Five Best Wednesday Columns

Crispian Cuss on the not-so-shocking rise of Islamic State, The Wall Street Journal on how a big bank got off easy, Paul Waldman on our crumbling roads, John J. Cohrssen and Henry I. Miller on the failure to develop a meningitis B vaccine, Paul Horowitz on why Hobby Lobby just the beginning.

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Crispian Cuss at Al Jazeera English on why no one in the media saw the new Islamic Caliphate comingThe Syrian-Iraqi terror group known as ISIS has changed its name to Islamic State and declared the region to be a new caliphate. But Cuss, a former British Army officer wonders why the mainstream media seems to not have been prepared for it. "A sense of fatigue, following years of violence, has surrounded much of the reporting that comes from Iraq and Syria. Similarly, the dangers inherent in reporting within such an organisation has meant that few commentators have ever really been close to the Islamic State and its operations." They aren't the only ones who missed the boat, however. "Intelligence services and think tanks have been relentless in warning that this day might come. Yet it was a message without an audience. Western governments confounded by the regional complexities, and representing electorates tired of overseas military ventures, had no wish to face its implications."

The Wall Street Journal on why BNP's $9 billion fine wasn't enough. The French bank took the rare step of pleading guilty and paying a large penalty for violating U.S. sanctions, but was it really enough, given the crimes they helped to perpetrate? "The bank was lucky not to lose its U.S. banking license," says the paper's editors, for running "between $9 billion and $190 billion worth of dollar-clearing transactions for nations engaged in genocide, human trafficking and terror funding." Moreover, they knew they were breaking the law and kept doing it anyway. "Justice chose to fine BNP on roughly $9 billion of illegal transactions, but if New York regulators are correct that BNP did closer to $190 billion, the French bank is paying a fraction of the relative penalty leveled on other sanctions-breaking banks. And it got a steal compared to the $13 billion that J.P. Morgan paid on more dubious charges."

Paul Waldman at The Washington Post on why Congress can't fix our roads. The Highway Trust Fund is drying up, but no one in Washington seems willing or able to fix it. "This is a problem that’s going to turn into a crisis, and unfortunately, in the current political environment it’s hard to imagine the president and Republicans in Congress arriving at a solution." Actually, according to Waldman the solution is easy: Raise the gas tax. The problem is that no one wants to get caught voting for anything that increases taxes — even a good tax that almost everyone supports. "While we shouldn’t get overly nostalgic for the good old days of horse-trading and earmarking, this is the kind of thing that Congress used to be able to take care of. And in a democracy populated by adults, there ought to be an acknowledgement that if you want roads to drive on, they have to be paid for."

John J. Cohrssen and Henry I. Miller at the Los Angeles Times on the failure to develop a meningitis B vaccine. The authors warn that recent outbreaks of meningitis have been small and sporadic, but luck is the only thing that prevented them from becoming devastating epidemics. "MenB primarily infects those under the age of 25. College students and prisoners are particularly vulnerable because of their close quarters. About 10% of those infected die, and survivors can suffer brain damage, hearing loss and limb amputations. Those infected with less severe or no symptoms may become carriers." Unfortunately, doctors have not developed a vaccine for Meningitis B, partly due to the cumbersome and slow FDA approval process. "Had the East and West Coast MenB outbreaks been more extensive, hundreds or even thousands of people could have died or been maimed. We need policy changes to address such threats more efficiently in the future."

Paul Horowitz at The New York Times on why the Hobby Lobby fight is just a small battle in a war that is far from over. Horowitz reminds readers that the case was not about the Constitution. It was decided by a well-established law that had wide support when it was passed. "The decision in Hobby Lobby was no shock to anyone familiar with the heavy weight that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act places on religious accommodation. The fate of the case was sealed 21 years ago — not by a slim majority of the court, but by virtually every member of Congress." That doesn't mean the issues are settled, of course. There are many more fights to come between the state and religion. "A country that cannot even agree on the idea of religious accommodation, let alone on what terms, is unlikely to agree on what to do next. A country in which many states cannot manage to pass basic anti-discrimination laws covering sexual orientation is one whose culture wars may be beyond the point of compromise."

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