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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

February 13, 2014

Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers around the world:

Feb. 10

China Daily on Winter Olympic Games:

The attempts of the West to discredit the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games were evident much before the opening ceremony on Friday. The Sochi Olympics is a sports event, but the West has used it as a political tool against Russia, much like it used the Beijing 2008 Summer Games to criticize China, says a Xinhua commentary.

The West’s rhetoric is old-fashioned: alleged corruption, overrunning costs and human rights infringements. Even opinion polls favorable to Russia, especially the one by Gallup that said “Russians see gold in Sochi Olympic Games,” could not change the West’s attitude.

The run-up to the Beijing Olympics, too, had seen the Western media reveling in negative coverage, primarily because of ideological and political differences between the West and China.

No Olympics has been free of problems; Beijing had its share, so did London. Sochi has its troubles, so does Rio de Janeiro, which will host 2016 Summer Games. But the West should know that unnecessarily magnifying the problems is not what the Olympic Games are about.

“The Olympics are about building bridges to bring people together,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said at the opening ceremony in Sochi. “They are not about erecting walls to keep people apart. Embrace human diversity and unity.”

Such was the spirit that President Xi Jinping carried to Sochi. He said it is customary for the Chinese people to congratulate their neighbors on their joyous occasions.

China supports Russia for hosting the Sochi Games, manifesting its respect for sportsmanship and the Olympic spirit, and giving the vote of confidence to a close neighbor and friend. This principle, as part of China’s “new type of relationship between major powers”, should apply to other international affairs too.

That many Western leaders decided not to attend the Sochi Games opening ceremony shows that they were swayed by politics rather than humanity. Many media outlets, including The Economist, have stoked the memory of 1980, when almost all the Western countries boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympics.

But against the wishes of the West, the Sochi Games has begun on spectacular note, prompting an editorial in The Wall Street Journal on Feb 7 to say: “Soon enough, attention will turn to the athletes and competition, as it should.” Perhaps the paper has realized its earlier criticism of the Sochi Games was inappropriate.




Feb. 9

Toronto Star on UN report on child rights challenging the Vatican to mend its ways:

It’s a scathing report, bound to shake up Catholics who are comfortable in their pews. But the United Nations committee that has lambasted the Vatican for letting clerical sex abusers get away with their crimes will help amplify Pope Francis’ message that the church in its entirety needs to clean up its act because its credibility is on the line.

Three popes now have forcefully condemned clerical abuse of children. John Paul II denounced it as “appalling sin” and outright “crime.” Benedict XVI promised to rid the church of such “filth.” And Francis has ordered Vatican prosecutors and bishops to “act decisively” to make sure that minors are protected and abusers are held to account. The Church’s moral witness and credibility is riding on this, he warned.

It is indeed, and the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child has forcefully reminded Catholic clerics and laity alike of just how harshly the wider world judges the church’s tragic failings in this area, including here in Canada, and its slowness to come to terms with past abuses. Stinging as it is, the high-profile UN report issued this past week serves to highlight some of what remains to be done. It stems from a routine review of how signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child are living up to their obligations. The Holy See signed on in 1990.

The report bluntly faults the Vatican for “systematically” putting the church’s reputation above the protection of children. Clerics molested “tens of thousands of children worldwide,” it says, while bishops failed to hold them accountable, imposed a code of silence and covered up the crimes. The UN wants the Vatican to order the commission on sex abuse that Francis set up last year to function as a sort of truth panel, investigating the hierarchy’s response to past cases of abuse, holding senior clerics to account and throwing open archives.

The UN also wants the Vatican to establish clear, church-wide “best practices” rules that compel bishops and pastors across the vast 1-billion-member church to report abuse, remove offending clerics and alert police. And it urges compensation for victims. That certainly makes sense. It would formalize and universalize practices that the Canadian church adopted two decades ago. Clerics are screened, church volunteers face background checks and abuse must be reported to the authorities. That should be the strict rule everywhere.

And while the UN report pays tribute to the church’s good work providing vulnerable kids around the world with schooling, health, social care and other services, it says more can be done to advance their basic rights.

