Political Correctness Is Not Partisan

Politically CorrectEd Kilgore wrote an interesting article earlier this week, A Whole New Brand of “Political Correctness.” It is about how the coverage of Obama’s low approval ratings, and how they affect Hillary Clinton’s campaign, never discuss racism. He mentioned the Republican “Southern Strategy” is known — from statements by its own proponents — to be racist. “I’d suggest that we are now in an era where ‘political correctness’ has been turned on its head.” I’d suggest that it isn’t turned on its head. I would suggest that the idea of political correctness as some kind of liberal thing was always wrong.

You may remember back a few days, I wrote, Robert M Price and the Limits of Brilliance. In that, I talked about Price’s argument in favor of Mike Huckabee for president was based upon the fact that he would “stand against PC and Islamo-fascism.” Forget the “Islamo-fascism” — the idea that the president would take a stand against PC is just ridiculous. It is impossible in the sense that “PC” is not something legislated, but rather socially enforced. And it is such a trivial issue. Price, after all, was arguing that we don’t need to worry about Huckabee’s homophobia, because we get in return his bold stand against people looking down on Rush Limbaugh calling women whores.

But the truth of the matter is that “political correctness” is just a name for any form of speech codes that the speaker doesn’t like. I don’t ever remember as big a bout of PC as after 9/11 and the way that almost everyone came down on any person who tried to explain why we were attacked other than with the simplistic, “They hate us for our freedom.” But this is never the kind of PC that conservatives complain about. And that’s fine. But to think that they don’t have their own speech codes is just madness.

This idea is not new. Rational Wiki even has a name for it, Conservative Correctness. It provides a classic example, “The rebranding of ‘French fries’ as ‘Freedom fries’ in the Congressional cafeteria after the French refused to support the Invasion of Iraq in 2003.” And to take it to a more official level, there is the still common use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” instead of “torture.” Or “private military contractor” instead of “mercenary.” And, of course, “pro-life” instead of “anti-choice.” There are also concerted efforts at negative PC like “pro-abortion” for “pro-choice” and “Democrat Party” instead of “Democratic Party.”

Now I assume that a lot of people would just say that these are euphemisms. But that is all that PC is. What are the non-offensive words that a group uses for contentious or disturbing subjects. For example, almost everyone uses the term “passed away” instead of “died.” That is language meant to spare the feelings of sensitive people. Can it be taken too far? Like anything else, yes. But the intention is usually good. The truth is that there are very few conservatives today who actually think it is acceptable to use the term “nigger” rather than “African American.” Everyone understands that the former term is offensive to pretty much everyone — but especially African Americans.

But here’s the thing. Since when did being polite become contentious? When it comes to our political correctness, it isn’t contentious. It is, in fact, just being polite. It is only when it is their political correctness that it becomes a bad thing. But I don’t recall scores of liberal books decrying conservative political correctness. For liberals, conservative correctness is just silly — not a threat to freedom. But for conservatives like Price, it is very serious indeed. They whine about it even while coming up with new pejoratives to call us.

Afterword

Remember how Bill Maher’s show Politically Incorrect was canceled because of right wing outrage over him saying something that wasn’t politically correct — as the right wing defined it? In the time since then, left wing political correctness has only waned. But right wing political correctness (largely because it isn’t seen as political correctness) has flourished.

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War on the Cheap Leads to Eternal War

John KasichAs I say quite a lot around here, in many ways, I am a conservative. There are two kinds of conservatives in the world. Imagine you are trying to sleep and your next door neighbor is having a party. If you are the kind of conservative that has now taken over the Republican Party, you are waiting for the slightest sound so they can make angry phone calls, pound on the neighbor’s door, or call the cops. If you are my kind of conservative you just want to live and let live. And this is not just because I don’t like confrontations. In general, people should be allowed to live their lives unless doing so is really infringing on my doing the same. It is probably not hard to see how I managed to be a libertarian for so long.

Daniel Larison at The American Conservative — like most of the staff there when it comes to foreign policy — is my kind of conservative. He highlighted an interview that John Kasich had with Hugh Hewitt. In it, Kasich says a number of things that are wrong, and dangerous. And they all show that despite his reputation, Kasich is just your typical Republican. Well, just like with conservatives, there are two kinds of Republicans when it comes to foreign policy. There are those who want to go to war everywhere and there are those who just want to fund and supply arms to some faction everywhere in the world.

