Five Best Friday Columns

Kiel Brennan-Marquez on the ethics of drones, Saeed Jones on New York's spate of attacks aimed at gay people, Jane Mayer on Obama's foreign policy speech, Bhaskar Sunkara on the future of liberalism, and Philip Preville on Toronto's scandalized mayor.

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Kiel Brennan-Marquez at Salon on the ethics of drones How do combat drones alter the moral calculus of war? Kiel Brennan-Marquez argues that unmanned strikes clarify the impact of war-making like no other weapon before: "For the same reason that drone warfare stands to make violence easier to deploy — none of our lives are on the line — it also makes violence harder to rationalize," he writes. "The pain and death of drone strikes, unlike the pain and death of traditional missions, can draw no comfort from narratives of heroism. ... In a world where we apotheosize soldiers, and rope off their actions from everyday opprobrium, it’s important to consider whether the banal violence of machines might be preferable to the lionized violence of men." But ultimately this requires actual policy. To that end, Mary Ellen O'Connell at The New Republic offers skepticism: "If [President Obama] is sincere about ending the twelve-year-old 'boundless global war on terror,' ... he needs to stop the killing by drones. That is the essence of war."

Saeed Jones at BuzzFeed on New York's spate of attacks aimed at gay people Saeed Jones investigates how a recent string of crime aimed at gay people in New York fits into the broader story of queer, urban communities. "What are we left with, besides the awareness that even in our refuges we are not safe?" Jones asks. "Perhaps, little more, for now, than an unsettling reminder that maybe – just maybe – there are no true cities of refuge. Cities, by their nature, are organisms, ever evolving and shifting. The idea of New York City, the glimmering concrete refuge for queer folks, artists, and freaks, however romantic is increasingly becoming a myth. Hell, how many queer young people can pay the rent in New York these days?" Meanwhile, the proper response to the attacks remains unclear. Take hate crime legislation. "Hate crimes are largely symbolic and frequently used to prosecute property crimes like graffiti more aggressively," notes Erin Fuchs at Business Insider, in an interview with The Nation's Richard Kim. "The fact that a hate crime law is being used to prosecute 32-year-old Mark Carson's alleged killer will actually have little if any practical effect on the case."

Jane Mayer at The New Yorker on Obama's foreign policy speech Obama is a reluctant steward of our limitless state of war, argues Jane Mayer, who contrasts the President with his immediate predecessor. "While Bush frequently seemed to take action without considering the underlying questions, Obama appears somewhat unsure of exactly what actions to take," she observes. "That is not a bad thing: at least he is asking the right questions. In fact, by suggesting that, after a decade and seven thousand American and countless foreign lives lost, and a trillion dollars spent, it might be time to start downsizing the 'war on terror,' he is leading the national debate beyond where even most Democrats have dared to go." Eric Posner at Slate adds that Obama's performance on Thursday "may well confirm the view among Obama's civil libertarian critics that he is the most lawless executive since, um, George Bush. They are right to see the continuity from one president to the next, but they are wrong to believe that Obama has violated the law."

Bhaskar Sunkara at The Nation on the future of liberalism Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara addresses the leaders of America's liberal movement — The Nation, in particular — in a column encouraging a more sweeping vision of the welfare state. "The basic liberal program—a responsive government and the preservation of key social protections—is far more popular than, say, weakening child labor laws or forcing pregnant women to get transvaginal ultrasounds," says Sunkara. "But the conservative program is not only 'on the agenda,' it is often enacted, and for good reason: the right is generally more confident, more ideologically consistent and better organized than those who oppose it." Sunkara calls out the implementation of health care reform as a dramatic rejection of liberalism's ties to the socialist movement — a sentiment trumpeted by reform's very own defenders, such as David Lazarus in the Los Angeles Times. Obamacare, Lazarus writes, is "not socialism. Or communism. Or totalitarianism. It's good old-fashioned capitalism, with a little helping hand from Uncle Sam to overcome personal and corporate considerations. It's also humanism — an acknowledgment that healthcare, unlike most other products and services, is a necessity that requires all of us to band together as a society."

Philip Preville at Slate on Toronto's scandalized mayor Philip Preville defends Toronto's controversial, gaffe-prone mayor, who is alleged to have been filmed smoking crack cocaine but who has methodically secured popular policies for the Canadian city just as methodically as he has refused to talk about the scandal and now fired his chief of staff. Preville says: "We want everyone to know Toronto is full of potential, home to stunning Libeskind architecture, gleaming condo towers, solvent banks, and Richard Florida. We did not want anyone to know about Rob Ford. We are embarrassed he was elected, we tell friends from afar who now inquire in droves. We’ve been saying it among ourselves for months, as though it was all someone else’s doing. But we did elect him—and not with entirely disastrous results." Ivor Tossell, writing at Maclean's, is far less generous to Ford's tenure, which is arguably inseparable from his foolish antics. "Ford has terminally damaged his credibility by leaving the city hanging when it needed to hear from him most," he writes, adding, "Toronto cannot keep on until the end of 2014 with a mayor who won’t address the charges against him that have ground government to a halt, who’s turned his city into a global laughingstock, and who could well be self-destructing in the grips of an addiction."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.