I knew it would happen at some point. Though he has gotten a firm "meh" from me from the moment he emerged as a presidential candidate, I am finally proud of Barack Obama.

Obama was concluding remarks about his Affordable Health Care Act during an address in Northern California Friday morning when he fielded a single question about the NSA and the recently disclosed domestic spying programs.

"I think it's important to recognize that you can’t have 100 per cent security and also then have 100 per cent privacy and zero inconvenience," the president told the crowd while delivering several minutes of unscripted remarks about the NSA.


I suspect Obama will suffer as a result of this approach, but it is about time that someone spoke to the American public like an adult. Of course the politically expedient thing to do is to indulge the juvenile fantasies of the electorate, the ones where they get lots of things from the government but don't have to pay for them and where they are kept safe from every potential threat with no limitations on their rights and liberties. You know what kind of person expects to get everything they want at no cost? Children. Bratty teenagers. Spoiled college kids. I have great respect for anyone willing to tell the public, "Look, make up your goddamn minds. You want us to prevent terrorism by the most aggressive means available. Well, this is the cost. If anyone has a better idea of how to stay on top of every potential terrorist activity on the planet we'd love to hear it."

Freshman-level political science courses teach students that rights and security sit at opposite ends of a see-saw. To increase one necessarily does something to decrease the other. We simply cannot have it both ways. But we have a political system that gives individual elected officials an incentive to tell us we can. There is nothing to gain by telling voters, "You were howling about terrorism and we passed a law giving the president sweeping powers to fight it. We had chances to repeal that law (or let it expire) and the right-wing media crapped itself at the thought of 'weakening' our response to terrorist threats. This infringement of your privacy is the result of that law." There's everything to gain from voting for the Patriot Act and then stoking their braying outrage over The Gub'mint listenin' in on mah phone calls.

What I'm saying here is not a defense of these surveillance programs. It is a simple statement of fact. We cannot have the best of every possible world. If you place the most value on privacy and individual rights, then you'd best accept the fact that terrorism will be more difficult to stop. If you value security more highly, realize that the pursuit of security will involve some limitations on privacy. Majorities of Americans support the NSA's actions and almost 2/3 agree that privacy is secondary to combating terrorism. That it is popular does not make it right, but it does mean that our elected officials are going to err on the side of security ten times out of ten. It's not like Americans really believe in rights anyway.

But more on that tomorrow.

58 thoughts on “GROWN-UP TIME”

  • Ed,

    Seldom are you and I on completely opposite ends of a topic, but in this case we are. There is zero reason to record and store the electronic activities of everyone in the country. To me, this is one of those good intentions that is paving the road to hell. The abuse of this information is as predictable as it inevitable. I don't have a problem with that stuff being recorded in specific cases where it's warranted, but a blanket recording of everyone all the time? No way. Obama's framing of this as an either/or black/white decision is disingenuous at best and a lie at worst, much like his presidency itself at this point.

  • I am personally much more afraid of our gov't than I am of terrists….I would rather see that NSA money spent figuring out why people want to harm the USA….and then doing something about that.
    Outrider: "There is zero reason to record and store the electronic activities of everyone in the country. "
    Well said. I agree….

  • The surveillance would alarm me less if it weren't for the proliferation of national security letters (gag orders), secret courts, suspension of habeus corpus (enemy combatants), etc. It's one thing to have the power to look, it's something entirely different to say that nobody else can.

  • Personally, I'm more concerned about the militarization and empowerment of the local police forces than I am about national security vs. privacy. I'm old enough to recall the abuses of power when the local police chief and especially the county sheriff were essentially sovereign in their bailiwicks. Combined with the power of the local county attorney there is no such thing as the bill of rights.

  • Jesse Ventura said something similar to the "Make up your minds, you can't have it both ways," to a group of students regarding the cost of education in Minnesota when he was running for governor, and I respected him greatly for not pandering to us.

    Sure, the Patriot Act is a crappy law. And people will say "If it's repealed, how will we be from the terrorists?" Now, the better question is "Are any of these things making us safer?" I recall the last administrations claims that the had stopped 50 or 60 terrorist attacks, but of course, we can't ever learn the details of these attacks. Much like the list of communists (or Muslim Brotherhood members), these claims are effective when they remain mysterious. We all remember the great and powerful Oz, right? Nobody wants us to look behind the curtain.

