Jon Stewart started out Wednesday night's Daily Show by shaking his fist at the NSA, not necessarily for spying on foreign allies like Germany's Angela Merkel — he's done that already — but for depriving the U.S. of any right to get offended by new reports that Russia sent G-20 leaders home with goodie bags full of bugged flash drives and cellphone chargers.
Before these NSA revelations, The Daily Show could have "jumped all over this story with some good old-fashioned American condescension and smug superiority," Stewart grimaced. Now he can only mock the Russian's ham-handedness: Any foreign leader stupid enough to plug a Russian-gifted USB drive into their computer deserves to be bugged.
Most of Stewart's annoyance, though, is directed at Congress, especially the House and Senate intelligence committees. Members of the committees now say they had no idea what the NSA was up to, Stewart noted, which is either a disingenuous exercise in "plausible deniability" — or willful ignorance of the obvious consequence of their own policymaking.
Stewart walked his viewers through the Patriot Act — which Congress passed and then reauthorized twice — and the 2007 Protect America Act. So the very Congress that professes to be "bewildered at the scope and reach of our spying apparatus granted them the scope and reach," he said. This is like a parent yelling at his child for staying out late and getting drunk after leaving him a keg of beer and a note saying "do whatever the f--k you want for as long as you want."
The numbers Stewart flashes on screen to show the size and cost of America's spy infrastructure are pretty jarring. He ended the segment with the one person on the House Intelligence Committee — Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) — willing to own up to the fact that committee members are, in fact, privy to almost everything the intelligence community does and to whom it does it. This earned Rogers Stewart's admiration... until the congressman justified the NSA snooping by saying that people who don't know they're being spied on can't have their privacy violated.
If Stewart isn't a big fan of the NSA, it's at least mutual. On Tuesday, "Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spent five minutes in a congressional hearing rebutting jokes from Comedy Central," says Philip Bump at The Atlantic Wire. If you were wondering what Stewart and Jessica Williams were talking about with their conspiratorial musings on the shadowy National Intelligence Priorities Framework — and I was — Clapper explained it here:
In the wild card segment, Stewart introduced a maritime themed segment unhappily called "Floaters." This bit started out oddly, with Stewart reading a passage from Moby Dick, but it evolved to raise some interesting questions about the mysterious giant barges Google has floating in San Francisco Bay and near Portland, Maine.
"Let's be clear," he said: "It's not normal for an internet search engine to launch secret ocean vessels." If it sounds like Stewart is becoming "overly alarmed about Google's Bond-villainesque ambition and reach," he added, remember that the internet giant is photographing every street in America, sending Wi-Fi balloons into the air, and literally trying to conquer death. Watch:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- Why China thinks it could defeat the U.S. in battle
- 10 things you need to know today: August 20, 2014
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- How the West produces jihadi tourists
- What you need to know before you support the police in Ferguson
- What the 'death of the library' means for the future of books
- The big policy question libertarians can't answer
- How Ferguson made conservatives lose faith in the police
Subscribe to the Week