Week in Modern Warfare

by Wilson Cusack, Piper French, Jonah Max & Will Tavlin

published March 18, 2016

Protocols and Transgressions

On the night of March 1st two Israeli Defense Force troops found themselves in the Palestinian refugee camp of Qalandiya, seemingly on account of a malfunctioning GPS application. The app in question was Waze—a navigation program developed in conjunction with the Israeli government and Google, now popular among both Israeli military personnel and American Uber and Lyft drivers. While other GPS applications might inform their users of heavy traffic or road construction, Waze differentiates itself by highlighting what it deems “dangerous zones” (sites of protest, political conflict, or even simply low-income neighborhoods). It also provides clients with incentives—marked by virtual cupcakes with various point values, which increase one’s status in the Waze “community”—to encourage drivers to send useful data from less-traveled routes back to the company’s servers, which will in turn be used to provide more accurate information for other clients. The application, however, also requires its users to maintain a strong wireless connection to operate properly—a connection strength which the Israeli government has historically suppressed through electromagnetic frequency restrictions in the Palestinian controlled areas of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. While it remains unclear why exactly the two IDF troops received such faulty information from the application, many suspect that this strategic wireless suppression may be the cause. 

Attempting to drive towards a military destination in the West Bank, the soldiers instead deviated from the authorized route, crossing several Israeli checkpoints and entering into the refugee camp—a borderland wedged between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Once within the bounds of the camp, the soldiers were fired upon, leading to a lengthy firefight with refugees. At some point the Israeli “Hannibal Protocol” was instantiated, an extraction technique in which the Israeli alert level is raised and a vast increase in troop presence is permitted with the goal of avoiding Israeli casualties during a rescue operation. As dawn broke and the protocol concluded, twenty-odd Israeli military jeeps retreated back behind the walls of Jerusalem, leaving behind a dozen injured Palestinians and the body of Eyad Sajadiyeh, a twenty-two-year-old Palestinian university student. The transgression and the protocol—paired states of exception which at once elicit violence and permit the dominant power seemingly endless liberty and resources to subdue it, nearly always through greater acts of violence itself—have become, all too often, means for the IDF to surreptitiously preserve colonial rule. 




Nowhere in the United States is it harder to harness the power of the sun than in the Sunshine State itself. The price of solar panels has dropped by more than 80 percent since President Obama took office, yet Florida—the sunniest state east of the Mississippi—still manages to fall behind the likes of Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey in solar usage. “It defies logic,” says former Governor of Florida Charlie Crist. In a state of nearly 20 million people, fewer than 9,000 Florida homes have solar panels installed.

Floridians, with the second-highest electrical consumption in the nation, are not opposed to the idea of solar panels. But investor-owned utilities (IOUs), and the lobbyist groups that petition lawmakers on their behalf, are. Want a few solar panels installed on your roof? Be careful you don’t break a few laws in the process. The state legislature’s utility law limits the purchase and sale of electricity to IOUs exclusively. There is no mandate to generate any percentage of the state’s electricity from renewable energy, and solar leasing programs, which bring down the often-prohibitive upfront cost of the panels themselves, are banned as well.

The Koch brothers are well known for throwing money at their personal vendettas until they disappear—and in 2016, Florida is their new battleground. Koch brothers-funded lobbyist groups, like the American Legislative Exchange Council, are working hard to ensure these solar laws not only stay in place but become even more restrictive. It helps that Florida is served by a part-time state legislature. Strict term limits and a low salary helps ensure lawmakers will take a lucrative campaign donation in exchange for votes whenever they can. “Out in eight years? You’re giving more power to lobbyists,” said one Republican state lawmaker. The state’s utilities are not keeping their strategy a secret either. “It’s no secret we play an active role in public policy,” says Mark Bubriski, spokesman for Florida Power & Light, the largest utility in the state. 

IOUs in the sunshine state are now looking to consolidate their stranglehold on the solar market through a new amendment to the state legislature. Incongruously named “Smart Solar,” the amendment, which will tighten the already existing restrictions against solar power initiatives in Florida, is both well funded and strategically executed. Proposed amendments in Florida require 700,000 signatures in order to qualify for a ballot. Backed by millions from the Koch donor network, proponents of Smart Solar have reached that threshold easily, outspending the rival pro-solar amendment, known as “Solar Choice,” by nearly two-to-one. Smart Solar lobbyists have even gone so far as to lift language from the Solar Choice amendment in order to confuse residents into signing their petition. Smart Solar won’t be voted on until November, but already it’s looking like a success: Solar Choice, utterly outspent, recently disbanded its campaign.

When the bill passes, it’s likely that Smart Solar’s champions will hold a press conference to honor their hard-spent efforts—perhaps it will even be held outdoors. Just maybe, under the blinding Floridian sun, politicians, with a hand above their eyes, will wince and wonder: if only there was a way to put this damn thing to good.



No-Mile-High Club

It’s hard to travel as a family when the Canadian government thinks your six-year-old son is a terrorist. Sulemaan Ahmed and Khadija Cajee have had to go through extra security with their son, Syed Adam Ahmed, since he was a toddler. Though no one has ever explicitly told them the reason for the extra hassle, the family assumes that Syed has the same name as someone on one of the government’s no-fly list, what’s known as a “false positive” in government parlance. The family recently received some media attention for the issue, causing at least 23 other families to come forward saying that they experience the same issue with their own children. Recently, one such family was nearly prevented from returning to Canada from India. 

      Canada’s federal public safety minister has indicated the government is working on solving the false positive issue, emphasizing that he can sympathize with the families’ frustration. Still, there are a number of factors that complicate any easy solution to Syed’s problem. Airline passengers are identified only by a name and birthday, and airlines wouldn’t want to risk letting a person on the no-fly list check in online just by making up a new birthday, or using the birthday of someone who has the same name. Getting around this means adding another identifier, like address or social security number, but, again, you might be able to find the address of someone with the same name...Anyway, though the delays have let up slightly in recent months, the family says that Syed still has to go through “visual identification” to get on board, a complicated process by which an airline official looks at the child, realizes they’re not the same 55-year-old Syed Ahmed that’s wanted for terrorist activity in Yemen or what have you, and lets the family pass. 

      Most recently, Syed and his father were held up on their way to the United States to watch a hockey championship. After all, Canada is by no means the only country with a no-fly list—the U.S. boasts a robust list of over 47,000 names (distinct from its even-longer Terrorist Watch List), which Senator Dianne Feinstein has characterized as “one of our best lines of national defense.” No-fly lists didn’t exist in the U.S. before 9/11—Airlines are famously reactive in their responses to potential terrorist threats; no one ever had to remove their shoes in line for security before Richard Reid wedged plastic explosives into his sneakers on a 2001 flight to Miami. This counter-terrorism measure can pat itself on the back for successfully hampering the travel of not only Syed but a number of anti-war activists, prominent Bush opponents such as now-deceased Senator Ted Kennedy, two distinct Asif Iqals who share the name of a Guantanamo detainee, and the wife of US senator Ted Stevens, whose name is a little too close to that of the 1970s singer-songwriter now known as Yusuf Islam. 

      After Syed’s most recent run-in with airport security, a selfie Ahmed took once on the plane shows a tiny, slightly smug-looking Syed (they made it on board, after all) wearing a Habs jersey and headphones as large as his own head. Is this the face of a terrorist? No—any TSA agent could tell you as much—but it might be the name of one, and at least for Canada and the US, that’s enough. 

-PF + WC