Five Best Friday Columns
Paul Krugman on Ben Bernanke vs. the man, Yochai Benkler on the Bradley Manning case, Jonathan DeHart on Dennis Rodman in North Korea, Michael O'Hanlon on intervention beyond Syria, and David Min on government-backed mortgages.
Paul Krugman in The New York Times on Ben Bernanke vs. the man Describing the chairman of the Federal Reserve as a "hippie" seems like a bit of a stretch, but Paul Krugman argues that in his own way Ben Bernanke is standing up to the man over the deficit. Elected officials assume there's a consensus on reducing the deficit, but Bernanke shattered that illusion this week by holding firm to his conviction that obsessing over the deficit is bad policy in a depressed economy. "Mr. Bernanke’s apostasy may help undermine the argument from authority — nobody who matters disagrees! — that has made the elite obsession with deficits so hard to dislodge," Krugman writes. "A misguided elite consensus has led us into an economic quagmire, and it’s time for us to get out."
Yochai Benkler in The New Republic on the Bradley Manning case The precedent set by this week's proceedings in the Bradley Manning trial could be disastrous for whistleblowers. As an expert witness in the case, Yochai Benkler argues that prosecuting Manning for leaking documents to WikiLeaks should give pause to anyone leaking sensitive information even to more traditional journalism organs like The New York Times. "The guilty plea Manning offered could subject him to twenty years in prison—more than enough to deter future whistleblowers," Benkler writes. "But the prosecutors seem bent on using this case to push a novel and aggressive interpretation of the law that would arm the government with a much bigger stick to prosecute vaguely-defined national security leaks, a big stick that could threaten not just members of the military, but civilians too."
Jonathan DeHart in The Diplomat on Dennis Rodman in North Korea Dennis Rodman made a "friend for life" in Kim Jong-Un during his baffling trip to North Korea this week. The pair seemed to enjoy watching a basketball game in Pyongyang featuring Vice's Ryan Duffy and members of the Harlem Globetrotters. Rodman drank a Coke. But don't let Vice founder Shane Smith fool you into thinking this media stunt was an act of "ping-pong diplomacy," a harmless cultural exchange that could help ease political tensions. "While all of this schmoozing may look like diplomacy, in the end the U.S. government has distanced itself from the affair," Jonathan DeHart notes. "Neither the State Department nor the Obama administration has communicated directly with Rodman about the effort."
Michael O'Hanlon in Reuters on intervention beyond Syria President Obama is being urged by many observers to intervene in Syria, where a civil war has claimed tens of thousands of lives and shows no signs of ceasing. But whenever the U.S. weighs such a move, they have to justify why they're not intervening in other embattled regions too. Obama made that clear when the topic of Syria came up during his recent interview with The New Republic, noting "the tens of thousands ... currently being killed in the Congo." But Michael O'Hanlon argues that such ethical hang-ups let Obama off the hook too easily. "Obama enjoys advantages that leaders in previous eras did not have," he writes. "There are fewer wars in the world; more international consensus on what to do about them, and more capable U.S. forces that can help in the task even as other nations generally provide many of the peacekeeping troops. These conditions free Obama to make decisions about the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as Syria, on their respective merits — rather than remain paralyzed by broader philosophical conundrums."
David Min in the Los Angeles Times on government-backed mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may be in federal conservatorship, costing taxpayers over $140 million. But the price of government backed mortgages is worth it, argues David Min. "Government guarantees appear to be crucial for promoting housing finance stability, in part because they promote loans that default at far lower rates than those originated by private capital in the absence of such guarantees," the UC Irvine law professor writes. "Policymakers interested in financial stability should consider these facts carefully as they consider how best to reform our broken housing finance system. If the federal government's footprint in housing finance grows too faint, it may once again mean disaster for borrowers, lenders, investors and the economy writ large."