The Double Standard for Drones

NEW SLAUGHTERYou did notice that the President avoided using the word “drone” last night, didn’t you? While there was verbiage about “no one taking his word” for certain national security activities, actually uttering “drone” would have jarred the primary thrust of the night. That would be: Squeezing Republicans into an ever-tighter corner from which their only option is to actually put their names on a vote, yea or nay, on dozens of ideas that make abundantly good sense to a majority of the public.

The drone controversy flared up again last week at a news conference Attorney General Eric Holder staged to discuss … at long, long last … actual legal action against the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s for cooking data that enabled the giant banks to foist flagrantly crap mortgages as super deals for their customers. Given a choice, I’d demand for the most avid, intense media attention to be devoted to the Standard & Poor matter, given the urgent need to stop our financial cowboys from getting all likkered up again on bonus money and blasting the hell out of main street.

But Standard & Poor is numbers. Bankers are (or were) dull. Drones are sci-fi, hi-techy and morbidly sexy. What do you think will better hold a TV audience?

Clearly, even Obama knows he has to come up with a legal framework for drone strikes more coherent than what he has now. But he also knows the public isn’t much concerned about the rights of homicidal citizen-fanatics (or even fanatics’ relatives) erased by a thunderbolt out of the blue. Broadly speaking, the attitude is, “It’s their cost of doing business.”

What the general population does and doesn’t care about, or can’t be bothered to think about at a given moment is never a good criteria for judicial attention. But it certainly is a political reality, that in this case gives Obama quite a bit of time before handing a non-policy off to his successor.

Obama also seems to know that his most serious opposition on this one is with his most ardently liberal base. The irony here — just guessing now — is that many of that crowd, like myself, are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt they never would give a Republican, especially if the next Republican is anywhere close to as reckless and inept as Dick Cheney, who threw back his crypt stone a couple days ago almost as if he wanted to remind people of what real untrustworthiness looks like. It’s a raw double standard, no doubt about it.

I have no idea at all what the perfect solution is here. But the idea of a FISA-like court seems unwieldy in the extreme, unless the idea is only to ID the target and present the known facts against him in preparation for taking him out whenever he next shows his head. But as the FISA system was gamed by the Bushies on domestic wire taps, (simultaneous with their bungling/cooking intelligence on the Iraq invasion, gaming the US Attorneys process, etc.) so we all have to assume it can be gamed by Obama and anyone else holding all the cards of intelligence and doling out only what they need to make their case.

The dilemma for liberals is in the cold assessment of cost-benefit of drone vs. all out “shock and awe” warfare. The legality here is beneath just murky, but drone warfare is both uncharted territory and by all appearances and accounts strategically effective and exponentially cheaper, both financially and diplomatically, than either ground or manned overflight. The influence of the left intelligentsia on this is valuable and should be encouraged, because I suspect it will lead Obama to a develop a more coherent template for attack … juuuuust before he leaves DC.

But until then, i.e. for at least another three years, I can live with his final authority on the button where as I would be shrieking like a banshee if a cynical incompetent like Dick Cheney were calling the shots.

49 thoughts on “The Double Standard for Drones

  1. A Son of Mississippi says:

    Would it be illegal to take Cheney out by drone? Or can they simply jam the frequency on his pacemaker?

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      We’re either a country based on the rule of law or a rotating personality cult. I prefer the former and Obama needs to clarify the law on the use of drones, or any method, for summarily killing people in other countries, or our own country. The politics of it be damned.

      1. I hear that. And he deserves what (little) heat he’s getting. But he’s in a position where he’ll take his sweet time. I notice in the linked Times piece the lack of judges even interested in getting involved with a FISA-like oversight board. In the context of the Constitution as “living document”, I wouldn’t be surprised if this eventually goes to the Supreme Court. Probably not before LA County uses a drone to take out the next rogue cop.

      2. Strongly agree. I don’t know what the policy solution should look like, but it definitely should not look like “trust me, because I’m the POTUS.” Creepy.

