Five Best Friday Columns

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Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal on Obama and his opponents Steve Jobs's biographer recounts his theory that successful companies begin their decline when the salesmen become more important than the engineers and designers that make good products. "The theory applies also to our politics. America is in political decline in part because we've elevated salesmen—people good on the hustings and good in the room ... above people who love the product, which is sound and coherent government," Noonan writes. She calls Obama a good salesman who did not know the product of government and so did not accomplish as much as he wanted. His Republican opponents, most notably Herman Cain, are no more serious, she says, recalling Cain's inability to remember his canned answer on Libya this week. "The purpose here isn't to slam Mr. Cain but to point out that when Republicans talk like this—no, when GOP voters cheer Republicans who talk like this—it leads their opponents to smile in smug satisfaction."

Michael Bérubé in The New York Times on Joe Paterno's complex legacy The Penn State scandal has revealed a culture of cover-up and shown students rioting on behalf of those who protected a child molester. "But there are also 6,000 full-time teachers and researchers working here ... Like the vast majority of our 45,000 students, we did not riot. ... This is our place that has been trashed, and we care deeply about cleaning it up," writes Bérubé, a Penn State humanities professor. Bérubé argues for his school's strong academic programs, and admits that much of their success is due to leadership and private donations from the disgraced coach Joe Paterno himself. Paterno donated the beginnings of a library, and held his players up to high academic standards. "And yet there is a sense in which the Paternos' academic legacy makes the scandal worse, or more complicated ... Because of that reputation, Penn State faculty members were permitted to feel less conflicted about the school's football program than our counterparts elsewhere," Bérubé says.

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Jay Rockefeller and Michael Chertoff in The Washington Post on cyberattack threats The vulnerability of our nation's cybersecurity poses the greatest "existential threat" to America. "The computer systems that run our critical infrastructure — the utilities, transportation, telecommunications and financial networks on which our society depends — are increasingly interconnected and highly vulnerable to disruption," Chertoff and Rockefeller write. They detail the ways hackers have already targeted private enterprise to steal blueprints, copyrighted materials, and research.The SEC has issued guidance to companies to protect themselves, and they argue that the onus should be on private institutions to fund their own protection, and they should consider it part of the cost of doing business. "We believe that the SEC's guidance — and the market-driven changes it will create in the way that the private sector considers risks — is a critical step toward improving U.S. cybersecurity."

Ezra Klein in Bloomberg View on America's decade of missed opportunity In the past decade, Americans have missed three major opportunities to move forward. First, we squandered the opportunities our national unity post-9/11 gave us by starting two wars, raising deficits, and making lending easier, creating a credit bubble. "That was missed opportunity No. 1," Klein writes. Second, despite our woes, our treasury bonds still allow us to borrow with favorable rates. "For a country with more than $2 trillion in unmet infrastructure needs, this is a remarkable opportunity," but Klein says we are wasting it by focusing on debt reduction. There, too, there is opportunity to fix the tax code, or reimagine our military spending, but again we seem to be wasting the opportunity to make strategic cuts. "It's entirely possible that we could wake in 2013 only to realize that we have made no durable progress on any of our pressing national problems over the course of the Bush and Obama presidencies, and have, in fact, made some problems worse," he says.

John Arnold and Katherina Rosqueta in the Los Angeles Times on donating to food banks Every holiday season, Americans participate in food drives by donating boxed and canned goods that will go to needy families. "And just as in years past, such well-intentioned food donations will needlessly leave millions of people hungry," Arnold and Rosqueta write. They demonstrate how pre-bought food is distributed in such a way that out of a donation worth $10, about $5 of food probably ends up consumed. Much better, they say, would be to give money straight to charities that serve the hungry, where mass amounts of food can be bought from warehouse surplus leveraging $10 into food worth something closer to $200. "In the true spirit of the season ... take the money you would have used to buy cans for food drives and donate it to that local pantry. Fewer families will go hungry."

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