Five Best Friday Columns

On famine, military spending, and Elizabeth Warren

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William Moseley on the Underlying Causes of Famine  Citing only drought and political conflict in Somalia as the causes for the famine that threatens over 12 million in the Horn of Africa is "deeply flawed," writes Macalester African studies professor William Moseley in The Washington Post. Droughts come and go in Africa. Many people earn their living in the Horn of Africa through herding. Expansion of farm land, including land leases to foreign governments limits the range of herders and makes them more susceptible to drought. Additionally, farmers once stored surplus grain to use in years of drought but market economies have encouraged farmers to grow cash crops and abandon this strategy. "While the nations of the world must act immediately to address the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, working to ensure prompt delivery and distribution of food aid," he writes, "these same countries must also consider the underlying causes of the crisis as they seek longer-term solutions." USAID has suggested addressing the problem with improved seeds and fertilizers, but Moseley says this strategy is out of reach for the poorest farmers, and instead, suggests a return to more traditional practices. Food prices are likely to remain too high for Africans to depend on importing their grain, making the traditional farming techniques a better solution, he says.

George Melloan on Trimming Military Spending  George Melloan begins by criticizing many of President Obama's major foreign policy decisions, from his announced timetable for leaving Afghanistan to his "unpersuasive threats" toward Iran in a Wall Street Journal column. "Fearful that the president's uncertain trumpet will embolden enemies and distance friends, [foreign policy hawks] deplore the planned troop drawdown in Afghanistan and other measures to reduce the U.S. military's forward presence." But Melloan notes that the U.S. budget is stretched and in such times, politicians tend to prefer cutting defense spending to entitlements, which are politically popular. "Certainly the U.S. could pursue its foreign policy objectives at far less cost than it does now," he says. "Government is inherently wasteful. Yet even as we cut fat, it is important to rethink how we use the muscle that remains." Americans should choose to do their work in unconventional ways, as in the initial phase of Afghanistan when they depended on dissident northern tribes to help them overthrow the Taliban. "Nation building" need not involve massive troop deployments. Melloan also suggests cutting foreign aid that often goes to troubled political leaders. "If the U.S. is to survive the coming budget crisis without severe damage to its political influence in the world," he writes,  "it will need a smarter foreign policy."

Robert Kuttner on Elizabeth Warren  Critics of Elizabeth Warren have labeled her "'smug,' 'arrogant,' 'entitled,' and worst of all, 'liberal,'" says Robert Kuttner, editor of The American Prospect, in The Boston Globe. These are thin criticisms that Kuttner says show many fear Warren would in fact be a strong candidate in the race against Scott Brown for his Massachusetts Senate seat. Warren's job as a bankruptcy lawyer prepared her to be politically effective in her role as head of the Congressional Oversight Panel during the 2008 bank bailouts. "To Warren, failed large banks should be put through a bankruptcy, so they can emerge with clean balance sheets and new management, to serve the rest of the economy rather than hiding their own sorry state," Kuttner writes. Treasury Secretary Geithner disagreed and eventually won out in the debate over the fate of Bank of America and Citigroup. "She was the one senior dissenter who got to speak directly to the president. That balancing act suggests exceptional political skills," Kuttner argues. Warren fought for the creation of a consumer financial protection agency, and was eventually passed over for the job leading it. Still, Warren would make a good candidate, Kuttner concludes: she has become a hero to liberals, she will have financial and volunteer support, and she has a compelling personal story.

Timothy Egan on Breivek's Movement  When Glen Beck compared the camp where Anders Breivek killed 68 Norweigans to the "Hitler Youth," he went almost unnoticed. "But Beck's Web site, The Blaze, was full of justifications for the mass murder of innocents, and provided a sampling of the troubled audience he caters to in this country," warns Timothy Egan in The New York Times. "I really feel for the guy," Egan quotes a commenter saying. "'He loves his country so much that to see his own culture eroded away by multicultures that the govt is letting in, drove him to this heinous act.' There were many, many more, of a similar vein. 'You gotta like the guy,' another person wrote. 'He speaks the truth' and has the mettle 'to prove it.'" When people learned that the Norway attack was perpetrated by a white Christian, they portrayed him as an isolated case. Egan, however, links Breivek to Beck's commenters, Pat Buchanan, and other anti-immigration groups in Europe as part of "a larger narrative." These comments should neither be ignored nor silenced. Rather, Egan says Europe should prepare itself for a "cultural struggle," and he applauds Norway's prime minister for suggesting he will fight back "with more democracy."

Jeanne McManus on Washington Sausage-Making  Jeanne McManus is fed up with watching the "sausage making" as Washington displays its inability to put together an agreement on the debt ceiling. "Put aside for a moment the fact that they can’t get the job done. Do they know how bad they look while they’re not getting it done? Do they watch their own reruns as they sprint from microphone to microphone, photo op to photo op? What is the point of hammering heads to get a House bill that's got no chance in the Senate? What is the twisted logic of dooming a House bill to death in the Senate before it has even arrived?" she asks in The Washington Post. "Let us appeal to their vanity." Extending the sausage-making metaphor, she paints a grotesque image of the lawmakers with aprons smeared with animal byproduct, "chunks and slabs of meat" before them. "Who won, who lost, who knows, who cares? Get it done and get it on the table."

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