Five Best Friday Columns

Firuz Kazemzadeh on Iran, Robert Morgenthau on immigration, and Paul Krugman on Iceland. 

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Firuz Kazemzadeh on Iran's religious oppression Firuz Kazemzadeh was a professor in the U.S. for 40 years. It was a career that wouldn't have been possible in his family's home country of Iran because of his Bahai religion, "and I might even have been imprisoned, as seven Bahai educators now are," he writes in The Wall Street Journal. The Islamic Constitution affords some rights to Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians but in 1979 declared Bahais "unprotected infidels." Since then, over 200 Bahai leaders have been executed. In 1991, Supreme leader Ali Khamenei attempted to "strangle" the community by denying them entrance into state universities. The Bahais began educating themselves. Otherwise unemployable Bahai professors quietly taught community members out of homes. "The institute's success frustrated the government. In spite of constant harassment, it achieved academic standards equal to or higher than those of state universities and was frequently recognized by foreign universities that admitted its students into masters and doctoral programs." Twice, the government raided homes, seizing supplies and arresting faculty. Another assault began this May, with the government sentencing seven Bahai faculty to 30 year prison terms. "Such repression is extreme but not isolated -- Iran's regime targets other minorities as well as women, intellectuals and others," and so the Iranian people often sympathize with them. "One hopes the rest of the world won't close its eyes."

Robert Morgenthau on immigration Emma Lazarus's sonnet, inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, greets visitors with the words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." But on today's 125th anniversary of the statue's dedication, the words "have been turned on their heads," writes former Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau in The New York Times. The "tired and poor" are locked in detention facilities, and increasing numbers of them are deported each year. "It can cost $23,000, by some estimates, to remove someone from the United States," Morgenthau writes, so the government reassures us that it focuses only on those who pose a danger to public safety. Yet a recent study found that 81 percent of recent deportations were for procedural wrongs, not criminal ones. Worse than our restrictive laws are our enforcement methods, which allow many to "languish in privately operated detention facilities for months, denied any civil rights, until they are deported," he says. In 2003, Morgenthau says his friend, filmmaker Costa-Gavras, asked him to help his daughter, who was visiting from France but had been put in a detention facility at the airport for overstaying her visa on her previous visit. "She had a ticket to return to Paris in less than a week," but I.C.E. officials denied the requests of foreign governments to free her. Finally an official "conferred her into my custody" for the week. "After that episode, I started paying more attention to immigrant detention and removal. I found that Ms. Gavras's experiences have been repeated thousands of times. Unfortunately, there is seldom anyone to intercede." On this anniversary, we should remember a time we "treated immigrants with compassion," he concludes.

Elyse Cherry on fixing the mortgage crisis President Obama said recently the government will reduce interest rates for some homeowners, but his plan leaves aside the millions who are already in foreclosure. "Most people caught up in it fell prey to a national bubble and bad lending practices," writes Elyse Cherry in the Los Angeles Times. "They deserve a second chance." Mortgage industry leaders haven't acted yet, fearing the creation of moral hazard -- "the concept being that if homeowners in default are given too much help, other homeowners might be tempted to deliberately default in order get the same help." Running Boston Community Capital, a 27-year-old nonprofit, for 14 years, Cherry says these fears are unfounded. Boston Community Capital renegotiates mortgages on foreclosed homes, and Cherry says the model could be applied more widely. Most homeowners won't choose foreclosure, she says. The hit to a credit score, future lending, and employment is too great. BCC negotiates with a lender to buy a foreclosed home at the current lowered market value, then resells the home to its occupants with a new 30-year mortgage at a fixed rate much lower than the one for which they'd normally qualify. "We qualify our clients by closely analyzing their finances and employment situations." The model can't fix every problem, leaving out those who can't even afford a sharply lowered mortgage payment, for instance. But the group "estimate[s] that our approach could help 1 in 5 homeowners whose homes have significantly dropped in market price." In the meantime, "The groundless fear that helping some borrowers will lead to an avalanche of new foreclosures has discouraged sensible and systemic solutions to the foreclosure crisis."

Paul Krugman on Iceland's model for success "Financial markets are cheering the deal that emerged from Brussels early Thursday morning," writes Paul Krugman in The New York Times, adding, "the fact that European leaders agreed on something, however vague the details and however inadequate it may prove, is a positive development." Still, he says we should recognize the "abject failure" of an economic doctrine that has taken hold in Europe and the United States. The idea is that "in the aftermath of a financial crisis, banks must be bailed out but the general public must pay the price," so we focus on austerity instead of job creation. The idea was that austerity would create consumer and business confidence, which would in turn create private spending and jobs. "Some economists weren't convinced," Krugman writes. "One caustic critic referred to claims about the expansionary effects of austerity as amounting to belief in the 'confidence fairy.' O.K., that was me." Still, the idea gained influence with Republicans, the European Central Bank, and David Cameron's administration in the U.K. The results for governments forced into austerity has been more stagnancy. But Krugman points to a "success story" in Iceland, which was "supposed to be the ultimate economic disaster story.... its runaway bankers saddled the country with huge debts and seemed to leave the nation in a hopeless position." But this meant they could "break the rules," and they did by letting their banks "go bust," increasing the size of the social safety net. Since then, "Iceland hasn't avoided major economic damage or a significant drop in living standards. But it has managed to limit both the rise in unemployment and the suffering of the most vulnerable." Krugman concludes, " 'Things could have been a lot worse' may not be the most stirring of slogans, but when everyone expected utter disaster, it amounts to a policy triumph."

Anne Applebaum on Libya's inheritance Writing from Benghazi, Libya, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum says the headquarters of the Transitional National Council has an atmosphere that is "just how one imagines the Smolny Institute, Lenin's St. Petersburg headquarters, in 1917: amateur, enthusiastic, disorganized, rumor-filled and slightly paranoid, all at once." But Russians operated post-Revolution "within what had been a functioning society. By contrast, Libya's late dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, has left an unprecedented, even weird, vacuum in his wake." Egypt has "a sophisticated economy, a middle class, foreign investors and an enormous tourist industry," and Tunisia has an educated middle class that has followed French politics. Libya doesn't have a "sophisticated economy," an educated population, political parties, or journalists. "The country produces nothing except oil, and none of the profits from that oil seem to have trickled down to anybody." "Nature abhors a vacuum, and of course, in the absence of an army, militias may step into the breach," Applebaum writes. New journalism outlets could be acquired by big businesses and then the government. But Libya's vacuum could provide "unprecedented opportunities." Journalists weren't even forced to write "regime propaganda" so they are out of the habit of producing anything but the truth, one of them told her. "The nonexistent economy and the absence of political institutions also means that there aren't any entrenched interests." Perhaps most important, Qaddafi left Libya with an inheritance of "$250 billion in foreign currency reserves" which he never spent. "I can't think of another group of revolutionaries, at any time in history, who found themselves in quite such a fortunate situation." So in some senses, this make's Libya's task easier, but in some ways it is more difficult. "And no," she says, "I'm not going to predict what will happen next."

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