Five Best Friday Columns

Paul Krugman on sequestration shenanigans, Heather McRobie on urging Obama to shut down Keystone XL, Michael Daly on cyberwarfare preparedness, Steve Hess on the elusive Chinese Spring, and Ryan Avent on the inflation we need.

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Paul Krugman in The New York Times on sequestration shenanigans If it wasn't such a frightening potential disaster, the unfolding drama around the massive federal spending cuts about to go into effect would be funny. Political satirists would have a hard time coming up with a better Washington farce, according to the situation as depicted by Paul Krugman. "The looming mess remains a monument to the power of truly bad ideas — ideas that the entire Washington establishment was somehow convinced represented deep wisdom," he writes. While Democrats roll out a taxes-and-cuts comprise to avert sequestration, Republicans remain focussed on deep cuts only, Krugman argues. Perversely, the logic behind that ultimatum encourages Democrats to give up and allow the cuts to do their damage, ending around 700,000 jobs and setting back the recovery. "Given that the proposed Republican cuts would be even worse than those set to happen under the sequester, it’s hard to see why Democrats should negotiate at all, as opposed to just letting the sequester happen."

Heather McRobie in The Guardian on urging Obama to shut down Keystone XL If President Obama wants to leave a bold legacy on climate change action, he should cancel plans for the Keystone XL pipeline, argues Heather McRobie. The $7 billion project would prolong our reliance on fossil fuels by pumping Canadian tar sand oil into the United States, and it contradicts Obama's public promises to do something about climate change. "Earlier this month, Obama, through America's ambassador to Canada,encouraged the country to do more to tackle climate change," McRobie writes. "America 'lecturing' Canada on the environment is hard to stomach, given the profligate environmental damage enacted in the US, particularly under the Bush administration. But Obama, at least, had the high ground of being largely on track to meet his 2020 climate goals. The Keystone XL pipeline would only set both countries back and put them further at risk."

Michael Daly in The Daily Beast on cyberwarfare preparedness As we learn more about China's widespread, apparently state-sponsored hacking of American corporations, Michael Daly wants us to consider the worst-case scenario in international cyberwarfare. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned of a potential "cyber-Pearl Harbor," and Daly argues we're not ready for it. "The mother of all nightmare scenarios would see electric, oil, gas, water, chemical, and transit, our entire essential infrastructure, knocked out as we sought to replace equipment that can take more than a year to manufacture and is in many cases no longer made in the U.S.," Daly writes, urging more action on the deadlocked Cybersecurity Act of 2012. Without such legislation, "Some believe we could then be sent into chaos not just for days of even weeks, but for months."

Steve Hess in The Diplomat on the elusive Chinese Spring Chinese citizens have been getting bolder about expressing disapproval of official response to problems like pollution and shoddy school buildings that can't withstand earthquakes. But there's been no public dissent on the order of the Arab Spring, and Steve Hess says that could be due in part to China's sprawling geography and political decentralization. "In China, unlike most autocracies — including Mubarak’s Egypt and Ben Ali’s Tunisia — the state is highly decentralized," he writes. "As a consequence, much like the Middle East, the years 2011 and 2012 have been ones characterized by very high levels of protest activities in China. However, because of the decentralized nature of the Chinese state, these battles have been ones won and lost by claimants contesting local officials rather than challenging the regime itself."

Ryan Avent in Bloomberg View on the inflation we need The Federal Reserve might not be as omnipotent as we think it is, Ryan Avent writes. Keeping interest rates and inflation low was once a surefire way to boost the economy, but such measures have exhausted their usefulness since the recession. "So how can the Fed get its mojo back?" Avent asks. "A better option would be for the Fed to rethink how much inflation it’s willing to accept. Allowing a bit more would bring down the 'real,' or inflation-adjusted, interest rate — a change that has the same stimulating effect as a lower target rate. An economy growing fast enough to generate rising inflation would be prepared for the moderating impact of rate increases sooner, ideally well before the next recession strikes."

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