There was a time, not so long ago, when interviewing the President of the United States was considered the pinnacle of a professional journalist’s career. Such an opportunity to probe the mind of the man responsible for directly or indirectly impacting the lives of virtually every person on the planet, was entrusted only to those with the qualifications and pedigree to handle such an important assignment; not to mention making the most of the president’s valuable and limited time.
Not so today. Rather than a Pulitzer Prize or Peabody Award as the prerequisite for the honor of personally interviewing the President of the United States, one need be nothing more than a self-described “Queen of YouTube” famous for bathing in a tub full of milk and Froot Loops.
Though it might seem obvious to question the potential insightfulness of an interview between the President of the United States and a woman who admitted to cutting off the hoods of her husband’s hooded sweatshirts because he might get “shot by the po-po,” this apparently bothered not a whit President Obama or his crack White House staff. Nor, it appears, did the question of how debasing to the institution of the presidency would such an interview be.
Can one possibly imagine any of the presidents whose visages adorn Mount Rushmore participating in interviews with late night comedians or self-styled blogger-journalists, talking about his preference in underwear, as President Bill Clinton did? Or, can you envision President John F. Kennedy fielding sophomoric questions from a cartoonish whack-job whose only accomplishment was gaining notoriety for inane Internet acts? Of course not; but that is exactly the trend being exhibited by those occupying the office of presidency in recent years; taken to a new low by the current occupant.
President Lyndon Johnson who, despite his personal and philosophical flaws, still managed to accomplish many of his legislative goals, once remarked, “[t]he presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.” Johnson meant that role of president had a way of turning even men of diminutive stature (such as Jimmy Carter) into world leaders; though it was never sufficiently empowering to meet the myriad demands of serving as the leader of not only the United States, but in essence the entire Free World. It was in this way that the greatness of a president was measured.
Barack Obama, a man of no significant leadership or business experience before being thrust into the Oval Office, faced a similar test of character as did those before him. Yet, rather than rise to the challenges of the presidency presented in LBJ’s maxim, Obama reduced the position to a far more pedestrian level — namely, nothing more than a celebrity figurehead of his political party. Rather than designing and articulating actual policies to project and protect American interests on a global level, Obama has opted to spend his time and our money playing golf, vacationing in Hawaii, slinging sound bites at eager college students, travelling the fundraising circuit, and, now, granting pointless interviews to clueless interviewers.
Obama’s infantile interview with YouTube “celebrities” last week came in the midst of an extremely critical time; when a new Congress has begun to assert its independence and tackle important public policy issues left festering by Democrats, and as world events present extreme and growing challenges for the United States and our interests abroad.
As Obama made himself available for camera time with GloZell, he shunned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – a diplomatic faux pas of major magnitude on the world stage. The apparently clueless bureaucrats and advisors running Obama’s amateur-hour State Department, may laugh off this “GloZell-gate” controversy as nothing more than an example of how the President is “reaching out” to Millennials, or slough it off as nothing more than an “oversight.” But it is more; much more.
Obama’s actions convey a lackadaisical, if not whimsical, view of the Oval Office that engenders disrespect in the international community, and limits our ability to influence global policy. It endangers our country.
One wonders if our intelligence agencies listened in as Vladimir Putin watched and reacted to his American counterpart being televised sitting in a cartoon studio being interviewed by a comedienne with green lipstick smeared all over her face. How do our adversaries in Beijing, Tehran, or Damascus react to seeing the President of the United States thus debase himself and the office he holds? For our allies, what degree of confidence would they have in an American president who cares so little for the stature of the office he holds, that he would demean himself so blatantly and so publicly? In short, how can any world leader take Obama seriously in the aftermath of such nonsense?
Ronald Reagan is said to have had such high regard for the office of President – and of the symbolism that accompanies it – that even when he sat alone in the Oval Office, he wore a suit and tie. All the world can now see that Barack Obama has such low regard for the office entrusted to him, that meeting with cartoonish figures sporting green lipstick is the new normal.
