Five Best Monday Columns
Fred Hiatt on the blame-game over Iraq, Charles M. Blow on growing American political partisanship, Chris Goodfellow on Flight MH370 after 100 days, Dean Baker on charities that make the rich richer, Rebecca Schuman on the laptop in the classroom debate.
Fred Hiatt at The Washington Post on the blame-game over violence in Iraq. “As the Middle East seemed to unravel last week, much of the blame-game debate centered on whether President Obama could and should have stationed a residual force of U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011. Throughout Obama’s first term, his advisers divided into two teams over how to combat Islamist terrorism: the Engagers, often backed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Minimalists, backed by Vice President Biden,” Hiatt writes. “Obama shaped his policies accordingly, starting with a total withdrawal from Iraq. Some argue that he had no choice, because Iraq wouldn’t give legal immunity to U.S. soldiers. I think if Obama had really wanted an agreement, and been willing to offer more than a few thousand soldiers, he could have negotiated one. What no one disputes is that Obama was content with the zero option and sanguine about Iraq’s prospects even without a U.S. follow-on force.” Historian Christopher Nichols tweets, “In what other eras has it come down to 'engagers' and 'minimalists'? Re: threat of disengagement.”
Charles M. Blow at The New York Times on growing American political partisanship. “For an increasing number of Americans, the tenor of politics has reached a near-religious pitch, in which people on opposing ends of the ideological scale take on theological properties: good or evil, angels or demons, here to either save our way of life or destroy it. According to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press: ‘Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines — and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive — than at any point in the last two decades.’ This phenomenon coincides, to a certain degree, with the rise of talk radio and the stridently ideological cable news — profit-driven provocateurs whose livelihoods ride on their abilities to rouse rabble, stir passions and diabolize opponents,” Blow writes. “There are some moral issues on which there can be no ambiguity. There are other areas, however — the continued existence of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, the use of drones, government surveillance — that require critical, nonpartisan examination, regardless of who is in charge, in part because many of these policies overlap Republican and Democratic administrations.”
Chris Goodfellow at The Telegraph on Flight MH370 100 days after it went missing. “More than three months have elapsed since the Boeing 777 vanished after taking off from Kuala Lumpur in the early hours of March 8, bound for Beijing. Yet the mystery of how a modern aircraft can disappear from the face of the earth continues to fascinate and appall. In this era, when delivery companies like UPS and FedEx routinely track vehicles via global satellite positioning (GPS), it seems incredible that this passenger jet, capable of auto-landing in total fog, did not carry a device broadcasting its position in real time and independent of all other systems on board,” Goodfellow writes. “Where to search now? There have been sightings from the Bay of Bengal to the Maldives. For the moment, attention remains in the southern Indian Ocean, way to the west of Australia. Mapping of the seabed is expected to be followed by a renewed search in the late summer. Only one thing is certain: Malaysia has lost all credibility in regard to the MH370 investigation and should yield control to a competent and impartial authority.”
Dean Baker at Al Jazeera America on charities that make the rich richer. “We usually think of charities as institutions that direct money down from those on top to those who are most in need. But in our vibrant 21st century economy, charities often funnel money in the opposite direction, with the rest of us subsidizing the incomes of the very rich. Take, for example, John Sexton, president of New York University, a tax-exempt institution. The university was recently in the news because of a story reporting that workers building its Abu Dhabi campus are often beaten and have their wages stolen. This campus is part of an ambitious expansion plan designed by Sexton, who reportedly makes $1.5 million a year and stands to pocket a 'longevity bonus' of $2.5 million if he stays into 2015,” Baker writes. “A study by the Institute for Policy Studies found that student debt and low-paid faculty increased more rapidly at the universities with the 25 highest-paid presidents than the national average. There is a simple remedy for the high pay at tax-exempt institutions: Make it illegal.” Al Jazeera America’s David V. Johnson tweets, “Either end obscene pay at charitable organizations or revoke their tax-exempt status.”
Rebecca Schuman at Slate on the laptop in the classroom debate. “The laptop is now endemic in the modern classroom, with most students using them—purportedly—to take notes and access course materials. Of course, they’re also (often primarily) used to do anything but classwork: games, Snapchat, shopping—even porn. Thus many professors police the ways students use their laptops, and some are banning them outright. But what good does that do?” Schuman writes. “I definitely see the anti-laptop point, but still I say: Let students have ‘em, and not just because banning them now is basically like standing very sternly on the beach, wagging your umbrella at an encroaching tidal wave. For starters, at many schools, laptops are more affordable for poorer students because they’re covered by financial aid—while requiring students to print out or purchase their course materials can cost them hundreds of dollars per semester, often more than the modest ‘printing allowance’ they’re given.” The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana tweets, “In defense of laptops in the classroom.”