Family Fights

We are a weird family. I should just admit it.

You want examples?

Several years ago, my eldest granddaughter–then 13– interrupted a lively dinner discussion by our extended family, saying “Stop it! Just stop it! All this family talks about is politics and I’m sick of it!” I apologized and said we’d talk about anything she wanted. What did she want to discuss? “School uniforms. I don’t think we should have to wear uniforms.”

Not long after 9-11, when our daughter was still on IPS’ School Board, she and my lawyer son disagreed about encouraging schoolchildren to recite the Pledge. He cited Barnette v. Board of School Commissioners of West Virginia; her Christmas gift to him that year was The Story of Our Flag.

And so it goes–at least in our family.

Most recently, my two younger sons have been arguing about Edward Snowden. On Facebook, my (very liberal and idealistic) middle son approvingly posted the New York Times editorial arguing that Snowden should get clemency; his brother (the lawyer) shot back with Fred Kaplan’s article for Salon, Why Snowden Won’t (and Shouldn’t) Get Clemency.  That led to a spirited exchange, to put it mildly.

Each one called and tried to get me to weigh in on his side.

In other families, I am told, children call their mothers (when they do) to ask for money, or to report on life events, or even to ask advice.  Mine call to talk politics and argue policy.

For what it’s worth, I agree with my lawyer son on this one. As Kaplan–like me, a foe of NSA domestic spying– notes in his article, had Snowden only disclosed information about domestic surveillance, leniency might be appropriate. But he did much more than that. He disclosed information having nothing to do with domestic spying, or even spying on our allies. He disclosed information about intelligence gathering practices that are not “illegal, immoral or improper”–information useful to the Taliban and Iran, among others.

Kaplan quotes Snowden telling the South China Morning Post that he took his job with the express intention of gaining access to NSA information–rebutting the assumption that  what he learned on the job so distressed him that he decided to broadcast what he’d found. He only stayed on the job for three months– just long enough to get what he’d come for. (He also lied to some 25 co-workers, telling them he needed their logons and passwords as part of his system administrator duties. Predictably, those co-workers were subsequently fired.)

There were also his glowing remarks about the “commitment to human rights” shown by Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, his praise of Hong Kong’s devotion to freedom of speech, and his expressed intent to share the pilfered documents with “every country where the NSA had operated.”

Someone who really wanted to shine a light on government misconduct–to engage in the time-honored tactic of civil disobedience–would not have taken refuge in countries whose interests are inimical to ours. He would have stayed in the U.S., made his case, and accepted the consequences of his actions.

Had Snowden limited his disclosures to the NSA’s clearly unlawful domestic activities, had he remained in the U.S. to argue that his actions were in service of the Constitution and Rule of Law, he would be a whistleblower entitled to our consideration.

Bradley Manning was a whistleblower. Snowden is not, and the fact that his disclosures will end up doing some collateral good really doesn’t change that.

My lawyer son’s analogy is apt: if someone goes on a shooting spree and kills two innocent people and one murderous son-of-a-bitch, the fact that he rid the town of the SOB doesn’t excuse the murder of the other two.

I hate taking sides when my kids have an argument, but sometimes, it’s unavoidable. At least they aren’t arguing about who Mom loves best…


  1. I find it telling you make the analogy of going on a shooting spree after mentioning the reasons you dislike him personally and assessing what his supposed motivations were. He did no such thing — there were no physical side victims of which the NSA policies were just collateral damage. As yet, you can point to not a SINGLE instance where someone was physically harmed by his disclosures. You just don’t like the man himself, and apparently that is grounds for prosecution.

    As I said in my conversation with Younger Brother, there is thus far ZERO evidence that Snowden has hurt anyone, and much evidence that he has helped our country. Your claims are based on breaking the law, and we could argue about just or unjust reasons for doing so, but it is an academic discussion at this point. There is ample proof from you (and many other people) that you don’t believe in prosecuting people who HAVE BROKEN THE LAW when it applies to laws you think are unjust (think pot smoking, for example). Government officials do exactly what Snowden did (leaking) repeatedly for political reasons, all the time – and they are never prosecuted.

    Snowden’s motivations are not important to me, his actions and their actual (not perceived) results are. I am sorry you feel that he has insulted our country, we should definitely not invite him out for a meal. But if insulting the US and its policies were grounds for prosecution, I think you will agree that our entire family could be in for a very long day in court.

  2. Not all of my family follows politics; those of us who are still speaking, that is. Here is a family fight to outdo any and all political family in-fighting.

    On September 18, 2011, my oldest son Tony died of cancer. He was living in Florida not far from my second oldest son Mark who was already suffering from terminal cancer and a fractured spine after being rear-ended on the highway. My daughter in Indianapolis, who has several serious illnesses, went on a rampage about who would/should/could get Tony’s ashes. She believed his girlfriend would steal them from the funeral home and stated his grown children had no right to decide because “we knew him first”. When told about this battle in Indianapolis, my son Mark stated, “Now I’m afraid to be cremated. I want to be frozen or stuffed so I can be shared by the family for the holidays.” His response was no sillier than the battle over ashes and certainly no sillier than politicians on all levels and their on-going battles over mundane problems before dealing with serious, sometimes life-threatening issues that plague this state and country. Mark’s response put the issue of Tony’s ashes in proper perspective. I think I would rather be involved in your family discussions, Sheila…or maybe just sit back and watch the fun.

