5 Best Wednesday Columns

On drone strikes, therapy for prisoners, and keeping Congress Twitter-free

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  • Mehdi Hasan on the Consequences of Drone Attacks  The use of unmanned predator drones to kill Pakistani al-Qaeda members from afar was initiated by the Bush administration and embraced by President Obama shortly after the start of his presidency. The Guardian's Mehdi Hasan points out that drone-led air strikes have hit an all-time high this year. Such strikes have a very low success rate of differentiating between civilian and military targets, Hasan reports, arguing that indiscriminate killing will only create more animosity between the U.S. and Pakistan. "The cold-blooded killing of Pakistani civilians in a push-button, PlayStation-style drone war is not just immoral and perhaps illegal, it is futile and self-defeating from a security point of view," he writes, citing Faisal Shahzad as an example of such national security consequences. The "Times Square bomber" referred to U.S. drone attacks on civilians as motivation for attempting to strike back.

  • The Los Angeles Times on Caged Therapy Treatments for Mental Illness  "The picture says it all," the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times writes of a photo of two mentally ill inmates sitting in phone-booth sized metal cages while a psychologist sitting several feet away plays an acoustic guitar in order to "build trust" by leading them in a singalong. Such therapy of caged inmates, many psychiatric experts say, is "worse than useless," "horrific," and "demeaning to participants." The Times editors agree with those who say that these cages are "pointless" and a "parody of therapy" for inmates. One psychologist quoted by the Times notes that some inmates receive this type of caged therapy right up until the day they are paroled--meaning that "one day you're so dangerous that you have to be in a cage and the person talking to you is sitting at a distance wearing a flak jacket, the next day you're sitting on a bus." The editors advocate for alternative restraining methods to be used, such as desks that can lock down inmates legs but still leave their arms free. "The tension between security concerns and medical requirements is real, but we doubt that cages are the answer," they conclude.

  • Parag Khanna on the New Middle Ages  "The world we are moving into in 2011 is one not just with many more prominent nations, but one with numerous centres of power in other ways," writes the Financial Times columnist. "It is, in short, a neo-medieval world. The 21st century will resemble nothing more than the 12th century." Like our century, the Middle Ages consisted of a "truly multi-polar world," with China, India, Eurasia, the Arab/Islamic community, and "the powers in between" calling the shots, as well as wealthy, independent city-states and powerful business interests. Globalization is now diffusing power away from the West, "but also from states and towards cities, companies, religious groups, humanitarian non-governmental organisations and super-empowered individuals, from terrorists to philanthropists." In this neo-medieval world, as Khanna sees it, the European Union plays the role of the Holy Roman Empire, and the the United States that of Byzantium (that empire survived "through shrewd diplomacy and deception" even as it declined). Despite the "bleak reputation" of the middle ages that this analogy conjures, Khanna reminds that the era was also a time of great invention and discovery--"which eventually gave way to a great Renaissance too."

  • The New York Times on Protecting American Wilderness  An editorial in today's New York Times celebrates the reversal of a 2003 order in which then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton "renounced her department's longstanding authority to recommend vulnerable public lands of special beauty for permanent wilderness protection," starting with withdrawing 2.6 million acres of land in Utah from being considered protected. Without such government protection, these areas of the country were left open to commercial development, such as oil and gas drilling. The recent reversal of this move is not specific about what should be done with leases already issued to companies who want to use the land. "This leaves plenty of room for mischief from an agency that historically has been sympathetic to oil and gas companies and other commercial interests," the editors write. "The agency cannot be left to its own devices. If Mr. Salazar is really determined to protect this country's wild lands, he must take the lead."

  • Ruth Marcus on Banning Electronics on the House Floor  "Lines have to be drawn, and the House floor is not a bad place to draw them," argues the Washington Post columnist about her idea to ban Blackberries, laptops, and iPads from the floor of the House of Representatives. Yes, these electronics help the legislators be more efficient, but "efficiency is not always the highest good. What about tradition, dignity, and that fusty concept, decorum?" she asks. Marcus concedes that sneaking a glance at e-mail during meetings is all too easy, and adds that she is not getting "too dreamy" about the House floor, but still: there are some places where "multitasking is inappropriate, even disrespectful." She notes: 

There is something particularly depressing in the symbolism of the House floor as atomized democracy, with individual lawmakers cocooned in their techno-bubbles, more immersed in the virtual world than the real-life chamber. I am against the iPad on the House floor for the same reason that I was for letting President Obama keep his BlackBerry. It's a way of maintaining connectivity - the human kind.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.