Five Best Thursday Columns

Charles P. Pierce on the NSA's collection of Verizon records, Rose-Ellen Lessy on patenting genes, Helena Andrews on Michelle Obama's heckler, Ana Marie Cox on rebranding the GOP, Michael Brendan Dougherty on punishing cheating in baseball.

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Charles P. Pierce at Esquire on the NSA's collection of Verizon records Responding to The Guardian's report on the far-reaching collection of Verizon call records belonging to U.S. citizens, Charles P. Pierce considers the status quo: "Whatever mock outrage is produced in the Congress over this, and that can fairly be defined as outrage produced by anyone except Messrs. Wyden and Udall, this is the new normal that was created after the 9/11 attacks," he writes, adding, "But, in a larger sense, this is what happens when a society tacitly agrees that, while (theoretically, at least) its citizens have rights the government may not abridge, the government is free to subcontract that job to every other important institution that affects the lives of its people." Andrew Kirell at Mediaite agrees: "As the last 13 years have proven, regardless of who is in the White House the security state will continue to expand. And it will take some hypocrisy on both sides to finally end it."

Rose-Ellen Lessy at The Nation on patenting genes Rose-Ellen Lessy reports on the Supreme Court case Association of Molecular Pathologists v. Myriad Genetics, concerning the ownership of patents on particular human genes. Lessy emphasizes the downsides: "Myriad’s actions—which have included sending cease and desist orders to other laboratories—offer a stark illustration of the inequities perpetuated by allowing genes to be patented. ... Because it holds a legal monopoly, Myriad has no incentive to develop better, more accurate or cheaper tests. And its patent has allowed it to prevent other researchers from developing better tests, too." Signe Brewster at GigaOM takes a step back, offering a wider view: "Soon the entire human genome will be routinely sequenced for $1,000 ... The question is whether analytics tools will become equally affordable."

Helena Andrews at The Root on Michelle Obama's heckler "Reaction to first lady Michelle Obama's swift handling of a recent heckler fell heavily on the side of 'You go, girl!,'" writes Helena Andrews, concerning a recent encounter at fundraiser between a protester and the First Lady. The reaction, Andrews adds, "perhaps prov[es] that she has transcended the race and gender stereotypes that used to dog her." She argues that we have moved beyond the "angry black lady" narrative: "Obama, who struggled to shrug off the stubborn labels of being a "strong," "militant" or 'angry' black woman early on, has, for the most part, avoided those pejoratives in this case. There was a time — not too long ago — when the comments section on every news site covering the heckling incident would have been flooded with vitriol spewed at the first lady." At The Guardian, renowned Code Pink protestor Medea Benjamin speaks from the heckler's perspective: "The tactic might be considered impolite and it disrupts business as usual, but hopefully, it helps push forward a larger debate on issues of great importance to society."

Ana Marie Cox at The Guardian on rebranding the GOP Can the Republican Party be saved from its most extreme elements? Going off of a recent College Republicans study concerning the party's youth element, Ana Marie Cox relays her doubts about 'rebranding' the political coalition: "This is the flaw at the center of the GOP's 'image problem,' which is really a 'substance problem.' It's not that the party is – as the report has it – 'disliked'; it is that they are disagreed with, that they are working from a set of assumptions and values that young people recognize as, at best, misguided or uninformed and, at worst, destructive." She continues: "If youth has a political persuasion, it's to be idealistic. And idealism doesn't have an inherent bent, either. Heaven knows, there are idealistic conservatives. The question at the moment is whether there are enough idealistic Republicans." Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect, meanwhile, wonders whether the GOP is in fact a political party: "The current Republican Party is not a normal political party. While it does work to contest elections, it’s only somewhat concerned with implementing a program, and is dismissive of the norms and rules that are supposed to govern political conduct."

Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Daily Beast on punishing cheating in baseball In light of reports that Major League Baseball officials intend to go after players associated with a known seller of performance enhancing drugs, Michael Brendan Dougherty cheers: "[Major League Baseball] has a duty at least to try to live up to its contract with the players and its covenant with the public. And just as there is no perfect game, very rarely is there a perfect witness in an illegal drugs case. ... The league’s zeal in pursuing cheaters who may be getting away with it changes incentives for all players, and it will rescue the league from any damning revelations that come its way." Tim Marchman at Deadspin, however, disagrees that there's a scandal in the first place. "There is literally nothing that ballplayers can do to convince that small fraction of the public and depressingly large fraction of the press that works itself into sweaty fervor over the idea of illicit chemicals swimming in the blood that they are, largely, clean," he writes, adding that "the idea that baseball can actually secure suspensions against 20 or more players on the basis of sketchy records and a canary's say-so is self-evidently preposterous."

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