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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

January 7, 2019

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 3

U.S. is still sending mixed signals on Syria

While adversaries gain, regional and global allies will wonder whether to trust Trump.

President Donald Trump will reportedly slow down the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, but his initial hasty decision has already sped up jockeying by major players in the region. And none of the unfolding scenarios are favorable to the U.S. or its key allies.

The Syrian Kurds, for instance, fought the Islamic State alongside U.S. troops. Now they’re threatened by another ostensible U.S. ally, Turkey, which has stated its intention to attack them when U.S. troops leave Syria.

Sure, the Turks are a NATO nation and are officially allied with the U.S. But Ankara is increasingly bucking Washington, including its plan to target the military arm of the Syrian Kurds’ Democratic Union Party. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees them as enemies because of their association with the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers Party, which Ankara considers a terrorist group.

The planned abandonment by the U.S. has led Syrian Kurdish leaders to ask the Assad regime for protection from Turkish forces. If granted, it would be just one more political, if not territorial, gain for Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose brutal rule is worthy of war crimes charges. (Trump himself has called Assad an “animal” for his use of chemical weapons, just one of the atrocities Trump’s own State Department has chronicled in its annual Human Rights Report.)

A U.S. withdrawal, even if more deliberate, would delight Moscow and Tehran as much as Damascus, since Russia and Iran have immorally enabled Assad to continue his homicidal reign.

And although the Islamic State no longer controls a designated capital of its caliphate, the terrorist group, however depleted, is not defeated, a fact that Trump himself has acknowledged after initially identifying ISIS’s defeat as the rationale for his quick withdrawal. Turkey has pledged to step up its efforts to fight the Islamic State, but it seems clear that Erdogan is more concerned (if not obsessed) with persecuting Kurds, be it in his country or neighboring Syria.

Allied capitals can’t be pleased, either. Jerusalem rightly fears Iran’s added ability to support Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. And despite the deeply troubling government in Riyadh, which the Republican-led U.S. Senate just officially blamed for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia is still an ally, and is in a long-term struggle with Iran.

It’s not just Mideast capitals that have to be worried about Trump’s impulsive abandonment of a key U.S. ally. European and Asian allies have to be concerned, too. This may actually make it more, not less, likely that the United States gets militarily involved around the world, since it will be more difficult for other countries to trust the durability of U.S. commitments.

“There is both a national-security interest and a values-based interest in when the United States defines a mission, sets an objective, and then recruits partners and allies to work with it to achieve that mission and objective,” Dana Stroul, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told an editorial writer. “The major challenge with the manner of the president’s decision is that it was not previewed with any allies, there was no time to prep partners and it makes the United States look unreliable.”

The necessity of reliability was clear to Jim Mattis. “One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships,” the former defense secretary wrote in his resignation letter.

Unreliability anywhere, but especially in the Mideast, encourages reliably malign forces of adversaries to fill the void. Trump was right to announce a slower withdrawal, but he should listen to allies — both globally and in Washington — and further reconsider the ramifications of his Syrian policy.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Jan. 2

Space: Unmanned remains the way to explore

Why it matters: The New Horizons probe, 13 years after it left Earth, is now a billion miles beyond Pluto — and still adding to our understanding of the universe, our solar system and even our planet.

Four billion miles. And you think you have a long commute.

Four billion miles is how far from Earth the New Horizons spacecraft is now, some 13 years after its launch. It is today, after its New Year’s flyby of a space fleck dubbed Ultima Thule, sending back to its home planet images and data about this distant rock — or, perhaps, rocks.

When New Horizons left Earth, humans did not know Ultima Thule — “beyond the known world” — specifically existed. At some 20 miles across and on the fringe of our solar system, it was not found until researchers sought a new destination for New Horizons after its 2015 flyby of Pluto. Soon we will know a great deal about this minor planet. The data being transmitted by New Horizons is expected to increase humanity’s understanding of the origins of the solar system.

