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

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March 31

Aiken (South Carolina) Standard on military budget:

Short-changing defense would be a misguided approach by budget makers in Washington, D.C. The U.S. is facing too many threats abroad, especially from groups such as the Islamic State, which, in turn, have created a legitimate increase in concern toward domestic threats.

However, the Pentagon funding approved by Republicans last week effectively uses a budgetary gimmick to circumvent mandatory spending caps and boosts spending for the military with no real long-term vision.

The budget plan essentially leaves the spending caps that were instituted through the process known as sequestration in place while simultaneously upping military spending - seemingly only a trick politicians in Washington, D.C., could pull off. These caps were put in place through a 2011 agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling, which imposed limits on both defense and non-defense spending. Instead of doing the hard work to cobble together a compromise and repeal the sequestration process, lawmakers seem complacent with simply using budgetary gimmicks.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter slammed the proposal by the Republicans, indicating the plan merely wedged funding into the upcoming budget rather than instilling any kind of long-term vision. While other, non-defense spending is kept in check, the Republicans opted to effectively fatten up the Pentagon's war-fighting account by about $90 billion through an "overseas contingency operations account," which isn't subject to the budget limits.

"Current proposals to shoehorn (the Pentagon's) base budget funds into our contingency accounts would fail to solve the problem, while also undermining basic principles of accountability and responsible, long-term planning," Carter said.

The GOP has long liked to say that they're hawkish on both defending the nation, as well as balancing budgets. Those sentiments, though, are increasingly in competition in a time of significant global unrest.

Democrats, though, don't deserve a free pass here either. As it stands, they would have to reach an agreement dealing with about $1 trillion in spending cuts to non-defense spending. So far, Democrats have shown no indication they will come to the negotiation table.

Even President Barack Obama has blinked and said military spending should be boosted above the caps set in 2011. He added, though, he would want domestic spending increased, as well. That's not the right way forward either, as every year our country's deficit and debt continues to balloon.

With control of Congress, Republicans have already put negotiations on a wrong footing by exempting defense accounts from mandatory spending caps while effectively squeezing non-defense spending. This spending plan was strongly supported by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. He noted that sequestration budget cuts are "going to give you the smallest army since 1940, the smallest navy since 1915, one contingency Marine Corps, 30 fighter squadrons grounded without the enemy firing a shot by the end of the decade. ... If we're not willing to stand up and fix that, then what good are we (the Republican Party) to the nation?"

Graham isn't totally irrational in his point. Gutting spending can create a slippery slope toward national security, especially in an increasingly dangerous world. However, the Republicans have basically altered the way our nation funds wars by turning it into annual, multi-billion-dollar slush fund that's subject to even less congressional oversight than any regular military budget gets.

Carter has wisely urged lawmakers to make compromises on tax and spending reforms in order to lift the sequestration caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. That's the right way forward.

The message right now, however, is that back-door budgeting makes sense because it's the easiest way out. Republicans were supposedly handed the reins of Congress to lead. This isn't leadership. It's a mere showing of smoke and mirrors.

Online:

http://www.aikenstandard.com

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April 1

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on conflicting Mideast signals:

In the struggles raging among rival Arab powers in the Middle East, the United States appears to find itself either on the sidelines or, curiously enough, on both sides, and that's discouraging — and revealing.

President Obama's uncertain leadership is causing our Mideast allies' anxiety.

Saudi Arabia, an American ally, has not even asked Washington to help in the fight to repel the Houthi rebels who have seized power in adjoining Yemen. Egypt and Pakistan, however, have announced plans to help.

And yet the Obama administration finds itself allied with Iran — Saudi Arabia's most bitter regional rival and the main supporter of the Houthis — in fighting Islamist jihadis in Iraq.

That would appear to suggest that the administration has fallen to a new low in the difficult and infinitely complex attempts to advance — or at least preserve — America's interests in the Middle East.

Should the situation worsen and impede all the shipping that passes Yemen on its way to or from the Persian Gulf and the Suez Canal, those Americans who can't find Yemen on a map would quickly feel the consequences of the fighting.

