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New England editorial roundup

October 18, 2014

The Rutland (Vt.) Herald, Oct. 16, 2014

The familiar adage is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But what if the enemy of your friend is your friend? What if the enemy of your enemy is your enemy?

These convoluted circumstances describe the situation in Iraq and Syria. Is it any wonder that President Barack Obama has been reluctant to become deeply involved or that he has been careful to diminish the potential damage our involvement will have in relation to the whole complicated mess?

The startling news came a couple of days ago that Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, was bombing Kurdish militants inside Turkey. It so happens that the Kurds are one of the most reliable allies of the United States. The Kurds in Iraq are one of the only forces in the country able to withstand the advance of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, which has assumed the role of villain number one in the region.

But the Kurds have also engaged in a long resistance struggle within Turkey that has claimed about 30,000 lives over many decades. The United States has joined Turkey in branding the main Kurdish militant group, the PKK, as a terrorist organization.

The Kurds of the region are angry because the Turks are standing by as ISIS tries to capture a Kurdish town in Syria on the Turkish border. The Turks are reluctant to help their longtime enemies, the Kurds, even as Kurds try to withstand the onslaught of ISIS. The United States is after Turkey to help the Kurds, but Turkey wants more help from the U.S. in toppling the Assad regime inside Syria.

Remember Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria? Obama declared long ago that Assad’s brutal regime, which had slaughtered tens of thousands of Syrians during the present uprising, had to go. But now ISIS appears as an even more barbaric threat to civilization than Assad is. The United States is more interested in directing its Air Force against ISIS than against Assad, which has disappointed the Turks. Thus, the Turks have held back on their help for the Kurds.

Vice President Joe Biden received flak a couple of weeks ago when he criticized Turkey for helping foster the growth of ISIS. Turkey was not amused. But in the past few years Turkey was among those eager to funnel money and assistance to rebels inside Syria struggling to topple Assad. Obama has endured criticism for not doing the same thing and bolstering the rebellion early enough that it might have ousted Assad before ISIS grew strong. But Obama was afraid foreign assistance would strengthen extremist groups such as ISIS. And that is what happened.

Ideally, all parties would ally themselves with the Kurds who have established a stable, relatively democratic enclave in northern Iraq and could prove to be a helpful ally against ISIS. If Turkey could see its way clear to bolstering the Kurds in fighting against ISIS, Turkey might gain legitimacy in the eyes of Kurds inside Turkey. But casting itself as an enemy of the Kurds first, Turkey guarantees a worsening battle against the Kurds and a weakening of the anti-ISIS forces.

Iran, another of our longtime adversaries, is also in a position to help us achieve our aims, strengthening the Iraqi government in its fight against ISIS. But Iran, unlike Turkey, is a friend of Assad’s. It is beyond the power of the United States to sort out this entire tangle, but better relations with Iran would help solve many problems. The problem of Assad, it would appear, remains to be solved another day.

Critics of Obama come in many variations. There are those who believe if we are not sending our troops into harm’s way, we are not demonstrating sufficient toughness. There are those who believe Obama should have strengthened moderate rebels earlier (the phrase “moderate rebels” is an oxymoron, someone said). No one, however, has painted a clear picture of whom we should help, even as our enemies proliferate.

The Concord (N.H.) Monitor, Oct. 17, 2014

The 1960s were an amazing time. Civil rights activists notched major victories, U.S. astronauts landed on the moon and rock music was at a high point. But it was also more than four decades ago. No one would say we should go back to driving with leaded gasoline or watching three channels of television.

So why do our credit cards still feature technology developed in that era?

The magnetic strip on the back of each card contains static, unchanging information. It’s become a simple matter for hackers to compromise millions of accounts — causing heartburn for consumers, retailers and banks. Last year’s Target breach was one of the biggest, but the attacks have followed one after the other this year. Home Depot, Kmart and JPMorgan Chase have all reported significant data thefts.

This 1960s-era technology put U.S. consumers in a uniquely risky place. Every other country in the Group of 20 industrialized nations has moved to more secure technology. We haven’t (although that’s about to change). And we’re seeing the effects all around us. Banks and retailers wrangled for years about upgrading security, but it took multiple, catastrophic failures of our current antiquated system to finally force change.

How sadly typical of a financial industry that has already forced our country to the brink of ruin.

New types of cards are coming, though. Late next year, MasterCard and Visa will finally require merchants to use smart card technology. This embeds a computer chip in each credit card and requires users to either sign or use a PIN (the latter is more secure). This is the format used in other developed countries. It’s not foolproof — little is these days — but it makes compromising accounts more time-consuming and expensive. Countries that adopted the smart cards have seen drops in fraud cases, too.

Other new payment methods also have promise. The Apple Pay and Google Wallet programs aim to remove cards from the equation entirely, with consumers using their smartphones. These titans of technology may have the heft needed to keep security on the minds of banks and retailers across the country. And that’s what’s needed most.

The ultimate solution to credit card fraud and data breaches isn’t any simple card or payment program. It’s continued watchfulness. It’s an understanding that hackers and others will keep poking holes in even the most advanced security. Institutions must be willing to change or tighten procedures when needed, with their customers’ best interests at heart.

They can’t let nostalgia for the ’60s overwhelm the needs of the present.

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