Five Best Friday Columns

On the place of the drug qat in Yemen's protests, on the place of the Fed in the coming food crisis, and on the place of forgiveness in online scandals

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  • Michael Leeden on Berlusconi's Staying Power  In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, Leeden comments on Berlusconi's remarkable political longevity and wonders whether a sex scandal is enough to bring him down. He recalls a time in Italy when "editorialists lamented the lack of sex scandals atop their society, and even expressed bitterness that the British were the winners in the category." This is not the case so much any more: the current press more often "laments a lack of suitable morality." While Berlusconi has escaped guilty verdicts in the past, this trial guarantees to be a difficult test for the Prime Minister, as the national judiciary is "overwhelmingly leftist." That being said, "no savvy Italian is going to bet the villa on a guilty verdict," he writes.
  • Michelle Goldberg on the Media's Reactions to Nir Rosen's Lara Logan Tweets  Noting the string of recent instances in which journalists have been fired or severely castigated over various outbursts of insensitive remarks, Goldberg argues that "the media's modern panopticon has an awful way of reducing us all to the worst thing we've ever done." Journalist and NYU fellow Nir Rosen's comments that made light of Lara Logan's rape were inexcusable and disturbing, Goldberg says. She wonders, though, whether a "brief, ugly outburst" should allowed to eclipse an "often-heroic career" like Rosen's. It's hard to imagine the "volatile" writers of the past being up to the challenge of having controversial statements recorded and reproduced endlessly. "The more we live in public, the more we need to develop some sort of mercy for those who briefly let the dark parts of themselves slip out."
  • Kimberly Strassel on Boehner's Revolution Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Strassel discusses an unexpected and overdue change in the House of Representatives: true debate. Unlike the House under Rep Nancy Pelosi or Republican Tom DeLay, Strassel says John Boehner has returned to House to its mission, which is to bring bills to the floor and allow the "chaos" and "turmoil" and "uncontrolled" debate that surfaces within and across party lines to take hold. This, says Strassel, pointing to the disruption of the budget debates is "democracy." Strassel argues from the evidence of the past few days that, unlike previous Speakers, whether Republican or Democratic, Boehner is determined to have the House be a deliberative body. In other words, the era of lockstep votes and passing bills without contemplation are out. The result, Strassel says, is that with both parties are now questioning appropriations, killing off one of the late Rep John Murtha's long-supported earmarks and saving $34 million as a result, or cutting $3 billion in redundant defense spending through a remarkable bipartisan vote. "This week's exercise," says Strassel, "forced members to read the underlying spending bill; to understand the implications of hundreds of amendments; to remain on the floor for debate; and to go on record with votes for which voters will hold them accountable."
  • Jeffrey Sachs on Averting Global Food Shortages  The director of Columbia's Earth Institute argues that the cure for soaring food prices and a near-imminent food shortage is clear. The problem is that the G8's members aren't fulfilling their 2009 promise to fund agricultural progress. This failure, Sachs notes in the Financial Times, is against a backdrop that can only be described as dire: countries are expanding and their demands are growing--China's economy is about 20% larger than it was 33 years ago, India's has quadrupled since 1991, and the entire continent of Africa is "on the edge of extreme hunger." Increased food production can fix this, and agronomists have said Africa can produce more food, which would "end food security and import dependence," but to get started, it needs funding. Members of the G20 promised $22 billion for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program in 2009, but have delivered only "a pitiful $350 million." Sachs worries that, particularly among the G-8 members, the promises amount to little more than a mirage, particularly as the U.S. tangles with an "insular Republican-dominated House of Representatives," and Italy is embroiled in a "vertiginous political crisis," and France has scaled back its promises. Also, he happens to think ending the Fed's policy of quantitative easing would help, too, as the move has a tendency to mess with commodity prices.
  • Ali al-Muqri on Yemen, Struggling Against Dependence  Appearing in The New York Times in translation, the novelist discusses why Yemen's protests aren't an exact mirror of Egypt's. The first and most critical, al-Muqri says is quite simply, that Yemen is not Egypt: it is far more tribal and "could easily fall into civil war." But there's also an entirely separate component, al-Muqri notes: the place of the stimulant qat. Tribesmen supporting the current President Saleh do so partly out of bribes, which they often spend on the drug. Al-Muqri writes that one protesting blogger recently "urged his fellows to 'stop using qat for one week only, for Yemen's sake, for the sake of change and dignity.'" This was then followed by a protester saying "we will not sleep until the regime falls,' which Yemenis understand means that the protesters had foregone qat that afternoon (users tend to become lethargic after its stimulant effect wears off)." The abstinence didn't stick, but al-Muqi indicates that a fissure, no matter how slight, is developing. He merely hopes that change can occur without violence and chaos.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.