  • Mr. Prosser says:

    Kevin Says sums it up perfectly. Sweeping up info is a given, it's the lying, prevaricating power-hungry abuse that follows it that gave us Vietnam and Iran-Contra, the loss of rights in the "war on drugs" and is giving us who knows what now.

  • What I don't understand about this recent "disclosure" is why is this news? People. The NSA has been doing this for YEARS. Yeah, yeah, the Church Committee created the FISA courts and made the NSA jump through some hoops, but 9/11/2001 and the subsequent Patriot Act opened the door wide open again.

    Sure. No one has a problem with this stuff when it's just brown terrorists in furrin countries they are looking for. But the problem starts when the definition of terrorist changes. I'm actually surprised the NRA and the gun nuts aren't jumping on this as an example of how Obama is gathering information about who has guns so he can come and get them…

  • Personally I view the best "defence against terrorism" as a resolve to stop meddling violently in the affairs of others. Countries with non-interventionist foreign policies have very little risk of terrorist attack.

    And the "risk" is grotesquely exaggerated. I stand a far, far, far greater chance of being killed by a fellow citizen with a gun than a terrorist with a bomb, and yet Americans seem unwilling to move one fucking inch on their "right" to arm themselves like Robocop and blow each other away. Why is that? Why are Americans willing to accept government anal probes of their privacy, but unwilling to accept sensible regulation of dangerous weapons in civilian hands?

    Sorry dude. You're dead wrong on this. This shit is an unwarranted, unacceptable acceleration of the surveillance state. If Bush were doing it, democrats would be screaming bloody murder. I voted for Obama. Twice. But no way I'm going limp for this crap.

  • "Personally I view the best "defence against terrorism" as a resolve to stop meddling violently in the affairs of others."


    This stems, in part I believe, from our dumbed-down populace being talked to like we are three year olds. "The terrorists hate us for our freedoms". No. They don't. They hate us because we are building military bases in their holy cities against the very letter of their holiest book. They hate us because we killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of their countrymen over a lie. Etc.

    When we're grown-up enough as a country to understand the complexity of international politics beyond the level of a three-year-old perhaps we'll start making better decisions about how to proceed as a nation.

  • … rights and security sit at opposite ends of a see-saw. To increase one necessarily does something to decrease the other.

    Not so. You can invest in better security without harming anyone's rights.

    Taking away rights will (potentially) improve your security against people who are not in the government, at the cost of decreasing it against those who are.

    The government might harm you as a matter of policy, because they suspect you of being a terrorist or whatever. It might be wrong, but at least it would be fulfilling its designated function. But from time to time, people who work for the government will misuse their authority. They might use confidential information on you for blackmail, or for political harassment in the style of Watergate, or sell it to the highest bidder.

    It is not a question of *whether* this will happen, but *how often*. If Snowden or Manning can make off with supposedly secure data, then others with less respectable motives can do so as well.

    Forget about trading off rights for security. We are trading security against government for security against not-government. If Obama can acknowledge that and have a rational debate about it, he will deserve some kudos. Until then, sorry, but no.

  • Dixie Pomeroy says:

    This idea that we have to give up privacy to retain our security would hold a lot more water if the Feds were actually capable of stopping terrorist attacks on American soil. Seriously, with this program up and running and vacuuming data, how did they not catch the dolts in Boston before anything happened? They had the older brother's name from the Russians, a warning to look out for him, and, presumably, details of every phone call and internet search he ever made. Wasn't that bombing the very kind of attack programs like these are designed to prevent?

  • darwinsbeard says:

    I question the logic of your "see-saw" between rights and terrorism protection. How can we be sure the government actually needs all these powers to address terrorism adequately? Is it possible that these massive collection tactics are actually creating a data overload that is inhibiting the NSA and government to respond to threats adequately? Some senators and analysts that know more than me are arguing that. Having these programs in place certainly didn't help them stop the Tsarnaev's.

