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The politics of blind-eye focus

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 7/10/2014, midnight

Many of us have friends or acquaintances who say and/or do things that eventually ensnare us in trouble they caused. Often our defenses against the ensuing criticisms and controversies just deepen the hole we find ourselves in, and we stand or sit stalled in place trying to figure out what the hell happened.

President Barack Obama must be revisiting that feeling fairly often now. He remains in the crosshairs of Republican politicians still angry that he won re-election and who have become hell-bent on undermining, undercutting and otherwise tripping him up in some sort of punishment-for-winning vendetta. They do not shrink from outright lying to accomplish that goal, and they certainly know how to magnify any bad news for all of its poison. And they have Fox News as an ally.

Republicans have not only enjoyed the criticism of the Obama administration for the Snowden-leaked information regarding widespread NSA surveillance of Americans and seemingly, everybody else, the Republicans have also piled on more of their own accusations and invectives, claiming it’s all the president’s fault.

Just a quick word on Mr. Snowden. For all of the vaunted defense of his “whistle-blowing” by some in the media and activist community, Mr. Snowden is a thief and an oath-breaker. He signed an oath of confidentiality when he accepted the data-analyst job and the promised pay for his position. He violated that oath by actually stealing documents that belonged to others, and transporting those documents elsewhere. We can call him Robin Hood all we want, but Mr. Snowden, from all of the available information on the situation, broke the law, and the regular public did not benefit from his actions.

The dime he supposedly dropped on the NSA surveillance program was more like two cents, rather than 10 cents. What the NSA did (and is still doing) was essentially legal, if not ethical, and the NSA has had the legal authority to do so for quite a long time—1978.

The NSA did not receive its legal authority to monitor phone calls, e-mails, tweets, and other digital communications from President Obama. Instead, as a continuing consequence of 9/11, the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress in 2008, passed, and then-President George W. Bush signed, the so-called FAA 702 law (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments). That law increased the NSA’s original 1978 authority to spy on American citizens and anyone else in order to gather data that would allow this country the opportunity for preemptive and quick-response capability viz-a-viz terrorist activity against the U.S. The 2008 law also gave immunity to telecom companies for their compliance with the government requests of such data. It is a fact that data collected through this NSA authority helped in the pursuit for, the capturing of, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

The ACLU and others have challenged FAA 702 in court, as they should have. However, in February 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the strongest of those lawsuits, and the FAA 702 legislation stands strongly unchallengeable at this point. However, there is a sunset phase of the law. The U.S. Congress extended the legislation’s life until December 2017, and President Obama did sign that extension. Clearly, the voting public, if it is so inclined, can have a major influence on whether or not another extension of life is given to the NSA’s authority to collect data on our phone and digital messages/conversations.

But the point here is that this massive invasion of our privacies was inherited by President Obama, not created nor advocated by him. We are aiming our fire at the wrong target; twisting him in the wind for someone else’s deeds.

The results, so far, of the NSA’s work, along with that of other agencies and individuals, are that not another terrorist attack similar to 9/11 has occurred in the USA. So what, some will still say. Protecting our Fourth Amendment and other rights outweighs that accomplishment.

I say, speak for yourself, man. Speak for yourself. The dirty bomb respects neither color, race nor ethnicity. Black, White, Hispanic and Asian, we all burn black in the barbecue.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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