Thursday, January 15, 2004

Here are a few articles that have caught my attention recently...

-ETHIOPIA: Bumper harvest but food aid still needed. The UN's IRIN service notes perversely the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also noted that the 13 million tonne bumper harvest of cereals and pulses raised fears that crop prices could collapse, thereby adversely affecting rural farmers. It added that providing farmers with seeds and fertiliser had helped boost the harvest, but that action to stabilise prices being affected by oversupply was now vital. The FAO accordingly called on the international community to use "local purchase as the main tool for securing cereals and pulses for food aid programmes" as a means of forestalling a collapse in prices.

-A great column in The New York Times wondered about The God Gulf in America. The columnist predicted So expect Republicans to wage religious warfare by trotting out God as the new elephant in the race, and some Democrats to respond with hypocrisy, by affecting deep religious convictions. This campaign could end up as a tug of war over Jesus. And then pointed out how a christmas card by Vice-President Cheney quoted Benjamin Franklin out of context to "demonstrate" God's support for the American empire.

-The Atlantic Monthly ran a review of a biography of H.L. Mencken, the American journalist. I was reminded of Ralph Nader's comment that American schools "teach students to believe rather than to think" when reading this quote attributed to Mencken concerning the newspapers of his time (early 20th century). "It is hard for the plain people to think about a thing, but easy for them to feel. Error, to hold their attention, must be visualized as a villain, and the villain must proceed swiftly to his inevitable retribution. They can understand that process; it is simple, usual, satisfying; it squares with their primitive conception of justice as a form of revenge...." The more things change...

-Howard Dean's candidacy is compared by Republicans and pouting Democratic establishment types to Sen. George McGovern's ill-fated 1972 run. It's instructive, incidentally, that the 1972 vote was the only election in history in which both winners resigned as a result of corruption and abuse of power scandals. Anyway, I've said that Dean's insurgency could be compared to 1972, but it could also evoke another campaign. This other candidate mobilized the rank and file against what he portrayed as the compalency of the party establishment. This other candidate was criticized as reckless and inexperienced by his opponents. This other candidate was "unelectable" and "sure to go down to a landslide" to the incumbent just like [another of the party's candidates some years before]. A columnist for The Christian Science Monitor also sees parallels to Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign. Although diminishing, the voters still have a small say in who is and isn't "electable." Though Ariana Huffington thinks the appropriate analogy for Dean is to Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 effort. [For those not aware, Reagan was compared to Barry Goldwater who lost in a landslide in 1964 to Lyndon Johnson]

-The same paper carries a piece on Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council member. This key supporter of regime change in Iraq, now says White House engaged in "creative omissions' about WMD. While agreeing with the strategic aims of the invasion, Pollack said that the Bush administration's "justifications and explanations for war were at best faulty, at worst deliberately misleading." ran an essay entitled Winning the battle against terror, losing the war of ideas, which began The Bush administration is good at bombing terrorists back to the Stone Age, but terrible at bringing Arabs and Muslims into the modern age.

-A BBC analyst wonders Is the US Army big enough? In the Pentagon, nobody now disputes that the US Army is really stretched at the moment. The latest evidence of this are the new plans to tell thousands of troops that they must put retirement plans on hold, and big new financial inducements the US Army is offering troops to re-enlist. Now, I've heard it reported (and I wish I had retained the source) that the US alone accounts for 50% of all defense spending in the entire world. So if one nation spends as much on defense as the other 200 countries in the world PUT TOGETHER and the one nation's army is still stretched too thin because that country still feels menaced, then, regardless of one's political stripe, then a serious and comprehensive re-think of foreign and defense policy must be in order.

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