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Froma Harrop - Reality comes with risks

The honchos at A&E, professing shock that an old Southern redneck from their reality TV hit "Duck Dynasty" made the sort of homophobic remarks one would expect from an old Southern redneck, yanked Phil Robertson off the show. A culture war skirmish ensued.
Gay rights groups condemned Robertson, who shared his raw opinions in a GQ Magazine interview. Religious conservatives, meanwhile, accused A&E of censoring the Louisiana duck hunter. What Robertson said, they noted, is right there in scripture, in Corinthians I.
Naturally, the politicians jumped in. "I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. "It is a messed-up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended."
For the record, governor, Cyrus (who gained fame for shaking her raised rear end on TV) got not a laugh from me, but a retch. And I did find it odd that A&E would suspend a rural Bible Belt dweller from a "reality" show for saying what many like him really think — as gross as was his way of putting it.
And as inconsequential. Almost no one cares about homosexuality anymore, including most young conservatives. Outside some swampy precincts, the right to gay marriage is rapidly becoming the law of the land. Last week, same-sex couples lined up to tie the knot in, of all places, Salt Lake City.
Also, for the record, Robertson's reading of Corinthians accurately included "adulterers" among those to be denied entry into heaven. Such concerns evidently did not deter the hunter's fellow Louisianans from re-electing Republican David Vitter, a confessed adulterer, to the U.S. Senate in 2010. (In 1999, Vitter succeeded Bob Livingston in the House, after the representative resigned for having been caught cheating on his wife.)
Adultery may ban one from heaven, but it seems a lesser barrier to holding elective office in Washington. In his tweet defending the "Duck Dynasty" patriarch, Vitter emphasized the free speech part, not the Corinthians passage. That was wise.
Until this controversy flared, I had never seen "Duck Dynasty," using the freed-up TV time to watch old "Frasiers." Thus, I've been pondering how the hyperelitist Crane brothers would have responded to the "Duck Dynasty" to do. I envisioned Frasier making a clueless reference to a Royal Pan-Seared Duck Breast recipe using his signature pomegranate sauce.
The down-home Southern duck hunting culture would have seemed as exotic to the Seattleites as the caviar-binging Crane brothers would probably be to the bayou Robertsons. (Keeping categories straight, "Frasier" is sort-of fiction, and "Duck Dynasty" sort-of reality.) The brilliance of both shows is the characters' comic capacities for self-mockery.
As for freedom of speech, A&E hasn't taken anyone's away. Its executives have every right to suspend Robertson from its programming for violating its code of conduct — or for overdoing the camouflage prints. This is business, you know, and if A&E wants to demand that its crotchety old Louisiana duck stalker be politically correct and a macrobiotic vegan besides, it may do so.
The question is why the network went this far. Why can't it respond to what it considers offensive views by simply announcing that A&E finds them offensive? It's hard to see the point of punishing this redneck, who seems as much no-school as old-school.
The "Frasier" brothers protected their snooty sensibilities by steering clear of shopping malls and Olive Gardens. Those jarred by Southern crackers speaking their minds might likewise try avoidance. (Was I just politically incorrect using the word "cracker"?)
Or they should make peace with the obvious risk that if you watch reality TV, reality is (sometimes) what you get.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 06:04

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Bob Meade - A ridiculous rumor

What follows was sent to me by an old classmate. I have searched the Internet trying to find the author but without success. The story touches the heart . . . it's what I call a "life lesson". Please take a moment to read it . Today, December 24th, is the eve of Christmas day. It's not too late to make a difference in someone else's life. Gift cards to any number of department, drug, and grocery stores are available at many merchants, and the receipt of one of those cards may make a difference in someone's life. If you don't have a particular someone in mind, your pastor, or the Salvation Army, or St. Vincent de Paul, or any number of other organizations probably do.

Make a difference . . . and have a Merry Christmas . . .

Grandma and Santa Claus . . .

I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her "world-famous" cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus?" she snorted...."Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!! Now, put on your coat, and let's go."

"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun. "Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days. "Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.

I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping. For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.

I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class. Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough; he didn't have a good coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat! I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that.

"Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. "Yes, ma'am," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby."

The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) in Christmas paper and ribbons and wrote, "To Bobby, "From Santa Claus" on it. Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially, one of Santa's helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going." I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his door and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.

Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were — ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.

I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside: $19.95.

May you always have love to share, health to spare and friends that care . . . and may you always believe in the magic of Santa Claus!
Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass . . . it's learning to dance in the rain!

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Froma Harrop - Security vs. Privacy

This week, a guard insisted on looking into my handbag as I entered Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas Spectacular. He had absolutely no reason to suspect me or the hundreds of other patrons whose bags he similarly inspected of carrying guns or explosives. But none of us objected to the incursion.

Speaking for myself, I didn't want to get blown up by a terrorist or other psychopath bent on mayhem in this iconic and people-packed venue. A minor invasion of my handbag seemed a fair trade-off.

