EDITORIAL: The high price of diverting food into energy
The world's food situation is bleak, and shortsighted policies in the United States and other wealthy countries - which are diverting crops to environmentally dubious biofuels - bear much of the blame.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the price of wheat is more than 80 percent higher than a year ago, and corn prices are up by a quarter. Global cereal stocks have fallen to their lowest level since 1982.
As usual, the brunt is falling disproportionately on the poor. The FAO estimates that the cereal import bill of the neediest countries will increase by a third for the second year in a row. Prices have gone so high that the World Food Program, which aims to feed 73 million people this year, said it might have to reduce rations or the number of people it will help.
The U.S. Congress and the governments of other developed countries must take a hard look at the effect of corn ethanol on food supplies. They must move toward ending subsidies that will become even more difficult to justify as oil prices rise and the costs of producing corn ethanol decline. They must do it before hunger turns to mass starvation.
LETTERS: Africa and organic farming
The article by Robert Paarlberg, "Africa's organic farms" (Views, March 1) argues that when elite urbanites in rich countries turned away from science-based farming in the 1980s, the result was a reduction of development assistance for agricultural programs in developing countries.
Indeed that is true, but Paarlberg neglects to mention another important factor: The world's governing institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund started pursuing neoliberal policies that had a strong and strict agenda of rolling back the state.
This led to the diversion of donor funds away from agricultural assistance programs and extension services, as well as subsidies for farmers and farming produce in poor countries.
The underlying tenets of neoliberalism also lead to the neglect of the study of the agricultural sector.
Many mainstream development economists hoped that, as if by some magic, Africa's agricultural based economies would transform themselves into industrial countries. Well, the market did not provide these miracles or this magic.
The challenge to development organizations, and to the field of mainstream economics, is to find a way of placing agriculture at the heart of their development programs and policies.
Such a change, however, might require a lot of mainstream economists to eat a lot of humble pie.
I wouldn't mind if the pie was organic or otherwise, as long as they eat it.
Samah El-Shahat, London
In Germany, a new eating class emerges
A Strammer Max is a traditional ham-and-egg sandwich that typically drips with grease. But the diner who pays €159, or about $240, for the full treatment at Amador's eponymous restaurant gets to slurp a few drops of pork fat and smoked oil from a tiny plastic tube, and then follow it with a quail egg swaddled in paper-thin dough.
"We have more and more people in Germany who know what they are doing when it comes to eating," said Gunther Hirschfelder, a professor at the University of Bonn. "But the other side of this societal development is that we have a growing underclass that is detached from the phenomenon. We don't have a single eating culture in Germany, we have a divergence of cultures."
Crews battled fires early Monday at four multimillion-dollar show homes in a suburb north of Seattle, and a sign with the initials of a radical environmental group was found at the scene, an official said.
The sign, which had the initials of the Earth Liberation Front, mocked claims that the luxury homes on the "Street of Dreams" were environmentally friendly, according to television video images of the sign. "Built Green? Nope black!" the sign said.
NEW YORK: The torture of turning everything off
As a baby boomer, I knew mine was no unique thought [was I just one of those Americans who have developed the latest in American problems, Internet addiction disorder?] . We have always been part of some trend or other. And sure enough, as soon as I started looking I found others who felt the need to turn off, to take a stab at reconnecting to things real rather than virtual, a moderate but carefully observed vacation from ubiquitous marketing and the awesome burden of staying in touch.
Nor is this surprising, said Dr. David Levy, a professor in the information school at the University of Washington. "What's going on now is insane," he said, assuring me that he used the term intentionally. "Living a good life requires a kind of balance, a bit of quiet. There are questions about the limits of the brain and the body, and there are parallels here to the environmental movement." Levy coined the term "information environmentalism."
"Who," he then asked, "would say you don't need time to think, to reflect, to be successful and productive?"
Dozens of hooded attackers fired buckshot and nails at police this weekend, wounding four officers, France's interior minister said.
Michele Alliot-Marie called the Sunday afternoon attack an "ambush," saying that about 30 people, some of them armed, were waiting for the officers in the southern Paris suburb of Grigny. The officers were responding to a call about vandalism at a local bakery.
Three officers were hit in face with buckshot; another was hit in the leg with buckshot and nails and was hospitalized, Sunday's statement said.
"I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us," said Sara Sami, a high school student in Basra. "Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don't deserve to be rulers."
Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, said: "The religion men are liars. Young people don't believe them. Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore."
