President Obama: “Individual Freedom Is The Wellspring Of Human Progress”

There seems to be no appeasing some folks on the left—let’s not even talk about the Obama-hating libertarians on the right—when it comes to their criticism of President Obama, in terms of his perceived involvement in a vast bipartisan conspiracy to make the Fourth Amendment null and void. Protesters express their opposition to the new National Security Agency Utah Data Center.

There is no such conspiracy, of course. We must keep in mind that what most Americans are seemingly worried about is “metadata” collection by the NSA, which President Obama said today,

does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans. Rather, it consolidates these records into a database that the government can query if it has a specific lead, a consolidation of phone records that the companies already retain for business purposes. The review group turned up no indication that this database has been intentionally abused, and I believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved.

In other words, the government isn’t recording, or requiring companies to record, your personal phone calls and there has been no demonstrated “intentional abuse.”

Just after President Obama gave his important speech this morning on reforming the NSA (the specific reforms I will leave you to discover for yourself), I heard a guest on MSNBC, Michael Ratner, a prominent human rights lawyer and activist, complain about how the President began his speech by offering “a bouquet of roses to the surveillance community, starting with the history of surveillance since the Revolution.”  

Man, when your first criticism of the President’s speech begins with the speech’s structure, you are doing some Olympic-worthy straw-grasping.

The President did begin his speech with the history of “secret surveillance,” from Paul Revere to Union Army reconnaissance balloons to World War II codebreakers and communication interceptors to the Cold War-fighting National Security Agency, technically created by President Truman in 1952, but whose birth can be traced to the Signal Security Agency used to gather intelligence during WWII.

But even though he began with the positive history of our national intelligence gathering efforts, the President throughout the speech warned of the potential for abuse and “the risk of government overreach,” including spying on domestic “dissidents like Dr. King.” The President even said this:

I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs in the future. They’re also right to point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate.

So, yes, President Obama did begin his speech, which was essentially a rather vigorous defense of the NSA and intelligence gathering, with some history. But he also acknowledged the dangers involved, and he acknowledged the legitimacy of some of the criticism that has been offered since Edward Snowden leaked classified information to the world in June of 2013. More significantly, however, Mr. Obama ended the speech—and some people consider the ending the most important part of any speech—with the following, which I will excerpt in full because it will likely get lost in all the fog of anti-NSA or anti-Obama post-speech analysis:

When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed. Whether it’s the ability of individuals to communicate ideas, to access information that would have once filled every great library in every country in the world, or to forge bonds with people on the other side of the globe, technology is remaking what is possible for individuals and for institutions and for the international order. So while the reforms that I’ve announced will point us in a new direction, I am mindful that more work will be needed in the future. On thing I’m certain of, this debate will make us stronger. And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of America will have to lead.

It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard. And I’ll admit the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating.

No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs or Russia to take privacy concerns of citizens in other places into account.

But let’s remember, we are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront of defending personal privacy and human dignity. As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment, not government control. Having faced down the dangers of totalitarianism and fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person has the right to think and write and form relationships freely, because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress.

Those values make us who we are. And because of the strength of our own democracy, we should not shy away from high expectations. For more than two centuries, our Constitution has weathered every type of change because we’ve been willing to defend it and because we’ve been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense. Today is no different. I believe we can meet high expectations. Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for.

I hope everyone, including human rights activists like Michael Ratner, will pay at least as much attention to the end of the speech as Mr. Ratner paid to its beginning.

Edward Snowden Is Cold

It’s official. Edward Snowden, holed up in an authoritarian Russian paradise, is happy that an American federal judge has ruled against phone surveillance programs operated by the NSA. Yippee. I can sleep much better now knowing that the man who is spilling the nation’s secrets, or in some cases trying to trade them for a better place to live, has a legal victory under his potentially treacherous belt.

Through his sometimes shady representative in the civilized world, Glenn Greenwald, Mr. Snowden sent this message to Americans:

I acted on my belief that the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts. Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.

Well, it may or may not be the first of many, but we do know that for all his talk of how “the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts,” what Snowden doesn’t want to talk about is why he won’t give those same courts a chance to determine whether or not he has committed high crimes against what used to be his country, a country that was paying him and thus expecting him to keep our secrets from our enemies.

