Now playing at your local supermarket this week, the Economist explores “How to Save [Obama’s] Second Term.”
Umm, now that New York Times(!) has declared, “The administration has now lost all credibility,” what is there to salvage?
Within hours of the disclosure that the federal authorities routinely collect data on phone calls Americans make, regardless of whether they have any bearing on a counterterrorism investigation, the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.
Those reassurances have never been persuasive — whether on secret warrants to scoop up a news agency’s phone records or secret orders to kill an American suspected of terrorism — especially coming from a president who once promised transparency and accountability. The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the 9/11 attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.
Based on an article in The Guardian published Wednesday night, we now know the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency used the Patriot Act to obtain a secret warrant to compel Verizon’s business services division to turn over data on every single call that went through its system. We know that this particular order was a routine extension of surveillance that has been going on for years, and it seems very likely that it extends beyond Verizon’s business division. There is every reason to believe the federal government has been collecting every bit of information about every American’s phone calls except the words actually exchanged in those calls.
Hey, if it’s words the Obama administration wants, they can get them from your emails:
Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.
But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”
SPENCER ACKERMAN [NOW WITH WIRED]: Let’s just throw Ledeen against a wall. Or, pace Dr. Alterman, throw him through a plate glass window. I’ll bet a little spot of violence would shut him right the fuck up, as with most bullies.
JOE KLEIN, TIME: Pete Wehner…these sort of things always end badly.
ERIC ALTERMAN, AUTHOR, WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA: Fucking Nascar retards…
But to bring this back to the Economist cover above, it turns out that the f***ing Nascar [sic] retards got 2008 right, far more than the Juiceboxers or their fellow leftists at the Economist did. Or as Mark Steyn wrote in March of 2009:
This is the point: The nuancey boys were wrong on Obama, and the knuckledragging morons were right. There is no post-partisan centrist “grappling” with the economy, only a transformative radical willing to make Americans poorer in the cause of massive government expansion. At some point, The Economist, Messrs Brooks, Buckley & Co are going to have to acknowledge this. If they’re planning on spending the rest of his term tutting that his management style is obstructing the effective implementation of his centrist agenda, it’s going to be a long four years.
And how about this?
In an accomplished press conference this week, Mr Obama reminded the world what an impressive politician he can be. He has a capacity to inspire that is unmatched abroad or at home.
Oh, dear. That’s so January 20th it makes these toffee-nosed Brits sound like straw-sucking hayseeds.
In August of last year, the Economist asked on its cover, “One Question, Mr. President: Just what would you do with another four years:”
Incumbents tend to win presidential elections, but second-term presidents tend to be disappointing. Mr Obama’s first-term record suggests that, if re-elected, he could be the lamest of ducks. That’s why he needs a good answer to the big question: just what would you do with another four years?
And now we know: fund-raise, play out the clock, dodge scandal after scandal, and spy on our tax returns and emails. That’s an awfully far cry from what the American people were promised by Obama on the campaign stump:
[The Bush] Administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.
That means no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.
To revise and extend my previous post, Obama gave that speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center, which more and more seems like the appropriate place to foreshadow his administration’s real plans. Particularly given, as Michael Barone wrote late last month, “More than all past presidents, Obama uses 1917 Espionage Act to go after reporters.”
Incidentally, you can get a pretty good sense of the arc of the left’s Obama worship by checking various Economist covers from 2008 through the present:
The outlier is the image of a punch-drunk and bandaged Obama after the bruising fight to pass ObamaCare in 2010; but note that the Economist was firmly back in the tank by 2011. Nice touch having Michele Bachmann waving at the president while brandishing a sniper rifle; take two Krugmans out of petty cash, boys.
Meanwhile, Doug Ross quips, “When you’ve lost the Stuffington Roast…”
Elsewhere, Buzzfeed, another JournoList redoubt, isn’t BenSmithing this latest scandal. Instead, it’s asking readers on the 64th anniversary of the original publication of 1984, to determine who said it, “Orwell Or Obama?” Which is yet another reminder of the irony, in retrospect, of the Obama Campaign’s first viral video ad:
Which brings us back to 2013: “And this is when timed tweets go wrong,” as the White House “picks bad day to demand high-speed Internet access for (or to) students.”
More: Speaking of bad timing, talk about an ill-conceived moment for the Gray Lady to break out her airbrush once again: “New York Times quietly changes published editorial to make it less damning of Obama:”
The New York Times edited its damning editorial condemning the Obama administration for collecting phone call data from Americans to make it less stinging shortly after the editorial was published online Thursday afternoon.
The editorial originally declared that the Obama “administration has lost all credibility” as a result of the recently revealed news that the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been secretly collecting call data from American users of Verizon under the authority of the Patriot Act.
But hours later the stinging sentence had been modified to read the Obama “administration has now lost all credibility on this issue.”
So the Gray Lady memory holes its original op-ed on Obama’s Orwellian activities? I’d mention Times editor Jill Abramson gushing in 2011 that “In my house growing up, the Times substituted for religion. If the Times said it, it was the absolute truth,” but that article was memory holed as well by the Times. Though, as with today’s op-ed, not before it appeared on numerous Websites. I suspect the Times’ original take today on Mr. Obama is the one that most people will stick with — as with George Lucas constantly revising his Star Wars movies, sometimes the first draft is best.