Five Best Monday Columns

Lawrence Wright on the NSA, Jonathan Chait on what's next for Obamacare, Chris Cilliza and Sean Sullivan on Harry Reid's advice to Republicans, Noam Scheiber on the path to single-payer, and Brian Beutler on the GOP's ulterior motive on unemployment benefits.

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Lawrence Wright at The New Yorker on the NSA and al Qaeda. Last month, a federal judge in New York ruled that the NSA is lawful, concluding that metadata collection could have prevented 9/11. Wright argues this isn't true: the FBI "had a warrant to establish surveillance of everyone connected to Al Qaeda in America. It could follow them, tap their phones, clone their computers, read their e-mails, and subpoena their medical, bank, and credit-card records. ...There was no need for a metadata-collection program. What was needed was coöperation with other federal agencies, but for reasons both petty and obscure those agencies chose to hide vital clues from the investigators most likely to avert the attacks." Bloomberg's social media editor Scott Bixby tweets, "The intelligence community says that mass metadata-gathering operations could have stopped 9/11. That is a lie."

Jonathan Chait at Daily Intelligencer on what's next for Obamacare. The nation's health insurance has been active for a week now, and according to Chait, it's been "boring." He writes, "It does not look like Stalinist collectivization. There aren’t even any beheadings. It looks like regular medical insurance, except several million more people now have it than before." So what will Republicans do now? "The nature of their opposition will ... slowly morph. Gleeful predictions of imminent collapse will give way to bitter recriminations at the nefarious tactics used to make the law work. Obamacare will cease to be the something certain to destroy Obama and become something Obama has gotten away with," Chait argues. "If and when the law melds into the national fabric, the proximate Republican response will not be to adapt their policy ideas to it, but to denounce it as a kind of stolen law." The Atlantic's Matt O'Brien tweets this line: "Obamacare will be Benghazi."

Chris Cilliza and Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post on Harry Reid's advice to Republicans. In an appearance on Face the Nation yesterday, Reid offered this to the GOP: "Get a life and start talking about doing something constructively." Cilliza and Sullivan say that's "not going to happen." They write, "Republicans know that midterm elections are different from presidential elections. Turnout is far lower and, typically, midterms wind up being decided by which party's base is more motivated to come out." To win in 2014, the GOP just has to keep talking about how bad Obamacare is. Dan McLaughlin, the editor of, tweets that Reid is "always classy."

Noam Scheiber at The New Republic on the path to single-payer health insurance. "Last week the liberal documentary-maker Michael Moore [pronounced] Obamacare 'awful.' In a New York Times op-ed, he bemoaned the way the president’s law preserved the health insurance industry rather than replacing it with a Medicare-for-all style single-payer system," Scheiber explains. "I’m still much more sympathetic to Obamacare than Moore. He thinks it’s awful. I consider it a deceptively sneaky way to get the health care system both of us really want," he argues. Obamacare could actually lead to single-payer: "By pooling millions of people together in one institutional home — the exchanges where customers buy insurance under Obamacare — the Affordable Care Act is creating an organized constituency for additional reform. And since threadbare coverage is the only affordable option under Obamacare for many of these people, the law is giving them a whole set of grievances to get exercised about."

Brian Beutler at Salon on the GOP's ulterior motive on unemployment benefits. "Senate Democrats hope just a handful of Republicans will break away from the opposition later today, to pass legislation that would renew the lapsed [unemployment] benefits, and pressure John Boehner to follow suit, but they’re having a hard time finding the votes," Beutler explains. Why? Because "unemployment benefits make people’s lives better and buoy a fragile, but possibly accelerating recovery. Some Republicans are apparently reluctant to give Democrats and the economy a shot in the arm right now," Beutler argues. "This has been the motif of the past five years." 

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