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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

June 27, 2013

Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers around the world:

June 26

The Khaleej Times, Dubai, on Brazil’s short-lived Spring:

When mass demonstrations galvanised in the Middle East and North Africa two years ago, the leaders were quick to dismiss them as temporary agitation.

Even when the protests gained momentum with every passing week, the dictators were hesitant to offer anything other than a vague, half-hearted promise of ‘reforms’ to the angry protesters.

Interestingly, the democratically elected Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan treated the protests no differently. As the protests in Istanbul expanded over time, and their point of contention shifted from the government’s plan to cut down trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park to Erdogan’s alleged authoritarian policies and the waning of secular institutions, Erdogan still appeared to stick his guns. The only real concession he is willing to make is putting a halt on the construction plans at Gezi Park.

So what is that made Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff readily relent in the face of public demonstrations? Roussef, faced with mammoth protest rallies in over a 100 cities in Brazil, has been quick to propose political reforms in her country.

And her proposal is definitely more specific than the promises Bashar Al Assad or Hosni Mubarak made when protests in their countries intensified. ...

The reason for Roussef’s pliant attitude might be because she is new to power. Unlike Hosni Mubarak or Moammer Gaddafi or even Erdogan, who is serving his second term as prime minister, Roussef was elected only two years ago and therefore does not have supreme confidence in her own power. More importantly, the World Cup will be held in Brazil next year and the country needs to have peace on its streets if it is going to attract tourists and manage the grand sporting affair.

The Brazilian Spring appears to have been ‘cooled’ by the government’s reconciliatory posture.




June 25

The Australian, Sydney on flight to authoritarian regimes:

By flitting from one authoritarian country to another and hoping, like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, to end up in the embrace of Ecuador, the fugitive US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is making a mockery of his claims to be a high-minded whistle blower acting purely in the interests of “freedom and basic liberties”.

His trajectory from Hong Kong — a Special Administrative Region of China, which has been severely criticized for its human rights record and pervasive cyber espionage — onwards to Russia, where the definition of treason and espionage has been expanded to include “international advocacy on human rights”, is hardly reassuring for those trying to draw comparisons between Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg.

According to Assange, Snowden’s final goal is political asylum in Ecuador, which has arranged temporary travel documents for him, possibly travelling via Cuba and Venezuela. The three Latin American countries share poor human rights records. Ecuador, which is providing refuge for Assange in London, has a history of oppression against media freedom that was reinforced recently with a so-called “gag law” condemned by Human Rights Watch as “an assault on free speech”.

This does not appear to have bothered Assange. Nor, apparently, does it bother Snowden, who is seeking to mount his case against the US over global surveillance programs by the National Security Agency. The US, as Human Rights Watch attests, has “a vibrant civil society and media that enjoy strong constitutional protections” - the ideals Snowden says he holds dear. Like Assange, who is seeking to avoid facing charges in Sweden, a liberal democracy with a fine legal tradition, Snowden is ill-serving the cause he espouses by seeking help from authoritarian regimes antagonistic to the freedoms he claims to value.

U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat with a long record of support for liberal causes, has said of Snowden: “I don’t think running is a noble thought.” She’s right: if he really believed in what he was doing and wanted to be taken seriously as a whistle blower, Snowden would have done better to stay home and defend himself. Like Assange, he is being compromised by his own unfortunate choices.




June 24

Kansas City Star on immigration reform will enhance America:

This nation of immigrants is on the cusp of figuring out a just and fair path forward for the 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows.

It’s time.

It’s time to accept that despite good intentions on securing our borders, those seeking a better life for themselves and their families have been drawn to America for decades, even if it meant skirting legal paths and risking lives. A bipartisan compromise immigration reform bill crafted by the U.S. Senate’s “Gang of Eight” deserves passage.

It makes sense financially and morally. The Congressional Budget Office last week said the bill would increase real GDP by up to 3.3 percent in 2023 and by 5.4 percent in 2033.

Morally, it helps secure the future for children of illegal immigrants, many of whom know no other country. It means undocumented workers will be responsible for paying taxes, beyond what their employers may now withhold under the assumption they are legal workers.

This isn’t a get-citizenship-free bill. Immigrants with clean records who would be eligible to get in line would face fines, back-of-the-line waiting lists, requirements to show knowledge of civics and English, and more conditions before obtaining “lawful permanent resident” status after 10 years. That’s a long line and a long wait, not amnesty.

And yet, some are still trying to derail comprehensive reform. Missouri U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt attempted to throw a wrench into progress, co-sponsoring amendments that call for ever-more-costly border security measures and unwieldy congressional oversight to slow changes. ...

A perfect border security system is a pipe dream. Its backers are stalling, burnishing their credentials with the far-right, anti-immigrant crowd. Meanwhile, employers are in a pinch for laborers and highly skilled workers as America awards too few legitimate work visas for industries and farms.

