MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Celebrities come and go, but presidential attempts at despicable humor leave a foul aftertaste even after four years.
This is a truism that John Oliver recently proved on a recent "Last Week Tonight" segment (watch here) on US drone assassinations directly authorized by President Obama. At the infamous Washington White House Correspondents Dinner (this one in 2010), Obama was attempting to be humorous (watch here) when he warned:
"The Jonas Brothers are here. (Applause.) They're out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans. But, boys, don't get any ideas. (Laughter.) I have two words for you - predator drones. (Laughter.) You will never see it coming. (Laughter.) You think I'm joking. (Laughter.)"
The DC journalist stenographer corps laughed with abandon at the frightfully frivolous flaunting of the power to execute people using drones without any due process. This was the same Washington press gathering that laughed hysterically when then President Bush got on his knees and pretended to search for Weapons of Mass Destruction under a speakers' table long after it was clear that the active WMDs used to justify the Iraq War did not exist.
Obama's mock threat to the Jonas brothers a few years back evoked the US indifference to those persons killed overseas by drone strikes. That is because the guffaws of the corporate media were based on the subconscious premise that Obama's boasting of his power to authorize kill strikes is limited to people of little note to DC insiders, Middle-Eastern civilians (collateral damage) and persons alleged to be terrorists or in areas where terrorists allegedly congregate.
John Oliver resurrected the dreadful Obama remark in a masterful satirical critique just last month. A September 29 International Business Times article recounted Oliver's mordant US drone policy segment:
Imagine your perfect afternoon: a cool breeze blowing, the sun shining over that trendy work of nonfiction you're reading; and a clear, blue sky free of clouds - and swarming with drones.
That's the future John Oliver thinks we could be headed for. On the most recent episode of his HBO show, "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," the funnyman host reported that President Barack Obama has launched eight times as many drones as the Bush administration did, pointing out that the death tolls from these strikes and the drones' efficiency in taking out targets - not to mention their very legality - remain uncertain.
Oliver started his segment on drones with a discussion of the recent U.S. strikes in northwest Pakistan. One strike on Wednesday, in North Waziristan, killed at least 10 people and another strike in South Waziristan killed at least four people. Oliver said the only news footage his team could find discussing the drone strikes was from the Iranian government's English-language news channel.
"Their slogan should really be 'appallingly cheap and incredibly deadly.' Unfortunately, that's already been taken by Hardee's," joked Oliver.
Using footage from a Pentagon news conference and other sources, Oliver debunked the notion that the drone assassinations are ordered by Obama (or perhaps even his designates) in cases of "imminent threat" only. Just as many US police in urban areas identify youth of color who are shot and killed as gang members only because they live in a certain area, the Pentagon identifies almost all drone strike victims as "militants" merely because of the locations targeted. Jeremy Scahill and other non-mainstream media investigative journalists have proven that many - if not a majority - of the victims of Obama administration-authorized drone strikes are "collateral damage."
It is lamentable that Obama's four year old joke is still representative of a president who appears boastful of his arrogated power to assassinate people overseas at will. That the White House acknowledges and brags of the presidential drone "hit list" to the press - most notably the New York Times - instead of considering it classified information is a pitiable indication that they consider it a positive assertion of powers by Obama.
Much of the lack of progress in the United States during the Obama administration can be attributed to fear and confusion stirred up by the likes of the Koch brothers and Mitch McConnell. The US drone assassination policy, however, is a revelation of Obama's core character, an adoption of a stance that the maintenance of US empire justifies the killing of people who pose no threat to this nation.
The expansion of powers by President Obama to include targeted killing from the air is a threat not just to "disposable people" in the Middle-East. The next president may extend those powers to domestic drone strikes against alleged terrorists or "enemies of the homeland."
What Obama threatened against the Jonas Brothers in 2010 may have represented grim humor, but in the future it may be a ghastly reality for persons in the US and even more civilians abroad.
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