Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Barack, the Scrivener

As commander in chief, Barack Obama ostensibly has the power to order an immediate halt to the unconstitutional bulk collection of our domestic phone records by the National Security Agency. But, like Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener, it seems he would prefer not to.

So much for his boast that this would be a "year of action" and that with his pen and his phone, he would bypass a gridlocked Congress to get stuff done.  When it suits the interests of the deep state, Obama prefers to punt the NSA controversy right over to Congress, whose lower House is, ever so conveniently, mulling an expansion of bulk surveillance capabilities.

And thus does Barack continue to lead from behind, governing by preference and passive-aggression rather than by any exertion of personal leadership.

The headline in today's White House propaganda mouthpiece is misleading to the extreme: "Obama Calls for an End to N.S.A.'s Bulk Data Collection."

He is doing no such thing. He is not ordering an end to it, he isn't even really "calling for" an end to it. Writes the New York Times' Charlie Savage:
Under the proposal, they (anonymous mealy-mouth White House source) said, the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.
Translation: the spook agency (ies) could still easily obtain millions of specific records by a compliant rubber stamp judge under a new kind of sweeping, blanket court order if they so chose. 
As part of the proposal, the administration has decided to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the program as it exists for at least one more 90-day cycle, senior administration officials said. But under the plan the administration has developed and now advocates, the officials said, it would later undergo major changes.
Translation: the deadline for renewal is looming this Friday, and Barack is besieged from all sides -- by privacy groups and telecoms and media. So he will be renewing the bulk collection he now pretends to abhor for P.R. purposes.... for at least 90 more days. Not right now. He would prefer not to. By early July, if all goes well, the brouhaha will have died down and maybe even a new terror threat fabricated to stun the citizenry back into the compliance to which he had been accustomed before Ed Snowden shook things up.
The administration’s proposal will join a jumble of bills in Congress ranging from proposals that would authorize the current program with only minor adjustments, to proposals to end it.
In recent days, attention in Congress has shifted to legislation developed by leaders of the House Intelligence Committee. That bill, according to people familiar with a draft proposal, would have the court issue an overarching order authorizing the program, but allow the N.S.A. to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without prior judicial approval.
Translation: Obama's preference will, by cynical design, get lost in the shuffle. The objective is to be seen "doing stuff". His proposal appears to be purely cosmetic.
The administration’s proposal would also include a provision clarifying whether Section 215 of the Patriot Act, due to expire next year unless Congress reauthorizes it, may in the future be legitimately interpreted as allowing bulk data collection of telephone data.
The proposal would not, however, affect other forms of bulk collection under the same provision. The C.I.A., for example, has obtained orders for bulk collection of records about international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union.
Translation: the president will, at his discretion, decide if he is required to pay attention to his own public relations bullshit. Additionally, he may at his preference or discretion allow the same illegal crap to continue under a different acronym. Or maybe not. Like Melville's Bartleby, he is a cipher, a bundle of contradictions and ambiguities.

I'd prefer not to waste any more time examining his psyche or motivations. Just pay attention to the actual enfolding plot, rather than the muddled official synopsis of it, and the rave reviews by Obama's muddled defenders.


Jay - Ottawa said...

Unlike Bartleby, who more or less stood still in a corner towards the end, Obama has great moves both on the basketball court and before the bully pulpit. His most famous move, when he moves, is the turn-on-a-dime 180 degree pivot. Greenwald has a fine comment on BO’s latest 180 concerning the NSA.

The NSA is a chump in the field of surveillance. (See, Zee, I’m coming over to the view that big government is such a klutz and the private sector so efficient.) The best work is being done by “Big Data,” which is the private business side of spying on everybody all the time. Wrong-headed exaggeration? Judge for yourself after reading this:

annenigma said...

Obama is also great at head-fakes, getting us to look one way while he takes action in another direction. I don't think he's doing a 180 degree pivot to anything. It's just another one of his lying head-fakes that we're supposed to fall for.

