Sunday, March 10, 2013

Attack of the Drone

First, let’s stop calling them drones. A drone is lazy male honey bee with one purpose, to mate with the queen bee. A drone can’t even make honey. The term drone has been misapplied in the world of unmanned aviation for one reason. In the early days a drone was an unmanned target that simply buzzed monotonously through the air with no real purpose other than to be shot down. In addition, the term “drone-on” is a direct reference to the monotonous buzzing of a drone bee, which will statistically never have any real use. With 200 drones in any given hive the chance of any single drone mating with the queen bee is low...the rest drone monotonously around the hive without purpose. Remotely Piloted Vehicles, or RPAs as the United States Air Force calls them, are the furthest thing from monotonous flying objects with no real purpose. RPAs continue to prove their military worth overseas on a daily basis and, as with a significant about of technology that the military develops, will find its way into commercial, domestic, and other government use. 

Apparently, it’s the potential for “other government use” that sparked fear in the hearts of libertarians and caused Rand Paul to step before Congress, and ironically drone-on in a 12 hour filibuster. His concern seems to be that the government could use this new technology to spy on US citizens and then, if found wanting, to assassinate them. His grandstand use of the filibuster was either an act of supreme genius to gain publicity for himself or the single most stupid act ever perpetrated by a member of Congress. If it was a publicity stunt the issue dies immediately. All that’s left then is to figure out how much money to bill him for wasting the Country’s time for his own personal notoriety. If he really believes that somehow this unmanned technology is better than wiretaps and arrest warrants for neutralizing dissidents he’s been asleep for about 50 years which, coincidentally, is about same amount of time he’s been alive. But first, let’s dispense with the idea that the US Government would ever target dissidents in our country for assassination. If they were, RPAs wouldn't be their tool of choice. The very idea that a member of Congress would think this way is disturbing. Trying to find bastards with treason in their hearts and the over-throw of US Government in their mind, however, is exactly the job of our Government and they should use every legally sanctioned tool at their disposal to up-root these scumbags and bring them to justice. 

Now back to shaking Rand Paul awake. The first spy satellites the US launched were in the early 1960’s. Spy satellites are unmanned vehicles with big cameras and big ears that can and do, unlike unmanned aircraft today, orbit over the United States every hour of everyday. And have been doing so for more than 50 years. If you were not drawing your window shades over the past 50 years why should you consider drawing your window shades any time soon? Big Brother launched with the advent of the space age and with it the laws that govern what intelligence can be collected with these systems on US Citizens both at home and abroad. Nothing has changed with regard to the technology to spy on US citizens. And most of us agree that this technology has been, and must continue to be, kept in check. What’s fascinating to me is that if you can do it with a “drone” you could already do it with a satellite, or better yet, a light aircraft or helicopter. It’s almost as if Rand Paul doesn’t know about such things…I wonder if he knows about computers and computer hacking…and how unsafe he is on the internet? All that being said the best way to spy on Rand Paul might just be through his computer, if he has one, and if he knows how to turn it on…

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Head for Higher Ground

I’m not an economist. I took the basics in college - Macro and Micro. More recently I’ve been reading up on complexity economics, where economic theory looks a lot more like evolutionary theory rather than the laws of supply and demand. In the last chapter of his book, “The Origin of Wealth”, Eric Beinhocker discusses the end the Democratic and Republican parties as the market forces that allow a two party system to remain viable in the complex economic landscape begin to evaporate. To me there is nothing natural about a two party system, it is entirely unnatural and it’s existence and persistence on the American landscape bodes a hidden corruption I would prefer not to contemplate. Why we, as American’s, have been so blinded to it’s pitfalls staggers the sensibilities of many an external observer.

