If you look at the fallout from these scandals, no, it isn't simple. It was all very costly, for the US as whole, and for the two whistle blowers in particular.
In the most sincere and gentle way possible, Klap, you're missing a couple of pictures here. First, the 'powers that be' decided after 9/11 to take a pretty dramatic turn. That was a conscious decision/series of decisions that We the People didn't get to vote on. Additionally, Snowden and Manning also made conscious decisions and were willing to pay the price for that.
klapauzius wrote:And the gains are somewhat obscure at the moment. As you point out, my life isn't going to change, but so isn't yours.
I agree that some gains are obscure but some aren't. I agree as well that you're life isn't likely to change - you'll continue to be in the 'target pool'. My life, however, has already changed as a result of this. Nearly all of my web interactions now are done on encrypted connections. I've changed my on-line security practices and done other things as well.
klapauzius wrote:As long as the results of all that spying aren't actively being used to curtail people's freedom, what is the difference?
If you think this is an accurate statment, you're not paying attention.
klapauzius wrote: As long as this is a democracy with the rule of law firmly in place, nothing bad should happen to you and me.
The point, Klap, is that the rule of law has been twisted and things are already happening.
klapauzius wrote:Sure, if this democracy ever fails, a potential police state will have the instruments of suppression ready for them, but as history tells us, dictatorships usually create secret polices faster than you can blink.
Gilded cages are still cages.
klapauzius wrote:Anyways, since the US is a democracy presently, there is a chance for meaningful reform. I wonder though, if there had been a better way, i.e. one that had not completely destroyed the whistle blowers lives....although Snowden at least has a bigger prison cell than Manning.
Speaking as someone that spent a career in their world, having done both of their jobs at different points in that career, and having tried to fix things from the inside, it's my assessment that they did exactly what needed to happen to catalyze change. But they can't do it alone - they need the rest of us to get of our butts and do our parts. At least some of us are.