Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
The Associated Press
Feb. 18, 2015
Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Los Angeles Times on strategy against Islamic State:
Horrific events in Libya and Denmark in recent days demonstrate the two sorts of dangers posed by the fundamentalists who call themselves Islamic State: atrocities carried out in areas under its control and acts of violence committed in the West by individuals radicalized by the group's message. A strategy to "degrade and destroy" Islamic State must address both threats.
On Sunday the group released a video of the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christian men by a Libyan affiliate, another example of the savagery visited by Islamic State on those it considers enemies or apostates. A day earlier, a man identified as Omar Abdel Hamid Hussein fired shots at a Copenhagen center hosting a debate on free speech, killing a film director, then moved on to a synagogue, where he killed a security guard. The attacks were reminiscent of the shootings in Paris last month at the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket. The head of the Danish security service said that Hussein, a former gang member who was born in Denmark, may have been "inspired by militant Islamist propaganda issued by (Islamic State)."
The U.S. has carried out airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq, a campaign for which President Obama belatedly has requested authorization from Congress. But he rightly has portrayed the military action as a multinational effort and has promised that U.S. forces wouldn't engage in "long-term, large-scale ground combat operations" against Islamic State. That remains the proper strategy.
As for neutralizing Islamic State's propaganda, the U.S. has been engaged in a campaign to counter the suggestion that the group's interpretation of Islam is a valid one. How that response is framed is crucial. Critics accuse Obama of excessive delicacy and political correctness because he doesn't refer to "Islamic terrorism." But the president's diplomatic language doesn't mean he's in denial about either the existence or the popular appeal of radical interpretations of Islam. Indeed, the White House this week is sponsoring a summit on curbing violent extremism that is expected to showcase efforts by Muslim leaders to protect young people from extremist ideologies.
Portraying the campaign against Islamic State as a war on Islam wouldn't just be inaccurate; it would be incendiary and self-defeating.
Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail on safer energy transportation:
America, and the world for that matter, uses lots of energy. The energy source used more than any other in the United State is oil - at 36 percent of the energy consumed in this country.
In the American energy portfolio, natural gas is next at 27 percent, coal at 19 percent, renewable energy at 10 percent, and nuclear at 8 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The oil is produced - pulled from underground rock and reservoirs - wherever those reserves are. Before being used, oil must be refined. To get from production area to refinery, obviously, it must be transported.
In the United States, 70 percent of crude oil is shipped by pipeline, the safest and most efficient of all methods of oil transportation.
Twenty-three percent is shipped on tankers and barges over water, while 4 percent is trucked, and only 3 percent, amazingly, is shipped by rail, according to James Conca writing in an April 2014 Forbes column.
Each method of transportation has its own unique problems and benefits. None is without risk.
Amid a North American energy boom and a lack of pipeline capacity, Conca reported, oil shipping by rail has sharply increased.
"The trains are getting bigger and towing more and more tanker cars," Conca wrote. "From 1975 to 2012, trains were shorter and spills were rare and small, with about half of those years having no spills above a few gallons. Then came 2013, in which more crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents than was spilled in the previous 37 years."
With Monday's train derailment, Montgomery, W.Va., now joins the list of places - Lac Megantic, Quebec; Lynchburg Virginia; Pickens County, Ala.; among others - that have seen dramatic and dangerous oil tanker fires involving the volatile Bakken crude.
Considering the increase in oil transport, the CSX Corp. and other railroads need to do a much better job - obviously - on safety. Shorter trains, upgraded tank cars, lower speeds, and better track maintenance are among improvements railroads can and should make even before greater pressure from regulators and lawmakers begin.
In the bigger picture, however, the nation needs to develop a long-term, cohesive and realistic national energy strategy - something that has been talked about since the 1973 energy crisis but never fully developed. That strategy needs to encourage rapid development of an integrated network of modern, safe and more efficient underground pipelines to carry the energy we rely on.
Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on the Pentagon:
New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has been told by auditors that his new headquarters doesn't know how big it is, preventing it from beginning a promised and much-needed reduction in staff.
The news should make him laugh and cry at the same time. The Pentagon has such an unwieldy personnel system that it does not know how many people it actually employs, the Government Accountability Office has determined.
The Pentagon agencies include the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force secretariats and staffs, and other headquarters support agencies. The total number of jobs spills over from the Pentagon's capacity of 24,000 into adjacent government office buildings.
Those agencies grew rapidly after the war on terror was launched in 2001. Army civilian and military staff rose 60 percent from 2001 to 2013, for example.
Now that large U.S. deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have ended, it is clearly time to begin shrinking the headquarters back to a sensible, and manageable size. Congress has demanded cuts. Departing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel promised a 20 percent reduction.
But nothing has happened, apparently because nobody knows where to begin. The Pentagon workforce contains a confusing mix of civil servants, military personnel and contract employees. A top civil servant informally known as the mayor of the Pentagon is supposed to keep tabs on all this, but like Congress lacks the data needed.
That is because none of the headquarters organizations systematically and continuously determines its staffing requirements, the GAO found.
