Five Best Wednesday Columns

Greg Austin on China's hackers, Matthew Yglesias on an expensive airline merger, Jamelle Bouie on sequestration backfiring on the GOP, George Packer on Walmart and the payroll tax, and Hadley Freeman on Hilary Mantel and the media's royal-industrial complex.

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Greg Austin in The New York Times on China's hackers Despite President Obama's acknowledgement of cyberwarfare in his most recent State of the Union and The New York Times' exposé on a huge ring of seemingly state-sponsored hackers in Shanghai, Chinese hackers aren't likely to be deterred anytime soon, argues the EastWest Institute's policy innovation director Greg Austin. And part of the reason they won't is that the U.S. won't either. "Military advisers in China have an easy case to make," Austin writes, pointing to such American-backed hacking offensives as Stuxnet. "Why should China abandon its nonlethal, contingency operations related to possible cyberattacks on critical infrastructure where the United States itself now is vigorously pursuing offensive cyberoptions?"

Matthew Yglesias in Slate on an expensive airline merger The impending merger between US Airways and American Airlines caps off a consolidation craze that recently saw Continental join with United, Northwest fused to Delta, and AirTran absorbed into Southwest. There will still be enough players to stave off monopolies, but Matthew Yglesias says that, "the 30-plus year run of robust competition and ever-falling airfares is almost certainly over." That's right, flights are about to get more expensive. But that's the price we'll pay to save an industry beset by paltry profit margins and high-profile bankruptcies, Yglesias argues. "This deal is probably bad news for you, and the even worse news is there’s probably no better alternative. Get ready for higher prices and less service."

Jamelle Bouie in The Washington Post on sequestration backfiring on the GOP No one wins in a game of sequestration hardball. The only sure outcome is that someone will get politically hurt, and it's probably going to be the Republicans according to Jamelle Bouie. "If Republicans miss anything about the political dynamics of the sequester, is that the public’s blame is indiscriminate," he writes. "Yes, by allowing the sequester to go through, they’ll damage the president’s standing. But Obama isn’t running for reelection in 2016, and there’s only so much the GOP can gain from harming his approval rating. By contrast, midterm elections are fast approaching, and this is a strategy guaranteed to stoke public discontent with incumbents. And as we saw in last year’s Senate elections, Democrats are skilled at directing that anger towards Republicans."

George Packer in The New Yorker on Walmart and the payroll tax If we take Apple and Walmart as symbolic polar ends in today's economic landscape, we have to admit that raising the payroll tax to avert the fiscal cliff hurt the former much more than the latter. "It’s amazing how little attention the payroll-tax increase got at the time—maybe because so few of the players and observers involved could imagine how much difference fifteen dollars out of the weekly paycheck of someone earning forty thousand dollars a year could make," writes George Packer. "The Administration and Congress have overestimated the recovery countless times—was the end of the payroll-tax cut one more example? Walmart’s customers needed that fifteen dollars more than most Washington politicians and Apple Store shoppers might have guessed ... America’s vast population of working poor can only get so poor before even Walmart is out of reach."

Hadley Freeman in The Guardian on Hilary Mantel and the media's royal-industrial complex Did Hilary Mantel really touch a nerve when she wrote less-than-flattering things about Kate Middleton? Or were tabloids just desperate to splash any kind of royal-related controversy on their front pages? Hadley Freeman argues that the whole non-scandal reveals something more insidious about the media's obsession with bickering women and their respective appearances. "The subject of women talking about women has become as fraught an issue for the left as it is for the right," Freeman writes, spreading the blame from The Daily Mail to The Independent. "The conservative press loves a good woman v woman or "author v princess" – fight because it suggests that women are all hysterical girlies who can't be trusted with proper grownup issues because they'll start throwing tampons at one another ... On the liberal side, one of the tenets of the fourth wave of feminism, which is just starting to crest, is that women should not criticize one another's life choices ... This kind of open-ended tolerance is all well and good, except when it then results in people attacking another woman for expressing an opinion about an industry that exploits their own."

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