Larison refers to the first kind of Republicans as “expensive hawks” and the Kasich kind as “cheap hawks.” And I don’t think he means that just in the sense that expensive hawks cost the nation more money than the cheap hawks. There is definitely the sense — which I share — that the cheap hawks get their policy on the cheap. It is easier to make war everywhere if there aren’t dead American soldiers and grieving American families. This is a big problem with drone warfare. There isn’t a political price to pay for this foreign policy adventurism. So I would much rather deal with the expensive hawks, because at least they are being upfront about what they want to do.

One of Larison’s great insights about Kasich — and by extension, all the hawks — is that the policies that he’s for will not further the goals he claims to have. “Kasich wants to create the impression that he wants to maintain stability, but everything he recommends doing here is necessarily destabilizing.” As we knew well before the Iraq War, but should be crystal clear since, overthrowing dictators — while potentially good — is hugely destabilizing. To go back to my party analogy, sending weapons to insurgents is like thinking that you are going to make your neighbor’s party quieter by having a few cases of beer delivered.

Of course, other than being a whole lot smarter and less inclined to go everywhere, the Democratic Party is filled with cheap hawks as well. I have been happy that Obama has limited our engagements. But where he hasn’t — most especially in terms of drone warfare — he is cheap hawk all the way. And we are the worse for it. At least as the Iraq War dragged on, people started talking about it. Almost no one in the mainstream media talks about the drone strikes, except when something “notable” happens like an American getting killed. Drone strikes and funding rebels is a very cheap approach to war indeed.

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Morning Music: Not Paul Krugman’s Pick

100 Lovers - DeVotchKaOn Thursday, Paul Krugman did his usual music post a day ahead, Friday Night Music, Early Edition: San Fermin. He wrote, “Yes, I know it’s Thursday — but they have a new record just out…” Well, I had to check out San Fermin. But I was skeptical. Krugman has very definable taste. There is probably a name for it. I think of it as: middle age white guy indie. And San Fermin was no exception.

I’m not saying it is bad. Like all of Krugman’s favorite music, it is professional and relatively creative. But it is never anything really good. It is more style than substance. It is never upsetting. It is the sort of thing that you would think that a modern day Nobel Prize winning economist would listen to. I should be glad he is into it and not middle Romantic Period classical music. And I am!

But what I’m not going to do is pass on this group’s music. I listened to a number of their songs online and I didn’t like a single one. It is possible to do music with this kind of sound and be captivating. DeVotchKa is such a group. I never get tired of them, even though their sound is largely unchanged. But it all has a passion and flavor that I just don’t hear in San Fermin — or most of the music Krugman is interested in. So we will listen to a song I’ve written about before, The Man from San Sebastian from their 2011 album 100 Lovers.

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Anniversary Post: the Spanish Speaking Wars

Mexican–American WarToday, we get a twofer. On this day in 1846, the Mexican–American War started. And also on this day but in 1898, the Spanish–American War started. Okay, that’s not exactly true. In 1846, the first battle of the Mexican-American War — the Thornton Affair — took place. Effectively, Mexico had declared war two days before. The US Congress didn’t declare war until 13 May. The US Congress actually did declared war against Spain on 25 April 1898. Spain had declared war two days before.

What I think is interesting about these wars is that growing up, I didn’t really know what the difference was between them. They were just these minor wars fought against Spain in different countries. Well, that’s not exactly true. Mexico was independent from Spain by that time. But it was close enough. And more important, these wars weren’t minor. Tens of thousands died in both.

Spanish-American WarThe Mexican-American War started after years of tension following the Texas Revolution in 1836. And specifically, there was a dispute over where exactly the border was. The war became much broader than this, and Mexico ended up losing almost all of what is today the western United States. Just the same, I think this would have happened regardless. The history of Texas shows this: the Texas Revolution really wasn’t a revolution. It was more Americans flooding into the territory, staging an armed revolt, and eventually becoming a state.

