Thursday, June 20, 2013

Droning On

This should come as no surprise to anyone, even without the recent foofaraw about NSA grepping phone numbers:

WASHINGTON — FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged Wednesday that the agency has deployed drones to conduct surveillance in the U.S., and that the bureau was developing guidelines for their future law enforcement use.

Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the unmanned aerial vehicles, whose use by law enforcement has raised questions from privacy advocates and civil liberties groups, are deployed in "a very minimal way and very seldom.''

"Our footprint is very small,'' the director said. "We have very few.''

I don’t really have a problem with this, although I suspect that this will merely serve to irritate a whole lot of “libertarians.” After all, there’s very little difference between this operation and a guy sitting in a van with a dish antenna and a telephoto lens. Of course, a lot of that “don’t have a problem with this” relies on the FBI to develop guidelines that remain sensitive to the freedom of innocent people from unnecessary surveillance.

Yes, the FBI, along with the Treasury Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is a proto-domestic military force and they have been used in the past in that fashion. Part of the reason that is revolves around the Second Amendment nutbags who insist they have easy access to all kinds of formidable weaponry under the guise of “arms.”

Think about it: a nutbag has an arsenal and is suspected of a crime. Does he really think the government is not going to a) weapon up their own troops and b) survey the hell out of him in order to ensure their agents’ safety?

In a day and age when even corporations use drones for surveillance – as well as delivering pizzas – that the FBI doesn’t avail themselves of this technology would in itself be negligent.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Echoes of Nam

Lemme see….lengthy war, delicate negotiations, frustrated allies…yup! Sounds like Nam all over again!

WASHINGTON -- President Obama is expressing guarded optimism about the Taliban's announcement Tuesday that it will sit down for direct peace talks with U.S. and Afghanistan officials.

In comments at the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland, Obama said the direct talks are an "important development."

"This is an important first step towards reconciliation, although it is a very early step," Obama told reporters. "We anticipate there will be lots of bumps in the road."

The Taliban will open an office in the Gulf nation of Qatar as early as Tuesday to facilitate direct peace talks with Afghanistan and the United States.

That last line is the most interesting, you see, because…

The Afghan president on Wednesday suspended talks with the United States on a new security deal to protest the way his government was being left out of initial peace negotiations with the Taliban meant to find a way to end the nearly 12-year war.

The move by Hamid Karzai raises tensions significantly and could derail the peace process even before it has begun.

In a terse statement from his office, Karzai said negotiations with the U.S. on what American and coalition security forces will remain in the country after 2014 have been put on hold. The deal was expected to define the future of American troops here and also pave way for billions in aid to the Afghan economy.


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's president says he will not pursue peace talks with the Taliban unless the United States steps out of the negotiations and the militant group stops its violent attacks on the ground.

Hamid Karzai is upset over a U.S. and Taliban announcement the day before that they would begin preliminary peace talks in Qatar without the Afghan government.

According to a statement from Karzai's office, he says that his High Peace Council would "neither attend nor participate in the talks" until the process is "completely" in the hands of Afghans.

So basically, the talks will end up being three separate discussions of how to make peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban, while allowing the Unnited States a graceful exit.

And Henry Kissinger thought he had a challenge, appeasing the South Vietnamese while negotiating with the North. Eventually, he threw his hands up and we just pulled out. The North won. Game over.

If that’s the end game here, then what did we spend 12 years fighting for? OK, we got Osama bin Laden, but in Pakistan. We got rid of the mullahs who supported bin Laden, but not the fanatical hierarchy they created.

It’s possible we taught the Taliban a lesson, true. It’s possible that we’ve exhausted both their resources and their spirit.

It’s also possible we’ve created another Saddam Hussein, who licked his wounds for almost twenty years, and forced us to expend massive resources to keep him in check until we got tired of that too.

We are a war-mongering state. We don’t do peace, we do war (“Peace through strength” is about as Orwellian a saying as they get.) We don’t talk, we threaten.

We suck.

