Five Best Tuesday Columns

Electronic surveillance, jobs, and Israel

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Ezra Klein on 2012's importance  "For the future of America's two political parties, this is the most important election in a generation," writes The Washington Post's Ezra Klein. Many compared 2008 to the 1932 election that decided who would respond to the Great Depression. People wondered whether Obama was the next FDR or the next Hoover. "In reality, Obama didn't enter office at the right time to be FDR or Hoover," Klein says. FDR inherited the Depression three years in, so it had already lasted long enough that "a boom was in the offing." Obama took office much earlier in the crisis. It's worst period turned out to be the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, Klein argues, and though Obama wasn't yet in office for most of it, the unemployment numbers showed up when he was. While many attribute FDR's success to his policies, Klein says it was probably just "an accident of history." Internationally, "[w]hichever party was in power when the Great Depression hit was booted out of office, and whichever party was in power when the global recovery took hold reaped huge political benefits." If Rick Perry were to win office and repeal health care at the same time that the economy improved, people would see it as an evaluation of his policies for a long time to come. "Does that make 2012 the most important election in a generation? For the country, it's hard to say. For the two political parties, yes. Yes, it does."

Jeffrey Rosen rules on electronic surveillance and the courts  In November, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear United States v. Jones, a case that examines whether D.C. police had the right to place a GPS tracker on a suspected drug dealer's car, follow his movements for a month, and then arrest him for conspiracy to sell cocaine. "The question before the court is whether this violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution," writes GWU law professor Jeffrey Rosen in The New York Times. "It's imperative that the court says yes. Otherwise, Americans will no longer be able to expect the same degree of anonymity in public places that they have rightfully enjoyed since the founding era." Courts that have upheld similar cases argue that people have no expectation of privacy in public places. An August 2010 U.S. Court of Appeals decision decided, however, that no one "expects that his public movements will be tracked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and therefore we do have an expectation of privacy in the 'whole' of our public movements." Technology alone has made this surveillance of "the whole of our movements" possible and so the judge found that it is different in nature from normal surveillance. In a climate when Facebook has just debuted a feature that matches photos to identities, this case has greater implications than just GPS tracking. Live feeds from public and private surveillance cameras could soon be posted to the internet, allowing anyone to track a person's movement from anywhere in the world. Luckily, not just the courts, but also state and federal legislatures have introduced legislation to regulate electronic surveillance. This is encouraging, Rosen writes, but we still need the court to uphold our rights to privacy.

Richard Cohen on Israel's backslide  In 1953, a magazine asked Anwar Sadat, then an Egyptian army officer, to write an imaginary letter to Hitler. "'My Dear Hitler,' he began gushingly, 'I admire you from the bottom of my heart,'" reports Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. "If the mass murder of Jews bothered the officer in the least, he did not mention it. Years later, as the president of Egypt, he was himself murdered for making peace with the Jewish state." Now, the peace Sadat negotiated with Israel is coming apart, Cohen writes. An attack on the Israeli embassy by Cairo citizens prompted the evacuation of its ambassador. Israel's relationship with Turkey is also souring. "Israel's dilemma is that the Middle East, for all the talk of revolution, is slipping backward." Turkey might turn into an Islamic republic, Cohen says. Iran's once pro-Israel government was, of course, removed from power in 1979. And now Egypt, long a regional power, "may find it cannot lead its own people. The peace with Israel has little support among the populace. It's not just that Israel is not loved, it's that Jews are hated." Writes Cohen: "The Arab world has the oil and the geography and the numbers. But the U.S. has the moral obligation to stick by the sometimes obstreperous democracy it felt morally obligated to embrace," and this support should not depend on who is leading Israel at any one time. Cohen concludes by returning to Sadat. "He was a confounding character who showed what is possible and what is not. He was hope and he was despair and finally he was tragedy. It's clear he changed greatly over the years. It's not so clear his country has."

James Bovard on failed federal jobs programs  "Last Thursday, President Obama proposed new federal jobs and job-training programs for youth and the long-term unemployed," writes James Bovard in The Wall Street Journal. "The federal government has experimented with these programs for almost a half century. The record is one of failure and scandal." The 1962 Manpower Development and Training Act counted any participant in its trainee program as "permanently employed" to "camouflage" a "lack of results" in actually returning people to work. So in 1973, Congress passed the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, spending money to create jobs that included "paying to build an artificial rock for rock climbers, providing nude sculpture classes... and conducting door-to-door food-stamp recruiting campaigns." Investigations found little benefit to workers came from CETA, Bovard writes. Since then, Congress has tried the 1982 Job Training Partnership Act and the 1998 Workforce Investment Act, neither of which have had confirmed results. Summer job programs for teens have done little better, he says. "The GAO warned in 1969 that many teens in federal summer jobs programs 'regressed in their conception of what should reasonably be required in return for wages paid.'" Obama should revisit this history before proposing more programs unlikely to perform better.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board on Republicans and immigration  Republicans criticize Obama for overregulation, but on immigration policy, they too need to rethink their restrictive positions, writes The Wall Street Journal editorial board. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith wants to "force" businesses to enforce immigration law for the government. He wrote the "Workforce Act, which would force employers to run the names and Social Security numbers of new hires through E-Verify, a federal database ... As many as half to three-quarters of the workers who pick America's fruits and vegetables are undocumented, and farmers say Mr. Smith's bill could do serious harm to their $300 billion industry." Indeed, E-Verify has chronic problems that identify legal workers as illegal and create unneccesary difficulty for them. Beyond that, a crackdown will likely scare away workers, causing a labor shortage. "When Georgia implemented a state-wide E-Verify law this summer, 11,000 agriculture jobs went unfilled." Smith seems to have changed his message, introducing the American Specialty Agriculture Act to introduce 500,000 temporary agricultural work visas. "It's good to see Republicans conceding the economic benefits of immigration, but we might already have an expanded guest-worker program if Mr. Smith hadn't worked so hard to kill it." Immigration can be a source of growth and strength in the economy, the editors write. "Republicans claim they oppose only illegal immigration but the truth is that many have grown hostile to all immigration."

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