Obama (candidate) vs Obama (president) on NSA spying

Here's Obama the Presidential Candidate debating Obama the Second Term President on surveillance; note how Obama the younger smashes through the cheap "privacy vs security" rhetoric of Obama the elder, showing the man for a thoroughly co-opted cynic who'll let the nation's spooks run wild. Here's Mike Masnick's take:

Not only is there a massive difference in what's being said, but also in how it's being said. The Candidate Obama spoke clearly, directly strongly and without equivocation about protecting civil liberties and not giving up our freedoms. President Obama's speech, on the other hand, sounds weak, vague and unpresidential in comparison.

Candidate Obama Debating President Obama On Civil Liberties vs. Government Surveillance


  1. I have a libertarian view on all this domestic spying but I will say Obama came across as very reasonable in the recent Charlie Rose interview.

    I still like Obama even though I’m disappointed with some of his policies so I’m willing to bet that the reason candidate Obama and president Obama are so different is that he’s learned a lot of dangerous secrets about the world that we aren’t told about.

    Idealism in the face of reality frequently suffers.

    1. Bull shit.  What “dangerous secrets” did he learn?  That some terrorist tried to blow up a plane or use a car bomb?  Oh no!  Dozens of Americans might have died.  If the framers had known that dozens of Americans might die, surely they would not have stuck the fourth amendment in there.  Holy fucking shit. The US faced an existential threat in the USSR, an empire that influenced over half the world, had billions of people, equivalent technology, and weapons to literally kill us all, and we managed to (for the most part) keep our shit together.  Now we face a few thousand  religious nuts and we full on surrender?  Are we cowards, or just fucking stupid?

      If we want to act like a bunch of fucking cowards in the face of a non-threat, we should at least openly declare our cowardice and repeal the fourth amendment.  Better to be a coward than a hypocrite and a coward.

        1. I am not arguing that the US was a fluffy ball of snuggles during the Cold War.  It did nasty and horrible things.  It did some very very wrong convert shit.  It did some horrible not-so-covert shit.  I am pointing out that the US faced down a REAL threat to its existence, and while it tripped and fell on occasion, it more or less held to its principles (at least domestically) and stumble its way back to the path.  

          Communism was a real threat.  They had a real rival empire, and the US and the USSR had both made very serious promises to destroy each other should the other cross certain lines.  Both the Soviet Union and the US had to worry about their rivals ideologies infecting each other, and sympathetic principled spies were not uncommon, because both had appealing ideologies.

          Now, we face a handful of Islamic fascist.  Their ideology is utterly worthless at infecting the general population.  There will never be any political danger from these people.  Their numbers are pathetic and small.  They hold almost no territory.  Their technology is crap.  Their weapons are pathetic.  They are not a threat to the US.  

          Now, faced with this tiny and pathetic threat that holds as much danger as bathtubs, and far less danger than McDonalds, we react like we are facing a danger far more scary the USSR.  That is fucking insane and cowardly.  If we reacted to Islamic fascist proportional to their danger in comparison to how we reacted to the danger of Communism, we would hand the Department of Homeland Security a $20, tell them to go get the president a coffee, and the GTFO.

          1. I vote for going back to the Cold War. Russia’s going full-bore totalitarian. Maybe if we returned to the Cold War mindset, we’d improve our own behavior as part of our opposition to them.

            We initiated detente with countries like China and Russia with the theoretical goal of getting them hooked on trade and using that to foster human rights. Only we got hooked on trade with them and moved to emulate their human rights practices instead.

          2.  The problem with terrorists is that the threat is that it is that is is small and thus easily concealed. Unlike the USSR we can’t point to the terrorists and say, lets keep an eye on what this country is doing because they don’t have a country. The terrorists are outside of the box and thus outside of regular politics and tactics like sanctioned embargoes. They are also so small that their actions are small and have the possibility of effecting us on a relatively small scale. Not that I want to sound dismissive of 911, that was a great tragedy, but if WWIII was to break out it would be inconsequential in comparison. But terrorists do not have the military might to threaten most countries in such a fashion. Instead they sneak about exploding bombs which is really small scale stuff unless you happen to be caught in one. Then there is also the fact that the terrorists aren’t working in one group so its harder to gather information about them.
            However this is not justification to erode the  freedoms of the constitution.

          3. The key point here is “the threat is small”.  Why the bloody fuck would you spend more than pocket change or a scrap of liberty on something that qualifies as a small threat?  If Americans can live with the terror of bathtubs, which kill more Americans than terrorist without freaking the fuck out and spending trillions of dollars and crossing out parts of the constitution, I think we can handle terrorist.