The U.S. Senate is hoping to pass an immigration bill by July 4, a fitting symbolic date for advancing the independence of a nation now trapped by outdated laws.




June 25

The New York Times, on reforms for Chinese banking:

In an eerie echo of the financial crisis of 2008, the rates at which Chinese banks lend to each other shot up last week, sending a wave of panic through global stock and bond markets. The sudden jump highlighted systemic problems in the country’s financial system that will test the ability of Beijing’s new leaders to reform the world’s second-largest economy.

On Tuesday, the Chinese central bank tried to soothe markets by saying that it had already injected funds into some financial institutions, which caused overnight interbank rates to fall to 5.7 percent, down from a record high of 13.4 percent on Thursday. But policy makers need to push through more far-reaching reforms to prevent a panic.

Many of the weaknesses of the banking system can be traced back to the government. ...

Analysts say the jump in lending rates was caused by a government attempt to discourage banks from lending to the shadow banking system. It did that by limiting how much money the central bank was lending to banks.

What the government should do now is move to stop controlling the interest rates on savings accounts, which are lower than inflation. Removing controls over those rates would reduce the demand for risky investment plans and reward ordinary savers. Another important reform, but one that would be much harder to implement, would be to reduce the influence that government and Communist Party officials have on loan decisions, freeing bankers to lend to deserving businesses, rather than inefficient state-owned firms.

It will take years to carry out these reforms fully and the government will face significant opposition from provincial leaders, bankers and others who benefit from the current system. But policy makers cannot afford to be complacent in dealing with banking excesses.




June 23

The Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News on Afghanistan no longer a place we can ignore:

Afghanistan is littered with the bones of soldiers from foreign countries. During the past 12 years, the blood of American soldiers has mingled in Afghanistan’s soil with the 19th-century blood of British Redcoats and 20th-century blood from what was then the Soviet’s Union’s Red Army. Others will likely fight and die there in the future.

That is the history of Afghanistan. Some would say that is its nature. It is hard to know whether peace talks with the Taliban will change anything.

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama tipped his hand and set a deadline for the withdrawal of American troops. Hardened resistance fighters who have battled a better equipped, better trained foe for more than a decade now know that they can simply wait it out. They can buy time with negotiations and cease fires until the Americans, British and other allies leave the Afghans to fend for themselves.

Is the Taliban genuinely interested in a political solution after so many years of war? Or are they simply buying time? We suspect the latter. It’s very hard to tell.

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said American should approach talks with “low expectations.” He believes the Taliban “expect to win the war once NATO is largely gone in 2015.”

There was a time when journalism professors cautioned their students against what they then called “Afghanistanism.” ...

Americans turned away from the backward distant land once their mortal enemy was gone. Little did they know that in the not too distant future, they would return to fight and, ironically, their enemy would be some of the same people they supported against the Soviets.

In the years between the Soviet departure and the American invasion, the Taliban came to power, running the country like a medieval oligarchy. Our purpose was to strike back at those who attacked us on our own soil and make our homeland safe.

Without a doubt, the blood spilled on Afghan soil helped eliminate a threat to our homeland. While the battle has raged, Americans have lived in relative security. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan. The threat from al-Qaida appears greatly reduced.

But is the job done? That’s a question that only the future can answer. For now, we’ve decided to go home. Hopefully, we’ll never need to return.




June 25

The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on cutting nuclear weapons with care:

During his visit to Germany last week President Barack Obama promised to seek negotiations with Russia for a new round of strategic nuclear weapons cuts and suggested that the time had come to talk with Moscow about tactical nuclear weapons in Europe as well. There is something to be said for both ideas, especially with respect to reductions in Europe, a continent no longer divided by mobilized armies.

But no national security issue is fraught with more potential danger than nuclear policy. In a world in which there are already seven acknowledged nuclear powers and at least two nations, Iran and North Korea, aspiring to join the “club,” it would be a mistake to think of nuclear arms control only in the context of U.S.-Russian relations.

The case for a new round of bilateral strategic arms reductions is sound. Twenty-two years after the end of the Cold War both Russia and the United States still have very large arsenals of nuclear weapons, arguably more than they would need even if both sides made substantial cuts.

Even with the NEW START treaty of 2010, Russia and the United States by 2018 will each have more than 1,800 strategic warheads available to ready forces, and large numbers more in reserve. Strategic warheads are those carried by weapons —missiles and aircraft — capable of striking at intercontinental distances.

Within these totals, NEW START limits each side to 1,550 operational warheads on land- and sea-based strategic missiles. Obama, with an eye on his stated goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons, has suggested these could be safely reduced to 1,000 on each side.

In bilateral terms, U.S. balanced against Russia, a case can be made that 1,000 operational missile warheads, supplemented by several hundred airborne weapons on each side, are more than adequate for mutual deterrence. ...

The end of the Cold War with its opposing armies in Central Europe has removed the main reason for the creation and deployment of these missiles and airborne weapons. Now would be a good time to find ways to safely eliminate them.




