Five Best Wednesday Columns

Shashank Joshi on talking to Iran, Molly Redden on a female Pentagon chief, Mark Bittman on obesity, Susan Crawford on Comcast's power, and Ruth Marcus on inflation inside the fiscal cliff. 

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Shashank Joshi in The Guardian on Iran Though Iran and the West have butted heads on nuclear weapons for years without much meaningful dialogue, Shashank Joshi thinks that now would be a good time to talk. "The window for nuclear diplomacy between Iran and the west has been open since Barack Obama's re-election," he writes, urging the U.S. to offer sanctions relief if Iran agrees to only enrich uranium below weapons-grade levels. Joshi warns that the opportunity for making such a deal "will start inching shut as we approach the Iranian presidential elections in June ... Iran might simply refuse to make the necessary concessions. In that case, we are no worse off than we are now. But it would be negligent not to try."

Molly Redden in The New Republic on Michèle Flournoy When she was the Obama's administration's Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michèle Flournoy was no friend to Republicans, repeatedly rebutting their critiques of Obama's foreign policy. And now that Chuck Hagel's potential nomination for Secretary of Defense seems to be hitting a wall, many Republicans are asking: why not Flournoy? While Molly Redden thinks their reasons for backing her are questionable, she also argues that they've landed on the best candidate. "She's a better choice than Hagel," Redden argues. "She possesses a commitment to elevating the talented women who work beneath her ... That’s an undertaking that the male-dominated Pentagon could desperately use, particularly as it implements a new policy to address the military’s pervasive sexual-abuse problem and whether women should serve in combat."

Mark Bittman in The New York Times on obesity If the point of food stamps were simply to deliver tons of calories to hungry children, the program seems like a resounding success. After all, seven times more poor children are obese than those who are underweight. But in breaking down the nutritional value of what people typically buy with food stamps, the SNAP program looks deeply flawed, argues Mark Bittman. He writes that the government should "remove the subsidy for sugar-sweetened beverages, since no one without a share in the profits can argue that the substance plays a constructive role in any diet," as well as, "increase the spending power of food stamps when they’re used to buy fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, not just in farmers markets but in supermarkets—indeed, everywhere people buy food."

Susan Crawford in Bloomberg View on Comcast Gauging the effects of a merger between Comcast and NBC Universal approved by the Supreme Court in 2010, Susan Crawford sees profits for the Internet provider but setbacks for American customers. "Compared with people in other countries, Americans are paying more for less and leaving many of their fellow citizens behind," she writes. "Perhaps they will start to care when they see that the U.S. is unable to compete with nations whose industrial policy has been more forward-thinking."

Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post on inflation As the fiscal cliff negotiations pick up again after the holiday, it looks as though the IRS will start to calculate inflation adjustments based on the "chained" consumer price index (CPI). Wait—the what now? Allow Ruth Marcus to explain: "When taxes are being calculated, brackets, standard deductions, personal exemptions and the like are ratcheted up with inflation, protecting taxpayers from being forced to pay higher taxes for what is essentially the same amount of income they had previously," she writes. Currently, the CPI is way overestimated, effectively letting taxpayers off the hook for lots of money. "Changing the inflation measure to what is called chained CPI would save $225 billion over the next decade," she writes, saying that money will come from increased tax revenue and decreased spending.

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