            There is literally no justification for this level of stupid in the face of such a pathetic threat.  Well, I take that back.  There are two justifications.  Either you really want to support the military industrial complex, the rest of our civil society be damned, or you are a goddamn coward.

            Hell, this year toddlers have murdered more Americans than terrorist.  Behold:http://www.blacklistednews.com/Toddlers_with_guns_kill_more_Americans_than_terrorists/26750/0/38/38/Y/M.html

          4. Hell, this year toddlers have murdered more Americans than terrorist.

            Probably not surprising to most parents.

          5. The problem with terrorists is that the threat is that it is that is is small and thus easily concealed.

            The logical extension, then, would be to thoroughly search every home and business in the US because SPIDERS!

          6.  “The threat is small” until the terrorists get their hands on chemicals and nukes.  If you’re the one in the cross-hairs, the threat is large.  The president is in a no-win situation; if the terrorists make successful attacks he’s going to be cudgeled with the accusation that he didn’t do enough; otherwise he’ll be beat over the head with the accusation that he’s doing too much.

          7. You have a much brighter opinion of U.S. actions during this period than I do. It wasn’t just “commies” either, but any progressive people or movements that were persecuted. I live a 5 minute bike ride away from Fred Hampton’s house….

      1. “The novel is set in London in 1886 and follows the life of Mr. Verloc, a secret agent… Verloc leaves to meet Mr. Vladimir, the new First Secretary in the
        embassy of a foreign country (implied to be Russia). Although a member
        of an anarchist cell, Verloc is also secretly employed by the Embassy as
        an agent provocateur.
        Vladimir informs Verloc that from reviewing his service history he is
        far from an exemplary model of a secret agent and, in order to redeem
        himself, must carry out an operation – the destruction of Greenwich Observatory
        by a bomb explosion. Vladimir explains that Britain’s lax attitude to
        anarchism endangers his own country, and he reasons that an attack on
        ‘science’, which he claims is the current vogue amongst the public, will
        provide the necessary outrage for suppression.”


    2. That’s your first mistake, thinking that the President knows more than we do. He’s in a bubble created by the security state; he knows less.

      1. I’m sorry, that’s completely and utterly ridiculous.

        If you want to follow Snowden and Greenwald down this particular rabbit hole, no on can stop you. I don’t think it leads where you think though.

        But if you seriously think you are better informed about what the NSA does and doesn’t do than Obama, you’ve lost touch with reality.

        1. I never said we are more informed “about the NSA” (although since “us” includes Edward Snowden, that also happens to be true); I said he knows less than we do. He doesn’t “know,” for example, about the entrapment, abuse of power and departmental power-jockeying that leads to the “thwarting” of countless “terror plots.” They come to Obama much like he comes to us, and say “we thwarted another terror plot” and Obama says “OK.” It’s in his interest not to “know,” even if it means we know he “doesn’t know” on purpose.

          1. Your version of what takes place during a presidential briefing, or indeed how government works, is also pretty ridiculous.

        2. We can’t know what the president knows.  We can’t do this because we don’t live in a transparent system.  So what, we just trust them and call it a day?  These people have shown that they are not worthy of an ounce of trust and that they lie and scramble for power at all possible turns.  A president has never met a power he doesn’t love.

          We need to wedge this shit open.  If being an open system hurts a little our capacity to work, we will eat it.  We accept a trial system with a presumption of innocence knowing full well that it results in criminals getting free.  Why the bloody fuck is “terrorism” magically different?  Why is that if you slap “terrorism” as a tag onto a crime, suddenly it is fuck all to liberty?

          I have a feeling that if we knew what the president knew, we would find that there have been a couple of dozen terrorist attempts on the US, the vast majority were either sting operations setup by us, or never got past the planning stages.  The very small number of legitimate planned attacks outside of those were hunted down with boring old police work, and that they threats even had they been successful were going to be as pathetic as the Boston bombings and not even worth notice.

          Jesus fucking christ, this is a nation of over 300 million people.  We murder more people each day by eating shitting food, driving to work, or suicide than the terrorist could ever dream of inflicting.  Surrendering liberty to fight a handful of terrorist is pathetic and cowardly.

    3. he’s learned a lot of dangerous secrets about the world that we aren’t told about. Idealism in the face of reality frequently suffers.

      No.. it’s about money, power and control. Don’t be fooled.



      Daily Caller: So what are they doing with all of this information? If they can’t stop the Boston marathon bombing, what are they doing with it?

