Five Best Thursday Columns

Steve Jobs, Putin's return, and El Paso's bad rep

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Walt Mossberg on Steve Jobs Much will be said today about Steve Jobs's legacy and his genius, "but there was a more personal side of Steve Jobs, of course, and I was fortunate enough to see a bit of it," recalls Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg, recounting several of his more memorable stories. When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he began calling Mossberg every weekend, talking to him for hours, courting his opinion, but also proving the breadth of his talent. "One minute he'd be talking about sweeping ideas for the digital revolution. The next about why Apple's current products were awful, and how a color, or angle, or curve, or icon was embarrassing." Mossberg also remembers his optimism. He never witnessed the "mercurial" side people have described, and when Mossberg criticized Jobs's competition, Jobs often argued for them. Mossberg remembers Jobs inviting him to preview new products before they were unveiled. He always insisted on showmanship, covering them with a drop cloth. When he showed Mossberg the iPod, he explained his vision for Apple as a digital products company not a computer company. For an All Things Digital conference, Bill Gates and Jobs agreed to appear on stage together, but when Jobs made an off-hand comment about Windows, Gates almost cancelled the appearance. Jobs quickly diffused the tension, the two appeared together, and "when it was over, the audience rose in a standing ovation, some of them in tears." He also remembers taking a walk with the ailing but determined Jobs, who lectured Mossberg on his own health even as he looked pained. "Steve Jobs didn't die that day, to my everlasting relief. But now he really is gone, much too young, and it is the world's loss."

The Wall Street Journal on Democrats' anti-bank rhetoric "Lacking an agenda, much less an economic achievement, Democrats appear to have decided to campaign against Wall Street and the banks," writes The Wall Street Journal editorial board. Sen. Dick Durbin encouraged customers to stage a run on Bank of America for implementing a $5 monthly debit card fee, President Obama told regulators to "punish BoA" and "Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has joined the fun by vowing that America will 'prevail' over the banks." But the Democrats are opposing policies they implemented while in the majority in 2009 and 2010. "The predictable consequences of those rules are starting to appear in the marketplace. The new rules and laws achieved Washington's goal of cutting bank revenues, by more than $15 billion per year. But it costs money to provide checking services and electronic payment networks, and the political class is now stunned that banks would seek new ways to profitably serve customers." Bank of America supported the idea of a consumer protection regulator, believing the person would only require clear disclosures of fees, but instead Obama is encouraging regulators to prevent those "hidden fees", as he terms them. "Flash forward to today, and the full weight of Mr. Obama's Washington is coming down on a bank for making perhaps the most transparent pricing change in the history of American finance. Is there any consumer who hasn't heard that Bank of America will start charging a $5 monthly fee on debit cards?" asks the board. Encouraging a run on Bank of America certainly won't resolve the financial crisis, the editors write, "and we doubt it will do much for Democratic election chances either."

Veronica Escobar on disparaging the border region "According to many of the leading Republican presidential candidates, including my governor, Rick Perry, the border between Texas and Mexico is among the most dangerous in the world," writes El Paso county judge Veronica Escobar in The New York Times. "Those of us who actually live along the border know otherwise. El Paso, the largest city along the United States-Mexico border, is also one of the country's safest cities and the heart of a vibrant binational community." The region faces economic and social problems, but "Rick Perry has claimed, without evidence, that bombs were exploding in our streets and that Juarez was the most dangerous city in America (even though it's in Mexico)." Many politicians "use the bogeyman of border violence" to justify increased spending on security measures like the fence that has so far cost $6.5 billion. "These measures do little besides waste money. Tunnels already run below the border fence." The cameras Rick Perry installed have led to only 26 arrests despite costing $4 million. The problem with claims about the border is that they "damage our image and our ability to recruit talent, investment and events." Instead of investing in security, the government should recognize El Paso's trade industry and invest in more ports, Escobar says. "It would be in the candidates' and the country's best interest to present the truth about the cities on the border: we are safe, dynamic economic engines that need strategic investment."

Roger Simon on the "meaningless" polls Reading any number of recent polls, one would assume "Barack Obama is so doomed politically that he sits behind his desk in the Oval Office with a vulture on each shoulder," writes Roger Simon in Politico. "But I say the poll gods are wrong. Not only can Obama be reelected, but he is the favorite right now." To argue the point, Simon points to Republicans' desperate attempts to settle on a "messiah" candidate. "One day it is Michele Bachmann... Then the party decides it is not that desperate and turns to -- I kid thee not -- Herman Cain." Cain has risen to a tie with Mitt Romney in the "meaningless" polls, Simon writes. "Cain is a genial, harmless dodo who thinks running a country is just like running a business. But it isn't." Business, after all, doesn't require knowledge of nuclear weapons, of Iran, of Israel, or of China. "True, Cain is a man with a domestic plan. Unfortunately for him, it is an utterly hopeless one." Few voters will end up going for a 9 percent federal sales tax above all the state and municipal taxes. So Cain will not win the nomination, much less the 270 electoral votes he'd need to defeat Obama. Simon has made a similar critique of Michael Bloomberg as a candidate. Sure the independent could pour billions of his own fortune into a campaign, but no one has yet to point out just how he could get to 270 electoral votes. "So who could get to 270? Romney could. Conceivably. And Perry. Conceivably." Obama is a great campaigner and debater and has an experienced reelection staff. And that staff "also has been doing just one thing: counting. To 270. Which it does awfully well."

Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen Cohen on Putin Commentary in the U.S. about Putin's return to the Russian presidency has been "simplistic morality posing as political analysis," write Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen Cohen in The Washington Post. "According to a Sept. 26 Post editorial, 'Vladimir Putin decided that he would like to be president again, and so he will be.'" Putin is no democrat, but analysis like this ignores the complexities of the political system, they write. Putin's return is in part a response to the desires of the Russian oligarchy. Putin and Medvedev understand Russia must move away from an oil-dependent economy, but to do so will require "bitter" changes like tax hikes on the business class, and they want the "tougher" Putin to "preside" during this change. Meanwhile, Obama's administration unwisely pegged its "reset" to Medvedev "while directing gratuitous insults at Putin." The U.S. talks up the reformist nature of Yeltsin and Medvedev, but neither of them have acted as perfect democrats either. "Indeed, given the real alternatives, and not those that Americans might prefer, why the assumption that Putin's return to the Kremlin will be bad for Western interests?" After all, "from 2000 to 2008, when Putin was president, he made more important concessions to Washington than Medvedev has during the past four years." That era of cooperation with Putin, though, may be at an end.

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