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Dianne Feinstein's Flawed Homeland Security Logic Shows PRISM Is A Sham

When the Guardian newspaper discovered that the US government has been spying on Americans’ phone calls, emails, and Internet behavior for years without any reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior, Senator Dianne Feinstein leaped to the defense of the electronic surveillance dragnet. The Big Brother program, called PRISM, is necessary to preserve America’s national security, she said: “It’s called protecting America!”

Is that what it’s about? Actually, the record shows the spying of PRISM is about failing to protect America.

dianne feinstein prismThe logic of Senator Feinstein’s argument is as follows:

Premise: America needs to be protected.
Premise: Sacrificing liberty enables the protection of America.
Conclusion: Liberty needs to be sacrificed.

Flaw in Feinstein’s first premise: There is no part of the Constitution that states that the American people have a right to security. Security is a function of some parts of the federal government, but it is not the primary function of the federal government. America has other needs besides security, and those needs come before security.

Flaw in Feinstein’s second premise: Sacrificing liberty has not enabled the protection of America. PRISM, created through the FISA Amendments Act and the Patriot Act, sacked the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in order to spy on hundreds of millions of Americans in billions of instances per day. Yet, the system failed to provide warning of the bombing of the Boston marathon.

Conclusion: Liberty does not need to be sacrificed.

Our constitutional right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure has been taken away from us, and we haven’t even received security in return.

5 comments to Dianne Feinstein's Flawed Homeland Security Logic Shows PRISM Is A Sham

  • Bill

    Again, J, while I share your opposition to PRISM and to phone records dragnet as well, I must lament the fact that Irregular Times could and should be…but isn’t, so far…a forum for thoughtful discussion and analysis of the issue, and maybe even a nexus for the organization of effective opposition, rather than just another soapbox rant.

    I found much of this article to be largely indistinguishable from what one might get from Glenn Beck or Alex Jones or Rush Limbaugh, which I find terribly sad. Please allow me to tick off some specifics:

    1. Alway illustrate your tirade with the most unattractive photo you can find of the object of your derision. This is important because dehumanizing your opponents and portraying them as the embodiment of evil is solid intellectual technique that’s practically guaranteed to get a thoughtful and constructive discussion going.

    2. Always try to sneak in a patently absurd and egregiously wrong statement as early as possible (because once your readers buy into that they’ll buy into anything) such as, oh I don’t know, how about “There is no part of the Constitution that states that the American people have a right to security.” This is very nicely done because it is formally correct to say that the Constitution does not contain the phrase “the American people have a right to security” even though it is, in every other respect, an absurdity. First off, nowhere in the Constitution is it said, or even implied, that the American people’s rights are restricted to only those specifically enumerated in the Constitution. Secondly, the very first sentence of the Constitution establishes among the document’s primary goals to “…insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare….”, just as Article I, Section 8 tasks Congress to provide for “the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States” plus, of course, to raise armies and fight wars and defend the law of nations. Then too, your reductio ad absurdum simply ignores pretty much all of human history, throughout which clans, tribes, nations and governments have been first and foremost concerned with security as their very raison d’etre. But hey, aside from all of that, your thesis is brilliant and really helps build the logical foundation for your argument.

    3. Next in order to duplicate the success of a Beck, Jones, or Limbaugh, always make sure at a critical juncture in your argument to glissade from concept X to concept Y, where X and Y are logically inequivalent, but be sure to treat them as completely equivalent synonyms, such as you do in glissading between the very real threat to our privacy that Prism and Verizon represent, into a rant about a threat to our liberty. While privacy and liberty share the characteristic of being mom-and-apple-pie topics, they are otherwise not equivalent. One may have privacy without liberty (say, when locked up in a box), or liberty without privacy (as in pre-European Samoa).

    4. Finally, let us, as good progressives, by all means side with Beck, Jones, Limbaugh et al in asserting that it is not the government’s business to worry about our security.

    Anyway, enough with the Beck/Jones/Limbaugh taunt. I trouble to write this not to put you down, but rather in hopes that you will raise yourself up…to a higher tone of discourse on this important topic. I admire your passion and the high value you place on liberty and privacy, which I share. So I am moved to point out that we can read illogical rants pretty much anywhere on the web; one hopes that here at Irregular Times, and in your writings, we can find better. Make us proud, man.

    • Bill, I am disappointed in you. Instead of helping to hold the Obama Administration to account for the most massive abuse of the 4th Amendment in American history, you’re engaging in cheap and sloppy rhetorical maneuvers to try to distract from the problem. I’ll respond to your pseudocritiques one by one.

      1. You claim that I’ve found the most unflattering image of Dianne Feinstein possible in order to disable the ability of readers to think clearly. The truth is, that image of Senator Feinstein is from a video of an appearance that she scheduled herself in order to defend the Obama Administration’s outrageous continuation of the spying policies of George W. Bush. The fact is, Senator Feinstein is getting on in years, and, as happens with most people, the skin on her face is drooping. I challenge you to find a moment in that video in which she looks better than this. What do you want me to do, give her a virtual facelift?

