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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

August 1, 2013

Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers around the world:

July 29

The Tampa (Florida) Tribune on truth riles up Venezuela

Facing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a few days ago, Samantha Power, President Barack Obama’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, surely didn’t expect to stir up the proverbial hornet’s nest.

Power told the committee that as America’s U.N. envoy, she believed in “contesting” what she described as a “crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.”

That was truthful, if not exactly an exercise in delicate diplomacy, and it enraged Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro, the hand-picked successor of the late Hugo Chavez, the flamboyantly anti-American socialist. ...

He demanded an apology.

Maduro, a former bus driver who was elected in April after Chavez succumbed to cancer, had called for improved relations with Washington. In June his foreign minister, Elias Jaua, met Secretary of State John Kerry, who described their meeting as the “beginning of a good, respectful relationship.”

Jaua announced that his government had sent a letter of protest to the American embassy in Caracas. ...

The United States needn’t overreact to Maduro’s bravado, but it needn’t apologize for Power’s accurate characterization of Venezuela.

We suspect all this will fade away. Despite the ill will generated by Chavez, the United States remains a critical trading partner for Venezuela. And the United States is a major importer of Venezuela’s major export, oil.

Maduro’s tough talk probably is no more than that. In any event, such threats shouldn’t keep American diplomats from calling out oppressive regimes, however thin-skinned they may be.




July 30

New York Times on Al Qaeda in Iraq scores big:

Jailbreaks are common in Iraq, but the brazen assaults on the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Taji last week are in a class by themselves. The attacks freed perhaps as many as 800 militants, who are now sought by Interpol as a “major threat” to global security. The attacks showed the fearsome and growing strength of Al Qaeda in Iraq, seemingly on the decline only a few years ago. They also raised new questions about the effectiveness of Iraq’s authoritarian prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, as well as the stability of Iraq itself.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, waged a virulent insurgency that brought the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007, then suffered major defeats at the hands of Iraqi tribal groups and American troops. It has since rebounded and is believed largely responsible for a surge in daily bombings that have killed an estimated 700 people this month alone.

The Abu Ghraib and Taji operations were synchronized and sophisticated. ...

Oddly, having spent so much money strengthening Iraq’s security forces administration officials have said little, publicly or privately, about why in this case their investment failed so spectacularly.

Iraq is a sovereign country, responsible for its own security. But Iraq might have been better able to repel Al Qaeda if Maliki and the Americans had worked harder on a deal to keep a token number of troops in the country to continue helping with training and intelligence-gathering. Not surprising, Maliki’s interest in such an arrangement has grown; Army Special Operations and the C.I.A. reportedly have small units in the country to assist in counterterrorism activities.

Regional volatility, including the Syrian war and Iran, are compounding Iraq’s instability. But the core problem is Maliki, whose monopoly power and favoritism for his Shiite majority brethren over other groups have inflamed sectarian tensions. In particular, he never made good on promises to reintegrate minority Sunnis, banished from power after Saddam Hussein’s ouster, into the political and economic life of the country. This has made Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents more appealing to resentful Sunnis.

Administration officials, as they should, are working behind the scenes to calm political disputes among Maliki and Sunni and Kurdish leaders and to create better relations between Iraq and other countries in the region. But absent a complete change of heart and approach by Maliki, Iraqis and their country will remain dangerously fractured.




July 31

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the Snowden case has the U.S. reassuring Putin?:

When he leaked secret information on the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance efforts, Edward J. Snowden set in motion events that are still playing out. While he languishes as a U.S. fugitive with uncertain status in Russia, his countrymen have been debating the constitutional limits of the government spying he exposed.

The former intelligence contractor’s actions have also inadvertently put the focus on another uncomfortable truth for Americans back home to consider: How much the international prestige of the United States has been tarnished over the past decade or so by the unorthodox excesses in the fight against terrorism.

The telling moment came in a letter sent by U.S. Attorney General Eric J. Holder Jr. to his Russian counterpart, Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov. ...

