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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

December 4, 2014

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


Dec. 3

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on oil prices:

The price of oil has fallen around 40 percent since summer, with widespread consequences. It is very good news for American consumers, for example, who are saving more than $4 billion a week compared to last June. So it’s good news for the U.S. economy.

It is also good news for European nations, and for Japan and China, all big oil importers.

But consider the case of Russia. Last week, Russia’s finance minister said economic sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe to oppose Russia’s Ukrainian land grabs will cost his nation’s economy $40 billion to $50 billion a year. But the oil price slide, he said, will cost Russia $100 billion. Russia now expects to be in recession next year. The ruble has fallen sharply in foreign exchange markets, making food and other imports more expensive.

The oil price collapse will have similarly damaging effects for Iran, Venezuela, Iraq and a number of other countries that have built their national budgets on the assumption that oil prices would remain perpetually at or above $100 a barrel. This week it trades at around $70. The oil price collapse might even make Iran more eager to agree to conditions on its nuclear program that would lead to a lifting of economic sanctions.

Lower oil prices result from a global oversupply of around 2 percent. The recent decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) not to change production levels suggests that the oversupply, and low prices, will be sustained well into the new year. In fact, OPEC has no plans to revisit production targets until next June.

The OPEC decision was largely determined by Saudi Arabia, the one major producer that has the financial and production flexibility to make major supply changes. The Saudi objective is not entirely clear. Some believe it is an effort to discourage oil production in the United States, which has soared in recent years. But experts say U.S. production will not have to be reduced in the near term in response to today’s oil prices.

Another possibility is that Saudi Arabia is seeking to weaken its opponents in the Middle East, particularly nations like Russia and Iran that support the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

If so, it is demonstrating that its ability to push oil prices down remains a potent political weapon, more potent than the formal sanctions that Russia and Iran face.




Dec. 2

Decatur (Alabama) Daily on Orion launch:

NASA once delivered manned space mission milestones routinely.

Alan Shepard became the first American in space in 1961. John Glenn became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth the next year. Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon in 1969, and the first space shuttle launched in 1981.

But in the past 33 years, NASA hasn’t launched a manned spacecraft with a new design. Efforts to change that will make a major advance if Friday’s planned launch of an unmanned Orion crew vehicle is successful. (Thursday’s launch was scrubbed).

If weather and systems cooperate, NASA will take its first step toward putting humans aboard Orion in 2021 and allowing U.S. exploration beyond low-earth orbit.

North Alabama should have an especially keen interest in the mission. The launch will use a Delta IV Heavy rocket assembled at the United Launch Alliance plant in Decatur. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville oversaw development of propulsion elements in Orion’s emergency launch abort system, an innovation that would activate in an emergency during launch or initial ascent to propel the Orion crew to safety. Marshall also had a role in Orion testing.

There are many interesting facets to Thursday’s mission, which will last only 4½ hours but eventually could lead to a manned Mars mission in the 2030s.

Engineers want to see how well Orion’s parachutes perform to slow the craft because it will return to Earth at an intentionally high speed to mimic that on a return from Mars.

Additionally, the speed will increase temperatures on re-entry into earth’s atmosphere to 4,000 degrees and test Orion’s heat shield protection. A large portion of the mission will be spent intentionally in the Van Allen Belts to let sensors test the craft’s radiation shielding.

Orion’s computers, which are 400 times faster than the space shuttle’s, and the craft’s ability to jettison parts as they become unneeded also will be under scrutiny.

The United States should pursue space exploration with the goal of a Mars mission.

The U.S. needs a bold adventure to attract a new generation to science.




Dec. 3

Wall Street Journal on President Obama’s immigration bait:

President Barack Obama must be smiling. Only a month after his election trouncing, and with the ink on his immigration decree still fresh, he has already induced Republicans to ignore him and start fighting each other.

The latest GOP self-abuse concerns how to respond to the decree while funding the government after the latest spending bill runs out on Dec. 11. Speaker John Boehner and most of his Members have figured out that a showdown over funding the immigration order would be futile. It would end up with another government shutdown for which they would get most of the blame, and at a moment when their political standing with the public has begun to rise.

So Boehner is pushing together a two-part proposal to express GOP opposition to Obama’s action while avoiding another self-inflicted knee-capping. In the current lame-duck session, House Republicans will first pass a bill declaring the immigration order illegal; this will die in Harry Reid ’s Senate.

