- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

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

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Sept. 23

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on White House intruder:

A 42-year-old intruder entered the White House Friday in less time and with less trouble than a tourist waiting in line for a guided tour might encounter.

Iraq war veteran Omar Gonzalez, who apparently suffers from mental problems, scaled the 7-foot spiked fence that surrounds the White House, ran across the front lawn and walked inside through an open door where he was stopped by a security guard. Fortunately, President Barack Obama and his family had left the grounds about 10 minutes before Gonzalez arrived.

Reports state that Gonzalez was carrying a pocket knife and had left 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets and a machete in his car. His intentions are unclear but he had no weapon on him other than the knife.

The easy breaching of White House security nonetheless is disconcerting. What if Gonzalez been heavily armed and tried to shoot his way into the White House?

Various members of Congress stated the obvious: The Secret Service didn’t do its job. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., attributed the ineffective protection to an “atrophy of concern.”

There could be something to that. Few attempts have been made in recent years to break into the White House, and none have been as successful as Gonzales’ mad dash.

Agents guarding the White House might have become a little complacent. And the charge that the Secret Service needs to shape up is bolstered by recent stories about agents’ wild parties while off duty in foreign cities where they were part of the presidential entourage.

Security agents already had erected large concrete posts along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to keep vehicles away. The posts went up after a car crashed into the front gate of the White House.

This week, a second waist-high fence, about 8 feet from the existing fence, was placed along part of the White House grounds, pushing pedestrians that much farther away from “The People’s House.” The number of Secret Service agents patrolling the grounds also was increased, including at least one with a dog.

Times have changed since President Harry Truman used to take unescorted walks outside the White House. And tourists now will be farther away than ever from the fence.

Online:

http://www.heraldonline.com

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Sept. 23

Charlotte Observer on airstrikes in Syria:

In an otherwise unhinged diatribe, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman made a boast that is uncomfortably close to the truth:

“O crusaders, you have realized the threat of the Islamic State, but you have not become aware of the cure, and you will not discover the cure because there is no cure,” Abu Mohammed al Adnani said on an audiotape released Monday. “If you fight it, it becomes stronger and tougher. If you leave it alone, it grows and expands.”

This is precisely the predicament in which the United States and the West find themselves. Ignoring this growing threat only invites its expansion and increased stability. Attempting to destroy it requires a level of engagement that most Americans will not support, and is probably futile in any case.

A majority of Americans, and of Congress, support the Obama administration’s current airstrike campaign against ISIS targets in Syria. A new Washington Post-ABC poll found that 71 percent of respondents back airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, and nearly two-thirds support them in Syria.

That’s nearly a complete reversal from a year ago. Public support for military action is fickle, though, and could taper quickly the deeper America and its allies trudge in chasing President Obama’s stated goal of “destroying” the Islamic State. The airstrikes are easy to get behind, given the low risk they pose to U.S. personnel. They are insufficient, however, for eliminating the extremist network. That would require a significant and prolonged American military presence on the ground in Syria and elsewhere, a scenario that neither we nor a majority of the public embraces.

The airstrikes are necessary. They will disrupt the Islamic State, perhaps kill some of its leaders, and make it more difficult for the group to launch a successful attack on the West in the near term. That the U.S. was joined by five Arab nations in the attack is unprecedented and important. Containing the extremists will require Arabs and Muslims combating them internally, not only with military might but also with efforts to cut off their financing and their popularity.

Americans, though, need to fully understand that the bombing is just one more step in a very long fight. Obama’s goal of eliminating ISIS and other al-Qaida offshoots is admirable. It is also, we believe, unrealistic. The unsettling truth is that international relations have evolved and the West is now in a fight not with a nation-state but with a radical ideology that spreads like a virus across parts of the world. The fight against that virus is likely to last as long as we all live.

Online:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com

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Sept. 23

Sacramento (California) Bee on Congress:

Even for this do-nothing Congress, this is appalling. After a five-week summer vacation, the honorables spent barely a week at work before heading home again - this time until after the November election.

From their perspective, that may be their most important task - to get re-elected, though most are running for relatively safe seats. That makes it even more important for constituents to show up at town halls to ask tough questions and hold members of Congress accountable. Too often, these events become promotional campaign appearances.

California’s representatives will be out and about in the coming weeks. For instance, Democratic Rep. Ami Bera is holding a small-business workshop Wednesday at Elk Grove City Hall. Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento is holding a forum Wednesday at the state Capitol on “net neutrality,” followed by a Thursday event at McClellan Park on women in business.

This session, Matsui can at least claim credit for helping break the logjam on federal funding to finish the levees protecting Natomas.

