Pandora’s Drone

By Michael Bryan

Note: This is a think piece that has been languishing in my drafts for some time. I am publishing now in order to see what, if any, feedback readers may have, not in response to any current events, although it does briefly touch upon the terrorist attack in Charlottesville in my last revision.

In a complete reversal of American norms before 2001, Americans have come to expect that our foreign, sub-state political foes will be dealt with by assassination. That might seem a shocking assertion, but the policy of targeted killings of those identified as enemies of the United States by drone can only be euphemized, not denied. Bush and Obama placed such assassinations at the heart of our military strategy against those groups and individuals seen as a terrorist threat to America, and regardless of who the President might be, that tool will not be disposed of unless its use is wholly rejected by Americans. Given that no great outcry or mass movement has yet denounced the continued use of drone assassination in our foreign policy, it seems very likely to continue. In fact, Donald Trump has re-authorized the CIA to carry out its own drone strikes, lowering accountability and reporting requirements in place under Obama, when only the military was empowered to carry out lethal drone operations.

Our desire for the perception of safety and demand of bold action by our leadership against possible terrorist threats has swamped any scruple we may once have held against merely murdering our geo-strategic enemies. We have always killed in war, but killing specific people, and all persons believed to be members of designated organizations, anywhere they may found, even in countries we are not hostile to, is a new thing entirely. But no modern politician will run the risk of being accused of not having done everything possible when the next mass casualty attack on American soil comes, as it inevitably will, therefore a tactic that began as an expedient use of a new technology in a crisis seems to have become the centerpiece our de facto anti-terrorism strategy.

Americans seem to have decided that extra-judicial state murder, even of some American citizens, is justified in our fight against terrorism. Despite the fig-leaf of “due process” of review within the executive branch that was constructed around the practice by the Obama administration, targeted drone strikes and so-called signature strikes on suspected terrorist activity are extra-judicial executions, pure and simple. We may hide behind the fiction that we are “at war” with some ill-defined terrorist organizations and thus those killed are “enemy combatants,” and any innocents killed as a result are unfortunate “collateral damage”, but this only semantics. Since we are not going invade Pakistan, or Somalia, or Yemen, or Syria, or (re-re-re-invade?) Iraq, or any of the other failing or weak states where terrorist cells might find sanctuary, in order to end the threat of these sub-state organizations pose to our security, we are going to continue to fight these “wars” with proxies, intelligence assets, and drone strikes. We will continue to make targeted killings, i.e. murder, a key component of our foreign policy.

My point is not to suggest an alternative, or even to suggest that the policy is necessarily wrong or immoral. There may be no more effective, more politically acceptable, or more morally inoffensive alternative. My point is to question what effect this will have on the evolution American political culture, and on the normative behavior of governments visa-vis their own citizens – including our own toward us.

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Ally Miller face plants on Charlottesville violence

Pima County’s Queen of the Teabaggers and noted nut job, Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller, did another face plant over the weekend.

When the nation’s attention was turned to the violent protest by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia in which three people died and numerous others wer injured, Pima County’s Queen of the Teabaggers felt compelled to post this: After Charlottesville attack, Ally Miller’s Facebook post: “WHITE – and proud of it”:

Hours after a white nationalist rally and violence that rocked Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller appears to have posted from her personal Facebook account that she is “sick and tired of being hit for being white.”

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Miller was responding to a Politico article shared by former Tucson mayoral candidate Shaun McClusky that detailed President Trump’s response to the violence, in which he said that “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides — on many sides.” Those comments were criticized for not specifically calling out white supremacists and other groups involved in the Unite the Right rally.

I am not aware of Miller ever having been criticized for “being white.” She has been roundly criticized by local media for corruption and poor personnel management in her office, her penchant for conspiracy theories unsupported by any evidence, her feuding with former Republican supervisor Ray Carroll, and for being a noted nut job. Miller is a regular carnival side show. See this compendium of articles about Ally Miller at the Tucson Weekly.

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President Trump considering pardon for Crazy Uncle Joe Arpaio

The Washington Post reports,  Trump says he’s considering pardon for Joe Arpaio:

President Trump told Fox News he is “seriously considering” issuing a pardon for former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted last month of criminal contempt for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants.

Trump told the news outlet during a conversation in Bedminster, N.J., that the pardon could come quickly, perhaps in a matter of days. The news outlet reported the conversation on its website Monday.

“I might do it right away, maybe early this week. I am seriously thinking about it,” Trump said, according to Fox News. He said Arpaio was a “great American patriot” who had “done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration.”

Arpaio was also “America’s most corrupt sheriff” who abused the powers of his office and who demonstrated contempt for the court, traits that Donald Trump shares in common with his friend.

