Five Best Monday Columns
Timothy P. Carney on the public use of private cameras, Paul Krugman on austerity-inspired joblessness, Michael Tomasky on GOP fear, Sarah Kendzior on profiling the Boston bombers, and E.J. Dionne, Jr. on the path forward for gun control.
Timothy P. Carney at the Washington Examiner on the public use of private cameras The investigation into the Boston Marathon bombers demonstrates the "need to maintain robust civil society and public spiritedness," writes Timothy P. Carney — not a massive, government funded surveillance state. "Law enforcement in Boston used cameras to ID the bombing suspects, but not police cameras. Instead, authorities asked the public to submit all photos and videos of the finish-line area to the FBI, just in case any of them had relevant images. ... In a bout of public spiritedness, these pedestrians and businesses willingly shared their videos with law enforcement. Even if the crime had not been so notorious, the police could expect public cooperation — what merchant wouldn't share his surveillance tapes to aid in a murder investigation?" Under the title "We Need More Cameras, and We Need Them Now", Farhad Manjoo at Slate welcomed a London-esque ring of steel: "The best reason to welcome a government network of surveillance cameras is that we’re already being watched—just not systematically, in a way that aids law enforcement. Private security cameras dot every busy street, and people’s personal cameras are everywhere." Falguni A. Sheth and Robert E. Prasch at Salon are far less congratulatory: "The subtext ... coming out of Boston over the last week carried a crucial message ... It was a vindication of the Counter-Terrorism Surveillance State and its massive expenditures and the associated erosion of American constitutional liberties." Not so, say the pair: "Would the initial shootout in Watertown, the escape of one of the brothers, and the eventual spotting of blood on the side of a boat and the calling in of that observation have unfolded in more or less the same way in 1977? Probably. Where is the added value?" As for lawmakers, Rep. Peter King tells The Hill that "[t]his is not looking into someone's home or doing something that would require a search warrant.... We're talking about something which is out in the open." Rudy Giuliani said London has "a much more efficient system than even they have in New York today."
Paul Krugman in The New York Times on austerity-inspired joblessness Has the popular concern with the nation's debt wrought a class of the permanently unemployed? "The famous red line on debt, it turns out, was an artifact of dubious statistics, reinforced by bad arithmetic," Krugman argues, referring to the controversial paper authored by Harvard economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. " ... But while debt fears were and are misguided, there’s a real danger we’ve ignored: the corrosive effect, social and economic, of persistent high unemployment." Krugman thinks the decision to focus on debt over near-term problems like unemployment was deliberate. "Let's be clear: this is a policy decision. The main reason our economic recovery has been so weak is that, spooked by fear-mongering over debt, we've been doing exactly what basic macroeconomics says you shouldn’t do — cutting government spending in the face of a depressed economy." Mike Konczal at The Washington Post turns up more examples that those seeking to install austerity measures have consciously ignored unemployment, concluding, "The common wisdom will soon be that austerity as a solution was oversold, with all the toxic side effects hidden. The question next will be how to turn that into political power."
Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast on GOP fear Addressing the array of Republican politicians who wish to leverage the Boston marathon bombings for political purposes — immigration reform and foreign policy, in particular — Michael Tomasky picks up on a trend: "The common thread through all of this is the conservative need to instill and maintain a level of fear in the populace. ... Conservatism, I fear (so to speak), can never be cleansed of this need to instill fear. ... I don’t even think it’s always cynical and manipulative; conservatives often do see enemies under every bed. But that doesn’t mean they’re there, and it most definitely doesn’t mean the rest of us ought to make law and policy based on their nightmares." Michael B. Mukasey at The Wall Street Journal disagreed, arguing that fear inspires a strong foreign policy. "If your concern is over the larger threat that inheres in who the Tsarnaev brothers were and are, what they did, and what they represent, then worry—a lot," he writes, before tackling "the president's reluctance, soon after the Boston bombing, even to use the "t" word — terrorism — and in his vague musing on Friday about some unspecified agenda of the perpetrators, when by then there was no mystery: the agenda was jihad."
Sarah Kendzior at Al Jazeera on profiling the Boston bombers "Despite the Tsarnaevs' American upbringing, the media has presented their lives through a Chechen lens," writes Sarah Kendzior. "Political strife in the North Caucasus, ignored by the press for years, has become the default rationale for a domestic crime. ... Knowing nothing of the Tsarnaevs' motives, and little about Chechens, the American media tore into Wikipedia and came back with stereotypes. The Tsarnaevs were stripped of their 21st century American life and became symbols of a distant land, forever frozen in time." After assembling a list of journalists who imbued Tamerlan Tsarnaev's first name with deep significance, Kendzior concludes, "Ethnicity is often used to justify violent behaviour. But no ethnicity is inherently violent. Even if the Tsarnaevs aligned themselves with violent Chechen movements — and as of now, there is no evidence they did — treating Chechen ethnicity as the cause of the Boston violence is irresponsible." Jonathan Chait at New York noticed that, more than a decade after 9/11, anti-Muslim animus persists in much of American media. "The Muslim world has certainly produced more than its share of terrorists. But there is a conceptual fallacy at the root of the nativist paranoia the [New York Post] ... have eagerly exploited: One cannot infer from the fact that many terrorists are Muslims the conclusion that many Muslims are terrorists."
E.J. Dionne, Jr. at The Washington Post on the path forward for gun control Reacting to the defeat, in the Senate, of a bill that would have mandated background checks for firearm transaction, E.J. Dionne, Jr. attempts to light a way forward for advocates of gun control. "The next steps are up to the supporters of gun sanity. They can keep organizing to build on the unprecedented effort that went into this fight — or they can give up. They can challenge the senators who voted 'no,' or they can leave them believing that the 'safe' vote is always with the NRA. They can bolster senators who cast particularly courageous 'yes' votes ... or they can leave them hanging." Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics was less certain of the defeated bill's impact on the upcoming midterms — a key dynamic cited by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as a way of responding to Senators who blocked the bill. "While most voters are unlikely to punish a senator who supports, say, background checks, such support paints a broader picture of that senator as someone who possibly backs broader gun control, or who is liberal, or who supports an administration with mediocre national approval ratings," Trende writes. "This is a real problem for proponents, and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon."