Five Best Monday Columns

Arab dictators in the spotlight, U.S. embargoes in the Congo, and respect for the elderly

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Judith Miller on Arab Dictators  With a new film on Saddam Hussein's son and a trial against Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Arab dictators are in the spotlight this week, writes Judith Miller in The Wall Street Journal. "The Devil's Double" portrays the crimes of Uday Hussein. "The film's portrayal of Uday's insatiable appetites--his torture of Iraqi Olympians who underperformed, his cocaine and alcohol binges, his habit of raping and killing brides on their wedding day--are all accurate," Miller writes. The film recalls the excesses of the regime and the totalitarian state that had intelligence agencies reporting on the people. "If ever there were a case for removing a dictator on human rights grounds alone, Saddam was it," Miller says. Mubarak's case is less clear, she argues, because "evil comes in degrees," and while Mubarak tortured critics and allowed his family to enrich themselves at the public expense, he also maintained peace with Israel, fought al Qaeda, allied himself with America, and eventually stepped down from power. Thus some have watched his humiliation with mixed feelings and sympathy for the former ruler. America, however, remains conspicuously quiet.

David Aronson on How Conflict Mineral Policies Actually Hurt the Congo  A portion of the Dodd-Frank law which requires manufacturers to ensure their mineral supply does not benefit Congolese war lords has unintentionally created an embargo around all Congolese mineral mining, writes David Aronson in The New York Times. Advocacy groups initially pushed for the provision to end "conflict minerals", but now, "no one wants to be tarred with financing African warlords... It's easier to sidestep Congo than to sort out the complexities of Congolese politics--especially when minerals are readily available from other, safer countries." Villagers in mining towns have been hit hardest. Women can no longer afford maternity clinics, children cannot afford school, and in times of famine, there is no mining income to purchase food. The warlords it is meant to target often get their funding from other industries so it has actually failed to cut them off. "Rarely do local miners, high-level traders, mining companies and civil society leaders agree on an issue. But in eastern Congo, they were unanimous in condemning Dodd-Frank," Aronson writes.

Ross Douthat on Realignment  "In 1955, a political scientist named V. O. Key published an essay entitled 'A Theory of Critical Elections,'" writes Ross Douthat in The New York Times. "He argued that realignments in American politics are usually punctuated by transformative elections, in which the old order suddenly gives way and a new majority emerges in its place." The theory fit well with the historical record, and so it caught on. Since then American politics have grown more polarized, and both sides hold on to the idea that a "dramatic realignment" is imminent. And so, rather than work together, the two sides plan for the moment where they can use a dramatic majority to follow their own policy prescriptions. "The dream of realignment has become the enemy of such compromises," Douthat says. "Better to just say 'no' flat out, as the Bush-era Democrats did with Social Security reform and the Republicans did with health care, and hope that the next election will deliver you the once-in-a-generation victory." This is what Republicans hope for in the wake of government downgrade. But the next election may be no more transformative than 2008, so in the meantime, the two parties should work on financial issues together, he says.

Sewanee Hunt on Punishing Purchasers of Prostitution  The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill "that supports the survivors, prosecutes traffickers, and holds buyers of sex accountable," writes Swanee Hunt in The Boston Globe. Police currently arrest 10 women for every 1 man, when the ratio of those engaged in illegal activity should theoretically yield 10 male arrests for every female. "Women and girls selling their bodies almost never do so freely. Poverty, abuse, and a chaotic upbringing create a context where they can't even begin to make a rational choice. The average age in which a female in the United States enters prostitution is 13. If a girl is sold to 10 men a night, six nights a week, she's statutorily raped 15,000 times by her 18th birthday, when she suddenly 'consents.'" Men interviewed say they recognize the coercion often involved and feel worse after engaging with prostitutes. Many said potential deterrents, from being put on a sex offender list to having their families notified of their arrests, would make them reconsider. Hunt doesn't think the solution to prostitution is legalizing it. "I'll leave it to others to conjecture on how we as a society could get this so wrong. The good news is that we know what to do to make it right."

Alasdair Palmer on Valuing the Elderly  Studies show few people want to live to be 100, writes Alasdair Palmer in The Guardian. This is not just because of fear that public finances will not support them, but because of a culture that does not value old people or want to care for them. "We have a general fixation on youth: movies, TV shows and advertisements are almost all populated by young, healthy-looking characters rather than the elderly," Palmer writes. We will probably never see old people as aesthetically "sexy," he cedes, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't see their age and contributions as "deserving of respect." "Today, to describe something as 'old' is to write it off as useless--and that attitude has seeped into the way that old people are viewed," he says. Unemployed people over 50 will encounter trouble getting back into the job market, since employers value young people as more adaptable and energetic. "The Government can (and should) pass laws against overtly discriminating against old people," he writes. "But that won’t be enough to change the pervasive attitude that, whenever there is a choice, youth is to be preferred to age." That will take a deliberate culture shift that, as the population ages, will become ever more necessary, he says.

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