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DRONE WATCH: Shooting at Drones Leads to Airport Closing

The Associated Press reports

“BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — U.S. drones hovered over the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday and militia forces fired toward the crafts, prompting authorities to close the airport for several hours for fear a commercial aircraft could be hit, Libyan officials said.

“Abdel-Basit Haroun, the head of the militia in charge of city security, said the drones could easily be spotted from the ground. He says men angry over perceived foreign intervention fired in the air and authorities closed the airport.

"The drones are like bees," he said, referring to the long hours the drones were seen, with their buzzing noise heard in different neighborhoods of Benghazi. Militias, known as brigades, fought regime forces during Libya's eight-month civil war that led to Moammar Gadhafi's fall last year. Since then, many have roles in keeping security, though they have not been integrated into government forces.

“An airport official confirmed the firing on the drones was the reason for the airport shutdown.”

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DRONE WATCH: Who Has Drones?

Micah Zenko, at the Council on Foreign Relations blog, points to a recently declassified report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the spread of drones. The report, Agencies Could Improve Information Sharing and End-Use Monitoring on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, finds:

“Since 2005, the number of countries that acquired an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system nearly doubled from about 40 to more than 75. In addition, countries of proliferation concern developed and fielded increasingly more sophisticated systems. Recent trends in new UAV capabilities, including armed and miniature UAVs, increased the number of military applications for this technology. A number of new civilian and commercial applications, such as law enforcement and environmental monitoring, are available for UAVs, but these applications are limited by regulatory restrictions on civilian airspace.

“The United States likely faces increasing risks as countries of concern and terrorist organizations seek to acquire UAV technology. Foreign countries’ and terrorists’ acquisition of UAVs could provide them with increased abilities to gather intelligence on and conduct attacks against U.S. interests. For instance, some foreign countries likely have already used UAVs to gather information on U.S. military activities overseas. Alternatively, the U.S. government has determined that selected transfers of UAV technology support its national security interests by providing allies with key capabilities and by helping retain a strong industrial base for UAV production. For instance, the United Kingdom and Italy have used UAVs purchased from the United States to collect data on Taliban activity in Afghanistan.”

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DRONE WATCH: Human Rights Violations

In a lecture Thursday evening at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, former President Jimmy Carter included drone killings in a list of human rights violations. The Muscatine Journal reported:

“Former President Jimmy Carter said Thursday that America is engaging in — and its citizens are accepting — human rights violations that “would never have been dreamed of” before the terrorist attacks that occurred in this country 11 years ago.

“The nation’s 39th president said the U.S. government under both Republican and Democratic administrations has violated 10 of 30 provisions set out in a universal declaration of human rights that was forged after World War II, including perpetually detaining people in prison without informing them of any charges, providing them access to legal counsel or bringing them to trial and, more recently, by killing people via the use of unmanned drones.

“We have now decided as a nation that it’s OK to kill people without a trial with our drones, and this includes former American citizens who are looked upon as dangerous to us,” Carter told a group of Drake University students involved in a social-justice learning program.”

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Justice by Drone?

During the Libyan revolution, U.S. drones were a significant part of the NATO forces involved, carrying out nearly 150 attacks. But when the conflict ended, the drones stayed. CNN reported in June:

“A senior Libyan official told CNN that the U.S. is flying surveillance missions with drones over suspected jihadist training camps in eastern Libya because of concerns over rising activity by al Qaeda and like-minded groups in the region but said that to the best of his knowledge, they had not been used to fire missiles at militant tra

Following yesterday’s attack in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, President Obama declared that the killers would be found and that “justice will be done.”

CNN reported today on the military role in that "justice:"

The Pentagon dispatched a contingent of Marines to Libya, moved warships toward its coast, and planned to use drones in a stepped up search for those responsible for an attack on a U.S. consulate that killed the American ambassador and three others.”

A “senior military official” provided more details on the planned use of drones

“American drones also were expected to join the hunt for potential targets. They would be part of "a stepped-up, more focused search" for a particular insurgent cell that may have been behind the attack, the official said. The unmanned surveillance aircraft are expected to fly over Benghazi and other areas of eastern Libya to look for militant encampments.”

And, while the reports now are only of surveillance, an educated guess would suggest that the drones are (or soon will be) armed, and that missiles will likely be fired.

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Love, Friendship, and Solidarity

A posthumous book of Christopher Hitchens’ essays was published this week with the title Mortality. Seven chapters are previously published essays, and the eighth is a series of notes he wrote in his last days in the hospital. In a review, Christopher Buckley writes that Hitchens’

“… greatest gift of all may have been the gift of friendship. At his memorial service in New York City, 31 people, virtually all of them boldface names, rose to speak in his memory. One selection was from the introduction Christopher wrote for the paperback reissue of “Hitch-22” while gravely ill:”

‘Another element of my memoir — the stupendous importance of love, friendship and solidarity — has been made immensely more vivid to me by recent experience. I can’t hope to convey the full effect of the embraces and avowals, but I can perhaps offer a crumb of counsel. If there is anybody known to you who might benefit from a letter or a visit, do not on any account postpone the writing or the making of it. The difference made will almost certainly be more than you have calculated.’”

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From Particular to General

When and how one may draw general conclusions from particular evidence is a frequently debated question. One example is museums – do historical museums exist to preserve the evidence and artifacts of a particular experience, or should they attempt to draw generalized lessons from that experience? A thoughtful piece by Edward Rothstein in the New York Times examines how Holocaust museums in Israel are being retooled to educate on what are seen as the “universal lessons.” 