His staff leaked this anonymously to his friendly press at the NYT (whom I still don't trust) as a trial balloon. Pop! If you read the comments, it isn't flying. He needs to try another tack if he wants to try to save Dem seats in the mid-term elections. Even the Tech Gurus are not going to fall for this bullshit.

Karen is right about the pen and phone. If Obama can sign orders to kill people every Terror Tuesday, he can kill this program today. Just like he could order the release of the CIA Torture Report and all the rest of the evidence of crimes that he's been hiding. Since he hasn't, it's up to people like Edward Snowden to do it.

Obama may come to deeply regret not encouraging and actually participating in an open public debate about the Constitutionality of all this ubiquitous surveillance, especially given that he's our first and only 'Constitutional scholar' President who could really address this issue. Instead, his silence is deafening, as if he has no background in the subject. It's understandable though - his alleged scholarship is about as sketchy as his character.

Zee said...



I don't deny that the private sector can be much more “efficient” than the government in many areas of endeavor, if “efficiency” is all that you truly seek. Personally though, I believe that mindless “efficiency” is something more to be feared than desired from those who govern us. As is an unregulated private sector.

I have never—to the best of my recollection—suggested that the private sector should be in charge of everything for the sake of “efficiency,” or that it would be an unadulterated “public good” were that the case.

Moreover, I think that you would be hard-pressed to find anything in my Internet writings—either here or over at RealityChex in the past—where I have said that the private sector is invariably more efficient than government, or even implied that huge (or, indeed, any ) swaths of the Federal government should be privatized for that specific reason. Our National Parks are safe from me at the moment.

Still, if you can find statements to that effect made by me, I would be grateful for the reminder and I will apologize for my failing memory and/or hypocrisy. But as the unofficial Archivist for Sardonicky, I don't think that you will find any such words on my part.

What I believe I have said—or at least not denied or argued with—is that there are sectors of our “civil infrastructure” where things should be left exclusively to the government; whereas I know that I have said there are areas where—unless taxpayers want large groups of Federal employees sitting idle for long periods of time—things should be contracted out to the private sector and hopefully overseen by knowledgeable Federal employees. Is that so awfully “anti-big-government?”

(Though as evidenced by the repeated and expensive failures of IT modernization projects at “The Mine,” knowledgeable Federal overseers appear to be in short supply. A Ph.D. in English Lit overseeing a massive IT project? I mean, c'mon!)

You and I seem to be in agreement is that the surveillance and security component of our Federal bureaucracy is both unconstitutional and just plain evil. We both want to see it eliminated.

What we seem to be unable to agree upon is that there are, IMHO, other large sectors of the Federal government that could be eliminated simply because they serve no function other than to allow corrupt politicians to dish out pork to corrupt private citizens at the expense of the taxpayer.

An acknowledged, favorite example of mine has been that sector of the Department of Energy that doled out both jobs and billions of dollars in payoffs to Obama contributors and “bundlers” under the guise of green energy technology development, many of which projects failed while leaving the principals very wealthy. Is that being “anti-government,” or merely “anti-corruption?” Or am I simply wrong to call this “corruption” because that money was wasted...er... spent... in the name of the environment?

(And beyond DOE pork, there are plenty of other examples to be found with but little effort.)

Oh, well, I run on as always. Again, please show me where I have said that the private sector can always perform better than the government, and that therefore, by implication, government functions should be "privatized to the max.”

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Yep, more smoke and mirrors, more fake concern, from U.S. politicians these days.

Off-topic but distantly related, the Executive branch is soliciting bids for a new presidential limousine, presumably properly befitting the office of President:

"The Secret Service is shopping for a new car — something durable and roomy, and unlike anything else on the road."

-- http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/automobiles/taking-bids-for-the-next-beast.html

My suggestion: just find the Cadillac used by Isaac Hayes, "The Duke", in the film "Escape From New York":


Flash and little substance, it would suit the current holder of the presidency, and most likely the next, just fine.

@Zee and @Jay - Ottawa

I don't have time, currently, to join the debate here on the role or efficiency of government --- but it's an important concern, and a recurring political issue, so do continue!!!

Jay - Ottawa said...