The probe’s encounter with Ultima Thule comes roughly a week after the semi-centennial anniversary of Apollo 8′s trip around the Moon. That venture brought back the famous photo “Earthrise,” showing our blue planet against the empty blackness of space over the barren lunar landscape. Fifty years later, that image retains its emotional impact. As the astronaut who took the photo, Bill Anders, has said, “We left to explore the Moon, and we discovered the Earth.”

The Apollo moon missions were manned. New Horizons, necessarily, is not. It has been traveling through space for 13 years and will continue indefinitely, although its fuel is low and it is already so far from home that it takes some six hours for its signals to be received.

There is a bubbling interest in returning to manned expeditions. Back to the moon, and eventually to Mars. We doubt the necessity of the former and the practicality of the latter. Neither body is remotely hospitable to humans. The romantic notion of colonizing the Red Planet is ridiculous. Such an outpost could not be adequately provisioned, nor could it become self-sustaining.

Still, at least three private entities, with the financial backing of some flamboyant billionaires, are pushing their way into space travel, or at least space tourism. Discovery Communications’ Science Channel cable offering is promoting its coverage of what it calls “Space Race 2.0.” People do want to leave this planet, and some are even willing to commit to never returning.

It seems inevitable that humans will return to space beyond the International Space Station. But the better bang for the scientific buck will continue to be in such unmanned probes as New Horizons.

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Post Bulletin, Jan. 3

Legal notices should remain in print

Late last year, Rochester’s Charter Commission — the 15-member group that regularly reviews and updates the city’s charter — recommended that Rochester no longer publish its new city ordinances in the Post Bulletin. Or any newspaper, for that matter.

“The official record still belongs with the city’s records, not the fact that the paper has published it,” argued commission member Bob Haeussinger. “It just so happened that they published it, but that isn’t the binding document.”

That might be true, although that charter change would apparently supersede a Minnesota statute that requires city councils to publish approved ordinances in the local newspaper.

But the phrase “just so happened that they published it” completely misses the mark.

The change — local governments no longer publishing city ordinances — would mean less government transparency. More questions regarding legitimacy of the information. Less public access. Fewer checks and balances.

“The purpose of state and federal public notice requirements is to publicize information about government actions, so its citizens can make well-informed decisions and be active participants in a democratic society,” according to the Minnesota Newspaper Association. “Government has an affirmative duty to provide this information so it is transparent and easily accessible.”

Sure, we have a vested monetary interest here. Last year, the city spent just more than $13,000 publishing city ordinances, and just less than $10,000 in 2016.

But we strongly believe in the power of print — and in the power of the PB’s influential online presence — when it comes to the public’s right to know, especially concerning our local government.

And when the public wants to know, they seek out the PB.

Our audits show that roughly 70,000 people read the print version of every Post Bulletin. The Post Bulletin website — where this legal information is free, archived, and easily accessible to all — gets 435,000 average users. Per month.

And it’s growing.

Newspapers are alive and well in Minnesota, according to the MNA, and print circulation has remained strong. There are more than 330 newspapers in Minnesota. In 2016, MNA members printed and distributed more than 7 million newspapers every week. That’s one newspaper for every three households in Minnesota.

Visits to newspaper websites have skyrocketed as well. Visits to government websites are infinitesimal compared to newspaper readership in print and online. (And the MNA hosts a state of the art, statewide website, MNpublicnotice.com , which reposts public notices at no cost.)

During the Charter Commission meeting, a few board members questioned whether the city’s digital-only model would serve as an effective legal public archive. They questioned whether an online-only model would be safe from things like hacking and data loss and lack of access.

The answer to those questions, of course, is no.

Like virtually all government websites, Rochester’s includes various disclaimers that their website cannot be relied upon for legal purposes.

The Rochester Public Library, meanwhile, houses a physical archive of the Post Bulletin dating back decades. You may have to learn to use microfilm, but still.

Deputy City Attorney Dave Goslee said he plans to request that the City Council hold a public hearing on the topic on Jan. 23.

We’ll be there.

But not on behalf of ourselves.

We’ll be there on behalf of those 70,000 daily print readers, and those 5.2 million annual online visitors to PB.com , and those people searching our online or in-library archives.

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