    Also, so many Americans supports these programs. That's not surprising because for the overwhelming majority of people it doesn't affect their lives. So like drone strikes, the government tells them it is necessary to fight those evil terrorists, very few negative consequences are observed, and therefore the cost benefit analysis is rather easy. The point is however, that these programs, through near universal vacuuming, creates the potential for abuse that Americans would CERTAINLY oppose strongly if it ever occurred. Just look at the scandals over the IRS (although I understand the partisan qualifications there).

    Lastly, but perhaps most importantly you're overral point makes no sense. I find difficult to understand why you be proud of Obama or find this moment to be exemplary of some kind of seriousness or honesty on his part. Yes Obama is being frank and posing these alternatives, but this was AFTER information was leaked exposing what his administration does. Why hasn't his administration been honest about this, and been discussing this all along? Why didn't candidate Obama run on this inevitable see-saw instead of saying THE EXACT OPPOSITE? Why didn't he allow Americans more say in how the see-saw is balanced out? It is clear that really none of this information had to be secret. It doesn't harm our abilities whatsoever. This is nothing but damage control. For most of his responses he isn't even responding to the leaks directly, saying that no one is listening to phone calls etc. Well, few serious people are claiming that Barack, why don't you respond to questions about what the government is ACTUALLY doing? It seems to me like you've been duped by the disingenuous, con-man Barry who after his nefarious schemes are revealed via leaks/reports his government condemns and attempts to criminalize, claims he fully understands how serious these issues are, and wants to have a full discussion with the American people.

  • One of the things that you do not seem to be thinking about is what " terrorist" actually means. The power of this technology to enter into people's private affairs is awesome. Now you may think that what is happening is not so bad because Obama is basically a good guy, but there are people out there who potententially could get into power whose definitions of terror and terrorism you would find outrageous. This is the greatest danger to our liberties. Once the executive is empowered to act in a particular domain, even if that president is a "good" guy like Obama, they do not relinquish that power. Every subsequent president will use it in a different way….think Nixon. I believe the ACLU has it right and I wish them every success is their suit against this administration

  • It's not true that security and rights are in opposition. It's quite possible to have rights-infringing measures that are done in the name of security, but do not provide any actual security – this describes most of what is done in the name of security today. No person is made more secure by removing their shoes at the airport, but everyone is inconvenienced.

    On the other hand, security measures may not infringe any rights. Locked aircraft cockpits don't reduce your rights as you had no right to be in the cockpit anyway, and they will discourage certain types of hijackings.

    Real security increases our rights and freedoms, not decreases them. For instance, having good relations with other nations worldwide (instead of, say, killing their citizens with drones) substantially increases the freedom of U.S. residents to travel worldwide in a safe and secure manner.

  • What amuse me is that all of this information that we're so concerned that the gubbermint is going to collect for its own nefarious purposes is already in the hands of giant mega-corps. AT&T, Verizon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc, etc, etc.

    The feds wouldn't be able to get their hands on this stuff if these giant companies weren't keeping it somewhere. And for what? Why does AT&T need a record of my phone calls beyond my current billing cycle? Why does Google need my search history?

    Because somewhere I checked a box that said "you can sell my ass to the highest bidder?" Well, what if that highest bidder is Uncle Sam. What if in exchange for tax breaks, Verizon says "Sure, here's the info!" How is that any different than Microsoft selling your search history to advertisers? You search, they profit.

    Oh, I get it – THEIR nefarious purposes are okay. Because liberty and markets. It's only when the government does it that it's bad. Because tyranny.

    Electronic privacy is a myth and impossible. Grow up and accept it. You want privacy? talk in person.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    "What I'm saying here is not a defense of these surveillance programs. It is a simple statement of fact. We cannot have the best of every possible world."

    Reading comprehension, people…

  • c u n d gulag says:

    American POV:
    Terrorism is ok, over there. And so is the loss of privacy.

    But we Americans, are "exceptional," and can have it all!!!

    But try telling the fools here, that.

  • As Zack Weiner said, the problem isn't the tradeoff, it's the godawful exchange rate.

