Five Best Thursday Columns

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Scott Ostler in the San Francisco Chronicle on Joe Paterno's legacy Some in the media have wondered how  Jerry Sandusky's child molestation scandal will affect Joe Paterno's coaching legacy. "Folks, this is Joe Paterno's legacy," writes Ostler. Ostler lays out Paterno's strong coaching history and his respected position at Penn State. But he also lays out the revelations that Paterno knew years ago that his assistant coach was probably molesting boys on the campus and didn't take steps to stop it.  Ostler supports Penn State's decision to fire him and the school's president as a move that will reaffirm the idea that anyone should know to act on allegations of criminal activity among their employees. Ostler admits Paterno faces no legal trouble. "But there was no trial when Paterno was sainted ... The public decided. It's the same deal on the flip side. We'll take the facts and form them into our personal legacy of Joe Paterno."

Gail Collins in The New York Times on last night's GOP debate We will remember last night's Republican debate chiefly for the moment when Rick Perry forgot which federal agency he wanted to eliminate. "Pity the Republican voters. They aren't asking for much. They just want a candidate who's really conservative but not totally crazy," Collins writes. Collins essentially declares this the end of the road for Perry, and she recounts other highlights from the debate, describing Newt Gingrich's performance as "self-important," and Mitt Romney's as "smarmy." She pegs the uninspiring performances on display to voter repudiation of particularly right-wing referendums in this week's election, like the "personhood" amendment in Mississippi. "From sea to shining sea, there was a very strong anti-nutcase tenor to the results," she says, and that doesn't bode well for most of this year's Republican candidates.

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Anne Jolis in The Wall Street Journal on free speech in France A French satirical weekly paper, Charlie Hebdo, had its offices firebombed and its website hacked this month likely as retaliation for its depictions of the Prophet Muhammed. "The response in France to last week's attacks has been powerful and all but unanimous: Six months before presidential elections, politicos from every quarter of the French establishment are rushing to defend Charlie Hebdo, including some who, at one time or another, have threatened the magazine with defamation suits," Jolis writes. Jolis describes the publication's history of irreverence and potential offensiveness through the years. France's defense of it is in their tradition of Voltaire. But Jolis lists a few American publications that have condemned Charlie Hebdo for unnecessarily "provoking crises."  "Such reactions cause one to wonder whether the deeper threat to free speech comes not from its avowed enemies but from its supposed practitioners." 

Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post on social mobility Americans have divided along partisan lines on the issue of income inequality in America. "But on an issue even more significant than income inequality, there does appear to be bipartisan agreement: the importance of social mobility," writes Zakaria. While some like Paul Ryan believe our social mobility remains in tact, Zakaria uses data to show that it has grown more difficult for those born into poverty to achieve success. Canada and Europe, he says, are actually providing more opportunity than we are, thanks to better childhood health, nutrition, and public education programs. Tackling income inequality doesn't have an easy solution, but restoring social mobility is achievable because we can look to our history and to the policies of those countries who are doing it well, Zakaria says. 

Meghan Daum in the Los Angeles Times on the personhood amendment On Tuesday, Mississippi voters defeated a personhood amendment that would have have given fertilized eggs all the rights of a human. "The debate may be over for the moment in Mississippi, but because similar campaigns are underway in other states, the dystopian scenarios will surely rage on." Advocates for the amendment complained it was defeated by the "lies" of those who said the law could be used to ban several forms of birth control. (In fact, it probably could have been used to such effect.) Daum admits she is using "slippery slope" logic to suggest that the law could impose even more restrictions than its supporters likely intend. "But, oddly enough, for all the hand-wringing around the issue, the personhood nonsense could end up being the best thing to happen to reproductive rights in a long time," she says.

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