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The Times
  • Maddocks: The president claims riding Predator Drones as a hobby

  • The White House released a photograph this week of President Obama riding aboard a Predator Drone, describing his use of this lethal machine as a hobby of the president’s that he engages in “all the time.”


     

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  • The White House released a photograph this week of President Obama riding aboard a Predator Drone, describing his use of this lethal machine as a hobby of the president’s that he engages in “all the time.”
    In the photo, the president, wearing protective glasses and earmuffs, is seen squinting down the interior of the fuselage of the Predator moments after takeoff, his red, white, and blue-gloved right hand offering a thumbs-up salute.
    The White House said the photo was taken on Oct. 31, just before Mr. Obama in trick-or-treat fashion, buzzed the Republican National Committee headquarters on 1st Street. But it offered no further details on whether the president’s terrorizing of the committee building was a regular hobby or a one-time recreational event.
    By releasing the photo the White House had hoped to take some of the attention away from the debate over the secrecy of the drone strikes -- their legal basis and the reported backlash they have produced in Pakistan and Yemen -- and to put a kinder, gentler, more presidential face on the unmanned aerial vehicle -- or UAV -- program.
    “The president is well aware of the dangers presented by UAVs,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “But the president believes that when used responsibly, these devices can provide hours of recreational enjoyment.”
    “Up at Camp David we do drone flying all the time,” Mr. Obama said.
    “The whole family?” he was asked.
    “Yes, even the girls,” he said, “and oftentimes guests of mine go up there. And I have a profound respect for the traditions of flying that trace back in this country for generations to the Wright brothers. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake.”
    It was a surprising disclosure by a president who, until this month, had been known more for his enthusiasm for pickup basketball than his affection for lethal weapons.
    While other presidents have employed the use of drones, none save for Mr. Obama have publicly acknowledged riding in them for pleasure. And database searches of Mr. Obama’s speeches and interviews turned up no mention of participating in drone flights prior to release this week of the photos showing the president stretched out inside an airborne Predator.
    Asked why no one had seen a picture or heard about the president’s drone hobby before, Mr. Carney said, “Because when he flies one of those things, he gets on board to spend time with his family and friends and relax, not to produce photographs.”
     “I would refer you simply to the leaked memo that should be coming out any day now and will explain the president’s rationale behind this extraordinary executive action,” Mr. Carney told reporters as they pressed him on how frequently the president rides in drones. “I don’t know how often he flies but I can tell you he doesn’t come to this decision lightly. He does go to Camp David with some regularity, but, again, I’m not sure how often he gets into the drones there. All I’m going to say is that on the night Osama bin Laden was killed, the president may not have been in the Situation Room the whole time.”
    Page 2 of 2 - That statement seemed to mostly quiet the skeptics. The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” column cast doubt on the claim that Mr. Obama’s Predator Drone flying capability was outside the possibility of physics and the permissibility of the president’s executive powers, while Fox News quoted an unnamed person saying Mr. Obama had participated once during a Marine competition at Camp David but had gone easy on his fellow UAV pilots. Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, went on CNN to question the assertion that the president isn’t a frequent flier.
    “I tell you what I do think,” Ms. Blackburn said. “I think he has been taking Speaker [John] Boehner up there, wining and dining him, and I think, contrary to the rumors, we have nothing to worry about when it comes to the debt ceiling and sequestration. The drones will see to that.”
    “He clearly gets it,” said Donald Trump, who was in Las Vegas for a news conference to announce that he would soon produce his own Hawaiian birth certificate and introduce his own line of Predator de Trump UAVs.
    John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was noncommittal on the topic, noting that White House hobbies are generally the sole responsibility of the executive branch. But he said the administration had “wrestled with” the drone concept.
    Mr. Carney did acknowledge some lingering disquiet over the president’s new hobby. He said the White House planned to release another drone-flying photo next week, this one featuring Vice President Joe Biden with a leather-clad woman seated in his lap.
    “That should ease the public’s mind some,” Mr. Carney said. “The vice president has a way of humanizing these things.”
    Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.
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