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Senate Wars Episode II: Attack of the Drones

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The appearance of Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) on the Senate floor in his marathon filibuster notwithstanding, the subject of Predator Drones is becoming an increasingly hot and debatable topic in Congress, in the media, and on the street corner. We Americans, famous for the “Don’t Tread on Me” attitude, have to be a bit wary about this technological marvel that can spy on us or kill us, depending on its mission. Like that old movie slogan tells you, “Be afraid; be very afraid.”

Only the other day there were reports that the pilot of an Alitalia flight coming into JFK saw what he believed to be a drone flying over Brooklyn. The NYPD and military said that the pilot was mistaken but, just as pilots who report UFOs seem more credible, I wonder if this is just damage control. New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has spoken about using drones for surveillance in the city in the past, so it makes you think twice, doesn’t it?

Whether you see Paul’s recent 12+ hours of fili-bluster in the Senate as the second coming of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Palpatine from Revenge of the Sith (a very bad guy senator in Star Wars films), you have to admit that he has stoked the fires of the public concern over drones. What would constitute the right to utilize drones over the continental United States? I would like someone to address that in a clear and expedient way.

For example, would a terrorist action on our soil warrant the use of a drone response? How about another 9/11 type of attack? As we know from the reports we get of drones being used overseas, there always seems to be collateral damage. Yes, you might take out a terrorist commander, but along with him you kill innocent civilians, including children, as well. How can we ever view this as acceptable policy?

If an airplane were heading toward a target over a major city like New York or Washington, how and when would the drone strike? Would not everyone on the ground be in danger? Do you save a landmark like the Empire State Building only to allow thousands of civilians to die on the streets below?

Although there are valid concerns about the use of drones. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), in full “maverick” mode, took Rand Paul to task for daring to question drone use; however, that makes the argument even more salient. If drones being used overseas are killing innocents, then it can happen here. If someone like McCain is so gung-ho about drone use, it makes me a little worried. Of course, he would like the unmanned aircraft since it keeps our pilots out of harm’s way, and he no doubt is thinking of his own days as a pilot and how it led to his capture in Vietnam. I know he was a brave and patriotic guy, but the use of drones worries me because we don’t have a trained person in that cockpit. I think that’s why there have been mistakes that have cost lives, innocent ones at that, and how can you ultimately defend that policy or want to extend it in the skies over our homeland?

Also, I can’t help but having thoughts about those science fiction films like Terminator where the machines turn on us. As of now drones are remote controlled, but I have read about “automated” ones as well. If we are setting up killing machines to function on autopilot, we have to wonder when there will be the inevitable mistake. An unintended missile streaking over Brooklyn from a drone and hitting a neighborhood would be catastrophic.

As always, I like to listen to “talk radio” in the car, and this week the callers were talking drones. Among the usual nuts and “experts” who like to get their few minutes of airtime, some have made valid points. Among them, would law enforcement ever use a drone in a situation like the recent shooting incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut? While some of the opinions were that this was completely insane, a few callers said they felt it would have saved lives if a drone came in and took out the shooter. Of course, the school building and anyone in it would have been decimated, but who cares as long as we get the shooter, right?

I think the specter of drones hovering over our cities and towns has to be alarming to most people. Besides the armed ones, those surveillance babies are scary in their own right. Will we eventually become a completely monitored society? All of us could end up like Winston Smith from 1984, lost in an Orwellian nightmare where Big Brother loves us and watches over us – 24/7/365 for our own “good,” of course.

Right now I think we all should question the use of drones anywhere. They are killing machines and machines are indiscriminate, and therein is the problem. Machines don’t care or feel or think; they just do. We worry about hurricanes and tornadoes and asteroids from space killing us, but the devastation from one of those drones is just as frightening. Unfortunately, this will not be a natural disaster but a one of our own making.

Now is the time for us to say no to Big Brother and also to the danger posed by armed drones. If they are allowed in the skies over our country, it will change forever the freedom and safety we cherish most, and instead of making us safer they will imperil all those things we hold dear. Rand Paul took a stand, and now it is our turn to do so as well. If not then we better look in the mirror when one day fire rains down from the sky or our every movement is monitored. We will have no one to blame but ourselves.

Photo Credits: drone-U.S. airforce; palpatine-comicvine.com; big brother-forbes.com

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • http://www.samkephart.com/ Samuel R. Kephart

    For national security purposes, Americans are already subject to warrantless wiretaps of calls and emails, the warrantless GPS “tagging” of their vehicles, the domestic use of Predators or other spy-in-the-sky drones, and the Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of all our behavior through “data fusion centers“.

    Given this toxic mashup of losses of privacy, if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then domestic drones are a superhighway to an Orwellian panoptic gulag.

    America’s promise has always been the power of the many to rule, instead of the one. Ungoverned drone usage, particularly domestically, gives power to the one.

    Domestic drone usage is ill-conceived, elitist, and end-runs our inherent Constitutional protections.

    Here are two (2) different videos that anchor my points.

  • pablo

    Excellent post Samuel, thanks.

  • http://cinemasentries El Bicho

    isn’t that a picture of the Emperor from Return of the Jedi?

  • http://cinemasentries El Bicho

    I don’t see what Paul accomplished other than drawing a little attention to himself. Rather than filibuster, why not get a bill moving to limit the executive branch, because if the technology is there, some administration or agency is eventually going to use it on an American citizen on U.S. soil, especially as the tech gets smaller and more refined.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Yes, El, it is the emperor (who before that was Senator Palpatine).

