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U.S. Navy is looking to use drones to cut cost of patrolling seas

The Caribbean is a major route via which cocaine enters the U.S., as well as being a major secondary route for marijuana and other drugs.  A 2004 report by Caribbean local outpost of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime the Caribbean drug trade commands around $5B USD in annual revenue and accounts for around 125-170 of the pure metric tons of cocaine entry North America, or around 50 percent of it.

To date the U.S. has largely relied on Coast Guard and naval patrols to try to spot and intercept the drug smugglers.  Now its going high tech, adopting an armada of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  The initial deployment involves testing an unmanned aerostat (blimp) named "Aerostar" and RQ-20 Puma hand-launched unmanned aerial vehicles aboard the High Speed Vessel Swift, a 321-foot vessel in the Fourth fleet.

I. Meet Aerostar

Both Puma and the Aerostar have seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now the military is putting them to use in another one of the nation's long-standing and costly wars -- the war on drugs.

North Dakota-based U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contractor Raven Industries produces the helium-filled floater.  Raven Industries prefers the term "Aerostat" to blimp to avoid any sort of trademark conflicts.  It cruises at 2,000 feet.

Unofficially dubbed "The Eye in the Sky" or "The Floating Eye" by servicemen, the DOD has already brought home some of these fliers for use with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency and its parent, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in their work policing the Mexican border.

The Navy tests its new Aerostar floater. [Image Source: AP]

The Aerostar is typically will be equipped with the "Kestrel" wide-area scanning sensor from Logos Technologies and the Wescam sensor from L-3 Communications, which provides narrower range multi-imaging.  It has an effective scanning range of about 50 miles at altitude -- nearly ten times the visibility of a the Navy surface craft.

II. Meet Puma

The Puma is produced by AeroVironment, Inc. (AVAV) a Monrovia, Calif.-based UAV maker.  With a range of 9 miles/2 hours it serves a companion role, giving a "God's eye view" of potential targets spotted by Aerostar.  Its electrooptical and infrared cameras offer close-up inspection of targets, while its 13-pound frame makes for easy hand launches.  

Caribbean PUMA
A Puma test launch aboard the Swift [Image Source: AP]

Puma fliers travel between 23 and 52 mph.  The craft is driven by a small propeller, powered by onboard lithium-ion batteries.

Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris tries his hand at a Puma launch [Image Source: AP]

The Puma joins the CBP's Predator drones in patrolling the Caribbean; two of the CBP's ten domestic Predator drones patrol that region.  It also joins Air Force jets and other aircraft, which regularly do flyovers of the region on patrol.

The U.S. Navy has begun testing both fliers last week.  Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, commander of the Navy's 4th Fleet, says this is the first time that UAVs have been used in Caribbean drug patrols.

Not all went smoothly.  The Puma on its first return at a press demo plunged into the ocean and had to be retrieved -- fortunately it floats.  A second launch saw a landing on deck.

III. Sequester Ends Martillo, but UAVs to Continue the "War on Drugs"

The use of drones so closed to the U.S. homeland will doubtless raise concerns about domestic surveillance, particularly given that Florida just passed a law banning most forms of warrantless drone surveillance over its airspace.  However, the Navy drones will be presumably used exclusively over international waters.  And these are small, unarmed drones, unlike the larger Predator drones that the CBP uses -- drones that could potentially be armed.

The Navy is looking to UAVs and smaller, faster craft to handle drug enforcement needs amid budget cuts from the sequester.  Last year The Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Thach (FFG 43), USS Gary (FFG 51), and guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47) were deployed in the region on a special mission dubbed Operation Martillo ("martillo" means hammer in Spanish).  

The operation was a relative success -- according to naval sources it seized 160 tons ($4B worth) of cocaine, valued at $12B USD in street resale value; 25,000 pounds of marijuana, worth more than $10M USD on the streets; and $3.5M USD in cash were seized.  