But, at least at this point, this conflict is less about economics and more about power.

Experts describe it as a critical struggle for regional political dominance between Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Iran on the other, with various countries lining up on one side or the other.

By intervening in Yemen, where the rebels have seized the upper hand, Saudi Arabia has made it clear it has every intention of challenging Iran's bid to expand its sphere of influence in the region.

And Saudi Arabia's intervention has sent a signal that it will not count on the United States to protect its own vital interests in the Middle East. No doubt, many Americans who are weary of the United States playing policeman to the world will welcome that signal.

Washington is in good standing with the Saudis and is optimistic about mending the frayed relations with their best-friend neighbors, the Egyptians. Also, Washington would like good relations with another Saudi ally, Pakistan, so logic would seem to suggest that American policy would be to oppose Iran's ambitions in the region.

At the State Department, perhaps that's the goal: to lend support to friendly Saudi Arabia and do whatever can be done to stymie Iran as it vigorously pursues its disruptive regional agenda.

But in the important fight against the radical jihadis known generally as the Islamic State, the United States has joined hands with Iran, the nation that supports the present governments of Iraq (America's friend) and Syria (America's enemy) against the rebels.

Also, the United States and others are deeply involved in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear capabilities and must hope that the outbreak of fighting won't derail that project.

President Obama's collaboration with Iran has angered the United States' most resolute ally in the Mideast, Israel.

In a recent Washington Post article, Frederic Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said that it has been decades since so many Arab states and factions were engaged in so many wars in "quite confusing configurations."

"It's so dangerous," he said. That's an understatement.

As the Post article noted, Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon; has been instrumental in propping up Assad in Syria; and now wields power over more territory in Iraq than even the Iraqi army.

The situation in the entire Middle East is grim: Rival groups, representing different religious beliefs, have been fighting each other throughout the region, causing a deeper-than-ever polarization and widespread instability.

"The challenges facing Arab national security are immense," Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said at a recent session of the Arab League summit.

Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut told reporters that Saudi forces lack the experience needed to launch large ground offensives.

"There are all sorts of potential pitfalls" that would accompany a ground incursion in Yemen, he said.

It is never easy to establish and maintain positive relationships with the various countries that make up the Middle East. Their rivalries, usually based on religion but fueled by other differences, are simply too deeply ingrained to be easily overcome.

To be fair, the Obama administration is by no means the first to have serious difficulties dealing with these regional issues. But the administration's inconsistency and lack of resolve only contribute to the chaos. Clarity from Washington certainly is needed right now.

Online:

http://tbo.com

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March 31

Wall Street Journal on Hillary Clinton obstructing Congress:

If the House panel investigating Benghazi really wants to get a look at Hillary Clinton's emails, perhaps it should subpoena the Chinese military. Beijing_which may have hacked the private server she used to send official email as Secretary of State_is likely to be more cooperative than are Clinton and her stonewall specialists now reprising their roles from the 1990s.

On Friday Clinton's lawyer, David Kendall, disclosed that he couldn't cooperate with the Benghazi committee's request that she turn over her private server to an independent third party for examination. Why not? Well, the former first diplomat had already wiped the computer clean.

Of course she had. What else would she do?

The timing of the deletions isn't entirely clear. Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy says they appear to have been deleted after Oct. 28, 2014, when State asked Clinton to return her public records to the department. That could qualify as obstruction of Congress, as lawyer Ronald Rotunda recently argued on these pages.

The deletions certainly violate Clinton's promise to Congress on Oct. 2, 2012, when the Benghazi probe was getting underway. "We look forward to working with the Congress and your Committee as you proceed with your own review," she told the Oversight Committee. "We are committed to a process that is as transparent as possible, respecting the needs and integrity of the investigations underway. We will move as quickly as we can without forsaking accuracy."

Clinton and Kendall say the vanishing emails don't matter because State and the committee already have all the relevant documents and emails they've asked for. But State and the committee don't have the actual emails, only the printed copies she provided to State.

