How Amer­ica learned to stop wor­ry­ing and love the drone

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - JIM DEN­TON, GATESVILLE

This sum­mer, Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg announced the suc­cess­ful test flight of a so­lar-pow­ered drone that could one day de­liver world­wide in­ter­net ac­cess. He lamented on his per­sonal Face­book page that “more than half the world’s pop­u­la­tion — 4 bil­lion peo­ple — still can’t ac­cess the in­ter­net” and sug­gested that the drone could be what makes the in­ter­net a univer­sal right.

Days later, the Pen­tagon is­sued an email state­ment re­veal­ing that it had car­ried out a drone strike in So­ma­lia against the al-Shabab ex­trem­ist group. Zucker­berg’s an­nounce­ment ric­o­cheted across the in­ter­net, gen­er­at­ing ex­cited chat­ter on busi­ness and tech web­sites, while the Pen­tagon’s muted state­ment van­ished from the head­lines within hours.

For years, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was as­sailed from the right and the left for its over­re­liance on — and lack of dis­clo­sures re­gard­ing — lethal drone strikes in Afghanistan, Libya and Pak­istan. Un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the rate of airstrikes has in­creased, though he has not faced the same kind of re­sis­tance that his pre­de­ces­sor had. This is in part be­cause Trump is giv­ing pro­gres­sives other pro­grams and poli­cies to op­pose. But it is also be­cause Amer­i­cans have grown ac­cus­tomed to see­ing drones used in busi­ness, from telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions man­u­fac­tur­ers like Qual­comm to fast-food restau­rants like Domino’s.

The com­mer­cial use of drones has re­framed the un­manned air­craft as a hu­man­i­tar­ian and con­sumer good rather than an in­stru­ment of war. Drones may soon de­liver in­ter­net ac­cess to Uganda and pizza to our doors, but we should not let their be­nign uses dis­tract us from their deadly ones.

The CIA, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Air Force, ex­e­cuted the first lethal drone strike on Oct. 7, 2001 — the first day of the war in Afghanistan. It would be the first of thou­sands, as Preda­tor and Reaper drones armed with Hell­fire mis­siles emerged as chill­ing icons of the war on ter­ror.

When Pres­i­dent Barack Obama signed a new Pres­i­den­tial Pol­icy Guid­ance that im­posed mod­est limits on the drone pro­gram, he had to fend off a pub­lic protest from an­ti­war ac­tivist Medea Ben­jamin. From the au­di­ence, she re­minded the pres­i­dent of the death of Ab­dul­rah­man al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old Amer­i­can killed by a CIA drone strike in Ye­men, and asked, “Is that the way we treat a 16-year-old Amer­i­can? Can you tell us why Ab­dul­rah­man al-Awlaki was killed? Can you tell the Mus­lim peo­ple their lives are as pre­cious as our lives?”

Trump has not met that kind of chal­lenge be­cause he has never ad­dressed his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s use of armed drones in pub­lic. With the pres­i­dent’s at­ten­tion and tweets di­rected else­where, lethal drone strikes in So­ma­lia and Ye­men have been over­shad­owed by sto­ries about drones as life-sav­ing couri­ers of de­fib­ril­la­tors in the United States and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid in Rwanda and tools for catch­ing Ele­phant poach­ers in Malawi.

The con­ver­sa­tion has shifted from the Pen­tagon and Lan­g­ley to Sil­i­con Val­ley, where en­gi­neers and ex­ec­u­tives have re­fash­ioned the drone for a con­sumer mar­ket. That has meant shed­ding the im­age of the killer drone and sub­sti­tut­ing it with some­thing less threat­en­ing — some­thing fun, safe and in the ser­vice of the greater good.

Of course, with the right over­sight, drones can do a lot of good in the world, as Zucker­berg and others sug­gest. How­ever, their com­mer­cial use at home risks dis­tract­ing us from what they were de­signed to do, in our name, in the Mid­dle East and Africa.

Trump may be si­lent on his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s drone pro­gram in So­ma­lia and Ye­men, but we should not let his si­lence de­ter­mine ours.

Re: July 28 ar­ti­cle, “TxDOT re­con­sid­ers plan for U.S. 183 toll lanes.”

For those who sup­port politi­cians afraid to raise the gas tax, take a drive to Hous­ton. It’s a night­mare. Each toll road has caveats that must be read at 70 mph. The mix of tolls, HOV lanes and free roads be­come a dan­ger of con­fu­sion. All could

We all know folks who do not want health care pro­vided by the gov­ern­ment.

“It’s so­cial­ism.” “It’s for lazy peo­ple who won’t work.” “The gov­ern­ment has no busi­ness be­ing in health care.” We have all heard the think­ing.

It doesn’t mat­ter to th­ese folks that a lot of Amer­i­cans can­not af­ford hun­dreds of dollars a month for health care for them­selves and their chil­dren. There is a sim­ple rem­edy for those who do not want gov­ern­ment in­volved in their health care: Show us you re­ally mean it by send­ing in your Medi­care and Vet­er­ans Af­fairs card to the gov­ern­ment.

You do not have to have Medi­care; it is your choice. You are free to go out on the “free” mar­ket and buy any health in­sur­ance you want. So, now the prob­lem is fixed.

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Dozens of peo­ple march out­side the Re­nais­sance Austin Ho­tel last month to protest Sen. Ted Cruz’s stand on health care re­form. Cruz was speak­ing at the ho­tel.

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