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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

July 2, 2014

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


June 30

Anniston (Alabama) Star on Baghdad and Saigon:

If Baghdad is indeed becoming Saigon — a city overrun by opposition and violence after the departure of the U.S. military — Peter Arnett would know.

He intimately knows both places. Working for The Associated Press, Arnett won the Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for his reporting from Vietnam. In spring 1975, Arnett witnessed the calamity that ensued when U.S. personnel abandoned Saigon just as North Vietnamese forces were overtaking the city. In the 1990s, Arnett became a household name to a new generation of Americans following his blow-by-blow coverage of the first Gulf War on CNN.

Arnett, now retired as a foreign correspondent, wrote in Monday’s Washington Post that a Saigon-like future “may be the fate that awaits Baghdad if the march of ISIS continues. The Sunni insurgency has already captured much of Iraq’s north (much as the Vietcong had) and is steadily pushing southward. If it reaches the city, what I saw unfold in Saigon nearly 40 years ago is probably a good proxy for what to expect.”

The picture Arnett paints is one dripping in pessimism, and understandably so. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is a jihadist militant group that’s systematically taking control of wide swaths of those nations. Bloodshed is ubiquitous, the death toll rising. President Obama has sent military advisers and a few hundred troops to Baghdad to protect U.S. interests, including the embassy and its personnel.

Whatever unsteady peace brought through America’s years-long involvement in that Middle Eastern nation is rapidly dissolving.

Arnett admits that “crucial differences separate Vietnam and Iraq,” most notably the existence of three groups — the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — who, as Arnett so bluntly puts it, “no longer wish to live within the antiquated borders devised by European diplomats 100 years ago.” Vietnam doesn’t suffer from that internal struggle of religion and violence.

A smattering of U.S. troops can’t glue together what’s coming apart in Baghdad. Arnett’s prediction of Iraq’s future may be more proof of the Iraq War’s undeniable folly.




June 29

Miami Herald on banking on U.S. Export-Import Bank:

Given the multitude of problems facing the United States, it’s appalling to see prominent members of Congress focusing on the U.S. Export-Import Bank as a target of opportunity. Why has a useful government agency that works exactly as intended suddenly become a political football?

Relatively few Americans have heard of the Ex-Im Bank, or its purpose, but ever since its creation under Franklin Roosevelt, the agency has been a critical force behind the success of American businesses competing in overseas markets.

Its role is twofold. It provides export credit insurance so that U.S. companies selling made-in-America goods abroad have protection against the risks of doing business overseas. And it provides financing for foreign buyers purchasing American-made goods. For obvious reasons, this is not a role that private banks are eager to play. The risks are deemed too great for a private institution, whereas a government agency has the clout and the means to act overseas.

Its services are not free. The agency charges fees and interest, like any other bank — and regularly produces an annual profit. Last year, it helped reduce the U.S. deficit by $1 billion.

So why in the world would incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and other like-minded Republicans zero in on the Ex-Im Bank for extinction? The short answer is that they see it as an enabler of “crony capitalism,” helping big businesses like Boeing, Caterpillar and GE that should not have to rely on the full faith and credit of the U.S. government to make a profit.

That, at best, is a weak argument.

Then, too, there is the argument that the Ex-Im Bank does not so much create jobs as help to allocate them, that it chooses “winners and losers” in deciding where to lend assistance.

Tell that to the more than 200,000-plus American workers who owed their jobs to bank-supported exports in the last fiscal year — many of them in Florida. This state is home to 58,000 exporters, according to the Ex-Im Bank, the second-highest number in the country.

In short, the bank promotes American business, protects jobs, enables U.S.-made goods to compete overseas — and makes a profit for taxpayers in the process. Congress has a problem with that?

The agency’s charter expires on Sept. 30. Destroying the Ex-Im Bank would amount to a form of unilateral disarmament in the contest over international trade. Surely lawmakers can stop their incessant feuding and ideological warfare long enough to renew its authority to stay in business before any American jobs are lost.




June 30

Los Angeles Times on Facebook:

Facebook is an extraordinary tool, but its pitfalls have become increasingly apparent. Users’ personal information, interests and habits are all fair game for the company, which has little compunction about analyzing the data and selling them to advertisers. Now Facebook has gone beyond capitalism and into creepy. For a week in 2012, it seems, the company manipulated users’ news feeds as part of a psychology experiment to see whether happier or sadder content led users to write happier or sadder posts. The result? Facebook appears to have altered people’s emotional states without their awareness.

