Speed Reads

John Oliver hits hard

John Oliver asks some uncomfortable questions about America's drone warfare

Drones are such a part of America's anti-terrorism campaign that almost nobody noticed last week when U.S. drones reportedly sent missiles into Yemen and the Waziristan province of Pakistan, John Oliver said on Sunday night's Last Week Tonight. "Drone strikes will be as much a characteristic of the Obama presidency as ObamaCare or receiving racist email forwards from distant relatives."

But we actually know almost nothing about America's drone warfare, Oliver said. He explained the benefits of drones — "their slogan should really be 'Appealingly Cheap and Incredibly Deadly,'" Oliver said, before making a crack about Hardee's — but he then took an uncomfortable look at the known unknowns, including how many people U.S. drones have killed (something the CIA doesn't even know for sure), who those people are (ditto), or who authorizes the strikes.

Americans have let their government get away with this shady campaign, Oliver said, "because drones strikes are one of those things that it's really convenient not to think about that much — like the daily life of a circus elephant or the fact that Beck is a Scientologist."

But people in places like Pakistan and Yemen don't have that luxury — and they're coping with the constant threat of death through black humor and expensive TV news graphics, Oliver notes. His jokes break up the hard point Oliver is making, but there's nothing funny about the congressional testimony he plays from foreigners who will never look at blue skies — or America — the same again. --Peter Weber