It’s easy to understand how in a complex environment there can never be two sides to an argument...there are countless positions and depending on where you sit will determine your position in any given argument. The landscape continually changes. The unnatural alliances made within our two party system is a dead give-away that something stinks. The manifestations of these unnatural forces within our two party system are now coming home to roost. Our two-party system of government is forever grid-locked and our representatives will forever point fingers at one another rather than figure out how to evolve our government in order to grow and prosper. That’s harder to do. First, however decisions must be made.

Sadly, when compromise cannot be reached decisions are still made, but this is not government. It’s randomness, exactly why we chose to have a government in the first place, so we are not subject to the random forces of nature. Choosing not to decide is still a course of action, time doesn't stand still when a decision is not reached. March 1st has come and gone, time did not stand still. President Obama signed the order to cut $85 Billion out of the Federal budget, what we know to be Sequestration. The choice not to decide and instead lapse into Sequestration was stone cold f-nuts stupid. It also represents an exciting new way for the government to tax a subset of it’s citizens. Regardless how one may view a government furlough, the end result is an effective 10% increase in the tax imposed on the individual employee it affects over the year, but more like 20% over the next six months. For those of us who happen to be of the lucky 800,000 civilians employed by the Department of Defense, ladies and gentleman welcome to the 50% tax bracket! Of course for the next 6 months, welcome to the 60% tax bracket. Don’t these percentages seem huge? And yet we quibble about a small increase in the tax on the wealthy, or the closing of a tax loophole for those who make their living on capital gains vs working income. For 800,000 Americans there isn't even a choice. We've leapfrogged past any small incremental tax increase and joined, ironically, the Europeans. But I’m not writing this blog to argue about my misfortune of being one of these DoD civilian, it’s to describe the wrong headed nature of a government that refuses to make decisions.

I’ll be the first to argue that the DoD is prime for some cuts. So cut it. Gut it if you want to. Tell me I’m out of a job, then I’ll go get a new job. I’ve got responsibilities, bills to pay, a family to care for, and an economy to invest in. I want to go to Starbucks on the weekends. I want to go to BestBuy for a new iPhone. And I want to put money away for college. Tell me I’m in the new 60% tax bracket and my life changes dramatically. First, I pull completely out of the economy. Second, I stop saving. And third, I start looking for Republicans to vote out of office. 

We need a government that can make decisions, any decisions because we don't want to live in the wild.  This is how it works in the wild. Say we all live on an island... Survivor Island if you must. The water on the island is rising by some unseen force. There are three options. Two require a decision. The first option is to move to the snowy mountain on the left, it might be cold but at least you and your family will not drown. The second option is to move to the fiery volcanic mountain on the right. It may be hot, but again, the risk of death by drowning will be eliminated. A movement to either mountain requires a decision. The third choice is to remain standing still as the water wells up around  your ankles. Soon you will be forced to swim. Some will make it to shore and perhaps to either one of the mountains. If you survive you might find yourself lower down the mountain than those who made an independent decisions to move to higher ground before the water came. Now in nature, evolution works the same way. Some will move to either one of the mountains and survive. Some will stay in place and die. The ones who move to mountains early and adapt to the hot or cold environments might survive a little longer. But in nature it’s entirely a random process, some of each will go in all three directions--like seeds scattered on the wind. Exactly like seeds scattered on the wind. We have a government for making decisions. We know if we stay where the water rises we will die so we count on a government that will lead us to higher ground (or build a working levy to hold back the water). We don’t need a government that can’t make a decision. Otherwise we are seeds scattered on the wind and might just be better off fending for ourselves. Why have a Government at all?   Republicans would rather have less Government, that doesn't mean no government, but that is exactly what they have brought to us, the absolutely worst form of Government. For 800,000 DoD employees we have little or no decisions we can make, we must live with the water pouring in around our ankles. Some of us, certainly can quit and go elsewhere, most of us can’t quit. So we will endure and sacrifice while others will scramble for higher ground simply because compromise is not an option.

I’m not an economist, but in the new economy you don’t need to be. I’ll be heading for the higher ground soon.