Five Best Wednesday Columns
Harold Meyerson on the Koch brothers' play for the Tribune Company, Tom Scocca on literary nepotism, Catherine Rampell on the affordability of New York City, Daniel Gross on a new online sales tax, Avik Roy on being racially profiled after a tragedy.
Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post on the Koch brothers' play for the Tribune Company Responding to the news that Charles and David Koch are in talks to purchase the Tribune Company (which owns newspapers like The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Baltimore Sun) in order to advance their political viewpoints, Harold Meyerson wonders how the company would maintain its mission: "Being human beings, all newspaper owners have politics of their own. Since the 19th century, however, most haven’t gone into business primarily to advance a political perspective. Profit, professional and civic pride, and recognition have largely motivated them. It’s hard to see how any of these factored into the Koch brothers’ calculations." Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic is similarly unpersuaded, given the progressivism inherent to dense cities, which Tribune newspapers largely serve. "The Koch brothers could try to make the Los Angeles Times or the Baltimore Sun more appealing to a different intellectual community. But if they were to buy the papers and push their newsrooms in a more conservative direction, I suspect they would see an increase in the pace at which the geographic communities that once sustained the publications abandon them."
Tom Scocca at Gawker on literary nepotism Weighing New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan's report on the multi-section coverage of Nathaniel Rich and Simon Rich, son of former Times theater critic Frank Rich, whose wife is Times Magazine writer Alex Witchel, Tom Scocca critiques the newspaper's unwillingness to grapple with the forces of nepotism. "Nathaniel Rich is a novelist and journalist; Simon Rich is a screenwriter at Pixar and a humor writer. If I counted right, they have six published books between them, at the respective ages of 33 and either 28 or 29. They would not have done this without their parents. And not merely in the somebody-had-to-make-the-zygotes sense, nor in the growing-up-with-a-house-full-of-books sense. The Rich boys are where they are because they are the Rich boys," Scocca writes, before pointing to a profile of the Rich brothers that addressed (then dismissed) the idea that either brother benefitted from their parents' connections. "The Times' ongoing denial of this is deeply strange. Maybe the profile of the brothers was one of those Times stories in which the sophisticated reader is supposed to understand that the words mean the opposite of what they appear to say." On Twitter, Anil Dash praised the column: "Tom Scocca clearly describes how the kids of the privileged just 'happen' to get lucky breaks." He added, "If we want to talk about a society of givers and takers, then it's clear who the biggest takers are: The children of the rich and privileged."
Catherine Rampell in The New York Times on the affordability of New York City Is New York as expensive as people say it is? Drawing on data from across the United States, Catherine Rampell thinks the sheer number of things to buy in the city warp our view of what the college-educated require: "Professional-class workers who like to moan about the cost of living in New York — and I'm including myself in this group — don't realize how spoiled we are by both variety and competitive pricing. Truthfully, things seem more expensive here because there's just way more high-end stuff around to tempt us, and we don't do the mental accounting to adjust sticker prices for the higher quality." Still, she acknowledges the troubling flip-side: "When you look at the cost of living for low-income people based on their tastes and preferences, New York’s poor turn out to be even poorer than you think." Christopher Robbins at the New York City blog Gothamist summed the finding: "New York is a pretty good bargain if you're rich."
Daniel Gross at The Daily Beast on a new online sales tax Daniel Gross praises a Congressional bill that would enact an online sales tax by noting how online retailers depend on government services: "E-commerce retailers may have smaller footprints than big box rivals, but they impose plenty of costs and rely heavily on public investment. E-commerce is essentially a logistics operation. Companies ship goods via the U.S. Postal Service, a public agency that may have to be bailed out by taxpayers, or UPS and Federal Express, which rely on the publicly built network of airports, roads, and ports to function. All those delivery trucks rumbling around help cause congestion and create wear and tear that has to be fixed by public authorities. The e-retailers didn’t build the logistics systems and the infrastructure. The public did." But eBay executive Tod Cohen, writing in USA Today, says the tax poses an unfair burden: "The Internet sales tax bill threatens small businesses by treating them the same as multibillion dollar retailers that have stores and warehouses around the country." Meanwhile, Matt Yglesias at Slate noticed the rare Republican support for a bill that would raise taxes: "The natural allies of eBay and Overstock are anti-tax Republicans, but with many GOP governors and lots of local retailers stridently in favor, this is proving to be one tax hike many Republicans can swallow."
Avik Roy at National Review on being racially profiled after a tragedy To what degree should tragedies like the Boston bombings (or, before them, the attacks on 9/11) influence security policy toward members of a certain race? "In that brief period after 9/11, I came to appreciate what blacks and Hispanics often talk about, what many conservatives dismiss as hypersensitive aggrievement: what it’s like to be under subtle suspicion for no other reason than how I look, and how profoundly unfair, and un-American, that experience feels," writes Avik Roy. He continues: "I harbor no illusions about the malevolent nature of radical Islam. ... But when I hear certain politicians use the Boston bombings as a pretext for scotching immigration reform ... I wince. ... The FBI was already monitoring Tamerlan Tsarnaev, even bringing him in for questioning two years ago. If we can’t keep an eye on the people whose emails we’re already reading, how is putting the entire Muslim community under government surveillance going to do us any good?" Writing at The Washington Times, Cato's Richard Rahn adds that a more invasive security apparatus can impede growth of the state it seeks to protect: "Attempting to increase security through more spending and taxing may be counterproductive for many reasons including misallocating money for security and slowing growth, which impedes the development of new, better and less intrusive security tools."