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Keith Ellison rips Obama administration over drone use

Congressman Keith Ellison goes after the Obama administration over its use of drones. In a Strib commentary, he writes: “Weaponized drones have produced results. They have eliminated 22 of Al-Qaida's top 30 leaders and just last week took out a Taliban leader. Critically, they lessen the need to send our troops into harm's way, reducing the number of U.S. casualties. Yet the costs of drone strikes have been ignored or inadequately acknowledged. The number of innocent civilian casualties may be greater than people realize. A recent study by human rights experts at Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law found that the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes is much higher than what the U.S. government has reported: approximately 700 since 2004, including almost 200 children. This is unacceptable.”

With loose talk of actual 20-below temperatures next week, MPR’s weather guy, Paul Huttner applies some perspective:

• “1,461 consecutive days (4 years) with high temperatures of 0°F or greater at MSP
• January 15th, 2009 last time MSP high temp was below zero (-6F)
• 22.5 days below zero at MSP in an "average" winter
• 2008-2009 last time MSP exceed that number with 34 sub-zero days
• Siberian Express? Models more confident on significant arctic outbreak next week
-20F European model cranking out -20F at MSP next Tuesday morning
• -25F latest GFS runs cranking out -25F next Tuesday morning.”

Oh, come on. Somebody’ll buy that thing. The Strib’s Jim Anderson says: “In red-orange buzzing neon that grew brighter as the sun slipped past the horizon, the big sign along Hwy. 61 beckoned moviegoers to the Cottage View Drive-In for 46 summers. Now, the red steel design shaped like a cottage — replete with a colorful curlicue of metallic smoke popping from its roof — has grown faded, and a closer look reveals a scattering of rust. What will soon be the remnant of one of the last drive-in movie theaters in Minnesota awaits an uncertain fate. Planning maps show the sign is earmarked for demolition as part of the site's transformation into a retail development called the Shoppes at Cottage View anchored by a 180,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter.” Insult to injury …

A little sales tax perspective from MPR’s Paul Tosto in the wake of fresh talk of adding clothing to taxable items: “Among the states that impose a sales tax, eight (Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts) provide some exemption for clothing, according to The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. Minnesota's high end clothing retailers are pushing back at the prospect of a clothing sales tax. The Mall of America, where apparel accounts for more than half of all sales, says the current clothing sales tax exemption is one of the main reasons tourists around the world travel to the mall. While the clothing fight will take center stage in the coming weeks, the larger problem with the sales tax is that consumers are shifting more of their purchases away from goods and toward services, which largely go untaxed.” How much could we cover with a, say, 50-fold increase in lobbyist licensing fees?

Duluth is going to have to keep its legal tab open to fight for that casino money. Dan Browning of the Strib says, “Fond-du-Luth — the first urban tribal casino in the nation — will not have to honor an agreement to pay rent to the city of Duluth, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an opinion issued Monday. ‘From our standpoint, this is devastating news to the residents and taxpayers of the city of Duluth’, said Mayor Don Ness. The city, with a general fund budget of about $75 million a year, was counting on about $6 million a year from the casino, he said. ‘That's the primary source of revenue to do our street reconstruction.’ … Fond-du-Luth was built for $3 million at a time when tribal casinos were unregulated. The band, with the city's enthusiastic support, persuaded the federal government in 1986 to convert city land into an Indian reservation for a casino. The city approved the arrangement as part of a deal that initially gave it and the band each a quarter of the revenues. The rest funded a joint economic development program.” Perhaps some city-owned competition is in order.

Further proof that liberals are mean people … Kevin Diaz of the Strib reports: “The liberal group People For the American Way delivered 178,000 petitions to House Speaker John Boehner Monday urging him to remove Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann from the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The group says that 4,500 of the signers are from Minnesota, about 400 of them from Bachmann’s district. If the move is largely a piece of political theater, it follows another bit of Washington dramatics: Bachmann’s 2012 request for investigations into alleged Islamic ‘influence operations’ inside the Pentagon, the State Department, and other government agencies. … ‘Michele Bachmann has used her position on the Intelligence Committee to spread baseless conspiracy theories and smear the reputations of honorable public servants,’ said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way.” But that’s what she was elected to do …

Job opening! Madeleine Baran of MPR says: “The city of St. Paul is looking for a new manager to run the troubled St. Paul police crime lab. The job opening, posted on the city's website, says applicants must have seven years of work experience in an accredited lab and be certified in either fingerprint or drug analysis. The unaccredited St. Paul crime lab shut down drug testing last summer amid allegations of shoddy work and contaminated equipment. The closure threw thousands of drug cases into question. Police Chief Thomas Smith reassigned the head of the lab, Sgt. Shay Shackle, and hired independent consultants to review the lab's work. The police department plans to release a report soon that will describe the consultants' recommendations. The job description says the new crime lab manager will provide ‘short and long-term planning strategies to Police Administration based on Forensic standards and best practices.’ ” And no, having seen a couple of episodes of “CSI: Miami” doesn’t meet the criteria.

