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Fareed Zakaria looks at Iraq in broader context:
Can Iraq hold together? It’s worth examining what is happening in that country through a broader prism. If you had looked at the Middle East 15 years ago, you would have seen a string of strikingly similar regimes — from Libya and Tunisia in the west to Syria and Iraq in the east. They were all dictatorships. They were all secular, in the sense that they did not derive their legitimacy from religious identity. Historically, they had all been supported by outside powers — first the British and French, then the superpowers — which meant that these rulers worried more about pleasing patrons abroad than currying favor at home. And they had secure borders.

 [...] Today, across the region, from Libya to Syria, that structure of authority has collapsed and people are reaching for their older identities — Sunni, Shiite, Kurd. Sectarian groups, often Islamist, have filled the power vacuum, spilling over borders and spreading violence. In Iraq and elsewhere, no amount of U.S. military power can put Humpty Dumpty back together.

On the topic of healthcare, The New York Times editorial board heralds the ACA's success:
Americans are finding very affordable health insurance and a wide choice of plans on the exchanges operated by the federal government, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services. The report was based on data from the 36 states in which the federal government is operating health insurance exchanges this year.
Head below the fold for more on the day's top stories.

Speaking of healthcare, Paul Krugman gives his take on the VA scandal:

[T]he goings-on at Veterans Affairs shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of a much bigger scandal: the almost surreal inefficiency and injustice of the American health care system as a whole. And it’s important to understand that the Veterans Affairs scandal, while real, is being hyped out of proportion by people whose real goal is to block reform of the larger system.

The essential, undeniable fact about American health care is how incredibly expensive it is — twice as costly per capita as the French system, two-and-a-half times as expensive as the British system. You might expect all that money to buy results, but the United States actually ranks low on basic measures of performance; we have low life expectancy and high infant mortality, and despite all that spending many people can’t get health care when they need it. What’s more, Americans seem to realize that they’re getting a bad deal: Surveys show a much smaller percentage of the population satisfied with the health system in America than in other countries.

Jay Bookman responds to that Murdoch immigration op-ed:
So, Murdoch is worried about the future of the Republican Party? And he fears that the extremism and refusal to compromise that marks the party might be hurting the country? Why on earth would that be?

In addition to the WSJ, the most influential conservative newspaper in the country, he owns and in fact created Fox News, which exerts more influence over the GOP than does any other entity in the country. Fox molds the party; it picks its leaders; it determines and feeds its obsessions. The modern Republican Party is in fact the creation of Murdoch's creation.

Cary Gibson highlights efforts to decrease the nutritious value of school lunches:
According to the USDA, 90 percent of schools have put the new standards in place and, as a result, kids are eating more fruits and vegetables. Those findings seem to indicate the new law has started to show some success.However, there are critics of the new standards, and both the House and Senate fiscal year 2015 agriculture appropriations bills contain provisions that would delay or provide waivers for some or all of the new standards. Additionally, an amendment was introduced yesterday in the Senate that would further alter provisions in the Senate bill. These provisions propose to establish hardship waivers for schools that show financial loss from the implementation of the new requirements, delay the requirement for reduced sodium levels, and provide a hardship waiver from the requirements for the use of 100 percent whole grains. [...]

But the federal government has long been involved in food and nutrition policy in a big way. Farm bill subsidies help determine which crops are grown in the United States, and the Food and Drug Administration has been issuing guidelines for healthy eating for years. Comparatively, requiring schools to give kids fruits, vegetables and whole grains seems like a drop in the bucket. America is in the midst of an obesity crisis. Life expectancy is decreasing, health care costs are soaring, and even the military has said it has trouble recruiting because many applicants are too overweight. Obesity has become a public health crisis, and the government should help set high standards for kids’ nutrition.

On the topic of student loans, Andew Rossi writes that massive debt is crushing the colelge dream:
A new documentary that I directed, “Ivory Tower,” provides a contrast with Hollywood’s depiction of college. Opening this weekend at the Kendall Square Cinema, the film looks at student debt and the financial model of non-profit universities. It also raises a pressing question: Is college still worth it? [...]

The amount of debt held at graduation is only part of the problem. As Anya Kamenetz, author of the book “Generation Debt,” has detailed, loan balances can quickly balloon after graduation if borrowers can’t keep up with monthly payments. When loans are pushed into deferment or forbearance, interest keeps accruing and can be added to the principal, making a debt of $33,000 grow exponentially in just a few years. Amid a tepid post-recession economy, over half of student loans have been deferred, and defaults are on the rise as more than half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.

On a final note,David Firestone profiles Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the new majority whip:
Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the new majority whip, is the obstructionist. He voted against the debt ceiling increase, clearly unconcerned about the effects of a credit default on the economy and on his constituents. And last August, he was one of 80 hard-right members (right up there with Michele Bachmann, Ted Yoho and Steve King) who signed a letter saying that their “efforts to repeal Obamacare” were so important that the health law must be de-funded in appropriations bills. That letter, advocating a tactic that was the brainchild of Senator Ted Cruz, helped spark the shutdown.

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