And State had previously assured the committee it had everything it had asked for before Clinton coughed up 850 pages of email copies from her private server this month_emails State couldn't turn over before because she hadn't provided them despite clear State Department policy that she and other officials do so.

Clinton's real message to Congress: You'll see those emails over my dead body.

Clinton is a student of history. In the 1970s she served as a lawyer on the House Judiciary Committee that investigated Watergate. There she saw how Richard Nixon's release of his tape-recorded conversations led to his resignation from the Oval Office. It appears she absorbed the lesson that Nixon should have burned, er, wiped clean, the tapes.

Two decades later, Clinton was First Lady and her billing records from her days at the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas were under federal subpoena. For two years no one could find them.

Then in January 1996, the same Kendall who now assures us Clinton has turned over all relevant emails revealed how Hillary's lost Rose Law files had miraculously been discovered on a table in the first family's private quarters in the White House. No one could say how they got there. The woman who discovered them said they had not been on the table a week or two earlier, when she had last been in the room.

In a dispatch reporting on the discovery, the New York Times put it this way: "The release of the records is the latest of several instances in which the Clinton White House has declared a document search to be exhaustive, only to later stumble on important material." She's doing it again.

The question now is what Congress can do, if anything, to retrieve those "wiped" emails. In theory, the House could subpoena Clinton's emails and take her to court. But Gowdy concedes that going this route would take "years and years." Meantime, Clinton would make Lois Lerner of IRS infamy look like a model of cooperation.

Eric Holder's Justice Department isn't about to investigate, so the sanction will have to be political. Team Hillary and her media palace guard think the email story will fade, and they'll help by calling it "old news" within a fortnight.

Democrats could provide one check on her stonewalling if anyone runs against her in the presidential primaries. Then her Nixonian character would become an issue. But so far the only Democrats who might run are second-stringers who are bidding to be Vice President and so wouldn't want to speak truth to Clinton's power. Thus her Democratic coronation proceeds apace. It's going to be fascinating to see if the voters are as eager as Democrats to be governed again by Clinton-Nixon mores.

Online:

http://www.wsj.com

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March 31

Seattle Times on furor over Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act:

Indiana legislators might not have anticipated the furor caused by a law allowing people to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans under the guise of religious freedom.

In fact, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act set off a very different kind of March madness in the home state of the NCAA last Thursday. Critics warn this might be the only law of its kind in the nation that allows anyone in the private and public sectors to refuse service, housing and other rights to LGBT residents.

The citizens of Washington are no strangers to the battle against inequality. In 2012, a majority of voters chose to legalize same-sex marriage.

Even today, the struggle continues. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued and fined a Richland florist after she refused to do business with a longtime customer because he was marrying a man.

Supporters of LGBT rights will not stand idle as fellow Americans try to roll back the clock in the name of religious freedom.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee both announced plans this week to sign executive orders banning taxpayer-funded travel to Indiana on government administrative business.

Some might scoff at these actions as merely symbolic gestures, but they are meaningful contributions to a growing national movement against the Indiana action on social media, hashtagged #BoycottIndiana and #WeAreIndiana.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican and possible contender for higher office, is struggling to explain the bill he signed as his state battles a moral and economic backlash. The consumer-review website Angie's List has threatened to halt its expansion in Indianapolis. Apple CEO Tim Cook penned a scathing op-ed in The Washington Post. The band Wilco canceled a concert date.

Just days before the Final Four tournament is set to take place in the Hoosier State, the NCAA faces mounting pressure to move those college games out of the state. NCAA President Mark Emmert warned legislators that his league wants to host its championship in an "inclusive environment" — one that is not poisoned by the new law.

A national drumbeat continued Tuesday in Pence's own backyard.

That state's largest newspaper, The Indianapolis Star, published a bold front-page editorial with a three-word headline: "FIX THIS NOW."

Pence should. The clarification he promises by week's end is not enough.

The Indy Star editorial board called on legislators to enact a state law that bans discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This message of inclusion means liberty for all, not just those who claim to be religious.

Washingtonians know well the benefits of embracing equality. Our state is a better place for it. Indiana should do the same.

