Opinion

The Great Debate

The 4 reasons why Amazon won’t be shipping by drone anytime soon

This weekend Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos told 60 Minutes that he wants small unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — to speed packages to online shoppers as early as 2017, cutting delivery times to as quick as 30 minutes.

It’s a bold, imaginative plan — one that could propel a host of technological and legal advancements.

It’s also really, really difficult to pull off. What follows are just four of the reasons Bezos’ Amazon delivery-drones might not get off the ground.

1)  Drone delivery flights are illegal, at present. Among other prohibitions, the Federal Aviation Administration bans drone flights over 400 feet altitude and near airports and populated areas. Bezos’ plan is for the robots to take off from fulfillment centers near big cities. They might be able to stay below 400 feet and avoid airports. But exactly how can a drone deliver a package to a populated area without flying over … a populated area?

More important, the FAA currently bans all commercial uses of drones. Simply stated, you’re not allowed to make money off them — which is exactly what Bezos aims to do.

Prying open drone secrets

A federal appeals court rebuffed the Obama administration’s drone policy on Friday, ruling that the CIA stretched its considerable secrecy powers “too far.”  The stinging decision may be the biggest news in the war on terror that you’ve never heard about.

The ruling lays down a key marker for a significant shift in counterterrorism policy. Under President Barack Obama, the United States has moved from detaining suspected terrorists to killing many of them in targeted attacks. There were 10 times as many drone deaths in 2010 as 2004, according to the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative.  This is why there are now fewer pressing questions about detention or Guantanamo, a vestige of post-September 11 battles. The United States hardly ever captures any new terror suspects.

The politicians and the chattering class, however, have been slow to recognize  this shift.

Awlaki and the Arab autumn

By David Rohde
The opinions expressed are his own.

The death of Anwar al-Awlaki this morning is welcome news, but Washington policymakers should not delude themselves into thinking the drone that killed him is a supernatural antidote to militancy. Yes, drone strikes should continue, but the real playing field continues to be the aftermath of the Arab spring; namely vital elections scheduled for October in Tunisia and November in Egypt.

A series of outstanding stories by reporters from Reuters, The Washington Post, The New York Review of Books and The New York Times, have aptly laid out the stakes. Islamists are on the rise in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, but an extraordinary battle is unfolding over the nature of Islam itself.

“At the center of the debates is a new breed of politician who has risen from an Islamist milieu but accepts an essentially secular state,” Anthony Shadid and David Kirkpatrick wrote in today’s New York Times. Common values, in other words, are emerging between the West and the Islamic world. These “post-Islamist” politicians argue that individual rights, democracy and economic prosperity are elements of an “Islamic state.”

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