Sunday, January 19, 2014

TV: The speech about nothing

As he started speaking Friday morning, the first thing people may have noticed was US President Barack was standing in front of six US flags.

Maybe he should have been standing in front of six white horses?

Six white horses came today
to take my Daddy far away
Mommy said I must be good
and stand as big as Daddy would.

A then-high school student, Candy Geer, wrote those words in her poem "Six White Horses" where she sees the passing of JFK through his son's eyes and we thought of it as we listened to Barack drone on about, what was for all intents and purposes, the death of the Fourth Amendment. That amendment protects the American people from unreasonable searches and seizures.  It's important enough to be part of The Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution make up The Bill of Rights).

The Bill Of Rights Defence Committee issued a statement from Executive Director Shahid Buttar:

The reforms announced by the president today are a meager step in the right direction, but far from enough to fix the NSA's assault on the rights of hundreds of millions of Americans. Requiring the NSA to secure judicial approval in order to query its massive databases is the very least the president could require. Allowing bulk collection to continue, whether by the NSA or private corporations, will undermine freedom of thought and erode democracy.
[. . .]
The president's own review board, as well as the privacy and civil liberties board, and the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, have issued dozens of recommendations, most of which the president has continued to ignore. Promised reforms are likely to remain meaningless as long as criminals continue to serve in the administration. The director of national intelligence, in particular, has already been caught lying to Congress and must be removed from his post for the American people to have any trust in the execution of any changes to the NSA's dragnet spying activities.

Well said.

"Thank you," Barack fluttered as he walked to the podium in the Justice Dept.  "Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  Please have a seat."

He was so ethereal, we expected him to launch into a reading of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet.

Instead, he opted for a history lesson and started in on his prepared remarks -- flashed before him on two teleprompters, "At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee uuuhhhh borne out of the The Sons of Liberty was established in Boston."

With that long "uuuhhh" we thought certainly he was going to serve up another Estelle Parsons imitation.

But he surprised us for a second time as this was the only verbal Method moment in his performance.  There were glitches, to be sure, like when he spoke the comments about the illegal spying disclosures providing "more heat than light," he spoke too quickly and got ahead of the teleprompters requiring the president to take a long noticeable pause as he waited for the new words to scrawl across the screens.

As quickly became apparent, the delivery was really about show casing his jazz hands.

More than jazz hands, actually.  More than even Kenny Chesney hands.

We noticed the weird thing Barack did with his thumb and fore finger, a Vanna White-like move with his palm, the hand pops, the dribble, the woah, the gesture with the fist, the sign of the cross, the hitchhike, the pointer and especially the odd hand gesture that appeared to reference the Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian."

He pretty much did every gesture except the Vulcan salute.

We appreciated the effort, especially when so many of the gestures went against the natural flow of body movement.  We saw that as his own private tribute to the work of Bob Fosse.

And, certainly, all his lips offered was all.  That.  Jazz.

His historical lesson, for example,  was a page from something other than A People's History of the United States.

He quickly tied Paul Revere to the Civil War, WWII and then "the rise of the Iron Curtain."

It was disturbing to discover Barack clings to the Cold War like very small children believe in the Easter Bunny.

"After the war, the rise of the Iron Curtain and nuclear weapons only increased the need for sustained intelligence gathering," Barack prattled on.  "And so, in the early days of the Cold War, President Truman created the National Security Agency, or NSA, to give us insights into the Soviet bloc, and provide our leaders with information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe."

That's so inaccurate that it's even false in terms of chronology.  The Cold War starts in 1945.  Truman establishes the NSA in 1952.

Barack quickly offered another factually inaccurate statement, "In fact, even the United States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance.  And in the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War.  And partly in response to these revelations, additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens."

This is why you don't need a president who spends his or her formative years outside of the country.  Barack knows nothing about US history.  Now if he's stayed in Indonesia, no problem.   As someone schooled in Indonesia, there's really no reason for him to be up on the finer points of US history.