Online:

http://www.seattletimes.com

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April 1

Boston Herald on IRS fighting fraud:

The Internal Revenue Service website feature "Where's my refund?" got more than 200 million hits last year. Unfortunately for many Americans, the answer to that question was "in a criminal's bank account."

The IRS delivered $5.8 billion in fraudulent refunds in 2013, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. Much of the money was claimed by identity thieves filing multiple returns with stolen Social Security numbers. This gives last-minute filers another reason to wish they'd done their taxes months ago.

The news wasn't all bad. The Government Accountability Office credited the IRS with preventing $24 billion in attempted fraud. But alarmingly, it revealed that the agency does not employ security practices that credit-card customers are accustomed to, such as authenticating identity with security questions and passwords. It also reported that the IRS often issues refunds (which averaged $3,116 last year) before matching the returns with relevant paperwork, such as W-2 data.

Moreover, the agency does not use tracking devices that would notice when multiple returns are filed from the same IP address. This enables cybercriminals to file dozens of fraudulent returns in a day, both federal and state. They are aided by new methods of collecting refunds, such as prepaid credit cards and Amazon gift codes, offered by online tax-preparation companies and software like TurboTax.

While consumers rightly chafe at the prospect of government tracking, the number of Americans filing their taxes online is going up every year, and they have a good reason to worry about where their refunds are going. The IRS collects $2.4 trillion each year, and the agency fails taxpayers with every fraudulent refund it issues. Its security practices should be more stringent than those of credit-card companies, not less.

Online:

http://www.post-gazette.com

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March 31

Khaleej Times, Dubai, on war:

At a time when Washington is contemplating to enter into a new war in the Middle East, in the wake of Yemen's collapse, it is poised with a déjà vu moment.

The bitterest fact of recent history is that the United States-led war on terrorism had plunged the regions of Mideast and Southwest Asia into chaos, instability and massive bloodshed. The statistics say it all: more than 1.3 million people were killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan during the last 13 years of intervention and turmoil.

This is no fudging of figures, but a cautious estimate by wandering into the casualties that the world witnessed all these years. The exact figures could be more horrifying, and experts believe could reach up to two million. Iraq alone saw some more than one million deaths, 220,000 in Afghanistan and around 80,000 in Pakistan.

This perception was consolidated in a report titled: 'Body count - casualty figures after 10 years of the war on terror'. Authored by eminent social scientists and physicians, and released by the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, it says that majority of casualties were innocent civilians in these ill-fated countries.

This is no secret, as it confirms the belief that hundreds and thousands were maimed to death in what they called 'target precision' strikes and later shamelessly accounted the dead as 'collateral damage'.

Though the expedition against terror organizations such as Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan was indispensable, keeping in view the alleged role that Al Qaeda played in the 9/11 attacks on the US, the mode of execution is, however, contested.

There wasn't any rationale in bombing a poor country back to Stone Age to penalize a few hundred militants — and inevitably plunging the entire region into pestering instability! But as far as the invasion of Iraq on fictitious grounds was concerned, it was not only unwarranted but also devoid of logic. The US and the Western coalition rolled in their tanks on the assumption that Baghdad possesses weapons of mass destruction, and destroyed the Mesopotamian civilization and left at least a million people dead from 2003 to 2011.

Ironically enough, the West later had the audacity to confess that the war was waged on 'sexed up' intelligence dossiers and there were no stockpiles of destructive weapons in Iraq.

The policy-makers in the White House and in other world capitals, who are ganging up for another war in one of the most volatile regions of the world — and especially in the ... inhospitable terrain of Yemen, should keep this body-count report before them as a testimony of their failures.

The magnitude of loss of lives in Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria — since these countries witnessed upheavals — are so draconian that the prefix of 'war on terror' is up for debate. What is needed as an appropriate response to this study, in all civility and decency, is an inquiry as to who, how and in what capacity made the decision of waging these undesired wars!

The best way to put history in its right perspective is to hold the warmongers responsible before they breathe their last.

Online:

http://www.khaleejtimes.com