In any case, today, I am going to talk about Glenn's piece on Sunday. In it, Greenwald has a hissy fit because the FBI is expanding some powers for its agents (legal powers, mind you), and because Obama has courted some donors who work on Wall Street. Not sure what one has to do with the other, but Greenwald put them together, so I guess I'm stuck doing the same. Ergo, Professor Greenwald's Drama Queen 101 has the following assignments: totally freaking out about legal powers of the FBI, and getting bent out of shape about Obama's fundraising.
Drama Queen 101, Lesson 1: Conflating Everything with Soviet Union and East Germany
So let's begin. First, the freakout over FBI powers, comparing it with "national surveillance state" - a reference most apt for the former Soviet Union and East Germany. Glenn Greenwald's piece links the New York Times article about the FBI issuing a new Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, which grants significant new powers to agents.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.I will be the first to say that there is room for legitimate concerns here. But first, let's get the facts straight.The databases we are talking about here are commercial or law enforcement databases, the New York Times notes. So this is information local, state or federal law enforcement already has (so in those cases, it's basically opening up sharing of data), or data your credit card company (or other businesses) share - in all likelihood, with your consent (read your contract) - with their partners and authorities upon request. A further reading of the Times article reveals that some provisions are related to informants only, and other changes actually put more restrictions on the powers of the agents. The FBI counsel also made it clear that these tools may only be used based on leads. Under the new rules, agents will be able to do quick searches about a person of interest without opening a file - but if they do so, the data is not recorded unless they do open a file. The Justice Department has said that the FBI has no reason to believe that it isn't following DOJ guidelines within the context of these changes.
I understand the propensity to be concerned when the FBI changes rules. After all, they didn't do us any favor with the illegal use of national security letters during George W. Bush's rein - about which, I will note however that a report by the DOJ Office of Inspector General concluded that the FBI has taken sufficient measures to ensure that never happens again.
That the FBI gathers information about a lot more people than you can get warrants for. This is not new. What is important to realize here, though, is that there is no new powers being granted to agents. The ACLU has expressed pretty deep concerns opening the door for abuse, but even they have stayed away from saying that the new rules in and of themselves violate any legal or Constitutional rights. If they believed it did, you best believed they would file a lawsuit. In fact, prominent civil libertarians like Jonathan Turley and John Dean have written nothing about this that I can locate thus far.
It's fine to keep a keen eye what the FBI is doing, and abuses of its power should be taken seriously. But the hysterical branding of these things a "surveillance state," as Greenwald did, is pretty much crying wolf. Most western European countries have camera surveillance in every public place, and their citizens don't enjoy any less freedoms than do Americans. The conflation and exploitation of legitimate concerns with the "police state" meme also undermines the legitimate concerns and those who raise them. Using that term evokes the insidious nature of the former Soviet Union and East Germany. Just as continuous Hitler comparisons of political opponents demean the political discourse and destroy credibility, so do the use of terms like "surveillance state." Hyperbole does not help. But that is also part and parcel of Professor Greenwald's Drama Queen 101, you learn to cry wolf about everything, so that no one takes you seriously on anything.
Drama Queen 101, Lesson 2: Elitist Throwing Stones While Living in a Glass House
Greenwald's next problem: that Obama is fundraising, I suppose at all, but he focuses on a few Wall Street executives. Of course, it has the gratuitous jab at Bill Daley and Tim Geithner, despite the fact that, you know, Geithner has never worked on Wall Street. Oh, and Obama signed into law the most sweeping regulations of Wall Street since the Great Depression, and he did it over the loud and moneyed opposition of the financial industry. But it's interesting to note just what is bothering Professor Greenwald of Drama Queen 101:
While millions upon millions of Americans continue to suffer greatly under the country's ongoing economic woes without any end in sight, the Obama years have, indeed, been very, very good to this tiny constituency of wealth he's now eagerly courting.I left the three original links in the above quote, as they demonstrate Greenwald's beef. The first is a link to a story about high corporate profits. The reader is left with little idea about just what Mr. Greenwald wants to do about those, and how he plans on getting the Congress to do it. After all, it was Mr. Greenwald and his allies that poo-pooed the President's fiscal commission, which recommended eliminating all corporate tax loophole and raising the effective tax rate for the richest corporations and the richest tycoons (who mostly pay themselves with capital gains).
The second link that the Drama Queen 101 class is supposed to be piping mad about is, apparently the fact that the stock market has largely recovered from the rock bottom point of the great recession, which also means that 401Ks and individual retirement accounts have regained some or most of their lost value. But since it also means that people on Wall Street gained from it, apparently, we should just let your retirement accounts be damned, if it also increases wealth on Wall Street. This fits in nicely with the next link he shares, which is a Fox News article about last year's unemployment extensions-tax cut deal the President made with Republicans. Evidently, his point is that the unemployed be damned, and every working American (who got a 2% cut in their payroll taxes) be damned, and every middle class and poor American be damned, but you must continue being a drama queen about the extensions of the top rates. It of course also means that Greenwald is being a drama queen about the fact that the bottom income tax rate was prevented from going up to 15% from 10%, but pay no attention Professor Greenwald's clear and present elitism.
By the way, I hear this "Accountability Now PAC" you cofounded spent more money on consultants than it raised, including a cool $24,000 for you. What's up with that, Glenn? You wanna tell us about your personal "fundraising" history? After all, your "Accountability Now PAC" and the other PAC of your cohort's (Jane Hamsher) seems to have been set up for her personal enrichment. Mind you, most of what Hamsher does to make money, we don't even know, because of private entities. Are you ever going to ask your pal Hamsher about her shady looks-like-a-scam-smells-like-a-scam fundraising practices. I bet you won't.
Oh, just for kicks, it just so happens that Greenwald's much hated FBI just helped convict of illegal profits three professionals of Greenwald's much-hated Wall Street under Greenwald's-much hated Obama administration. Hee.
That's all for Drama Queen 101 with Professor Glenn Greenwald for today, folks. Come back soon for more editions!