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Pressed Duck or the Obama Press Conference on Spying

Here are snippets from Obama's press conference. It was a tour de force of lies and Orwellianisms. The bottomline is that Obama likes and supports the surveillance state with its massive and massively unConstitutional spying programs.

"In other words, it’s not enough for me, as President, to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well"

"Well, I think it’s important to say, Carol, first of all, I haven’t evolved in my assessment of the actual programs."

"Well, the fact that I said that the programs are operating in a way that prevents abuse, that continues to be true, without the reforms. The question is how do I make the American people more comfortable"

"And so the program is -- I am comfortable that the program currently is not being abused."

So yes, for Obama, this is just a PR problem. Those dumb, uninformed proles have gotten some silly notions in their silly heads and so he has to waste some of his incredibly important time acting like he gives a rat's ass about their concerns.

"But people may have better ideas and people may want to jigger slightly sort of the balance between the information that we can get versus the incremental encroachments on privacy that if haven't already taken place might take place in a future administration, or as technologies develop further."

Note the language. "Information we can get" = massive spying. "Incremental encroachments on privacy" = trashing our Constitutionally protected rights. This is not a balance. It is a crime.

His solution is not the "nudge" but the "jigger". It is pure Washington flimflam. He will increase oversight of these programs by making minor adjustments to his rubber stamps in the Congress and FISA court. He will make them more transparent, although for whom is an open question, since they will remain opaque to us. He will have his joke Private and Civil Liberties Oversight Board take a look. He will go the standard "delay and do-nothing" approach of naming a commission which will issue a report which will endorse the status quo because Obama will name Establishment surveillance state sockpuppets to it. My favorite touch is that the NSA will hire a "full-time privacy and civil liberties officer". As Ross Perot used to say, "Problem solved!" No doubt said officer will carefully scrutinize all of the billions of NSA intercepts before heading out for their daily 18 holes of golf.

And then there is Snowden.

"But having said that, once the leaks have happened, what we’ve seen is information come out in dribs and in drabs, sometimes coming out sideways. Once the information is out, the administration comes in, tries to correct the record. But by that time, it’s too late or we’ve moved on, and a general impression has, I think, taken hold not only among the American public but also around the world that somehow we’re out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it."

Obama tries to say he already was reviewing the government's spying programs and references a speech he gave last May. What he doesn't say is that speech was in reaction to the story of the Department of Justice seizing the phone records of the AP news organization. It was not about the big NSA programs we learned about from Snowden. At most, Obama seems to be concentrating on the 215 telephone records program. Similarly, Obama says he was critical of these programs as a Senator, but what he doesn't say is that candidate and presumptive Presidential nominee Obama reneged on his promise to filibuster the FISA Amendments Act, granting immunity to the telecoms for their eager and highly profitable collusion in illegal Bush era spying programs years after the emergency of 9/11 had passed, and not only voted for it but whipped his fellow Democrats into supporting it.

It is interesting too that Obama places a far greater emphasis on the need for a "lawful" debate, in contrast to Snowden's "unlawful" disclosures, than on the blatantly illegal and unConstitutional nature of the spying programs he champions. For Obama, a lawful, orderly debate is one that he controls and where only his views matter. So far this has not happened and what this has revealed is that Obama acts badly in situations where he does not feel in control. The mask slips, and he is unable to hide a mean, petty, and vindictive side to his character. Mean and petty as when he can not resist at his presser describing Putin as "he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom." Vindictive in his pursuit of Snowden, charging him with felonies, forcing down the President of Bolivia's plane, blasting Russia for not extraditing Snowden despite the lack of an extradition treaty, and cancelling the summit with Putin. Everyone is to blame, except Obama. Every attempt is made to deflect attention away from him and these wildly criminal programs. Every attempt is made to justify them, including the most recently orchestrated terrorist scare.

As the imperial President, Obama will retain great powers for the next 3 1/2 years, but the old Obama magic isn't working, or isn't working well. Obama will not give up on these programs. He will double down on them as he has done with Obamacare, the surge in Afghanistan, and the defense of the banks and Wall Street, and as he is trying to do with gutting Social Security and Medicare. It is his way. But Snowden showed a President, even an imperial President, could be defied. We have a name for Presidents that can be defied. We call them lame ducks. This explains why Obama has been so out of control and willing to "get" Snowden whatever the cost.

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Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

It’s all there: the Orwellian inversions; the diversionary perfunctory adjustments; the need for control; the—as you say—“mean, petty, and vindictive side” to President Obama’s character; the appeal to ridicule (“somehow [!] we’re out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it”) which frames the reality as some absurd misunderstanding; the transparently-risible palliative goal “how do I make the American people more comfortable?”—which raises the obvious question “‘More comfortable’ with what? Blatantly illegal and unconstitutional programs?” It’s difficult for me to imagine that this attempt at “reassuring” the public did anything other than increase the cynicism.

Judging from the Reader Picks on the NYT’s piece “President Moves to Ease Worries on Surveillance” (more framing of the issue as one of psychological “discomfort”), no one appears to have been convinced.

*as I think all your comments here and on Naked Capitalism are.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Yes, Hugh's take is perfect. And I too was encouraged by the comments at the NYTimes and NYRB too. Looks like the worm might have, if not turned, is looking over its shoulder

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Very undiplomatic for Obama to not refer to him as President Putin. Vladimir Putin is the head of a large and powerful country who we are not at war with, by the way. Not very grown up way to represent the government of the U.S.

Submitted by lambert on

... what an asshole Obama is?

I could be living in an echo chamber but I'm not hearing anything positive about that press conference at all. What's interesting is that there are a lot of different reactions, though all negative, which implies that the narrative is up for grabs...

beowulf's picture
Submitted by beowulf on

"And so the program is -- I am comfortable that the program currently is not being abused."

Didn't he say about the same thing while the jarheads at Quantico were torturing Manning?
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What's going to be awkward is when Snowden wins the Nobel Peace Prize (though not this year, deadline for nomination was in February, but next year certainly) .

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

From here:

Tapper: The State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley said the treatment of Bradley Manning by the Pentagon is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid,” and I’m wondering if you agree with that. Thank you sir.

Obama: With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.

Such regrettable misunderstandings—regarding the Pentagon and NSA—when all they’re trying to do is keep people safe. Oh, dear…

Submitted by Hugh on

To echo your original comment, kept what safe and from whom? Obama has not kept American jobs safe. He has not kept homeowners or retirees safe. He has not kept Medicare or Social Security safe. He has not kept students loaded down with debt safe.

If I had to choose between being a little less safe from the occasional terrorist attack and having my Constitutionally protected freedoms restored, I would prefer to be less safe and more free.