      Binney: Well again, they’re putting an extra burden on all of their analysts. It’s not something that’s going to help them; it’s something that’s burdensome. There are ways to do the analysis properly, but they don’t really want the solution because if they got it, they wouldn’t be able to keep demanding the money to solve it. I call it their business statement, “Keep the problems going so the money keeps flowing.” It’s all about contracts and money.

      How many of your civil rights are you willing to give up in the name of corruption and security theatre?

      Also, I’d like to quote another, brave American hero for you:

      ” … US officials also provide misleading or directly false assertions about the value of these programs, as they did just recently with the Zazi case, which court documents clearly show was not unveiled by PRISM.

      Journalists should ask a specific question: since these programs began operation shortly after September 11th, how many terrorist attacks were prevented SOLELY by information derived from this suspicionless surveillance that could not be gained via any other source? Then ask how many individual communications were ingested to acheive that, and ask yourself if it was worth it. Bathtub falls and police officers kill more Americans than terrorism, yet we’ve been asked to sacrifice our most sacred rights for fear of falling victim to it. … ”

      – Edward Snowden (former CIA/NSA, Booz Allen Hamilton/etc.)

    4. Lying about the transparency of the FISA courts isn’t reasonable.

      But it is eminently reasonable to distrust the word of a person who has repeatedly behaved in a dishonest manner.

  2. Uhg.  It is gutting to watch that.  

    It just goes to show how utterly screwed we are.  You would think, watching 2007 Obama, that his position was pretty clear.  You see this weasle now awkwardly giving his press conference and he couldn’t have taken a more opposite approach.  He said one thing in very clear terms, and did the exact opposite.

    The horrifying thing is that, as a voter, there is no alternative.  Even if I could suffer to vote Republican, despite their horrible positions on civil liberty for everyone who isn’t a straight white religious male, it wouldn’t be any better.  It wasn’t like it was a choice between two policies.  Romney and McCain are just as enthusiastic (if not more so, though I struggle to imagine how that could be possible) about pissing all over the fourth amendment.

    My only real dim hope is that this remains an issue all the way to 2016, and that this is used as a wedge in the primaries, and that non-surveillance state politicians win.  Yeah… it is a pretty dim hope.  I just don’t see it.  Republicans are too pro-surveillance state to let someone who cares about the 4th amendment win.  Democrats might have had a chance find their balls and get a primary candidate who is anti-surveillance state, but between Obama leading the charge down this road, the democrat outcry (with a few notable exceptions) being muted, and Hillary (who surely was active player in this atrocity) being the heir apparent, I’m not holding my breath.  

    I think we are fucked with literally no alternative.

    The American people are sad cowards these days.  How we turned into a nation willing to steadily face the threat of true annihilation in the defense of Western Europe and other allies during the Cold War into a nation that pisses and can’t surrender its liberties fast enough in the face of a threat that ranks below death by bathtube, I will never understand.

    I want just one politician to point to Obama and anyone who would support this crap, and call them out as the fucking cowards that they are.

    1. I would like to disagree with you but…the vast majority are a cowardly herd who have the attention span of a sand gnat. Throw a few buzzwords at them and they will endorse the evisceration of their constitutional protections faster than they down a Big Mac.

      Most of them can’t even name their own representative in Congress, or tell you how many US senators there are, so it is no surprise that they fail to pick up on the details of the march toward Big Brother. 

      What has been shocking to me is how many outright partisans have supported the actions of the current President, simply because they voted for him and can’t accept that he might not be right 100% of the time. They would have fully condemned GWB for doing the same things.

      1.  Actually, that doesn’t shock me at all. I’ve been arguing with people who hold that kind of mentality more or less since 2003 and the caliber (or lack thereof) of the arguments deployed by your average Democrats-or-nothing liberal (not to mention levels of censorship, insults, hypocrisy, et cetera) is horrifically bad.

        If anything, I tend to blame and loathe them more than I blame someone who quite literally knows either nothing or next to nothing; they didn’t know, and the media, of course, isn’t exactly helpful. In comparison, they pride themselves on all of their knowledge-and then, at the end of the day, they will throw away their votes on someone who basically pisses on them at every opportunity and will treat you as if you slaughtered their parents in front of them if you point this out.

        1. Stupid is bipartisan.  The vast majority of Republicans are mute on the domestic warrantless spying by the military because they agree with it.  It is only a small handful of Democrats and Republicans who are speaking out against the NSA spying.  

