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Issue #1599      June 26, 2013

Culture & Life

Drones and a Wasteland

Did you see the article on drones (as in military aircraft, not bees) in The Sydney Morning Herald on May 31? It was written by Waleed Aly from Monash University and focused on US President Barack Obama’s recently declared “doubts” about the morality of drone attacks.

Not that Obama’s doubts were very strong ones, mind you. He merely put forward the idea that they were not “wise or moral in every instance”. US drone attacks have killed upwards of a 1,000 people so far including four Americans, so how many unwise and immoral instances are needed before a US President will develop “doubts” do you reckon? Well apparently 1,000. A more important factor than immorality may be the growing numbers of US citizens who are expressing their unease at this glaringly obvious program of assassination being carried out in their name whilst shrouded in the trappings of secrecy.

It might be comforting to think that Obama’s present concern is the result of his recognising the criminality of murdering people around the world without bothering about trials or evidence or observance of people’s “inalienable rights”. But I suspect that his concern is more because the USA no longer has a monopoly on drone aircraft. Other countries can now make them, and at a fraction of the cost of the US versions.

According to Aly, a US drone costs between US$5 million to US$10 million. Apparently China can build them for less than US$1 million. (That shouldn’t surprise us: US military hardware is always ridiculously overpriced. The government pays for it, and it’s for the sacred cow of “defence” so arms companies can virtually write their own tickets. Or their own contracts at any rate.)

But China is not only building up a fleet of drones of its own, it is offering them at bargain prices to developing countries, the sort of countries the US likes to bully. (Those perfidious Orientals! You can’t trust them an inch, can you?) I suspect Obama’s newly discovered dislike of drones has much to do with his dislike of the idea of the US being on the receiving end of other people’s drone attacks. After all, it is no longer a super weapon if poor countries have it.


A correspondent has pointed out an interesting connection: not only was the date of the bombing of the Boston marathon – April 15 – the anniversary Ronald Reagan’s bombing of Tripoli in Libya in 1989, but the young fanatics who carried out the bombing had attended a mosque that was built with funds from the International Islamic Call Society which was headquartered in Tripoli before NATO went in and wrecked the country.

The Society was headed by Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam who is languishing in a pro-US prison somewhere in Libya. That is, if he is still alive. My correspondent asks why the US didn’t make more of these connections between the Boston bombers and the Islamists? Could it be that the US didn’t want people to wonder if the attack on the marathon might be a response to the US attacks on Libya?

I see that that notorious liar Barry “Promise Them Anything” O’Farrell is being pressured by Liberal party bigwigs to allow political donations from property developers and tobacco companies, not to mention entrepreneurs in alcohol and gambling. Barry got himself elected by campaigning against the crookedness of the previous Labor government, many of whom were in bed with moneyed denizens of the big end of town.

But such is the way of democracy under capitalism that the cost of elections is now measured in the multimillions of dollars so the Libs are keen to tap into the same tainted money sources that Labor used to use. It’s comforting to know we have the best democracy money can buy, isn’t it?


Talking of democracy and money, I came across a relevant article by Newton Minow in the US journal The Atlantic that was published in 2011. Minow was the former chairman of the US Public Broadcasting Service who was appointed to Chair the Federal Communications Commission by President John F Kennedy in 1961. Minow famously described US commercial television at the time as “a vast wasteland”.

Writing 50 years later, he found the situation largely unchanged in essentials: “For 50 years we have bombarded our children with commercials disguised as programs and with endless displays of violence and sexual exploitation. The United States is nearly alone in the democratic world in not providing our candidates with public service television time. Instead we make them buy it – and so money consumes and corrupts our political discourse.

“It is simply unconscionable that candidates for public office have to buy access to the airwaves – something the public itself owns – to talk to the public, unlike in most other major democratic countries.

“Put simply, candidates for public office have to raise huge amounts of money to buy access to the public airwaves so they can talk to us. And because airtime is so expensive, they talk to us in slogans and slurs and only obliquely – if at all – about substance.

“If broadcasters are to continue as the lone beneficiaries of their valuable spectrum assignments, it is not too much to require that, as a public service, they provide time to candidates for public office. That time is not for the candidates. It is for the voters.”

Naturally, US commercial broadcasters were like Australia’s, more interested in a broadcast licence as (in Kerry Packer’s words) “a licence to print money”, than in any commitment to (in Minow’s words) “promoting the county’s arts and culture”. Most of them (not all, but most) were no doubt glad to see the back of him. They could dispense with pretensions to culture and get back to the real business of commercial television: making money as an adjunct of the advertising industry.

Truly a wasteland.   

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