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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

July 23, 2014

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


July 18

Newsday, Melville, New York, on the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17:

As last week slammed to a close with searing images of a Malaysia Airlines jet smoldering in Ukrainian fields, the American president who once ran for office promising “to deal with the world as it is rather than what it might be” stepped to the microphones to give a not-so-subtle warning to Russia about igniting Cold War II.

Barack Obama was quite correct to offer Russian President Vladimir Putin a finger-wagging lecture on Friday. Obama said “there will be costs” if Russia proceeds with any military activities in Ukraine.

The president is also right to demand an international response, and he should keep up pressure on European leaders, who until now have been quite reluctant to confront the megalomanic Russian president. While Obama was careful not to directly put blood on Putin’s hands, his advisers were less diplomatic.

Before Obama’s White House remarks, Samantha Power, our ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council in Manhattan that the Russian weapons were so technically complex that it was “impossible to rule out” that the separatists weren’t trained by their Russian sponsors.

Beyond the immediate diplomatic and economic actions the United States and our allies must take, the tragic loss of life could underscore a philosophical turning point — reversing America’s growing retreat from world affairs.

Suddenly a civil war that has raged quietly in an obscure part of the world has broken out into the open — claiming 298 innocent souls.

It’s now evident that a surface-to-air missile destroyed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over a section of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. It’s possible the combatants who fired the missiles thought they had targeted a military aircraft. They had boasted earlier of shooting down at least two Ukrainian military planes.

That it was probably a mistake is of little comfort.

“This looks less like an accident than a crime,” said Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia. “And if so, the perpetrators must be brought to justice.”

But can Europe do that? It depends on Russia for oil and gas, which has helped explain why some of its leaders have been reticent about calling out Putin on his military adventures — most recently, his violent annexation of Crimea. But any excuse for silence has vanished.

This unthinkable episode should galvanize public opinion here and around the world — in a way we have not seen before — to isolate Putin.




July 18

News Tribune, Jefferson City, Missouri, on state legislation that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons:

Arming teachers to respond to deadly attacks is an unsettling concept.

Gov. Jay Nixon on July 14 vetoed legislation that would permit educators who specifically are trained for armed response to carry concealed weapons.

We understand and appreciate the motivation for the legislation.

Massacres in the schools, although rare, are a grim reality. We support exploring ways to prevent violence or, failing that, to limit its scope, not only in schools, but in all venues — workplaces, movie theaters, etc. — where massacres have occurred.

Supporters of the bill contend students’ lives could be saved by the more rapid response offered by trained, armed teachers.

We have no quarrel with that theory.

But theory does not necessarily translate effectively into the reality of an adrenalin-fueled, bloody gun battle.

Law enforcement officers — who serve as resource officers in many of our schools — train regularly and rigorously to assess and respond to the violent episodes. Under stressful situations, they must evaluate a range of unknowns regarding the number of assailants, the location and safety of potential victims, and the most effective way to intercede.

Teachers are trained to educate. Even if teachers have background and experience handling firearms, can and should they be placed in situations where they must make life-and-death decisions?

In his veto message, Nixon said: “I have supported and will continue to support the use of duly authorized law enforcement officers employed as school resource officers, but I cannot condone putting firearms in the hands of educators who should be focused on teaching our kids.”

We agree.

In our capacity as journalists, we have interacted with countless educators over the years. We have the utmost respect for their professionalism, dedication and compassion for their students.

Their job is teaching, and teaching must not and should not place them in a position where they must ask themselves if this is the moment when they will kill another human being.




July 22

The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, on inheritance of online accounts after death:

Dying in the digital age means leaving two worlds instead of one.

One is the physical world, where your body resides. The other is the online world, where your virtual self exists. When you die, your loved ones become responsible for both — yet they have very few tools to take proper care of the online “you.”

This is a growing problem nationally and in Oregon, as older citizens become more Internet-savvy and people of all ages conduct more of their personal and financial business online. Oregon lawmakers should be prepared to tackle this issue in 2015, with help from privacy advocates and estate attorneys: Our laws are ill-equipped to deal with the tricky reality of gaining access to others’ Facebook accounts, family photos stored in the cloud, and even password-protected phones.

