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Editorial Roundup

July 5, 2000

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:

July 4

Muskogee (Okla.) Daily Phoenix & Times-Democrat, on Mexican elections:

``Viva Mexico!″ ``Viva democracia!″ The chants began swelling across Mexico late Sunday night as that nation’s Federal Electoral Institute announced preliminary results of the day’s presidential voting.

The longest-governing political party in the world finally was being booted out of office. For the first time in 71 years, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was losing its long-held lock on the presidency. For the first time in more than seven decades, an opposition candidate will be moving into Los Pinos, the presidential residence, in December.

Center-right National Action Party, or PAN, candidate Vicente Fox’s victory was not completely unexpected. Polls on the eve of the election had reported that he and the PRI candidate, Francisco Labastida, were in a statistical dead heat.

More surprising than Fox’s win is his margin of victory _ 8 percent ahead of the PRI in the popular vote, with almost 90 percent counted. There is no doubt that the people of Mexico want real change.

That showed up in voting on down the ballot, too. The PAN won pluralities of more than 40 percent in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Sunday night, lame duck President Ernesto Zedillo congratulated Fox for his hard-won victory and pledged to respect the outcome of the most democratic, fair and free vote in modern Mexican history.

Much of the credit for this goes to the PRI’s Zedillo, who worked hard to democratize Mexico’s electoral process and guard those reforms against corruption and subversion. Opposition parties did not entirely trust Zedillo, and hard-line ``dinosaurs″ within his own party openly reviled him. But he made Mexico’s transition to full democracy work. ...

July 4

The Washington Post, on Mexican election:

The victory of opposition candidate Vicente Fox in Mexico’s presidential election ranks as one of the most hopeful political developments in Latin America since the end of the Cold War. For the past 71 years, Mexico has been dominated by the Revolutionary Institutional Party, known by its Spanish initials as the PRI. In the 20th century, only the Communist Party of the Soviet Union maintained a monopoly on power for a comparable period. Though never in the Soviet league of brutality, the PRI-run state that novelist Mario Vargas Llosa called the ``perfect dictatorship″ was authoritarian and corrupt. Now, however, PRI rule has been swept aside, in a peaceful, legitimate process that appears to guarantee that one undeniable PRI achievement _ political stability _ will endure. Mexico’s triumph injects badly needed momentum into Latin American democratization, at a time when Peru, Colombia and Venezuela show signs of going the other way. ...

July 3

The Indianapolis Star, on U.N. justice:

The United States has the largest number of military serving overseas. It also has its own military justice system for punishing American troops suspected of war crimes.

So why should it give an international tribunal superseding jurisdiction to prosecute U.S. troops charged with war crimes or crimes against humanity?

It shouldn’t. And if it fails to get blanket immunity for American personnel based abroad, the Senate should refuse to ratify a treaty establishing the United Nations-sponsored court. More, it should make it clear that there will be no financial support forthcoming for the court.

Whatever the White House’s inclinations, the Clinton administration isn’t likely to call attention to the matter of the global court. With good reason. This is an election year. Most Americans would and should be furious at the notion of U.S. troops being subject to a U.N. version of justice.

July 4

Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal, on knowledge of history as key to freedom:

″... We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness ...″

These soul-stirring words are among the most familiar in America’s history and are found in the Declaration of Independence _ a seminal document with which a band of 13 colonies dissolved its allegiances to England on this day 224 years ago.

What the 56 signers did not do, however, was declare a ``government of the people, by the people, for the people.″ That phrase is part of the Gettysburg Address. Yet, 43 percent of college seniors surveyed thought it was part of the Declaration; 31 percent thought it part of the U.S. Constitution. Only 22 percent correctly answered this question lifted from typical high school U.S. history tests.

While some confusion over source documents (and loss of high school history class memory) might not seem critical to the state of the nation, it is distressing that 80 percent of seniors tested _ all students at 55 top colleges and universities, including Harvard and Princeton _ received a D or F on the 34-question, high school-level exam. More than a third didn’t know the Constitution established the division of power in American government. ...

A knowledge of history _ and especially of the idealistic words on which democracy is based _ is essential for Americans to continue functioning as ″... One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,″ as stated in the Pledge of Allegiance. In their zeal to celebrate diversity and ethnic origins, or to wave rebel battle flags and hold Confederate memorial days, Americans tend to forget their commonality as Americans.

This Independence Day, we again fulfill John Adams’ prediction that succeeding generations would celebrate the birth of a nation as a ``great anniversary.″ It is appropriate not only to celebrate, however, but to appreciate this nation’s founding ideals _ and to rebuild the patriotism that has been splintered, torn down or forgotten.