    But talking to Americans like grown-ups has been the real Third Rail of politics since at least 1979. Ever read Carter's "Malaise" speech? Distilled: we face tough challenges, and it'll be hard for everyone, but if we put our money, effort and ingenuity into it, we'll make it, and our descendants will thank us. And the guy lost in a landslide.

    Yes, there were other factors in Carter's defeat, but when was the last time someone who cared about getting elected talked to Americans as frankly as that?

  • middle seaman says:

    The other day, a guy said on NPR that automatic cars will eliminate car accidents. That's naive. Reduce, but not eliminate. Even East Germany didn't stop everyone with the Berlin Wall. No zero terrorist success existS, with or without the government knowing even everything.

    As usual Obama is wrong. It isn't a choice at all. The fact is that Pakistan has severe terrorist risk while ours is small and considerably lesser than the risk posed by the NRA.

    The real risk to our society comes from Wall Street and the government privacy theft.

  • Thank goodness that Obama is telling us that by sacrificing privacy and convenience, we CAN have 100% security! That is what he's saying, right?

  • I might consider Obama's comments "brave" if he made them to the nation, not as an off-the-cuff ("unscripted") remark in Northern California. And furthermore, Obama, just like Bush and every president since RWR, say whatever they want at the time, and then go on and continue with impunity and zero accountability. Translation: they lie and say real purdy words, people cheer, and then continue with pillaging the country and eviscerating the constitution. So, I say "meh" on BO's bravery. It is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  • You know what kind of person expects to get everything they want at no cost?

    A white Republican baby boomer.

  • duckbilledplacelot says:

    Yeah…this is similar to the whole torture 'debate'; massive unrestricted wire taping does not make us safer. The safe/free inverse ratio does not apply.

  • Monkey Business says:

    Thirty-ish odd years ago, we had a President that recognized many of the challenges the United States would face in the 21st century. Dependence on the Middle East for oil, for one. That President dared speak to the American electorate like adults, and the American electorate threw his ass out of office and elected a guy in his stead that did everything but promise every living American a pony. His vice-president tried again to speak to Americans like adults, and the electorate threw his ass out too.

    Since then, every President, and indeed every politician, has learned that you cannot talk to the American electorate like adults. We are all of us children, and it is only by talking to us and treating us like children that you will ever get us to grow up.

    At the end of the day, this is on us. We, the People have empowered our government to do these things by electing individuals that believe it is the right thing to do, and not picking up the damn phone to tell them it's not. We, the People have made the conscious decision that we're going to give the NSA access to all of our electronic information to prevent a terrorist attack that is orders of magnitude less likely to happen in the vast majority of the country than getting shot accidentally by your neighbor.

    This is on us. We can be disappointed in President Obama all we want, but it's just projection. We, The People are responsible, and it's up to us, collectively, to un-fuck this.

  • JulesBombay says:

    Debating the merits aside…
    "I think it's important to recognize that you can't have 100 per cent security and also then have 100 per cent privacy and zero inconvenience," should not make you proud. Nobody is saying either of those things. It's a straw man for all occasions and for all sides.
    He's not talking to anybody as an adult, he's deflecting accountability for things he is very much accountable for, as he is apt to do over and over again. He's obfuscating.
    It's another platitudinous call to a democratic system that is broken, another "tweet your congressman!," more "you are the change you've been waiting for."
    Gitmo, prosecuting war criminals and bank fraud, executive kill lists and assassinations, prosecuting the drug war, administering the size and scope of the surveillance state – all are things over which he has tremendous unilateral control as, you know, The Commander/Governor/Prosecutor in Chief!
    An honest adult statement to grown-ups would be "Sorry dipshits, *shrug* this is who I am and who you voted for twice."

  • Except what they're doing doesn't actually improve security. By collecting ALL THE THINGS indiscriminately, they're increasing their noise-to-signal ratio (to borrow a term from high-throughput molecular biology) so much as to be practically useless. It's poor design. Actually requiring them to collect the modicum of evidence needed for a wiretap necessarily refines their search to things that are more likely to be useful in actually stopping terrorism in a time- (and humanpower-) effective manner. So the indiscriminate warrantless data collection is both unconstitutional AND useless.