      3. PM says:

        Joe and Jim: I also agree, and find this whole thing uncomfortable in the extreme. I hope that someone in the Court system will step in and make the same point about the rule of law. That said, i am not certain that i trust our current Congress to craft an appropriate set of rules for something like this.

  2. Minnesotan says:

    This is certainly a philosophical and legal sticky wicket. For some reason I too give Obama the benefit of the doubt, whereas if this happened during Dubya’s time in office I would be much more upset.

    Let’s open another can of worms – what is the “Crowd’s” thoughts on Fast and Furious?

    I would say Obama certainly has opened himself up to as much contempt from the Right as Dubya/Cheney did from the Left during their terms. Well maybe not quite as much yet, but Obama has a few years left to go.

    1. Erik says:

      Holder was at Janet Reno’s side for Waco and Elian Gonzalez, and he did Marc Rich all by his lonesome. You’d think it would be easy enough to acknowledge his core corruption and incompetence as it is further revealed during the Obama years, but I think we all understand the unparalleled level of sycophancy that’s been reached. You you’re being a bit naïve even bothering to pose the question.

      1. Minnesotan says:

        Erik, I wasn’t referring so much to the specifics of Fast & Furious as much as it’s another example of the Obama administration playing loose and fast with legal and ethical guidelines. Again, he hasn’t taken as much heat for these types of indiscretions as GW did, probably because he didn’t seem so inept as his predecessor.

        I don’t know about you Brian, by I wouldn’t put scandal in quotes when the administration knowingly attempted to plant guns in criminals hands, lost track of those guns, which were later linked to crimes and murders.

        Nothing to see here, move along children? No accountability needed?

    2. “Fast and Furious” … another egotistic, “the illegitimate liberals are coming to get my guns” obsession of the paranoid fringe. A “scandal” that deservedly ran out of gas, despite the best demagoguery of the obstructionist class.

      and …

      Get back to me when someone other than NewsMax, Breitbart or WDN thinks the aggrieved agent’s lawsuit against Fortune has any merit.

  3. Newt says:

    The total silence of liberals on the Obama drone/US citizen assassination legal interpretation has been deafening, and highly amusing, The same with the Fast & Stupid debacle to arm Mexican drug cartels. The same with the Benghazi massacre. The same with the Hurricane Sandy response. 9/11 prisoners with access to our legal system., Solyndra…

    Bush is beginning to look like Winston Churchill in comparison. Who would have guessed 5 years ago?

      1. PM says:

        Say, brian, that reminds me….didn’t you have something to say on this topic?

        I do think that it is funny that Erik accuses you of being a militant warmonger supporter of the drone war while Newt essentially accuses you of betraying your liberal values by being silent about the entire topic.

      2. That’s a pretty good breakdown of the dilemma. Especially good is his recognition that drones, as “Terminator”-sci-fi as they are, are still a killing machine, like a special ops soldier with a rifle. Is everything of this sort going to be run through a FISA style court prior to a strike? Please.

        Ambinder might not be enough of a cynic to openly doubt ANYONE could pretend to have the full, total story of a target’s “imminent threat” either prior to or after being whacked. That’s why I brought up the unlikelihood that any court or judge could ever assume it/he was getting the straight facts from the intelligence agency or an administration. The ways to disguise reality are myriad.

        Practically speaking, the only way that seems even minimally effective is requiring all agencies concerned to file a case against a target for POST attack review. Where you get a court savvy enough to ask the right questions I have no idea. But if the case goes into the files it at least has the ability for review, preferably with FOIA window of much less than 75 years, (A year might be better.)

        Ambinder seems to recognize the politics, too. The public simply isn’t all that concerned about us whacking some scheming zealot, no matter if he was born in Burbank. But clandestine/drone warfare is the future of the military, not a momentary obsession. Eventually there’s going to be some truly fucked up international situation where the Big Man is going to have to cough up a thorough explanation for why we killed someone.

        Until then I say, keep the squeeze on this stuff.

      3. Newt says:

        OK Brian, you’re the one exception. And Bush was pilloried only for waterboarding. My God liberals are hypocrites.

      4. PM says:


        Brian is not the exception. All you need to do is a simple search for “Drone war” at The Nation (here, I’ve done it for you: ) and you get over 1000 hits. Now, i have not read them all, but they generally seem pretty critical of Obama to me.

        Further, i should also point out that the drone war did not start with Obama–most of the criticism is that Obama appears to be continuing Bush era policies.

        Of course, liberals do not speak with one voice (just as the birthers do not represent all republicans), and some liberals are certainly hypocritical. Still, your blanket statements are simplistic and foolish. Especially in the middle of a post that does just the opposite of what you are saying.

        Which raises the question–do you read before you regurgitate? Are you no more than a spambot?

      5. Jim Leinfelder says:

        Lambo: Hate to cite a Hollywood movie, but in “Zero Dark Thirty,” supposedly based on the actual events leading up to the killing of Bin Laden, it took over 100 days to get the green light. Ample time, it seems to me, to get a special court’s imprimatur, especially if you’re summarily, and coolly killing an American citizen.

        Regular domestic cops manage to get things done despite the inconveniences of the 4th and 5th Amendments, and, yes, their more expedient proclivities are inhibited by the ex post facto over sight of the courts, as well.

    1. Jeremy Powers says:

      Winston Churchill? What are f**king nuts? George W. Bush was absolutely incompetent at every single thing he touched. He couldn’t even read a teleprompter correctly. As his own mother said: he’s not the smart one.

      W. might qualify as a British Bulldog, but Churchill’s nickname isn’t the same as Churchill himself.

      1. PM says:

        bush accomplishments? how about two wars and a massive recession (the one that caused all the havoc in Greece)?

        who can forget those?

      2. Jeremy Powers says:

        I should have been more specific. How about an accomplishment that didn’t f**k up the world worse than it already was.

        I suppose watching the two towers drop, knowing that the previous president warned you, starting two wars at the behest of the aptly name Dick Cheney and then making Herbert Hoover look like a meddlesome jerk by doing ABSOLUTELY nothing while the Great Recession started, accelerated, crashed and burned under your watch, are all, technically, accomplishments.

        What a total tool. He George W. Bush will go down in history as one of the five worst president in history after my grandkids are dead.

    2. PM: i believe you too have noticed that some folks hear what they want to hear, believe what they want to believe and make up the rest. It is entertaining, inn’t?

      1. PM says:

        how about your assuming that lambert is a supporter of Obama’s drone wars, and trying to so accuse him of hypocrisy?

  4. Newt says:

    Sound familiar? This is us in 10 years, probably less. What’s the matter with those avaricious Greeks – why are they so resistant to “investing” in their future through taxation?

    None of you has the guts to confront why Greece is in crisis. Keep chugging the kool aid, my liberal Jonestown friends.

    Ah ha ha ha hahahahah ….

    ATHENS, Greece – Unemployment in Greece rose to a record 27 percent in November as separate surveys on Thursday showed the country remains stuck in recession and predicted nearly a third of the population would be in poverty by the end of the year.

    The Statistics Agency said unemployment increased from a rate of 26.6 percent in October and 20.8 percent in November the previous year. More than 30,000 people lost their job in November, the agency said, with the jobless rate accelerating from earlier in the year.

    Worst affected are the young, with 61.7 percent of those in the 15-24 age group without a job.

    Greece is mired in the sixth year of a recession, and has been relying for nearly three years on international rescue loans to keep it afloat. In return for the bailout, the government has imposed major spending cuts and tax hikes which have hammered the economy, causing an increase in poverty and forcing thousands of businesses to close.

    The economy contracted a further 6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 from the previous year, the statistics agency said. That followed annual contractions of 6.7, 6.4 and 6.7 percent in the previous three quarters of 2012.

