In President Obama's big speech on NSA spying, he made himself the hero of the story -- and Edward Snowden the villain.

It's not comforting to all U.S. citizens and everyone living abroad, including foreign leaders, that Obama said: "I maintained a healthy skepticism toward our surveillance programs after I became president." Big deal! You kept them up, and may even have expanded them, allowing the government to track all our phone calls and our every key stroke, without any predicate of wrongdoing on our parts.

It's not comforting to any of us that he boasted that "improved rules were proposed by the government and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court." That court is a fraud. In 2012, the Executive Branch made 1,789 requests to the FISA for permission to conduct electronic surveillance. The court approved 1,788 of them!

It's not comforting to any of us that he boasted that "we've sought to keep Congress continually updated on these activities."

First of all, there's a lot of fudge room in "sought to."

Secondly, how many members of Congress were actually informed of all these activities? Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon was repeatedly stymied by the Obama Administration when he tried to find out about these programs. And Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress about it, saying last March that it was not "wittingly" collecting information on millions of Americans. Clapper later said that his comment was "the least untruthful thing" he could have said. This isn't informing Congress; this is criminally misinforming Congress.

And thirdly, why didn't Obama allow members of Congress to inform us, the citizens? Don't we have a right to know when the Executive Branch is crushing our Fourth Amendment rights "to be secure" in our "persons, houses, papers, and effects"?

It's also not comforting to any of us that last year Obama said in a speech that "we needed a more robust public discussion about the balance between security and liberty," since his Administration had been gagging members of Congress for years from telling us what they know about some of these programs.

The whole first half of Obama's speech was designed to show how he's been the guardian of our rights, when he's been violating them.

He did acknowledge, however, that critics have been right to point out that the NSA's mass gathering of our phone records "has never been subject to vigorous public debate."

Which brings us to whistleblower Edward Snowden. The undeniable fact of the matter is that we wouldn't be having this "vigorous public debate" right now, and Obama would not have given this speech, were it not for Snowden (and for reporter Glenn Greenwald).

Obama mentioned Snowden twice by name. "Given the fact of an open investigation, I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or his motivations." But this pretention of piety didn't stop Obama in the next breadth from saying that "the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out" has revealed "methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we might not fully understand for years to come." So Obama said he wouldn't prejudice the case against Snowden, and then he goes ahead and prejudices it.

Yes, it was nice to hear the President admit that after 9/11 "the risk of government overreach" went up, and that "the possibility that we lose some of our ore liberties in pursuit of security also became more pronounced."

And yes, it was nice that he made some modest changes in the oversight of the NSA.

"The president's speech outlined several developments which we welcome," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU. "Increased transparency for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, improved checks and balances at the FISA court through the creation of a panel of advocates, and increased privacy protections for non-U.S. citizens abroad -- the first such assertion by a U.S. president -- are all necessary and welcome reforms."

But Obama did not tell the NSA to stop scooping up all our phone calls. "The president's decision not to end bulk collection and retention of all Americans' data remains highly troubling," Romero said. "The president outlined a process to study the issue further and appears open to alternatives. But the president should end -- not mend -- the government's collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans' data. When the government collects and stores every American's phone call data, it is engaging in a textbook example of an 'unreasonable search' that violates the Constitution."

No amount of self-aggrandizing rhetoric, and no amount of tinkering on the edges, will alter that fact.

Photo: Flickr user Joe Crimmings, creative commons licensed.


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It's finally setting in: Trump is Trump and he’s not going to change because of winning the nomination.

The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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