This was wrong on multiple levels. It was unethical for Facebook to conduct a psychological experiment without users’ informed consent. And it was especially wrong to do so in a way that played with the emotions of its users. That’s dangerous territory.

Facebook, which employs a secret algorithm to determine what users see on their news feeds, conducted its research by altering the feeds of some 700,000 users, increasing or decreasing the number of “positive” and “negative” messages they saw to study the “emotional contagion” of social networking. The company, together with two academic researchers, published the results this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, Facebook asserted that users had given informed consent, which is standard protocol in psychological research, when they agreed to the company’s terms of service, which caution that users’ data can be mined for analysis and research. But that’s disingenuous. It’s hard to believe that users who took the time to read Facebook’s 13,000-word service agreements would have understood they were signing on to be lab rats.

In response to the outrage, the Facebook researcher who designed the study apologized for “any anxiety it caused.” He added that the company will seek to improve its internal review practices for future research. Certainly Facebook needs to revisit its policies to ensure that its users are not unwilling participants in psychological research. If this research is so valuable, the company should seek true informed consent.

But Facebook also needs to address its cavalier attitude toward its users. This latest controversy sends a troubling message to users that their personal information, their online activities and now even their feelings are all data points to be analyzed and manipulated according to the whims of a giant corporate machine.




June 30

Chicago Tribune on solving the youth immigrant crisis:

The desire of parents to give their children a safer, better life is leading mothers and fathers in the violence-wracked Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to take terrible risks. By the thousands, they are turning over their kids — many of them teenagers but others as young as 4 — to smugglers, praying they’ll get through Mexico and into the United States.

Once here, mainly in Texas, the kids — several hundred of them every day — are picked up by the U.S. Border Patrol and detained temporarily in military bases and other government facilities. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, Congress and immigration advocates debate what to do. These are children, alone in a foreign country, frightened and confused, now wards of a legal system ill-equipped to shelter minors.

America hasn’t solved immigration reform, and it won’t happen this year, leaving the overall system a mess.

Central Americans are taken into our overburdened immigration system, held for a time and then pushed out to family members or foster care to await a distantly scheduled immigration court hearing. Maybe they appear at those hearings; maybe they don’t.

This gives you an idea of both the state of the immigration system and the challenge presented by all these children. The overall system is already clogged with more than 360,000 cases, according to Syracuse University researchers.

The coyotes — smugglers, often connected to the drug trade — have a good story to tell: American immigration is letting children into the country these days. The sales pitch is based on lies and misinformation, including the misconstrual of a grace program available to some children who arrived in the U.S. in 2007 or earlier.

First, spread the word to Central America as loudly and clearly as possible that there is no successful smuggling route into the U.S. There is only danger for children, followed by a traumatizing stay in a government holding center and then deportation. President Barack Obama must continue speaking out.

Second: Ramp up special court proceedings, apart from the already overloaded immigration hearing system, to evaluate the children while they’re still in custody. Some might merit asylum. And the judicial protocol would allow the U.S. to repatriate the vast majority to their home countries.

In other words: Ensure children are safe and comfortable, create a fair adjudication system and then promptly rule.

That’s the only way to convince Latino parents there is no point to putting their children in the hands of smugglers.




July 1

San Antonio (Texas) Express-News on Civil Rights Act:

In 1964, with a stroke of a pen, President Lyndon B. Johnson did what should have been done long before: He did the right thing.

After two months of debate, including filibusters by Southern senators, Johnson on July 2 signed the legislation — legislation that is viewed, 50 years later, as the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement.

The bill, proposed by President John F. Kennedy, ended segregation in public places and banned discrimination in workplaces.

It may have seemed tiny, that stroke of a pen, but it was preceded by equal measures of hatred and heroism, the heroism a direct result of the hatred.

Men and women bled and died for the freedom that should have been a birthright.

Martin Luther King Jr., who would be assassinated four years later, led the fight, but he was joined by thousands of others throughout the nation, black and white, men and women, young and old.