Rothstein takes issue, arguing that this

“leaves Holocaust museums intellectually orphaned. What “lessons” are we supposed to take away? The impulse has been to generalize, to say that a Holocaust museum can’t be “just” about the murder of Jews during World War II.

“Why? Is there a problem, say, with an American slavery museum being “just” about American slavery? Why should Holocaust museums deal with notions of tolerance or racism in general, or even genocide in general? Why do we think that the proper lesson comes from generalizing rather than comprehending the particular? The moment we generalize, we strip away details: we lose information and create equivalences that may be fallacious.”

I’m inclined to agree. Some events in history deserve to be remembered and pondered in their own right, not simply as things from which to draw general lessons.

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DRONE WATCH: Protesting Drones

As the number of drone attacks on Pakistan and Yemen continue to increase, protests against them are growing.

On Sunday, some 40 people gathered to protest near the New York Air National Guard headquarters at Hancock Field in DeWitt, N.Y. The Syracuse Post-Standard reported

“The group Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drone and End the Wars chose Sunday for its event because the 174th Fighter Wing at Hancock was changing its name to 174th Attack Wing, which reflects the change in mission at the base from flying fighter aircraft to MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft.”

On Monday, two activists were convicted in federal court for trespassing at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri while protesting the use of drones. The Associated Press reported

“Retired minister Ron Faust of suburban Kansas City and Brian Terrell, a member of the Catholic Worker Movement from Maloy, Iowa, were among a group of 40 protesters who demonstrated at the air base in mid-April. They were arrested after entering a restricted area without permission.”

“We were there not to commit a crime, but to prevent one,” Terrell said, describing seeing in person a 9-year-old girl in an Afghani refugee camp missing an arm from what he said was a wayward drone strike. … Faust, a 69-year-old retired Disciples of Christ minister, compared drone strikes to ‘premeditated murder’ that cheapen the value of human life by allowing shooters to be as detached from their targets as video game players.”

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Hungry in America

It’s the time of year when various government agencies release their reports for the previous year, in this case, 2011. The annual report on poverty is due from the Census Bureau next week, and, according to AP, early reports are that

“The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.”

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual report on household food security. (If you want all the detailed statistical tables, here is the full report.) Not surprisingly, the results showed a growing number people in the U.S. going hungry. 17.9 million households (14.9 percent of households) were  “food insecure.” That means at some point during the year, those households did not have enough food due to lack of money. Of those, 6.8 million households (5.7 percent of households and one-third of all food-insecure households) had “very low food security.” That means at some point during the year, some household members went hungry. According to their answers on the survey, these folks reported that “the food they bought just did not last and they did not have money to get more,” and that “an adult had cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food.”

It is hardly the time to reduce assistance to hungry families, but as McClatchy News noted,

“The survey data comes as congressional Republicans … push for massive cuts in food stamp-program funding to curb enrollment growth and to help balance the federal budget. The Democratic-controlled Senate also voted in June to cut food stamp funding, but by a smaller amount.”

Without programs such as SNAP (food stamps) school lunches, the Women, Infant and Children nutrition program; there would be many more food insecure families in America.

Here’s the data in a helpful infographic from McClatchy.

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Willing to Work, Where Are the Jobs?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly employment report for August this morning. In the numbers that make the headlines, 96,000 jobs were added and the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent – 12.5 million people. The numbers behind the headlines are mixed.

Across the major demographic groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.6 percent), adult women (7.3 percent), teenagers (24.6 percent), whites (7.2 percent), blacks (14.1 percent), and Hispanics (10.2 percent) showed little or no change. In the macro picture, 5 million people, 40 percent of those unemployed, are “long-term unemployed” (those jobless for 27 weeks or more.) 8 million people who are considered employed are referred to as “involuntary part-time workers,” meaning they are working part time because their hours have been cut or they are can’t find a full-time job.

 But it’s the people who aren’t even counted that give me pause. 2.6 million people are considered “marginally attached to the labor force,” meaning they want work, have looked for a job sometime in the past year, but didn’t look during August. So, they don’t count. Of these, 844,000 are “discouraged workers,” meaning they aren’t looking for work because they believe there are no jobs available for them. They also don’t count.

There is much this country needs and there are people available and willing to do the job. What is lacking is the will to put them to work.  

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DRONE WATCH: Six Killed in Yemen

U.S. drones continue to hammer Yemen today. Reuters reports an attack this morning

A U.S. drone strike killed six suspected Islamist militants in eastern Yemen on Wednesday, a security official said, the latest sign of a Washington-backed campaign against al Qaeda-linked fighters in the impoverished country. The drone fired eight missiles at a house where fighters were thought to be hiding in the Wadi al-Ain area of Hadramout province, a witness told Reuters. Eight people managed to escape, the witness added.

Meanwhile, the attack on Sunday that killed 14 civilians is now being investigated as coming from a drone. Initially, the strike was said to have come from Yemeni planes, although the Yemen Post and Al Jazeera reported sources saying it was a drone. On Monday, CNN quoted “three security officials” calling it a U.S. drone. Today, AFP reports

Yemeni authorities have sent tribal representatives to investigate civilian deaths in an apparent US drone strike targeting an Al-Qaeda commander, one of them told AFP on Tuesday. Three women and a child were among 14 people killed in Sunday's strike near the town of Radaa, 130 kilometres (80 miles) southeast of Sanaa, targeting Al-Qaeda's Abdelrauf al-Dahab who escaped unharmed, local officials said.

 

 

 

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