    Mark was found dead in his Florida home one year ago today. I’m sure this is why my thoughts turned to my family’s losses rather than politicians and their idea of what is a priority issue.

  3. “Bradley Manning was a whistle blower”
    True. And for his troubles he was thrown into a cold cell….naked and alone for months. Whistle blowers meet a very hostile environment in our country. they are often prosecuted and loose their jobs for their trouble. I get it why some may feel that it is safer to blow the whistle from off shore.
    Side issue: I wonder if in all that research, did he find out who killed JFK? or RFK? or MLK? Just wondering.

  4. I think Bradley Manning was tortured for his sin and Snowden was exiled for his. After working in IT for decades, contractors should not be given the keys to the store and shame on our government for ‘privatizing’ our military, CIA and FBI. Shadowy government deserves what they sow.

    And this is the first I heard about Snowden’s coworkers giving up their admin IDs and passwords. If another admin asked me for my password like that, I would have laughed and said no way. They were stupid to give them up. They should have reported him to their supervisors and we would have never heard of him.

    JoAnn I’m so sorry for your losses. Peace to you and yours.

  5. Less about the people and more about the deeds. Was it morally correect for Americans to travel around the world to shoot hellfire missiles at civilians who were trying to rescue other civillians, thusly killing them all, while yelling, ” Get Some”? Should such a deed have been reported to the people who support and pay for this nonsense. So we would at least know what we are paying for? This puts the onus on you and your morality. Where it rightly belongs. Do you deserve to know what we were doing in foreign lands, by any means necessary? Why not? ” Because you can’t handle the truth!” Just as all the rhetoric you now pursue. Every topic but the issue at hand. What right do we have to murder other nationals? What right do they have to retaliate? You’re not ready to admit that 9/11 was no more than payback for years of total war waged for oil. So Snowden burns.

  6. We usually are on the same side of an issue. But, I have to disagree with your take on Snowden. He is a whistleblower and I cannot fault him for fleeing the country. Contrary to President Obama’s pledge to protect whistleblowers his administration has cracked down on them as has no prior administration. In today’s climate Daniel Ellsberg would be sentenced to several lifetimes in prison.

  7. The USA tries to portray itself as a Nation of Laws. However, as we have seen the Law or spirit of the Law can be broken or ignored by the Government at will: Nixon-Kissinger secret bombing in Cambodia, Guantánamo Bay detention center, where people are imprisoned with out due process, torture, extraordinary rendition, drone attacks, over throwing elected governments (Iran 1953, Chile), Iran-Contra among others.

    Then we have the GWB-Cheney Gang of NEO-CONs, who falsified, mixed, cooked and baked the “Intelligence” that supposedly justified the Second Gulf War.

    There is a verdict in Italy where 23 Americans were convicted of kidnapping (extraordinary rendition). The US has never returned these individuals to Italy to serve their sentences. Silvio Berlusconi who defended the operation is quoted as saying, ” “You can’t tackle terrorism with a law book in your hand.”

    People who defy the Government are expected to place themselves at the law’s disposal, if I read your comment correctly, before you ask Snowden to place himself in the dock to answer for his Civil Disobedience there are many others that need to be in front of him.

  8. You mis-read me. I mean that Snowden suffers for his moral judgement. He has morals. The people who sanctioned these acts and subsequently hid them, are immoral but it is Snowden who ‘burns’. Don’t you know that everyone who saw the video of the slaughter instinctly knows it’s murder? Then the BS kicks in and the discussion centers on how the video was obtained, Snowden’s political agenda, is this really whistle-blowing, etc. Bull. The question is only: Is this murder? Who done it?

  9. Just because someone claims some great moral purpose for breaking the law, it doesn’t mean one should not be liable for breaking it. If you claim a great moral purpose, then be prepared to stand up and accept the consequences for what you have done, not others, and do not plead for mercy for killing your parents because you are now an orphan.

  10. As usual Sheila, you shine more light on a subject than virtually all other news sharers combined.

  11. I hope that in time Ms. Kennedy will look back at her post with some embarrassment. Giving approval to Manning’s action now is pretty weak fish—(s)he was tortured for months and will spend decades in jail. And the people who did the wanton bombing which was in the first leaked videos will do just fine. Ms. Kennedy treats this as an academic discussion. Snowden’s passport has been revoked, and to get him the US was willing to essentially hijack the plane of the Bolivian (as I recall) president. Ms. Kennedy is also repeating all kinds of allegations for which there is scant evidence–and even were they correct, it would not matter. I am sure Snowden would rather be in Germany or Britain than Russia, it’s really not his choice. And the possibility of plea bargain rather than amnesty is not mentioned. Today we read that Obama will make only the most cosmetic changes in an unaccountable, huge bureaucracy, I wish I could say that I was disappointed (!). The politicians involved in this have no idea of the extent of the power of this bureaucracy, and I doubt that they have any technical advisors who are on top of the universality of the NSA spying (a universality which makes it very hard to coordinate information in advance of need, which is why the record of stopping `terrorist’ attacks is so meager).

    Coming from a former leader of the ACLU Indiana, this is especially painful for me to read.

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