Be diverted by more stale red herrings from the same predictable source?

In the words of Bartelby, I would prefer not to.

James F Traynor said...

I have been frequently where the 'rubber meets the road' on this government - private sector interface. And it sucks, it really does. I hated to find a problem because I knew that, immediately, the 'suits' would be on the scene and the shit would start.

Zee, you talk about public workers sitting around on the 'dole' so to speak. Well a lot of them find out pretty fucking quick that if they actually do their job they're immediately up to their chins in shit. From the public, private and political ends. And all equally self serving. And it doesn't matter whether you're on the private side or the public, the little guy learns pretty damn quick, you go along to get a long along - or else.

Pearl said...

Zee@,Jay@,Fred@, Everybody. If we would just remove all the departments of the government connected to the military behemoth plus drones, and replace
it with useful people and useful projects, like saving our infrastructure, our schools, our health care needs, our millions of jobless, ad infinitum,
we might have a chance. I will take my chances of being terrorized by foreigners, of being invaded by Russia (!?), by being nuked by Iran (or Israel) instead of our home grown gangs with guns or police with mace, or NSA hoodlums threatening our communications systems and so on and on. It is quality and efficiency not quantity of government that counts

Things have got to change and fast. I hope Karen is right when she warns the coddled wealthies they are facing the end and will topple over from their overburdened assets.

Just recently, a fair number of Wall Streeters or connections, jumped out of windows, under trains, committed suicide. It is beginning to sound more and
more like l929.

James F Traynor said...

Pearl, that's the point, it doesn't matter what the priority, our society has ceased to function adequately. And I don't think the problems are endemic to us. The only ones who have seemed to have gotten a handle on it to some extent are the Europeans, mainly the Scandinavians. Why or how I don't know. But they are the exception not the rule.

Infrastructure, schools, health - it doesn't seem to matter. We just can't, as a society, handle it. And, apparently, neither could other dominant civilizations in the past. We shouldn't stop trying, of course, but the outlook is dim. And from my experience I would say terminal. The sad thing is we'll take everybody down with us, Scandinavians and all. Maybe, in the end, it's the nature of the beast like any other organism.

Pearl said...

Here in Canada and Toronto, Olivia Chow, the widow of Jack Layton, the former head of the New Democratic Party is running for Mayor of Toronto to replace the current clown in office. She will most likely win and do a great

Although Canada is a capitalistic country, it has not allowed the
deregulation fever raging in the U.S. to occur and as a result we have a banking system which is kept pretty well in check. Also, in 2 years, there is an excellent chance of getting rid of Prime Minister Harper which is a major glitch in moving forward instead of backward in this country. Our health care system which is beginning to suffer with some cutbacks because of the policies of the Conservative Party, still manages to function well for people. Our educational system, especially the universities which are subsidized by the Provinces offer relatively low cost choices for students. The job situation however, is not good for graduates but not to the extent of the widespread problems in the U.S.
It is not perfect here, but it is a model for what could and should happen in the U.S. Mainly, people are more knowledgeable about political and social problems, we have 3 parties to vote for and the country is influenced by many European examples which have advanced welfare and support systems for the populace.

There is also a healthy distrust of U.S. policies which are not working well which influences the attitudes of citizens in Canada and the involvement by Canadians in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars resulted in withdrawal from those
conflicts as a result. More honest reporting of these events in the media helped form public opinion.

So James, a country close to the U.S. is a better role model for improvement but although we have our own scandals and corruption practices in Canada it is not as fully ingrained in the system as our southern neighbor. Two of the major parties will try and get rid of the right wing mentality of Harper which is a healthy sign and citizens will have alternative choices to vote for which no longer exists in my birth country where the Democratic Party has sold out to the upper financial and political echelons.

So don't lose heart, and other than moving here (not easy as there is no lack of immigration going on), keep on fighting for the kind of change needed and if nothing else, the example of a decent health care system in Canada, fully supported by all the political parties, is a signpost for change. I also believe that any further military adventures attempted by the current administration will not be able to count on Canada to join in which is a message for the future.