But he chose to return to the US where he was a so-so prep school student and  college student and he never learned the basic historic that most Americans know.

The war on Vietnam did not end in the 60s, it lasted into the seventies.  Tricky Dick only became president in 1969.  Nixon's Enemies List was written -- and sent to John Dean who apparently wasn't troubled by it at the time -- in 1971.  Mary McGroy, Washington Star columnist (late of The Washington Post), made the top twenty (the original 20) and was the only one to appear twice on the full list. Actress and activist Jane Fonda's mail was read, her calls listened in on and much more and that's in the seventies as well (Fonda also made Nixon's Enemies List).  And, as the Pike Committee Report (US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) documented, the FBI had spied on the Socialist Workers Party for 34 years (1941 to 1975). Or how about the five year FBI 'investigation' on IPS (Institute for Policy Studies) which began in 1968 and ended in 1973?

Or how about the 1975 hearings for that report?  How about how similar to today they sound?

Chair Otis Pike: Does your system intercept the telephone calls of American citizens?

NSA Director Lew Allen: I believe that I can give a satisfactory answer to that question which will relieve the Committee's concern on that matter in closed session.

That's history.

It's just not history Barack wanted to impart.

He felt his loyalty was to the NSA and spying when, in fact, he is the public's servant.  He does not answer to the NSA, he answers to the American people.

Barack bemoaned, "And the leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to know what they think about an issue, I’ll pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance."

So the American people can still be spied upon but foreign leaders won't be?

Does he not get who he's supposed to be serving?

Friday, he also whined, "It is hard to overstate the transformation America’s intelligence community had to go through after 9/11."

Oh, poor babies.

Was it hard for them?

Cause, you know what?  It was kind of hard for everyone in America.  That's what made it a tragedy.

At this point, he's so divorced from reality that he should only get to see authenticity and actuality on the weekends

And, even then, those visits should be supervised.   Because he also stated, "What I did not do is stop these programs wholesale -- not only because I felt that they made us more secure, but also because nothing in that initial review, and nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens."

Let's pretend for a moment that the illegal spying that's been taking place, the bulk spying, wasn't illegal or maybe didn't happen.

Just set it to the side, for just one moment.

Back in September, Evan Perez (CNN) reported:

The National Security Agency's internal watchdog detailed a dozen instances in the past decade in which its employees intentionally misused the agency's surveillance power, in some cases to snoop on their love interests.
A letter from the NSA's inspector general responding to a request by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, lists the dozen incidents where the NSA's foreign intelligence collection systems were abused. The letter also says there are two additional incidents now under investigation and another allegation pending that may require an investigation.
At least six of the incidents were referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution or additional action; none appear to have resulted in charges. 

That's not violating the law?  That's not being cavalier about civil liberties?  Perez's report notes that one man used his NSA powers to go through the e-mail addresses of an ex-girlfriend?

Not only is that violating civil liberties and privacy laws, it's also violating laws about government spending.

Barack's so dishonest even Nixon, from the grave, is screaming, "Liar!"

When dishonesty wasn't enough, he resorted to bitchery.

A put upon Barack shared, "Of course, what I did not know at the time is that within weeks of my speech, an avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversies at home and abroad that have continued to this day.  And given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or his motivations; I will say that our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets.  If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy."

And if the government would only follow the law, no one would have anything to expose you with.

In the end, Barack's speech outlined that he'd really do nothing.  No surprise there.

As Elaine noted earlier in the week, Senator Barack Obama, campaigning for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination loved to put down others for not resolving problems, he sneered at those who "kick the can."  Elaine and Mike both rightly assumed that kick the can would be exactly what Barack would do with his Friday speech.

They called it and we all saw it.