Last week, a leading group of lawyers recommended that states adopt several proposals to make it easier for surviving family members and executors of estates to gain access to your digital assets when you die. This group, known as the Uniform Law Commission, says electronic documents should be treated much like paper documents in a file cabinet. In most cases, a surviving loved one or executor should get easy access without having to petition a judge or jump through months of hoops.

Same goes for photos and files that might be stored online: Unless the person specified otherwise in a will, trust or user opt-in agreement, that person’s digital assets should be as accessible as their physical property, the group says.

“Technology is creating these assets on a daily basis, and the law is woefully behind,” said former state lawmaker Lane Shetterly, an Oregon attorney who served on the workgroup that hammered out the recommendations. The group’s intent is to establish good public policy around better access, he explained, while also carving out ways for people to protect their online privacy, even in death.

“This is a balancing act,” Shetterly told The Oregonian editorial board on Tuesday.

Digital privacy is emerging as a hot topic for the 2015 legislative session, and dealing with the digital assets of a deceased person is likely to be part of the mix. Oregon lawmakers may be surprised to discover that many of the same Internet companies that seem awfully casual about users’ privacy are often the most reluctant to share account information with surviving loved ones, both because of company policies and competing federal laws.

Oregonians may find themselves debating surreal questions such as: How can we keep a virtual self out of legal purgatory? How should we define a good digital death?

This would have sounded like gibberish five years ago. Now, it’s a natural extension of living with our heads — and a good part of our souls — in the digital cloud.




July 16

Omaha (Nebraska) World-Herald on investment in technology to manage water supplies:

It’s no surprise that a large portion of venture capital goes toward the “cool” stuff. Stuff such as phone apps that help people improve the way they do social networking, order pizza or keep up with Hollywood celebrities.

That’s fine, but it’s encouraging to read in Modern Farmer magazine that some investors are turning their attention to supporting innovative ideas for efficient water use.

Technology that promotes prudent use of this essential resource for agriculture and other needs might not sound cool to some, but that is just the type of scientific advancement 21st-century agriculture needs. At present, less than 1 percent of U.S. venture capital goes toward water-efficiency breakthroughs.

Reporting by Circle of Blue, a research/journalist group that studies water issues, recently pointed out a key reason why the world needs technological innovation on water needs:

“Aquifers that nourish some of the richest farmland and the largest countries are under stress. Aquifers in California’s Central Valley, India’s Ganges Plain, the grasslands of northern China, and the Arabian Peninsula are all shrinking.”

Water scarcity has dramatically reduced cattle numbers in the southern Plains and spurred the state government in Kansas to rework its water laws and begin a process for crafting a 50-year statewide water plan.

In Nebraska — which leads the nation with 8.3 million acres in irrigation — a state water task force this year developed legislation that’s launched a statewide collaboration to strengthen water sustainability.

Meanwhile, the ongoing drought in California is projected to spur farmers to let 800,000 acres lie fallow this year due to water shortages. The catastrophic drought has spurred some Bay Area investors to begin putting money into new ideas for water sustainability.

This issue relates directly to the University of Nebraska’s Daugherty Water for Food Institute and its annual conference, set for October. The annual event attracts water experts from around the world.

Development of water-efficiency technology may never be considered as cool as phone apps, but in a world facing growing water and food challenges, such investment is critical for urban and rural folks alike.




July 18

The Tampa (Florida) Tribune on self-defense provisions of a state gun law, and recent court rulings:

The state’s flawed “stand your ground” law continues to be a source of refuge for people who may not be deserving of its protections.

Recently, the Florida Supreme Court allowed an appellate court decision involving a “stand your ground” defense to stand. The result: A man who shot and killed two unarmed people never had to face a jury of his peers.

And this week, an appellate court in Palm Beach County decided a convicted felon illegally in possession of a firearm could use “stand your ground” as a defense after shooting another man during an altercation.