Chapman said BBC Arabic TV would distinguish itself through its editorial independence, as well as with a broader approach to world events.
"In the case of Al-Hurra, it's an American perspective," he said. "In the case of France 24, it's a French perspective. In the case of BBC Arabic Television, it's an international perspective."
Oil futures touched $103.95 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, topping the record set in April 1980 of $39.50 a barrel, a level that would translate to $103.76 a barrel at current values.
"When investors lose confidence in the central bank, they tend to look for hard assets," Philip Verleger, an independent economist and oil expert, said. "The Fed's capitulation on inflation is driving investors to commodities. The problem is there are no sellers. This means futures prices will keep rising."
INSIDE THE MARKETS
NEW YORK: Bottom of subprime crisis not yet reached, study suggests
Meredith Whitney, an analyst with Oppenheimer, whose prescient call about the scale of subprime problems facing Citigroup led to a worldwide sell-off of banking stocks, said the U.S. bank sector was headed for a credit cycle that will be "the worst in generations."
The scenario includes widespread defaults on subprime mortgages and a range of other debts and a national homes market, which is in its worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, she added.
There is more to come. The banks face big loan losses - "far more dramatic" than most bank executives and ratings agencies have forecast, said Whitney of Oppenheimer.
A breakup of the flagship Swiss bank UBS is moving closer, as the likelihood of multibillion-dollar write-downs increases in tandem with deepening problems in the credit markets.
UNITED NATIONS, New York
In Vienna on Monday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that newly disclosed intelligence reports that Iran secretly researched how to make nuclear weapons were of "serious concern" and would be pursued by his office.
"Iran continues to maintain that these alleged weaponization studies related to conventional weapons only are fabricated," ElBaradei said in a speech to the agency's 35-country policy-making body. "However, a full-fledged examination of this issue has yet to take place."
The studies were described Feb. 25, in a briefing for the governing body by Olli Heinonen, the agency's senior inspector.
They included sketches and a video that appeared to have come from Iran's own military laboratories, and Heinonen said they showed work "not consistent with any application other than the development of a nuclear weapon."
In another sign of underlying tension, a sniper attack Monday targeted an office gathering of different ethnic groups in the northern, Serb-controlled part of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica.
Two bullets were fired at the offices, which operate on a grant from the Belgian government. No one was hurt. Wim Peeters, Belgium's top diplomat in Kosovo, condemned the attack as "a cowardly and shameful act."
As some chanted "We Need Another Russia!" the police stormed through the crowd, tackling people and dragging them away, their arms wrenched behind their backs or their shirts half torn off.
The crushing display of police force was a signal that the authorities would allow no mass dissent or independent opposition as the Kremlin celebrated Medvedev's victory.
"Fifteen years ago I wouldn't have thought that my children would be growing up in a country that reminds me so much of the Soviet Union," said Alexander Ivanov, 48.
COMMENTARY: Pyongyang overture (Jacoby)
A few years ago, Maazel composed an opera based on George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four." It was an experience, he says, that sensitized him to the horrors of tyranny - "brutal torture, systematic injustice, contempt for any human dignity."
Where was the evidence of that sensitivity during last week's trip to North Korea? Defending the decision to visit one of the planet's most horrendous slave states, Maazel had insisted that "human rights are an issue of profound relevance to us all." But not profound enough, apparently, for Maazel to actually defend them in the presence of North Korea's jailers.
By now, the adults among us have learned where that kind of false logic can lead: sometimes to the Beatles, but more often to the Hitler Youth, to the young warriors of the Cultural Revolution, and to the drug-addled hippies of the 60s.
The young do not possess some special grace.
"Better half a loaf than no bread," Odinga said of a power-sharing agreement struck on Thursday that marries his political party to that of his rivals in the Kenyan government.
"One of the guards with me was on the ground a few feet away and was bleeding badly," Abdullah said, weeping. "He died later. I even saw people burning inside their trucks and asking for help. But nobody could reach them."
"What we learned from Hezbollah," he said, "is that resistance is a choice that can work."
"She's walking into a buzz saw," said Aaron David Miller, author of "The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace."
"You cannot make peace with half of the Palestinian polity and go to war with the other half," he said.
Conspiracy theories will always remain about death of Diana
The mockery of Fayed could also backfire, at least in some quarters.
"Who was this man, it was implied, to speak of our royal family as Draculas who would never accept his son? Silent answer: an Arab with an excitability that belongs to that alien part of the world. And there was class: in all the references to the billions al-Fayed has spent lurked disdain for a shopkeeper made good."