Five Best Thursday Columns

On Michele Bachmann, c igarettes, and corporate hacking protection

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Nicholas Kristof on Sudan's Other Genocide  New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof lays out the current scene in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, "where we're getting accounts of what appears to be a particularly vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing, murder and rape." He explains that "government troops and government-backed Arab militias [are] systematically hunting down members of the black-skinned Nuba ethnic group and killing them." This is not the first time the Nuba have been targeted by the Sudanese government, he points out, referring to a similar ethnic cleansing attempt in the 1990s. Kristof notes that "there is a risk that violence will spread to the neighboring state of Blue Nile and ultimately trigger a full-blown North-South war, although both sides want to avoid that," and insists "it's critical that the United Nations retain its presence. Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, already indicted for genocide in Darfur, is now visiting China, and Chinese leaders need to insist that he stop the killing of civilians and allow the U.N. to function."

John Cassidy on Michele Bachmann, Legitimate Threat  Despite recent poll numbers that place Michele Bachmann on par with Mitt Romney as a viable Republican presidential candidate, "most commentators" are confidently treating her as a clown. But were Bachmann that much of a joke, John Cassidy writes in The New Yorker, "Obama's campaign managers should be trying to build her up, on the grounds that she is unelectable. However, it seems that David Axelrod and the rest of the boys in Chicago, where the Obama 2012 campaign is based, are in the dissident camp. Evidently, they believe Bachmann needs taking down before she gains more momentum." The fact that Bachmann doesn't know much about the economy is not important right now in the eyes of the religiously-driven parts of the Republican party. But the key to winning the nomination is funding from the party's more moderate financiers. "So, can Bachmann appeal to folks who aren't obsessed with God, gays and taxes?" Though acknowledging "serious doubts about her ability to make the necessary pivot, and avoid making major gaffes," Cassidy points out that being an "attractive" woman and running as a "Reagan Democrat" give Bachmann a real leg up. "No wonder Obama's campaign team is paying attention," he concludes. "This woman is potentially a serious threat--to the other Republican candidates, to the Democrats, and to the country."
Edward Glaeser on Taxing Cigarettes  Harvard Economics professor Edward Glaeser suggests that the government should add additional tax to cigarettes. While a tax would likely have the same effect as the new gruesome warning labels in turning people away from purchasing cigarettes, it would generate more revenue and therefore be a more worthwhile deterrant. He acknowledges that "the view that government can improve adults' lives better by making decisions for them, is a poor rationale for policing pleasures," but "a better reason for policing certain pleasures is when they impose external costs on third parties." The costs of smoking, such as second-hand smoke, are not borne by smokers alone, he points out in the Boston Globe. "Most importantly, every human is part of a dense social network, where every illness and death causes hardship and pain to friends and relatives. The social costs of self-destructive behavior easily justify some public policy response." He declares that "good policy doesn't ban behavior; it makes people pay for the social costs of their actions."
Anne Applebaum on Limited Change in Egypt and Tunisia  The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum notes "profound" but limited change in Tunisia and Egypt since the start of the Arab Spring. "In Tunisia, as in Cairo, you really can write anything you want. You can also say anything you want and talk to anyone you want. Strangers encounter one another at public meetings and discover they have much in common. Both Tunisia and Egypt now boast several dozen political parties." But, she explains, in Tunsia as well as Egypt, "Almost everything is still the same. The caretaker government, charged with running the country until elections can be held, contains elder statesmen who have been around for decades. The police are less omnipresent, but they are still there...The economy is untouched." She admits "there is an argument for taking things slowly...but the longer it takes for real change--new leaders, a new economic order--to occur, the greater the chance of disappointment, discontent and even counterrevolution." Applebaum urges the  countries to "hold elections as quickly as possible" because "an imperfect legislature is better than none." The "talk, debate, argument, conversation" that Tunisians and Egyptians are so happy to have "must lead somewhere, soon, or many will begin to question where they are leading."
John Gapper on Unprotected Companies  Lulz Security's recent profit-damaging hacks on Sony, Citigroup, Nintento, the CIA and HBGary prove that "companies are ill-prepared for a world in which they keep masses of valuable customer data in online databases and interact with the outside world through web applications," observes John Gapper in today's Financial Times. "They have made themselves greatly more vulnerable to being severely hurt by hackers while taking only minimal steps to prevent it." He argues that "although cleaning up past software errors is time-consuming and difficult--as Sony has found--none of it is beyond the corporate grasp." Gapper suggests "a lack of will, or even awareness high up in companies that there were such gaping holes in their software applications" are to blame for the susceptibility to hacks. "LulzSec has sailed away but it, or another hacking crew, will return--disaffected, proto-anarchist young men with an odd sense of humor are plentiful," he points out. "If companies are not prepared, it is their fault."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.