Five Best Thursday Columns

On the shrinking Nile, political sex scandals, and interrogation deniers

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Lester Brown on How Foreign Land Grabs Threaten Egypt   "Growing water demand, driven by population growth and foreign land and water acquisitions, are straining the Nile's natural limits," writes Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute. He explains at The New York Times today that African land grabs by "affluent countries like Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China and India," to grow crops for their own countries "shrink the food supply in famine-prone African nations and anger local farmers who see their governments selling their ancestral lands to foreigner. They also pose a grave threat to Africa's newest democracy: Egypt." Brown points out that Egypt, "a nation of bread eaters," relies on the the Nile River to produce the grain for subsidized bread--"seen as an entitlement by the 60 percent or so of Egyptian families who depend on it." But because most of these land grabs take place in Ethiopia and Sudan, "which together occupy three-fourths of the Nile River Basin," little water is left over for Egypt. Not only is Egypt's population growing at a fast, and potentially unsustainable rate, but Ethiopia's and Sudan's are as well. "More water-efficient irrigation technologies ... less water intensive crops," and, from another angle but related, more "access to family planning services" are all crucial to handling this situation. African nations also need to work together to "ban land grabs."

Michael Hayden on 'Interrogation Deniers'  Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, groups "interrogation deniers, i.e., individuals who hold that the enhanced interrogation techniques used against CIA detainees have never yielded useful intelligence," with those who believe 9/11 was a Bush conspiracy and that President Obama is not a natural born American citizen. He clarifies that "this is not a discussion about the merits or the appropriateness of any interrogation technique," noting that he himself took waterboarding "off the table" when the law changed. But, he writes, "let the record show that when I was first briefed in 2007 about the brightening prospect of pursuing bin Laden through his courier network, a crucial component of the briefing was information provided by three CIA detainees, all of whom had been subjected to some form of enhanced interrogation."

Jim Tankersley Explains Yesterday's Stock Market Dive  National Journal's Jim Tankersley writes that "Wednesday's stock market dive is probably an overreaction to an admittedly ugly week of economic data" and insists that "reality is a little more positive." As we've been warned, "recoveries from financial crises can often feel like stop-and-go traffic on the freeway," and the current "stop" could be a result of "the spike in oil and food prices," the dismal housing market, recent natural disasters that "have disrupted Japan and much of America, along with global trade," government austerity, and the "possibility that the U.S. labor market is experiencing structural changes that cloud the employment picture." Also, though Wall Street isn't much discussing this possibility, the current sluggishness and instability could be connected to "the federal budget deficit, which just happens to be occupying all the economic oxygen in Washington right now." It will take a lot for all of these problems to begin to be solved, "but at least one spark may already be lit: Gas prices have fallen for three straight weeks," Tankersley points out. Though further growth this year seems likely, in the mean time, he warns, "try not to panic--or get your hopes up too far."

Joshua Green on a Conventional Palin Campaign  Joshua Green contemplates Sarah Palin's decision to "go rogue again" by "crashing" the Republican presidential race with her cross country bus tour. "If Palin wants to win, there is a strong case to be made that she's going about it all wrong--that she would be better off running a more traditional campaign," he decides at the Boston Globe. Though she's certainly drawing media attention, Green argues, "following the established course of a presumed front-runner" might counter the "erratic" impression she's given most skeptics. Instead, "as her bus zigzags between national landmarks, trailed by an army of reporters mystified about her plans and intentions, she seems more erratic than ever." Her antics, though appealing to those who already love her, are unlikely to attract new supporters. "Although the press is loath to admit it, a disciplined campaign can drive a message and thereby shape how it is covered. More than a decade on, many Americans can still recall Bush's theme of compassionate conservatism," Green points out. "Palin, too, has a message, although it has been lost amid the chaos and confusion she is stirring up."

Amanda Marcotte on the Subtle Sexism of Sex Scandals  Amanda Marcotte offers a unique take on Anthony Weiner's current twit-pic scandal at the Guardian today, arguing that "we should be skeptical of this story chiefly because it fits a larger pattern of right wing culture warriors ganging up and sexually harassing random young women after floating facetious insinuations about improper relationships between these women and Democratic politicians." Marcotte suggests that conservatives long for the "heady" days of Monica Lewinsky, when they "were able to openly indulge their hatred of a popular Democratic politician, their prurience and their love of smacking down young women who devote their energies to pursuits other than being good Christian housewives." Reviewing largely unsubstantiated claims about political affairs since, from John Kerry to Barack Obama, she concludes that they've been mostly the product of "rumor-mongers [who] looked at the women in question and deemed her hot enough." An example: "In 2006, feminist writer and activist Jessica Valenti was subject to a barrage of online harassment after blogger Ann Althouse accused her of making goo-goo eyes at former President Clinton, based on the evidence that Valenti wore a blue sweater and stood near Clinton in a group shot of a blogger lunch he hosted."  She concludes that "we can expect to see more harassment aimed at random young women who've done absolutely nothing wrong but happen to support Democrats while being attractive and female."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.