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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

December 24, 2014

Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:


Dec. 18

Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News on economy being terrorist enemy:

What’s a terrorist state to do? Living was so easy in the early days when the Iraqi army cut and ran and the coffers were overflowing with illicit donations. Now people want the trains to run on time and there’s nothing but headaches.

Yes, the Islamic State’s leaders are finding that it’s a lot easier to blow things up and cut people’s heads off than it is to actually govern a conquered region. A country actually needs a functioning economy, and the Islamic State is discovering that the hard way.

When the extremists, flush with cash, first settled into their new digs, people loved them. It’s easy to buy adulation with subsidized prices that make fuel and staples cheaper. But American airstrikes are making supplies harder to come by. That naturally leads to a flourishing black market, and there are no subsidies or price controls on illicit trade.

“We are not able to pay for cooking gas, kerosene and food,” said a 56-year-old government retiree living in occupied Mosul. “The situation in Mosul is miserable.”

The reason is quite simple. The extremists have created an economy that is unsustainable, said Paul Sullivan, an expert on Middle East economies at the National Defense University in Washington. Smuggled oil sold at well below market value is a big part of that economy.

“Eventually, the costs of keeping the subsidies and price controls going will overpower their smuggling funds, which are also used for offensive and defensive operations,” Sullivan said.

The economic turmoil is a tangible sign that American attacks are having an impact. It’s one thing to field an army of insurgents and keep them fed and equipped. It’s another thing to support an entire society and all of its basic needs, like food, clean water, sanitation and electricity.

Keeping the pressure on the Islamic State will make life more difficult for civilians who aren’t involved in the fighting. That is unfortunate. But in the end, that may do more to undermine the Islamic State than an army in the field.




Dec. 23

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on oil markets:

How low can it go?

How low can it go?

That’s the question on the minds of those dependent on oil markets. And that question has particularly profound implications for the state of Louisiana, even going beyond the importance of the state budget’s current difficulties with the plunge in oil prices.

A rule of thumb is that the state loses $12 million in severance and other taxes for every dollar drop, and a barrel has dropped a lot of dollars. Some alarmists are talking about $35 per barrel, which would be an immense gap between the price as late as June. Since then, oil is down nearly 40 percent. Any lower is a marvel.

The obvious local implications of oil prices are in Lafayette, a national center for oilfield services, although service companies are distributed across the state.

But it also is a question mark for the two regions of the state that are big consumers of energy: petrochemical manufacturers along the Mississippi and Calcasieu rivers. Lower oil prices may make, at least in the short term, some of the big petrochemical expansions less competitive in markets, because of the low price of natural gas, a competing energy source.

Overall, it’s quite likely that the oil plunge isn’t going so far south that it will endanger industrial development projects that have been announced along both rivers this year.

By and large, companies are looking far beyond today’s volatile energy market and ahead toward customers they will serve a decade or more from now.

For one thing, the decline in oil prices is driven by an oversupply. But it is not purely a matter of the fracking revolution generating oil and gas from America’s resurgent oil fields.

That contributes to the current oversupply but a large portion of it is attributable to slow growth or even outright recession in some major nations, including Japan and European countries, but also the slower-growing economy of mainland China.

Such a dramatic price drop might have some positives at the pump for everyone in Louisiana, but the old saying is that whatever hits the fan is never distributed evenly. So it is for Louisiana and the, unfortunately, falling price of oil.




Dec. 21

Los Angeles Times on non-citizens of U.S. voting:

As of Jan. 1, 2012, an estimated 13.3 million lawful permanent residents lived in the United States, and 8.8 million of them were eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship but had not done so. In California, 2.48 million out of 3.4 million green-card holders were eligible to apply but chose not to. And, of course, not all non-citizens residing in this country are “lawful.” An estimated 11 million people live here without permission, though President Obama recently took action to defer the deportation of as many as half of them.

America obviously would benefit if more non-citizens living here — including, eventually, undocumented immigrants — took on the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. But what if they don’t? Non-citizens are still members of their communities. They pay taxes and in many cases send their children to public schools. Should they be given some greater say in the decisions of the local governments, school boards and judicial systems that make decisions for themselves and their children?

Many Americans consider it unthinkable that non-citizens — even lawful permanent residents — would be allowed to vote in elections. Gov. Jerry Brown agrees with them. Last year, in vetoing a bill that would have allowed non-citizen permanent residents to serve on juries, Brown said, “Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship.”

Brown was accurately describing current practice. At present, it’s a crime, punishable by a year in prison, for a non-citizen to vote in a federal election. U.S. citizenship is also a near-universal requirement for voting in state and local elections.

