Monday, March 26, 2007

Paul Krugman, The Coming Republican Minority

Op-Ed: Emerging Republican Minority By PAUL KRUGMAN
Remember how the 2004 election was supposed to have demonstrated, once and for all, that conservatism was the future of American politics? I
do: early in 2005, some colleagues in the news media urged me, in
effect, to give up. “The election settled some things,” I was told.

But at this point 2004 looks like an aberration, an election won with
fear-and-smear tactics that have passed their sell-by date. Republicans
no longer have a perceived edge over Democrats on national security —
and without that edge, they stand revealed as ideologues out of step
with an increasingly liberal American public.

Right now the talk of the political chattering classes is a report from
the Pew Research Center showing a precipitous decline in Republican
support. In 2002 equal numbers of Americans identified themselves as
Republicans and Democrats, but since then the Democrats have opened up a 15-point advantage.

Part of the Republican collapse surely reflects public disgust with the
Bush administration. The gap between the parties will probably get even
wider when — not if — more and worse tales of corruption and abuse of
power emerge.

But polling data on the issues, from Pew and elsewhere, suggest that
the G.O.P.’s problems lie as much with its ideology as with one man’s
disastrous reign.

For the conservatives who run today’s Republican Party are devoted,
above all, to the proposition that government is always the problem,
never the solution. For a while the American people seemed to agree;
but lately they’ve concluded that sometimes government is the solution,
after all, and they’d like to see more of it.

Consider, for example, the question of whether the government should
provide fewer services in order to cut spending, or provide more
services even if this requires higher spending. According to the
American National Election Studies, in 1994, the year the Republicans
began their 12-year control of Congress, those who favored smaller
government had the edge, by 36 to 27. By 2004, however, those in favor
of bigger government had a 43-to-20 lead.

And public opinion seems to have taken a particularly strong turn in
favor of universal health care. Gallup reports that 69 percent of the
public believes that “it is the responsibility of the federal
government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage,” up
from 59 percent in 2000.

The main force driving this shift to the left is probably rising income
inequality. According to Pew, there has recently been a sharp increase
in the percentage of Americans who agree with the statement that “the
rich get richer while the poor get poorer.” Interestingly, the big
increase in disgruntlement over rising inequality has come among the
relatively well off — those making more than $75,000 a year.

Indeed, even the relatively well off have good reason to feel left
behind in today’s economy, because the big income gains have been going to a tiny, super-rich minority. It’s not surprising, under those
circumstances, that most people favor a stronger safety net — which
they might need — even at the expense of higher taxes, much of which
could be paid by the ever-richer elite.

And in the case of health care, there’s also the fact that the
traditional system of employer-based coverage is gradually
disintegrating. It’s no wonder, then, that a bit of socialized medicine
is looking good to most Americans.

So what does this say about the political outlook? It’s difficult to
make predictions, especially about the future. But at this point it
looks as if we’re seeing an emerging Republican minority.

After all, Democratic priorities — in particular, on health care, where
John Edwards has set the standard for all the candidates with a
specific proposal to finance universal coverage with higher taxes on
the rich — seem to be more or less in line with what the public wants.

Republicans, on the other hand, are still wallowing in nostalgia —
nostalgia for the days when people thought they were heroic terrorism-
fighters, nostalgia for the days when lots of Americans hated Big

Many Republicans still imagine that what their party needs is a return
to the conservative legacy of Ronald Reagan. It will probably take
quite a while in the political wilderness before they take on board the
message of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback in California — which is that what they really need is a return to the moderate legacy of Dwight Eisenhower.>

Sunday, March 25, 2007

National Security letters do not apply to you?

NEWS | OPINIONS | SPORTS | ARTS & LIVING | Discussions | Photos & Video | City Guide | CLASSIFIEDS | JOBS | CARS | REAL ESTATE

My National Security Letter Gag Order
Friday, March 23, 2007; A17

It is the policy of The Washington Post not to publish anonymous pieces. In this case, an exception has been made because the author -- who would have preferred to be named -- is legally prohibited from disclosing his or her identity in connection with receipt of a national security letter. The Post confirmed the legitimacy of this submission by verifying it with the author's attorney and by reviewing publicly available court documents.

The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision -- demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval -- to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn't abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.

I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.