    NEW TAX HIKES that went into effect this month have added further pressure on the shrinking workforce: 3.6 million Greeks remain employed, but 3.3 million are registered as inactive and 1.35 million are unemployed, according to the November figures.

    A study by Greece’s largest labor union, GSEE, released this week projected that 3.9 million out of Greece’s total population of nearly 11 million will be officially living in poverty by the end of the year, compared with 3.1 million in 2011. The poverty line in Greece is set at a personal income of less than (EURO)7,200 ($9,700) per year.

    Several hundred pensioners marched to the Labor Ministry in heavy rain Thursday TO PROTEST THE NEW TAX INCREASES.

    “We are not just talking about some problems. They are taking our lives away,” Dimos Koumbouris, leader of Greece’s main pensioners association, told the AP.

    “We can’t pay our electricity bills, or the emergency taxes. We haven’t enough for our medicines, and it’s putting our lives in danger.”

    Unions have called a general strike for Feb. 20, protesting against the new tax hikes and a government decision to ax collective wage agreements in the public sector as part of an overhaul in pay scales for state-paid employees.

  5. bertram jr. says:

    Say, Bertram this morning heard a local talk station personality posited that it is rather despicable that Gov. Litttle Lord Fauntleroy, elected with funding from his ex-wife the Rockefeller heiress, is hell bent on all these new taxes, whilst his family fortune, built in good ol’ Minny, resides tax-free in trusts located in….wait for it… no income tax South Dakota!

    Now THERE’s a Sunday Strib story I’d like to see! Oh, the very richness of it!

    Lambertini, your thoughts?

    1. PM says:

      OK, here is a tax lesson for you… is quite possible that dayton benefits from trusts that are located in South Dakota, and it is true that South Dakota has no state income tax….but those two items are not connected. It does not matter where the trust is located, it matters where he is located! As long as he resides in MN (which, as Governor, he does), he has to pay MN income tax rates on all of his income, no matter where it is earned. Simple, clear, open and shut.

      As to why the Dayton family would have located trusts in SD, that is because SD allows perpetual trusts–there is no limit to how long they can last. Most states have a limit to how long a trust can last–usually something like 3 generations+21 years, and then the trust is forced to expire and all the assets be distributed.

      But there is no such thing as a tax free trust. So your favorite local talk radio station pulled the wool over your eyes, bertie, old boy! They took you in with some clever innuendo, didn’t they?

      you should adopt this as your new mantra:

      1. PM:

        Actually, there is such a thing as a tax free trust. It’s called an irrevocable life insurance trust. You can gift a life insurance policy into the trust. Say the cash value is $2 million and the death benefit when you die is $5 million, just shy of the current amount of the federal estate tax exemption…what one person can pass on estate tax free.. You give up all rights to control that trust…when you die, the trust pays out the full $5 million to the beneficiaries…income tax free because it’s life insurance and estate tax free because it’s under the federal exemption amount.

      2. PM says:


        I was hoping that you’d comment, cause i know you know more about this than I do. Thanks!

        (at least i got the thing about perpetual trusts right?)

      3. Erik says:

        Oh, the radio folks don’t quite have their finger on the correct reason why, but I think it’s fair to say Mark Dayton is a hypocrite.

        Thing is, for tax purposes, trusts are corporations. So you are removing a lot of tax complexity from the returns of their beneficiaries. But S. Dakota has no corporate income tax, which makes it a lot more preferable than Minnesota.

        Speaking of….we need Loveland and Austin to weigh in on the business to business services tax

      4. Re: “We need Loveland and Austin to weigh in on the business to business services tax.”

        Honestly, I don’t know anything about the administrative details of it, so I’m even more in the dark than usual. So, off the top of my head:

        In concept, it doesn’t make sense to me that if I make or buy a widget, there is a tax involved, but if I make or buy a service, there isn’t. In a services dominated economy, that leads to an unbalanced and unstable tax system. And I am mindful that if there is a service sales tax, there will also be a lower tax rate on widgets, so there is a bit of an offset there.

