Adam Hudson on living under drones, Peter Dreier on Barry Commoner, John Nichols on Bill Moyers’s new film on ALEC


LIFE AND DEATH UNDER DRONES: To live under the threat of US drone strikes is to live in terror. Communities are rendered helpless. Parents keep children home from school out of fear. Anywhere from 474 to 884 civilians have been killed by drones, and more than 1,000 have been injured. Only 2 percent of those killed are high-level militants; the rest are low-level fighters or civilians.

These are the findings of a new report from Stanford University Law School and the NYU School of Law. Titled “Living Under Drones” and based on more than 130 interviews with “victims and witnesses of drone activity,” the report concludes that the harm from drones goes “beyond death and physical injury…. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.”

Some have criticized the report’s methodology, saying the sample size is too small and criticizing the researchers for not conducting interviews in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In fact, the subjects are FATA residents who were interviewed outside the region for security reasons. Co-author Mohammad M. Ali explained that entering FATA would have required being “embedded with a Pakistani military unit,” which the authors decided against to preserve their independence.

The report shines a light on the dangerous implications of the drone program. Rather than quelling terrorism, the drone strikes anger Pakistanis, potentially inspiring new terror recruits. And since the strikes are carried out without congressional or UN approval, they make war easier to wage. As co-author Omar Shakir points out, “Because it’s cheaper, doesn’t involve US personnel, and doesn’t involve the same kind of legal approvals, drones make the recourse to force a more attractive option when other options are available.”

The full report can be found at   ADAM HUDSON

REMEMBERING BARRY COMMONER: Once described by Time as the “Paul Revere of Ecology,” Barry Commoner, who died on September 30, followed Rachel Carson as America’s most famed modern environmentalist. But unlike Carson, Commoner viewed the environmental crisis as a symptom of a fundamentally flawed economic and social system. A biologist and research scientist, he argued that corporate greed, misguided government priorities and the misuse of technology undermined “the finely sculptured fit between life and its surroundings.”

Commoner insisted that scientists had an obligation to make information accessible to the public. Citizens, he said, have a right to know the health hazards of the consumer products and technology they use every day. Those were radical ideas in the 1950s and ’60s, when Americans were mesmerized by the seemingly infinite potential of cars, plastics, chemical sprays and atomic energy.

Commoner linked environmental issues to a broader vision of social and economic justice. In his 1976 bestseller The Poverty of Power, he introduced the “Three Es”—the threat to environmental survival, the shortage of energy, the problems of the economy (inequality, unemployment)—and explained their interconnectedness.

Many embraced Commoner’s ideas about workplace hazards, nuclear power and recycling. But he grew frustrated by corporate influence over politics and by the failure of mainstream environmentalists to join other progressive movements to challenge the free-market system. In a 2007 interview with The New York Times, the 90-year-old Commoner remained the relentless radical, saying, “I think that most of the ‘greening’ that we see so much of now has failed to look back on arguments such as my own—that action has to be taken on what’s produced and how it’s produced. That’s unfortunate, but I’m an eternal optimist, and I think eventually people will come around.”   PETER DREIER

ALEC CAPTURED ON FILM: Much of the fight to expose the machinations of the American Legislative Exchange Council has focused on the role that corporate interests and the Koch brothers play in warping the lawmaking process. After the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation exposed the kind of “model legislation” that ALEC peddles to right-wing legislators, it made sense to go after the group’s funding sources—and the primary beneficiaries of its legislative largesse.

But as a new documentary by Bill Moyers (with Okapi Productions and the Schumann Media Center) illustrates, it’s just as important to hold to account the politicians at ALEC’s beck and call. In United States of ALEC, Moyers features a remarkable recording of former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson speaking to ALEC members in 2002: “I always loved going to those meetings because I always found new ideas. Then I’d take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit and declare, ‘That’s mine.’”

Thompson now faces Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin in a tight contest for Wisconsin’s open US Senate seat. As Americans decide thousands of legislative contests this fall, they can ask candidates a question: Are you a member of ALEC? If the answer is yes, they will know that legislator is not running to represent them—and that he or she may be prepared to “disguise” corporate wish-list legislation in an effort to deceive the people.   JOHN NICHOLS

This week we also lost the exemplary historian and leftist Eric Hobsbawm, eulogized in this issue by Eric Foner.

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