  • Dr Dreadful

    It’s not just the feds as Samuel outlines. Here in San Diego it turns out that the local police have for the past several years been routinely photographing the license plates of all vehicles that pass their patrol cars. The data is then uploaded to a mainframe, thereby allowing the movements of any vehicle to be reconstructed to a fairly high degree of accuracy.

    The justification, as always, is that the policy facilitates crime prevention and detection. The police say that the policy makes it easier to track vehicles that are suspected of being used in a crime.

    Ironically, this is happening in a city that recently deactivated all of its fixed traffic cameras, partly because of privacy concerns.

  • roger nowosielski

    And San Diego is prosperous enough to have such measures, like the deactivation of the life cams, instituted, and yet . . .

  • Dr Dreadful

    And yet it’s that paradigm shift in law and order that’s occurred since 9/11. Time was that in order for the police to legally track the movements of private citizens there had to be a reasonable possibility that the information gathered was germane to an investigation.

    Nowadays, it seems, any activity or movement that might potentially be germane to any potential investigation is fair game – which, of course, can include just about anything.

  • roger nowosielski

    Of course 9/11 served as the occasion to institute the paradigm shift you speak of. May I refer you to what’s rapidly becoming a regular feature of everyday life — “the state of exception.” I spoke more than once on this subject, but it bears repeating.

    Here’s one link.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    I recently read something that I didn’t mention in the article about drones that are like the size of a bird but are able to spy or also dispense a lethal blast. Check out this video about these MAVs.

  • Clav

    I find these last several comments very interesting in that I can remember many an occasion in the not-so-distant past when I and others have been mocked and derided for “being paranoid” whenever we complained about the government gathering data on the population.

    Now, even Democrats are worried about a Democratic-controlled government spying on us.

    You’re right. It’s true. They are.

    Now, what do we do about it?

  • c i n d y

    WASHINGTON (CNN) —
    Drones used to be for wars far from the United States, but they’re popping up closer to home.

    The Federal Aviation Administration forecasts some 10,000 civilian drones will be in use in the U.S. within five years, possibly used by police to fight crime and by oil companies to keep an eye on pipelines.

    Friday’s announcement from the FAA seeking proposals from cities, states and universities to create six test sites for unmanned aircraft systems is a step in that direction.

    The sites will help officials develop safety standards that will allow the government to fully integrate drones into national airspace by 2015.

    The drone industry says they make good economic sense.

    …and in other news —

    The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)

    The NSA has become the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever.

  • Clav

    Consider this:

    Most of the regulars, at least here in the Politics section, are here in large part because of the comments threads and the free-wheeling discussions that take place here. Simply put, the comments threads and the discussions therein are a major component of the attraction this section at least, has for those who participate.

    But now, thanks to badly programmed spam busting software, it’s become increasingly difficult to post comments and the frustration level has gone through the roof.

    So, IT Department: how about fixing the damn thing, huh? It’s not like we haven’t complained enough about it.

    Sheesh.

  • http://www.RoseDigitalMarketing.com Christopher Rose

    Hi Cindy,

    I’ve unblocked your comments and hopefully the brainfarting spam detector will chill out for you now.

    We’re migrating to an entirely new platform in the not too distant future and I imagine that is going to change the comments space significantly, but we’ve not yet been given any details by the site owners.

  • Dr Dreadful

    I do feel that if the guvmint is nurturing some nefarious plan to go all Big Brother on us, they’ve bollocksed it up a bit by utilizing these contraptions in such a way that they aren’t seen as benign.

    We don’t think of “unmanned planes” or “remote-piloted aircraft” serenely monitoring traffic patterns on the interstate, or surveying long-distance pipelines or power lines. They’re not our friends now. They’re “drones” – sinister machines spying silently on us and dealing implacable death from the blue.

    It surely would have better furthered the plot if their benign applications had been pioneered first, then the technology quietly adopted for military and surveillance use…

    Unless fear is a key ingredient of the plan.

  • roger nowosielski

    Pretty astute. A politics of fear coupled with a warning, like showing your hand in a poker game, to show that resistance is futile.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Yeah, but you’d think they’d have learned by now that a fearful populace is a lot less compliant than an oblivious one.

  • roger nowosielski

    Perhaps. Kurt Vonnegut’s short story (and a movie) comes to mind: Harrison Bergeron.

  • Dr Dreadful

    I saw that movie many years ago: a young Sean Astin played the title role, IIRC.

  • roger nowosielski

    Yes, and I think it was very well done, compared to the short story which is barely three or four pages long.

  • Glen Contrarian

    The drones are a lot less of a worry than the NSA survelliance facility. If you haven’t read the Wired article Cindy referenced (I read it in the magazine several months ago), you should.

  • pablo

    Welcome to the New World Order folks. Oh that’s right I am just paranoid. LOL

  • Dr Dreadful

    Nothing wrong with a bit of healthy paranoia, Pablo. That isn’t the adjective I’d use to describe yours though. :-)

  • Pablo

    Nor is it that adjective that I would use to describe your politics Dread, naive does come to mind however. :)

  • Dr Dreadful

    LOL. In all the years you’ve been commenting here, Pablo, I can’t recall you employing basic critical thinking in a single one of your arguments, so I hardly think you’re in a position to diagnose anyone’s naïveté…

  • Pablo

    Hey Dread, Did you see the latest article in Vanity Fair about the City of London?

  • Dr Dreadful

    I have now, Pablo. It’s a fascinating piece, but it doesn’t tell us anything fundamental that we didn’t already know, which is the phenomenon of the widening gulf between the mega-rich and everyone else.

    I’m surprised you’d give Vanity Fair any credence, though, seeing as how it’s owned by the Newhouse brothers, two of the richest men in America and undoubtedly part of the great Global Conspiracy.