Five Best Monday Columns

Five Best Monday Columns

Paul Begala in The Daily Beast on the foreign policy toss-up Begala assumes that Republicans will rally around their eventual presidential nominee, and that the economy will probably remain stable, leaving one wild card in what's bound to be a close election: foreign policy. "Between now and the election a lot can happen—and a lot can go wrong in the world," he writes, offering three examples. The standoff between Israel and Iran over nuclear weapons could lead to war, rising gas prices, and terrorist threats, all of which could either help or harm Obama's approval ratings. Pakistan remains an unstable country and a government overthrow by the military or Islamists could make it more so. And elsewhere, several suppliers of our oil are in turmoil as prices rise. "[E]ven strength and smarts—and Obama has plenty of them all—cannot control the unforeseen. Yet another reason this election will be a tossup."

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L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal on self-driving cars Last week, Bill Ford publicly put forward his vision for a future of self-driving cars that operate in a cooperative network. "Expect innovations that change the nature of driving more than anything since the end of the hand-crank engine—so long as the legal and regulatory systems don't strangle new digital technologies before they can roll off the assembly line," Crovitz writes. He describes how cars would use radar and real-time digital information to eliminate congestion and the human error that causes most traffic accidents. He notes prominent examples of models that approach this ideal, like the Google car. The biggest impediments, he says, are liability concerns. "If people aren't driving, who will be liable for accidents? Car makers? Manufacturers of GPS hardware? Software companies? These issues need to be resolved quickly."

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Joel Klein in The Washington Post on education in the election The presidential election has focused almost none of its time on education policy, and yet, new studies show us falling behind nations with strong systems like Singapore and South Korea, because we don't prioritize education as centrally in our debate as they do. "Americans must demand from candidates concrete ideas on how to prepare our children to thrive in a global age," writes Klein. He outlines three big ideas with corresponding questions he'd ask each candidate. First he supports strengthening common standards for students, and wonders how each candidate would move them forward. Second, he wants to improve teacher quality, and wonders how candidates would attract talent and train teachers effectively. And third, he wants to promote "choice and innovation." He concludes: "The stakes are too high to let platitudes substitute for the call to action our educational system needs."

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Luke Harding in The Guardian on Putin's reelection Unsurprisingly, Vladimir Putin won an easy reelection to his third term as president of Russia, and even more unsurprisingly, the contest was marked by rampant fraud. Putin also takes office amid the strongest protests of his leadership and calls for reform in recent memory. "Confronted with the specter of an Orange Revolution, Putin has two options. He can try to assuage the demonstrators with the vague promise of liberal reforms, or he can use the same lugubriously repressive KGB tactics that have served on previous occasions." Harding describes the bumpy effect Putin's rise will have on Russia's diplomacy, and also notes that there's no easy path for protesters who want him out. "Russian politics, then, is entering a period of uncertainty. But we can assume for now that Putin will carry on, as will those who oppose him."

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Bill Keller in The New York Times on reviving New York's public transit Keller has harsh words for the many structural, architectural, and practical inefficiencies of New York City's public transit infrastructure. But he highlights a plan conceived by structural engineer Samuel Schwartz, optimistically predicting it might move leaders toward real reform. Schwartz's plan "wipes clean the slate, replaces it with a system of tolls and fares designed as incentives to minimize congestion in the central business district, ease circulation around the region and revive public transit." He describes the way it achieves these things, and notes that it will raise money for the MBTA and provide funding to make structural improvements to subways and streets. He adds that Schwartz has already attracted positive attention from bank investors and various other skeptics, but hasn't brought it to the mayor or governor. "It's about time for his phone to start ringing off the hook."

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