But it wasn’t always thus. Far from considering voting “quintessentially” an attribute of citizenship, as many as 40 states and U.S. territories once allowed non-citizens to vote in state and sometimes in federal elections. Non-citizen white men in some places enjoyed the franchise even as it was denied to women and African Americans. Ron Hayduk, a political science professor at Queens College and advocate for non-citizen voting, has called it “as American as apple pie.”

Allowing non-citizens to vote was not motivated by 21st century notions of globalism or diversity. Rather, according to a study by Jamin B. Raskin, “the practice was seen as conducive to a desired immigration (and assimilation) of foreigners and consistent with basic principles of democratic government.” Some states extended the franchise only to non-citizens who declared an intention to seek citizenship.

We aren’t opposed to giving non-citizens a say over institutions, such as public schools, in which they and their families have a personal stake. But that needn’t take the form of participation in school-board elections (which, after all, are not limited to parents). Under California’s Parent Trigger law, for instance, a majority of parents in an underperforming public school can sign a petition to force it to become, say, a charter school; the law doesn’t distinguish between parents who are citizens and those who aren’t.

We agree with Brown that voting is and should be inextricably tied to U.S. citizenship. But we also believe that more needs to be done to encourage people who have decided to live in this country to participate fully in its political life at every level of government. It is not healthy if large numbers of permanent residents, workers and taxpayers are excluded from voting. But the answer is not to sever voting — or jury service, for that matter — from citizenship. It is rather to expand the circle of citizenship.




Dec. 23

Seattle Times on aftermath of citizens and police:

All life is precious — whether it’s that of belligerent Ferguson, Mo., jaywalker Michael Brown, resistant Staten Island, N.Y., cigarette peddler Eric Garner, or New York City police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.

Brown and Garner were killed by police trying to subdue them in separate incidents earlier this year, although neither was armed. Liu and Ramos were slain Saturday by a vigilante seeking random retribution for Brown and Garner.

Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a troubled drifter, shot the officers as they ate lunch in their patrol car — an act of barbarism more commonly associated with gangland shootings or terrorist executions.

“Black lives matter” has been adopted as the theme of national protestations against the Brown and Garner deaths. Both victims were black. The officers who killed them were white.

In Brinsley’s twisted retaliation, Saturday’s killings made a statement about police brutality and racism. He compounded his senselessness by slaughtering an Asian-American and a Latino-American officer.

The assassination of the officers risks scuttling the uncomfortable, but necessary, conversation about policing that must take place.

Good cops, good elected officials and good citizens should not let that happen.

Not so long ago, the Puget Sound region mourned the loss of police officers killed for similar senseless reasons. In 2009, Christopher Monfort shot and killed Seattle Police officer Timothy Brenton and wounded officer Britt Sweeney in his politically motivated campaign against city cops.

A month later, Maurice Clemmons gunned down Lakewood police officers Mark Renninger, Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards at a Lakewood coffee shop.

And the Seattle Police Department is under a federally appointed monitor after a U.S. Department of Justice probe found a pattern of officers using unconstitutional force and evidence of racial bias. The monitor recently reported heartening signs of improvement.

Just as Seattle has made progress, America’s response to Brinsley’s cowardly violence should transcend the racial anxiety that’s reaching dangerous levels across the nation.

Given the heightened tensions from protesters legitimately concerned about police use-of-force, the very real risk of copycat cop killings and the appalling slayings themselves, the nation needs to take a breath and come to its senses.

But it must also ensure that all lives — whether unarmed suspects, police officers in the line of duty, people of a different race or the mentally ill — are precious and matter.




Dec. 23

New York Times on insider trading:

The Justice Department is reviewing its options in response to a recent court ruling that overturned two insider-trading convictions and threatens others. Unfortunately, the options are limited, and the ruling — a setback in the fight against rigged markets — is likely to stand for a long time.

The case involved Todd Newman and Anthony Chiasson, hedge fund managers whose insider-trading convictions from 2012 were reversed this month based on a narrow reading of prevailing laws and rules. The judges, on the federal appeals court for the Second Circuit, said that trading on nonpublic information is illegal only if the direct recipient of the information provides or promises the tipper a personal benefit in exchange for the information. They said that Newman and Chiasson, who received the tips through intermediaries rather than directly from a corporate insider, were too distant from the original tipper to have known of a quid pro quo.

That finding alone has sparked debate about the correct interpretation of the law. But the judges didn’t stop there. They said that in most cases there would be no unlawful insider trading unless the tipper received money or some other tangible benefit for the information. That reasoning challenges a bedrock of insider-trading law that holds that spreading and using nonpublic information can be illegal even if it is provided free, say, to help a friend.

In effect, the ruling provides greater leeway to trade on inside information, while making it harder to prosecute insider trading.