Cocaine seized
The sequester is ending Op. Martillo ("hammer"), a sting that nabbed 160 tons of cocaine.
[Image Source: AP]

However, the sequester effectively ended Martillo and its deployment of larger ships to traffick the Caribbean.  The sequestration is slashing $4B USD from the Navy budget.  A frigate costs only around $25M USD to operate a year [source].  Crew costs can be around $2.1M USD for the complement of 21 officers onboard and around $4.6M USD for the complement of 190 enlisted naval servicemen [source].  Given these relatively low costs it's somewhat unclear why the Navy chose to cut this mission given Martillo's success, but the UAVs will certainly help save costs.

Source: AP (on PhysOrg)

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RE: What a waste of money
By othercents on 4/29/2013 10:15:51 AM , Rating: 1
it's been an abysmal failure

Based on what? We don't know what the effect would have been if there wasn't an active "War on Drugs".

RE: What a waste of money
By Cheesew1z69 on 4/29/2013 10:20:09 AM , Rating: 2
We don't know what the effect would have been if there wasn't an active "War on Drugs".
Countless lives lost fighting it?

RE: What a waste of money
By Cheesew1z69 on 4/29/2013 10:25:55 AM , Rating: 2
I meant to say, countless lived saved from not fighting it.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 10:48:07 AM , Rating: 2
For such operations like these. When you succeed then people's lives are not disrupted and therefore nothing is observed. When you fail, then something significant happens.

If 160 tons of coke made it to the streets of US then I'm pretty sure you see a significant rise in drug problems. Cheap drugs and wide availability actually has a strong correlation to drug abuse everywhere.

A great example is what happened with China with opium.

RE: What a waste of money
By Geminiman on 4/29/2013 2:56:14 PM , Rating: 1
Sorry but no. The US was like that for the first 150 years of it's existence and there wasn't a drug problem. In fact there was less drug use than there is today.

You know what increased drug use? Welfare programs and wealth transfer from the rich to the poor people that didn't work to earn their money.

Your arguments have been proven false. Every country to legalize drugs end up with 50+% less violent crime, and no increase in use and gets to fire a ton of cops. Only the cops oppose the policy and going further, because they know that the vast majority of cops wouldn't be needed if drugs were legalized.

You really need to educate yourself on the subject. Your statements are based on horrible ignorance.

RE: What a waste of money
By StevoLincolnite on 4/29/2013 7:32:43 PM , Rating: 3
There is a reason why the Opium Wars happened and it wasn't because drugs benefited an entire society.

Those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it again.

Now, substance abuse itself has been recognized by the Australian Bureau of statistics to cause an increase in addictions, depression, violence, suicide, schizophrenia and an entire host of other mental issues.

Do you really want such things around your children? Sure you will never actually stop drugs, but you can certainly reduce it, hence reducing the chances for those who will potentially use it, become addicted and thus destroy their life.
Those are then people who become reliant on the welfare system, don't pay taxes and cost the country more.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/30/2013 12:32:14 PM , Rating: 2
Where are you getting this info from? No country had legalized drugs. They only decriminalized it for users. Selling is still illegal.
The users still gets taken in but does not hit their criminal history.

RE: What a waste of money
By 91TTZ on 4/29/2013 4:42:04 PM , Rating: 2
Please stop posting. You spout idiocy in every thread you post in. After I raped your lackluster thought process in other threads you simply vanish and move on to pollute new ones.

RE: What a waste of money
By euler007 on 4/29/2013 10:30:45 AM , Rating: 2
Well for starters let's compare when there was prohibition on alcool:
With Prohibition : Al Capone and such shooting at each other
Without Prohibition : Molson-Coors and Budweiser employing lots of people and paying lots of taxes.

Or look at the drugged and violent wasteland that is Amsterdam, where drugs and prostitution are legal. Except that it's not.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 10:56:29 AM , Rating: 2
Without Prohibition: Al Capone and such still shoot at each other. They just now sell other drugs.

Then you also have a ton of other problems. How many alcohol problems do we have in this country? How many deaths and injuries caused by alcohol and tobacco? These are not even close to be considered hard drugs.

RE: What a waste of money
By arazok on 4/29/2013 12:01:11 PM , Rating: 2
I’ll take more addicts and related deaths over more gun violence and organized crime any day.

