All posts by Thomas L. Knapp

A Crowdfunding Proposal: UFOs Deserve Better and More Public Investigation

F/A-18 UFO Encounter
Screen shot from a video released by US Defense Department’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, showing an encounter between a US Navy F/A-18 and an Unidentified Flying Object [public domain].
Between 2007 and 2012, the New York Times reports, a secret US Department of Defense program received $22 million to investigate reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Although it no longer receives dedicated funding, the program apparently continues as a part-time effort pursued by personnel with other duties.

Among the public, opinion on UFOs runs the gamut from belief that the whole idea is a product of fevered imaginations to conviction that Earth is frequently visited by extraterrestrial beings possessed of technologies beyond our ken. But all along that spectrum there remain good reasons to investigate UFOs.

Unknown objects in traveled airspace represent a potential danger to commercial airline traffic. Finding out what they are makes sense. If they’re harmless mirages, methods of screening them out can be developed. If they’re dangerous physical phenomena — natural or artificial in origin — better ways of detecting and responding to them are called for.

The defense and security implications of advanced aircraft flying with impunity through a state’s claimed airspace under the control of an unknown intelligence are obvious. Should that turn out to be the case, it seems to me that information on the phenomenon should be shared among states. If there’s a threat, it is presumably to Earth itself, not only to a particular government. And even if not, the interests of science and of humankind in those facts do not stop at national borders.

The nature of the UFO phenomenon is such that investigations of it shouldn’t be entrusted to any single government, or for that matter to government at all.

On the other hand, most current private sector investigations seem at first blush to labor under heavy confirmation bias. That is, those who are interested in investigating UFOs either want or don’t want them to be alien spacecraft and therefore find reasons to conclude that that’s what they are or aren’t.

It seems to me that UFO research is the perfect endeavor for a respected university to get into using “crowdfunding” — asking the general public to contribute, then spending the money to hire qualified researchers from applicable fields (meteorology, aerospace engineering, etc.) who evince no agendas beyond dogged pursuit of the truth, and putting them to work.

It seems eminently doable. Wikipedia’s list of top crowdfunded projects by amount raised lists 15 which have knocked down more than the $22 million put into the Pentagon’s hands by Congress.

The extent of governments’ involvement in such crowdfunded research should be limited to legal requirements that information generated by those governments be made available to the researchers, along with any security clearances required to examine it.

The truth, as The X-Files TV series told us, is out there. Isn’t it about time we went and found it?

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

SESTA/FOSTA: The Real Internet Censorship Threat

Ban Censorship (RGBStock)

In a particularly Orwellian example of the arguments for “Net Neutrality,” the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times preemptively complained that the Federal Communications Commission’s December 14 repeal of the two-year-old rule “sacrifices the free and open Internet on the altar of deregulation.”

In fact, the “free and open Internet” did just fine — more than fine, even — for decades before being brought under a “Title II” regulatory scheme intended for 1930s-era telephones. And, unfortunately, there’s no deregulation involved. Instead of just getting its grubby mitts off the Internet as it should, FCC is handing regulation off to another intrusive bureaucracy, the Federal Trade Commission.

If the Times is truly interested in a “free and open Internet,” perhaps its editorial board should quit worrying about the FCC making it too free and too open and re-focus its attention on real problems. “Net Neutrality” has always been a distraction and a bugbear.

A Google News search returns 5,520 results from the Times on the term “Net Neutrality,” but only four on the US Senate’s proposed “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” (SESTA).

SESTA, along with its companion bill in the House of Representatives, the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA, because we must have cute acronyms at any cost), is straight-up Internet censorship, an open and undeniable threat to the “free and open Internet.”

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” The sound theory underlying that rule is that many, even most, web sites are open to user-created content and can’t be expected to pre-edit that content.

SESTA/FOSTA attempts to carve out an exception to that perfectly sensible guideline for “participating in a venture” by “knowingly assisting, facilitating, or supporting sex trafficking.”

Conscripting blog platform operators, newspaper comment moderators, and ad brokers as unpaid government censors is both evil in itself and bound to produce the opposite of the result SESTA/FOSTA’s sponsors claim they want.

Existing laws against abduction, sexual assault, forced labor and criminal conspiracy are more than sufficient to enable the prosecution of those who collude with others in such activities. Even setting aside legitimate debate concerning what constitutes “sex trafficking” and whether or not specific commercial activities (e.g. consensual adult sex work) should be illegal, SESTA serves no legitimate purpose in protecting the vulnerable. Their abusers will just move them off of public web sites and into the shadows.

On the other hand, the high susceptibility to interpretation of the words  “knowingly,” “assisting,” “facilitating” and “supporting” leave holes in Internet speech/press protections that are big enough for the federal government to drive an armored car carrying a SWAT team through. And given its past abuses, who doubts that it will do exactly that under this turkey of a bill?

We can have a “free and open Internet” or we can allow SESTA/FOSTA to become law. We can’t do both.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

Here Comes the Next “Defense” Shakedown

USS Ronald Reagan traveling through the Strait...
USS Ronald Reagan traveling through the Straits of Magellan, to San Diego, CA, in a transfer move. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Today with the signing of this defense bill,” US president Donald Trump said as he affixed his signature to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act on December 12, “we accelerate the process of fully restoring America’s military might.”

Is Trump truly under the mistaken impression that US military might is ailing? Or is he mindlessly aping Ronald Reagan and hoping it brings in the re-election votes? Or perhaps something else entirely?

The NDAA budgets nearly $700 billion for the US military next year. Despite its name, there’s precious little “defense” involved.

While it’s true that the United States is involved in several ongoing wars ($65.7 billion of the NDAA’s appropriations go to the “Overseas Contingency Fund” for continuing those wars), none of them serve any vital, let alone existential, US interest, and none of them are defensive in nature.

The US has no militarily significant adversaries in the western hemisphere. Further afield, it already floats by far the most powerful naval and expeditionary capability on Earth. Of the world’s 41 aircraft carriers, the US operates 20, including 11 flat-top “supercarriers.” The remaining 21 are scattered among the navies of 12 other countries, mostly US allies. America’s two most likely military adversaries, China and Russia, each operate one light STOBAR (“Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery”) carrier.

Speaking of China and Russia: China’s military budget is less than 1/3 the size of this latest US monstrosity. Russia’s is even smaller, and set to shrink in 2018.

A true US “defense” budget might, if wasteful,  run as high as 1/10th of the NDAA’s numbers.

So if the NDAA isn’t about defense, what’s it about? Mostly corporate welfare.

The bill includes money to buy more 30 more planes than the military asked for  (24 reliable old F/A-18s instead of 14, and 90 of the newer lemon, the F-35, instead of 70). The US Navy asked for one new Littoral Combat Ship. The NDAA budgets for three. Translation: Billions  for aerospace and ship-building companies.

The NDAA also adds more than 16,000 troops to the already bloated US armed forces. Not because more troops are needed for “defense,” but because each new soldier, sailor, airman and Marine must be fed, clothed, housed, and armed — which, in the age of fake privatization, means yet more money for “defense” contractors.

Prior to World War Two, when a war ended US military spending descended toward pre-war levels. Then what Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to as the Military Industrial Complex took over the federal government. Now that government’s primary activity is moving as much money as possible from your pockets to the bank accounts of “defense contractors” on a continuing basis.

This year, the tab comes to about $2,160 for every man, woman and child in the United States. Do you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth?

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY