Five Best Thursday Columns

On the end of NATO, the Army's liberal ethos, and the cost of urban farming

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Nicholas Kristof on the U.S. Army Model of Liberalism  New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof suggests that in solving our economic crisis we should perhaps look not to the business sector for an example of efficiency or even to Sweden but, instead, to the United States Military. "When our armed forces are not firing missiles, they live by an astonishingly liberal ethos--and it works," Kristof explains. "The military helped lead the way in racial desegregation, and even today it does more to provide equal opportunity to working-class families--especially to blacks-- than just about any social program. It has been an escalator of social mobility in American society because it invests in soldiers and gives them skills and opportunities." Despite the hierarchy, cameraderie within and between the military's ranks is strong because its members know they are being taken care of. "This is a rare enclave of single-payer universal health care, and it continues with a veterans' health care system that has much lower costs than the American system as a whole." Kristof does recognize the oddness in seeking "a model of compassion in an organization whose mission involves killing people ... [and is] often unwelcoming to gays and lesbians and is conflicted about women as well." Still, in trying to solve our economic problems, "the tendency has been to move toward a corporatist model that sees investments in people as woolly-minded sentimentalism or as unaffordable luxuries." He argues that "that's not the only model out there."

Peter Moskos on Bringing Flogging Back "America has a prison problem," Peter Moskos declares in today's Washington Post. "Never in the history of the world has a country locked up so many of its people." According to Moskos, this problem is "mostly due to longer and mandatory sentences combined with an idiotic war on drugs." Moskos offers a solution that would doubtless delight Foucault: "Bring back the lash. Give convicts the choice of flogging in lieu of incarceration," he suggests. The first penitentiary was created as an alternative to flogging. "The idea was that penitentiaries would heal the criminally ill just as hospitals cured the physically sick," Moskos explains. "It didn't work." Incarceration, he argues, often encourages crime and "destroys families and jobs...To break the cycle of crime, people need help. And they would need less help if they were never incarcerated in the first place." He insists that flogging "is honest, cheap and, compared to prison, humane." The criminal justice professor notes that while some question whether flogging is humane, others say it isn't adequate punishment. But, he argues, "if flogging shouldn't be offered because it's too soft--if we need to keep people locked up precisely because overcrowded jails and prisons are so unbelievably horrific--then perhaps we need to question our humanity."
Daniel Henninger on Rick Perry for President The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger predicts that, despite "professing no interest in running for the presidency" up until now, Rick Perry will join the 2012 race. Not only does he have his wife's approval, but he would bring three things to "what is now a slow dance ...Texas, Texas and the Tenth Amendment." In addition to being an animated speaker, says Henninger, Perry brings with him Texas's economic boom, incouraging businesses to move there from "intolerable hells, such as California." The Texas "movement," Henninger explains, is built around the argument that "in economic terms ... the nation will grow more if we have 50 states competing with each other rather than competing to survive in Washington." The Journal writer admits that "a person who's been governor of Texas awhile has baggage," noting his recent "pre-abortion sonogram requirement," the "millions in subsidies [he pays] to lure corporations," and his state's penchant for the death penalty. Still, he guarantees, "if the Texas governor gets in, you won't see another debate like last Tuesday's GOP flatliner in New Hampshire."
Adrian Hamilton on the End of NATO Adrian Hamilton questions whether Libya could be "the straw that breaks [NATO's] back," suggesting in today's Independent that Robert Gates' speech to NATO in Brussels last week gave "the clear indication that the U.S. itself is beginning to tire of shouldering the burden." Despite European leaders' refusal to acknowledge NATO's death, "the transatlantic partnership, in so far as it was a military alliance based on the mutual self-interest, has reached the end of its shelf life," Hamilton writes. "Attempts to give it new meaning as an arm of U.S. post-Cold War policy and as a global intervention force have proved expensive and divisive." It is clear that "Washington will no doubt try to keep up its obscenely large military expenditure (the equivalent of the budgets of all its allies put together), if only in response to China's rising spending. But--and President Obama's recent speeches reflect this--America is turning away from the idea of working through alliances towards taking care of the threats it sees as directed towards itself." Now more than ever, "it is really up to the Europeans to organise their own defence now for a new era."
Edward Glaeser on the Costs of Urban Farming  "There are many good reasons to like local food, but any large-scale metropolitan farming will do more harm than good to the environment," writes Edward Glaeser at the Boston Globe today. Glaeser insists that he is a proponent of growing one's own food, but realistically points out that "farm land within a metropolitan area decreases density levels and pushes us apart, and carbon emissions rise dramatically as density falls." He explains that there are actually benefits to shipping food from states that are better suited for farming than wasting energy trying to grow food in states that aren't. "But the most important environmental cost of metropolitan agriculture is that lower density levels mean more driving," he argues. "When densities drops in half, holding fixed location within the metropolitan area, households buy about 107 gallons more gas per year." To put this in perspective, he calculates that "if just a twentieth of an acre of metropolitan farm land per person could (implausibly) eliminate half of food delivery emissions, this would typically be associated with 41 more gallons of gas per household. Those driving-related greenhouse gas increases would be 2.4 times higher than the emissions savings from reduced food transport." Glaeser concludes that "shipping food is just far less energy intensive than moving people. If the First Lady wants to help the environment, she should campaign for high rise apartments, rather than plant vegetables."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.