The problem may be traced back to the loss of legislative caps imposed on Pentagon offices by Congress in the 1980s and 1990s. If such caps were in place today, the GAO estimated, Army staff would exceed the targets by 17 percent. Navy staff would be too large by 74 percent.
But the caps were waived by Congress in 2002. Unfortunately, nothing took their place.
The Defense Department complained that the GAO report failed to take into account the "complex and multilayered structure" required to carry out Pentagon missions. But there is also evidence of Pentagon foot-dragging in meeting the new congressional demand for a leaner headquarters.
Explaining why the Pentagon missed a congressional deadline for a plan to downsize, a Defense Department spokesman said the office responsible for the report "has undergone both a leadership change and a staff reorganization, which redirected efforts away from the report."
This behavior will be familiar to connoisseurs of bureaucratic resistance to change as recorded by observers such as C. Northcote Parkinson, whose famous study of the inflexible size of the admiralty staff of the Royal Navy gave rise to Parkinson's Law — "Work expands to fill the time available for its completion."
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was assistant secretary of the Navy years before he became president, described its resistance to change: "To change anything in the Navy is like punching a feather bed. You punch it with your right and you punch it with your left until you are finally exhausted, and then you find the damn bed just as it was before you started punching."
Carter, confirmed last week by the Senate, obviously has work cut out for him, on matters large and small, as he takes over at the Pentagon.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on re-militarizing Japan:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking revision of his country's post-World War II constitution to permit a more active role for its armed forces. The move poses big questions for the United States.
The United States wrote the 1947 constitution, barring Japan from having its own armed forces, a measure designed to prevent it from ever again invading its neighbors or attacking the United States. Since 1954 the ban has been interpreted to permit "self-defense forces." Meanwhile, the United States stations 50,000 troops in Japan at 84 bases.
The stimulus to Abe's move to change the constitution, expressed in a speech last week, was the constraint on Japan in responding to the Islamic State group's murder of two Japanese hostages. Abe also feels reinforced by the victory of his Liberal Democratic Party in December elections.
To amend Japan's constitution, a two-thirds majority of both houses of the parliament must approve, followed by ratification in a referendum. Many Japanese still favor keeping the country's military's hands tied, given the destruction it brought down on their heads in the last century.
From a U.S. point of view, the issue is complex. America wouldn't mind seeing a stronger Japanese military, backed by the large Japanese economy, to help keep China in check. Some Americans wonder why, 70 years after World War II, the United States is still maintaining bases in Japan, at great cost to the United States and with great savings to Japan.
Yet the U.S. government is content to have bases and troops on the spot in East Asia. A re-militarized Japan would make not only China but also U.S. ally South Korea nervous.
It is understandable that Abe would like to spread Japan's wings further in the region. At the same time, given domestic constraints and the ambivalent U.S. position, it is unlikely that the Japanese will change their constitution.
Wall Street Journal on Obama's immigration rebuke:
That marvel of American self-government_the separation of powers_is once again frustrating President Obama's habit of suspending statutes that conflict with his political goals. This time a federal judge in Texas has rebuked and blocked his attempt to rewrite immigration law_potentially rewiring the debate in Washington.
Judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction late Monday against Obama's order that awards quasi-legal status and work permits to some five million illegal immigrants. His meticulous 123-page ruling is a vindication of the 26 states that brought the challenge and, more significantly, for the rule of law.
Last November the Department of Homeland Security published memos instructing immigration enforcers to disregard federal laws that require deportation of the undocumented and place strict limits on who may work in the U.S. The White House and DHS claim this "deferred action" is nothing more than routine prosecutorial discretion, as if the department is merely conceding that its officers cannot hunt down and deport the millions of illegals in the country.
Judge Hanen dismantles that fiction. As he points out, the DHS memos amount to "a massive change in immigration practice" that reorders "the nation's entire immigration scheme." Instead of the historical norm of forbearance in individual cases, the memos devote 150 pages to detailing a blanket policy for whole classes of immigrants_meaning that discretion is "virtually extinguished," as Judge Hanen writes.
The memos also actively bestow benefits that Congress never granted, such as the right to work, obtain Social Security numbers, and travel to and from the U.S.
Judge Hanen made his narrow decision without ruling on the larger legal and constitutional questions in the case. He held instead that the DHS memos are regulatory decisions that should have been promulgated through the ordinary rule-making process of notice and comment. Yet as Obama put it last year, "I just took an action to change the law." This action therefore violates the Administrative Procedures Act, which among other things entitles those harmed by the actions of a federal agency to judicial review.
Relying on this due-process law sidesteps the question of "standing," or whether the states have suffered injuries that the courts can redress. Federal law on citizenship and borders is supreme under the Constitution, trumping state laws in most cases. Our own view is that under dual federal-state sovereignty, states consent to such pre-emption via their representation in Congress, but the executive isn't allowed to change the terms of this bargain except through duly enacted legislation under Article I.
While Judge Hanen implies that Obama is upsetting this balance of power, not to mention the duty to faithfully execute the laws, his only finding on the merits is that the DHS order is being implemented illegally. Of the 1.6 million illegal immigrants estimated to reside in Texas, about 500,000 will be made eligible for driver's licenses that cost the state $198.73 each to process. Judge Hanen justifies his injunction on that mundane unfunded mandate alone_not other harms to state tax revenues like uncompensated emergency-room care, education or jobless benefits.
