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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

March 4, 2015

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


March 4

Los Angeles Times on Netanyahu and Iran debate:

When Benjamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation from House Republicans to address Congress on Iran, some expected the Israeli prime minister to offer damning new details about the nuclear agreement that appears to be taking shape. In fact, his speech focused less on the specific shortcomings of what he called “a very bad deal” than on the fact that it would empower an unsavory regime of religious zealots.

Netanyahu reiterated his well-known concern that the U.S. and other world powers are willing to accept an agreement that would leave Iran with the ability to “break out” and quickly develop a nuclear weapon. But his speech was primarily an indictment of the very notion of negotiating with a regime he portrayed as aggressive, fanatical and anti-Semitic.

Indeed, Netanyahu argued that there is no significant difference between Iran and Islamic State. “One calls itself the Islamic Republic,” he said. “The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree . who will be the ruler of that empire.”

Netanyahu was right to point to Iran’s repression of dissidents, journalists and gays, its alliance with Syria’s Bashar Assad and its sponsorship of militants in Lebanon and Yemen. It’s also true that Iranian leaders have indulged in repeated denunciations of Israel over the years; few can forget the annihilative threats of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But it’s possible to condemn Iran’s violations of human rights, its meddling in other countries, its anti-Semitic, anti-Israel rants and still take advantage of the current Iranian leadership’s apparent willingness to negotiate restrictions on its nuclear program — restrictions that can also serve Israel’s interests.

The details of the emerging deal have not been made public, so it’s impossible at this point for us to support or oppose them. But Netanyahu’s speech made it clear that his differences with President Obama are not primarily about the fine print. The real difference is that Netanyahu believes Iran is implacably evil and fundamentally untrustworthy, while Obama and his negotiating partners — and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among other military leaders — believe that Iran is a rational country that responds to incentives and disincentives.

To trust Iran is a gamble. But in our view, it is a risk worth taking — as long as that country’s assertions of good faith are balanced by serious and verifiable restrictions on its behavior (including the number of centrifuges and the amount of enriched uranium it may possess) and backed by a robust regime of monitoring and inspections.

Given the alternative — military action that many believe would slow Iran’s nuclear progress for a few years at best — diplomacy still seems the wiser course.




March 3

The News-Star, Monroe, Louisiana, on the Keystone XL pipeline:

The president’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline project was as predictable as it is nettlesome.

The project, which would have added about 1,000 miles to the nation’s existing network of 330,000 miles of pipelines, would have made it easier to move oil from the Midwest to Gulf Coast refineries. What made the project so extraordinary as the basis for an enduring partisan brouhaha was the fact that, in itself, it is so very ordinary.

You’d have to be committed to being angry to let this pipeline get under your skin.

Completed, the pipeline would have given the U.S. more ready access to oil from Canada, an ally, and perhaps less need for oil from the likes of Venezuela, whose leadership disdains this country and whose currency is in tatters, a situation that undermines its transactions with oil businesses in the U.S.

It would have created jobs, perhaps 30,000 and maybe 42,000 depending on whose estimates you accept. It would have provided a ready supply of oil for coastal refineries, including Louisiana’s, if the Canadian oil moved on the “Ho-Ho,” the Houston-to-Houma pipeline, and on to Louisiana’s many refineries.

Obama’s veto will not stop the extraction of oil from Alberta sands, not one bit. That will continue unabated. It will not stop Canadian oil from reaching the Gulf Coast — eventually — because it will likely come by rail, which may present greater safety risks than pipelines. Nowadays, about 1 million barrels of oil a day move by rail, and trains almost always reach their destination. But sometimes — and only sometimes — they end up in derailments or fiery crashes.

Those risks will continue because the president wills it.

“I hope we don’t have any issues with those thousands of rail cars,” said Louisiana Oil & Gas President Don Briggs. “Some of them come through Lafayette.”

More pointedly, the president’s veto will exacerbate and widen the gulf between his office and Congress. In that regard, it may be a harbinger of two more difficult political years.

Briggs said the veto was a sad reflection on a “broken” political system. Indeed it was: Congress approved it by vote, the public approved it in polls and even the president’s reliable friends in labor approved of it for the jobs it would have provided. That wasn’t enough for the president, who said that, somehow, the vote had “earned” his veto.

“Today, the president has made clear that Congress is for job creation, growth, energy security and economic resurgence while he is not,” said U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette.

Boustany said one thing stands between the wishes of the American people and the needs of the oil and gas industry and this pipeline: The president, an annoying obstructionist. That obstructionism was not evident when the Democrats ruled the Senate, and buried bills that met with his approval. But that obstructionism may become more evident now.

