29 January 2014


"One measure of a truly free society is the vigor with which it protects the liberties of its individual citizens. As technology has advanced in America, it has increasingly encroached on one of those liberties—what I term the right of personal privacy. Modern information systems, data banks, credit records, mailing list abuses, electronic snooping, the collection of personal data for one purpose that may be used for another—all these have left millions of Americans deeply concerned by the privacy they cherish.

And the time has come, therefore, for a major initiative to define the nature and extent of the basic rights of privacy and to erect new safeguards to ensure that those rights are respected.

I shall launch such an effort this year at the highest levels of the Administration, and I look forward again to working with this Congress in establishing a new set of standards that respect the legitimate needs of society, but that also recognize personal privacy as a cardinal principle of American liberty." 

- Richard Nixon 1974 (note: Nixon also talked more about health care in that speech than Obama did last night). 

It's great that Obama keeps saying he's going to reform the surveillance state, but unless he actually starts doing things that don't remind me of Richard Nixon, then he's just as full of shit as Tricky Dick was. Mostly I found his brief mention of the surveillance debate to be highly misleading. He's spent most of the time explicitly rejecting the recommendations of his own executive branch critics, to say nothing of civil libertarian objections and Congressional opposition and general popular confusion and disdain. 

The same deal applies to the comments on drones and the general IR agenda. He talked about things happening... but didn't outline a general responsible approach for his administration that could be easily and clearly implemented. It was not encouraging that a Libya repeat isn't in the cards. And probably the biggest thing going on overseas that might be a cause for concern for Americans (other than negotiations with Iran maybe, nobody cares about Syrians fighting) is the China-Japan spat over some rocks in the Pacific carrying out the argument with ships in close proximity at times. I don't think that was mentioned at all. 

And how about that Drug War, Mr President? Nice of you to mention there's some problem with it in passing a week ago and ignore it here in the context of remarks broadly in favor of taking executive action without consulting Congress. Which the drug war is somewhat firmly an executive project already (President can change the schedule status of drugs with some leeway, can pardon and reduce sentences, issue directives to the DoJ not to enforce or pursue minimum sentencing statutes, etc). 

About the only things I liked in the speech:

1) Iran. It's probable that I'm far closer to Obama than most of Congress on this issue, in that I really don't see the point of further sanctions when sanctions have "worked" to bring about the prospect of an agreement on nuclear proliferation issues. Actually, I do see the point of such sanctions, in that they're intended to prevent negotiation and haste the prospect of an attack. But since I think an attack is counterproductive and likely to be ineffective at advancing our goal and interests here, I don't follow the point. Talking and side actions are more likely to be useful than attempting to change the government of Iran by external means of force. 

2) Mention of climate change was encouraging. I'm not sure there's much agreement between Obama and someone like me on what we should do about it, but it's at least good it comes up as a topic. It's a little more pressing than what kind of health care plan I could buy, although I'm certainly not that pleased with that either. I'd prefer more debate ongoing here but Republicans seem... less useful. It might help though if every time there's this thing called "winter", so many people didn't run around saying "what global warming?". Yes. Still cold out there. I get it. Still winter. I remember a March with 90 degree temperatures here in Ohio not that long ago and a summer that was persistently near or over 100 degrees. I think that's a little more prominent than whether or not there is snow and ice on the ground in January. There's supposed to be snow and ice on the ground in January; that's the climate here in the Great Lakes/Rust Belt region of the country. The climate isn't supposed to be setting record high temperatures for weeks in a row. One of these things is not like the other. 

3) Immigration. I'd favor them doing something on this, but by "something" I would mean "open the border already", rather than "put in billions of dollars of defence contractor pork for border security", which mostly won't work anyway. I am not optimistic that in an off-year election anything will be passed on this even if Boehner thinks something will and Obama wants something to sign. But if something is, it will take a form much too similar to the bill that was proposed and eventually died last year with such handouts and excessive fortifications as a key selling point. It will have to. Too much of the Republican (and Democratic) base is opposed not just to a more open borders society with large amounts of migration as an option, but even to the relatively free and open borders we have right now for anything else to be passed. 

The general focus on inequality is nice, but mostly it seems was inaccurate. The causes and factors and vectors here are much more complicated than "let's raise the minimum wage", which is almost entirely useless for that project, or "increase the set of intellectual property rights", which is mostly a boon to existing infrastructure rather than a job creation system (indeed, it's probably an economic suppressor rather than a necessary protection of innovation). 
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