  • I don't see how this current NSA nonsense increases national security. It is a breach of privacy going far beyond even Bush with his silly little Patriot Act. I can't imagine they will learn anything useful about terrorism from this. I assumed Obama was going to do the right thing and get rid of the Patriot Act, tax cuts, and close Gitmo like he said he was going to. Oh well, I'm probably on some terrorist watch list after the NSA viewed my post.

  • Neal Deesit says:

    Grown-up time? Yeah, there's no better indication of a really grown-up conversation about the subtleties of privacy and security than the phrase "rights and security sit at opposite ends of a see-saw."

  • "…Bush with his silly little Patriot Act."

    No. It is a Law passed by both the House and Senate. And as you should remember only ONE Senator, Mr. Feingold, D – Wisconsin voted against it.

    So there were a bunch of Ds who voted 'aye' for said law though I am sure (without looking up the count) more Ds in the House voted against it than Rs did.

    We screwed the pooch together, now your blaming Bush (no surprise)

    The schizoid approach on Baby Bush persists on the Left – evil genius svengali and potato chip chokin' jackass.


  • How can this information be used? I think the Boston Marathon bombing gave us hints. All the associates of those brothers were checked out. All their histories were explored. And there were raids involving the FBI, some murders were solved, and it all happened after the fact once some had an extra big red flashing light on their records. That's how it will likely be used: after terrorist acts.

    Do I still have to worry about someone finding all the pictures I have sent? My private emails? I guess so. But I think the volume of what's collected makes it unlikely that I'll get picked out randomly. It's the after something that I have to worry about. And I think that's a worry much more than a problem.

    What is an actual problem and isn't getting examined is WHY THE FUCK ARE WE CONTRACTING SECURITY TO BIDDING CORPORATIONS? It's bad enough that government won't provide security guards at military airports in war zones because we'd rather have contractors than soldiers and airmen for some made up budget reason that bloated the cost of the Iraq and Afghan conflicts even more than they were already bloated. But we have 29-year-old high school dropouts who are one paycheck away from a trip to Hong Kong to sell secrets to Glenn Greenwald? (And maybe the Chinese?) What the fuck is wrong with this country?

    It's bad enough that everything possible is handled by contractors nowadays, because some bean counters decided that pensions cost profits and having fewer workers on the payroll is efficient and that's the gospel of corporations, peace be upon their miserly asses. But our government agencies that pretty much have all our secrets? Really? No one sees a problem with that? I know Issa isn't going to complain, but I'm surprised not to see that anywhere: left, right, libertarian, socialist, tea, or even freemen. It's okay this country doesn't want to pay people, but if someone runs to China with a pocket full of secrets it's just part of business. And I guess we're all okay with that.

    Loyalty? I have some. What's your offer?

  • You can always count on bb to bring a "But the Dems did it too!" to the party.

    OK bb, do you really all those Dems would have voted for it if they hadn't been terrified of being labeled "objectively pro terrorist" (I think that was the actual term) for voting against it? Seriously?

    Sure the Dems were political cowards (no surprise there) and went along with it but it was the Bush administration that drove it and the right-wing media that were the main cheerleaders for it.

  • @ bb in GA: Yes. This. Exactly what you said. Blaming Bush for the Patriot Act, for the Iraq debacle, for all the things that required a vote from a member of the Legislative Branch, is convenient amnesia. I fucking hate Bush and his legacy, but I fucking hate the cowards who handed him what he asked for because (bless you, Sen. Feingold) they were too weak to risk temporary unpopularity or even–gasp!–losing their seat over principles.

    Bush wasn't an evil genius Svengali of any sort–he was, however, a pretzel-chokin' jackass (it was a pretzel, bb–check the transcript) who could have been beaten on the playing-field of politics, but everybody on the D side of the aisle came down with a sudden case of the game-day-flu.

    Don't like what the NSA is doing? Good. Blame your senator/congressperson, and vote for somebody else in the next primary.

  • Need anyone point out that America as a society willingly imprisons itself? "Gated community" anyone?

    @jon: "It's bad enough that everything possible is handled by contractors nowadays, because some bean counters decided that pensions cost profits and having fewer workers on the payroll is efficient and that's the gospel of corporations, peace be upon their miserly asses."