Then Republicans will attempt to pass a bill funding the government through September 2015, except for the Homeland Security Department, which they will fund for only a couple of months. The idea is to take a large-scale government shutdown off the table while leaving the possibility to fight more narrowly next year, with the Senate in GOP hands, over funding for the department that handles immigration enforcement.

You know what’s coming: A handful of Republicans are calling this a cowardly abdication. “Congress must respond to the President’s unlawful action by funding the government but not funding illegal amnesty,” says Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. “This is a perfectly sound and routine application of congressional authority. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reports that last year’s omnibus spending bill included 16 such funding restrictions on fee-based programs.”

He’s right that it’s routine_when a bill passes the Senate and is signed by the President. But Senate Democrats will kill any bill that defunds Obama’s order. What happens then?

That’s the question we never seem to get an answer to. A budget stalemate means a government shutdown after Dec. 11. As far as we can tell, Sessions believes that if Republicans hold firm during a shutdown, the public will eventually side with the GOP, Senate Democrats will roll over, and the President will surrender. Does this sound remotely plausible?

Our guess is that a run off the rails is precisely what Obama wants, so he can blame Republicans for a shutdown and diminish their political standing before the 114th Congress even begins.

This is true even on immigration. Republicans aren’t likely to overturn his immigration decree unless they take the White House, but in Congress they can minimize its political damage by passing individual reforms that solve discrete immigration problems.

Part of Obama’s calculation in issuing his edict was to induce Republicans to overreact. They shouldn’t give him what he wants.




Dec. 2

Boston Herald on President Obama’s mixed messages:

It’s easy to understand that the nation’s first African-American president feels a huge responsibility for what by all accounts is now a deepening racial divide in this country, exposed by the reaction nationally to the Ferguson, Missouri, shooting of Michael Brown.

Frustrated — if not outright horrified — by the optics of his call for calm last week in all of its split-screen irony with scenes of Ferguson businesses in flames, Obama devoted much of his day yesterday at the White House trying to fix things.

He proposed a very practical plan to provide $75 million in federal funds to increase the use of tiny body-worn cameras by police. It certainly won’t cover every community but it sets a priority and sometimes that helps too. There’s no downside to this — no downside to visual truth-telling that can lead to better behavior not just by the police, but by the civilians they interact with.

And while there was no immediate change in the policy that allows the transfer of certain military-like equipment from five federal agencies to community police departments, the White House has asked those agencies to work on new standards for the distribution and use of such equipment. Not every town needs a tank, simply because it’s available. On the other hand, Massachusetts has made life-saving use of military surplus equipment during floods and for post-storm rescues.

As for the president’s meetings at the White House recently, all you really have to know is that the Rev. Al Sharpton was on the guest list. Yes, the same man who on Sunday told an audience at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, “You won the first round Mr. Prosecutor, but don’t cut your gloves off, cause the fight’s not over.”

Memo to the president: If healing is supposed to be the message, Sharpton will never be the messenger.




Dec. 2

Orange County Register, Santa Ana, California, on police body cameras:

In the wake of the fallout from the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., President Barack Obama announced Monday a proposal to improve community policing efforts and address the “simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.”

The three-year, $263 million effort would aim to increase the use of body cameras worn by police to record interactions with civilians, expand law enforcement agency training, encourage community-oriented police efforts and bring together law enforcement, civil liberties and civil rights interests to determine best practices on community policing and issue recommendations over the next few months.

There is $75 million to purchase approximately 50,000 body cameras, and additionally provide state and local law enforcement agencies with a 50 percent federal funding match.

The use of body cameras is an excellent idea that these pages have advocated for in both dissuading the unnecessary use of force by offices against civilians and preventing civilians from making false claims of police brutality against law enforcement agencies. When the Rialto Police Department experimented with officer body cameras in 2012-13, it found that officers used force nearly 60 percent less often, and the number of citizen complaints against officers dropped 88 percent.

It is wrong, however, to use additional federal funds to accomplish these worthy goals. If federal funds must be used, there are more than enough examples of government waste that could be cut to provide funding, such as a U.S. Postal Service program to provide soda, frozen chicken wings and other consumer goods - not just mail - to remote Alaskan villages ($77 million) or gratuitous “cultural exchange programs” ($90 million) that include public concerts with a rapper and a nose flutist.