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A failure of moral leadership

Franklin D. Roosevelt on the presidency: “It is preeminently a place of moral leadership” (quoted in The New York Times, Sept. 11, 1932).

I watched an interview with Bill Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard, who said that he has “given up” on Donald Trump ever being capable of moral leadership. Donald Trump has no interest in providing moral leadership. Kristol called on Republican governors, mayors, civic and religious leaders to fill the void of moral leadership lacking from Donald Trump.

Kristol, as well as many Republican elected officials and political pundits, have been highly critical of Trump’s failure to condemn White supremacist groups for their violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday.

Trump’s reticence was because these white supremacist groups are a key constituency of his base. It was a crass political calculation.

Former Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard David Duke appeared at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, saying that the event represented fulfilling the promises of President Trump. David Duke: Charlottesville protests about ‘fulfilling promises of Donald Trump’.

“This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back, we’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump, and that’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we gotta do,” Duke said.

Trump condemned the violence on Saturday without specifically calling out white nationalist groups during a press conference Saturday afternoon. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sideson many sides,” Trump said.

Duke responded to Trump’s weak tweet on Saturday:

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Sun Tran & Sun Link launching new 3 Day Transit Pass

3-DAY TRANSIT PASS PILOT PROGRAM LAUNCHES AUGUST 15

New 3-Day Pass provides unlimited rides on Sun Tran and Sun Link  (press release)

 TUCSON, Ariz. – “Sun Tran, Sun Link, and City of Tucson Department of Transportation will launch a 3-Day Pass pilot program, available August 15 through February 2018.  The new 3-Day Pass will provide unlimited rides on Sun Link, Sun Tran and select Sun Shuttle routes for 72 consecutive hours after first activated on transit vehicles.

Tucson residents can take advantage of the 3-Day Pass on Sun Link and Sun Tran bus routes to travel more frequently and to more destinations.  The 3-Day Pass offers an alternative to the current 1-Day and 30-Day pass options and will be available to the general public through February 15, 2018.

The 3-Day Pass provides a convenient transit option for visitors to explore Tucson’s entertainment districts along the Sun Link streetcar route.  Jane McCollum, General Manager of Main Gate Square, says, “The 3-Day Pass will be great for tourists and conference goers, as well as locals who might enjoy a staycation in the greater downtown core.”

The pass will be tested for a six month period and will be evaluated to determine if the pilot program or similar program will be integrated into the public transportation fare structure on a long-term basis.

The 3-Day Pass costs $10 ($11 total when loaded on the GoTucson Transit app or $12 total when including the cost of a newSunGO Card) and can be purchased online, by phone, on the GoTucson Transit app, at SunGO Sales Outlets, Ticket Vending Machines at the City of Tucson’s three transit centers, Sun Tran Special Services Office, or Sun Tran Administrative Office.

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Jared Bernstein: The whys of increasing inequality

I posted about this chart last week, Inequality in One Chart, and our “usual suspects” posted their utterly nonsensical defenses of faith based supply-side “trickle down” GOP economics in the comments.

Today, economist Jared Bernstein weighs in at the Washington Post, The whys of increasing inequality: A graphical portrait:

The graph below, based on the work of economists Gabriel Zucman, Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, has been receiving considerable attention since it appeared in the New York Times last week. It shows the rate of annual income growth for adults at each percentile in the income distribution — from those who have the lowest incomes to those who have the highest incomes — over two time periods: the mid-1940s to 1980, and 1980 to 2014. Over the first period, post-tax income growth was fastest at the bottom, about 2 percent per year for the “middle class” (the 40th to the 80th percentiles), and a little slower among the wealthy.

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The growth pattern over the second 34-year period looks very different: The richer you were, the faster you got ahead. Incomes grew less than 1 percent for the bottom 50 percent and less than 2 percent for the next 45 percent. They then took off for the richest Americans, with the growth rate for the richest adults ending up about six times that of those in the middle.

The chart is a clear, intuitive way to show the increase in income inequality over the past few decades, and an important reminder that growth for the rich cannot be expected to trickle down to everyone else.

But it doesn’t show why inequality has grown. What explains this portentous change, one that has had profound effects on our society, our living standards, and our politics?

In fact, there are many perps, each of which is captured in the “Inequality’s Causes” slide below. They do, however, share a theme: Many of the factors that enforced a more equitable distribution of growth in the earlier period have been eroded. Moreover, that erosion is neither an accident nor the benign outcome of natural economic evolution. It is often the result of policies that have reduced workers’ bargaining power and supported the upward redistribution of growth.

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