Five Best Tuesday Columns

Evan Osnos on Bill Daley, Joe Nocera on BP, Ron Klain on Congress, Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura on hiring and criminal records, and Jonah Goldberg on Mitt Romney.

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Evan Osnos in The New Yorker on Bill Daley's exit The White House announced Monday that Chief of Staff Bill Daley, son of tough Chicago mayor Richard Daley, had resigned his post. "In '83, Richard [Daley] ended up brawling on the floor of a toy store with a guy who blamed him for splitting the white vote ...So when a Daley concludes that the political atmosphere is poisoned, that's saying something," writes Osnos. He recalls Daley's mission upon taking the job a year ago to smooth out relations with corporate types and Republicans and to bring Democrats closer to the center. But he recounts the ways uncompromising Congressional Republicans got the best of Daley on issues like the debt ceiling. Since then, it's become clear that Obama was phasing him out of the role. "Daley leaves next month. Rarely, I suspect, will anyone have been so eager to land in Chicago in the dead of winter."

Joe Nocera in The New York Times on BP's claimants Nocera has high praise for the behavior of BP in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill, and less kind words for litigation lawyers suing BP. "The Gulf Coast Claims Facility has been a remarkably effective alternative to the cumbersome way damages are usually meted out after a corporate accident: through the tort system," Nocera argues. Since the spill, an administrator has doled out some of the $20 billion BP made available to Gulf Coast claimants provided they agree not to sue. He compares the efficiency of the system to more drawn out processes for Exxon Valdez claimants, but says the new system leaves out litigation lawyers. He condemns a judge's decision to reserve 6 percent of future claims money given out. Lawyers argued their threat of a lawsuit convinced BP to provide claimants funds in the first place, an argument Nocera doesn't buy. "[I]t's not just companies that have to put aside their greed. So do the lawyers," he says.

Ron Klain in Bloomberg View on Congress and Romney In 1995, House Republicans had weakened President Clinton by obstructing most of his initiatives, but as Clinton gained more support, Congress's popularity declined and they backed off. "Could the 2012 election year shape up the same way? Could the most do-nothing, gridlocked Congress in memory change direction ... by cooperating with President Barack Obama, even if it undercuts the party's front-runner for the presidential nomination, Mitt Romney?" Klain thinks it could, though he points out important differences in the '96 to '12 comparison. But he argues that Obama's poll numbers and economic signals show a similar turn-around, making Congress more worried about their own popularity if they continue not to work with him. Added to that is the party's already "tepid" embrace of Romney as the nominee, much as it wasn't very enamored with Bob Dole in 1996. "Think it can’t happen? Ask Gingrich."

Alfred Blumstein and Kiminori Nakamura in The New York Times on hiring former criminals In 2010, Chicago public schools denied a man convicted of possessing a half gram of cocaine in 1985 a job as a boiling room engineer until a newspaper article brought the issue to light. "The ubiquity of criminal-background checks and the efficiency of information technology in maintaining those records and making them widely available, have meant that millions of Americans — even those who served probation or parole but were never incarcerated — continue to pay a price long after the crime," write Blumstein and Nakamura. They use statistics to show how rising arrest rates affect huge percentages of the population, and disproportionately affect minorities. Employers should balance risk prevention with the need to reward those who have stayed crime free so as not to encourage recidivism. State and local rules that punish offenders for their entire life should be reexamined. "Policies that encourage employers to hire people who made a mistake in the past but have since rebuilt their lives would not only help those people, but also our economy and our society," they write.

Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times on Romney's authenticity problem Mitt Romney embodies the odd pairing of a candidate who can't energize voters but who is nonetheless sweeping all the early primaries. Goldberg says the persistence of his detractors isn't because of some inability to take on President Obama. "Romney can sell ideas, and he can criticize Obama well. But he has a very hard time selling himself," Goldberg says. He rehashes several unlikely statements Romney's made in the past few weeks, including that he's feared "pink slips" before, or that he hasn't always been politically ambitious. He links Romney's lack of authenticity in selling himself to low turnout in Iowa in a year when voter energy against Obama should be high. "The most persuasive case for Romney has always been that if he's the nominee, the election will be a referendum on Obama. But that calculation always assumed that rank-and-file Republicans would vote for their nominee in huge numbers no matter what. That may well still be the case, but it feels less guaranteed every day."

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