The Spanish-American War was pretty much just the end of the Cuban War of Independence. It is definitely a war that we shouldn’t have fought. Basically, the Democrats and various business interests pushed President McKinley into it. The sinking of the USS Maine certainly added fuel to the fire. No one knows for sure the cause, but one thing is for sure: Spain didn’t want the United States entering that war. So I suspect that it was just an accident that was used — just like today — as an excuse for those who thought they would profit — politically and economically — from the war.

Both of these wars could have been avoided. But the push for war is strong. There is something about humans that makes us want to lash out rather than reflect. And one thing is very true: it is a lot easier to whip up people into a frenzy of anger and fear than it is to calm them. And the ultimate geopolitical outcomes are more or less what all parties knew they would be — bigger, better equipped armies almost always beat smaller, less equipped armies. But in the process, people die. Lots of people.

We mark the anniversaries of these two unfortunate wars.

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Obama and Obamacare Approval Only Going Up

Don't Tread on My Obamacare

Jonathan Bernstein pointed out something truly bizarre the other day, Americans Will Love Obamacare in 2020. But I’m almost certain that he’s right. You see, I’ve been of the opinion (In part because of arguments Bernstein himself has made!) that Obamacare is never going to be popular because it is so elusive.

The problem is that most people who get Obamacare don’t know it. A large number of them get Obamacare in the form of the Medicaid expansion. So these people see themselves getting healthcare from the state — not the federal government — much less Obamacare itself. And then another really large number of people get their healthcare from private insurers through the healthcare exchanges. Well over half of them are subsidized directly by Obamacare, but they aren’t alerted to this fact — they just pay less (often a lot less) for their insurance. So why should anyone “like” Obamacare; the main things they “know” about the law come from a very large disinformation campaign from conservatives over the last five years.

But as I discussed the other day, Obamacare approval ratings are going up. In fact, even since then, we have news that Obamacare is for the first time in two and half year above water: more people approve than disapprove. So what’s with that? Is the people learning? Well, probably not.

But Bernstein has a really compelling idea: it is all about Obama’s approval rating. As I just discussed, people really don’t know what Obamacare is or how it affects them. So in their minds, Obamacare and Obama mean more or less the same thing. As it is, earlier today, I clicked on a link that I thought was about Obama that was actually about Obamacare. So it is easy enough to mistake them, even if you are very clear on the distinction.

Now Obama’s approval rating could go down. It might very well! But one thing we know from experience is that the approval rating of presidents goes up after they leave the White House. George W Bush’s approval rating reached a low of 32% according to Gallup (it went much lower in other polls). But by mid-2013, it was back up to 49%. Things are going to be even better for Obama. How do I know? Because conservatives can’t manage to maintain any Republican Party talking points unless they are constantly being reminded by Fox News and company. It is hared to find a conservative that doesn’t think pretty highly of Bill Clinton now. They wonder why they hated him so much in the 1990s.

So you can bet that after four years of Hillary Clinton or, even more, one of the Republican loons, that Obama is going to look pretty damned good (not because he was necessarily better but because he will be out of politics). Bill Clinton left office with a 42% approval rating. As of 2012, it was 66%. I expect that Obama will be up around 60% by 2020. And what that most likely means is that Obamacare will be up there too. And the longer he is out of office, the harder conservatives will have to work to remember what all the fuss was about. Did they really go crazy over birth certificates? Did they really think he was a Muslim? A socialist? An America hater? It will all seem like a vague dream.

And as a result, people will have fond thoughts about Obamacare. It will bring back memories of when politics wasn’t so divisive!

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The Clinton Political Expedience Myth

Matt YglesiasPresidential elections are really important. It matters a lot whether Hillary Clinton becomes President in 2017 or whether a Republican does. But there just isn’t all that much going on in the actual campaigns. Except, that is, in the minds of campaign journalists:

For anyone who wondered what kind of economic message Mrs Clinton would deliver in her campaign, the first few days made it clear: she is embracing the ideas trumpeted by Ms Warren and the populist movement — that the wealthy have been benefiting disproportionately from the economy, while the middle class and the poor have been left behind. And the policies Mrs Clinton is advancing, like paid sick leave for employees and an increase in the minimum wage, align with that emphasis. But now, the former secretary of state must convince voters that she is the right messenger for the cause of inequality, not simply seizing on it out of political expedience.