Finding a proper balance between security and privacy is no easy task. And Federal District Court Judge Richard J. Leon did not make progress in his attack on the National Security Agency program of collecting Americans' phone call records. In the ruling, Leon held that founding father James Madison would have been "aghast" at the government's alleged encroachment on liberty. He must have one powerful Ouija board.

In ordering the government to stop collecting phone data of the two plaintiffs in the case, Leon handed fundraising ammo to the various fringe interests pushing the public's hysteria buttons for their own advancement. It happens that a higher legal source, the Supreme Court, decided in 1979 that the public should have no expectation of privacy on their telephone "metadata." After all, the phone company has this information. Metadata refers to the numbers dialed and length of calls — not what is said.

Leon's logic was not universally admired. "Smith v. Maryland is the law of the land," remarked David Rivkin, a lawyer in the former President George H.W. Bush's White House. "It is not for a district court judge to question the validity of a Supreme Court precedent that is exactly on point."

Leon oddly argued that the Court didn't foresee the age of massive mobile phone use or that government computers would hold onto the metadata for five whole years. This may be so, but phone companies still have this information, so what should our expectation of privacy be?
Yes, the surveillance program does sound creepy. But in fact, these are computers shuffling the data for worrisome patterns. Humans can't peek at the content without a court order.

When it was revealed that the NSA was spying on foreign allies, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, several leaders cried foul. Note that their U.N. resolution protesting such surveillance is largely symbolic. It's common knowledge that the Chinese, Russians and terrorist groups, among others, observe no niceties over privacy. Those not fully engaged in the war for information risk both economic and physical attack.

The lead plaintiff in Leon's case was Larry Klayman, a right-winger known to call Obama and his backers "wildly ultra-leftist, atheist, anti-Judeo-Christian, anti-white and Muslim." That's when he's feeling diplomatic. Seeking to share the "glory" from way-out-left is Glenn Greenwald, chief promoter of NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Greenwald's bankroller happens to be PayPal tycoon Pierre Omidyar, whose company, it turns out, has also been handing its data over to the NSA.

A more worldly and opposite view of these activities comes from Omidyar's co-founder at PayPal, Max Levchin. Conceding on the "Charlie Rose Show" that the data collection seems "unpleasant," "intrusive" and "controversial," Levchin said that compromises must be made in the name of national security.

The foreign-born Levchin further noted that having lived under Russian domination, he regards the U.S. government's intentions as essentially benign. "National Security is just not to be trifled with," Levchin added. "We've seen what happened on Sept. 11, and I think people who forget that are fooling themselves." One suspects most Americans would agree with him.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Pat Buchanan - Vladimir Putin: cultural warrior

Is Vladimir Putin a paleoconservative? In the culture war for mankind's future, is he one of us?

While such a question may be blasphemous in Western circles, consider the content of the Russian president's state of the nation address. With America clearly in mind, Putin declared, "In many countries today, moral and ethical norms are being reconsidered. They're now requiring not only the proper acknowledgment of freedom of conscience, political views and private life, but also the mandatory acknowledgment of the equality of good and evil."

Translation: While privacy and freedom of thought, religion and speech are cherished rights, to equate traditional marriage and same-sex marriage is to equate good with evil. No moral confusion here, this is moral clarity, agree or disagree.

President Reagan once called the old Soviet Empire "the focus of evil in the modern world." President Putin is implying that Barack Obama's America may deserve the title in the 21st century. Nor is he without an argument when we reflect on America's embrace of abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, pornography, promiscuity, and the whole panoply of Hollywood values. Our grandparents would not recognize the America in which we live.

Moreover, Putin asserts, the new immorality has been imposed undemocratically. The "destruction of traditional values" in these countries, he said, comes "from the top" and is "inherently undemocratic because it is based on abstract ideas and runs counter to the will of the majority of people."

Does he not have a point?

Unelected justices declared abortion and homosexual acts to be constitutionally protected rights. Judges have been the driving force behind the imposition of same-sex marriage. Attorney General Eric Holder refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act. America was de-Christianized in the second half of the 20th century by court orders, over the vehement objections of a huge majority of a country that was overwhelmingly Christian. And same-sex marriage is indeed an "abstract" idea unrooted in the history or tradition of the West. Where did it come from?

Peoples all over the world, claims Putin, are supporting Russia's "defense of traditional values" against a "so-called tolerance" that is "genderless and infertile." While his stance as a defender of traditional values has drawn the mockery of Western media and cultural elites, Putin is not wrong in saying that he can speak for much of mankind.

Same-sex marriage is supported by America's young, but most states still resist it, with black pastors visible in the vanguard of the counterrevolution. In France, a million people took to the streets of Paris to denounce the Socialists' imposition of homosexual marriage. Only 15 nations out of more than 190 have recognized it.

In India, the world's largest democracy, the Supreme Court has struck down a lower court ruling that made same-sex marriage a right. And the parliament in this socially conservative nation of more than a billion people is unlikely soon to reverse the high court.

In the four dozen nations that are predominantly Muslim, which make up a fourth of the U.N. General Assembly and a fifth of mankind, same-sex marriage is not even on the table. And Pope Francis has reaffirmed Catholic doctrine on the issue for over a billion Catholics.