But for many members of Congress, if they tell voters how hard they’re working, they’ll be stretching the truth, to put it charitably.

The current recess means that between Aug. 1 and Nov. 12, the Republican-led House will be in session a grand total of 10 days. That’s shameful given the state of our nation and world.

Before wrapping up last Thursday, the House did the bare essentials - approving President Barack Obama’s request to arm Syrian rebels to help fight the Islamic State and passing a funding resolution to avoid another damaging federal government shutdown.

The Democratic-majority Senate followed suit in skipping town. The two parties’ leaders blame each other for blocking measures passed by the other chamber. What Americans see is partisan gridlock getting in the way of help they need.

The 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive in 60 years.

While it’s no surprise that Congress hasn’t taken up immigration reform, there’s a long list of other pressing issues put off until after the election: tax reform, domestic surveillance, minimum wage, defense policy, foreign trade, and the care of mentally ill people, just to name a few.

Is it any wonder that Obama has resorted to executive actions to get things done? House Republicans, of course, did find the time and energy to sue the president.

The only potential upside is that in a lame-duck session - without re-election to worry about - members of Congress might do what’s best for the country. Given their recent track record, however, that’s probably too much to ask.

Online:

http://www.sacbee.com

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Sept. 20

Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Minnesota, on NFL’s side:

If there’s an upside to the Adrian Peterson situation, or, for that matter, to the seemingly endless police blotter of NFL players arrested in connection with domestic violence, aggravated assault, drunken driving, drug and gun violations, and other serious offenses, it is this: More people are seeing the NFL with eyes wide open, and that’s a good thing.

It’s not that professional football is without value to society or the economy. The game has, over the last five decades, embedded itself into the national character to the point that it defines Sunday afternoon (not to mention Sunday, Thursday and Monday nights) in tens of millions of homes. Two-thirds of Americans watch the games on TV. Having an NFL team heightens your city’s identity, and the economic spillover is considerable. The league generates nearly $10 billion a year, making it the world’s most successful sports enterprise.

At its best, football brings individuals and communities together, reuniting old friends and introducing new ones in ways that strengthen the social fabric. And some players and coaches truly are exemplary public figures and community leaders.

But contrary to what today’s TV ratings may indicate, the NFL is not too big to fail, especially if its darker side continues to gain the upper hand.

Since January 2000, there have been 732 arrests (involving 539 NFL players) in connection with various crimes ranging from disorderly conduct to murder. That’s out of a pool of 1,700 players at any given moment. Over that span of years, the Vikings have led the league in arrested players - 44.

That’s a scandalous amount of police activity for a team and for a league that tries to portray all of its players as model citizens.

But how to crack down? The NFL and its teams face a conundrum. Theirs is a violent game, and getting more so. The increase over the years in velocity and physical impact has been remarkable. Players are handsomely rewarded for the violence they inflict and absorb. It’s not surprising, then, that among those people who football attracts are those who may find it difficult to turn off the violence and intimidation when dealing with ordinary life.

Every NFL team has its share of bad actors. The basic problem is that high moral character doesn’t win football games. As long as winning at any cost remains the overwhelming priority, the game will continue its downward slide. Women will continue to turn away. More and more families will forbid sons to play football. The NFL will become eventually a base amusement for society’s lowest rung. Commissioner Roger Goodell should remember that the sport of boxing once held mass appeal.

For the NFL to sustain its popularity, Goodell, team owners and the players association should convene a blue-ribbon commission to establish a fair, consistent and transparent set of behavior standards. It should be clear to everyone what actions the league will take when a player is charged, when he’s indicted and when he’s convicted.

Standards should be augmented by rigorous education on what it means to be a public figure and a solid citizen. Salary structures and player evaluations should include components that reward good character.

Online:

http://www.startribune.com

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Sept. 24

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on NASA:

When it comes to exploring the planet Mars, a half-billion-dollar investment can go a long way. On Sunday, NASA’s Maven spacecraft continued the space agency’s remarkable run of engagements with Mars by successfully entering orbit around the red planet after a year-long 442 million-mile journey.

For the next six weeks, NASA will calibrate Maven’s instruments so that in November, it can begin its unprecedented year-long exploration of the planet’s upper atmosphere. If all goes according to plan, Maven, which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, will gather data that will yield clues to how Mars went from a warm, wet world millions of years ago to a cold and dry one today.

Because of the success of the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers, NASA is developing a reputation for making remote explorations of Mars look easy.

Meanwhile, Mission Control will be the first to say that these trips to Mars aren’t easy. Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to launching unmanned spacecraft and pointing them toward distant planets.