Try to imagine a voter who is aware that Hillary Clinton has made inequality a key campaign theme, who agrees that this is the issue that should be the focus of policymaking in 2017-2020, who is aware of Clinton’s policy proposals to combat inequality, who agrees with Clinton’s policy proposals to combat inequality, and who yet decides not to vote for her because she thinks Clinton has adopted this all out of expedience.

Why would that happen?

—Matt Yglesias
Matt’s Newsletter: Paternity Leave Edition

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Productivity Growth Won’t Help Workers

Jared BernsteinOne of my biggest problems with the way that my fellow liberals talk about economic debate is that they don’t understand that different people mean different things by the same words. So now we see that Republicans are talking about “economic inequality.” Should we be excited about this? No. To them, the big solution to economic inequality is the same solution that they have had to every economic issue for the last forty years: cut regulation and taxes. Doing this will supposedly increase economic growth and that will in turn increase middle class wages. There are just two problems here: the first and second claims.

For years now, I’ve been ranting about how we need to stop talking about productivity growth. We are now in our fifth decade during which workers have seen little to no gain from productivity growth. How many more decades do we need before people will accept that the rich have rigged the political economy so that they get the vast majority of gains? Really, as a nation, we are living in a fantasy. People seem to think that if we just get rid of all labor unions and worker protections, the rich will reward workers with a piece of the action. It doesn’t work that way. The only reason that workers had a piece of the action before was because of labor unions and worker protections.

I’m always pleased when an actual economist comes out with a paper that backs up what I’ve long been saying. On Tuesday, Jared Bernstein put out a paper, Faster Productivity Growth Would Be Great. But Don’t Count on It to Raise Middle Class Incomes. The secondary part of his argument is that we just aren’t going to get the kind of growth that we saw in the 1960s. This is actually a big Republican lie. Every time one of them comes out with a big old tax cut for the rich, they claim that it will cause the economy to grow at some absurd rate like 5%.

But the main point is that we have no reason at all to think that productivity increases would be shared. He provides a version of a common graph that looks at productivity growth and median family income on the same graph with the same (percentage) scale. Between 1947 and 1973, both increased by a bit less than 100%. But between 1973 and 2013, productivity increased by over 100%, while median family income has gone up only 13%. And notice that even this is deceptive. During the first period, most families had only one person working outside the home. Now most have two. So it is possible to see that 13% increase in family income as coming not from productivity increases but by simply working more.

Bernstein is very careful, of course. I don’t have to be similarly restrained. What we see is that even since 1973, the divergence between productivity growth and median income has increased. This is entirely to be expected from a political, rather than economic, perspective. The more money the rich have, the more political power they have to tilt the economy in their direction. But just on a practical level of solutions, Bernstein has the right idea:

None of these points should deter us from the pursuit of faster productivity growth, but that unfortunately remains somewhat of a black box for economists. On the other hand, raising the minimum wage, pursuing full employment through fiscal and monetary policy, boosting collective bargaining, and other such interventions have all been shown to raise the pay and bargaining clout of middle- and low-wage workers. Whatever the pace of productivity growth, measures like these are a lot more likely to lift the incomes of the middle class.

But this all depends upon us living in an actual democracy. A democracy is about a lot more than voting. But even on the voting front, the United States is showing that you can have apparently “free and fair” elections and still not offer the people any real choice. What’s more, we are now so far removed from the time when workers shared in the fruits of our economy, and most people don’t think anything is wrong and in need of fixing.

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Criminal Justice Sickness

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev flipping off a security cameraI wasn’t going to write about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s flipping off of a security camera. I’m against the death penalty, but the state does far worse things all the time than it would do if it decides to kill him. But then I saw the video from which the photo was taken. And it is clear that the photo should never have been allowed into evidence. It is a total distortion of what Tsarnaev was doing. This, my friends, is why we can’t have nice things. This is why law enforcement is able to use pseudoscience to convict people. This is why police officers almost never even get charged for killing innocent people. This is why after years of appeals, the state still kills innocent people. Because our system is not about justice. It is about establishing who has the power and who does not. Justice just doesn’t matter.

