Five Best Tuesday Columns

Joe Nocera on hating the banks, James Feldman on Solicitor General Verrilli, Richard Clarke on cybersecurity, Bret Stephens on Egypt's presidential candidates, and Adam Cohen on cruel and unusual prison food. 

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Joe Nocera in The New York Times on hating the banks A few months back, JP Morgan's chief executive Jamie Dimon entered a crowded elevator and loudly asked Nocera, "Why does The New York Times hate the banks?" After relaying the odd anecdote, Nocera writes in response, "It's not The New York Times, Mr. Dimon. It really isn't. It's the country that hates the banks these days," and to show why, he points to their credit card debt collection practices, as revealed in a recent American Banker series. The banks sell uncollected debt to third parties that then sue card-holders, but they often provide faulty data. Thus, debt collectors often pester people for balances already paid off. "[A]nother reason these practices are so unseemly[:] In effect, the banks are outsourcing their dirty work — and then washing their hands as the debt collectors harass and sue and make people miserable."

James Feldman in The Washington Post on Solicitor General Verrilli Ever since the Supreme Court released its audio recordings of the oral arguments on the health care law, the media has criticized Solicitor General Donald Verrilli for a halting defense of the Administration's case. Feldman, who has argued 46 times before the Supreme Court, thinks otherwise. "Those who understand the challenges of Supreme Court argument — people who have argued before the court — have not criticized Verrilli’s performance. It is instructive to look closely at some rules of this particular game," he says. He describes the rules in which the justices can interrupt at any time, and points out that they interrupted Verilli much more often than they interrupted his opponent, for reasons we can't really guess at. "The only good measures of a Supreme Court advocate are whether he has made the best arguments in favor of his position and whether the justices understand those arguments. In this respect, Verrilli succeeded."

Richard Clarke in The New York Times on Chinese cyberattacks For months, Congress has heard testimony about overseas cyberattacks, much of it from China, that takes valuable data from U.S. firms and government researchers. "Yet the same Congress that has heard all of this disturbing testimony is mired in disagreements about a proposed cybersecurity bill that does little to address the problem of Chinese cyberespionage," writes Clarke. He describes the economic threat our unsafe data poses, and the current lack of protection, or even of knowledge that our data is insecure. With Congress tied up in debate, he suggests Obama act unilaterally to shore up defenses against cyberattacks, and he addresses ways the government could do this while respecting privacy concerns. "But by failing to act, Washington is effectively fulfilling China’s research requirements while helping to put Americans out of work," he warns.

Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal on Egypt's presidential candidates Khairat Al Shater, the Muslim Brotherhoods candidate for president in the Egyptian elections, has gotten increasing attention from the State Deptartment as a potentially moderate option. "About Mr. Shater's intelligence and effectiveness, there's little debate. But ... 'moderation'—except perhaps in the broader company he keeps—is another matter," writes Stephens. He outlines Shater's statements on Israel, where he speaks of jihad. Shater makes positive-sounding statements about rule of law and economic development. But he also speaks of these things as part of a wider integration of Islamist thought into every area of society. "What Mr. Shater is advocating, in other words, is the creation of flexible democratic political structures within the rigid framework of a quasi-totalitarian society ... Is this vision of a regime really compatible with American values and interests?"

Adam Cohen in Time on prison food An inmate in Milwaukee prison is suing the government to suggest that "Nutriloaf," a brick-like food product served to him in prison, might constitute "cruel and unusual punishment." "Inmates do not have a right to gourmet cuisine, but the 8th Amendment does prevent prisons and jails from serving food without sufficient nutritional value to keep people healthy – or food that will affirmatively make people sick," writes Cohen. And despite past decisions in support of "Nutriloaf," evidence that it might be causing harm to inmates makes this case more plausible. If they do rule in his favor, it will work against the trend that has courts increasingly less sympathetic to prison conditions. "But this judicial cold shoulder may be getting a bit less cold. The public is not as focused on crime these days, with nationwide crime rates at decades-long lows. And prisons are hugely overcrowded."

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