The war on drugs only success is that it drives the price of drugs up by constraining the supply. As cheap as drugs are, they would be even cheaper if they were freely available. In every other regard, it’s a total farce. They are still easily obtained, our streets are war zones as gangs fight over turf, and the money spent on the war is absolutely mind blowing.

We could have the exact same situation without all the downsides if the government simply legalized it, and regulated/taxed the product. Tax it so it’s the same price as it is now, and make it obtainable in stores instead of on streets. We’ll still have a problem with drug addicts, but at least there won’t be as many gang wars and tax dollars going towards fighting an impossible cause.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 12:26:35 PM , Rating: 3
drugs related deaths and injury overshadow organized crime when it's illegal. What makes you think it will be better when it's legal and cheap?

Great! let's make coke legal along with every hard drugs out there. Now I'll have a bunch of lazy people on weed or some depressants. I'll walk outside and see waves of retards running around destroying everything because they think they're superman when they're just on coke or speed.

I hope you don't ever make any decisions for any country.

RE: What a waste of money
By arazok on 4/29/2013 2:31:51 PM , Rating: 2
Making it legal will still not convince many people to try it. That fact that it will ruin your life if generally enough disincentive for most.

Odds are, you would never notice that anything changed, apart from the fact that the number of gang related crimes plummeted.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 2:46:10 PM , Rating: 2
sure, in your mind

Your argument can easily be countered.

There will always be poor people. That is how the world is set up as long as there are rich people. Anyone in any class can be in gangs but it's vastly just poor folks. So you take away their source of income. They don't have enough to get by. Guess what? more prostitution and robbery. Sure, they'll stop fighting each other over territory for selling drugs. Now they'll pick more pockets and mug more people. They'll come to your house and clean you out while your high on your legal marijuana.

RE: What a waste of money
By arazok on 4/29/2013 3:32:35 PM , Rating: 2
Well, legalize prostitution and you’d have that taken care of as well. ;)

Theft could be a problem, perhaps. I’d take that over turf and drug wars any day. Perhaps we could reallocate the billions spent fighting the war on drugs to allocate more street cops in an effort to prevent real crimes?

I could also argue that breaking the cycle of drugs/jail might help more poor people get out of their situation.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/30/2013 9:23:09 AM , Rating: 2
Gangs will always fight over territory. If it's not alcohol, it's drugs. If it's not drugs, it's prostitution. If it's not prostitution, it's guns. Guns are legal for practically anyone, but they still manage to do it illegally.

If South America and Central America didn't open your eyes then I don't know what will. Shakira videos are great but the vast majority of people isn't exactly having a great time.

RE: What a waste of money
By Geminiman on 4/29/2013 3:06:15 PM , Rating: 2
"drugs related deaths and injury overshadow organized crime when it's illegal. What makes you think it will be better when it's legal and cheap?"

100% FALSE. Go look at the statistics and specifically look at the date predating 1971 when drugs were legal. Your confusing data that includes deaths and injury as a result of the violence and other issues to do with high cost as a result of the prohibition with actual drug related deaths and injury.

Remember in a legal system, the product would be carefully quality controlled and the amounts would be known 100% of the time. Thus except for the "chemists" that like to mix drugs and make mistakes, no one would overdose. As for injury, most coke heads, or LSD lovers don't drive while they're on their high, and when the high is over, it's gone with little long term effect (other than nightmares for LSD users) unlike Alcohol that can last in the system for 12+ hours.

Thus by legalizing you eliminate all violent crime as a result of the drug trade, you get rid of most gangs because they only exist because of the money they make on drug sales, you eliminate a huge portion of long term prostitution because the drugs are used to keep them in the system, and you cut the cost of the drugs by 90-95% in very short order, which makes it no more onerous on your monthly paycheck than a 24 of beer and thus you can be a drug addict just as easily as an alcoholic who keeps it together, or someone that chain smokes.

ERGO: There is no downside. No increase in use, less crime, fewer cops, thus saving money, new taxes, new jobs, more productive people = win for everyone except law enforcement and the cartells.

RE: What a waste of money
By andrewaggb on 4/29/2013 3:18:59 PM , Rating: 2
it will fix some problems and create others. If hard drugs are legal then it might not be grounds to fire people. Drug tests might not be permissible.