You know how you go to the the DMV to get your picture taken for your driver’s license? And in almost all cases, it just looks bad and generally weird? But you know that this is not how you look all the time. As you are moving from one expression to another, your face does all kinds of strange things. But we don’t notice this as we look at each other because it is fluid — we see the context. Well, that is exactly what happened to Tsarnaev in the picture above. Compare it to the 36 second video from which it was taken:

Given that video, does this look like something that CNN should have described as, “He glares into the camera defiantly, his middle finger raised in a profane salute.” But at least CNN is right: that is kind of what the single image looks like. The real problem here is the judge who allowed the photo into evidence. It is prejudicial and totally distorts what was actually going on: he was checking out his image in the only mirror around. Further, it allowed the prosecution to claim that it showed an unrepentant Tsarnaev. But it doesn’t show that at all. It may well be that Tsarnaev is unrepentant. But that photo sure doesn’t show it.

Glenn Greenwald nailed it when he wrote, “It was, explicitly, the prosecutors’ intent to provoke exactly this reaction: this one photo, standing alone, was designed to produce a visceral, bottomless contempt for Tsarnaev which even disgust at his actual crime could not achieve.” This doesn’t seem like a real trial to me. It seems like a kangaroo court. If the judge had decided that Tsarnaev is to die before the trial even started, he should have just announced it. But of course, he wouldn’t. Because he, like pretty much everyone else in the criminal justice system, is determined to make it appear neutral, even while it isn’t in the vast majority of cases.

As for the other side of this is: so what? What if Tsarnaev was doing just what he appears to be doing in that photo? Suppose it is clear that he thinks the Boston Marathon bombing was great, that he wishes he had killed more, and if he ever gets out he will kill everyone. What does that prove? I’ve never understood this part of the criminal justice system. Jeffrey Dahmer became a Christian in jail. Did that take away from the heinousness of his crimes? Was his conversion even real? I think the answer to both is, “No!” But it does matter to the courts.

And what it shows about the courts is how it is all about power. Sparing the lives of people who come to court and repent is very much like the fake confessions of Stalin’s show trials — or any number of other scenes like them that show up. It doesn’t matter than the confesser actually believes what she is saying. It is like a religious rite: yielding officially to power. And that is the business of a sick institution — be it a terrorist group, or the United States of America’s criminal justice system.

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Morning Music: Ramones

RamonesI think a lot of people think of Ramones as a New Wave band rather than a punk band. This is odd, given that New Wave as a thing comes much later. But okay: Blondie dates back as far, and an argument can be made that they are New Wave. Really though: I don’t even know what New Wave is. Punk is not a form of music, but an attitude toward it. And one could even say that it doesn’t mean all that much because punk was just the embrace of what was always rock: the FUBU of music.

There is no question, however, that Ramones were better able to create perfect pop music gems than any other band of that era — including Blondie. What’s amazing to me is that Ramones never had a top ten hit in the United States. Is it any wonder I complain about pop music? If you can’t love Ramones, then you just don’t like pop music. And if that is the case, why are you even reading this?!

Here is the band back in 1977 at CBGB. The vocals are mixed a little low. They do some of their classic songs: “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “Beat on the Brat,” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” Joey says that they are going to play a couple of songs off Rocket to Russia, but only one of those is. The others are off Ramones.

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Anniversary Post: Library of Congress

Library of CongressOn this day in 1800, the United States Library of Congress was established by the Adams administration with a grant of $5,000 “for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress” and for renting and decorating a room. It’s grown a bit beyond that today. But the basic idea is very good — typically, it was one of James Madison’s. This used to be an idea that wasn’t controversial. You know: Congress needs to know stuff.

For most of our history, we saw Congress accruing more and more things to help it do it’s work — most especially staff. But in recent decades, this has been cut back. You know, we can’t spend actual money! As a result of this, more than anything else, our laws in Congress are now primarily written by lobbyists. This is even more true at the state level. This is what we in the business call “short sighted.”

So Congress (and other legislatures) don’t have to pay direct costs to get legislation written. Instead, it pays thousands of times more to special interests cutting in special deals for themselves, which both cause them not to be taxed as much and to be given more money directly. Ever wonder why Exxon and GE never seem to pay taxes? They’re just getting paid back for all the help that they provide Congress!

