Five Best Thursday Columns

Nicholas Kristof on Iran, George Will on school elections, Joan Vennochi on Scott Brown's pact, Ezra Klein on a new start-up, and Steve Kornacki on Obama and Bush

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Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times on his trip to Iran Kristof writes his first dispatch from Iran, where the government has allowed him to travel an approved route on a journalist visa, and he spots some changes in attitude since his last trip. "[P]eople seem more discontented — mainly because of economic difficulties caused in part by Western sanctions. Those sanctions are causing bitter pain, yet a surprising number of Iranians seem to largely blame their own leaders for the woes," he writes. He describes a surprising amount of goodwill toward America and antipathy toward the Iranian government, but notes that citizens are still nervous to express these opinions publicly. "My guess is that the demise of the system is a matter of time — unless there's a war between Iran and the West." (Persian language version here.)

George Will in The Washington Post on an elementary school election Will is amusingly disgusted by a recent story in his own paper that describes school elections in Bethesda, Maryland, in which candidates "can't give out buttons. They can't wear T-shirts bearing their names. They can't talk about their competition. And they can't make promises." Or, as Will describes it: "At Bethesda Elementary, the prophylactic rules keep size-4 sneakers off the slippery slope to perdition, understood as candidates dispensing Tootsie Rolls." School officials seem to be prepping students for a far-off day, he says, "in which politics, cleansed of promises and criticism and too much talk, will be perfectly equal and ever so nice."

Joan Vennochi in The Boston Globe on Warren and Brown's attack ad pact In January, Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Scott Brown agreed to keep attack ads funded by outside groups out of their contest this year, and Vennochi revisits the state of that agreement. "It was a gamble for both candidates, and, at this moment, it appears to put Brown at a tactical disadvantage," she writes. She points out that it seemed like a coup for Brown at the start, but fundraising figures show that it has benefited Warren, and shielded her from super-PAC ads that could have had fun with her Native American controversy. "The stakes are high, and the race is tight. It's up to Brown and Warren to pick a battle of issues and ideas over a war of attack ads."

Ezra Klein in Bloomberg View on Venture for America Klein casts spotlight on Venture for America, a start-up that, like Teach for America, seeks to lure talented college grads away from banking and consulting jobs. The company, founded by former lawyer Andrew Yang, places young entrepreneurs at smaller start-ups in less popular locations around the country. "Perhaps it's a sign of the times that enticing Ivy League graduates to work at a for-profit business can now be sold as a way to 'give back' to the community -- on the grounds that the job isn't in finance or management consulting and isn't in New York or Boston," he writes. "Yet that's Yang's pitch."

Steve Kornacki in Salon on Obama and the Fed's figures On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve noted that from 2007 to 2010, the median net worth of American families declined by 39 percent. It reminds us why the economic recovery has remained sluggish, and Kornacki makes the case that it also helps Obama in his attempt to place blame with George Bush. "The new Fed figures may support this idea, in that they illustrate how steep, and pervasive and enduring the decline in family income has been since the final year of Bush's tenure. As frustrated as they surely are by the slow pace of recovery under Obama, there's probably an appreciation among many Americans of just how deep the problem is – and the fact that it preceded Obama's swearing-in." He uses focus group testimony to argue that people might give Obama the benefit of the doubt and another term to tackle the problem.

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