5 Best Friday Columns

On avoiding a cyber war, deterring North Korea, and a great school program in Kalamazoo

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  • Michael Mazza on the Importance of Deterring North Korea  "War on the Korean peninsula is not a distant possibility," warns The Los Angeles Times contributor. Thus far, South Korea has acted with "noble restraint" towards their belligerent neighbor. But if the U.S. continues to withdraw infantry and armaments from South Korea and Japan, it only emboldens Kim Jong Il. At the beginning of the decade the U.S. had 27,500 troops in South Korea, that number has been reduced to 20,000. Likewise--due to the U.S.-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation--8,000 marines are scheduled to move from Okinawa to Guam. "The road map should be scrapped," writes Mazza. As of now America is "ill-prepared" for a war on the peninsula, which makes a conflict "more likely to occur and less likely to end quickly."
  • Dick Durbin on the Deficit Reduction Plan  When the "National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform gathers to consider a plan to bring our national debt under control, I will be voting yes," writes the Democratic senator in The Chicago Tribune. The plan, which cuts federal spending while raising revenues, is "not perfect," Durbin concedes. It will, however,"dramatically" work to reduce the federal deficit and put Americans back to work. The plan will implement across-the-board cuts inducing cutting defense and non-defense funds and reducing the federal workforce. To raise revenue, the gas tax will be increased to pay for infrastructure and mass transit, and the tax code will be reexamined in order to reduce tax earmarks. Durbin emphasizes that Social Security will be protected by an "actuarially sound program for an additional 75 years," although the retirement age will be raised one year to age 68. "I also insisted on two things to spark the economy," Durbin writes: "a payroll tax holiday that can create up to 900,000 jobs and a longer-term investment of $100 billion in infrastructure, education and research and development."
  • Bruce Schneier on Avoiding a Cyberwar  Serious efforts are needed to prevent the escalation of a potential cyberwar, argues Bruce Schneier in The Financial Times. Schneier points out that the real danger is the inability to pinpoint the beginning, end, and even the parties of a cyberwar--"not only because such attacks are often impossible to trace, but because we have no clear definitions of what a cyberwar actually is." Though countries cannot be stopped from developing digital weapons, rules can be set to reign in cyber attacks and clarify attacks' source in order to prevent all out cyberwar. "A first step would be a hotline between the world's cyber commands, modelled after similar hotlines among nuclear commands. This would at least allow governments to talk to each other, rather than guess where an attack came from" proposes Schneier. "More difficult, but more important, are new cyberwar treaties. These could stipulate a no first use policy, outlaw unaimed weapons, or mandate weapons that self-destruct at the end of hostilities. The Geneva Conventions need to be updated too." Cyber weapons already exist and "beg to be used" writes Schneier, which is why enforcing regulations should at least be attempted. "Otherwise it is only a matter of time before something big happens: perhaps by the rash accidents of a low level military officer, perhaps by a non-state actor, perhaps by accident. And if the target nation retaliates, we could actually find ourselves in a cyberwar."
  • Jonathan Guthrie on America the Benign  Far from being a game-changer, The Financial Times columnist says the new WikiLeaks dump shows things are fairly orderly on the geopolitical stage, or at least predictable. It's a mystery to Guthrie why Julian Assange considers himself a hunted man for bringing to the public's attention that "Prince Andrew is passionate about promoting British exports" and "the chancellor of Germany, a nation famed for the literalism of its inhabitants' thought processes, is not a very imaginative person." In the absence of graphic accounts of super-secret alien autopsies, the cables remind Guthrie why he likes America. WikiLeaks, he argues, "confirm the essential benignity of the US." The writers of the cables remind Guthrie of "the mid-western tourist that Notebook recently encountered on the London Underground... instructing his bonny, big-boned kids to 'make like you're locals, guys.'" 
  • Conor Williams on the Kalamazoo Stimulus Plan  In his debut column, the winner of The Washington Post's Next Great Pundit contest writes that those looking for ways to reinvigorate the economy can take hope in the successes of his hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan. When it comes to rebounding from economic turmoil, Williams notes Kalamazoo "had a head start, because the economic downturn came early to southwestern Michigan ... And Kalamazoo public schools were among the victims." But thanks to an anonymous grant from local citizens, the city was able to a foundation (The Kalamazoo Promise) that offers the city's high school graduates full tuition to any of Michigan's public colleges and universities. The goal was to "revitalize the schools, but also the local economy and community," and it has succeeded.  "In the Promise's first two years, real estate values rose by 8 to 10 percent (compared to an average statewide loss of 2 percent)." The brain drain has been halted, and making college possible for everyone wound up changing the "district's guiding objective" in a way that reformed the entire school system. While it's not a program every town can hope to implement, Williams believes it typifies the "sort of local response to education and economic challenges is exactly what we need right now."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.