Five Best Thursday Columns

J.K. Trotter
May 23, 2013
Five Best Thursday Columns

Maria Bustillos at The New Yorker on small-scale surveillance "The real surprise to me about the Department of Justice's secret snooping on Associated Press phone records was that it would be such a surprise, given the visibly vast security and intelligence apparatus erected by the U.S. government over the past decade," writes Maria Bustillos, who examines the rise of private, individual surveillance, and the aggregate effect of the technology which enables it. "The same technological advances that have empowered the rise of Big Brother have created another wrinkle in the story. We might call it the emergence of Little Brother: the ordinary citizen who by chance finds himself in a position to record events of great public import, and to share the results with the rest of us." At the same time, argue Rebecca Shapiro and Jack Mirkinson at The Huffington Post, much of the recent outrage about the series of Justice investigations is fairly new. "Obama's hyper-aggressive leak policy—and his administration's potential equation of routine journalistic interaction with criminality—is nothing new," the pair say. "But the fury in the pages and on the websites of elite outlets about these positions certainly is."

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Jeffrey Goldberg at Bloomberg View on Jewish magnitude Jeffrey Goldberg asks why certain outlets insist on ranking Jewish people. "Why are these publications aping a practice of non-Jews — singling out Jews for their special prominence in society? .... The phenomenon of disproportionate Jewish representation in many high-profile fields (including, but not limited to, musical comedy, gastroenterology, the violin, physics, hedge funds, column-writing and, in an earlier period, professional basketball), combined with ancient and deeply embedded anti-Semitic ideas that are still prevalent in some parts of the world, suggests that they should resist the urge to quantify 'Jewish power.'" At New York, Jonathan Chait issued the same advice, after comments by Vice President Joe Biden about the success of American Jews. "Jewish opinions run the ideological gamut, they have clustered heavily on the left end of the political spectrum," he writes. "When you combine that fact with the fact of disproportionate Jewish representation in politics and culture, you have a weirdly shared belief among philo-Semites and anti-Semites."

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Charles M. Blow at The New York Times on E.W. Jackson's GOP appeal Weighing the recent celebrity of Virginia pastor E.W. Jackson, Charles M. Blow asks, "Why do Republicans keep endorsing the most extreme and hyperbolic African-American voices — those intent on comparing blacks who support the Democratic candidates to slaves?" He continues: "The implication that most African-Americans can’t be discerning, that they can’t weigh the pros and cons of political parties and make informed decisions, that they are rendered servile in exchange for social services, is the highest level of insult. And black politicians are the ones Republicans are cheering on as they deliver it." Pat Garofalo at U.S. News & World Report places Jackson's views (about gay people, racial relations, and so forth) in a pattern of right-wing extremism. "In the long run, consistently nominating extreme social warriors, when the country is shown to be consistently going the other way on social issues, is only going to hurt the GOP's actual policy goals."

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Irin Carmon at Salon on the stuggles of gay couples and child custody laws Irin Carmon reports on a Texas couple who, because they happen to lesbians, have been ordered by a judge to separate or else relinquish custody of their children. The order illustrates a troubling streak in the American legal system: "So-called morality or paramour clauses aren't explicitly limited to LGBT people, though courts once considered the mere fact of homosexuality reason enough to separate parents from children," Carmon writes. "For years, and as recently as the past few months, multiple courts, usually in red states, have ruled that unmarried sexual relationships, regardless of the genders involved, are grounds for denying custody, regardless of whether there’s evidence of harm to children." The trend is doubly concerning because, as Liza Mundy explains at The Atlantic, gay couples have a lot to teach their straight counterparts about happy marriages. "Although gays and lesbians cannot solve all that ails marriage, they seem to be working certain things out in ways straight couples might do well to emulate ... a growing body of scholarship on household division of labor shows that in many ways, same-sex couples do it better."

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Peter W. Singer at the Los Angeles Times on Obama's drone decision In anticipation of President Obama's speech about American foreign policy on Thursday, Peter W. Singer considers what challenges the Obama administration faces. "He has to try to strike a balance between arguing that terrorism threats will remain with us for the long term, as recent events in Boston and London would illustrate, but that the structures we gradually built up in response, from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the drone campaign, cannot remain with us in their ad hoc manner for the long term," he writes, adding, "He must lay out the overdue case for regularizing, so to speak, our counter-terrorism strategy itself, from the means to the ends." Amy Davidson at The New Yorker echoed the same kind of broad thinking that Obama will contend with: "The biggest question about the speech is this: Will it just be about a little more transparency, a better effort, and more thoughtfulness while remaining within the counterterrorism parameters Obama has already set up? Or is he willing to question, and perhaps dismantle and design differently, the structure he is, after all, leaving for all sorts of future Presidents?"