

Researchers at Cornell University suggest that this trend of switching means of travel from air to road was indirectly responsible for an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month in the aftermath of 9/11.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Remains of Medal of Honor recipient from Korean War idnentified, will be buried in Arlington

Source: WTKR

Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr. of Washington, Ind. will be buried on April 17.
He was a veteran of World War II and went on to serve in the Korean War.

...

He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for personal acts of exceptional valor during the battle.

In 2004, a joint U.S. and Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (D.P.R.K) team surveyed the area where Faith was last seen.  His remains were located and returned to the U.S. for identification.

The remains were identified through DNA and other circumstantial and forensic evidence

Gov. Jerry Brown vows to continue fight over prison conditions

Source: LA Times

In response to demands by the court to reduce prison population further, California Governor Jerry Brown said ".. the constitutional standard is deliberate indifference and as far as I know there is nobody deliberately indifferent to the health needs of the California prisoners. And if I find such a person, he will be fired on the spot.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Chinese army colonel says avian Chinese army colonel says avian flu is an American plot against flu is an American plot against China China

Source: Washington Post

Colonel Dai Xu of the People’s Liberation Army wrote online that the new strain of bird flu hitting China, known as H7N9, is an American “bio-psychological weapon” meant to destabilize China.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Rep. Diana DeGette appears not to understand how guns work

Source: Denver Post

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) has been the lead sponsor on a federal ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines in two Congresses, saying it’s one of her top priorities.

But Tuesday at a Denver Post forum on the gun control debate, the senior congresswoman from Denver appeared to not understand how guns work.

Asked how a ban on magazines holding more than 15 rounds would be effective in reducing gun violence, DeGette said:

“I will tell you these are ammunition, they’re bullets, so the people who have those know they’re going to shoot them, so if you ban them in the future, the number of these high capacity magazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will have been shot and there won’t be any more available.”

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Indefinite Detention at Guantanamo is in Clear Breach of International Law

Source: United Nations

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday urged all branches of the United States Government to work together to close the Guantanamo detention centre, saying “the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law.”

Bitcoin Really Is an Existential Threat to the Modern Liberal State

Source: Bloomberg

Technology enabled governments to grow more powerful and more centralized in the 19th and 20th centuries, as Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, has argued. The intriguing possibility is that technologies of the 21st century -- such as Bitcoin -- might push the other way.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How the Tar Sands Are Crushing Science in Canada

Source: io9

The Canadian government is currently under investigation for its efforts to obstruct the right of the media and public to speak to government scientists. These policies are widely believed to be a part of the government's unspoken campaign to ensure that oil keeps flowing from the Athabasca tar sands — even if it’s at the cost of free scientific inquiry, the environment, and by consequence, democracy itself.

Trends in hypothyroidism among newborns after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown

Source: Open Journal of Pediatrics

Congenital hypothyroidism is a disorder that results in stunted growth, lowered intelligence, deafness, and neurological abnormalities, but can be effectively treated if detected early. Increased incidence has been observed during the past two decades, including the United States, Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Greece.

In the U.S., the rate increased 75.3% from 1987 to 2002. While changes in American laboratory practices and screening methods along with changes in proportions of multiple pregnancies, race, birth weight, and gender in the population may explain some of the increase, several reports conclude that there are other, unknown factors that account for this temporal trend.

Environmental factors pose one possible cause of these increases. One report examining the potential risk of CH from perchlorate in drinking water found no association. Another found significant links between CH risk and levels of dioxin-like compounds and organo-chloride pesticides detected in the maternal breast milk.

Another potential environmental risk factor is prenatal exposure to radioactive iodine isotopes, which seek out the susceptible fetal thyroid gland. For decades radioactive iodine has been recognized to cause adverse effects (including hypothyroidism) to the thyroid gland. The fetal thyroid, the first glandular structure to appear in the human embryo, begins to concentrate iodine and produce thyroid hormones by the 70th day of gestation. In the mid-1950s, during the period of atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, I-131 produced by fission was first detected in the adult human thyroid. I-131 concentrations were calculated to be about 10 times higher in the human fetal thyroid vs. the human adult or hog thyroid, and maximum elevations in fetal thyroids were detected approximately one month after nuclear explosions. The main path of exposure to short- lived isotopes such as I-131 is via dairy products due to radioactive fallout deposition on forage. 

One report on relatively low doses of I-131 exposures to rat embryos resulted in large decreases in fetal thyroxine and increases in Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), dependent upon the time of pregnancy that the exposure occurred. A recent analysis discovered levels of whole blood iodine in three infants from Oregon (US) screened at birth exceeded the average for controls by a factor of 10.

A national study conducted by the National Geological Survey examined concentrations of wet depositions of fission-produced isotopes in soil at sites across the US, for several radioisotopes, between March 15 and April 5 2011. Results showed that for I-131, the highest depositions, in becquerels per cubic meter, occurred in north-west Oregon (5100), central California (1610), northern Colorado (833), coastal California (211), and western Washington (60.4). No other station recorded concentrations above 13. Similar results were observed for Cesium-134 and Cesium-137. All the cited locations are on or near the Pacific coast, with the exception of Colorado, in the western US. Thus, the data indicate the greatest concentrations of environmental I-131 in the continental US after Fukushima occurred on the west coast. While the excess is difficult to quantify precisely, for purposes of this report comparisons in airborne gross beta concentrations will be made between the five Pacific and West Coast states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington) and the remainder of the nation. The source of data is the US Environmental Protection Agency’s twice-weekly measurements in nearly 100 US locations, creating a large sample of hundreds of measurements in the weeks after the arrival of Fukushima fallout.

Conspiracy Theory Poll Results

I'm a little surprised at some of these poll results. I believe "conspiracy theories" have grown in popularity and an increasing number of people enjoy discussing them even if they don't believe in them. Below are a few examples of the results.

Public Policy Polling

20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 51% do not

7% of voters think the moon landing was faked

13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22% of Romney voters

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Expansion of Natural Gas Use Would Cause Far More Deaths Than Nuclear Power

Prevented mortality and greenhouse gas emissions from historical and projected nuclear power - Environmental Science & Technology (ACS Publications)

Expansion of natural gas use would add to the climate problem and would cause far more deaths than expansion of nuclear power.

Judge rules documents must be released in case of former Guantanamo prisoner

Source: Courthouse News Service

The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a petition challenging the detention of Somali native Mohammed Sulaymon Barre who is believed to have been sold to the United States for a bounty. Once in the custody of U.S. forces, Barre was detained at military bases in Kandahar and Bagram before being transferred to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he claims he was tortured. He was released in 2009, leading a judge to dismiss his habeas petition as moot.

The government fought to keep many of the documents classified, citing national security concerns. Specifically, it asked the court to shield the location of an al-Qaida training facility, along with an unspecified word that it claimed had been mistakenly disclosed in a court filing. Judge Lamberth said these pieces of information are not protected, because they "have been officially acknowledged and remain publicly available. ... [T]his ignores the inherent public interest in Guantanamo litigation generally, and in the facts related to the release of this detainee in particular," Lamberth wrote. "Here, petitioner's documents have remained essentially under seal for 42 months, and the court sees no reason to write the government a blank check and allow them to produce the documents at some unknown point in the future."

The judge allowed the government to protect some documents, such as the litigation materials shown to Barre and his attorney in detention.