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A Eulogy for the Fourth Amendment


President Barack Obama gave a eulogy for the Fourth Amendment on Friday, and not even his fans are proclaiming victory.  In this moment when Obama is actually doing one thing I agree with (talking to Iran), more and more people seem to be slowly, agonizingly slowly, finally, finally, finally, recognizing what a complete huckster he is when it comes to pretty speeches about his crimes.

Obama’s speech and new “policy directive” eliminate the Fourth Amendment.  Massive bulk collection of everybody’s data will continue unconstitutionally, but Obama has expressed a certain vague desire to end it, sort of, except for the parts that are needed, but not to do so right away.  The comparisons to the closure of the Guantanamo death camp began instantly.

Far from halting or apologizing for the abuses of the NSA, Obama defends them as necessitated by the danger of a new 911. While drones over Yemen and troops in Afghanistan and “special” forces in three-quarters of the world are widely understood to endanger us, and while alternatives that upheld the rule of law and made us safer would not require secrecy or human rights violations, Obama wants to continue the counterproductive and immoral militarism while holding off all blowback through the omniscience of Big Brother.

However, Obama’s own panel and every other panel that has looked into it found zero evidence that the new abusive NSA programs have prevented any violent attacks.  And it is well-documented that (even given the disastrous policies that produced 911) the attacks of that day could have been stopped at the last minute by sharing existing data or responding to urgent memos to the president with any sort of serious effort.

Obama has not proposed to end abuses. He’s proposed to appoint two new bureaucrats plus John Podesta. Out of this speech we get reviews of policies, a commitment to tell the Director of National Intelligence to read court rulings that impact the crimes and abuses he’s engaged in, and a promise that the “Intelligence Community” will inspect itself. (Congress, the courts, and the people don’t come up in this list of reforms.) Usually this sort of imperial-presidential fluff wins praise from Obama’s followers. This time, I’m not hearing it.

True, after EFF created a great pre-speech scorecard, when Obama scored a big fat zero, EFF said it was encouraged that he might score a point some day. But they didn’t sound impassioned about their encoragement.

Obama’s promises not to abuse unchecked secret powers (and implied promise that none of his successors or subordinates will abuse them either) is not credible, or acceptable, while it just might be impeachable.  We’re talking here about the same government that listens in on soldiers’ phone sex, Congress members’ daily lives, and everything it can get its hands on related to the actual, rather than rhetorical, promotion of liberty, justice, or peace.  A report today quotes various members of the government with security clearance who want to murder Edward Snowden.  We’re supposed to just trust them with the right to or persons, houses, papers, and effects without probably cause or warrant? Are we also to trust the corporations they ask to do their dirty work, should the theoretical future reform of this outrage involve paying corporations to own our info?

Obama claims the “debate” — in which no debate opponent was given a minute at the microphone — is valuable.  But the whistleblowers who create such debates “endanger” us, Obama says.  This he claims without evidence.

If the debate was so useful, why not give the man who made you hold it with yourself his passport back?

Obama began Friday’s speech with a Sarah Palinesque bit of Paul Revere history.  Revere is now an honorary NSA spy. In reality, the British would have hit Revere with a hellfire missile if Obama had been their king. It all depends on which side of a war you imagine someone to be on, and on whether you imagine war itself is an acceptable form of human behavior at this late date.  Without the endless war on the world, the need for secrecy would go away, and with it the powers that secrecy bestows, and with them the arrogant speeches by rulers who clearly hold us all in contempt.

Resisters of royalty came up with a cure back in Paul Revere’s day.  They called it impeachment.  Of course it would be highly inappropriate to use. It might get in the way of the Fight for Freedom.

David Swanson is author of War is a Lie. He lives in Virginia.


David Swanson wants you to declare peace at  His new book isWar No More: The Case for Abolition.

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