Five Best Friday Columns

On the history of the Peace Corps, the place of the United States, and the unexpected upside to the Internet

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  • The Boston Globe Editors Aren't Happy With Either Side in Wisconsin  The Editors of the Boston Globe acknowledge that it would be beneficial for most states to reign in their budgets. But they are critical of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's latest law cutting bargaining rights for his state's public workers, suggesting that it "looks less like a serious effort to manage the cost of government than like a political vendetta against a traditional Democratic interest group." Now could be a perfect opportunity for Wisconsin and other states to seriously examine and rework their public-employee contracts, but Walker's legislation and the chaos that has ensued in response have been counterproductive to that effort. They also argue that the Democrats' "digging-in of heels" and unwavering commitment to the public labor unions will actually work against them. "This polarization is a disaster for states, whose well-being demands that any unsustainable benefits for public workers be scaled back."
  • Jackson Diehl on Whether Saudi Arabia Will be Next  Jackson Diehl doesn't think it will be long before Saudi Arabia joins the rest of its neighbors in the Arab revolution, and points out that the recent behavior of the country's ruler, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, suggests that he agrees. This week, the 87-year-old king "ordered up $36 billion in new welfare grants for his for young Saudis to buy homes, get married and start a business, and a 15 percent pay raise for government workers," Diehl describes. "Next are a prisoner release and a cabinet reshuffle." Realizing that right across the border, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa as been unable to stop his country's protesters with force, King Abdullah faces two alternatives for action before his own people catch the protest fever: invade Bahrain to stop Shiite protesters himself, or let Khalifa handle it with negotiations and hope the Saudi people don't catch on. The first option is likely to result in severed ties between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. but, writes Diehl, "I'm betting that Abdullah would rather be a Gorbachev than a Brezhnev. Rather than invade, he's more likely to embrace the strategy of trying to get ahead of the Arab wave of change before it is too late."
  • Mark Malloch Brown on the U.S.'s Key Role in Arab Revolutions  Mark Malloch Brown draws from his experience as a former international political consultant and UN deputy secretary-general to comment on the situation in the Middle East. The key factors he has observed in the multi-national uprisings are these: "First, it should have happened sooner. Second, it did not because countries such as Libya and Egypt were security states that allowed no opposition to grow. This will now be a handicap. Third, the US will have a much bigger, although uneven, role in steering these countries through their current conflict, and then transition, than is fashionable to acknowledge." It is important, Brown writes, to realize how influential the United States is in this region, as exemplified by the fact that our government has the power to tell oppressive regimes to get out and then to help their countries cultivate democracy. But it is up to Barack Obama to utilize this power for the good of the Arab people and ultimately the rest of the world. "It is one of those global moments when a US president has to take sides," Brown concludes. "When in doubt, or when pushed back by Congress or his own State department, he should think of the courage of the Libyan protesters, and the aspirations of a generation of young Arabs who have made this moment possible."
  • Stanley Meisler on the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps  Meisler, a former L.A. Times staff writer and author of a book on the Peace Corps, writes that the Corps today is in some ways "a shadow of what it once was." He recounts the history of the Corps from its founding in the 60's, when it was held in such high esteem that volunteers names were often included in the papers, to current days when many people have forgotten that it even exists. Still, the effectiveness of the Peace Corps on-site, "="providing skilled manpower to poor countries in need," has in some ways improved. The Corps' role in local and American politics has always been fraught, he says, but it has been useful in improving the image of America abroad. He notes many famous alumni, from Chris Dodd to Paul Theroux to the founder of Netflix. "It's possible to cite the pounds of fish sold or the pounds of honey produced under volunteer projects," he says "but how do you measure the influence of an inspiring teacher?" He points to Peru, were an impoverished teenage boy named Alejandro Toledo worked with Corps volunteers--and ended up president.
  • Peggy Noonan on the Return of Political Speeches In a somewhat discursive column today in the Wall Street Journal, Noonan urges political optimism by noting the return of real debate. "In the past quarter-century or so, the speech as a vehicle of sustained political argument was killed by television and radio," she writes, but "the Internet is changing all that" by "restoring rhetoric as a force." The web is filled transcripts and videos of speeches, Noonan says, from big political stumps like Mitch Daniels speech two weeks ago, to the fairly ubiquitous TED lectures found all over the net. It's not some magical blend of messaging and communication that makes for political successes, she writes: the internet actually encourages "pertinent, truthful, sophisticated and sober-minded speeches."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.