Off the Grid: A Good Time for Bad News

My take on Snowden, Iraq, dope-smoking columnists, and “Duck Dynasty.”

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Jase Robertson and Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty visit 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' at Rockefeller Center on September 9, 2013 in New York City.
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Ron Fournier
Jan. 6, 2014, 5:26 a.m.

Back on the grid and catch­ing up on hol­i­day-sea­son news:

“Ed­ward Snowden, Whistle-Blower”In a Jan. 1 ed­it­or­i­al, The New York Times urged the gov­ern­ment to of­fer Snowden “a plea bar­gain or some form of clem­ency” for ex­pos­ing the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tions. My view has been con­sist­ent since the scan­dal’s out­break:  Snowden is neither a hero nor a trait­or (“Why I Don’t Care About Ed­ward Snowden“).

He is a du­pli­cit­ous me­ga­lo­ma­ni­ac who ex­posed le­git­im­ate in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions. Like Fred Ka­plan of Slate, I be­lieve the ed­it­or­i­al glosses over Snowden’s less-than-hon­or­able ac­tions (read Ka­plan’s even-handed ana­lys­is here).  At the same time, Snowden re­vealed NSA sur­veil­lance of Amer­ic­an cit­izens that is far great­er than ac­know­ledged by the U.S. gov­ern­ment or per­mit­ted by the secret FISA court. His ef­forts may lead to crit­ic­al re­forms. He ex­posed our lead­ers’ lies.

Snowden shouldn’t be charged with treas­on, as NSA loy­al­ists in­sist. Nor should he go un­pun­ished. A thought: What is the stand­ard pen­alty for ly­ing to Con­gress? Let’s in­dict and try Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per for his in­ex­cus­able lie dur­ing con­gres­sion­al testi­mony about NSA’s data col­lec­tion, and then have him share his sen­tence (if not a jail cell) with Snowden.

“Al-Qaida-linked Force Cap­tures Fal­lul­jah Amid Rise in Vi­ol­ence in Ir­aq”Con­ser­vat­ives seized on this tra­gic news as evid­ence that Pres­id­ent Obama’s stra­tegic with­draw­al from Ir­aq has failed. Time may prove them right. The pres­id­ent and his team have been less than deft in car­ry­ing out his 2008 man­date to pull out of Ir­aq. But his­tory has already proved Pres­id­ent Bush and con­ser­vat­ives wrong for go­ing to war against Ir­aq in the first place — un­der false pre­tenses (there were no weapons of mass de­struc­tion) and muted motives (it’s clear now that Bush and his team ex­ploited 9/11 to topple Sad­dam Hus­sein).

“De Bla­sio Draws All Lib­er­al Eyes to New York City” Bill De Bla­sio’s vic­tory doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily por­tend a lib­er­al groundswell na­tion­ally. It may not even change things in New York. It’s one elec­tion, people, a shift away from three-term may­or Mi­chael Bloomberg. To be sure, a weak eco­nomy, in­come in­equal­ity, and fal­ter­ing so­cial mo­bil­ity cre­ate a fa­vor­able na­tion­al en­vir­on­ment for pop­u­list can­did­ates. But mad-as-hell pop­u­lism could emerge just as eas­ily from the right as the left.

“A&E Wel­comes Phil Robertson Back to Duck Dyn­asty” — This story ex­posed the enorm­ous em­pathy gap between blue and red Amer­ica. Many con­ser­vat­ives don’t seem to un­der­stand that free­dom of speech is a pro­tec­tion against gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship, rather than a li­cense to es­pouse bigotry. Phil Robertson’s re­marks about ho­mo­sexu­als and minor­it­ies war­rant con­dem­na­tion.

Many lib­er­als don’t seem to un­der­stand why a show like Duck Dyn­asty is so pop­u­lar. What at­tracts people is not ra­cism or buf­foon­ery; it’s the very re­lat­able dy­nam­ic of a quasi-dys­func­tion­al fam­ily stick­ing to­geth­er des­pite their quirks and dis­putes. At the end of each epis­ode, the fam­ily gath­ers for din­ner and prays.

 “Weed: Been There, Done That” — A Col­or­ado law leg­al­iz­ing the re­cre­ation­al use of marijuana caused a spate of colum­nists to ad­mit their dal­li­ances with dope.  Good time to be off the grid.


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