Here is a picture of an adorable baby hippo to enjoy while you carefully read one more post about Mr. Greenwald and the NSA.
Here is a quote by Mr. Mark Twain.
"The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter -- it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."
See if you can spot the place where substituting the almost-right words for the right words makes a big difference.
But before that, let me say that Mr. Greenwald has done an admirable job of breaking a large and important story about the American surveillance state. Even if this story may be somewhat of a rehash of stuff that was already available for public consumption, and even if David Simon (creator of "The Wire" and former Baltimore police beat reporter) is right is saying that the NSA data-mining OMFG! is somewhat less OMFG! than it might appear at first blush --
... Consider this from Glenn Greenwald, the author of the piece: “What this court order does that makes it so striking is that it’s not directed at any individual…it’s collecting the phone records of every single customer of Verizon business and finding out every single call they’ve made…it’s indiscriminate and it’s sweeping.”Having labored as a police reporter in the days before the Patriot Act, I can assure all there has always been a stage before the wiretap, a preliminary process involving the capture, retention and analysis of raw data. It has been so for decades now in this country. The only thing new here, from a legal standpoint, is the scale on which the FBI and NSA are apparently attempting to cull anti-terrorism leads from that data. But the legal and moral principles? Same old stuff.Allow for a comparable example, dating to the early 1980s in a place called Baltimore, Maryland.There, city detectives once began to suspect that major traffickers were using a combination of public pay phones and digital pagers to communicate their business. And they took their suspicions to a judge and obtained court orders — not to monitor any particular suspect, but to instead cull the dialed numbers from the thousands and thousands of calls made to and from certain city pay phones.Think about it. There is certainly a public expectation of privacy when you pick up a pay phone on the streets of Baltimore, is there not? And certainly, the detectives knew that many, many Baltimoreans were using those pay phones for legitimate telephonic communication. Yet, a city judge had no problem allowing them to place dialed-number recorders on as many pay phones as they felt the need to monitor, knowing that every single number dialed to or from those phones would be captured. So authorized, detectives gleaned the numbers of digital pagers and they began monitoring the incoming digitized numbers on those pagers — even though they had yet to learn to whom those pagers belonged. The judges were okay with that, too, and signed another order allowing the suspect pagers to be “cloned” by detectives, even though in some cases the suspect in possession of the pager was not yet positively identified.All of that — even in the less fevered, pre-Patriot Act days of yore — was entirely legal. Why?Because they aren’t listening to the calls....
-- it is a large and important story about the massive surveillance machinery that our government has built and is using in our name that deserves a wide audience.
But then, thanks to the Twitter Machine, here comes the pivot.
Because as large and important as a story is, it is never large enough or important enough until it has been repurposed into one more cavil Greenwald lecture on the subject of partisan hypocrisy.
All you need to know about partisan vapidity in one simple visualpeople-press.org/files/2013/06/…— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 10, 2013
And the graphic proof Mr. Greenwald presents is pretty damning...
Damning...unless you go back and read the actual survey from which that graph was derived and find that the question being asked of survey participants in 2006 at the height of the Bush-era illegal warrentless wiretapping scandal differs substantially from the question being asked of survey participants in 2013.
The reason I know this is because a graph in the same study and located about one inch above the one Mr. Greenwald shared with his Twitter followers says so:
In case you could not read the graphic, in 2006 survey participants were explicitly about whether they were cool with their calls being "secretly listened in on" without court approval. In other words, wiretapped illegally with no warrant issued from a FISA court.
The question from 2013 asks survey participants how they feel about calls being "tracked" with the legal approval of the secret (FISA) court.
And while I am perfectly willing to concede Democratic hypocrisy and perfectly willing to own my own dread at the existence and behavior of America's surveillance state, it is absolutely unfair and credibility-crippling to level charges of "partisan vapidity" based on a single survey question which does not control for the fact that the Left's sharpest objection to the government's surveillance program in 2006 -- that it was being operated illegally and without court oversight -- is no longer true today.
But don't take my word for it.
Here, from that memorable year of 2006, is noted constitutional law attorney Glenn Greenwald
explaining how accountability to government's FISA court is what keeps the government's surveillance program on the right side of that terribly thin line between democracy and tyranny because ... "We all want eavesdropping -- aggressive eavesdropping on Al Qaeda. They broke the law by eavesdropping without the judicial oversight that law requires."
Here is a fuller quote as transcribed by me:
"The other point I want to make is that nobody is against eavesdropping on Al Qaeda... We have a law in place the purpose of which is to enable the government to eavesdrop on terrorists. We all want eavesdropping on terrorists. That's why we have a law in place. That's why Democrats and Republicans came together to make the law stronger in the wake of 9/11. And that's why President Bush said that law give him all the power we need. The scandal is not about whether or not we should be eavesdropping: we're going to eavesdrop -- we should be eavesdropping. The question is about whether the President will exercise the awesome power of being able to eavesdrop on the communication of the American people in violation of the law -- meaning without judicial oversight, without anyone knowing what he is doing -- or in accordance with the law, meaning with judicial approval by the secret FISA court.
They didn't break the law by eavesdropping. We all want eavesdropping -- aggressive eavesdropping on Al Qaeda. They broke the law by eavesdropping without the judicial oversight that law requires."
-- Glenn Greenwald, February 6, 2006 (emphasis added)
UPDATE: For commentor mahakal , because he's a reasonable guy :-)
- I predict that my main point (Mr. Greenwald's citation of the Pew Poll to make a point about partisan hypocrisy was essentially dishonest given the fact that the framing of the question -- illegal wiretapping  versus court-authorized tracking  -- had changed substantively since 2006) will remain unrebutted. Deflected? Distracted from? Buried under a pile of "Why are you such an Obot stooge?" Sure. But unrebutted.
- In direct reply mahakal's comment, Mr. Greenwald's threshold in 2006 for acceptable versus non-acceptable eavesdropping was not whether or not only Al Qaeda was being surveilled, but only whether or not the FISA court had authorized the surveillance. I know this because Mr. Greenwald said it.
Mr. Greenwald from around the 23:00 mark:
In 1978, we realized that the power to eavesdrop on American citizens is an extraordinary power and it has been abused by Republican and Democratic administrations for decades As a result, we trust our government-- our federal government -- to have this power only if someone is watching over them.
And that "someone" is the FISA court that is expert in the law and that it trusted to keep the country's secrets and that was the way we could assure ourselves that this power would not be abused, that President abided by the law.
Since the President broke the law and is eavesdropping in secret, nobody has any idea how the power has been used or what has been done with that information...
*Thank you, Dan Hagen.