Earlier this month, I wrote about a case out of Maryland involving a Florida resident who was pulled-over by Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) police, and subjected to harassment and intimidation, all because the driver was the holder of a Florida concealed carry permit. The incident raised serious questions about the clear bias against firearm owners in a state with a reputation for being notoriously anti-Second Amendment. More troubling, is the still–unanswered question about how MDTA police even knew of an individual concealed carry permit issued outside of their state.
As egregious as are the circumstances surrounding the Maryland incident, it is just one of a growing number of examples of how information about individuals exercising their constitutional rights, is being data-based and shared by law enforcement databases as “suspicious activity.”
Following its investigation of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the 9/11 Commission cited a lack of cooperation and information-sharing among law enforcement agencies, as a major vulnerability in America’s national security. One of byproducts of the Commission’s recommendations was the creation of more than 40 state and urban area fusion centers. These were designed to serve as localized clearinghouses for the “receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information” from partners within law enforcement, public safety, and even the private sector.
The selling point for the states (in addition to money) was that access to such a national network of “suspicious activity” data, would improve the safety of local law enforcement, and make them more effective at stopping crime. For the Feds, the collection and analysis of localized threat assessments, and a far larger flow of information from local law enforcement to the Department of Homeland Security, was the driving force. Thus the DHS (in effect, the entire federal government) gained unprecedented access to a vast data trove on private citizens that goes far beyond anything relating to criminal activity, much less terrorism.
Furthermore, by tapping into a “national” exchange of information that is, in part, contributed to by partners in the private sector, the DHS also found a way to circumvent privacy restrictions in the Privacy Act of 1974. Now, DHS can use the efficiency and flexibility of the private sector to mine and analyze data that, by law, it is prohibited from collecting and maintaining on its own. Moreover, national crime database systems such as the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISSnet) are federally funded, but controlled by state and local level law enforcement entities; adding even more insulation from oversight despite its “critical” role in the overall Information Sharing Environment — the federal nexus of information sharing through which all of this data eventually flows.
The original goal may have been to improve communication between levels of law enforcement, but instead law enforcement has created one enormous Cloud of data on private citizens, that is breathtaking in its scope. This vast database is subject to virtually no oversight or accountability as to what information is collected, who is able to access the data, or how the data is used in “fighting crime.” In essence, this “fusion” has created the same type of shadowy “DarkNet” for law enforcement information sharing for which the federal government has demonized (and prosecuted) the private sector. The end result leaves local law enforcement with resources once only available to federal agencies, and federal agencies with access to surveillance capabilities previously available only to local law enforcement.
The only privacy protections afforded to citizens within the ISE are the same hollow promises of respecting “civil liberties” made by those who reject any hint of greater civil liberties oversight, or state and local law enforcement refusing to participate in this information sharing – something not likely to happen given the clear trends of over-criminalization and over-militarization. Ultimately, it is the lack of privacy protections or civil liberties oversight that allows law enforcement to turn completely legal activities, like owning a gun or supporting third-party candidates, into actionable intelligence based on some vague notion of “suspicious activity.”
Given the vastness of these networks, and collusion between private sector and law enforcement officials at the local, state and federal levels, only Congress has the necessary leverage to penetrate the shield that for so long has protected this law enforcement “DarkNet” from scrutiny. Its task however, will not be easy. Despite serious deficiencies in the fusion centers system documented in a two-year, bipartisan investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations the system remains, in the view of the respected Electronic Frontier Foundation, completely immune from oversight.
Now that Republicans, led by pro-privacy leaders such as Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Justin Amash, have regained control over the House and the Senate, GOP officials should, at a minimum, immediately call for hearings. The value of such hearings lies in uncovering what exactly is being shared among law enforcement agencies about private citizens on these networks; and then to legislate safeguards to ensure the constitutional rights respected in one state are not used against law-abiding citizens in another. Otherwise, the type of abuse against a lawful Florida concealed-carry permit holder by Maryland traffic police, will become even more commonplace in states where freedom is trumped by “security.”