The Justice Department should ask for a review of the decision by all of the court’s judges. An appeal to the Supreme Court is unlikely, and the complicated fact pattern of the case makes it a poor vehicle for such an appeal. Besides, Justice Scalia has suggested that overzealous prosecution of insider trading is a bigger problem than insider trading itself, a stance that bodes ill for well-policed markets. In the meantime, public mistrust of the stock market is warranted as are doubts about its integrity.




Dec. 23

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on NYC’s police killings:

The tragic killing of two New York City police officers threatens to compound the tension and discord that have wracked the nation after recent episodes in which unarmed black men died at the hands of white officers.

Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, were seated in their squad car in Brooklyn Saturday afternoon when a gunman, apparently Ismaaiyl Brinsley, approached from behind and shot them dead. The president called it senseless murder; the attorney general said it was an act of barbarism. To law-abiding Americans, it is a scar on civilized society.

Brinsley, who was African-American, fled to a subway station and committed suicide. Earlier in the day he had shot and wounded his girlfriend near Baltimore, Md., and left threatening posts online. According to law enforcement officials, he wrote on an Instagram account, “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let’s take 2 of theirs.” He used the hashtags Shootthepolice, RIPErivGardner (sic) and RIPMikeBrown.

The hashtags referred to the deaths of Eric Garner, who died during a choke hold by a New York City officer in July, and Michael Brown, who was shot to death in August by an officer in Ferguson, Mo.

Although Brinsley had a history of mental illness, it is small consolation to the two family members who lost sons, husbands and a father in the deadly assault. For the rest of the nation, it is a grim reminder of the daily risks taken by police officers when they put on the badge to go to work. The public is eager for the protection and security that police provide, and they certainly want police response to be done by the book, but Americans sometimes forget the potential sacrifice that comes with the job and that creates a fearful uncertainty for an officer’s loved ones.

As the nation moves forward in examining how police do their duty and how citizens approach officers of the law, it is worth counting the losses on both sides. Americans have seen enough dying on their streets, both officers and civilians.




Dec. 23

The Australian on North Korea’s cyberterrorism:

US President Barack Obama’s threat to re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism should be no more than a first step in responding to Pyongyang’s act of cyberwarfare that prompted Sony to cancel the release of its slapstick comedy, The Interview, last week. Sony’s confidential emails were also hacked. Obama declared: “We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here.” Preposterous as it was for North Korea to dictate what American and other audiences could watch, far more was at stake than censorship. If the President’s response stops there, North Korea and other rogue states will be more inclined than ever to treat him with impunity.

The last lesson the West needs Pyongyang to derive from the affair is that aggressive cyberterrorism will draw no more than a limited response from the West. Everything from military strategy, financial systems and transport to power and water supplies are administered in cyberspace. Rogue states and terrorists must be deterred from interfering with such networks by understanding they would pay a severe price for doing so. A weak American response to this matter could take years to correct and encourage other adversaries to take advantage.

Unfortunately, Sony Pictures capitulated to blackmail and cancelled the release of the film after the North Korean-backed hacking group Guardians of Peace threatened audiences to “remember the 11th of September”. As The Wall Street Journal suggested, the US government could do worse than buy the rights to the film, which is unadulterated slapstick in which North Korean despot Kim Jong-un is assassinated. The US government could then release the film, the Journal suggested, have it translated and floated into North Korea on USB sticks.

More seriously, North Korea’s cyberterrorism comes at a critical time, when North Korea’s nuclear program is close, according to the commander of US forces in Korea, General Curtis Scaparrotti, to being able to link nuclear devices to intercontinental ballistic missiles, capable of reaching the US. As a deterrent, the time for vigorous action by the US is now, before that capacity is achieved. An act of terror by one nation against the interests of another, in cyberspace or elsewhere, warrants no less a response than intensified sanctions.

The sanctions imposed by George W. Bush in 2007 brought the North Korean economy close to ruin. But, unfortunately, Bush succumbed to Kim Jong-il’s bogus promises of denuclearization and took North Korea off the terror list. The US should also exploit China’s growing frustration with its ugly neighboring regime, which it helps keep afloat. It is never easy to make the Pyongyang regime see sense. But revisiting the stringent financial embargoes formerly imposed by the US on the operations of the Macau bank that has long been the centre of the Kim family’s wealth and ability to sustain itself in power would extract leverage.

Obviously, not every cyberattack is an “act of war”. What sets the Sony attack apart is that it was backed by a nation-state and not the work of pranksters or commercial hackers. It must not go unpunished. Western nations, including Australia, also need a better understanding of potential cyber threats, how to deal with them and how to prevent them.



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