Five Best Friday Columns

Somalian famine, Amazon tax dodges, and the decline of the West

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Ban Ki-Moon Urges Action on Somalian Famine  The United Nations declared famine in Somalia and across the region Wednesday, writes U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in the Los Angeles Times, and now the international community must act. "This is a wake-up call we cannot ignore," he writes. "Every day I hear the harrowing reports from our U.N. teams on the ground. Somali refugees, their cattle and goats dead from thirst, walking for weeks to find help in Kenya and Ethiopia. Children who arrive alone, terrified and malnourished, their parents dead, in a foreign land." Ban estimates that $1.6 billion of aid will be needed and he urges readers to answer his call either by donating individually or urging lawmakers to respond. Additionally, the international community must also address underlying causes such as climate change and conflict that lead to famine, he writes, with projects like drought-resistant seeds and improved prediction and warning systems.

President Obama on a Balanced Approach  The United States has too much debt, writes President Barack Obama in USA Today, "debt that will ultimately weaken our economy, lead to higher interest rates for all Americans, and leave us unable to invest in things like education, or protect vital programs like Medicare." Obama says he is willing to "cut historic amounts of spending" in areas both wasteful and useful. "[S]ome of the cuts would target worthwhile programs that do a lot of good for our country," he writes. "They're cuts that some people in my own party aren't too happy about, and frankly, I wouldn't make them if we didn't have so much debt." Obama says these cuts must be paired with increased contributions from wealthy individuals and corporations. "Before we ask seniors to pay more for Medicare, we should ask people like me to give up tax breaks they don't need and never asked for," he says. He concludes with a call for bipartisanship, writing, "a balanced deficit deal that includes some new revenues isn't just a Democratic position. It's a position that has been taken by everyone from Warren Buffett to Bill O'Reilly."

Margaret Hoover on Drawing Youth to the Republican Party  Republican candidates could imitate their idol, Reagan, a little more closely when it comes to courting young voters, Hoover argues. She points out in The Wall Street Journal that "millenials," voters who came of age after 2000, overwhelmingly voted for Democratic presidential nominees in the past two elections. "Reagan brought an entire generation to the Republican Party in 1980, and in 1984 he won the youth vote by 20%," Hoover writes. "To have any chance at winning young Americans over in 2012, Republicans must understand what makes millennials tick." Young voters are disproportionately affected by the recession, with high unemployment and the prospect of paying for current deficit spending down the road. Second, millenials did not vote for Obama as "an endorsement of big-government liberalism" but because of personality and "Republican brand damage." And lastly, millenials are also the "least traditional" American generation yet. Republicans should focus less on social issues like same-sex marriage--which young people overwhelmingly support--and more on Obama's record on jobs and the economy. Republicans "have a golden opportunity to win back millennials by articulating positive and pragmatic solutions to issues that affect them--starting with job creation, spending reform, entitlement reform and education reform," she writes.

Philip Stephens on the West's Decline  Philip Stephens seeks patterns in the "twin crises" of European sovereign debt and American budget deficits in the Financial Times. His question is whether this is a "spasm" or whether the western system of liberal democracy is in a downward spiral. "The pessimistic case starts with the financial crash of 2008," he writes. "As the US and Europe tumbled into recession, it was left to the likes of China, India and Brazil to avert a slump. The psychological impact was profound." This loss of faith in the developing world has only increased with the "paralysis" and "prevarication" in Washington and Berlin this month. But, he writes, leadership and strong solutions to these two problems could mean this is will be merely a "spasm" in the west's prestige. Both America and Europe have advantages. "There is nothing preordained about American decline. It is the world's wealthiest country. Others may be catching up, but the US has huge advantages--technological, educational and cultural. Liberal democracy confronts a dangerous gridlock in Washington. It also supplies the ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurialism ... The west still has a choice."

Los Angeles Times on Amazon's Tax Breaks  Amazon has complained that it would be too difficult for them to apply different states' sales taxes at online checkout, writes the Los Angeles Times editorial board. Their continued attempt to convince Californians that the site should not have to deal with the sales tax itself is "the latest in a line of corporate attempts to swindle California voters into boosting their businesses at the expense of others." Amazon is currently challenging the sales tax in court, and "that's the right place for a constitutional challenge," say the editors. But "in the meantime, it is asking California voters to use their ballots to sustain its business advantage. That's a move that even Californians who have gotten used to (and gotten away with) not paying their taxes on Internet purchases ought to reject."

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