The punch line to the latest lawyer joke is in the first line of Marino Eccher’s PiPress story: “An Eagan lawyer is suspended indefinitely after having an affair with a client whom he represented in a divorce, then billing her for time they spent having sex. Thomas P. Lowe, 58, won't have a chance for reinstatement for at least a year and three months following the decision, filed Thursday, Jan. 10, by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Lowe, an attorney since 1985, had known the client for many years. Both are from Valley City, N.D. The woman met with Lowe in August 2011 to discuss pursuing a divorce from her husband. He agreed to represent her. During a phone call days later, Lowe asked about her sexual relationship with her husband, commented on her appearance and asked if she was interested in sex with him. … At various points, Lowe billed the woman for legal services on the dates of their sexual encounters, coding the time as meetings or drafting memos.” No word if 90 seconds counts as a billable hour.

It’ll be fall … or later … before Amtrak actual starts its run at Union Depot.  Says Frederick Melo in the PiPress: “The rail carrier says it will not move into the restored transit hub until a spur connection from the passenger loading platform to the mainline freight track is complete, likely in the fourth quarter of 2013. … Amtrak is the second major tenant whose absence from the depot has been palpable. The Greyhound bus line decided last year against moving into the Union Depot and instead permanently shut down its St. Paul station on University Avenue during light rail construction. The bus line said it would focus on operating higher-end express services from Minneapolis, without a stop in St. Paul.” … And then Macy’s closed.

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Comments (9)

A bird, a plane an insect...boom!

Thanks to Ellison highlighting the use and abuse of drone warfare and challenging Obama's support of the same...for what we do on to others, we will eventually do to ourselves - biblical paraphrasing not my intent.

From a bird to a plane to a flying insect, they activate the possibility of a global disaster and a domestic invasion in so many "unacceptable" ways and boomerang back to create another insecurity to haunt us, and one of our own stupid making. We will eventually be selling drone technology to our 'favorite allies' -have already I suppose - and what goes boom in the night will be a game of tag gone awry in the heavens above, eh?

Where it will end is a massive game with virtual attributes but real and future possibilities of a worst case scenario of highly "unacceptable" results?

Who do we trust...Obama wake up before we lose faith in are all we have nowadays...and only Ellison speaks up boldly? Thank you Congressman Ellison.

Enough complaints; let's hear some alternatives.

Those who oppose the use of drones or call for restrictions on their use have an obligation either to propose an alternative or specific restrictions which they believe will address the problems created by their use without destroying their usefulness. Congress, which can't agree on even relatively simple matters such as how to fix Social Security, is no place to create either foreign policy or military strategy.

A key missing fact....

Ellison comments on the number of innocent civilians killed by drones and that it's unacceptable. Compared to what? How do those numbers compare to using ground forces? How do they compare to the initial "shock & awe" bombings in the Gulf Wars. Until Ellison makes that case, his argument is essentially "innocents die in war". Really? Gee, thanks Keith. Care to tell us anything else we've known for decades?

There is A Certain Class of White, Conservative Americans

Who, have a great tendency to generalize and project outward their creeping sense of dread at the reality that they are soon going to be a minority, here in the US, in comparison to the total of all other non-white, male groups,...

and who have a paranoid fear (inflamed by their favorite "news" source, the weasel) that anyone who doesn't seem to be like them is out to get them.

These men are primarily Tea Party "conservatives" who are, at this point still substantially able to hold the US government hostage because of their dominance of the Republican Party.

They place ANY Democratic politician in a serious double bind. Although President Obama will never win any approval from them, because he's not of their race or party,...

( i.e. if a Republican President had gotten Bin Laden they would have demanded that the date become an annual national holiday and held a ticker tape parade for that president, for instance, whereas, with Obama, they continue to desperately search for some way to invalidate his successes or discredit him in any and all areas of foreign policy)

On the other hand, if Obama had refused to maintain, and even expand, the abusive policies of Bush/Cheney, they would have torn him apart, (and all other Democrats, by association) for being soft on Islamic Terrorists (as they so often did with "communism," etc.).

The overarching question in the use of drones is one of teleology: do the ends justify the means? It may seem crass to consider the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians in this way, but since it seems clear that those our government is seeking to damage with drone attacks represent a real threat to our nation,...

and that those radical Islamic leaders (much like our own "Tea Party" "conservatives") are not interested in or open to negotiation or compromise meaning that there is no way to work out agreements that minimize the threat they pose to our nation,...

and since those Islamic leaders hide among the population of innocent civilians in their own communities knowing full well the threat to those civilians their presence among them represents...

(and apparently believing that the death of the civilians around them is justified because it provides some protection for themselves, those civilians, including innocent children being far less valuable than themselves),...

is there any other, less damaging means to accomplish the minimization of the influence of these folks in and among nations whose primary religious affiliation is Muslim?

The alternative pursued by Bush/Cheney: the entry into Afghanistan of massive numbers of US troops and the outright invasion of Iraq,...

