Five Best Wednesday Columns

David Kravets on Obama's drone problem, Michael Kugelman on global agribusiness, Doyle McManus on the mortgage interest taxes, Duncan Black on the failure of 401Ks, and Alec MacGillis on Eric Cantor's call to cut the medical device tax. 

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David Kravets in Wired on Obama's drone problem When military legal scholars read what appears to be a leaked copy of the Justice Department's white paper on drone strikes, they see a continuation of the Bush administration's extrajudicial tactics in fighting the war on terror. But Bush stopped short of trying to define the power of targeting American citizens, a line President Obama seems to have crossed. "Much in the white paper rests on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to pursue al-Qaida," writes David Kravets. "But the Bush administration actually stopped short of declaring that it had the authority to kill American citizens." The expansion of authority leads Kravets to this disturbing conclusion: "What do you call a country where an unelected bureaucrat has the ability to order the execution of its citizens? Answer: President Barack Obama’s America."

Michael Kugelman in The New York Times on global agribusiness The recent flap over quinoa is just one grain at the top of a mountain of problems with globalized agriculture. Michael Kugelman argues that when rich, food-importing nations use their capital to buy up developing nations' land, "people are in danger of losing their patrimony, not to mention their sources of food." And local conflicts over the global reach of big agribusiness will become more common, Kugelman writes. "The chief drivers of the global farmland race — population growth, food and energy demand, volatile commodity prices, land and water shortages — won’t slow anytime soon. Neither will extreme weather events and other effects of climate change on natural resources."

Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times on the mortgage interest taxes Homeowners would never let the mortgage interest deduction vanish without a fight—but Doyle McManus thinks they should. "The reason is that our mortgage interest deduction doesn't directly support homeownership," he writes. "Instead, it supports mortgage indebtedness, which isn't the same thing at all ... There aren't many policy changes that would increase government revenue, remove distortion from the economy and make the distribution of income fairer all at the same time. Fellow homeowners, let's take this one for the team."

Duncan Black in USA Today on the failure of 401Ks Now that the first generation of workers raised on 401K plans is reaching retirement, the cracks in the private savings system are starting to show, argues Duncan Black. "The 401(k) experiment has been a disaster, a disaster which threatens to doom millions to economic misery during the later years of their lives," Black writes. "Proposals to improve our system of private retirement savings—even good ones—will offer little to no help for the baby boomers who are currently nearing retirement, and are also unlikely to be of sufficient help for current younger workers. We need to increase Social Security benefits, now and in the future. It's the only realistic way to provide people with guaranteed economic security and comfort post-retirement."

Alec MacGillis in The New Republic on Eric Cantor's call to cut the medical device tax Yesterday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor gave a speech described as a "Change" in the "Party's Message" at the American Enterprise Institute. Alec MacGillis attended, eagerly wondering, "What grand ideas would be unveiled to get Cantor’s party out of its current rut and, more specifically, 'benefit families across the nation'?" But the only answer he got was, "Cutting the medical device tax." Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have hammered the newly introduced tax since its passage. But the tax is projected to raise $29 billion in revenue over the next 10 years, and many analysts say it won't hinder innovation. Aside from that familiar refrain, where was the big change in GOP messaging MacGillis was promised? "To be fair," he writes, "there was one truly new element in the speech: Cantor signaled that he could live with the core element of the American Dream Act, letting young people brought here illegally as children to stay here and apply for citizenship ... Perhaps it’s a step forward for party leaders like Cantor to recognize that they are seen as out of touch with the concerns of a vast swath of middle-class voters. But a shout-out to Evan Bayh’s clients in the medical device tax industry probably isn’t going to cut it."

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