          The implication that Mitt, or even more laughably, McCain would have looked at the NSA spying program set up by Bush and said “no thanks” is laughable.  Cowardice in the face of the “scary” terrorist, who murder fewer people than bathtubs each year, is a bipartisan failing.

          1.  The difference, though, is that I have no positive expectations of Republicans whatsoever (for the most part; Rand Paul’s filibuster was distinctive)-so when they ooze their way across the political landscape in order to defend the interests of their donors and promulgate their theocratic and racist agendas, I’m not particularly surprised to see a trail of slime in their wake.

            In comparison, the Democrats are a political party whose sole raison d’etre seems to be sucking everyone down to the same level of their hypocrisy (except, of course, for the people who seem to have no moral standards whatsoever wrt politics and just support the Democrats because the Republicans wouldn’t want them for whatever reason). Thus we end up with the revolting spectacles of people spending years on end castigating Democrats for very real critiques-and then throwing out everything they’ve previously said in order to support them every two or four years-or someone like Daniel Ellsberg basically telling people to vote for someone who would throw him into the cell right next to Bradley Manning for doing the same things now that he did nearly 50 years ago, or “liberals” complaining about the bias of FOX News, but being entirely willing to use the same sleazy tactics of censorship and manipulation to prevent anyone from sullying their message boards with the truth about the Democratic Party.

          2. …but being entirely willing to use the same sleazy tactics of censorship and manipulation to prevent anyone from sullying their message boards with the truth about the Democratic Party.

            You forgot to fit goatse, dead babies and Hitler into that sentence.

          3. I’m not sure what magical place you live in, but where I live Democrats are bitter and cynical folks who vote Democrat because it was better that voting for a fucking bigot who would write into the constitution that their gay friends need to go fuck off and die if given the chance (and they have, in multiple states).

            The last election wasn’t an endorsement of Obama.  Both parties have their TRUE BELIEVERS who will vote party line without fail.  The last election was Romney’s to lose, and he did.  People voted against Romney, not for Obama.

            Not that I don’t take your well crafted  statistical sample of liberal blogs seriously, but I would probably need third party polling data to believe that there are more TRUE BELIEVER Democrats than Republicans.  If I were to venture a guess, I would guess they are roughly equal in size (give or take a few percent) due to the nature of a two party system.  Like I said though, I have not conducted a rigorous statistical analysis of liberal blogs like you have, so perhaps you are better informed.

            Edit: For clarities sake, when you read the last paragraph, try imagine those words being said with a healthy slathering of sarcasm.

  3. The military industrial complex had to come up with something to justify its existence (and continue its profits) once the Cold War ended. I’m no conspiracy theorist because I think the truth is simple enough without it. Just like that one fellow remarked – one drone strike in a village creates 100 ‘terrorists’ better than any al Qaeda recruiter could. I also believe that the surveillance state is aimed primarily at thwarting any mass “occupy” movement. Terrorism doesn’t scare the rich and powerful – socialism/people power does.

    1.  No conspiracy. Most of this work is done by *private* contractors. They’re objective is to make money and justify their existence and expansion, not act in citizen’s interests. It’s a glaringly obvious conflict of interest.

  4. President Obama looks embarrassed and uncomfortable with what he’s saying, and a smile lurks behind his face betraying the internal conflict.  I actually think he can’t believe he’s regurgitating the crap that’s been fed to him, that is so clearly totally in conflict with the position he spent so long developing.

    He’s smart, too smart to be simply riding through this unawares.  He’s been got.

    1. I agree. The job of the president is to be a fall guy, while the corrupt machine hums away behind the curtain.
      I feel as though the last president that had any real power was murdered.

    2. Absolutely.  If he had seen some serious shit prevented by this, he would say so without all the hemming and hawing.  He would be able to forcefully say, “look, I know this is a loss of privacy.  I feel it, and I did not want to be the president who continued these programs.  But I am telling you they are responsible for preventing real and serious attacks.”  

      Instead, he is whinging away like someone threatened his children unless he delivered the party line.  Seriously – when have we ever seen him speak like this?

    3. It’s easy to confuse “smart” for “glib” when you really, really, really, want to believe the bullshit.

  5. It’s just occurred to me that heads of state in democracies typically come into the job with no experience of handling spook agencies, whereas the agencies typically have decades of institutional experience in handling heads of state and responsible ministers and secretaries and whatnot. This must be why, no matter what they say before being elected/appointed always morphs to a very similar sounding song of “It has to be secret for secret reasons”.