Though Maven will never land on the Martian surface, it still had to traverse millions of miles and enter into orbit traveling at 10,000 mph. It was a nerve-racking few minutes for the flight engineers monitoring its maneuvers and praying that their dozen or so years working on the project weren’t in vain.

No one really knew until this week whether the $671 million mission would burn up or perform as designed. Maven not only survived entry, NASA believes it will exceed expectations when it fires up all of its instruments.

Those who dismiss these unmanned space explorations as a waste of money and resources underestimate the economic and spiritual value of scientific inquiry. What we pay in the short run to explore our little corner of the universe is a bargain compared with the compound ignorance of doing nothing to expand our capacity for wonder.

Online:

http://www.post-gazette.com

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Sept. 21

Los Angeles Times on Ebola:

Since Sept. 8, the death toll from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has grown from about 1,900 to well above 2,600 - an increase of more than 36% in less than two weeks. Perhaps the world should have realized earlier that this wasn’t another small outbreak, and should have responded more vigorously. Perhaps most countries hadn’t taken into account the fact that the World Health Organization’s budget had been so deeply cut that it no longer could act as the first responder to far-flung medical crises. But whatever the reason, it took a while - too long - for the level of contagion in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone to become obvious, and for the rest of the world to recognize just how much money and assistance would be required both to treat the sick and prevent the outbreak from spreading.

There’s no excuse now for any developed nation not to respond quickly and generously. The United States, to its credit, has more than shown the way. President Obama has offered to lead and organize an international response. He is seeking congressional approval to spend close to $1 billion in assistance, much of it redirected from elsewhere in the budget. That includes $500 million for the deployment of 3,000 troops to build treatment centers and train desperately needed healthcare workers. Congress should waste no time approving the request.

Time is money, in this case. Just weeks ago, the U.N. was warning that $600 million was needed to fight Ebola, and that without quick intervention the number of sick people might reach 20,000 within a few months. Now at least $1 billion is needed, and the potential threat to life is in the hundreds of thousands.

But Obama is right when he says there is even more at stake. Without food, water, assistance with crowd control and compliance on the part of the affected population with rules intended to reduce the risk of contagion, conditions in these already dysfunctional nations will escalate into a global security threat as a regional health crisis.

The United States should be proud of its humanitarian leadership. The question is whether other nations will see its generosity as a model to be followed, or as an excuse to be cheap. So far, the contrasts are striking: The relatively wealthy European Union has pledged only about $180 million toward the effort, a significant sum but one that pales next to that from the United States. China has offered to send 174 medical experts, most of whom already are in Africa. Compare that with Cuba, a none-too-wealthy nation that is sending almost the same number of medical personnel even though its population is less than 1% of China’s. Russia is doing almost nothing, while a single private organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has pledged an astonishingly generous $50 million.

There are signs, in all this, that although the economy may have become globalized, the sense of joint responsibility for the world’s welfare hasn’t.

Online:

http://www.latimes.com

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Sept. 24

The Australian on residual force for Afghanistan:

Despite its imperfections, including a veil of secrecy over vote tallies for each candidate, the power-sharing deal reached after five months of bitter arm-wrestling over Afghanistan’s presidential election offers hope of an end to the country’s debilitating political stalemate. Former finance minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani has been declared the next president and his rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, has been given the new post of chief executive (effectively prime minister). There should be no further delay handling crucial issues such as the bilateral security agreement needed to keep a residual, US-led military force, including several hundred Australians, in the country after the end of this year.

Events in Iraq following President Barack Obama’s failure to maintain a deployment there in 2011 show the bilateral security agreement is vital to Afghanistan’s chances of keeping the Taliban at bay after the main coalition forces withdraw. The agreement should have been concluded more than a year ago. Instead, it got caught up in the prevarication of President Hamid Karzai, and then in the wrangle over the election of his successor. Unlike Karzai, Dr. Ghani and Abdullah have declared their support for the agreement, which should see a residual force of 10,000 US soldiers and others from allies such as Australia, which is likely to deploy 600. The troops will remain for further two years in non-combat advisory roles. The stage-managed outcome of an election that cost aid donors $165 million is a disappointment to many countries, including Australia. Many Afghans are also furious, with no idea whether the votes they cast in defiance of Taliban death threats counted for anything. The country has been denied the fair and credible election so vital to its future. Given the deadlock, however, there was no alternative but to strike the power-sharing deal, even though it is suffused by deep divisions that cast doubt on its likely durability.

Both men must now rise above their differences and make it work if a Taliban resurgence is to be avoided. After the divisions and corruption of the Karzai years, Afghanistan needs stability, unity and strong government.

Online:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au

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