Five Best Monday Columns
Paul Krugman on recapping Obama's first-term successes, Simon Johnson on Bernanke's successor, Jason Burke on al-Qaeda's non-resurgence, Alan Johnson on Israeli elections, and Penn Bullock on stand-your-ground laws.
Paul Krugman in The New York Times on Obama's first-term successes The mood in Washington today might not be quite as hopeful as it was in 2009, but Paul Krugman argues that we need not be cynical going into Obama's second term. Looking back on the successes over the last four years, Krugman writes, "Consider, in particular, three areas: health care, inequality and financial reform." The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, and small but significant steps toward making the tax code more progressive are the defining elements of Obama's "Big Deal" achievements, Krugman argues. "The Big Deal agenda is, in fact, fairly popular—and will become more popular once Obamacare goes into effect and people see both its real benefits and the fact that it won’t send Grandma to the death panels."
Simon Johnson in Bloomberg View on Bernanke's successor Today is all about the executive branch, but Simon Johnson thinks we might want to spend some time thinking about the Federal Reserve, which "has become the most important branch of government." Chairman Ben Bernanke could step down early next year, and it's never too soon to start thinking about successors. Current Vice Chairman Janet Yellen and retiring Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner are both leading candidates. But the former may "continue to disregard the risks of inflation and understate the danger of too-big-to-fail banks" while the latter's "doctrine of 'overwhelming force' over the past four years can be translated into plain English as 'unconditional bailouts for big banks.'" Johnson wants to see a new Fed chairman who is "more concerned about the potential resurgence of inflation and pressing for tougher action on the dangerous megabanks."
Jason Burke in The Guardian on al-Qaeda's non-resurgence The hostage situation in Algeria demonstrated that al-Qaeda still poses a threat to Westerners in the Middle East. But the crisis didn't signal a return to the group's post-9/11 strength as David Cameron seems to think, according to Jason Burke. "Cameron came relatively late to the conflict against Islamic extremism, arriving in Downing Street in 2010, and thus perhaps can be forgiven a lack of perspective," writes Burke. "His rhetoric is almost identical to that of British and US leaders in the first years after the 9/11 attacks, a time of great fear and deep ignorance when the threat from Islamic militancy, if often exaggerated, was nonetheless serious ... Cameron did avoid talking of a "war" but, as his own intelligence services and foreign affairs specialists have long advised, the "single narrative" of a cosmic planetary "existential" clash is, for theological as well as psychological reasons, one of the best recruiting tools the militants have. Such rhetoric therefore risks being counterproductive."
Alan Johnson in New Statesman on Israeli elections The United States' election cycle mercifully ended late last year, but the Israeli elections are just coming to a close. Tomorrow citizens will go to the polls and choose between "the tribe of the frenzy and the tribe of the indifference," in Alan Johnson's words. Binyamin Netanyahu will likely retain his role as Prime Minister, but the election will greatly determine how he forms his coalition. "A new annexationism is rising on the right and the story of the election so far has been the surge of Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) and its leader Naftali Bennett," Johnson writes. On the other hand, Netanyahu could side with center and center-left parties, who "want to focus on widening social gaps, frayed public services, and the 20 per cent of the population that lives below the poverty line."
Penn Bullock in The New Republic on stand-your-ground laws Obama's 23 executive orders from last week may have satisfied those wanting to see action of any kind taken to curb gun violence. But his focus on guns also may have turned away public attention from another controversial law brought to public attention by shootings last year—Stand Your Ground. The Florida law George Zimmerman cited for pulling a gun on Trayvon Martin remains on the books. Penn Bullock writes, "The Stand Your Ground defense has failed in preliminary hearings. But the violence is a clear illustration of how the law—besides granting bizarro sanction to gangland killings—turns trivial disputes into potentially deadly shoot-‘em-ups by empowering people to immediately reach for their guns, with the confidence that they’ll be exonerated later."