    1. I think you’re right.  How many millions of people work for the US DoD, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies?  Organizations that big take on a life of their own.  I truly believe that our highest elected representatives have no ability to control these organizations.  Occasionally the organizations can be steered, but they largely follow their own trajectories, while elected officials come and go.  And occasionally these organizations get a strong tailwind, like the last decade in the US.

      My Dad happened to see footage of Obama emerging from his first National Security Briefing as president-elect in 2008.  Dad says Obama came out looking like he just saw a ghost.

      Remember as well that in his first week on the job, Obama ordered the closure of Guantanamo, and shortly thereafter claimed he wasn’t afraid to be a one-term president.  But the system consumed him, he sold our national health to the insurance industry and fought hard to stay in power.  Now it’s 2013 and  Obama personally authorizes every drone strike.  How far is it from community organizing to that.

      The sad thing is that I really believe Obama was the man we wanted and needed him to be, back in 2008.  I really think he was the best possible candidate for the Hope and Change we bought into.  But it just doesn’t matter.

  6. “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

    Can someone please try and explain how that statement can *possibly* be wrong?

    1. It’s a false dichotomy, and a lie by omission. 
      It totally overlooks the reality of what’s being imposed on us in terms of loss of privacy, along with the many risks of overreaching surveillance. 

      Have you ever heard, for starters, of a novel called “1984”?


        Yes, I think I remember reading in seventh grade.
         You’re probably right, of course, so I’ll alert the people and we can
        storm the Ministry of Truth together.

        Can you even take yourself seriously, saying that?  If so, I’m very impressed;
        I haven’t managed to muster that kind of fanatical zeal for anything since
        Firefly was canceled.

        And my entire point is that trying to have either security or liberty is a
        false dichotomy; it can’t possible to have both entirely, OR just one or the
        other because of the
        very nature of the statement.  Is it really impossible for you to imagine
        a situation in which limits on the government’s ability to track down criminals
        and gather intelligence on terrorists could prevent some useful information? Is
        there no scenario in which using
        more invasive technology, techniques, or just plain aggressive interviewing
        could lead to better policing?

        Of course even the most radical extremist has to admit that police should be
        able to hold someone in a police station if they’re found with blood on their
        hands of a street down from the murder. Likewise, the government should be able
        to tap peoples phones, email, and other communication when they have clear
        evidence of an immediate and present danger to people’s lives.

        This situation very clearly sits between extremes; the government did and does
        actually have legal authority to carry out these invasions of privacy by law,
        by approval by all three branches; legislative, judicial, and executive.  
        Could this still be a violation of constitutional rights? Of course; I think
        you, I, and plenty of people including those doing the surveillance could
        easily agree on that. However that line is much, much fuzzier then most will
        admit, probably because it makes the answer more difficult. What makes it even
        more difficult to judge is when we don’t even know what’s going on, which is
        why I think Snowden’s leaks were an incredibly brave and helpful thing to do.
        That said, I can’t imagine how prism hasn’t helped the government track down
        and find bad people. So where should the line be drawn?  How do we reign
        in what are clearly unconstitutional searches by any reasonable standard while
        still allowing the government access to critical information? I ask myself that
        continually, but it doesn’t help when people freak out and have impossible delusions
        of never needing to have any possible rights of privacy invaded.  I
        believe there is a great deal of truth to candidate Obama statements;
        especially when examining the atmosphere post-9/11 when torture was sanctioned government
        policy, and the only question for the Intelligence – industrial complex was how
        to expand more. That has been reigned in, in significant ways. It has also not
        been controlled in other significant ways. Candidate Obama didn’t have to sit
        down and be told about foiled plots to murder innocent Americans; but President
        Obama doesn’t have to face up to the American public when the creepy
        surveillance programs are all secret.

    2.  Heh. I didn’t have 100% security before the Patriot Act and We the People have less now because of it. A better query; Can the President present a similar program that wasn’t abused or used against it’s own people?

  7. 1:10 in, “We’re going to have to make choices as a society”. Well, Mr. President, you didn’t really give society a choice now, did you?

    By the way, to all who have supported Candidate Obama and his stated ideals from his first moments of his Presidency; Kudos on you! Kudos for hold the same ideals, albeit false hope President Obama would make any real effort. If I’ve learned anything, You the People have all the right ideas, hopes and dreams. The Government is what fails us.

    So, with that in mind, when do we draft a candidate?

  8. That fucker really knew how to press people´s buttons back then. Even as a European, for me he was the final nail in the coffin of political faith. I guess I have to thank him for my coming-of-age that way.

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