      2. You first state that it’s an “patently absurd and egregiously wrong statement” for me to explain that there is no place in the Constitution that establishes a right of security. Then you acknowledge that what I have written is “formally correct”. How then, is my argent egregiously wrong and patently absurd? You contradict yourself.

      You go on to argue that, because the Constitution allows the existence of a military, and a “common defense”, that there is a constitutional right to security. That doesn’t follow at all. Constitutional authorization for a general arena of government action is not at all the same thing as creating a constitutional right to that form of action. It’s simply stating that Congress and the President can together make decisions about security issues – and that power is limited elsewhere by the clearly stated constitutional rights that exist. By your logic, if a family agreed that the parents had the right to decide when their children could begin to drive a car, then the children in that family must have a right to drive a car. Throw in as much Latin as you like, but your logic isn’t any better than Feinstein’s.

      3. Bill, I find it really sad that you’re promoting the idea that the Fourth Amendment promise of protection from unreasonable search and seizure is not a foundation of the liberty that we are supposed to enjoy as Americans. Can you please step back, calm down, and reconsider this position? I find it very odd that you believe that the right of protection from unreasonable search and seizure are somehow related to privacy, but not to liberty. I don’t buy your argument that the conditions of Samoans before European contact provide either a well-documented or a plausible model for how Americans can live in liberty without having privacy. First of all, the reliability of early ethnographic descriptions of Samoa is heavily contested. Secondly, the United States of America is not a small, pre-industrial island civilization. I find your contention that we can live in liberty while having the government search and seize information about billions upon billions of our private emails, phone calls, financial transactions, and Internet activity to be laughable. A government with that much knowledge of the very personal details of our lives holds far too much power for citizens to maintain the reasonable belief that what they say to and do in their private lives will remain unwatched by government spies.

      4. As you have throughout your tirade, you are choosing to fight against an argument that you want to rant about, Bill, rather than the argument that I have actually made. If you had bothered to read, rather than to simply explode over your keyboard in fury at the idea that progressives would dare to criticize Barack Obama, you would have noticed that I wrote the phrase “Security is a function of some parts of the federal government”.

      How, given that I wrote that phrase myself, can you justify your claim that I am arguing that the government should not worry about security?

      My point is that the PRISM surveillance, the massive ongoing Verizon telephone data grab, and the other electronic spy programs that have come to light over the last couple of days, show that the Obama Administration, and its sycophantic Democratic supporters such as Dianne Feinstein, have inappropriately and unconstitutionally prioritized security concerns over liberty concerns.

      Your repeated attempt to associate Irregular Times with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh is an ad hominem attack. It contains no real substance. We stand consistently for genuine liberal values, regardless of which political party is in power.

      Can you say the same, Bill?

    • Dave

      Bill, I was struck in your comments by the same thing that J. noticed, that is, the ad hominem nature of the BeckJonesLimbaugh parts. I think, however, in point no. 4 that you acknowledged this in a way. I am hoping that the national discussion, if it can be sustained, will result more in a search for better and different ways of keeping the citizenry reasonably safe. Seventeen Bostonians wearing stump socks can’t be wrong. Ask any of them and I am sure they will say “By all means, find a better way.” The debate is already taking on the tenor of “either/or,” the two unsatisfactory alternatives being PRISM and less protection. How about severely restricting or even cutting off travel and immigration from countries that foment religious or ideological terrorism? Hasn’t even been tried! Oh, someone might think that’s discriminatory and certainly as unsatisfactory an alternative as the others? Well, then we would have three unsatisfactory alternatives to choose from and we could choose the one that increases the safety of our own people and does not destroy our Constitution. Gee, which one could that be?

      • Bill

        Thanks for injecting a bit of rational discourse into the conversation, Dave. While I’m not personally particularly keen regarding your suggested alternative, I very much welcome any thoughtful suggestion, such as yours. The question of how to balance, on the one hand, the need for public security in an era of unprecedentedly asymmetric home-front warfare, or terrorism, or whatever you want to call it, with, on the other hand, the civil rights and individual freedoms that are the sine qua non of America is, I think, one of the most difficult and important questions we face today. It needs to be discussed thoughtfully.

        And yes, I must agree with you that my reply above was an ad hominem. I was critiquing J’s rhetorical stylings. Discussing an individual’s characteristics is inherently and unavoidably ad hominem. Ad hominems are ‘bad’ only when the person isn’t the point. When the person is the point, they are inevitable. I feel J has an unfortunate habit of generating more noise than signal regarding important civil liberties issues, and was hoping to point out his error to him. Alas, that’s a mite touchy subject.

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