It has come to this: The government of the United States must explain itself to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where raw power is used to stifle dissent and foes of corruption find themselves imprisoned or worse.

Further, the cynical leaders of Russia do not have much reason to believe U.S. assurances. They will remember that in 2007 President George W. Bush declared with a fine disregard for the truth: “This government does not torture people,” a fiction that has not survived revelations about waterboarding and renditions of terror suspects to foreign countries for torture there. On security policy, the Obama administration has yet to show it is much different from its predecessor.

To be sure, Mr. Holder’s letter is a promise that Mr. Snowden would be handled in the traditional U.S. judicial system with its constitutional protections — not in the nether world of CIA detention centers or Guantanamo Bay (still not closed). But implicitly having to make that distinction underscores the problem. Once upon a time, America’s reputation for decency preceded it. Now we have to tell leaders like the autocratic Mr. Putin that our behavior will be above reproach — really, cross our hearts.




July 30

Star-Ledger, New Jersey, on cutting off all military aid to Egypt:

Last weekend’s mass shooting of demonstrators in Cairo, which Human Rights Watch denounced as showing a “criminal disregard for people’s lives,” only underscores what we knew already: This military takeover is not a re-boot of democracy. It’s a bloody coup.

How quickly the crowds that cheered the ouster of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi have been replaced by angry protesters, shouldering the bodies of their slain relatives. Many were shot straight through the head or chest, in clearly targeted killings, as Islamists and other Morsi supporters staged peaceful sit-ins and rallies.

Yesterday, the European Union’s top foreign policy official visited Cairo to reiterate that the military must deliver on its pledge to transition to a civilian government that includes the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies. But like the United States, the EU has no imminent plans to rethink its aid to Egypt.

Why should we expect Egypt’s generals to heed our advice, if we put no muscle behind the message?

Our first priority must be to stop these killings of civilians in the street. That means signaling that we are serious by suspending our $1.3 billion in military aid, which represents the bulk of U.S. assistance to Egypt. We can continue to provide economic aid, but we cannot be the bankrollers of an increasingly brutal regime.

This isn’t just a moral issue. It’s a national security danger. Think about it. ...

Rather than continue to provide millions to the military in the hope the generals will listen, the United States should cut off aid now, and restore it only in the event of a peaceful transition through a democratic election.

The continued slaughter of protesters further illustrates the insincerity of General Sisi, chief of the Egyptian military, who claimed his forces would stay out of politics. He is looking more and more like a despot, along the lines of former dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser. And we must act now, to ensure that history of repression doesn’t repeat itself.




July 30

The Seattle Times on Univision’s window on America:

America’s consumer choices, voting trends and viewing habits help fill in the mosaic of this big economically, politically and socially diverse country.

Last week the Nielsen company, which tracks television audiences, announced the Spanish-language Univision network was tops with viewers aged 18-45 for the month of July.

Univision passed NBC in February, but that was dismissed as a one-time win over a struggling network. To beat Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC and others in Nielsen’s July time frame speaks to Univision’s appeal and the size of the demographic it drew upon.

Univision offered the same types of music, sports and programs to attract young viewers and were not the usual summer reruns on the other networks.

Nielsen reports the median age for Univision viewers is 37. Over at CBS, NBC and ABC the median age is into the mid-50s.

Univision’s triumphal full-page ad in The New York Times that “Numero Uno is the New Number One,” is a bit of corporate hype, but the power of a diverse demographic has found a very traditional expression.

Dr. Luis Fraga, University of Washington associate vice provost and political science professor, says Univision has built its viewing audience with news coverage and programming content and story lines that put U.S. current events in a useful context for Latino viewers.

One Univision effort, titled “This is the Moment,” promoted education, college preparation and enrollment for families and a growing segment of a growing demographic. The White House recruited Univision to promote the new health-care plan.

Eyes on TV screens reflect who we are and what we watch, and advertisers and pollsters pay attention.