        So, at first blush, a sales tax on services strikes me as a) not thrilling news, mostly because I’m an old dog who gets grumpy about learning new tricks but b) fair.

        My guess is that if it passed, and I doubt it will this year, I’d probably raise my rate, which would have two impacts: 1) some clients would choose to use less of my services, and that would impact my bottom line, and 2) some would choose to pay the higher rates and pass the expenses down the food chain and/or see their bottom line impacted. So, the burden is probably paid some by me and some by others.

        For all of us, some of that would be offset by a lower widget tax, and slower growing property taxes, and a faster growing tax base from an improved education and infrastructure. I try to look at the whole equation, not just one variable.

        And if I net out a bit lower from all of that, o-bla-di, o-bla-da…

        As for Austin, it’s possible he may have to go from 17 big screen computers in mission control to 16, which would be a devastating blow to his productivity and quality of life. Shall we sponsor a Same Rowdy Crowd 5K Fun Run to raise money to ease his burden? It takes a village.

    2. PM says:

      Besides, Mark Dayton did not establish those trusts….can’t really blame him for decisions made before he was born.

  6. PM: May I say that while I appreciate the clarification, I’m quite certain my man bertram does not. Anything emanating from the “reality based” world is suspect, and likely the work of gun grabbing Kenyan muslim socialists.

  7. Jeremy Powers says:

    I realize Erik asked Joe Loveland and Jon Austin, but I too run a small (one-person) company with several clients outside of Minnesota. Essentially, this will be a 5.5 percent reduction in my income IF (if the legislature is smart)they let me absorb the tax rather than list as a tax line item on my invoices. The right-wing mentality that all taxes, no matter how small or what they are spent on, are as inherently evil as the devil himself will make several companies that have worked with me for almost 20 years take a look at that additional charge on the bottom.

    In the long haul, we have to move to a service tax scheme because we have created a service-based economy. However, it would have been great if the state governors of the more advance states got together to agree that advertising, public relations, video, writing and photography were being taxed everywhere rather than just a handful of states.

    Then South Dakota can try to encourage creative shops to move to a state where gays are bullied, women are clearly second class, teachers are among the poorest paid in the country, the only possible hobby besides being blown by the wind is pheasant hunting and politicians spend their time trying to further restrict abortion for all reasons except demonic possession.

    However, my household income is in the top 15 percent if not the top 10 percent and I can afford – and actually desire – to pay more in taxes.

    This whole concept of taxation to satisfy the lowest-common denominator of civic pride is beyond me. A willingness too drive on car-damaging roads, a state capital that is falling apart, under-funded schools and an every-man-for-himself concept of civil obedience is deevolution in action.

    1. PM says:

      i am also willing to pay for civilization. It isn’t free, and the cheap versions….well, you get what you pay for.

    2. Erik says:

      That’s great, but $5k a year in more personal income taxes on an agi of $100k is onerous, and applied x the thousands of small shops in the state that are just like that, its going to be economically destructive, at least for the few years until everyone figures out their cost shifts.

      We don’t have regional tax cartels. We have federalism.

      1. PM says:

        Yes, we have federalism. that means that we have multiple taxing districts–local. regional, state, federal/national.

    3. Erik says:

      It’s never been real compelling to tell people who claim to be OK with higher taxes to go ahead and do just that. IE, volunteer some more of your own money. But absent that, you guys do pay everything you’re supposed to now, right? Like the use tax on online purchases. Do you guys figure that each year and make a line item for what you owe?

      1. Jeremy Powers says:

        Didn’t always, But have for the past few years. I buy of my stuff at retail locally.

        But it is just part of the problem, Why it can’t be automatic is beyond me.

  8. PM:

    You are correct for most trusts. They cannot last forever. However, there is such a thing as a Dynasty Trust….starring Joan Collins.. These trust allow money to be passed through generations. I’ve never seen one used because normally I don’t deal with that kind of wealth but I know they do exist. Any estate planning attorneys on SRC who can clarify?

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