Sunday, July 7, 2013

Barack Obama: The first "Blackwhite" President?

It's been a long time since I've posted to the Feldman Off Topic blog, but political events have gotten to the point where I need to post something that has absolutely nothing to do with The Feldman File. I'm talking about the revelations of broad domestic surveillance and (apparently) all-encompassing international surveillance by the NSA. That the NSA's actions violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is, in my opinion, very clear. That the regime for protecting U.S. citizens from illegal search and seizure by the intelligence community is full of holes is equally clear:
  • The Executive branch, including the Attorney General, makes rules and interpretations that open domestic U.S. citizens to widespread surveillance, and to the storage of that information for up to five years, but the rules and interpretations are entirely secret, so there's no way to challenge or even debate them in an open forum.
  • The FISA court acts as a rubber stamp for actions of the intelligence community and Justice Department. It has an appeals process, but the vast majority of parties who would be affected by the FISA court's ruling never even know that the court is considering their cases, because the cases are all conducted in secret and third-parties are prohibited by law from disclosing requests for personal information. Therefore, the only parties that have any effective right of appeal are the intelligence community and the Justice Department.
  • The U.S. Congress provides oversight, but few members of Congress have any way of knowing whether the information they're being given by the Executive branch and military to justify their actions is correct. Most briefings are in secret, and the public briefings are largely an exercise in disinformation.
One of the most disheartening parts of this entire situation is President Obama's tendency to say one thing and then do another:
  • The President and his spokespeople say that he wants a public discussion of the cost to society of the "war on terrorism", but his administration has done more than any other administration in U.S. history to squelch debate and keep information from coming out. The Obama administration has filed more Espionage Act cases against whistleblowers than all other Presidential administrations combined. In addition, it charged that Fox reporter James Rosen was a co-conspirator in an Espionage Act case, in clear violation of his First Amendment rights.
  • The President said that the U.S. wouldn't "scramble fighters" or take other overt actions to try to capture Edward Snowden, and then, just a few days later, Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane was forced down in Austria when Spain, France, Germany and Portugal all denied entry to their airspace. The reason, we subsequently learned, was that a party informed all the countries that Edward Snowden was "definitely" on Morales' plane. The only possible source for that false story was the U.S. Government.
  • Both the President and Vice-President argued against the expansion of domestic intelligence when the Bush Administration was in power, but they've adopted and expanded the Bush Administration's domestic intelligence program since taking power.
When President Obama says that he'll do something, he might do it, he might not do it or he might do the opposite. When he says something, it might be true, it might be true but very misleading, or it might be false. There's no way to determine what he'll actually do or what he really means by what he says. Given the President's record on these and other promises made and not kept, and assertions made by him and members of his administration that the Government was doing one thing when, in fact, it was doing something very different, I now follow a personal rule: Pay no attention to anything that President Obama says, and focus only on what he actually does. That's why I refer to him as the first "Blackwhite" president in U.S. history; here's how George Orwell defined the term in 1984:
“ ...this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink. ”
I haven't accepted that rule lightly: I'm a lifelong Democrat who voted for Obama in the 2012 election and would have voted for him in 2008 except that I was in the process of moving from California to Illinois during election time. However, Obama's actions in office would have been totally consistent with those of a moderate Republican from 20 or 30 years ago. In fact, I doubt that a moderate Republican from that era would have had as easy a time as Obama has had in justifying massive domestic intelligence gathering.
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