Five Best Wednesday Columns

Dana Milbank on how the government criminalizes reporting, Sharon Stapel on homophobia in America, Jarrod Shanahan on why we believe in conspiracies, Ma Jian on the brutality of China's one-child policy, and Emily Bazelon on who to blame for tax-dodging corporations.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Dana Milbank at The Washington Post on how the government criminalizes reporting The Department of Justice's ongoing investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen "is as flagrant an assault on civil liberties as anything done by George W. Bush's administration, and it uses technology to silence critics in a way Richard Nixon could only have dreamed of," argues Dana Milbank. "To treat a reporter as a criminal for doing his job — seeking out information the government doesn't want made public — deprives Americans of the First Amendment freedom on which all other constitutional rights are based. Guns? Privacy? Due process? Equal protection? If you can't speak out, you can't defend those rights, either." New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza called Milbank's column "excellent" while Salon's David Sirota defended his and others' comparisons between Nixon and Obama: "Just like Nixon’s decision to prioritize loyalty and vindictiveness against dissenters and whistleblowers resulted in infamous abuses of power, so too have Team Obama’s comparable obsessions now resulted in similarly destructive abuses."

Sharon Stapel at The Guardian on homophobia in America Sharon Stapel observes how political rhetoric and actual violence converge in the discussion of gay people in the United States. "In 2013, it is still lawful to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," she notes. " ... This legal discrimination sends a message that it's acceptable to treat LGBTQ people as less than human." She adds that "vitriolic hate speech reinforces this culture; public figures accuse LGBTQ people of being degenerates, freaks and pedophiles, and call for LGBTQ people to be 'penned up,' have their children taken away, and some even call for murder. It's no surprise, then, that this culture spawns acts of violence." But Michael Kinsley at The New Republic cautions against quick condemnation of those who don't support gay marriage, like Fox News contributor and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who withdrew from speaking at Johns Hopkins' graduation ceremony: "Denying Carson the right to speak was not just unprincipled. It was unnecessary. The proponents of marriage equality have not just won. They have routed the opposition. It's a moment to be gracious, not vindictive." Gawker's Tom Scocca disagrees. Kinsley, he argues, is "confused about the difference between the 'right to speak' and the right to speak without being criticized."

Jarrod Shanahan at The New Inquiry on why we believe in conspiracies What underlies the conspiracies that people believe in? Jarrod Shanahan searches for a common thread between stories of new world orders, shadowy billionaires, and secretive organizations. "The conspiracy fills the seeming vacuum at the center of society, the paralyzing abyss beneath our flimsy facades of order, with a reassuring rational kernel," he writes. "Beneath the purported chaos of a modern world seemingly driven inexorably toward its own destruction, a secret logic hums away, unseen, yet steering with the circumspection of a protective father. In this way the conspiracy theory is a secularized monotheism which replaces our dearly departed God with an equally shadowy intelligence serving the same omniscient function. Sometimes it even lives in outer space and knows what we’re thinking." At The New York Times, Maggie Koerth-Baker considers the scientific angle. Research, she notes, says that "conspiracy theories ... seem to be more compelling to those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large. Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness."

Ma Jian at The New York Times on the brutality of China's one-child policy Ma Jian reports on how China's one-child policy, which limits the number of children certain couples may raise, damages both individuals and society. "Almost every one of the pregnant women I spoke to had suffered a mandatory abortion. ... The one-child policy has reduced women to numbers, objects, a means of production; it has denied them control of their bodies and the basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children," she writes, adding, "Ending this scourge is a moral imperative. The atrocities committed in the name of the one-child policy over the last three decades rank among the worst crimes against humanity of the last century. The stains it has left on China may never be erased." The policy also affects the personalities of Chinese children, writes Carrie Arnold at Scientific American: "China's so-called little emperors to be more pessimistic, neurotic and selfish than their peers who have siblings."

Emily Bazelon at Slate on who to blame for tax-dodging corporations Don't blame the Internal Revenue Service for failing to capture as much tax revenue as possible — Emily Bazelon shows how our tax agency is only as effective as we want it to be, especially when it comes to taxing global companies like Apple: "When it comes to fighting tax evasion, the IRS actually doesn’t fry the little fish while letting the big ones swim away. The IRS has increasingly tried to go after the big fish. When they get away, it’s because there are giant-sized legal loopholes for them to swim through, not because the agency has failed or has the wrong priorities." The Atlantic's Derek Thompson, meanwhile, says that outrage toward Apple is misplaced. "We are accusing them of behaving like corporation, since it is in the nature of corporations to find ways to save money," he writes. "Rather than a story about patriotic duty, or funding the social net, or corporate ethics, this is really a story about unrealistic expectations. We wish we could tax American companies on their earnings from all around the world. And we can't. We just can't."

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