The White House assailed the ruling and is promising a quick appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The litigation is early days, and a higher court may eventually reach the larger merits.
Meantime, Judge Hanen's decision is an airlift for Republicans in Congress if they have the wit to accept the relief. Immigration hardliners are attempting to defund Obama's order but lack a legislative strategy whose end-game isn't shutting down all of DHS. If the injunction is sustained on appeal, the President's unilateralism will be a dead letter until the case is resolved, which should persuade the GOP's deportation caucus to stand down before another self-defeating flameout.
We support a generous immigration policy, but the Texas decision shows that Obama's political whims are the wrong way to get there. "If one accepts the Government's position," Judge Hanen observes, "then a lack of resources would be an acceptable reason to cease enforcing environmental laws, or the Voting Rights Act, or even the various laws that protect civil rights and equal opportunity. Its argument is that it has the discretion to cease enforcing an act as long as it does so under the umbrella of prosecutorial discretion."
This is constitutional quicksand, as even liberals who worry about the next Republican President should understand. Congratulations to the 26 states that are holding firm against Obama's abuses_so far successfully.
The Australian on an assets test for the age pension:
Accepted wisdom says that the great suburban castle is sacrosanct. We knew this, of course, even yesterday when we pointed out the inequity of people receiving aged pensions while living in houses that lock up millions of dollars in tax-free wealth. And true to form, politicians from both the major parties couldn't get out quickly enough to tell us we were dreaming. "Let me make it perfectly clear," said Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, "the government is not considering including the family home in the assets test for the age pension." Feel the serenity? Labor felt an irresistible political opportunity. "Labor will fight to stop the LNP putting their hands on the family homes of pensioners in Australia," said Bill Shorten. "The Liberal National government in Canberra is addicted to unfairness." So goes what passes for a fairness debate in this country of the fair go; where both sides of politics will run for cover before suggesting someone pottering around in a $3 million house ought to draw down some of that value before putting their hand out for taxpayer assistance.
The aged pension is the largest federal spending program, making up about 10 per cent of expenditure and running at $40 billion annually — that's a Rudd government stimulus package or a National Broadband Network each and every year. With the population aging and the budget in structural deficit the burden will become increasingly onerous. And we can't say we weren't warned. Back in 1991, while plotting from the backbench before seizing the prime ministership, former Labor treasurer Paul Keating put the flesh on the bones of his retirement income policy. "When my generation begins to retire after the year 2010," he told parliament, "you will be the taxpayers who will have to provide for us. And let me tell you, my generation does not have the frugal habits of our parents, who remembered the Depression. We have lived well. And there are also a lot of us. We will want to retire in the style to which we have become accustomed. If you have to carry us, you will know it." His dream of universal superannuation has been implemented, up to a point, but the proportion of income channeled into super — gradually topped up through award decisions, in lieu of tax cuts and through mandated employer contributions — has not been sufficient to diminish reliance on the pension.
Keating aimed to change superannuation from "an income tax avoidance scheme for the affluent" to a fair "retirement income arrangement" for most Australians. The ultimate goal was to "replace more of the increasingly onerous tax burden of age pensions with privately funded annuity incomes" that would provide higher retirement incomes than the pension.
There is much to do in this area, including increasing contributions and improving flexibility. But the system will never be fair unless the assets and income tests ensure the wealthy are not dipping into the age pension funds that should be quarantined to provide the best possible retirement incomes to those who need it most. Our exclusive reporting yesterday of National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling research showed 260,000 households with a net worth of more than $3m are receiving annual welfare payments of $800m. There are probably many words you could use to describe this allocation of resources but fair is not one of them. Labor's own Henry tax review detailed useful reforms in this area that could ensure a fair and equitable treatment of assets.
Controlling expenditure and introducing true fairness into the exchange between tax and payments make up one significant part of the economic challenge, but another major component must be generating growth. On Monday night, when host Tony Jones eventually allowed the discussion to move on to our pre-eminent policy dilemma, Malcolm Turnbull made a good fist of explaining this imperative to ABC television's Q&A audience. "Everything we do has to be designed to ensure that our prosperity is secure, and that is by being more productive, more innovative, smarter, faster, leaner," he said. "That is what this budget repair thing is all about — it's not just about, you know, austerity, it's not just about paying off debt — it's about making us a stronger, healthier economy for a better future for all of us."
That was a broadbrush prescription but it at least sets out the objective. If Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are to have more success with their second budget they will need to conscript support from the public and the private sector. They will do this more readily if they adopt a positive economic narrative backed up by policy decisions that seek to foster growth. Workplace relations, federalism, taxation and the elimination of red and green tape can all play their role. We have heard some talk but need to see more action. With a low dollar, low fuel prices and buoyancy maintained in equities and the real estate market, now is a good time to shake investment loose and generate growth. Just as a job is the greatest form of welfare available, growth can provide the quickest route to fairness.