Drones, civil rights, energy and climate.

That is quite an expansive set of topics to include in the title of a single blog entry I realize, but I’ll do my best to tie them all together.

It cannot have escaped many of us who are not distracted by the Punch and Judy show featuring  Romney and Obama that during the last few years we have slipped into a reality where serious threats to the future of our democracy have arisen. These come not from terrorists or dangerous nuclear armed dictatorships, but from our own government.

There has always been a bit of background noise in any discussion by Republicans about Obama’s presidency that he’s shredding the constitution. Usually this is in reference to his “guns and religion” comment on the campaign trail and fear that he would eviscerate the 2nd amendment (laughably adhering to “Agenda 21”) which is utterly unfounded.

Rarely will you hear actual discussion about his administration’s Department of Justice’s actual attacks on constitutional rights from the left or right. This is sad as they are very real and very threatening.

It is very hard for us to recognize and react to existential threats that start small and gradually worsen and I suppose that this whole post is about gradual erosion of the latter three items in the title.

The key threat which I found most disturbing was the precedent set by the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki. The instant I heard about it I found the arguments that framed his death as that of a citizen much more compelling than those that labeled him as a terrorist threat. For a while I swallowed lines from news media and fellow citizens that he was a “bad guy” and that his citizenship was in question or revoked.

Having just become a naturalized US citizen at that point I was more than curious to read about the case. The upshot is, you can be stripped of constitutional rights and killed by your own government for consistently inciting hate speech against America. Calls for the killing of other citizens, calls for violence against the homeland … or her government.

The twin component to being killed without the due process afforded to all US citizens, no matter how vile and repulsive their actions are, is that in this instance the targeted killing took place as a result of speech.

Free speech is a constitutionally protected right (yes, even to make videos like The Innocence of Muslims) Did Al-Awlaki’s hate speech pass the often, and erroneously touted “free speech test” ? well, we will never know as he was executed outside of any recognizable legal process. He was not captured, indicted and made to stand in a courtroom where the burden of proof that his hate speech incited hatred and the actions of Major Nadal Hassan would have rested with a government prosecutor. There was no US Vs Al-Awlaki and we are all worse off for it.

When musing on this subject of kill vs capture which always comes up in discussions of drone strikes I like to refer to Osama Bin Laden’s death. We’re expected to believe that we can invade Bin Laden’s home to kill him, but not to muster the same kind of effort to capture Al-Awlaki ?

You do not live in a democracy and your rights are vanishing fast.

It is ever more apparent each day that the illusion of our current democracy is a fantastic distraction from the truth; the ever present criticisms about our 2 party system being an intentional obstacle to real progress and change are not wide of the mark. There is a reason you don’t get to hear from third party candidates on the national stage.

If the two parties in power did miraculously engage in meaningful debate with third party candidates during an election the curtain would drop and their collusion would be exposed. Their bipartisan consensus on war powers, expanding the powers of the executive branch and being able to spy on citizens would become apparent.

Willful ignorance of and unwillingness to discuss climate and energy problems with reference to cold hard reality and not fairytale fantasy would also be exposed.

Its here where I see the quadrumvirate of drones, civil rights, energy and climate being the deciding figures in the near future. As the economy slows and familiar structures of capitalism creak under its stress and evolve in unfamiliar ways we have already seen (un)popular unrest presented in groups like the Occupy movement. As such they have become almost classical enemies of the state, suffering state brutality, infiltration and even grand jury indictments.

Even journalists who, it has to be said are most certainly not part of the mainstream parroting of government or party lines, are also threatened with the prospect of facing consequences of other draconian measures leveled at them for exercising free speech and association. (1) (2)

You can also be arrested for ranting about 9/11 and calling for a revolution.

The drones come home to roost

Even as arguments over the legality of drones and their killing abroad rage in congress and in courtrooms (or more accurately in denied requests for OLC memos) the consequences and even uses of drones at home are not fully understood.

And be sure that the drones are indeed coming home to roost. What I find most offensive about the way our discussions on domestic drone use are proceeding is that quite literally, every boy loves remote controlled aircraft. It seems that something every geeky kid loves is being perverted mostly by sticking a camera on it. After all, “drones” are a broad category, ranging from aircraft weighing in at ounces all the way to the hellfire armed MQ9 Reapers.

The FAA is playing catchup with regards to legislating how drones get used and who can use them. Local and state government in many areas have no legislation at all with regards to privacy rights in reference to drones.

Efforts by local law enforcement to use drones in the aid of their activities are being met with some resistance, but its hardly widespread. Its also not a surprise that police want to utilize this kind of technology, in certain respects its a cheap tool to potentially increase efficiency and decrease man hours but rest assured that cases involving surveillance drones are likely going to be ending up in the laps of civil liberties lawyers and will certainly end up in front of the supreme court, by which time its usually too late.

An arrest has already been made with the aid of drones.

Tying it all together

So, drones are government tools of targeted, and not so targeted “signature” strikes in foreign wars, declared and undeclared, by congress or not. Enjoying oversight and due process free reign to kill. They are also tools which will see increased use in many domestic areas but the most significant of which is law enforcement, whether federal or state.

Free speech and protesting will, and always have, put you in the state’s ire. Lately this is becoming more apparent along with efforts being made in government to permanently implement and streamline processes with which to ruthlessly deal with those who step out of line.

