Five Best Thursday Columns

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Nicholas Kristof on global family planning Better funded family planning, currently "a victim of America's religious wars," could be a solution to global problems like climate change, poverty, and civil war, writes Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. The United Nations estimates the world population passed 7 billion this month, and it predicts the world will hold 9.3 billion by the year 2050. Rapidly growing youth populations contribute to unrest and terrorism, to global poverty, and to environmental damage. "Moreover, we've seen that family planning works. Women in India average 2.6 children, down from 6 in 1950." Yet "[w]omen in Afghanistan, Chad, Congo, Somalia, East Timor and Uganda all have six or more children each." In parts of Africa, women haven't heard of birth control. But to solve the problem we need more than contraceptives. We need education and equal rights for women. We also need more research to improve contraceptive options. "One breakthrough is an inexpensive vaginal ring that releases hormones, lasts a year and should not require a doctor." Family planning used to be bipartisan, but "overzealous and coercive programs in China and India" got it wrapped up in the abortion debate. Reductions in family planning funding, though, increase the number of abortions. "When contraception is unavailable, the likely consequence is not less sex, but more pregnancy." Republicans have sought to cut global family planning funding as well as programs in the United States. But U.S. family planning centers probably save tax payers money they'd be spending on more pregnancies and babies. Thankfully, at least one group of Evangelical Christians has supported family planning recently, noting that it "reduces abortion and lives lost in childbirth." Indeed, Kristof says, "We should all be able to agree on voluntary family planning as a cost-effective strategy to reduce poverty, conflict and environmental damage." 

Jeff Greene on thanking the 99 percent Occupy Wall Street should remind us of a 1960s protest not because of the hippie-ish "look and feel" but because, as in the 1960s, the protesters "are mainly educated, middle-class and completely sincere," writes investor and former Senate candidate Jeff Greene in The Wall Street Journal. The positive outcome of 1960s protests was the political awakening of  a young middle class frustrated that Washington wasn't including them in decisions that affected them. In the 60s, many protesters couldn't "have voiced a detailed critique of the war. At Zuccotti Park, I found that no one could offer me a coherent explanation of why they hated Wall Street," he notes. But all of them were anxious about a trend that they feel presents all but the richest Americans with increasingly fewer opportunities. Many of them are upset because they've tried to make good life choices by going to college, and yet they remain in debt and unemployed. "While individual protesters may not have the data at their fingertips, many of us in the 1% do, and much of it supports their case." Americans tend to spend as much as a third of our income on housing, reserving just 2 percent for education. That's the opposite of the numbers in some Asian countries, where 15 percent of income is spent on childrens' education. Our government's reward for home ownership and mortgages, and our city planning that emphasizes cars in part assures that we'll expend our money this way. Yet the future of our economy depends not on lessening our short-term expenses, but on investing in our long-term competitiveness. For politicians and families alike, the question should be, "Do your policies reward and encourage investment in education for the long term or consumption in the moment?" Occupy Wall Street protesters are pointing out our lack of long-term solutions for a dangerous trend, and we should thank them for it, he says.

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Andrew Cockburn on targeted assassinations With the death of Osama bin Laden, Anwar Awlaki, and other Taliban commanders, America's tax payer funded assassinations have had "a banner year," writes Andrew Cockburn in the Los Angeles Times. "Once upon a time, U.S. officials used to claim that we were merely targeting 'command and control centers,' rather than specific individuals," he writes. "Nowadays no one bothers to pretend." We now pursue "high value targets" because we've judged it to be an effective tactic. Yet now that we admit it as our strategy, we should debate that conclusion, he says. During the Iraqi surge campaign, we sought to kill individuals who "were organizing homemade bomb attacks against U.S. troops" as part of an "IED network." Yet Rex Rivolo, a military intelligence analyst, studied 200 incidences in which we'd taken out the leader of an IED network, and found that IED attacks increased sharply in the area of operation just after an attack. That's because leaders were usually quickly replaced by a hard-working successor, who would seek to prove himself in his first weeks on the job. "Rivolo's study, so far as I am aware, was the only time that anyone with access to relevant data had looked at the consequences of our principal national security strategy in a systematic way." Still, we have exported the strategy to Afghanistan, and some say the new group of Taliban commanders replacing our old targets are even more dangerous and less willing to talk with us. Given that, we should take a harder look at a strategy that might be hurting us in the long run.

Joshua Green on Romney's chances in Iowa "The race for the Republican presidential nomination is looking a lot less competitive than it once did," writes Joshua Green in The Boston Globe, except in Iowa, where Mitt Romney hasn't really competed. As Iowa flirted with extreme candidates like Michele Bachmann this year, the state's "place as a springboard to the nomination -- think Barack Obama -- seemed in jeopardy." Now, though, Romney is tied in polls there for first place, probably because most candidates more favorable to the Tea Party have already flopped. This could be good for Romney since a win in Iowa and then New Hampshire would make his case look even stronger. "But the strategy of avoiding Iowa and taking a longer view looks no worse than it did six months ago, and changing tack now could wind up hurting him," Green says. True, Iowa could launch a serious competitor (most likely Rick Perry) but Romney's odds of winning in Iowa are probably lower than they appear. For years, Romney's support among Iowa Republicans has hovered around 25 percent. Even in 2008 when he committed much more time and money there, he took about 26 percent in the caucus, so while it seems his supporters have stuck with him, it doesn't appear that an increased effort would help his numbers. "Of all the scenarios before Romney, his attempting to win Iowa and failing is surely the worst one, since it would shatter the aura of inevitability that has slowly begun to gather round him." It could remind voters of his unmet expectations in 2008, or as Iowa did in 2008 with Barack Obama, it could "anoint a king-slayer." Romney's strategy so far has been to "outlast his opponents" and he shouldn't stop taking the long view now. "He could probably prevail even if Perry or someone else wins Iowa, so long as the victory isn’t seen as a triumph over Romney." 

Dana Milbank on Herman Cain's spiraling campaign Herman Cain "has done just about everything wrong since news broke Sunday night that his former employer had paid two women to settle sexual harassment complaints against him," writes Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. First he denied it, then said he couldn't remember details, then he remembered details, then he blamed his opponents, racism, and the media. At a campaign stop in Alexandria, Virginia recently, "the scene quickly escalated into violence." As reporters asked him questions about the story, he attempted to break through the pack, shouting "Excuse me. Excuse me! EXCUSE ME!" Then his bodyguard started shoving reporters and cameramen. Of course, fighting with reporters will probably only endear him to Iowa voters. "But Cain’s loss of control is a reminder of why he's never going to be president," Milbank says. Cain's run was supposed to be "a gambit to increase speaking fees and book sales, perhaps to gain him a gig on cable news." He used to get the joke, drinking during public appearances, calling female interviewers "sweetheart," and embracing his own quirks. The campaign was also founded on "the preposterous premise" that someone who once headed a Washington trade group could run as a Washington outsider. "He would claim that running for president 'didn't start as a consideration until after President Obama took office' -- even though Cain ran for president once before, in 2000." Now though, Cain doesn't seem to be having any fun. At another event on Capitol Hill, another mob of reporters awaited him. "'Can you tell us why you lost your temper this morning?' Fox News's Chad Pergram asked, as Cain and his entourage walked through the hall." Cain ignored them, allowing his bodyguard to keep shoving them out of the room. "When challenged, the bodyguard explained himself: 'I make the rules.' Not anymore," writes Milbank.

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