Five Best Monday Columns

On seawater power, media flaws, and universal questions

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  • Stewart Prager on Seawater Power  "Fusion energy generates zero greenhouse gases," writes the director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in The New York Times. "It offers no chance of a catastrophic accident. It can be available to all nations, relying only on the Earth's oceans. When commercialized, it will transform the world's energy supply." The "catch" is that  it's also "one of the most difficult science and engineering challenges ever undertaken," due to the extreme heat of the plasma involved. Money is needed to develop the technology: "A rough estimate is that it would take $30 billion and 20 years to go from the current state of research to the first working fusion reactor. But put in perspective, that sum is equal to about a week of domestic energy consumption, or about 2 percent of the annual energy expenditure of $1.5 trillion."
  • Ross Douthat Explains Republican Debt Ceiling 'Intransigence'  "There is a method to their madness," argues Douthat, speaking of Republican negotiating tactics, "and it rests on four things they know (or at least sense) about the deficit debate that the rest of the political class often ignores." The first is that the president, in fact, "wants a right-leaning deficit deal. ... the more conservative-seeming the final deal, the better for the president's re-election effort." The second is that "any deal struck this summer comes with a very large asterisk attached," in the event of Obama's reelection: tax increases. Finally, "bipartisan budget deals usually deliver fewer spending cuts than they promise," and "the long-term deck is stacked in favor of tax increases." Concludes Douthat: "These are the realities driving Republican intransigence. ... But this logic also cuts both ways. Precisely because conservatives have a window of opportunity that they may not have again, there's also a strong case to be made for striking the biggest possible deal--even if that deal requires concessions that a smaller deal does not." 
  • Howard Kurtz on the American Media's Version of Phone Hacking  The Newsweek and Daily Beast Washington bureau chief notes in The Washington Post that the News of the World hacking scandal "debacle is just an extreme example of a news business that increasingly pushes the ethical envelope--and perhaps of a public that wants the juicy stuff and isn't too particular about how it gets unearthed" For example: "We may look down our noses at tabloids paying for stories, but American networks essentially do the same thing. In 2008, ABC paid Casey Anthony $200,000 for an exclusive interview under the guise of buying photos and video of her missing 2-year-old daughter, Caylee." This was before Casey Anthony was charged with her child's murder. Meanwhile, "the line between high-minded and low-road journalism has all but vanished," papers even such as The New York Times publishing the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger's housekeeper, with whom he is believed to have fathered a child.
  • James Carroll on DSK and American Gossip  Carroll, writing in The Boston Globe, takes on a theme similar to Kurtz's: "While tabloid culture is transnational," he notes, "a peculiarly American pattern is apparent in the collusion between the official investigators--the police, the prosecutors, the congressional committees--and the vast, empowered observing public." But he also defends the American system, wondering if "this American style of obsession ... is ... just our way of working out perennial human questions." What he means is that "the cases of great figures cut down to size function as civic morality tales because, however good most people are most of the time, temptation is universal. Lust, greed, ambition, envy, fear--choose one. Or three. Every human must navigate the triple labyrinth of animal impulse, rational awareness, and moral choice." At the heart of DSK frenzy are the questions we ask in every scandal: "How does character shape action? Do we get what we deserve?"
  • Gordon England, James Jones, and Vern Clark on the American Navy  The three men are the former secretary of the Navy, former commandant of the Marine Corps, and former chief of naval operations, respectively. They declare in The Wall Street Journal that "uniquely Navy-Marine Corps capabilities" are the crucial element in our future ability to defend our interests. Here's why: "The future security environment underscores two broad security trends. First, international political realities and the internationally agreed-to sovereign rights of nations will increasingly limit the sustained involvement of American permanent land-based, heavy forces to the more extreme crises." This means that, "second, the naval dimensions of American power will re-emerge as the primary means for assuring our allies and partners, ensuring prosperity in times of peace, and countering anti-access, area-denial efforts in times of crisis." Though there are "tough choices" to be made on budgets, the three men are clear that "the maritime capability and capacity vital to the flexible projection of U.S. power and influence around the globe must surely be preserved."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.