5 Best Thursday Columns

Farms, pirates, bathrooms, and George H. W. Bush

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  • Jon Meacham on the Courage of Compromise  Although the current political atmosphere has been compared to 1994-95, a more apt analogy to chronicle Obama's current woes is 1990, figures the former Newsweek editor-in-chief in The New York Times. In 1990, George H. W. Bush "broke one of the most celebrated promises in American Politics": "Read my lips: no new taxes." Bush and, now, Obama (on the tax-cut deal) have both "[given] way on issues critical to the true believers within their parties." In the early '90s the GOP anger about the "read my lips" fiasco gave rise to a primary challenger against the president, and ultimately turned Bush into a one-term president. "It is too soon to tell" if the same fate awaits Obama, figures Meacham. But "if his bill, with its middle-class tax benefits, stimulates the economy, then his compromise on a liberal article of faith may one day rank with Mr. Bush's courage under conservative fire."
  • Elizabeth Dwoskin on the Other Side to Bloomberg's Municipal Reforms  Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the 311 hotline in 2003 as a tool to help New Yorkers request municipal services. And while the help line--which recently fielded its 100 millionth call--has been deemed a success, the Village Voice housing reporter (writing in The New York Times) says calls from the city's poorest residents are routinely ignored. She discovered this firsthand during a visit to Lorillard Place in the Bronx last year. A mainstay on the city's "worst properties list," the building is populated largely by "tenants that have a portion of their rent paid through Section 8 federal rent assistance, or any number of special programs that provide subsidies to recovering addicts, formerly homeless and substance abusers, or people with H.I.V." Despite 262 calls to 311 by Lorillard residents, the building remains frighteningly decrepit. One apartment with a young child had a water-damaged bathroom that was the "worst [Dwoskin] had ever seen in New York City." The extent of the neglect--and the city's lack of response to calls for assistance--rocked Dwoskin. "It felt unacceptable--fundamentally, jarringly so."
  • The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board on the 'Farm Belt Boom'  The rest of the country may be struggling to recover from the recession, but in America's Farm Belt region, the economy has come roaring back, with "agricultural land prices growing at a double-digit clip and farm auctions in certain counties fetching record sales" across the region. It's a development the Journal's editorial board finds both perplexing and encouraging. "Is this boom rooted in genuine economic gains," the editors wonder, "or is it another Federal Reserve-induced asset bubble? We lean toward the bubble view." It's undeniable that in the short term the "commodity boom is wonderful news for the rural Midwest" amidst tough economic times. But there are doubts as to how long it can last. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke may say that "asset bubbles and price spikes in commodities are nothing to worry about," but the Journal fears the farmland boom, like the housing market in the mid-2000s, has been artificially pumped up by an "overeasy monetary policy" that has diverted investment flows from "more productive purposes--say, biotechnology, telecom or new roads."
  • David B. Rivkin Jr. and Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky on Pirate Prosecutions  Since 2009, most pirates captured in international waters have been sent to Kenya for prosecution. But efforts to prosecute any and all pirates that they receive have left Kenya's courts overworked and underfunded. Rivkin and Ramos-Mrosovsky, writing in The Washington Post, explain that the United States, China, and other wealthy countries agreed to send pirates to Kenya for prosecution in order to avoid incurring the high cost of trial and imprisonment in their own systems. Rivkin and Ramos-Mrosovsky propose the best solution is for the United Nations to create an international tribunal that would split up the cost of prosecutions between member countries and encourage the imprisonment of more pirates. "The tribunal would develop a consistent rule of decision for captured pirates, with specialized rules of evidence and procedure to accommodate the unique challenges of piracy cases, reducing the number of defendants who escape on technicalities or claim asylum," they argue. "While a few acquitted pirates may still qualify for asylum, this is not too high a price to pay for dealing with the scourge of piracy."
  • Annie Lowrey on What Americans Really Think  Slate's Annie Lowrey breaks down polling results to explain what exactly is on everyone's mind, finding that the average American is very concerned with the most-covered issues regarding the economy, but also a bit confused about how to solve these problems. For example, "he has no idea the Obama administration gave him a huge tax break in 2009. Still, he is firm in his conviction that he does not want his income taxes to go up this year, deficit be damned, and would not mind at all if Congress hiked them for billionaires." Furthermore, "he thinks it's the Fed that needs auditing, though it might be because he hates the word federal. Those federal workers, for instance? He does not like them. He thinks they are overpaid and probably less qualified than private-sector workers. (He does love astronauts, though, and thinks we should send them to Mars)." Lowrey does note that, despite average Americans' many worries, they are positive these problems can be solved, somehow.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.