Five Best Thursday Columns

Gary Silverman on Ferguson, Charles Lane on tax reform, Thomas Geoghegan on redistricting, Andrew Rosenthal on Iraq, and Clarence Page on working vacations.

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Gary Silverman in The Financial Times on why the election of Barack Obama did not lead to a 'post racial' America. Silverman cites the recent death of Michael Brown as an example of the continued polarization of white and black America. "The rage in Ferguson has parallels elsewhere. Local anger over the way the laws are being enforced in African-American communities has become something of a leitmotif of recent US history." Silverman contends that part of the problem may be that whites and blacks have remained geographically segregated in the U.S. "The fact is that even with the integration of the White House, and other such bastions of urban professionals, the races still don’t mix that much in the US. In an analysis of 2010 census data for the 20 most diverse metropolitan areas in the US, John Logan of Brown University and Wenquan Zhang of Texas A&M found that about half the black population lived in areas 'without a white presence.' These communities remain out of sight and out of mind until someone fires a gun, or something else goes wrong, and reporters arrive to find Americans who feel as if they are strangers in their own land – as has been the case in Ferguson.

Charles Lane in The Washington Post on why the United States should consider a Value Added Tax as part of a comprehensive tax reform plan. Lane agrees with tax reform advocate Michael J. Graetz in arguing for an overhaul of the U.S. tax system, specifically the benefits of instituting a Value Added Tax (VAT). "The United States’ real problem, according to Graetz, is its undue dependence on income taxes — corporate and individual — in the first place. He supplies a nifty world map with all nations shaded except the ones that don’t have a value-added tax (VAT), essentially a sales tax on goods and services imposed at each stage of their production and distribution. It’s striking to see the United States grouped with Burma, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and exactly zero developed nations." Lane maintains that while there are arguments against a VAT on both the left and the right, the U.S. needs to do something to reinvigorate the debate over its broken tax system. "... the sterile debate over tax inversions illustrates the limits of traditional tax-reform thinking. Graetz would go beyond the “lower rates, broader base” swap to a truly grand compromise — which, if it worked, might make this country more stable not only financially but also politically."

Thomas Geoghegan in Politico on why President Obama should sue Republicans for redistricting. Geoghegan writes that Obama should counter the House's current lawsuit against him by suing Republicans for gerrymandering. "Does Obama have such a right to sue? You bet he does. The United States has standing to sue any state that interferes with any attribute of its sovereignty. And when state legislatures try to interfere with the right of the people under Article I of the Constitution to elect House members of their own choosing, they are interfering with such an attribute of U.S. sovereignty—indeed, disrupting a relationship that runs from the people to their national government." Geoghegan contends that today gerrymandering is worse than it's ever been. "Experts like Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos at the University of Chicago argue that gerrymandering schemes now in place are the worst ever in modern history. He actually has a measure for it: the number of 'wasted' votes for a disfavored political party in a particular state, divided by the number of votes cast. Wasted votes come from 'packing' the voters of the disfavored party into one district—and 'cracking' them out of others to give a lift to the favored party. To be sure, throughout our history, there have been wasted votes. But from 1972 to 2010 the fraction of wasted votes over total votes was fairly constant. In 2012 it shot up to a new high."

Andrew Rosenthal in The New York Times on why the U.S. intervention in Iraq will lead to mission creep. The author joins those who think the current U.S. mission in Iraq, which President Obama suggested would be limited to air strikes, is bound to expand. "Once you send the military into a war zone, even with the best of humanitarian intentions, it’s incredibly hard, if not impossible, to avoid mission creep. In some cases — like, say in Ukraine right now — everyone knows that the talk of humanitarian assistance is a cover for a military plan... This is a dynamic that dates back to the early years in Vietnam, if not well before that." Rosenthal contends that it is only a matter of time before American troops re-enter the combat zone in Iraq. "Now that the administration is talking more openly about 'ground troops,' they’re still trying to draw a distinction between ones that are sent on a humanitarian mission and 'combat troops.' What, exactly, are combat troops? American pilots dropping bombs don’t qualify? American helicopter pilots going into a free-fire zone to drop supplies and rescue refugees are not in combat? Their lives are certainly in danger. They are heavily armed. And they are authorized to engage in, well, combat, if they come under attack."

Clarence Page in The Chicago Tribune (registration) on why pundits should stop chastising the President for going on vacation. Page writes that the "vacation shaming" of President Obama during his current trip to Martha's Vineyard is unwarranted. "According to CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, the widely acknowledged go-to authority on how presidents spend their days in office, the notion of a constantly vacationing and golfing Obama has been greatly exaggerated. [...] This president has left the White House for vacations a total of 125 partial or complete days since he took office in 2009, by Knoller's count. By comparison, President George W. Bush spent 381 partial or complete days at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and another 26 days at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine." Page suggests that Presidential vacations aren't a waste of time, that in fact they are necessary. "In this age of wireless technology, where even little kids (like the little girl I just heard on the hotel elevator) complain immediately if the Wi-Fi isn't fast enough, it sounds so last century to forget that every presidential vacation is a working vacation... I think the complaint is based on an American notion I wish we would discard, the notion that vacations are somehow a waste of time. Every year, more medical studies provide evidence that people who take at least a week and preferably two weeks of vacation a year live longer and better than those who don't."

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