The very fact that the federal government is increasingly getting involved in the funding and equipment decisions of local police departments - whether for unnecessary anti-terrorism programs, surplus military weapons and armored vehicles or body cameras - is deeply disturbing. The Posse Comitatus Act was passed in 1878 precisely to prevent the federal government from intervening in state and local police affairs. We have seen how federal strings have diminished local education and welfare programs. We should not endeavor to add policing to that misguided list.




Dec. 1

Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on EPA regulations:

That the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear challenges to federal environmental rules targeting mercury emissions is welcome news. A favorable ruling could rein in the Obama administration’s out-of-control Environmental Protection Agency, whose efforts do little to significantly improve the environment but much to harm citizens’ quality of life as they pay ever-higher prices for power and goods.

A new study by Energy Ventures Analysis notes that dramatic cost increases are possible under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, proposed guidelines unveiled in June to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fueled power generating units. The EPA claims that plan will ensure emissions in 2030 are 30 percent lower than they were in 2005.

The EVA report notes the Clean Power Plan is just the latest in an astounding string of EPA regulations focused primarily on power plants. The EPA’s recent regulations “include, but are not limited to” new National Ambient Air Quality Standards, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and regional haze regulations intended to improve visibility in public parks. All will increase consumer costs.

Since the Clean Power Plan hasn’t been finalized, it’s not among the regulations now being challenged before the Supreme Court. But if the court strikes down all or part of the challenged regulations, it will impact the Clean Power Plan as well. That would be good news. If the Clean Power Plan is enacted, the EVA report predicts average annual household gas and power bills will increase significantly by 2020, even after accounting for inflation.

Because the Clean Power Plan would force states to shift power production from low-cost coal to natural gas, the EVA report predicts increased demand will ultimately cause the wholesale price of natural gas to double by 2020. The EVA estimates the regulations will dramatically reduce the amount of Oklahoma electricity produced by coal plants from 38 percent in 2012 to just 14 percent by 2020. Natural gas plants, which produced half of Oklahoma electricity in 2012, would account for 74 percent by 2020. Production from renewable energy in Oklahoma would actually decline slightly.

The negative impact of direct and indirect price increases will likely be far greater for lower-income citizens. The EVA report notes inflation has outpaced income growth for many Americans with the lower-earning half of U.S. households experiencing a 25 percent decline in real income from 2001-2014.

Thus, as we’ve noted before, the Obama administration’s war on fossil fuels is also a war on the poor. If the so-called Clean Power Plan becomes reality, citizens will pay more for electricity, more for home heating and more for a wide range of goods.

Americans need less protection from dubious pollution problems and more protection from their environmental “protectors.”




Dec. 1

China Daily on more HIV/AIDS awareness needed:

On the 27th World Aids Day on Monday, it is easy to brag about what we’ve achieved in the fight against the virus, but that does little to help locate where more urgent efforts are needed.

Despite the drop in HIV infections by almost 40 percent globally since 2001 and AIDS-related deaths by 35 percent since their peak in 2005, the number of new AIDS infections and patients from January to October this year was 2,932 in Beijing, a 21.3 percent increase over the same period the previous year. The national statistics are not available yet.

What is particularly worrying is the increase in AIDS infections among students. From January to October this year, the capital reported more than 100 cases of infections among students. In the same period, 10 other provinces have also reported more than 100 students infected with the virus.

Five provinces reported more than 100 students infected with the virus last year. The youngest one is only 14 years old in North China’s Hebei province.

It is a reality then the HIV virus is spreading among students, and not just university students but students in middle schools. How can this be?

On the one hand, the social media network has greatly increased the opportunities for homosexuals to get in contact with each other and have sex, which has increased the possibility of homosexuals being infected with the HIV virus. Statistics suggests homosexuals account for 73. 5 percent of people infected in Beijing. On the other hand, the lack of sex education has resulted in a lack of AIDS awareness among them.

In the majority of Chinese primary, middle schools and even universities, there are almost no sex education courses, and HIV/AIDS awareness is far from enough. A survey in Guangzhou shows that only 40 percent of students on campus have received any knowledge about AIDS.

So it is not enough to just raise the issue when World AIDS Day is observed, instead, it is something that should attract serious attention from the government, parents and schools.

Students should be instructed about the disease and safe sex. We should no longer take it for granted that sex, safe sex in particular, is something that everyone finds out about by themselves. The cost will be prohibitively high otherwise.

And if so many students, university ones in particular, know little about safe sex and about how to take precautions against the disease, how can we expect other ordinary people to know?

It is obvious that awareness about HIV and AIDS is far from enough.



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