The Keystone XL is not dead, not by any stretch. The pipeline plan is probably sound enough and its pieces enough in place that it will endure another two years until another president takes office.

As time goes, that’s chump change; the pipeline has already been under this administration’s “review” for six years.




March 3

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on Hilary Clinton’s use of personal email:

Why not smoke signals or carrier pigeons? How about secret code or self-destructing memos?

Would any of that have been any less traceable, transparent or taboo than the personal email account Hillary Clinton used to communicate official government business during her four-year term as secretary of state?

Besides the apparent violation of federal records law, Clinton’s unorthodox record-keeping system makes her appear every bit as shadowy, pernicious and deceptive as her husband, whose former job she is expected to seek in 2016 as the top Democratic contender.

She’s not the first government official to be caught conducting the public’s business through private channels, but she very well could be the most willful violator in that all her communications are believed to be off the grid. The notoriously liberal New York Times, which broke the story, reported that Clinton didn’t even have an official government email address during her tenure as America’s top diplomat.

The Times reported the Cabinet-level appointee’s aides made no attempt to preserve her emails on department servers, as required by the Federal Records Act.

Utterly astounding.

Left-leaning MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell called it a “stunning breach of security.” How would the media treat a GOP official in this situation?

It’s enough to make one ponder whether Clinton took a lesson from fellow Obama minion Lois Lerner, or if Lerner and her Internal Revenue Service cohorts took cues from the lawyerly former first lady?

The reason federal law requires that officials retain their letters and emails is so fellow officials, government archivists, the media and the public have an official record. Notice how the word “official” keeps popping up? There was nothing official about Clinton’s shadow system.

With all communiqués stored on a privately maintained server, what the public gets is only what Clinton and her aides choose to share. Considering the security of nongovernmental email systems, foreign spy agencies and hackers are more likely to see Clinton’s communications before American taxpayers do.

There is no reason, other than duplicity, for Clinton to have skirted governmental channels. A former National Archives official quoted by the Times said private emails should be used only in emergencies. He said it is “very difficult to conceive of a scenario - short of nuclear winter - where an agency would be justified in allowing its Cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel.”

The Times reported her aides recently handed over about 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department to comply with record-keeping practices. Obviously, the question is not what’s in the emails, but what’s not in the emails.

Though the Times broke the story late Monday, the account’s existence was first discovered by the House select committee investigating the deadly 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

A Clinton spokesman told the Times she is complying with the “letter and spirit of the rules.”

That might be believable - if not for the fact that their assurances that the Clinton Foundation didn’t accept contributions from foreign countries were proved false two weeks ago.

We also might believe Clinton if she ever owned up to the full account of events of Benghazi, instead of dismissing them with “What difference - at this point, what difference does it make?”

We might take her seriously if not for her concocted story of dodging sniper fire in Bosnia as first lady.

Clinton doesn’t deserve to be president of the United States. She doesn’t deserve to be an assistant dog catcher.

She deserves to be charged with violating the Federal Records Act - and depending on email content, perhaps more.




March 4

The Oklahoman on safety and costs of shipping crude oil by rail:

It may soon take longer, and cost more, for oil companies to get crude oil to North American refineries. As the administration puts the squeeze on pipelines, it also has its eye more than ever on products moved by rail.

Last month the federal Department of Transportation sent to the White House draft rules that would require, among other things, the use of stronger tank cars hauling crude oil. The Associated Press noted that the Office of Management and Budget usually demands that proposals by safety regulators be scaled back, but this time there may not be as much pushback.

The reason is that there have been some spectacular and damaging derailments of late involving trains carrying crude oil. In West Virginia in February, 19 train cars caught fire after a derailment that spilled crude into a nearby river. Just a few days earlier, a train hauling crude and petroleum distillates derailed and caught fire in Ontario, Canada.

The worst derailment happened in 2013 in Quebec, Canada. The resulting explosion and fire destroyed a town center and killed 47 people in a small town across the border from Maine.

“The more incidents we have, the less likely the administration will be willing to listen to the industry,” a safety consultant and former George W. Bush administration official told AP.

The two most recent derailments involved cars built voluntarily to a higher safety standard in 2011. Those changes were made to answer critics who said the tank cars used to transport flammable liquids were prone to rupture in accidents. Those who argued that the newer tank cars may be puncture-proof “really can’t make that argument anymore,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

The proposed new regulations reportedly will include thicker tank walls and electronically controlled brakes that stop rail cars simultaneously instead of sequentially. Adhering to these rules would increase costs — railroads put the price tag for new brakes at $12 billion to $21 billion. Those costs would of course be passed along to the energy companies that use the rails.

