Five Best Thursday Columns

Steve Coll on quitting Facebook, Ezra Klein on Romney's governorship, Thomas Hart Jr. on the high-speed rail, Jonathan Alter on negative campaigns, and Laurence Bherer and Pascale Dufour on Quebec's draconian law

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Steve Coll in The New Yorker on quitting Facebook In a lengthy essay, Coll describes why he decided to deactivate his Facebook account. The heart of his problem lies in the conflict between Facebook's purpose as a public forum and its goals as a profit-driven corporation. "There is something vaguely dystopian about oppressed peoples in Syria or Iran seeking dignity and liberation inside a corporate sovereign that is, for its part, creating great wealth for its founders and asserting control over its users."

Ezra Klein in Bloomberg View on Romney's record as governor Both Obama and Romney have their reasons for bringing up Romney's record at Bain Capital and pushing aside talk of his record as governor of Massachusetts. But for voters who want to know more about how Romney would govern, the emphasis doesn't make much sense. "The Romney campaign wants to avoid it because Romney governed from the center in ways that could now alienate the right," he says. "The Obama campaign doesn't want to discuss it because Romney's centrist record as governor might comfort independents." On the other hand, the Massachusetts record may not reveal much about the way Romney would govern as president, Klein writes, and that, above all, is the most important question that needs answering.

Thomas Hart Jr. in Politico on the quest for a high speed train Despite setbacks led by newly elected Tea Party legislators, political consensus that the northeast corridor needs a high speed train is growing again. Hart makes the case for its use and a public-private program that could fund it. "A new political group is now forming Republicans for Rail. There is also talk of starting a rail super PAC to generate money and grass-roots support for additional rail transit investments," he writes. "If this political shift continues in the crucial 2012 elections, prospects for U.S. high-speed rail, particularly along the East and West Coasts, could finally brighten."

Jonathan Alter in Bloomberg View on negative campaigns Many worry that the advent of Super PACs will lead to an unprecedented surge in negative campaigning, but Alter argues that in at least one sense, there's hope. "That's because both sides agree that the economy is the central issue and that sideshows like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright aren't persuasive for voters." We've already seen campaigns forced to disavow Super PAC ads that go too far or distract from more substantive messages, as when the proposed Ricketts ad went viral. "We can still expect a misleading and overwhelmingly negative campaign, but the distortions and outright lies will be mostly about the candidates' records and positions, not their race, religion and standing as patriotic Americans. I don't mean to be pollyannaish, but that represents a step up from the gutter."

Laurence Bherer and Pascale Dufour in The New York Times on Quebec's student demonstrations Student demonstrations protesting a 75 percent rise in tuition in the Canadian province of Quebec have led the government to pass Bill 78, a law restricting rights to student assembly and organization. "The law will remain in force only until July 1, 2013. The short duration says it all. It amounts to a temporary suspension of certain liberties and allows the government to avoid serious negotiations with student leaders. And it grants the authorities carte blanche for the abuse of power," write Bherer and Dufour, political science professors at the University of Montreal. American tourists should keep the abuse of civil liberties in mind when they visit their northern neighbor this summer, they write.

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