June 25

Boston Herald on President Barack Obama getting dissed:

The soap opera that is now the Edward Snowden case is important not for the secrets the National Security Agency contractor leaked but for what his multinational odyssey says about the hapless Obama administration — and what it has done to America’s place in the world.

Oh, somehow the United States will survive Snowden’s spilling of secrets, even if, as White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “It gives our terrorist enemies a playbook” on how our intelligence agencies do business.

What cannot be overlooked — or overcome — is how China and Russia have seized the opportunity to make a laughing stock of President Barack Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, and to show their utter disdain for this administration.

Hong Kong allowed Snowden to leave on a flight to Moscow despite repeated requests by the Justice Department for his provisional arrest pending an extradition proceeding. Hong Kong officials insist Justice offered too little, too late by way of evidence on which to hold Snowden. Carney countered yesterday that Hong Kong’s actions were “deliberate.”

Either way — either Holder screwed up or was ignored — it’s an embarrassment and yet another reason to jettison the attorney general.

Enter Russia’s Vladimir Putin — who just a week ago basically told Obama to pound sand over Syria. Now he takes the opportunity to further humiliate the American president by hosting Snowden — at Moscow’s airport and indicating Russia would be open to offering him asylum as well.

Carney expressed the administration’s official “disappointment,” adding the U.S. expected the Russians “to look at the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged.”

That ought to have Putin quaking in his boots.

As for Snowden, how unfortunate that he missed yesterday’s morning flight from Moscow to Cuba. It would have been a sweet irony to imagine this advocate for Internet freedom trapped for however long in a place where Internet communications barely exist and Internet freedom exists not at all. It would have been a special kind of hell — and one well-deserved.




June 26

Chicago Tribune on the U.S. Supreme Court saying it’s 2013, not 1965

In the summer of 1964, Ku Klux Klan members murdered three men who were working to register African-American voters in Mississippi. A year later, on what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” police in Selma, Alabama, beat and tear gassed hundreds of marchers demanding voting rights for African-Americans.

In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to attack the outrageous ways in which white officials in the South stifled black voter registration.

That same year, only 6.7 percent of registered voters in Mississippi were black, according to census data. Last year, black voter registration reached 90 percent, exceeding white registration in Mississippi. Today, Selma has a black mayor and so does Philadelphia, Miss., long haunted by the infamous murders of those three civil rights workers during “Freedom Summer.”

Times have changed for the better.

On Tuesday, in a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that change by lifting decades of federal voting rights oversight on nine states, mostly in the South.

At issue was a part of the law that required those states to receive Justice Department approval before they impose any changes that could affect voting, such as polling place hours or voter identification requirements. Such “preclearance” was mandated in 1965 because in so much of the South, white officials relentlessly used every possible means to disenfranchise African-American voters.

President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said it “represents a serious setback for voting rights — and has the potential to negatively affect millions of Americans across the country.” Those sentiments were reflected in many other quarters. ...

Are voters in those states in immediate peril of being disenfranchised? In recent years, the Justice Department has rarely rejected a change in law or regulation submitted under the preclearance rule.

With this Supreme Court ruling, the Justice Department and the courts may still respond to attempts to disenfranchise minority voters wherever and whenever they occur. And they have been doing so. ...

The federal oversight of the nine states was never intended to be eternal. It was supposed to right a wrong, to help secure voting rights for minorities. If Congress detects that there is a pattern of disenfranchisement, it holds the option of creating a new set of rules for particular states.

The high court did not argue that voter disenfranchisement has been eradicated across the land. It did find that the Voting Rights Act must reflect the United States of 2013.




June 26

Los Angeles Times on coal:

President Obama’s omnibus proposal to combat global warming addresses the issue in all its many facets — truck emissions, high-level diplomacy, more federal land for solar and wind projects. Think of it as a target covered with water balloons. The president won’t be able to keep all of them from bursting as his opponents in Congress and industry start throwing darts. The key is to not let them hit the bull’s eye: new emissions standards for coal-fired plants.

Power plants produce a third of all the greenhouse gases in the country, and coal plants are the biggest offenders. If the nation can drastically reduce the plants’ carbon footprint, it will significantly reduce emissions that contribute to warming. And there’s a lot more in Obama’s aggressive push against climate change, including an overdue effort to help states and municipalities cope with the effects of warming that already are being seen and that are expected to worsen for the next few decades because of past inaction: fires, flooding and catastrophic weather.

The president’s opponents already are complaining that the technology isn’t in place for capturing carbon from power plant emissions and that developing it will be costly. ...

The United States is still a couple of years away from actual regulations, and lawsuits and political battles will almost certainly delay if not derail many of them. The president should keep his eye on the centerpiece. Just as the nation cannot afford to humor climate-change deniers, it cannot allow the carbon output of its worst greenhouse gas emitters to continue unchecked.




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