    You're almost there. Try: someone worked out a way to generate a profit for private interests off of the public credit card.

    Didn't Haliburton — and by extension Cheney — have an interest in Blackwater? It's also the real reason we cannot have a real discussion on drug laws when states are contractually obligated to minimum occupancies.

  • I can really see how hard is de-centering from one's own culture. But please, people, try to break the "amurrican" soap bubble and try to see the world from other perspectives… E.g. think about another meaning of "terrorism" in the way that we, southamericans, could have interpreted the world after all our military govt's (promoted by you-know-who) deemed "terrorist" to any citizen that dared to think differently…

  • Leaving the security/privacy debate aside for one moment…

    I am an American living in Beijing. Whenever anything is printed about China (or Iran) in a newspaper, it automatically has to carry the "repressive regime qualifier", and most Americans seem to feel that China's Great Firewall is indicative of some sort of horrifically oppressive, intrusive government. Or whenever those countries are brought up, we automatically (and correctly) think of their various human rights abuses.

    At the same time, those same Americans generally agree with the NSA program, or, like Ed, say something to the effect of "oh, I basically knew that was going on all the time, not really news." And while we feel intuitively that due process exists and works in the U.S., the experiences of black/Hispanic Americans, anyone suspected of terrorism, and anyone who challenges the security apparatus (think Bradley Manning), contradict that view pretty strongly.

    We're not North Korea. But we are approaching China pretty rapidly.

    The thing is, I'm not sure people even hate that. You can make a strong case that in terms of stability/security/growth, China has things pretty much right. I'm not going to make that case, but that is probably what Ed is alluding to when he mentions the polled preferences of Americans.

  • Holy shit, Monkey Business, if I heard that in a bar, I would buy your whole table a drink. You win the Internets today.

  • freeportguy says:

    "If anyone has a better idea of how to stay on top of every potential terrorist activity on the planet we'd love to hear it."

    Conservatives would come up with a bunch, but each would be more racist or xenophobic than the previous one…

  • When I read Monkey Business's post I said to myself "who's this WE, Kemosabe?" I absolutely REFUSE to take responsibility for the cravenness of the Democrats or the gullibility of the Republicans. I'm with Russ Feingold all the way.

    In my book, Monkey Business wins nothing. If I heard in a bar what Monkey Business said, I would either leave the bar or I would say in a lid, carrying voice " what's up with all this monkey business about ' we, the people'?" Our congress was NOT elected unanimously. Get a grip.

  • Just as a response to all the "reading comprehension" digs, yeah, my bad. I read the post in a hurry, didn't get as far as the last graph, posted a hurried response and dashed out the door.

    But my original points stilll stand. As others here have noted, but best defense against terrorism is to not be a terrorist state. In other worrds, don't go around the world pre-emptively invading countries who've done nothing to you, bombing the shit out of people, indiscriminantly machine gun unarmed civilians etc. Don't throw people into gulags and secret prison without trial, or disappear them into indefinite detention. Don't do those things, and the likelyhood of "terrorist attack" becomes pretty much zero.

    On the other hand, many thousands more Americans die of sensible and preventable gun violence every years, and for the most part we're fine with that, especially since a lot of them seem to be black. We're willing to submit to anal probes at the airport and all manner of surveillence to keep us "safe" from "terrorists," but any attempt to sensibly regulate dangerous weapons is met with howls of outrage. And don't fucking tell me "gun control doesn't work." I lived for 30 years in countries with very low levels of gun violence and very high levels of gun control, and I can tell you from personal experience it works just great.

  • Count me with the others that trust the terrorists more than our government. Here's where I really disagree with Ed: After 9/11, the US had a choice. Sure it didn't seem like it since, 99% of everyone was saying to do anything/everything to stop the terrorists. Thoughtful people said we need to respond to this through law enforcement, diplomacy and intelligence work… not by bombing people and creating more terrorists. And now that our government has drone attacked the world into creating more terrorists, they tell us they HAVE to do these things. Yeah, well, fuck that. Human rights, including to privacy, are the only thing I value and which our government and the corporations that control seem to truly abhor.