Desperate people addicted to drugs commit all sorts of crimes. If you have any friends who are police officers they can tell you that drugs or alcohol are the leading cause of all the things they deal with.

I don't really have an answer though. The reality is people can already obtain drugs. Our current efforts aren't successful. Society may not have the money/will/etc to win a war on drugs.

Will it cost society more to deal with the increased social problems that legalizing drugs may create or will it actually save money? If drugs are legal would more people use them or would it just be safer for those who use them already? There's lots of questions. And do you legalize them all? Or just some?

Irresponsible use of alcohol has done so much damage to society. I know it's not fair to compare it to hard drugs, but I worry about a future where hard drugs could be considered socially acceptable.

RE: What a waste of money
By 3DoubleD on 4/29/2013 12:21:45 PM , Rating: 2
If organized crime is making money selling other drugs, then legalize and regulate those drugs and price them out of the market. This is what the Netherlands does.

Look at drug dealing as a business. You have an operating cost (growing, manufacturing, transportation, distribution, "security") and you have your income, which is based on the street price of drugs. The current strategy is like playing "whack-a-mole", hitting them whenever we can legally see them. This drives up their operation costs, but because they have a monopoly on the drug market, they have pricing control and they can absorb easily absorb operation cost increases.

If you provide a legal way to access drugs, in a safe environment (with doctors, counsellors, nurses, ect.) , for a far lower cost, then you take away pricing control. If you want to do crack cocaine, you can go to a clinic and be administered it under safe conditions, but you have to undergo addition counselling as well. You hit organized crime where it hurts, on their bottom line and in their wallets. If you can make the cost of doing business exceed the potential profit, then the incentive for such crime is gone.

The "whack-a-mole" with a hammer technique will never work since there is a continuous demand for these drugs. Cripple the revenue stream, help the addicted, and save money and lives doing it.

Also, legalize marijuana and tax the crap out of it (same with alcohol and tobacco). Use that tax money to pay for the drug abuse programs (including the clinics I mentioned above). Not a single dollar from income tax would be required - no one will be paying for anyone else's high... unless they are getting high themselves.

Alcohol and drugs are a fact of life, people use them, and no amount of wishful thinking will change that fact. Let's not base policy on wishful thinking, let's crush the revenue stream, removing the financial incentive, and help the addicted.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 12:37:10 PM , Rating: 2
It's not that I don't agree with your argument. The problem with that is you are willing to take a short term loss that is not acceptable for our society.

You can argue the Netherlands does and blah blah blah but the Netherlands is not the US. The culture is different, they don't have the same problem, in a different geographical location, and the MUCH LOWER POPULATION. There was not much incentive to take drug to the Netherlands and legalizing made it even less of an incentive.

In the US, drug farm capital of the world is pretty much just a little beyond our Southern borders. We have a massive amount of population that has plenty of money to spend on drugs. I completely agree it would work in Alaska but not densely populated southern parts of US.

RE: What a waste of money
By Geminiman on 4/29/2013 2:50:37 PM , Rating: 2
Apples to apples:

In the years before and after 1971 when drugs were made illegal by the federal government, there was no change in the use of those same drugs. Further, in the 40+ years since those drugs were made illegal there has been absolutely no change in the per-capita rate of use.

But, at the same time we've spent over a trillion dollars trying to enforce the law, and there has been a massive increase in violent crime, and people in jail to the point where we have more people in jail per capita than the Soviet Union even in its hay day.

It is a failure. Legalizing drugs will, even with US only data not result in any increase in drug use, because there was no decrease when they were outlawed.

ERGO you're position is wrong. Legalize them all.

RE: What a waste of money
By 91TTZ on 4/29/2013 4:46:11 PM , Rating: 2
You can argue the Netherlands does and blah blah blah but the Netherlands is not the US.

You reveal your thought process to be incredibly weak in each and every thread in which you participate. Your posts are like pollution on this forum. Please stop posting. Seriously.