I’ve discussed this before, but what bothers me most of all about the Snowden fiasco is how eager liberals have been to get in bed with him and, in this most recent federal judge’s ruling, also side with the man who brought the so-far successful lawsuit against the NSA. That man, Larry Klayman, is a Tea Party nut job. Just two months ago The Huffington Post reported on a rally in Washington that sort of made him famous:

Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, a conservative political advocacy group, said the country is “ruled by a president who bows down to Allah,” and “is not a president of ‘we the people.'”

“I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come up with his hands out,” he said.

That, my friends, is the man who many, if not most, liberals are in a rhetorical and legal foxhole with, at least in terms of the latest war against the NSA. There has been an ongoing fight against government surveillance programs for years, but Klayman, as he now characterizes it, “hit the mother lode” with a victory in his latest case.  And he hit that mother lode because of Edward Snowden, who apparently finds Russian winters too damn cold and is trying to trade away what’s left of his dignity for warmer climes:

NSA leaker Edward Snowden, now several weeks into the Moscow winter, has published an open letter to “the people of Brazil” offering to help the country resist U.S. spying efforts in exchange for political asylum. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been highly critical of NSA operations in her country; Brazil also just happens to be where Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who is Snowden’s closest ally, is based.

By now it ought to be clear to all that Snowden isn’t some kind of “global champion of libertarian ideals and a hero of the struggle for personal freedom against U.S. abuses of power.” If he were, he would come back home and make his case and bring even more attention to it, instead of having people like Larry Klayman do the work for him. Yes, he would be risking jail time. Yes, he might be risking a lot of jail time.snowden But the kind of heroes I studied in history didn’t worry about themselves as much as they worried about the cause they were fighting for or the tyranny they were fighting against. Right now, Snowden seems to be worried about getting warm in Brazil and continuing to do damage to the country he is supposedly trying to save. That’s some champion. That’s some hero.

Well, we’ve seen that kind of behavior before. We’ve seen that kind of blow-up-America-in-order-to-save-it nonsense many times lately. We’ve seen it in the Larry Klaymans and the Ted Cruzes and all the wingnuts on the right who shutdown the government and who are even now plotting on how to use the debt ceiling once again as a way to extract concessions from Democrats, who are trying to keep enough fiscal gas in the nation’s car to keep it running so people can get to work, or at least get to the grocery store to spend their unemployment checks or their tiny ration of food stamps.

I will say this openly to my liberal friends: Yes, there needs to be greater oversight on what the NSA and other national security-related agencies are doing. Yes, there has been some overreach by those agencies. Yes, we can do better in terms of protecting the privacy of Americans. And, yes, let’s run the NSA’s “mass surveillance” practices through the constitutional wringer and see if they come out clean. But I implore all of you not to make Edward Snowden a hero. As Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney—one of our guys, by the way—reminded us yesterday about Snowden:

He has been charged and accused of leaking classified information.  He faces felony charges here.  He ought to be returned to the United States — again, where he will face full due process and protection under our system of justice that we hope he will avail himself of…

That’s what a real American hero, if he turns out to be a hero, would do. Not go to the Chinese and the Russians and now, after finding out that Moscow is not Rio de Janeiro, try to deal his way to a better place. So, if we must fight to find out whether the NSA is doing the country more harm than good, let us at least fight knowing that Edward Snowden does not now deserve our praise or our admiration, at least until he faces American justice for what he has done and proves he deserves our thanks, as opposed to our condemnation.

A Quick, Reasonably Accurate Summary Of Obama’s Press Conference

Here is, more or less, a quick summary of President Obama’s presser today:

  • The NSA intelligence gathering program is not about spying on you, worried Americans, but the President suggests that it can be made a little more transparent and less worrisome. So, don’t worry, all you worried Americans.
  • Oh, in case you didn’t know, Edward Snowden, the leaker of classified information who is charged with three felonies, is not a patriot. If Snowden thinks he is a genuine whistleblower, as opposed to a felon, he can stop using authoritarian-polluted Russian air to blow in his whistle and come back here and face justice.
  • Vladimir Putin and the President have a pretty good personal rapport, except when they don’t. And Americans will go to the Winter Olympics, if only so our gay and lesbian athletes can kick Ruskie butt.