  • First attempt at commenting disappeared, but the gist was this:

    "Freshman-level political science courses teach students that rights and security sit at opposite ends of a see-saw. To increase one necessarily does something to decrease the other. We simply cannot have it both ways."

    I'm sure none of those freshmen have ever challenged that assertion. Never, in his entire career, has ed been forced to consider the possibility that this binary view of the security/liberty relationship is faulty. You guys and girls are totally blowing ed's mind right now. And mine.


  • As well we should, Eau.

    Even political scientists get it wrong on occasion and this is one of those times.

  • With all due respect to Ed, whom I read religiously, this post gets *worse* after re-reading and comprehending it better.

    The statement "To increase one necessarily does something to decrease the other. We simply cannot have it both ways" is simply not true in many cases, as the commenters here have pointed out in analyzing many of the causes of terrorism. Obama's statement is more a disingenuous avoiding of real approaches to security than it is an example of someone speaking to Americans like grownups.

  • @Big Sister – This really isn't one of those times.

    This is one of those times when someone presents a perfectly valid argument, and people choose to ignore that argument, and sound off about a seemingly adjacent, but actually unrelated matter.

    "Security" in a policy sense, does not equal "safety" in a physical sense. Apologies if you are not one of the commenters conflating the two, but plenty are.

    Obama could have just said "You can't have 100% security OR 100% liberty, ever, no matter what. That's stupid." and he would be correct, but nobody but a fool like Ron Paul is ever going to say that to the American people while asking for their vote. Obama deserves praise not because his statement was perfect, but because it raises the bar. That the bar was so pathetically low is not his fault*.

    *It's a little tiny bit his fault. But not very much.

  • @eau: If you define security narrowly as "the authority of the government to do things to its citizens", then yes, liberty versus security is a zero-sum game. But I don't think this is a useful (or conventional) definition of security.

    Talking about the balance of authority (or control) vs. liberty would make a lot more sense. But in common usage we seem to be stuck with "security versus liberty", partly because of that pithy Ben Franklin quote.

    @queenrandom: Good point re. quantity vs. quality of data. Although with modern data mining methods this is less true than it used to be. In theory, with good enough algorithms, analysts could extract useful knowledge from a huge mountain of data without an unreasonable expenditure of human time and attention. That said, I seriously doubt whether the NSA (and particularly its private-sector subcontractors) are smart enough to do this.

  • @eau I'm mystified by what you mean by "policy" in your response to Big Sister. If increased security does not entail increased safety, at least in theory, what exactly does it entail? What does safety in a physical sense mean and why do you so constrain it. Is financial safety/security physical or is your "physical" restriction more like stuff we might do to keep from falling down the stairs?

  • @Talisker – I define security as those policies/acts designed or implemented to restrict or stop acts or threats against the body in question – in this case, the USA (not, as many assume, the *people* of the USA).

    I think you're right about Franklin, but security/liberty is, as you said, what we have to work with here, because… because people are stupid, I guess.

    @Big Dog – Yes, my wording was fairly awkward there, wasn't it? Sorry about that. Hopefully, my answer to Talisker demystifies my meaning somewhat. What I was trying to say was constraint of your personal liberty does not necessarily mean a net gain in your personal safety, even in cases when they serve the perceived security of the USA (which they often don't).

  • @big dog

    I figured some doofuss here would take my pointing this out as some kind of W worship. Typical Left wing smear tactic.

    Sorry about the pretzel, J Dryden. But doncha think Potato Chip Chokin' has a little more poetry than Pretzel Chokin'?? I think it is the extra syllable…


    Kong – what are you talking about? – Democrats do it too? They are freakin some of the most important officials in the US of A. and you make excuses for their moral cowardice.

  • I find myself diametrically opposed to everything in this post. First time for everything, I suppose.

  • via Instapundit:

    “As for our common defense,” Barack Obama declared in his First Inaugural Address, “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. . . . Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”

    Last Friday the president said this: “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

    ie. Obama's ethics are either situational OR he's just paying lip service to whatever you want to hear.

  • Last Friday the president said this: “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

    I watched this address last night. Never have I seen Obama look more uncomfortable. He was halting and inarticulate and his eyes were everywhere, looking for an escape route.

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