Five Best Thursday Columns

Republican health care, Facebook felonies, the HPV vaccine, and fleeing China

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Dissident Liao Yiwu recounts his flight from China Liao Yiwu was jailed for four years after speaking out against the government's crackdown at Tiananmen Square. The government has denied him permission to leave China 16 times. Yunnan Province in southwestern China provides easy exit points to those who want to sneak out of the country, and the simplicity of sneaking out via Yunan tempted him. But Liao writes in The New York Times"Instead, I chose to stay in China, continuing to document the lives of those occupying the bottom rung of society." When the Arab Spring broke out, the government began censoring references to the "jasmine revolution" in text messages and on the Internet and beefed up security with patrolling plainclothes officers. "When public security officers learned that my books would be published in Germany, Taiwan and the United States, they began phoning and visiting me frequently," Liao writes. They told him he would face legal consequences if he continued to publish in the West. When Salman Rushdie invited him to a conference in New York, he applied for a visa to leave, but the government rejected him. "For a writer, especially one who aspires to bear witness to what is happening in China, freedom of speech and publication mean more than life itself," he says. "I had no intention of going back to prison." He decided to leave and tell the world about the "simmering resentment" hidden beneath China's economic success. He journeyed to Yunan but instead of sneaking across the river, he decided to use his passport with his legitimate visas to Germany, the United States, and Vietnam, and walk through an exit point. "A miracle occurred," and the guard did not stop him, so he quickly boarded a plane for Germany. "Outside the airport," he says, "the air was fresh and I felt free."

Jacob Weisberg on Republican health care options At this week's Republican debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul whether the government should allow an uninsured "catastrophically ill" 30 year old to die untreated. "At that point, the rabble erupted in cheers and whoops of 'Yeah!'" writes Slate's Jacob Weisberg. The moment showed a "medieval" "mob-mentality" among the Tea Partiers in the crowd, Weisberg says. "What it clarified, however, was less the cruelty of the Tea Party crowd than the absurdity of the health-care positions of all of the Republican candidates." The candidates oppose the individual mandate in "Obamacare," leaving them with two options: the current "arguably more socialized system" or one that allows Blitzer's hypothetical 30-year-old man to die. Under an individual mandate system, like Obama's or the one Romney signed into law in Massachusetts, if people don't insure themselves, "they pay money, which you can call a fine or a tax, as you prefer. Under this alternative, the costs incurred by Blitzer's young man are not broadly socialized because they are covered by the fine on those who avoid signing up for insurance." Under the current system, hospitals are required to treat the 30-year-old man. "But the costs of his treatment are not absorbed by the hospitals. They are passed on to consumers, employers, and the government in the form of higher insurance premiums." This makes the system "more socialized" than Obama's, Weisberg says. "The third option is that of the Tampa Tea Party mob: Let the young man go to the devil." While Romney has supported the individual mandate system, he now says states should decide for themselves, which Weisberg argues would only complicate things. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry seem to support the option favored by the debate crowd. "Details remain to be worked out around the disposal of corpses and the distribution of orphans," Weisberg quips. "But, say what you will, theirs is not a socialist approach."

Orin Kerr on Facebook felonies "Imagine you could be jailed for lying about your age or weight on an Internet dating site," writes GWU law professor Orin Kerr in The Wall Street Journal. Such a hypothetical could become reality under a proposed strengthening of the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. "The law now criminalizes computer use that 'exceeds authorized access' to any computer. Today that violation is a misdemeanor, but the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to meet this morning to vote on making it a felony," Kerr says. Courts haven't settled on just what "authorized access" means, but some want it to extend all the way to "workplace computer-use policies." "If interpreted this way, the law gives computer owners the power to criminalize any computer use they don't like." Kerr imagines a host of abuses of the law. The Democratic Party could set up a site that forbids Republicans from viewing it, then Republicans who do so anyway could be prosecuted. "In 2010, the Justice Department charged a defendant with unauthorized access for using a computer to buy tickets from Ticketmaster. Ticketmaster's website lets anyone visit. But its 'terms of use' only permitted non-automated purchases, and the defendant used a computer script to make the purchases." The law also allows for civil suits, leading to even more abuses. In one case, "a company posted 'terms of use' on its website declaring that no competitors could visit—and then promptly sued a competitor that did." "Real threats to cybersecurity must be prosecuted," Kerr says. "Penalties should be stiff. But Congress must narrow the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act before enhancing its penalties."

Megan McArdle on Rick Perry's motivations for mandating HPV vaccines People are quick to accuse Rick Perry of mandating vaccination against HPV only because his former chief of staff worked for the pharmaceutical company that manufactures it, an explanation that confused The Atlantic's Megan McArdle. "Can we really categorically rule out the possibility that Rick Perry thought that mandating Gardasil was a good way to fight cervical cancer, which claims the life of around 4,000 women every year?" she asks. Former staffers, she points out, must ask Rick Perry for favors all the time. "Being a former staffer gets you a meeting. It does not get you a politically costly decision that your former boss thinks is an objectively bad idea." She lists the reasons mandating the vaccine is a good idea: The vaccine guards against strains of HPV that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers in the country. "The CDC estimates that at least half of all people who ever have sex will get [HPV]. You cannot protect your children from it by ensuring that they have strong moral foundations--unless you plan to also guarantee that the person they marry has never had sexual contact with another person." HPV is increasingly linked to head, neck, and anal cancers, she writes. Vaccines, she notes, don't always protect the individual, but when communities of enough vaccinated people live together, it makes it difficult for a virus to find a host and creates a "herd immunity." And finally, she says, "The vaccine is extremely effective, and the reported side effects incredibly low... Frankly if this wasn't an STD, no one would even be questioning whether we should vaccinate for a disease that kills at least 3,000 people a year." Even if you disagree, she says, she still doesn't see evidence that the only reason Rick Perry would mandate vaccination is corporate interest. "I'm not saying that drug companies are always solid citizens... but they do, in fact, occasionally invent things that save peoples lives," she writes.

Bing West on today's Medal of Honor recipient President Obama is awarding the Medal of Honor to Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer. "In attendance will be a handful of soldiers and Marines who, one day in September 2009, were abandoned by their chain of command and relied on their own initiative to dislodge a fierce enemy," writes Bing West in The Wall Street Journal. Elders in a remote Afghanistan village asked for aid repairing a mosque. But when U.S.-trained Afghan soldiers arrived, they found a setup. Sixty jihadists "opened fire with machine guns, mortars and rockets." When 21-year-old Corporal Meyer heard officers rejecting calls for artillery fire, he took a Humvee straight into battle. He began putting injured Afghan soldiers into the back of the vehicle while firing at the enemies from his machine gun turret. "Rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun bullets followed Cpl. Meyer as he repeatedly left his armored turret to load the truck with wounded Afghan soldiers." Three times he and Sergeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez returned for more bodies, all while higher ups continued to deny backup requests. "Capt. Will Swenson, an Army adviser who remained in the valley to fight, calling repeatedly for artillery fire, only to be rebuffed by headquarters... Over the following months, two investigations resulted in three letters of reprimand for the unit commanders' failure to provide fire support. Bitterness about the battle and its aftermath lingered among the families of the five dead Americans," West writes. Corporal Meyer protested the overlooking of Captain Swenson, who resigned quietly from the army. Two years later, a general recommended Swenson for the medal of honor. Now Meyer, too, will be recognized for his obvious bravery. "Today's ceremony should be a source of pride for all Americans, because Ganjigal wasn't about one warrior," West writes. "Inside that village on the Pakistan border, the defining values of America—individual initiative, comradeship, valor and determination to prevail despite any odds—were on display."

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