There is no doubt that today, the Republicans would never agree to fund the Library of Congress. The party, and the conservative movement more generally, has become totally anti-intellectual. This is what happens when your ideas just don’t stand up to scrutiny and you are unwilling to do anything about your bad ideas: you just ignore everyone who isn’t ideologically committed to your ideas. I understand why one would be a conservatives. I do not understand why one would support the Republicans at this time. It just isn’t rational.

Happy birthday Library of Congress!

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Depression and City Lights

City LightsI’ve been really depressed recently. And as anyone who is a fellow sufferer knows: there is no reason. It is just, as a friend once put it to me, as though you are living in a world of black and white; and sun never comes out. As a result, I’ve been trying — in vain — to cheer myself up with much cinematic comedy: Wallace and Gromit, Monty Python, and most especially Charlie Chaplin. Tonight, I watched City Lights for probably the first time in thirty years. There are reasons why I’ve avoided it for so long.

I disagree with most critics. I don’t think it is the high point of Chaplin’s career. I think that both The Gold Rush and Modern Times are better films. The main problem with City Lights is that it has some distinct dead spots. I think the fact that it is an incredibly compelling story has made viewers miss the fact that a number of bits just don’t live up Chaplin’s best work. What’s more, I really do think that Virginia Cherrill as the flower girl is weak. In fact, her performance is so poor that the viewer wouldn’t know what to make of the ending if Chaplin hadn’t directed it well by focusing on the continued holding of hands.

All that said, City Lights is a fantastic film. By the end of it, I was sobbing. Like everyone, I assume, I very much identify with the tramp. What is so special about him is that he isn’t all good. He’s lazy. He’s often dishonest. But most of all, he’s self-important. He thinks rather highly of himself, as is represented here by his interactions with the newspaper boys who mock and shoot spitballs at him. Yet we forgive all these sins because ultimately, the tramp is a decent person.

A wonderful expression of this is near the end of the film. The tramp has just absconded with the rich man’s money. (It was given to him, but justice is as rare in a Chaplin film as it is on the streets of Ferguson.) He gives her money for the rent and money for her eye surgery. But he pockets one bill — I assume a hundred dollars. This is his tendency. He looks out for number one. But in the end, the better angels of his nature win out. And I think that’s universal. It seems to me that every time someone has complimented me for doing something nice, I’ve always wanted to blurt out, “Yeah, but I almost didn’t do it!” Because that’s true. My instincts are not evil, but they are also not the best of who I am.

Of course, the true brilliance of the film is found in an early scene where Chaplin manages to establish the blind flower girl thinking that the tramp is a rich man without a word. It starts with, once again, the tramp being anything but upright. Rather than cross the street like normal people, he just walks through the cars — in the door on one side and out the door on the other. It’s funny, and it’s been used by a lot of people since, but here it is used primarily to establish the sound of the door closing so that the girl thinks he is getting out of his own car. Of course the real brilliance comes on the exit when the tramp buys a flower, and while waiting for his change, a wealthy man gets in his car and goes. She thinks it is the tramp disregarding his change.

I’m not sure that watching Chaplin when I’m depressed is a good idea. It does make me feel good in its universality and the ultimate sense of goodness. But things always work out for the little tramp in ways they just don’t in the real world. And that lays heavy after the film is over.

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A War By Any Other Name

Charles PierceI’ve always thought of the drone war in terms of the melon vendor and the guy in the goat cart on the other side of the road. There’s an al Qaeda operative buying a melon from a vendor. Meanwhile, a guy with a goat cart comes up the other side of the road. Suddenly, here comes death from above. The terrorist is dead. So is the melon vendor. So is the guy in the goat cart on the other side of the road. They’re all blown into equally tiny bits. How do we think the families of the melon vendor and the guy with the goat cart are going to take this? We create a desire for retribution with which our grandchildren may have to cope. And we may never know the names of the melon dealer or the guy with the goat cart, the way we now know the names of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. We may never know the name of the melon dealer until his grandchild blows up an airplane. And none of that should be surprising because that’s also what happens when you make war, any kind of war, in a place.

—Charlie Pierce
Drone Wars: Oops, They Did It Again

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