obamanewsconference

  • Obama wouldn’t have to unilaterally delay the ACA’s employer mandate, if there were normal Republican leaders in Washington who would work with him. Having found no “normal” Republican leaders, the President implied, he had to act on his own.
  • The immigration bill that passed the Senate would pass the House, again, if only there were “normal” Republican leaders.
  • The President reminded folks that it took him longer than 11 months to send Osama bin Laden on a deep-sea snipe hunt and that those responsible for killing four Americans in Benghazi will hopefully one day have a date with the bottom of the ocean, or another form of justice.
  • Republicans have made Kill ObamaCare their “holy grail,” and they have been lying about the Affordable Care Act, and they don’t have a plan to replace it, and there is something wrong with a party that would sabotage the country in order to keep 30 million Americans from getting affordable health care. The President’s remarks on right-wing efforts to threaten the country with even more dysfunction amounted to a spinning headlock elbow drop on the GOP.

Have a happy and well-deserved vacation, Mr. President.

[AP Photo]

Why There Is No “Liberal Movement”

Wanna know what’s wrong with the left in this country? This:

george w. obamaThat was from yesterday. Here’s today’s HuffPo header:

george w. obama

Some liberals and progressives, now joining libertarians in the wacky wing of the Republican Party, are aghast that the government—all three branches being involved—is snooping around the Internet looking for terrorists. What did people think was happening since the country—Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives—demanded that 9/11 never happen again?

And the right wing crazies, those like Ann Coulter, have a slightly more nuanced take on all this:

Coulter Blasts Obama For NSA Snooping: Cares More About ‘Harassing Americans’ Than Fighting Terrorism

The un-delightful Ms. Coulter, as reported by Mediaite, sees things through a pair of Obama-hating glasses:

Ann Coulter did not object to the news about NSA phone snooping on principle, but does have a problem with it under this particular president. She told Sean Hannity tonight that under an “honorable administration,” the government should be able to collect phone records, but said that President Obama, with all the other scandals that have come out, has proven to be untrustworthy and he cares more about “harassing Americans” and his political opponents than actually fighting terrorism.

Those are the kinds of people that HuffPo and The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and The New York Times editorialists are getting in bed with, rolling under the covers with, and who knows doing what with.

Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the story on the allegedly widespread NSA surveillance scheme by publishing leaks about it, has been an Obama critic almost from the beginning, often getting credit for criticizing the President “from the left.” Bullhockey. Greenwald could jump in the political sack with Rand or Ron Paul, or both, and enjoy every minute of it. As the Rooted Cosmopolitan put it, Greenwald,

is not a liberal or progressive with a broad sense of the common good.

No, he’s not. I have followed his Tweets for months and some of them have shocked me in terms of their breathtaking hysteria related to President Obama.  Not only that, Greenwald doesn’t respect those on the left who don’t spend all their time denigrating the President. He once tweeted in support of someone who said of Obama supporters, “Obama could rape a nun on NBC and you’d say we weren’t seeing what we were seeing.” Greenwald’s reply:

No – she’d say it was justified [and] noble – that he only did it to teach us about the evils of rape.

The guy who wrote that, who doubled-down on the rape “joke,” is the one who broke the story on the NSA surveillance. That’s why I will wait until more sober minds have examined this issue’before I trash the man in the White House who has actually offered to hand back significant executive power to Congress.

By the way, Greenwald told CNN:

There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world. That is not hyperbole. That is their objective.

If that sounds like Glenn Beck instead of Glenn Greenwald then you don’t know Glenn Greenwald.

There are questions that need answered related to this NSA story, for sure. But people can’t have it both ways. They can’t demand that the government keep us safe from terrorists who want to kill us, while expecting government officials not to use technical means to do so.

And all of this stuff is especially ironic in an age in which people share all kinds of private information with strangers on the Internet or through emails.

In any case, the hysteria from the left—Obama is now George W. Bush—is why liberals cannot have a “movement” in the way conservatives can. They almost always let the perfect not only be an enemy of the good, but kill it in its tracks.

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