Five Best Friday Columns

Michael Specter on the morning-after pill, Valerie Panyushkin on Russia's protests, Kimerley Strassel on Rick Perry, Jonathan Alter on Newt Gingrich, and Con Coughlin on Syria's civil war. 

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Michael Specter in The New Yorker on the morning-after decision At his inauguration, President Obama vowed not to ignore scientific expert opinions in favor of politics, but this week, his secretary of Health and Human Services rejected the FDA's recommendation to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter to teenage girls. "And that, of course, makes this decision even more depressing. Sadly, it is not the first time that Obama, or Sebelius, has made choices based on emotion and the ballot box rather than on the results of scientific investigation," writes Specter. He compares this to the Bush administration, which he argues ignored experts and resisted policies that might appear to make teenage sex less risky, including the HPV vaccine, condoms, and HIV prevention programs that didn't teach abstinence. Specter describes the science behind the FDA's recommendation for morning-after pills, and the political considerations that may have motivated Obama to ignore the recommendations. "If you don't accept the recommendations of your most able and well-trained scientists ... then where do you end up?"

Valery Panyushkin in The New York Times on the birth of Russia's protests A few months ago, Panyushkin, a disenchanted political reporter, gathered with other friends who'd lost out by challenging the government over the years, to determine how best to protest the upcoming Parliamentary elections in Russia. As usual, the contest would only offer a choice between Putin's United Russia and his collaborating parties. "The only solution, we decided, was irreverent protest." He describes the cartoon pig they designed to lead a humorous campaign against the corruption, and notes that a popular blogger led his own campaign to encourage voters to protest symbolically by voting for any party but United Russia. He says neither campaign met with universal support but both campaigns started the discussion of how best to protest the election, and helped move people both to document and later to protest the tampered results this week. Panyushkin predicts the government's arrests of movement leaders will only make the protest larger.

Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal on Perry's bid for Iowa's evangelicals Rick Perry is trying to capitalize on the untapped resource of cultural conservative voters in Iowa, as Mike Huckabee did in 2008, with expensive ad buys that speak against gays in the military and in support of school prayer. "Yet the flaw in this strategy is assuming that cultural conservatives have somehow missed the past three years of economic turmoil and Obama overreach, and intend to vote a religious line," writes Strassel. She notes that Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann have already been trying this strategy for awhile with little success. And she uses polling data and focus groups to show that though the state still has many self-identified evangelicals, most of them list economic issues as their primary concern. "The Republican who wins the evangelical vote this year is the Republican who—at least politically—doesn't put their faith in God alone."

Jonathan Alter in Bloomberg View on Gingrich and language Despite many downsides, Newt Gingrich has at least long understood the power of language and subtext in politics better than his Democratic opponents. "It makes him a less predictable and possibly more dangerous opponent than Mitt Romney in the general election," writes Alter. He describes Gingrich's success as a Republican Congressional leader coaching other candidates on how to constantly repeat buzz words to control a message, and he links it to successful Republican brand campaigns like "death tax."  Meanwhile he describes a lunch with David Axelrod this week who had no answers for why the Democrats use words like "entitlement" instead of "insurance," and Alter describes the lack of memorable one-liners from Obama's Kansas speech. "It's a sound bite we're likely to hear soon from Gingrich and other Republicans, who understand that in politics words are weapons."

Con Coughlin in The Telegraph on Syria's coming civil war This week, the bodies of 60 rebel fighters were dumped in the street in Homs, Syria, where previous killings of this sort had been in the single digits. "The dramatic surge represents a significant escalation in the conflict, one that inevitably nudges the country closer to the brink of full-scale civil war," argues Coughlin. He notes his experience covering war in Lebanon in the 1980s and draws parallels to sectarian violence in Iraq. He also describes the ethnic divisions and history that are fueling the dividing lines of today's conflict in Syria, and he says that those kind of divisions don't bode well if one hopes to avoid civil war. "He notes "Iran actively supporting the Assad regime and anti-Syrian groups in Lebanon backing the rebels, and it is hardly surprising that the UN believes the country is already in a state of open civil war."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.