“Through their passion, their speeches and their light, they helped create a climate that led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., himself a key figure in the movement, said during a recent ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the bill. “They were my friends, my brothers and my sisters.”

Slavery, along with the genocide of the American Indian, is our greatest sin as a nation, but the abuse and terror did not stop when Lincoln freed the slaves in 1865.

It continued with the beating and lynching of black Americans, sometimes by the Ku Klux Klan, sometimes by freelancing thugs, scoundrels with no association to terrorist groups. And it continued with segregation — in schools, on buses, even in churches, where God is colorblind.

We are a flawed country, but flawed countries recognize their imperfections, and they strive, sometimes against great odds, to correct the evil perpetrated on their own citizens. Nothing can undo the horror of slavery — or the injustices that surfaced in its aftermath. But the Civil Rights Act built a significant fortress around minorities who had come to fear for their safety — and even their lives — thus assuring that some wrongs of the past would remain in the past.

The act did not end bigotry. Legislation cannot expel the cold, naked hatred within the hearts of some human beings. But it did provide protection for those Americans who had faced discrimination based on their race or color.

The battle is not over. Not when politicians continue to gerrymander districts to dilute minority voting. Not when courts continue to neuter the Voting Rights Act. Not when attempts to diversify universities and workplaces are seen as nothing more than quotas.

Make no mistake, however.

With the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we took a hugely important step toward true freedom and equality. The bill made us a better nation.




June 30

The Japan Times on the new squeeze on Argentina:

It is difficult not to sympathize with the government of Argentina. It says it does not wish to default on its debt, but it is being squeezed by two sets of forces: Argentine domestic law and the overwhelming majority of its creditors on one hand, and a New York court and a small group of creditors that refuse to negotiate what they are owed on the other. Another default looks more likely each day.

In 2001, Buenos Aires defaulted on about $100 billion of its debt, at that time the largest sovereign debt default in history. Over a period of several years, it negotiated with holders of the original securities and agreed to swap the old bonds for new ones worth about 33 cents on the dollar.

Ninety-three percent of the defaulted bonds were swapped. The remaining 7 percent refused to renegotiate and demanded payment in full, a position that the Argentine government argued was manifestly unfair to those creditors who did agree to the haircut.

That position was backstopped by Argentine law and a clause in the restructured bonds agreement, both of which guarantee exchange bondholders that the government will not make a better offer to investors who did not participate in the restructurings.

Unbowed, the minority have continued to fight for payment in full. They have looked all over the world for Argentine assets to seize, and once even got an order to impound an Argentine Navy vessel. They have even demanded that courts disclose the location of those government assets.

According to Argentine government officials, the country has been the target of more than 900 creditor lawsuits.

In many ways, Argentina is not a very sympathetic plaintiff. It dismisses the holdout bond holders as “vultures” and President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has said her country would not bow to “extortion.”

The impact of the ruling extends beyond the Argentine case. The International Monetary Fund has warned of “systemic consequences” if countries shy away from giving U.S. courts, arguably the most sophisticated in the world on these matters, jurisdiction over cases for fear of a loss of sovereignty.

In a similar vein, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published a rare comment on the ruling that also focused on “legal precedents that could have profound consequences for the international financial system.” It noted that the ruling removes financial incentives for creditors to participate in debt restructurings, making future arrangements more difficult.

Requiring third-party financial institutions to provide information about the assets of sovereign borrowers could undermine the confidentiality that is critical to that relationship. Finally the ruling erodes sovereign immunity, a cornerstone of international diplomacy and finance.

The worries about sovereign immunity are real. The U.S. government published a “friend of the court” brief in the Argentine case warning of adverse effects on international relations if the holdouts won and Argentine law was summarily dismissed. Equally real is the prospect of retaliation against U.S. assets in aggrieved nations.

The hope now is that Argentina and the holdouts will redouble efforts to reach a settlement in the month before a real default occurs.

The U.S. government, along with other parties worried about the impact of the ruling on future debt restructurings, should press the holdouts to settle. The holders of the restructured bonds have done well; there is money to be made even after a haircut.

The holdouts’ utter disregard for the consequences of their stubborn refusal to settle deprives them of any moral claim to payment. That, and not the financial bottom line, should dictate the outcome.



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