Five Best Wednesday Columns

Piper Kerman on the value of keeping prisoners close to their families, Amy Davidson on issues with the NSA's review board, Michael Krepon on Obama's ambition-less foreign policy, Molly Ball on the role of churches in promoting gay rights, and Megan McArdle on Little House on the Prairie and libertarianism.

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Piper Kerman in The New York Times on the value of keeping prisoners close to their families Kerman chronicled her 11 months in an all-women prison with her memoir Orange is the New Black (now a Netflix show), but now, that same prison is relocating its female inmates across the country. "This added geographic separation may as well be a second sentence for these women," she writes. "A mother’s incarceration has a devastating effect on her family, and experts say that maintaining contact with a parent in prison is critical to a child’s well-being." "Amazing piece," tweets Salon writer Mary Beth Williams. In These Times writer Sarah Jaffe calls this separation "a feminist issue," but African American studies Professor Randal Maurice Jelks sees it as more universal: "This is equally true for males who are incarcerated too," he writes.

Amy Davidson in The New Yorker on problems with the NSA's reviewing board President Obama appointed James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence who previously lied to the Senate about the extent of NSA surveillance, to participate in the review of the government's information gathering programs. Davidson is astounded Clapper is involved but also criticizes the board's stated purpose, which, "framed as a policy matter, is just about political approval — it is different than the obligation to keep faith with the public, or to recognize the public’s rights," she argues. "Clapper isn't the problem with Obama's privacy review. The problem is the brief doesn't include privacy as a criteria," writes James Ball, data editor of The Guardian. "A favorite point in your piece: the review isn't about making the surveillance state trust-worthy but restoring passive trust," tweets Jay Rosen, a PressThink writer and journalism professor.

Michael Krepon in Politico on Obama's low foreign policy ambitions "Remember when American presidents set out to do big things in the world?" asks Krepon, the co-founder of the security think-tank the Stimson Center, lamenting a lack of broad ambition and direction in Obama's approach to world politics. Not all ambitions succeed, of course, but the President has hardly even attempted, he argues. "If an ambitious proposal is not offered, failure seems assured, with consequences to follow. What ever happened to the audacity of hope?" Mike Doran, a Middle East expert for the Brookings Institution, agrees: "IMHO, the true Obama Doctrine: 'We don't need a Foreign Policy.'" And BBC News analyst Dr. James Boys writes "Good article on @Politico today addressing the lack of US vision in the world."

Molly Ball at The Atlantic on the role of churches in promoting gay rights Quietly and gradually, the surge in support for gay rights has been powered by religious Americans and churches, and not accidentally. "This change ... is the fruit of an aggressive campaign by a determined gay-rights movement that realized, particularly in the wake of the 2004 elections, that you cannot win politically in America if you are arguing against religious faith," Ball writes. National Journal's Ron Fournier notes the shift is "good for business. And churches are mega-businesses." In addition, the changing stances among churches on LGBT issues mirrors that of "American Christianity in the middle of the 20th Century and divorce," notes New Yorker contributor Casey N. Cep. "Another home run from @mollyesque," tweets Columbus Dispatch politics reporter Joe Vardon.

Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View on Little House on the Prairie libertarianism A piece in The Boston Globe last week suggested that the Little House on the Prairie children's books were libertarian propaganda, but McArdle, a Little House buff, rejects that idea. "This is frankly bizarre, and made me wonder if she’d read the books as an adult," she writes. "It’s like trying to figure out the secret ideological motives behind the proliferation of sex and violence in Hollywood movies. You’re trying too hard." Mollie Hemingway of Christianity Today calls it a "Devastating takedown" of the Globe article, while John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, tweets, "My advice: Don't write about libertarianism and a book Megan McArdle likes if you don't have the goods."

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