Post a Comment
View all comments that have been posted about this article.
Your User ID will be displayed with your comment.
Comments: (Limit 5,000 characters)

Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.
© 2007 The Washington Post Company

Monday, March 19, 2007

The great Mideast pretenders

NEWS | OPINIONS | SPORTS | ARTS & LIVING | Discussions | Photos & Video | City Guide | CLASSIFIEDS | JOBS | CARS | REAL ESTATE

The Great Mideast Pretenders
By Jackson Diehl
Monday, March 19, 2007; A15

For years cynical statesmen have played a game of make-believe with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: From podiums in Europe or at the United Nations, they announce that their top priority henceforth will be promoting a "comprehensive settlement," brokered by the "international community." That Israelis and Palestinians may be nowhere near ready for such a deal doesn't concern them. Their interest is not the actual Middle East but political constituencies at home, or perhaps oil-rich Arab governments, for which the mere words "Palestinian state" are something of a talisman.

By now we've learned not to pay much attention when the prime minister of Spain or the U.N. secretary general makes one of those declarations. But there's a new wrinkle in the make-believe gambit: It's been taken up, in seeming desperation, by a couple of people who nominally wield enormous influence in the region -- that is, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Since the beginning of the year, Rice has been proclaiming her commitment to promoting an Israeli-Palestinian "political horizon," which is her newly coined synonym for a comprehensive settlement. She's promised to haunt Jerusalem and Ramallah this year; she will be there again this week. Aides describe her as poring over the "peace process" files of previous administrations, in a dramatic reversal of the Bush administration's previous hands-off policy.

Olmert, for his part, has suddenly begun suggesting an Israeli interest in the Arab peace initiative, a plan originally put forward by Saudi Arabia in 2002 that offers Israel normal relations with Arab states if it settles with the Palestinians. Israel originally dismissed the initiative because it calls for withdrawal to its 1967 borders and the return of Palestinian refugees. Yet last week Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, were talking about the "positive elements" in the plan as well as the potential for "negotiations with the Palestinians on its basis," as Olmert put it.

After meeting with Livni in Washington, Rice said, "I think very favorably about the idea" that the Arab League would re-endorse the initiative, as it is expected to do at a meeting in Riyadh at the end of the month.

So what's this all about? Could Israel really be preparing to accept the Arab initiative as a prelude to full-blown peace negotiations with the likes of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states? Will Rice, Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hammer out the terms of a permanent settlement, so that Abbas can use the prospect of statehood to vanquish uncompromising rivals from Hamas?

In fact, hardly anyone expects these things to happen. As Israelis, especially, know all too well, conditions are anything but ripe. Both Abbas and Olmert are terribly weak; Olmert's popularity rating is in the single digits. Abbas has just been pressured by Hamas into accepting a "unity" government whose platform endorses continuing "resistance" -- i.e., violence -- against Israel.

Hamas has been busy in recent months building bunkers and stockpiling anti-tank weapons in the Gaza Strip, in imitation of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Despite a cease-fire, crude rockets are being fired at southern Israeli cities every day. Israeli military commanders are pressing for action, and even political leaders seem to believe a new war like that of last summer is all but inevitable.

Rice's aides insist that she's serious about her diplomacy. Yet it's hard to resist the notion that it's mainly aimed at an audience of one: Saudi King Abdullah, for whom Palestinian statehood is a deeply felt cause. Rice has been leaning heavily on Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Abdullah's national security chief and an intimate of the Bush family, to organize Arab resistance against Iran. Bandar was in Washington again last week, simultaneously with Livni. Talking up the Saudi initiative pleases the king, whom Rice needs to keep happy. For Olmert it offers the double advantage of helping his American allies and titillating Israelis with the possibility of a breakthrough in relations with Arab states.

You might think that talking about the parameters of peace can't do any harm. But history shows that it can. President Clinton's push for a peace deal at the end of his presidency raised expectations that, when dashed, helped produce the bloody Israeli-Palestinian warfare that followed. Some Israeli officials fear a repeat: When nothing comes of the Saudi initiative or Rice's political horizon, Hamas will have the justification it needs to launch the war-in-waiting in Gaza.

There's also the opportunity cost. Instead of talking about final borders and refugees, Olmert, Abbas and Rice might usefully be cutting deals that would ease conditions for average Palestinians in Gaza, release prisoners on both sides, solidify the cease-fire -- and maybe head off that war. Isn't that better than make-believe?

Post a Comment
View all comments that have been posted about this article.
Your User ID will be displayed with your comment.
Comments: (Limit 5,000 characters)

Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.
© 2007 The Washington Post Company