RE: What a waste of money
By Richard875yh5 on 4/30/2013 10:35:01 AM , Rating: 2
What happened years ago happened, today is today. You can quote what happened during the Capone days, but any morons should knows we have to make a big effort to stop drugs from coming into the USA. Today, we have new technologies that we didn't have back then and we should use them. Any morons who says differently should have their head examine. It sad morons tries to paint a different pictures by using the past history.

RE: What a waste of money
By ritualm on 5/2/2013 1:15:33 PM , Rating: 2
Marijuana was banned because Dow Chemical didn't want anyone to make cheaper chemical derivatives out of the hemp plant, as opposed to doing the same with barrels of non-renewable crude oil.

Keeping all that contraband banned forever does the following:

- increase prison spending
- increase police spending
- increase military spending
- increase the costs of many common products because they must be made with more expensive material sources
- increase the number of people who are stripped of their voting rights simply because of contraband possession, and therefore forcing them to do crime because they cannot be employed anymore
- greatly increased crime levels
- decreased police attention towards all non-contraband-related crime
- increased overwork of existing cops, and with that increased incidence of police brutality
- increased health care costs because society is forced to use less effective drugs at high prices to treat the same ailments

All of which, by the by, come back to haunt every last waking second of your life - never mind reducing the standard of living over time and increasing the burden of an already ballooning national debt.

Legalize the damned things. Regulate them like we already do with alcohol, tobacco and firearms. Then deal with the problems associated with these things like we already do with DUI, school shootings and teenage smoking. Outright banning them is not the answer - remember, the Prohibition never prevented anyone from getting drunk in the first place.

You're talking a bunch of awful nonsense.

RE: What a waste of money
By Shadowself on 4/29/2013 12:46:07 PM , Rating: 2
I seriously hope you are not directly equating cocaine and its effects with alcohol and its effects.

Cocaine is not even allowed for use by the U.S. medical community except for certain, specific procedures, e.g., rhinoplasty. There are reasons for that.

While so called "soft drugs", e.g., marijuana, are legal, are legal in Amsterdam, so called "hard drugs", e.g., cocaine are not legal in Amsterdam. To make a blanket statement about drugs in Amsterdam is completely misleading.

RE: What a waste of money
By Geminiman on 4/29/2013 2:48:02 PM , Rating: 2
I will!!! cocaine is less addictive than both Alcohol and Tobacco. It's side effects are similar of not more mild than Alcohol in severity.

In fact no drug is significantly more addictive than Alcohol and tobacco. The only difference is that the lobby for cocaine isn't as big as Alcohol and Tobacco and thus wasn't kept legal.

The problem with drug use isn't the use or the side effects, it's the violence that comes from prohibition.

We know this because there is no difference in use of these drugs if it's legal or made illegal, the only change is the cost and the crime associated with it.

End the madness and legalize it all. Prohibition kills. Drugs only kill at the same rate as other legal drugs like Alcohol and is tiny in comparison to the amount of deaths from the criminals pushing the illegal product that government has no business interfering with in the first place until someone other than the person that chose to take the drugs is harmed.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 4/29/2013 3:21:20 PM , Rating: 2
Tobacco and alcohol has a high addiction rate because it is legal and highly available. There is also massive amounts of marketing that goes into it. A large % of people are only addicted to it psychologically as habit or a social fix. Our pop culture also make it look "cool" to do these things.

With drugs like crack, heroine, cocaine, x, etc... you are straight up addicted to it. Your homeostasis changed and the chemical balance in your body/brain is whacked. That is why the dependency is so high and you have massive withdrawal symptoms.

Your assumptions on kill rates with legal vs illegal drugs are just....assumptions. It is not true. Hard drugs have a higher kill rate in a given time period. You can't compare someone who died after 30 years of heavy drinking and smoking vs someone who died after 4 years of meth the same.
Illegal drug users are also most likely unreported as they will do anything to hide from authorities/medical staff for obvious reasons.

RE: What a waste of money
By 91TTZ on 4/29/2013 4:47:55 PM , Rating: 2
With drugs like crack, heroine, cocaine, x, etc... you are straight up addicted to it.

Some people get addicted to it. Not everyone who uses those drugs get addicted to them.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 5/1/2013 8:22:22 AM , Rating: 2
Partial quoting and misleading again I see

RE: What a waste of money
By Skywalker123 on 4/29/2013 7:07:30 PM , Rating: 2
the chemical balance in your body/brain is whacked

Don't know about your body but the chemical balance in your brain is clearly whacked.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 5/1/2013 7:58:14 AM , Rating: 2

here you go. Maybe you should read more and spam less.

RE: What a waste of money
By tigz1218 on 4/29/2013 10:02:01 PM , Rating: 2
Tobacco and alcohol has a high addiction rate because it is legal and highly available.

Really? So the legality of something is the cause for addiction? Fantastic logic!

Everyone, based on BRB29's logic I am:
Addicted to Tylenol, NyQuil, Advil, Robitusin, Alka-Seltzer, Sudafed, Dramamine, Theraflu, and Ephedrine.

Hmmm I guess your logic can also be applied to: I am addicted to drinking Gasoline, Liquid Plumber, Windex, 409, Bleach, Chlorine, Inhaling Aerosols, Propane, Helium. I must also be addicted to going into Home Depot and chopping peoples heads off with axes and shooting them with nail guns.

If I missed anything please feel free to add to the list. Remember, the logic is, if it is legal and readily available, you are addicted to it.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 5/1/2013 8:01:34 AM , Rating: 2
Nice attempt at partial quoting and taking things out of context.

"Why do tobacco and alcohol use co-occur so frequently? Clearly environmental factors contribute to the problem. Both drugs are legally available and easily obtained. Over the past two decades, however, it also has become clear that biological factors are at least partly responsible. Although tobacco and nicotine have very different effects and mechanisms of action, Funk and colleagues (27) speculate that they might act on common mechanisms in the brain, creating complex interactions. These possible mechanisms are difficult to study because alcohol and nicotine can affect people differently depending on the amount of the drugs consumed (28–30) and because numerous factors, including gender and age, influence the interaction between nicotine and alcohol (31,32). Still, a common mechanism might explain many of the interactions between tobacco and alcohol, as well as a possible genetic link between alcoholism and tobacco dependence."

RE: What a waste of money
By Geminiman on 5/1/2013 5:36:58 PM , Rating: 2
Absolutely everything you just said is false. Laboratory analysis supports my assertions about addictiveness. Data prior to drugs becoming illegal in this country demonstrates everything else. There is absolutely no assumptions in what I wrote at all.

RE: What a waste of money
By Strunf on 4/30/2013 8:41:49 AM , Rating: 2
"The only difference is that the lobby for cocaine isn't as big as Alcohol and Tobacco and thus wasn't kept legal."
Actually the lobby for not making it legal is quite big and with big pockets, the pharma industry wouldn't want people to be able to grow their own painkillers, antidepressants and what not without paying them a dime, the beneficial effects from many many illegal drugs have been proven and yet people can't grow their own medicine.

RE: What a waste of money
By rubbahbandman on 4/29/2013 2:00:27 PM , Rating: 1
i think it's clear based on 20th century history that prohibiting a product such as drugs and alcohol creates a violent black market. in my mind it isn't far fetched to legalize and regulate (big bad voodoo government word) these products so you can tax them heavily. not to mention eliminate wasteful for-profit jail systems that promote chickenshit crimes that lead to jail-time(see marijuana possession).

RE: What a waste of money
By 91TTZ on 4/29/2013 4:39:34 PM , Rating: 2
Prohibitions never work. You can learn a lot from history.

RE: What a waste of money
By BRB29 on 5/1/2013 8:24:48 AM , Rating: 2
lol alcohol is nothing compared to crack and cocaine

RE: What a waste of money
By ritualm on 5/2/2013 1:23:02 PM , Rating: 2
lol alcohol is nothing compared to crack and cocaine

Crack and cocaine never caused the current obesity pandemic that is increasingly attacking younger generations with a vengeance. Sugar, High-fructose corn syrup, salt... these things do.

You're talking out of your butt, and you're always twisting and weaving rubbish. Oh and what happens when your arguments are losing? You immediately change the subject and accuse us for being idiots.

Stop breathing please.

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