Five Best Wednesday Columns

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Maureen Dowd on Saudi Women  "It would have been thrilling, of course, if Hillary Clinton had channeled Aaron Sorkin and smacked around the barbaric Saudi men who force women to huddle under a suffocating black tarp," The New York Times' Maureen Dowd writes. "It would have been thrilling if Hillary 2011 had simply channeled Hillary 1995, when, as first lady, she made her bodacious speech in Beijing, declaring that "women's rights are human rights.'" But Dowd notes that "Clinton is a diplomat now. She knows it's tricky to push Bedouins, who get stubborn and dig in their heels...Still," she continues, "because the Saudis are our drug dealers on oil, America has never fought hard enough for oppressed women in the authoritarian kingdom." A smiling Michelle Obama and her daughters meeting with Nelson Mandela was a vivid reminder of how far South Africa has come since it ended race apartheid under pressure. The small courageous spurt of ladies in black driving was a vivid reminder that Saudi Arabia, under little pressure, is still locked in gender apartheid."

Nelson Lichtenstein on Wal-Mart's Authoritarian Culture  Nelson Lichtenstein argues at The New York Times that "the sex discrimination at Wal-Mart that drove the recent suit is the product not merely of managerial bias and prejudice, but also of a corporate culture and business model that sustains it, rooted in the company's very beginnings." He explains that "a patriarchal ethos was written into the Wal-Mart DNA," encouraging the men of West Arkansas, where the store was founded in the 1950s, and their wives, to come and work. And though the company argues that argued that its sex discrimination "is now ancient history," Lichtenstein explains simply that "the patriarchy of old has been reconfigured into a more systematically authoritarian structure." The company makes it virtually impossible for the woman of Wal-Mart to accept a managerial position even if they were offered one, as almost anyone promoted to manager is required to transfer stores and towns. "For young men in a hurry, that's an inconvenience; for middle-aged women caring for families, this corporate reassignment policy amounts to sex discrimination." The extensive hours required by store managers are also such that "women with family resonsibilities would balk at such demands." Lichtenstien points out that unionizing is typically the way employees avoid such treatment as the Wal-Mart women have experienced, but Wal-Mart, of course, is anti-union.

Russell Roberts on Technology and Employment  Responding to President Obama's recent comments about job losses and technology, Russell Roberts notes that "we usually call it progress. And it isn't exactly a new phenomenon. It's been going on for centuries, and its pace has accelerated over the past 50 years." The advances benefit everyone: "the savings from higher productivity don't just go to the owners of the textile factory or the mega hen house who now have lower costs of doing business ... The average worker has to work fewer and fewer hours to earn enough money to buy a dozen eggs or a pair of shoes or a flat-screen TV or a new car that's safer and gets better mileage than the cars of yesteryear." In short, "the result is a higher standard of living for consumers." And, in the end, more jobs are created because "when it gets cheaper to make food and clothing, there are more resources and people available to create new products that didn't exist before."
Martin Wolf on Greek Default  It is clear that Greece will default, but "the question is whether a default would be enough to return the economy to reasonable healthy. I strongly doubt it," writes Martin Wolf at the Financial Times. Wolf explains that "Greek performance under the program agreed with the International Monetary Fund in May 2010 has been quite impressive. But it has also failed to return the country to solvency." Greece's performance does not solve its problems because "the debt profile has moved from horrible to still worse ... the economy looks extraordinarily uncompetitive ... prospects for the current account deficit are seen to be deteriorating sharply ... [and] without a surge in exports, it will be impossible to return to sustainable growth." Wolf offers several strategies that will justify "persisting with lending ever more" but insists that "the principle requirement now is to recognize an unpleasant reality. One cannot make the incredible credible by endless delay," he writes. "One can only make the recognition of reality more painful when it finally comes. The time has surely come to recognize the reality of the Greek predicament and act at once on the wider ramifications for its partners."
Dana Milbank on Jon Huntsman's Doomed Campaign  Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wishes Jon "Huntsman luck in this noble persuit" to emphasize civility and goodness in the upcoming election, but notes that "the high road almost always leads to political oblivion." So far, his chances in 2012 look slim. "Polls show an upward of six in 10 Republicans don't know enough about him to form an opinion. In Iowa, where Huntsman has said he will not compete, one poll found total support for Huntsman of one--not 1 percent, but one person." Milbank suggests that Huntsman's "campaign will have to do more than put out videos of a Huntsman body double riding a motocross bike in the Utah desert, while soulful music plays and a disembodied voice attests that Huntsman played in a high school band and prefers 'a greasy spoon to a linen tablecloth.'" Milbank describes the commedy of errors that was the announcement of Huntsman's campaign, from his name being misspelled on the press passes, to an airplane headed for Saudi Arabia instead of New Hampshire. Huntsman's insistance that he "respect[s] the president," Milbank admits, "is an honorable theme. But Huntsman, whether he goes by John or Jon, will almost certainly find that this message spells defeat."

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