Five Best Friday Columns

Scott Bixby on Catholic high schools and gay rights, Jonathan Chait on House Republicans' threat, Molly Ball asks if Republicans need to change, Ali Alfoneh and Reuel Marc Gerecht on Iran's foreign minister, and Sarah Kendzior on mainstream media. 

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Scott Bixby at The Daily Beast on Catholic high schools and gay rights. "During my freshman year at Eastside Catholic High School, in Bellevue, Washington, my unmarried science teacher got pregnant. Despite the dearth of decent sex education, most of us could figure out what had happened," Bixby writes. But she didn't lose her job or even get a reprimand. "Ten years later, Eastside’s laissez-faire Catholicism has taken a hard right turn," Bixby argues. "On December 20, the school’s vice principal and swim coach, Mark Zmuda, was forced to resign after it came to light that he had married his longtime boyfriend over the previous summer. In an e-mail to an alumnus, Principal Polly Skinner explained that the Eastside was 'bound by Catholic teaching regarding same-sex marriage,'" he writes. "Whether the school’s First Amendment right to practice religion freely trumps Washington State’s robust anti-discrimination laws is a matter for the courts to decide, but even a cursory look at Eastside’s personnel practices show that the school is picking and choosing just what counts as behavior 'inconsistent' with Church teachings," Bixby insists.

Jonathan Chait at Daily Intelligencer on House Republicans' threat. "Unbelievably, House Republicans again claim they’re going to threaten to trigger a default crisis next month unless President Obama offers them policy concessions of some kind. Unlike 2011, they’re no longer arguing that raising the debt ceiling is a bad thing that increases the debt. And unlike 2013, they’re not arguing that they have some kind of right to demand concessions in return for releasing the world economy as a hostage. No, instead they’re arguing that Obama has to give them concessions, as some kind of immutable mathematical fact," Chait writes. "You can only try this bluff once," Chait argues. "Once the mark knows you’re bluffing, it’s over. You can’t do it again. Nobody is falling for this." Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne tweets, "A skewering: GOP voted for 'clean' debt-ceiling hikes before; now say they must always get concessions."

Molly Ball at The Atlantic asks if the Republican party needs to change. "While Democrats fixate on what they consider the GOP’s failed makeover, Republicans have moved on. The delegates at Thursday’s RNC meeting weren’t brooding over the party’s lack of reorientation. They were getting upbeat briefings about how far the party has come in the past year and how bright the future looks," Ball writes. Look at the numbers: "Without changing a thing, Republicans are very well positioned for the midterm elections this year and even for the 2016 presidential election. As the University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato recently noted, Republicans are almost guaranteed to keep the House of Representatives in November; they have about a 50-50 chance of taking the majority in the U.S. Senate; and they are likely to keep their majority of the nation’s governor’s mansions," Ball explains. "If Democrats thought 'rebranding' meant the GOP was suddenly going to embrace all of their ideas, ... they thought wrong." The Daily Kos's Greg Dworkin tweets, "You’ve shown the answer is they won’t [change], but whether they should have to is still an open question."

Ali Alfoneh and Reuel Marc Gerecht at The New Republic on Iran's foreign minister. "With the election of Hassan Rouhani, the American-educated Mohammad-Javad Zarif, who was exiled to the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s university during most of Ahmadinejad’s eight-year presidency, made a comeback. As foreign minister he now leads the Iranian delegation to the Geneva nuclear talks," Alfoneh and Gerecht, who are both senior fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, write. But "Zarif’s memoir Aqa-ye Safir: Goftegou ba Mohammad-Javad Zarif, Safir-e Pishin-e Iran dar Sazeman-e Melal-e Mottahed, or Mr. Ambassador: A Conversation with Mohammad-Javad Zarif, Iran’s Former Ambassador to the United Nations, has just been published in Tehran. ... To the extent that his book accurately reflects Zarif’s worldview and fundamental beliefs, the affable foreign minister turns out to be every bit as religiously ideological as the radicalized student activist he was in the late 1970s," the two argue. The Jewish Journal's Shmuel Rosner tweets, "Think Iran's deal-making foreign minister is a moderate? You wouldn't if you'd read his Farsi book."

Sarah Kendzior at Al Jazeera America on mainstream media. "On January 8, 2014, Emma Keller, a journalist for The Guardian, wrote a column about a woman named Lisa Bonchek Adams. Adams has stage IV breast cancer, and Keller was annoyed. Keller’s column inspired outrage among the thousands of people following Adams' Twitter account, many of them cancer patients who find solace in Adams' words. ... But the attack on Adams had only begun," Kendzior writes. "On January 12, Bill Keller, husband of Emma Keller and the former executive editor of the New York Times, wrote his own column chastising Adams for not dying more quietly." Bill Keller, the old guard columnist, was complaining about social media. And "there is a legitimate claim that digital media has given old viciousness new visibility," Kendzior admits. "But is the mainstream media any different in its biases and cruelty?" She argues, "Mainstream media cruelty is actually more dangerous, for it sanctions behaviour that, were it blogged by an unknown, would likely be written off as the irrelevant ramblings of a sociopath." Buzzfeed ideas editor Ayesha Siddiqi tweets this line: "White people debate whether race matters, rich debate whether poverty matters, and men debate whether gender matters."

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