Five Best Friday Columns

Glenn Greenwald on the courage of whistleblower, Amy Davidson on the NSA's panopticon, Walter Shapiro on Obama's Cheney transformation, Elizabeth Goitein on metadata monitoring, Jamelle Bouie on the GOP's revived Calhounism.

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Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian on the courage of whistleblowers Having revealed in two separate reports the extent of the U.S. government's massive surveillance apparatus, Glenn Greenwald praises those who compromise their safety to expose government wrongdoing: "They did not act with any self-interest in mind. The opposite is true: they undertook great personal risk and sacrifice for one overarching reason: to make their fellow citizens aware of what their government is doing in the dark. Their objective is to educate, to democratize, to create accountability for those in power." He continues: "The people who do this are heroes. They are the embodiment of heroism. They do it knowing exactly what is likely to be done to them by the planet's most powerful government, but they do it regardless." Writing about a portion of The Washington Post's report about the NSA program PRISM — "They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type," a source told the paper — Politico's Dylan Byers calls the whistleblower's explanation for leaking "perhaps the most chilling paragraph I've read to date about U.S. government surveillance."

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker on the NSA's panopticon Discussing that Post report The Washington Post's report on the NSA's PRISM program, which consolidates private user data for intelligence operatives to sift through, Amy Davidson challenges the idea that, because PRISM is legal, it is justifiable. "This is all supposedly meant to stop terrorism by foreigners," she writes. "When the N.S.A. looks through the private files of people who are one or two degrees of separation from the person who has caught its eye, though, it hasn't just gone beyond that mission but has betrayed it." She goes on: "The Post article described analysts using "selectors" that are "designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s 'foreignness.'" If they turn out to have targeted 'U.S. content"—beyond all the incidental information on Americans that's swept up—they are supposed to submit it to yet another database, "but it’s nothing to worry about." Actually, it is." Greg Satell at Forbes is much less worried: "While it may make people uneasy, the benefits outweigh the risks and so it is probably something we will just have to get used to."

Walter Shapiro at Yahoo News on Obama's Cheney transformation What kind of president has Barack Obama become? Walter Shapiro picks up on the striking similarity between Obama's surveillance operation, which began and was approved in the last administration, and that of Bush and Cheney: "As has so often been the case during the Obama presidency, especially in national security matters, there is a mismatch between the president’s words and his administration’s deeds," he writes. "It’s almost as if the president talks like Rand Paul and governs like Dick Cheney. ... That continuity from Bush to Obama brings with it a sense of helplessness for Americans who are frustrated with living perpetually in a fearful national security state. What does it take to turn off the extraordinary measures and supposedly temporary policies adopted after the Twin Towers toppled?" Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic adds: "We're allowing ourselves to become a nation of men, not laws. Illegal spying? Torture? Violating the War Powers Resolution and the convention that mandates investigating past torture? No matter. Just intone that your priority is keeping America safe."

Elizabeth Goitein at The Wall Street Journal on metadata monitoring Elizabeth Goitein challenges the idea that collecting metadata — the array of peripheral information concerning actual data, like phone call audio or the text of an email — is a minor incursion into citizen privacy: "Pieced together, these details can paint a detailed and sensitive picture of our private lives and our associations. Calls to a therapist's office, Alcoholics Anonymous, repeated late-night calls to a friend's wife—the existence of these calls can reveal as much in some instances as the calls' actual content." She adds that this method of collection is "the equivalent of sending a dog into someone's house to sniff for drugs and applying for a warrant if the dog barked. In any case, history teaches that the temptation for the government to use information, once gathered, is irresistible." Ben Smith at BuzzFeed paints a concerning picture of the political fallout: "The tolerance of widespread surveillance of Muslims helped build a government apparatus, and the legal underpinnings of it, are now used much more widely than many Americans are comfortable with. The political path to rolling it back isn't clear."

Jamelle Bouie at The Daily Beast on the GOP's revived Calhounism Jamelle Bouie considers the current path of the GOP, demonstrated most recently by South Carolina's recent attempt to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, in light of the party's embrace of John Calhoun's political legacy: "These moves, as many observers have noted over the last four years, are unprecedented. The Senate was never meant to be a super-majoritarian institution, and lawmakers have never been able to block implementation of laws because they disagree with the contents. But in the Calhoun-infused GOP, this is the new normal. ... None of this is to say that the GOP can’t change direction and move away from the legacy of John C. Calhoun. For now at least, it’s barreling ahead to the past, eager to avoid any change." Paul Krugman at The New York Times, meanwhile, ponders the immediate future of such tactics: "Rejectionism won’t discredit health reform. What it might do, however, is drive home to lower-income voters — many of them nonwhite — just how little the G.O.P. cares about their well-being."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.