June 26

The Intelligencer, Wheeling, W.Va., on prayer at football games:

The Supreme Court’s extreme decision regarding pre-football game prayers boils down to an assertion that if any student utters a prayer at a school event, then the school is deemed to have ``established religion″ and must take steps to stop it. It comes as little surprise, then, that in some parts of the country the Court’s decision has sparked open defiance.

As The Associated Press reports, at least one Louisiana high school official already says pre-game prayers will go forward as long as students want them _ unless there is local objection to the long-standing practice. ``To make some allegation that this is an infringement of church and state is an extreme reach,″ says Pat Luke, principal of South Terrebonne High School. ``I don’t believe that this nation is one nation under nothing; it’s one nation under God.″

Such reaction calls to mind last year’s graduation season, during which the assembled crowd of thousands at a Maryland high school spontaneously broke into The Lord’s Prayer after a court declared that a student could not be allowed to lead a prayer.

By overreaching, the Court may well undermine its own authority. The law may be the law _ the Court is not a legislature, even if it sometimes behaves like one _ but when the law is ridiculous, Americans have a habit of thumbing their noses at it. Or in this case clasping their hands in prayer. The national 55 mile-an-hour speed limit was eliminated principally because hardly anyone obeyed it. Prohibition similarly fell victim to popular will. ...

June 29

American Press, Lake Charles, La., on welfare reform:

The full equation involved in moving people from welfare to work is slowly taking form and it’s going to be a lot more complex and far-reaching than anyone imagined.

The end goal of the biggest welfare reform program in U.S. history was to get people off the welfare rolls and into jobs. And when welfare recipients _ faced with a go-to-work-or-lose-welfare edict _ began to find jobs, the White House and Congress crowed in triumph.

That, they said, was that.

Not quite.

Moving off welfare and into the work force has proved to be traumatic enough for single mothers. Now, their children are suffering by receiving poor child care that provides little stimulation and no direction from adults, researchers say.

As the welfare rolls shrink, the number of toddlers placed in government-subsidized care for poor children is expanding.

Strict rules requiring welfare recipients to get jobs or leave the rolls, and a helpful economy, caused welfare rolls to shrink. The number of welfare families fell from more than 5 million in 1994 to half as many last year.

However, Congress and the administration either missed or ignored a vital statistic. Most of the welfare families consisted of single mothers and their children. And in order for the single mother to go to work, someone had to take care of her children. ...

June 29:

The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., on high gas prices:

Gasoline prices are at record highs for recent years, and politicians are blaming each other for the problem. But a close look at the record suggests that some of the blame should fall on the present administration.

That is the view of, among others, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. But President Clinton declared recently that ``there is no economic explanation I can think of for the run-up in prices.″ He promised that the government will aggressively investigate the possibility of collusion by oil companies. ...

Although the administration hopes to deflect blame for high gasoline prices to the oil companies, there is reason to suspect that it does not think high energy prices are altogether a bad thing since they encourage administration goals of energy conservation and the reduction of greenhouse gases.

June 29

The Vindicator, Youngstown, Ohio, on Supreme Court ruling on Miranda warning:

While it is incumbent on the Supreme Court of the United States to analyze cases and interpret the law, it had to take only a common sense approach to arrive at the right decision about the ``Miranda warning.″

In a 7-2 decision, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist writing the majority opinion, the court may well have put to rest a contentious 34-year debate on what rights a suspect has when taken into police custody. He has the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer, but further, he has the right to be told so by the arresting officer.

And Miranda makes an important statement about our culture. It says that in a free society police departments must respect the fundamental rights of all citizens and that even the most disadvantaged should stand before the law on equal footing.

July 4

The Times, London, on Britain’s relationship with Mexico:

No country of comparable size, wealth and importance is as neglected by Britain as Mexico. Its affairs are largely unknown, its markets untapped and its politics ignored. This is partly because of the outdated perception of Mexico as a sleepy society whose world view is fixed on the United States, and partly because its politics have been impenetrably frozen in time. That freeze has now dramatically ended. The election victory of Vicente Fox, the former Coca-Cola executive and state governor who galvanized the Opposition with a cowboy image and brash style, has ended 71 years of unbroken rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). For all the western hemisphere this unprecedentedly open election is a vigorous reassertion of Latin American democracy; for Mexico itself it is an earthquake. ...

... Mexico has been attempting for the past decade to break out of the torpid image of a country defined by corruption, illegal immigration northwards and visceral anti-Americanism. ... The Fox triumph has been somewhat dimmed by the less decisive showing of his alliance in the simultaneous congressional elections. ... But no one should doubt the real and symbolic importance of his victory, the adrenalin this will send throughout the body politic and his determination to put Mexico more decisively on the world map.

