Saturday, February 28, 2009

How Dangerous Are Our Leaders?

The economy is on its sickbed and the market continues to submerge to the bottom of the financial sea, eliminating the traditional act of self-defenestration as an inadequate and ultimately pointless reactionary response. It's not a window we need but a mirror.

Yet Congress, with the country in flames all around them, spend hundreds of billions on non-stimulus projects that are remarkable for their lack of relevance to the state of the economy.

And President Obama, not to be outdone or upstaged, addresses the nation on TV with the firm intention not of calming the markets and reassuring the people, but of declaring war on capitalism and excoriating his personal enemies--Wall Street executives and businessmen in general--with an angry tirade promising wealth redistribution that will bring them all to their knees. The stock market has reacted predictably, with Obama oblivious to the damage to all. Mirroring Lincoln, Obama steers the nation toward a new kind of civil war.

Is the public unable to elect responsible leaders? I would sooner be governed by a random selection of 435 people on MySpace instead of the current members of the House of Representatives. I would rather be governed by 100 random members of Facebook than the current members of the Senate. And I would would accept one member of LinkedIn selected at random as President of the United States instead of Barack Obama. Those individuals, I am confident, would do less damage to our country than those who hold power in Washington.

But what do we do about the voters? Leave them alone to elect any charlatan with a talent for conning them? Elections to high public office are nothing more than exercises in who can snow the voters better than his opponent. Do we raise the voting age to 30? Or lower it to 5? Would that help? Maybe it's time to try?

Monday, February 23, 2009

DHS: The FBI Is Full of Beans

FBI Director Robert Mueller spoke today to the Council on Foreign Relations about the possibility of terrorists, homegrown or otherwise, attacking the US and what is being done to stop or mitigate these potential attacks.

But a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Michael Keegan, said today that the odds of homegrown terrorists attacking the US "are very low."

So who is right--the FBI or DHS? Should we be "particularly concerned" about homegrown terror or is its likelihood "very low" and therefore we don't need to concern ourselves too much about it?

In the recent Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair wrote:
We remain concerned about the potential for homegrown extremists inspired by al-Qa’ida’s militant ideology to plan attacks inside the United States, Europe, and elsewhere without operational direction from the group itself. In this regard, over the next year we will remain focused on identifying any ties between US-based individuals and extremist networks overseas....Signs that self-generating cells in the US identify with Bin Ladin’s violent objectives all point to the likelihood that a small but violent number of cells may develop here.

So we know 2 things: The FBI Director is concerned about homegrown terrorism. And the Director of National Intelligence is also concerned about homegrown terrorism.

Yet, a spokesman for DHS says it's not likely. He was apparently interviewed specifically for the Fox News story, and said "the latest intelligence" indicates a homegrown attack isn't likely "anytime soon." I'd like to know what intelligence he's talking about and what is his definition, with respect to time, of the word "soon."

This is another unfortunate example of different national security agencies saying different things and giving the American public conflicting signals. I have to go with the FBI and DNI on this one, not the DHS. Homegrown terrorism is a concern to everyone in the country--with the apparent exception of DHS. And does anyone seriously doubt an attack could come at any time? DHS should explain to the public why it feels the need to downplay the likelihood of homegrown terror.

Hopefully the story as written doesn't accurately reflect the true views of the spokesman or DHS, although given the countless well-documented problems of that particular department, nothing would surprise me.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Robot Armies of the Future

Future wars will be fought between robots rather than humans. He who builds the better robot will achieve military superiority. But the future is almost now, because the use of military robots is increasing dramatically.

A new report "Autonomous Military Robotics" focuses on the question of ethics: how do you program a robot to behave in an ethical manner, so that it will not just randomly kill people or turn on its own makers?

Robots are currently used to find IEDs in Iraq and target terrorists in Pakistan, among other things. Ideally, the military would want human-like robots to replace warfighters on the battlefield to reduce human casualties.

Human soldiers turning on their own fellow troops happens occasionally, but it seems the possibility of robots being "hacked" by an enemy to rewrite their programming and make them fight against their own army would be a significant problem to be overcome.

Aside from hacking, robots and their networked command structures could be subjected to jamming, rendering them harmless. Could the Future Combat Systems be taken out by jamming a satellite? Could the Pentagon's robots be disabled by an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)? How easily can our electronic army be defeated by cyber attacks?

An army with advanced technology doesn't necessarily mean an unbeatable force. We know how difficult it has been to destroy al Qaeda, operating with their own far less sophisticated technology, and Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Superiority" served as a warning as well. What studies have been done to consider the vulnerabilities of an electronic army by an adversary using a much lower level of technology and what are the advantages of such a strategy? That will be the only option available for most or all of our enemies in the future.

Will robot armies make wars more or less likely in the future, if human lives are no longer on the line? The world community (the United Nations and the like) may deem it "unfair" for a country with a robot army to fight a country with human soldiers--basically making robot versus human wars illegal in the eyes of the world.

These are all questions no longer reserved for science fiction but are coming soon to a battlefield near you.

Hillary Gives Human Rights Abusers Green Light

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled to China, and by implication other regimes infamous for their human rights abuses, the green light to not worry about offending the US, because there are more important issues for the US, such as the economy.

Human rights groups expressed shock at her comments. Despite Hillary's half-hearted attempt to claim the Obama administration will still bring up these issues when meeting foreign leaders, it is abundantly clear to all that human rights in countries like China is not considered a pressing problem and Hillary will raise the issue in a perfunctory, unserious way.

The Chinese communist government must surely have been thrilled to hear this. And so other rogue regimes will take notice that this is the kind of "change" the world can expect from Obama.

It's been a dismal first month for the Obama administration as foreign policy missteps and conflicting signals are the rule, rather than the exception. Meanwhile Wall Street continues to give Obama a no confidence vote on a daily basis.

Since no one ever really thought Obama was more qualified to be president than his main rival, John McCain, and since more people didn't cast a vote on that basis, it should be no surprise that we are stuck with a president in over his head and lacking any leadership qualities useful for all the things that matter. Look out below.