Political strength is found in numbers. How those numbers reveal themselves beyond Election Day can be as routine as noticing who watches which network.




July 31

The Australian, Sydney, on toil and trouble as talks resume:

There is good reason to be skeptical about the chances of success for the new round of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. But at least they represent a long-overdue return to active diplomacy in the Middle East by the Obama administration after a protracted period of neglect, and in that lies hope Washington is finally willing to use its influence to get the two sides to negotiate seriously over a two-state solution.

Certainly, the appointment of Martin Indyk, the former US ambassador to Israel who was educated in Sydney and taught at Macquarie University, to manage the resumed negotiations after a three-year hiatus suggests Secretary of State John Kerry is giving the initiative his best shot. And, for all the pessimism about the prospects, it could be that the dangerous witches’ brew the Middle East has become could provide both sides with the motivation to rethink previously irreconcilable positions.

For Israel there are the daunting implications of the chaos in Egypt, its partner in the 1979 accord that forms the bedrock of what passes for peace in the Middle East; the turmoil in Syria that has drawn in al-Qa’ida and Hezbollah and is undermining the stability of Lebanon and Iraq; threats to the survival of Jordan’s moderate King Abdullah; and the prospect of Iran getting the bomb. ...

Ahead of the talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered a significant concession — the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, some responsible for the most heinous acts of terrorism, including bombing a bus filled with Israeli civilians. Despite this, the Palestinians refuse to budge on their demand that Israel accept that its 1967 borders should be the starting point for negotiations, and have done nothing to persuade Hamas in Gaza to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Israel has long been prepared to resume peace talks without preconditions. It is the Palestinians who have created the obstacles, and unless they are prepared to compromise it is unlikely even Indyk’s diplomatic skills will succeed. Achieving peace pivots on acceptance of Israel’s inalienable right to exist within secure, defensible borders.




July 31

The Korea Herald, Seoul, South Korea, on corrupt tax officials:

Public trust in the nation’s tax office has taken another tumble with the emergence of allegations that a former chief of the National Tax Service took bribes from CJ Group in return for favors during a tax audit years ago.

Prosecutors have already arrested Heo Byung-yik, a former deputy commissioner of the NTS, on suspicion that he took bribes from CJ, a food and entertainment conglomerate whose chairman, Lee Jay-hyun, was recently indicted on charges of dodging taxes and misappropriating corporate money.

Heo is suspected of having received $300,000 in U.S. currency from the business group in 2006. But he was quoted as saying that he had delivered the money to Jeon Goon-pyo, who was appointed the NTS commissioner at the time.

Prosecutors hence raided Jeon’s residence to obtain financial documents that would prove his receipt of illegal money from CJ. They also searched the Seoul office of the NTS to seize documents related to the tax audit on CJ in 2006.

Jeon is suspected of having helped CJ emerge unscathed from the tax audit. At the time, the NTS’ Seoul office secured evidence that the group and its chairman evaded some 360 billion won in corporate and income taxes. But the tax office refrained from levying any taxes on them.

But Jeon strongly denied that he had received any money from CJ. Prosecutors have summoned him for questioning. Jeon was recently released from prison after serving years for taking bribes in 2006 from the then head of the Busan branch of the NTS, who wanted a promotion.

The investigation into Jeon and Heo comes at a time when the NTS is making determined efforts to shake off its image as a corrupt and untrustworthy public agency.

In March, NTS chief Kim Deok-joong pledged to uproot tax corruption before waging a war against the underground economy.

In May, he launched a task force to inspect tax officials and introduced a “one strike and you are out” system in which a tax inspector will be transferred to other fields if he is found to have received illegal money even once in connection with his job.

In June, he invited a prosecutor to lead the inspection task force and ordered tax officials not to meet taxpayers after undertaking a tax inspection.

The latest probe into former top officials is demoralizing to incumbent NTS officials. But Kim should not allow it to derail his campaign to clean house. The corrupt former officials should serve as examples.



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