A United Nations conference in Madrid has been grappling all week with the implications of a startling demographic development -- a world where there will be more elderly people than youngsters in coming decades. The developed nations passed through that transition a few years ago, prompting today's concerns over the adequacy of social security retirement programs and of health care for the aged in the world's richest nations. But now the developing world, poorer and less prepared to cope, is heading in the same direction. By the year 2050, demographers estimate, the world as a whole will contain more people aged 60 and older than children under the age of 15. It will be one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in history. ...
Delegates to this week's World Assembly on Aging are focusing, quite rightly, on the need to reduce the overwhelming poverty that is the main threat to older people in developing nations. They need the basics: nourishing food, clean water, clothing and housing. Once those are provided, there is the problem in all societies of subsidizing health care and retirement benefits for the elderly when there are proportionately fewer workers to support them. Older people will need to remain active, healthy and economically productive, especially in poor nations with no social safety net. On the darker side, delegates are seeking ways to curtail physical, sexual and psychological abuse of the elderly, as well as the looting of their property.
But perhaps the most needed change is attitudinal. The world will have to start thinking of its older citizens less as a burden on society and more as a resource whose experience and knowledge can be tapped, for the benefit of themselves and the societies they live in.
Los Angeles Times
Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization cannot be legislated out of existence, as some members of Congress seem to be hoping. The congressional efforts, aside from being futile, could significantly harm U.S. efforts to end the bloodshed in the Mideast.
It's one thing to issue an expression of support for Israel, as in a resolution being circulated by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee and a Holocaust survivor. But Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) contemplate something reckless. Feinstein indicates that if Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's current mission fails (and who and what defines failure?), she will introduce joint legislation with McConnell that legally and financially targets Arafat and the PLO. ...
Powell, who is trying against the odds to broker a truce, would be undermined by even proposed legislation that further deepens Arab mistrust of U.S. intentions. If the legislation omits presidential authority to override the sanctions, as its previous version did, President Bush's hands would be tied.
Obviously, the Palestinians haven't lived up to the promises they made in the 1993 Oslo agreement, and no one should attempt to excuse Arafat's encouragement of suicide bombings. But treating the PLO as the outright enemy of the United States would only spur more bloodshed and dim Powell's chances.
Salt Lake Deseret News
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has halted Iraq's oil exports, and he's called on other Middle East oil producers to follow suit.
Predictably, oil prices shot up following the announcement, although much of the current unrest in the financial markets is due to oil worker strikes in Venezuela, a major supplier of U.S. oil, and to concerns that worsening Middle East violence may disrupt supplies from that region.
Iraq exports only about 4 percent of global production, with the United States as one of its best customers. The Iraqis say that about 15 percent of America's imported oil originates in Iraq, but U.S. sources say it is more like 8 percent. Regardless of the number, Iraq needs to recognize that oil is available elsewhere.
Non-OPEC nations such as Norway and Russia could boost exports to take advantage of higher prices. Saudi Arabia, the world's top exporter, said it will ensure consuming nations have enough supply to make up for losses caused by a 30-day export halt from Iraq. Meanwhile, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has opposed Iraq's oil embargo.
Iraq's decision to curtail business with the United States has greater potential to impact the Iraqi people's well-being than to substantially harm Americans. After all, Iraq's trading partners are limited, with the United States its biggest customer. ...
Most Americans are so automobile-dependent that they will, grudgingly, pay what they must at the gas pumps without changing their habits to any great degree. It remains to be seen if the Iraqi embargo will, as Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Mohammad Rasheed foresees, "have a major impact on the oil market and directly hurt the U.S. economy."
The possible impacts on the Iraqi people would be far more direct and harmful -- hunger and the spread of disease. From our perspective, it's a losing proposition for millions of innocent Iraqi people in return for little political gain.
In a bizarre op-ed essay in The Washington Post, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's longtime ambassador to the United States, asserted, "While Islamic countries should continue to focus on fighting international terrorism, confronting Israeli violence against Palestinians should be a priority." Given its history as a major bankroller of terrorism, Saudi Arabia would have other priorities if it were really interested in "fighting international terrorism."
Reading through Prince Bandar's essay, we would never know, for example, that he represents the nation called home by 15 of the 19 terrorists responsible for massacring thousands of Americans and hundreds of foreign nationals on September 11. Nor would we know from the prince's essay that Saudi Arabia is the home of Wahhabism, the fanatical brand of violence-obsessed Islam that the Saudi royal family not only embraces on the Arabian peninsula but exports throughout the world as well. Nor would we know from the prince's essay that for years Saudi petrodollars have financed thousands of madrassahs, the "schools" that have radicalized Islamic students by relentlessly preaching "jihad" -- holy war -- against Christian and Jewish "infidels." Saudi money has spread the hateful message of Wahhabism throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. In fact, the vitriol that pollutes the Saudi landscape has even found its way to Saudi-sponsored Islamic schools in Virginia. ...
The prince takes the notion of moral equivalence to its outrageous extreme. Nowhere in the essay did the Saudi ambassador even once mention the proliferation of Palestinian suicide bombers. He characterizes Israel's major -- though much belated -- military response to unremitting terrorist attacks upon its civilian population by Palestinian suicide bombers as "a terrorist Israeli operation" and "terrorist Israeli aggression." ...
No more lectures on terrorism, please, from the representative of the corrupt Saudi royal family or from other morally bankrupt Arab dictatorships, whose foreign ministers, meeting in Cairo last week, responded to President Bush's plea to "stop inciting violence by glorifying terror" with a statement that "welcomed . . . continuation of the resistance."
Gen. Pervez Musharraf has already reaped considerable benefits for Pakistan by choosing to align his government with the United States in the war on terrorism. Now he is reaching for his own reward. Rather than return power to an elected parliament and president, Mr. Musharraf announced last week that he will hold a referendum April 30 on extending his own term in office. After overthrowing Pakistan's last democratic government in a 1999 coup, Mr. Musharraf promised the country's supreme court that he would hold new parliamentary elections by this October. He says he will keep that commitment; but by the time the elections are held, the general clearly intends to have preempted the selection of a new president -- which under the constitution is the prerogative of parliament and regional assemblies -- and to have introduced other unspecified reforms allowing him to control the civilian government. This bold move is opposed overwhelmingly by Pakistan's educated elite -- political parties, media and other civil institutions -- and it's unlikely the general would be attempting it unless he believed he had earned the indulgence of a grateful Washington. That's why the Bush administration should tell Mr. Musharraf he is wrong.
So far the administration has dodged the issue. ...
No doubt some Bush administration officials would like to perpetuate a relationship with Pakistan that allows the United States to do business with a single, relatively cooperative general. But a likely outcome of the referendum initiative is a weakened leader who will be mired in power struggles with the civilian politicians elected in October. The administration can do a service for both itself and Mr. Musharraf by urging him to negotiate any changes in the political system with the political parties, rather than dictating reforms. If he is really "required" for Pakistan, Mr. Musharraf should be able to work within a legitimate democratic system. If he is unwilling to do that, continued U.S. support for his rule would be a mistake.
(Compiled by United Press International)