Opinion

The Great Debate

Palmer Raids Redux: NSA v civil liberties

President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency’s secret collection of telephone records from millions of Americans, June 7, 2013.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

During the “Red Scare” that swept the United States in the wake of Russia’s 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the Justice Department launched a cycle of raids against radicals and leftists. The U.S. attorney general, a once-celebrated Progressive leader named A. Mitchell Palmer, gave his name to this unfolding series of attacks against civil liberities.

Though initially supported by Congress, the courts and the press, the 1919 Palmer raids revealed a darker side of the American psyche. They eventually provoked a national backlash, which inspired the formation of the American Civil Liberties Union; led to stirring free speech dissenting opinions from Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis Brandeis, and ignited a political counter-movement determined to prevent similar civil liberties abuses in the future.

President Barack Obama is far from resembling Palmer in terms of civil liberties abuse, but his conviction in his own progressive righteousness is an unfortunate trait when it comes to designing and overseeing surveillance programs. Obama has also continued to defend the current invasive National Security Agency surveillance programs – even while insisting he welcomes a national conversation about the appropriate balance between liberty and security.

It remains to be seen, though, whether this current crackdown on American civil liberties can spark a new period of backlash from American citizens and the courts. The Obama administration has consistently swatted down lawsuits that challenge it by saying that citizens who believe they have been victims of surveillance lack standing to bring them. It has also prosecuted the very whistleblowers whose leaks made possible the national debate the president says he welcomes.

In praise of Latin American immigrants

The United States owes Latin American immigrants a debt of gratitude. And Latin American immigrants owe a debt of gratitude to lawmakers in Arizona. How so?

Thanks largely to immigration from Latin America (both legal and illegal) and the higher birth rates of Latin immigrants, the population of the U.S. has kept growing, a demographic trend that sets it apart from the rest of the industrialized world, where numbers are shrinking. That threatens economic growth and in the case of Russia (U.N. projections see a decline from 143 million now to 112 million by 2050) undermines Moscow’s claim to Great Power status.

A country’s population starts shrinking when fertility falls below the “replacement rate” of 2.1. births over the lifetime of a woman. For white American women, that rate is around 1.8 now. For Latin American immigrants, the rate is 2.8. According to the U.S. census bureau, nearly one in six people living in the U.S. are Hispanics. By 2050, they are projected to make up almost a third of the population.

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