It urges the Vatican to remove gender stereotyping from Catholic school textbooks. To ban corporal punishment. To remind parents and teachers that kids have the right to express their views freely, and deserve to be taken seriously. To condemn discrimination against gay children and those raised by same-sex couples. And to make sure that kids are taught about safe sex, family planning, and preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

In places, the UN report over-reaches. It urges the Vatican to soften its stand against abortion, for example. That is expecting too much. Vatican officials have pushed back, too, on aspects of the report that challenge church teaching on homosexuality, sexuality and contraception. They also point out, reasonably, that the UN doesn’t give enough credit for reforms that have been made.

Yet for all that the UN’s basic judgment about the abuse scandal is sound. As Pope Francis recognizes, the church needs to be honest about its failings, protective of its children and awake to the modern world. This report helps make his case.




Feb. 12

Chicago Tribune on getting cracking on the Keystone pipeline:

The U.S. State Department finally has given the Keystone XL pipeline an unexpectedly “green” light. In a Jan. 31 report, the agency found the pipeline wouldn’t cause significant environmental damage. It wouldn’t prompt more oil extraction. It wouldn’t increase demand at U.S. refineries. And, surely to the shock of many opponents of the long-proposed pipeline, its construction actually would lead to fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the likely alternatives for moving oil.

The State Department didn’t formally approve the project, but it did give direct answers to the key environmental concerns that President Barack Obama raised when he put a stall on the project last June:

No, the pipeline would not be the environmental horror that the opponents allege.

Yes, it would have a significant economic impact. It would create lots of jobs.

“There are no more excuses for delaying this project,” said Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, which represent 3 million skilled craftsmen. “The time to construct this pipeline is now.”

Yes, now. The Obama administration should promptly approve Keystone XL — and boast about the environmental and economic pluses it will deliver.

To review how we got to the gridlock that has stymied this project:

Keystone XL would link the rich oil sands of inland Canada to U.S. refineries and ports at the Gulf of Mexico. That is, the pipeline would be a safer and more reliable way to move oil from one part of North America to another — oil that now moves primarily by barge, rail and truck.

Yet the Keystone XL project remains in limbo five years after its backers first sought the necessary approval from Washington. There’s speculation that Democratic congressional leaders, for whom the proposal spells trouble no matter how the administration rules, will press Obama to keep a decision on ice until after the November midterm elections. The pipeline plan divides two Democratic constituencies: labor unions that want the job creation, and environmental groups opposed to further development of fossil fuel resources. These groups see thwarting Keystone XL as a step toward faster development of renewable fuel sources. Trouble is, no matter what Washington decides, Canada will extract this oil and consumers somewhere will use it; the question is whether it goes to U.S. refineries or to markets in China or elsewhere.

Republicans have pushed for approval — House Speaker John Boehner said the president’s stall amounted to “economic malpractice.” But some of the president’s allies have also stepped up the pressure for approval, including Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

“It’s past time for the president to make a decision — the right decision — and approve this project so we encourage and benefit from energy production from a friend and ally, rather than get those resources from volatile countries elsewhere across the world,” Heitkamp said in response to the State Department report.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been pressing for years for U.S. approval of the $5.4 billion pipeline. With the project, Canadian energy resources can be put to use more efficiently. Without it, Canada will work around the U.S., expanding its access to ports on its Atlantic and Pacific coasts. More oil will be transported by methods that carry a higher risk of accidents — witness the carnage last summer when a train loaded with oil exploded in the Canadian city of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.

What’s most striking in the State Department report appears deep in the fourth of its 11 volumes, under the heading Greenhouse Gas Impacts. Three scenarios if the pipeline isn’t built:

— If the oil instead moves to refineries by rail and tanker, greenhouse gas emissions would be 27.8 percent higher.

— If the oil is transported by train to existing pipelines, emissions would be 39.7 percent higher.

— And if the oil goes to the Gulf solely by train, emissions would be 41.8 percent higher.

The obvious conclusion: The Obama administration should strike a blow for environmentalism and approve the Keystone XL project.

The White House has said it will wait at least until other federal agencies have a chance to comment on the State Department report. That could delay a final decision for 90 days — or 190, or longer.

Enough. Get to work — and put people to work — on the Keystone XL pipeline.