US House Rep. Rush Holt offered this verdict on the speech:

“The President’s speech offered far less than meets the eye.
“His proposals continue to allow surveillance of Americans without requiring a Fourth Amendment determination of probable cause.  They continue to regard Americans as suspects first and citizens second.  They continue to allow the government to build backdoors into computer software and hardware.  They fail to strengthen protections for whistleblowers who uncover abusive spying.
“The President spoke about navigating ‘the balance between security and liberty.’  But this is a faulty and false choice.  As Barack Obama himself urged in his first inaugural address, we must ‘reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.’
“The Fourth Amendment and other civil liberty protections do not exist to impede police or intelligence agencies.  To the contrary, they exist to hold government agents to a high standard – to ensure that they act on the basis of evidence, rather than wasting time and resources on wild goose chases.
“Even the modest improvements announced today are subject to reversal at a stroke of the President’s pen.  A standard of ‘trust my good intentions’ isn’t good enough.  Congress should reject these practices and repeal the laws that made the NSA’s abuses possible.”

To read about Holt's Surveillance State Repeal Act, click here.  Senator Rand Paul issued this comment:

While I am encouraged the President is addressing the NSA spying program because of pressure from Congress and the American people, I am disappointed in the details. The Fourth Amendment requires an individualized warrant based on probable cause before the government can search phone records and e-mails. President Obama's announced solution to the NSA spying controversy is the same unconstitutional program with a new configuration. I intend to continue the fight to restore Americans rights through my Fourth Amendment Restoration Act and my legal challenge against the NSA. The American people should not expect the fox to guard the hen house.

Barack gave a speech offering nothing because, as Stephen Collinson (AFP) pointed out, "the president left many of the details of proposed reforms either with Congress, top officials or the NSA itself."  It was carried live by all the networks Friday morning and the White House knew sections would make newscasts throughout the day and weekend.  But there was no meat to Barack's speech.  There was nothing but mangled history and paranoia on display.

In a column before the speech, Marjorie Cohn wrote, "The high court checked and balanced President George W. Bush when he overstepped his legal authority by establishing military commissions that violated due process, and attempted to deny constitutional habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees. It remains to be seen whether the court will likewise refuse to cower before President Barack Obama's claim of unfettered executive authority to conduct dragnet surveillance. If the court allows the NSA to continue its metadata collection, we will reside in what can only be characterized as a police state."  That felt sad but true on Wednesday when the Jurist published her column.  Friday after the speech, it felt even more so.

Mr. Pretty Words, Mr. Pretty Lies couldn't even offer up any highs in this overly written speech.  Looking at him, we realized that the pretty had been more than rubbed off over the last five years.  The lines are there, to be sure, but it's more than that.  Women with advanced and untreated eating disorders get a special sort of skull face, the kind Barack now has.

The pretty is gone.  From his face, from his words.

What's left?

"In the long, twilight struggle against Communism, we had been reminded that the very liberties that we sought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security."

Yes, just the paranoia.  He's like Nixon in his final days at the White House, sitting naked in a chair, drunk on scotch, flicking his cigar ashes on the carpet.

"The long twilight struggle against Communism"?  He's swallowed every bit of Red Scare propaganda there ever was and then wants to spit it into America's face.

Six flags behind him and we thought of the significance of the number in the I-Ching and hexagram six -- how internal cunning can result in external determination -- and how that seemed to sum up the mixture of the face Barack now wore.

Six flags behind him and we thought of the Tarot's Six of Cups where distractions prevent harmony.  But we also remembered there are six realms of Existence in Buddhism and how, in Hinduism, the number six represents the mind.  We thought about the Six Arts of China's Zhou Dynasty (rites, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy and mathematics) and the Guggenheim's historic 1963 exhibit Six Painters and the Object (Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol).  Maybe we had missed something?

The only thing we'd missed was how desperate we were to demonstrate that our liberal arts education hadn't been for naught -- and in that moment we grasped what had led all the goofballs to insist from 2009 to 2011 that Barack was playing three dimensional chess when he so obviously couldn't even handle checker.

But as we rewatched the speech and Barack and the six flags, we mainly thought of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo and the SkyScreamer which seems to offer so much thrill as you wait for your turn on the ride but which is honestly rather mundane, dull and predictable -- just like Barack and his speech.

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