With the recent events of mid-western drought destroying corn yields and Hurricaine Sandy laying waste to the eastern seaboard we should be facing up to the reality that climate change is here, aside from whether you believe its causes are anthropogenic in nature, its here to kick our asses. (Besides which, we are reaping that which was sown in the 1980’s, mitigation efforts must be implemented but will not help us avoid what is already in motion)

In addition, all the pointless election year flapping that is going on around the phrase “energy independence” should also be a signal that we’re avoiding real debate on our energy usage. These are the twin existential threats comprising the “long emergency

We’re headed for more, not less social upheaval and civil unrest. We’re going to come up against immense challenges to our energy and food supplies which will generate millions of undernourished, underemployed and fairly angry people.

Quite apropos then that as the threat of multiplying protesting hordes, terrorist ideologues and everyday criminals, domestically and globally grows and grows it is being met by powers and technology to swiftly deal with it.

To be certain there are those who have and will continue to turn to extremist measures to vent their frustration, either with an occupying force or with a decline into abject poverty, with a collapse of society as we know it; there will be those who aim their disgust at the state, whether justly or not, the response might be the same enjoyed by militants in Yemen or Pakistan. (inaccurate, almost indiscriminate wholesale slaughter )

This is the arena into which our government has drawn us, under the shadow of great societal threat, power will seek to retain power by any means. Will the definition of terrorist, and thus the prosecuting legal framework shift to include domestic threats brought on by food or fuel riots on a grand scale ?

The reaction will be swift and the period of history in which it happens may be brief, but its legacy ever lasting, just like the period of history encompassing the last 12 years.


3 thoughts on “Drones, civil rights, energy and climate.

  1. “We’re going to come up against immense challenges to our energy and food supplies which will generate millions of undernourished, underemployed and fairly angry people.” – Probably true. Just a thought though: Unlike, say, the stonewall riots or the race riots (which both, in the log-term had many positive consequences), the response of government to fuel or food riots will inevitably be short-term and probably counter-productive. E.g. the fuel protests in the UK 13 years ago led to a freeze in the fuel price escalator – not an strategic change in the transport sector. I feel any decision made in response to protests is likely to be deeply flawed. Ideally we should have been dealing with the problems you’ve highlighted before it gets to the point of protest over food/fuel shortages. Indeed, if it gets to that point then it would almost certainly be “too late”. One thing, if the US or UK has fuel or food shortages, then the problems across the middle east/Africa and possibly SE Asia would be orders of magnitudes worse (r.e. the % spend on food vs import graph).

    I think the use of drones within the US sounds like the situation that should pose the greatest concern. Especially if your predictions regarding protests is born out. How long before they are armed?

    off topic,: don’t know if you heard the news, but the UK’s buying a load more drones, but apparently their use will be lawful (i.e. not stray outside the countries we’ve invaded). Oh also we’re selling 100 Typhoon (Eurofighters) to Dubai and Saudi Arabia, but ‘Mr Cameron said countries had a right to self-defence and promoting UK business was “completely legitimate”…[the purchasers] have warned that if Britain continues to support calls for reform prompted by anti-government activists they will increasingly give lucrative deals to Asian partners instead.’ [ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20202058
    also http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/10/28/uk-saudi-rights-idUKBRE89R07H20121028 and from HRW’s report “Arbitrary detention, mistreatment and torture of detainees…remain serious concerns [in Saudi Arabia]” ]. I find it depressing that the ‘if we don’t sell them weapons someone else will’ is still used. When I’ve had this argument with people, I’ve used the metaphor: whether they would sell their wife-beating neighbour a baseball bat – on the grounds that if they don’t, someone else will. – Not sure if my metaphor really holds up, but I figure it puts the moral decision into sharp relief.

    Anyway, nice to have a place to rant about the more fringey things 🙂

    But my campaigning is pretty local: Getting Edinburgh nice to cycle around, get decent standards for rented housing, and the continuous work for Amnesty International… can’t say I’m campaigning on any of the ‘big’ issues you’ve highlighted, I figure they’re too big to deal with, and working on the component parts is the only way I can really engage.

    • I really appreciate and value your comments, insights and friendship Mike. It’s hard to maintain a focus on single and especially local issues in regards to dedicating effort when there are so many things wrong on so many levels.

      On a local level I’m not exactly promoting EVs and Solar as much as I hope to be doing in the near future.(and in fact in an introspective kind of way I lose a little bit of faith in these technologies each day with regards to exactly how much they can help/be accepted in the dominant paradigm)

      This winter I’ve dedicated a lot of time to volunteering at a community farm, with the overt goal of “helping local food system resilience”.
      It’s been a fun experience filled with like minded people, but lately its been a bit of a difficulty getting actual produce to a market, mostly its been friends and family benefiting, which I guess is “phase one” 😉

      With respect to Africa/ME/SE Asia, its time we realized that the plight of other nations is our own. As things do get worse we’re going to get drawn into more conflicts with desperate people all over the globe and I feel that the “humanitarian” aspect of nation’s interference is always encased in a a hierarchical structure of self interested goals. The hands of the empire are soft and caring, but their mere presence illustrates selfishness; we’re here to protect us mostly, not you.

      I can’t understand why more people don’t cry foul at the relationship the west has with Saudi Arabia, it is not exactly like the conclusions can’t be reached without much effort; they are a convenient regional stabilizer with which our relationship ensures their power and our economic stability (to a point).

      Anyway …
      stay tuned. 😉

  2. Pingback: As I see it. | shOutlet

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