Saturday, February 4, 2012

NO, to More Drones in U.S. Skies!

The story in The Wall Street Journal today ('U.S. Skies Could See More Drones', p. A7) came as a shocker of sorts. First, because it disclosed yet another federal agency (FAA) held hostage to the corporatist-industrial complex, now attempting to find new avenues for drone production since the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are ending (well the first has officially ended, the second nearly so). And second, because it discloses how secretive this corporate-benefiting information is, much like the recent news that 38 salmonella food poisonings were due to "restaurant chain A" (in FDA jargon) but only lately identified as 'Taco Bell'.

And we already saw a couple years ago, how deep in bed the SEC was with Madoff, and how they missed warning investors of this guy's Ponzi scheme. It appears that, one by one, fed agencies are being held captive to corporate interests, while the public general welfare takes a back seat.

In ths case of this new FAA bill, worth some $63 billion (and already four years in the lobbying and rewriting phases), U.S. skies would be inundated with tens of thousands of unmanned drones sharing airpace with commercial planes - and recall these are already at the beck and call of overworked air traffic controllers, as gauged by nearly 300 near misses per year. Imagine if they now had to contend with thousands of these unmanned drones flying who knows where?

Certainly the commercial pilots themselves aren't too enthused. As the WSJ article observes:

"Barely hours after the 374-page bill became public pilot union officials urged a more deliberate approach. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 53,000 pilots across North America, said his organization remains worried about safety issues such as training and certification of those unmanned aircraft."

The article continues by noting that: "Safety experts also have raised questions about the ability of sensors aboard unmanned aircraft to properly detect a nearby plane, and to assure immediate action to avoid a midair collision".

This is not just small potatoes and - by all rights - ought to be raising as much of a firestorm among the safety aware public as the Komen fiasco a few days ago. Moreso, because our lawmakers have sought to keep all this under wraps until it's almost a fait accompli!

And just who are these interests pushing for new drones in our skies? Well, according to the WSJ:

"Under the FAA bill proponents envision huge fleets of drones operated nationwide by states, local governments, and companies."

My question, and that of every other right-thinking American, ought to be: 'How the hell can states and local governments be remotely considering $1 billion a pop for a do whatever... when their own budgets are in the tank and benefits aren't being properly distributed?' As for companies: Why are they splurging (or thinking of splurging) on these damned things while leaving money uninvested for labor hiring and new plant? It's fucking absurd!

And just what is it these expensive unmanned machines are supposed to be doing? According to the WSJ article:

"environmental monitoring, fire protection, surveillance of suspected criminals....checking power lines and tracking equipment"

WHAT!? Needless to say, and I shouldn't have to say it, all of these can be done at much less expense and without requiring unmanned drones. For example, multiple street video cameras mounted all over can now track criminals anywhere. Moreover, the "fusion centers" provided under the Patriot Act make this as easy as companies tracking people using 'cookies' on the web. Nor do we need to risk commercial passenger safety by putting thousands of the blasted things in our skies for the specious reasons cited. In the end this is all bullshit, and the real purpose of this law is to provide an outlet for the defense industry drone manufacturers who will no longer have U.S. occupations within which to ply their trade.

Now, true ...there are limited numbers of drones already operating in U.S. skies. These are "mainly by federal agencies for law enforcement and security purposes" (ibid.) Moreover, as the article notes, they are only allowed to fly in highly restricted areas (like near the Mexican border) and this has kept their numbers low.

What we emphatically do not need is our skies flooded with these fuckers and competing with commercial craft for airspace, and likely creating even more havoc and near collisions, or outright collisions! THAT is not the way to create new jobs!

The tragedy is that the good part of the FAA bill, the one that provides for GPS satellites to reinforce ground air traffic control, is tied up with this corporate welfare drone-for-any-redundant purpose bullshit. We need to send a message to these clueless congress critters to re-do their bill, and leave out the drone manufacture and deployment for every Tom, Dick and Harry and for specious reasons that are basically bollocks.

Footnote: The photo attached, in case readers are wondering, is based on the "frankensteined" insertion of a predator drone image (I felt that was more dramatic) into a photo I took looking out from a first class seat as the flight I was on descended to Miami International in June, 2007.
It is meant to depict the likely sort of near encounters we may experience if the corporate welfare part of this FAA bill goes through!

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