While much of American and Western media dismiss him as an authoritarian and reactionary, a throwback, Putin may be seeing the future with more clarity than Americans still caught up in a Cold War paradigm. As the decisive struggle in the second half of the 20th century was vertical, East vs. West, the 21st century struggle may be horizontal, with conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite.

And though America's elite may be found at the epicenter of anti-conservatism and anti-traditionalism, the American people have never been more alienated or more divided culturally, socially and morally. We are two countries now.

Putin says his mother had him secretly baptized as a baby and professes to be a Christian. And what he is talking about here is ambitious, even audacious. He is seeking to redefine the "Us vs. Them" world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent west. "We do not infringe on anyone's interests," said Putin, "or try to teach anyone how to live." The adversary he has identified is not the America we grew up in, but the America we live in, which Putin sees as pagan and wildly progressive. Without naming any country, Putin attacked "attempts to enforce more progressive development models" on other nations, which have led to "decline, barbarity and big blood," a straight shot at the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Egypt. In his speech, Putin cited Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev whom Solzhenitsyn had hailed for his courage in defying his Bolshevik inquisitors. Though no household word, Berdyaev is favorably known at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal.

Which raises this question: Who is writing Putin's stuff?

(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 December 2013 11:16

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Michael Barone - John Boehner's successful year

All this year, House Speaker John Boehner has been taking criticism from all quarters.

He is a squish selling out to the Obama administration and the Democrats, many conservatives charged when he engineered bipartisan (mostly Democratic) approval of higher tax rates on high earners rather than go over the fiscal cliff. He is a radical hostage-taking Confederate-sympathizing terrorist, cried Democrats when he led House Republicans to pass a bill refunding the government but defunding Obamacare. He is irresponsible and obdurate, cried high-minded supporters of a grand bargain including entitlement reform, because he resolutely refused to negotiate with President Obama.

He is a squish selling out — you know the rest — yelled some conservatives last week when he rallied votes, successfully, for the bipartisan budget agreement hammered out by House and Senate Budget Chairmen Paul Ryan and Patty Murray.

Undoubtedly, some of these criticisms were sincere. Rational arguments could be and sometimes were made in their support. On occasion, Boehner seemed to be stumbling from one stance to something like its opposite. But I would argue that the cumulative result, in terms of budget, spending and tax policy, is far more favorable for Republicans and conservatives than they had any right to anticipate given the correlation of political forces after the November 2012 election.

Obama had just become only the 17th man to be reelected president in 220 years. (I'm counting Grover Cleveland, who was beaten for re-election in 1888 and came back to win a rematch four years later.) Democrats had, against considerable odds and with the incalculably valuable aid of some hapless Republican nominees, not only held on to their majority in the Senate, but had increased it from 53-47 to 55-45.

Boehner's House Republicans had lost only eight seats. But Republican candidates had actually won fewer popular votes than Democrats. (Two-thirds of that margin came from eight California districts where, thanks to that state's new law, there were no Republican nominees.)

In a House where there had been little bipartisanship in recent years, that meant that Boehner had to rally 218 of the 234 Republican members in order to pass legislation if Democrats were opposed. A defection by 17 Republicans would cut Boehner's leverage down toward zero. And many of these Republicans were of a mind to oppose anything they thought would accommodate the Obama Democrats.

Boehner could not count on favorable press coverage — or even much coverage at all, except when things went sour. His own gifts do not include the smooth articulateness that goes over well on television.

Given all that, and taking into account legislation passed, Boehner has had impressive policy success on budget, spending and tax issues. He has achieved that, on occasion, by tactical surrender. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert wouldn't allow a bill on the floor that wasn't supported by a majority of Republican members. Boehner broke the so-called Hastert rule in early January in the fiscal cliff crisis when he allowed a mostly Democratic majority to effectively raise tax rates on high earners. The alternative was raising taxes on everyone.

What's amazing here is that the high-bracket increases were not enacted until the fifth year of Obama's presidency.

Two months later, Boehner surprised Obama by accepting the sequester cuts. Democrats thought he would negotiate to increase defense spending. But few House Republicans cared enough about defense to agree to Democrats' demands for tax increases. Boehner read this mood accurately and extracted from it a major policy success. The sequester has held discretionary spending far below levels that the Senate and White House Democrats want.

In October, Boehner reluctantly agreed to a bill funding the government but defunding Obamacare. Enough Republicans insisted they wouldn't vote for the former without the latter. But the speaker was quick to climb down when polls showed Republicans slumping with voters — and to yield the spotlight to the ragged Obamacare rollout. In the process, he won the trust of most Republican members.

That trust was essential to passage, Thursday, of the budget bill, which tweaks the sequester, assuaging appropriators who want more leeway and hawks who want more defense spending. It institutes some small but probably permanent entitlement cuts and likely rules out another politically damaging government shutdown.

On policy, it's hard to see how Boehner could have accomplished more this year. And on politics, he has positioned his often obstreperous members well for 2014.

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

Hits: 169

 
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