I can understand Karzai’s anger.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dear Chairman Bernanke

I have an idea that might help ease the transition from the “Quantitative Easing” (QE) policy of the Fed over the past five years to a more free market oriented capital market. More after the break:

Here in the U.S., one thing is clear: The market is so accustomed to stimulus from QE that it is poised to retrench if it is cut off. And it is unduly fearful that the Fed would be short-sighted enough to suddenly turn off the spigot.

The market is such an extreme QE junkie that, perversely, whenever there's talk about the economy improving, stocks go down. Clearly, the market is afraid that the Fed would be cruel enough to put it on cold turkey.

Investors who react this way aren't thinking about a sound economy in which QE wouldn't be needed any more than a heroin addict thinks in terms of life without a fix.

OK, so here’s my thought: Methadone.

Methadone, in that you’d substitute one fix for a more controllable, sustainable fix that would give the addicts a chance to wean themselves off the socialist crutch you’ve been providing them.

My proposal is simple and will even cut the debt you’re piling up in half. Give the people $45 billion a month. $150 bucks in tax free spending each month. If you’d like, you can add the string, as you do for the banks, that it be used to pay down existing debt.

You have a $2,000 mortgage payment? It’s now $1,850. Let’s take the pressure off our poor middle class. You have payday loans that you roll over every month because you need to buy food? We’ll pay for a week’s worth of groceries.

See, capitalism does not work – and never has – on a trickle down basis. It works on a trickle up basis. I buy a thing in the store. The shopkeeper pays the manufacturer, and keeps a bit for him or herself. The manufacturer pays his workers and suppliers, and so on.

Giving it to banks only freezes the money at the upper echelons of the economy and it does not get spent or invested. Period. Programs like HAMP have only been used by banks to cherry pick mortgages for refinancing, often given to people who can easily afford their current mortgages, and denying almost 95% of requests. Basically, the rich are getting richer.

As usual.

Give the money to we, the people, and I can promise that within a year, the economy will be set to rights.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Trouble With Red Lines Is...

….they often get crossed. And then what you gonna do?

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said Sunday that “the scope and scale” of assistance to Syrian rebels will expand, based on evidence that the Assad government is gaining ground in the protracted civil war and that it may have used chemical weapons in the conflict.

Speaking on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” McDonough did not say whether arms shipments to Syrian rebels would include artillery and other heavy weaponry that could help reduce the military regimes advantage. In the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has to tread carefully, McDonough said.
“We have to be very discerning about what's in our interest and what outcome is best for us, and the prices that we're willing to pay to get to that place,” he said. “We've rushed to war in this region in the past; we're not going to do it here.”

So basically, Obama wants to play this as the Opposite Iraq, and find a balance between Syrian autonomy and American influence and assistance.

Good luck with that, but I suppose he feels we have to be involved somehow. But this is why you don’t draw lines in the sand and decide that factor A is what will determine your foreign policy. That places your nation in the hands of someone else.

Needless to say, the bloodthirsty warmongers among us seem to have a problem with his handling:

Republicans such as Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, faulted the administration for not providing the kind of detailed plan needed to get congressional approval for the military aid to Syria.
“The administration needs to come up to Congress and make a comprehensive case. What is the plan? Where are we going on Syria? And what do you want to accomplish?,” Rogers said on “Face the Nation,” after McDonough spoke. “Some of the things that they've told the Intelligence Committee in the past doesn't comport with what they're presenting as the direction they want to go. It seems to me they have a great media strategy; they don't have a great Syrian strategy.”

So a strategy of incremental adjustments is not enough for a body politic that swallowed the lies of the last President whole and even gave him a blank, off-budget- check to write to pay for it, using our children and our children’s futures.

Obama’s strategy admits of two things: first, we can’t know beyond any doubt that the situation is what we say it might be, and second, we’re certain beyond a reasonable doubt that Assad is gassing his people. The President’s strategy seems to be flexible enough to withdraw once we have that last problem under some form of control.

Of course, this completely ignores the 100,000 Syrians whom Assad has killed using conventional weapons. Somehow, we’re OK with that under some warped Prime Directive-type strategy.

Either you’re in or you’re out, is my feeling.

He’s caught between a rock and a hard place of his own creation, is my guess, and he’s trying to navigate the very narrow straits he’s left himself.