July 4

Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm, Sweden, on the Mexican elections:

When the Mexicans unseated the PRI party after three-quarters of a century of hegemony, it was less of an ideological act and more of a purification rite. A broad mass of people, including the radical left, communists, poor and Indian activists, abandoned for one day their ingrained loyalties to carry up the conservative capitalist Vicente Fox from the rightist PAN party _ and all this for the moral pleasure of once in a lifetime seeing the back of PRI, the petrified power monopoly with the tragicomical name ‘The Institutional Revolutionary Party.’

The winner, Vicente Fox, is an impressive figure, when it comes to the outside measurements. The question now is if he has got any resources in addition to this, and if he is capable of dislodging the inexorable realities dictating the everyday life of Mexico’s 94 million inhabitants, of whom half are undernourished and one-fifth living in absolute misery.

The other year the U.S. spent billions of dollars to save Mexico’s currency from the so-called Tequila crisis. Spokesmen for the poor say that if this money had been spent on bread rations and schools for people who have nothing, this would have been a better investment in the long run. In all its national economical naivete such arguments reflect the world view of the broad masses, a view Vicente Fox must take into consideration, whether he shares it or not.

July 4

La Stampa, Milan, Italy, on Mexican election:

If anyone, even in the European Union, still had any doubts about the ability of economic alliances to shape political situations, the victory of Vicente Fox in Mexico should have eliminated them.

Drawn into NAFTA, together with the U.S. and Canada, Mexico has ended up absorbing the influence of its powerful neighbor, and has adopted the new economic norms set out by this free-market treaty.

Fox, with a ``yanqui″ name, is a former executive of Coca Cola _ the very symbol of the American hegemony _ and does not share much of Mexican nationalism’s bitter battles against the U.S. If a new star is appearing on the American flag, then only the most candid of souls will consider it a scandal; integration _ and with a giant this means enduring its hegemony _ is almost unavoidable now.

After 71 years of uninterrupted rule the PRI had lost its political identity, becoming a regime displaying dictatorial tendencies. The will to change and close with the past has prevailed, especially among Mexico’s urbanized middle classes. Now, the only glimpse Mexico’s campesinos will have of history is by looking at Diego Rivera’s murals.

July 4

The Independent, London, on France’s Euro 2000 victory:

Everything seems to be going France’s way. The French have reason to feel pleased with themselves for their Euro 2000 triumph, having already walked off with the World Cup. And that is not all. The economy is booming. The United Nations has declared that France has the best health system in the world. On education, too, France succeeds much better than we do; levels of literacy are much higher. ...

... But there is no need to go overboard in our praise for our neighbors. In many respects, there are still major faultlines in modern France. ...

The obsessive and contemptuous Francocentrism is more than just an abstract concept. A recent survey suggested that racist attitudes are embedded in the French mindset to what seems a shocking extent. Twenty-one per cent of French people say there are too many Jews in the country; 38 per cent say there are too many blacks; a stunning 63 per cent say there are too many Arabs.

Not, in short, the hallmark of a tolerant society. We can praise French football. We can praise the achievements of the French public sector; we can even praise their enviable self-confidence. But when self-confidence descends into arrogant chauvinism, we need to look elsewhere for models that we might emulate.

July 3

The Jordan Times, Amman, on arrest of Arab intellectual in Egypt:

The news that Egyptian authorities on Friday arrested Saad Eddin Ibrahim, one of the Arab world’s best respected thinkers and academicians, has sent an icy chill down the collective spine of the liberal and intellectual community throughout this region.

Ibrahim’s record and contributions to social and political sciences are common knowledge: It was not only the director of the Ibn Khaldoun Center for Human Rights and a professor at the American University in Cairo who was put behind bars, but also the luminary who popularized the very expression ‘civil society’ into Arabic.

The charges against him left many speechless: He was accused of drafting reports on the internal situation in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and other Arab countries in exchange for money from abroad.

No doubt his arrest will raise _ if it has not raised _ many eyebrows. Should we think that all this is telling of the determination with which authorities are carrying out this crackdown on perceived political dissent?

July 4

Frankfurter Allgemeine, Frankfurt, Germany, on new international tribunal in Hamburg:

Germany paid quite a price to finance the impressive headquarters of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea on Hamburg’s Elbehaussee. Anyone who thinks this was a waste of money should bear in mind that Germany would not have been the home for this UN body if the government (at the time led by Helmut Kohl) had not from the outset brushed aside all concerns about cost.

Even under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s leadership, Germany is a nation that is at the forefront when it comes to the democratic advancement of international law _ in a sense, the legalization of international relations. On the basis of 1982′s Law of the Sea Convention, the tribunal, a body in which almost all seafaring nations are represented, contributes greatly to the advancement of international law.

Admittedly, it has passed few significant judgments yet, but it seems likely that the number will soon rise. The standing of this international court will rise, too _ in a good cause, but also to the benefit of the host country. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea will be a credit to the Hanseatic city of Hamburg, with its major international port and long maritime tradition.

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