(the equivalent of declaring Martial Law in Chicago and sending in the National Guard to deal with Al Capone while gunning down anyone who happened to get in their way)...

are, not surprisingly, shaping up to be failures, as they most certainly would also be if President Obama had used them in Pakistan (to get Bin Laden) or any other nation (or any region of our own), both because it would have had massive unintended consequences and because it would not have had the support of the American people.

"Conservatives" would vehemently have opposed such an effort because Obama was leading it. Liberals would have opposed such an effort because we've seen what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As far as I can see, the only choice available to President Obama, if he were to stop using drones, would be to do nothing and allow the most radical elements in Islam to conquer, from within, the entire Arab world, thereby allowing a group whose main purpose seems to be to ignore their own faults, project them onto the Western world, and conquer them by destroying the rest of us,...

an approach which they would never realize was deeply damaging and destructive to themselves and everyone else until they had been successful at destroying the West.

Although I greatly admire Rep. Ellison, I wonder if he can step far enough out of his own perspective as moderate Western Muslim to understand that if he, himself, attempted to personally enter the Muslim world in order to negotiate with it's most radical leaders, they would see him as an enemy and imprison if not assassinate him,...

as surely as he would have been murdered by Southern white sheriffs and the KKK if he had done a similar thing in the American South 80 years ago.

From my perspective, then, it appears that our use of drones is not a knee-jerk, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, tough-guy, response, but rather, a response carefully calculated to do the LEAST evil (but necessary) thing in a very difficult set of circumstances.

Cutting to the chase

The drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan aren't just about killing members of al-Qaida, they're also about killing leaders of the Taliban who are fighting against Afghan government forces, as well as U.S. troops. As Ellison says, they've been effective and have hampered their operations. The cost in innocent lives is, as far as I can tell, is largely due to the fact that drones can strike with no warning and their targets may be with small groups of people who have no idea they're about to come under attack. Of course if the target(s) did have a warning they would immediately take cover or flee the area, which is what would happen if a helicopter force or even fighter jets were used.

What Ellison basically proposes is to cease using drones to strike targets in Pakistan and limit their use to targets that are strictly involve only enemy combatants. The upshot of this is that it will give both Taliban and al-Qaida leaders safer havens from which to plan and base operations in Afghanistan, helping them wage their war against the Afghan government. Need I say that this will result in more casualties, both military and civilian, than the drone strikes themselves have caused? So Ellison's point about innocent lives being lost due to drone strikes thus loses some of it's moral force when considering the alternative to using drones.

If you build it . . .

they won't come. There's nothing like a quarter-billion dollar empty building. I suggest they play this while waitng for Amtrak.

Fascism ALWAYS Made the Trains Run on Time

No doubt you would rather that the government spend the extra money required, and the governor simply ORDER Amtrak, Metro Transit (working with the Met council to plan and implement light rail and the current bus system), the Greyhound Bus company, et al to follow a government-designed schedule so that the Union Depot would be completely filled on the day it was opened.

Or wasn't the older Soviet-style, or current Chinese-style central planning and control what you really had in mind?

After all, the "free market," where businesses work in conjunction with freely and democratically-elected government institutions staffed with bureaucrats who must seek the cooperation of private enterprises in order to accomplish anything,...

is nothing if not messy and chaotic,...

But it generally works to the benefit of all rather than just the benefit of the cronies of those in power.

Shoppes at Cottage View

Gee, what an inventive name. Maybe they'll put up some fake half timbered beams so shoppers can have an olde worlde experience while they wander around the olde timey shoppes. That's just what the Twin Cities needs: another retail venue.

Worst case scenario here or fun and games; either/or?

What is the difference between Aladdin's Castle and pin ball...and Military Drone Ball?

Both essentially embrace a virtual perception of power over the action achieved. Pin ball used to cost a quarter - a bit more today I suppose - and initiates the player's ability to activate the machine and power over the machine's action.

In the second instance, Drone Ball requires programmed military training of sorts and rewards one with power over the greater machine.

It's hard to tell virtual from the real nowadays...and assassination by the state may be the developing trend? Cleaner, simpler and poof, none the wiser and not all the trauma when we don't need to interrogate and beat them in a black site; no faces, no pain? All above the law or outside it?

So I suppose it boils down here, to none the wiser and all's well in love and war and to the victor belongs the spoils and the end justifies the means - just or unjust? Confidently we will march into the future kicking the can down the road and over the's all a matter of semantics and platitudes baked into a power pie going beyond limits and we arrive somewhere years hence (it's either there or here, no matter?) terrorizing a faceless object in human clothing who is beyond humanness as terrorist or alleged terrorist whichever the case may be?

Then too, engage in the terror process and it doesn't cost the player a quarter or a nightmare in the doing...take it or leave it, as N. Chomsky coined the action; state assassination? And we, not-so-innocent taxpayer get to pay for it; a big bite of the apple?

"We have met the enemy and ...". Pogo was so wise, yes sir.

Then again, not to worry, we got over water boarding and Black Sites and other questionable terrors...we should be able to adjust to another creative form of "state-sponsored assassinations"...