Feb. 11

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on a state ban on Cuban research that makes no sense:

Florida is the only state in the nation that prohibits its university professors and students from collaborating with researchers and educators in Cuba.

The destructive law hurts Florida’s scientists without penalizing Cuba.

As the Tribune’s Paul Guzzo reports, a Florida Senate bill adopted in 2006 forbids the use of any money connected to a state university to be used for travel to nations on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which includes Cuba.

The island nation is a socialist dictatorship but hardly a serious threat to the United States.

Yet the legislation treats the neighboring nation as though this were the Cold War era.

The law doesn’t just handicap researchers. It also prevents Florida students from pursuing education opportunities in Cuba. Students from across the nation — or those from private institutions — can participate in studies in Cuba. Only students at Florida’s schools are kept from interacting with Cubans.

This punishes Floridians, not the Cuban government.

Lawmakers should revisit the issue and see that Florida’s sanctions against the free exchange of ideas and research is a policy more appropriate for a totalitarian state, not a democracy.




Feb. 11

Seattle Times on good news for LGBT equality:

Legal and social recognition for gays and lesbians and their families is a work in progress across all aspects of civil and community life in America.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday that same-sex couples will be treated equally by the federal Department of Justice. Another step forward.

Holder, putting affirmative actions behind a 2013 Supreme Court ruling about federal benefits, said same-sex couples and heterosexual couples will have the same rights and options on everything from tax filings to bankruptcy proceedings.

More clarifications are coming on equal treatment in the criminal justice system and that labyrinth — from not having to testify against a spouse to prison visits.

As the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force noted about Holder’s decisions on recognizing same-sex couples in Justice Department services, “This is very good news for the advancement of equality.”

Progress takes all forms. The legalization of same-sex marriage from Washington state to Minnesota and Rhode Island, among others, frames the broad change under way.

Change of attitudes about gays and lesbians and same-sex couples is the norm, not a novelty, for all aspects of American life. From religious venues to other nearly sacred elements of the culture, such as professional football.

A University of Missouri football player with NFL potential announced he was gay before the draft. It is incumbent on the National Football League to acknowledge the breadth and wealth of talent available to sustain the game. Be open and honest about something that has been a reality forever.

America is a better place the more it acknowledges love and equality, and makes progress in equal treatment from matrimony to the halls of justice and the locker room.




Feb. 10

Kansas City Star on big step forward for America’s gay athletes:

It is extremely encouraging to see people in all walks of life send congratulatory messages to University of Missouri football player Michael Sam after he courageously revealed Sunday night that he’s gay.

This outpouring of support from teammates, coaches, fans, celebrities and politicians shows that much of America has progressed on this social issue.

Sam’s announcement is a watershed moment in the march toward equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. He is poised to become the first openly gay player in one of the nation’s great pastimes, the National Football League.

However, the national blitz of mostly positive attention for Sam can’t block out some ugly realities.

Open prejudice still exists against gay athletes in football and other major league sports. Intolerance manifests itself in other arenas, too; witness attempts in state legislatures to prevent same-sex couples from having their marriages recognized.

The most important next step for Americans to watch regarding Sam will arrive at the NFL draft in early May. That’s when we’ll find out whether some evolution on gay athletes has occurred in the workplaces of the older, too-often-bigoted NFL officials who will decide which team will draft him.

In a chilling article Sunday, Sports Illustrated gave anonymity to NFL officials, all of whom predicted various troubles for Sam. He would lose money by being picked lower in the draft, meaning coming out was “not a smart move” for him. He would “chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room,” becoming a big distraction for his team.

These NFL officials need to examine what happened at MU this year: The entire team knew about Sam’s orientation, yet the Tigers went on to have an extremely successful season.

Maybe the young men and women who play sports these days have a different, more enlightened take on this matter. So do some college coaches. As University of Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said Monday, “I don’t think anybody should ever have to live or hide behind who they are or how they feel.”

Michael Sam finds himself in a unique situation, given the mega-attention that the NFL receives. And that makes his story extra compelling.

Sam — and the other gay men who will follow him into the league — should have the opportunity to open people’s eyes while playing on the biggest stage for sports in America.




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