CIA Given the Go-Ahead to Send Robot Death in Pakistan

Nobel Peace Prize Winner and U.S. President Barack Obama has, it appears, given the go ahead to the CIA to send its Predtor drones out into the Pakistani countryside at any targets it so chooses.

The CIA received secret permission to attack a wider range of targets, including suspected militants whose names are not known, as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, according to current and former counter-terrorism officials.

The expanded authority, approved two years ago by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama, permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as “pattern of life” analysis, using evidence collected by surveillance cameras on the unmanned aircraft and from other sources about individuals and locations.

The information then is used to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known, the officials said. Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list.

The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said.

Given that this is the same CIA that assured us that the case for “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq was a “slam dunk”, told us that the Soviet Union’s economy would eclipse our own a few years before it collapsed entirely, and has unsuccessfully assassinated Fidel Castro approximately 973 times, I’m certain that we can trust them to be only hitting the correct targets.

Of course, the fact that we are not currently at war with Pakistan, that Congress has not authorized any military action in Pakistan, and that Pakistan has not authorized U.S. strikes within their borders is often deemed irrelevant in this scenario. But dammit, it should be front and center. The President of the United States may be the commander-in-chief, but decisions about whether to go to war should be left up to the Congress. I realize that Congress has truly given up having any say in these matters of the past 40 years, but we really should demand that that change. The President should not, at his discretion, allow the CIA free reign to send robot planes to bomb targets in a foreign country.

No matter how many damned “Peace” prizes he’s won.


Professor Brother Is Watching You

Northern Arizona State University has decided to implement a policy to implant RFID tags in student IDs so that they can track the movements of their students.

Not to worry, though–the students have taken to complaining about it on Facebook!

Yes, the same Facebook that has evolved to offer virtually no privacy protection at all unless you’re very, very careful.

A better idea for the RFID ID cards is simply to make them useless. Surely there are some students out there willing to collect a 100 or so IDs for a day and have some fun with them. Tie them to dogs, walk in and out of every classroom with them, whatever.

And, you know, a good old fashioned protest–like one where folks just dropped their cards and burned them–wouldn’t be that bad, either.

Ah, who am I kidding? Tweet away, students! I’m sure the administration is listening.

That is, if they’ve figured out how to use Twitter yet.

Gulf Oil Spill Might Change the Ecosystem Forever

The oil spill in the Gulf Coast, which will stand as a monument to human stupidity and greed, could possibly completely devastate the ecosystem–turning it into something else entirely.

If the flow is soon staunched, affected populations should rebound from losses in a few years, and even sooner if the oil stays at sea long enough to be churned by waves and consumed by microbes. Ecosystems will stay intact.

But if oil flows continue, plant and animal populations may be pushed to species-level tipping points, their numbers so low that replenishment is impossible. When this happens, food webs change. Some remaining species become more common, and others less. Disruption favors low-level opportunists that rush into newly open niches. Local ecosystems tip. If that keeps happening, an entire region can tip.

What does that mean? Its means the fish might go away. Or the shrimp. Or some of the plants. Or all of the above. It’s impossible to know right now. Adding insult to injury, as the article points out, is that overpollution has already stressed the Gulf ecosystem, meaning the oil spill might be the straw that breaks the camels back.

Unfortunately, the Gulf is already stressed by fishing and pollution. Mississippi River dams and levees have altered water and sediment flows that historically nourished the delta. In the last 50 years, some 1,500 square miles of wetlands have vanished. Sea-grass losses range from 12 percent to two-thirds. Researchers have reported changes in species compositions, and growing areas of vegetation “patchiness,” a pattern considered symptomatic of stressed systems verging on tips.

“The system is already becoming degraded,” said University of New Orleans ecologist Denise Reed. It’s too soon to know if local systems will tip, but “oil could push a marsh that’s already hanging by its fingernails over the edge,” she said.

Especially vulnerable are sea grasses and marshes in the western Gulf, home to a fishery worth $2.4 billion annually. The western Gulf has few beaches, which would allow oil to be cleaned with relative ease as it washes ashore. It lacks the barrier islands that line northern and eastern shores, calming waters and slowing the oil’s advance. Louisiana’s scalloped coastline could soak oil like a sponge.

The worst part of it all is that, at the present time, it looks like it might take weeks to stop the oil from leaking. Meaning we’re probably going to see some terrible, permanent effects and soon.

What’s the most mind-boggling about this disaster is that it illustrates an unbelievable lack of foresight. Oil pipelines have exploded before. Offshore rigs have leaked before. There is, in fact, technology available to make shutting off undersea valves quite simple. They are, in fact, required by law in Norway and Brazil. Alas, though, they are not required in the United States. So what could have become a manageable accident has become an unmitigated disaster.

All because the folks running the show were too stupid to put existing safeguards in place.

Cops Shoot Dogs to Stop Evil Pot Smokers

Here’s an example of our dystopic 21st century. Not for the faint of heart to watch.

Here’s a description from where I found it.

It’s horrifying, but I’d urge you to watch it, and to send it to the drug warriors in your life. This is the blunt-end result of all the war imagery and militaristic rhetoric politicians have been spewing for the last 30 years—cops dressed like soldiers, barreling through the front door middle of the night, slaughtering the family pets, filling the house with bullets in the presence of children, then having the audacity to charge the parents with endangering their own kid. There are 100-150 of these raids every day in America, the vast, vast majority like this one, to serve a warrant for a consensual crime.

But Jonathan Whitworth won’t be smoking that pot they found in his possession. So I guess this mission was a success.

The proprietor of the web site, Radley Balko, is a great journalist who spends his time cataloging the abuses of the criminal justice system. I highly recommend that you read his work regularly.

As for the content of the video? What can I say? I almost can’t be angry because the emotions are too strong. Indeed, I almost move past angry into just being sad. Why? Because look at those cops and how they behave. This is just another day for them. Just another day. It’s routine. It’s dull.

That’s the reality of a police state, boys and girls. It’s not leather-clad stormtroopers cackling about the evil that they’re doing. It’s a bunch of bored professionals, shooting a dog in front of a little girl because that’s just what it says to do in page 13 of the manual.

All because the guy had a little pot.

That’s dystopia.

Welcome to Dystopia

This is the corner of the web where I am going to push out all of my demons for the world to see and exorcize. Because I’m pissed off. It’s the year 2010 and the world is nothing like it was promised, unless you consider the corporate dominated hellhole of Robocop to be the world you were promised when you were a kid. In which case, congrats!

Welcome, children, to life in dystopia. A world where the oceans are dying, cops shoot dogs in front of children in order to stop their parents from smoking pot, politicians consider civil liberties a weakness, the rich march on Washington to protest giving medical care to the poor, people line up for hours to be the first to get a bug ridden phone that doesn’t make calls, where money is to be made in degrading your self-worth and dignity on camera, and where nobody seems to care about any of it. The world you look at every day wondering if you’re going mad because it seems like you’ve stumbled into a circa-1960s dystopian novel and nobody seems to notice.

Here, we will notice. Here, we will care about these things. We will tear apart the steamy entrails of the lies around us and we will force people to see these things.

What’s more, we will look for goddamned solutions. All over the world, while the media is struggling to get an exclusive on Lindsey Lohan’s sad debacle of self-destruction, there are smart folks all over the world who are just crazy enough to try and make this a better place. We will celebrate them. We will let people know about them.

I’m tired of being pissed off. I’m tired of living in dystopia.

Let’s try for something better, shall we?