Did legislators really intend the law’s self-defense protections to be interpreted so broadly?

These cases are the latest examples of how the 2005 law continues to vex the police and prosecutors who investigate the circumstances surrounding cases involving violent disputes. Under the law, the investigators must await a preliminary judgment about guilt or innocence before a trial is ever held.

As we’ve said before, “stand your ground” as a concept is laudable. People who fear for their lives through no fault of their own shouldn’t be prosecuted. But that was already the rule of law, and the “stand your ground” law eliminates any duty to retreat, which is enabling people who choose to participate in violent disputes to end them by using lethal force.

Lawmakers should put aside their intransigence on this issue and make the necessary tweaks that will eliminate the confusion and the abuses. But that hardly seems likely. In fact, lawmakers this past session passed a bad law that expands the rights of people to fire warning shots, putting innocent bystanders at risk. It also keeps the records of some “stand your ground” cases from public view.

It’s doubtful lawmakers had the rights of convicted felons on their minds when they passed “stand your ground.” But the legislation may very well result in the Supreme Court enshrining the rights of convicted felons to use a firearm they can’t legally possess in self-defense.

These are the kinds of convoluted legal questions that will continue to arise until the law is fixed.




July 16

The Moscow Times on the International Space Station program:

Over the past several months, we have witnessed an almost major collapse in bilateral relations between Russia and the U.S., seemingly throwing to the wind more than 20 years of modest but quantifiable rapprochement between these powerful and once bitter enemies.

The Nobel Committee, which will award the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize in October, should look closely at the contribution each candidate makes toward the easing of tensions between Russia and the West when choosing this year’s winner.

One candidate in particular has contributed more toward these ends than any other nominee: the International Space Station partnership.

This partnership, formed more than 15 years ago to facilitate the construction and operation of a $150 billion outpost in space, represents the largest international collaborative project ever undertaken during peacetime.

Space agencies have so far refused to allow political currents to interfere with the International Space Station program. The crisis in Ukraine, however, has thrown the future of the program into question.

In response to U.S. sanctions, and a federal government order for NASA to suspend all cooperation with Roscosmos outside of the ISS program, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said in May that Russia was not interested in extending ISS participation beyond 2020. Roscosmos is in talks with the Russian government over the fate of ISS participation, but there are real concerns that politics will torpedo the otherwise bright future of the ISS program.

Ending Russian participation in the ISS could easily lead to a return to Cold War enmity with the very real potential of sparking an arms race in space, a scenario only narrowly avoided when the U.S. and USSR competed for glory on the final frontier.

It would also wreck one of the few examples of major international cooperation as governments burn bridge after bridge in the Ukrainian crisis.

The men and women of these national space agencies that make up the International Space Station partnership — the organizational structure established by partner agencies from 15 nations that support the football-field-sized space station — has promoted cultural understanding between all participants. NASA, European, Canadian and Japanese space officials live and work among their Russian peers in Moscow, and Roscosmos officials do the same in Houston.

Their interactions range from the mundane — arranging housing and office spaces for visiting delegations, to the extraordinary — preparing multinational teams of cosmonauts and astronauts to live and work in space through an exhaustive and collaborative training program at space centers around the world.

International space cooperation has also fostered understanding by engaging the military, scientific and industrial bases of the U.S. and Russia in a challenging, peaceful and forward looking mission, rather than pursuing purely competitive and militaristic ends.

Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the ISS would also encourage all governments involved to allow their space agencies to work together well into the future. With 50 nations now exploring space, the ISS also sets an exemplary standard for international cooperation, helping ensure that peaceful, civilian space efforts remain the norm.

The ISS shows that it is possible to overlook political differences and work together toward a truly global and uplifting goal: creating the framework for the human race to continue its push beyond Earth’s orbit.

It is due time for the international community to make an unequivocal statement of support for the positive efforts of the U.S., Russia and their 13 partners aboard ISS during times of heightened and dangerous tension between Russia and the West.



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