Railroads also say mandating slower speeds for trains hauling flammables — they’re not allowed to exceed 40 miles per hour in high-population areas — would back up other rail traffic. Not to mention delay arrival of crude to refineries.

Transporting crude oil by rail has increased greatly in recent years as technological advances such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have produced amounts of product previously considered unobtainable. At the same time, environmentalists who have President Obama’s ear have succeeded in keeping the Keystone XL pipeline on ice and slowed construction of other pipelines. This has helped to push more crude onto rail cars — where the chances for damage to the environment have proven to be far greater than if pipelines were used.

Certainly energy companies want their products shipped safely and they’re committed to doing so, despite what anti-fossil fuel zealots might suggest. We have written previously on this page that as long as scrutiny of oil transport focuses on safety, then the effort deserves support. But our concern is that this scrutiny will grow into overreaction that has the potential to hurt the energy industry including companies important to Oklahoma’s economy.




March 4

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on federal prison sentencing reform:

Few political issues draw support from sponsors as diverse as the liberal Center for American Progress and the libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch. But a growing, diverse movement is calling on Congress to reform federal prison sentencing laws.

The bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act would slash mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and eliminate mandatory life sentences for a third drug conviction. This common-sense plan has stalled because of opposition by some lawmakers who believe that reducing such sentences would threaten public safety.

This claim is contradicted by the evidence: Nearly half of the 200,000 federal inmates are serving time for drug-related crimes. Many of them are low-level, nonviolent offenders.

Mandatory minimums have forced judges to dole out long sentences that don’t always fit the crimes. Such laws have disproportionately targeted poor, black and Hispanic men. Eliminating mandatory sentences wouldn’t prevent judges from giving long sentences to serious offenders.

The nation needs a proposal like this one to reduce its excessive prison population and put productive workers back into the economy. Many states have learned this lesson; it’s time for the federal government to catch up.




March 2

Toronto Star on Vladimir Putin having blood on his hands:

One way or another Russian President Vladimir Putin has Boris Nemtsov’s blood on his hands. If Putin didn’t order the opposition leader’s murder under the Kremlin’s very shadow, he fanned the lethal atmosphere of hysteria and hatred that tars his critics as traitors. However loath most Russians may be to admit it, their country is slipping into political depravity, and the abyss.

The 50,000 Muscovites who marched through the city on Sunday to mourn Nemtsov’s murder carried banners boldly calling for “Russia without Putin” and declaring “I am not afraid.” But of course Putin is more secure than ever after seizing parts of Ukraine; he has an 85 percent approval rating. And his political critics are indeed afraid. As Russia’s frail claim to be a democracy grows weaker by the day, any dissident can be a target.

The sheer symbolism of Nemtsov’s murder — the highest-profile political assassination on Putin’s watch — was chilling. The former ally of Boris Yeltsin and deputy prime minister was shot four times on Friday night and left sprawled on a bridge with the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral as a backdrop. The attack, in the city’s most heavily policed and monitored area, was carefully planned, as was the assailant’s escape. It was meant to send a stark message.

While Nemtsov had no real political clout, he was a reformist liberal, fearless critic of Putin and champion of human rights and the rule of law. He called the ruthlessly authoritarian president a “pathological liar,” published reports of corruption involving Putin, his family and friends, called the war on Ukraine “mad,” and worked to expose Russian military aggression there.

Under Putin “Russia itself is sinking into lies, violence, obscurantism and imperial hysteria,” he wrote in the Kyiv Post. And although he was once a Kremlin power broker he feared for his life from Russia’s security services and nationalist thugs.

By now the list of Putin’s murdered foes is sickeningly long: journalist and rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, liberal politician Sergei Yushenkov, former secret service officer Alexander Litvinenko, human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, journalist Anastasia Baburova, whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, rights activist Natalia Estemirova.

Like the others, Nemtsov was a brave figure who spoke truth to power. He deserves better than to have Putin take the murder probe under his “personal control.” If anyone is held accountable it won’t be Putin or those close to him. Already, Kremlin apologists are spreading smoke, speculating the murder may be anything from a common crime to a crime of passion, Islamist terrorism or a conspiracy to discredit the presidency.

The truth is uglier, as the newspaper Novaya Gazeta wrote. Russia is at the “point of no return, of radical destabilization.” Every critic is now a traitor. And no one knows where this will end.



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