- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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May 11

China Daily on North Korea:

Besides officially crowning Kim Jong-un as supreme leader, the just-concluded party congress of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea offered the rest of the world a rare glimpse of the country’s actual policy orientations.

In contrast to the past months of harsh, sometimes intimidating, rhetoric regarding its pursuit of nuclear weapons and relations with Seoul and Washington, Pyongyang sounded impressively less-aggressive, even reconciliatory at the congress.

But Kim’s assertion that the DPRK is a “responsible nuclear state” may ring hollow outside Pyongyang, because, suspicions about its nuclear capabilities aside, few would embrace it as a responsible nuclear power.

If Pyongyang is sincere about denuclearization, the best way to demonstrate it would be to stop its nuclear brinkmanship.

However, Kim just ruled that out.

He promised not to use nuclear weapons first unless threatened; yet Pyongyang feels under constant threat.

Kim did extend olive branches to both Seoul and Washington by stressing the need for talks to ease cross-border animosities, and reiterating Pyongyang’s longstanding formula of reunification under a “federal system”. He even announced his readiness to befriend hostile countries.

And in a move that seems like a break from his father’s songun, or military first, strategy and one which inspires hope that he will switch his focus to the economy, Kim announced North Korea’s first five-year economic plan since the 1980s and vowed to improve living standards in the country.

He pledged to boost the power supply, agriculture, and light manufacturing. He even identified the needs of increasing international trade and engagement with the global economy.

However, byongjin as the new key word of North Korean national policies indicates economic development and nuclear capabilities are two parallel goals that appear to carry equal weight on Kim’s agenda.

This is where the trouble arises.

Byongjin does signify a step forward from songun, as it indicates Kim has finally come to terms with North Korea’s grim economic reality and is showing he has the political will to handle it. But it is simply beyond Pyongyang’s competence to pursue the twin goals at once. The country’s limited resources can’t support both. Nor will the international community allow its nuclearization.

Kim has seen the need to make peace with and engage the outside world in order to save his country’s suffering economy.

But he appears unaware that his nuclear ambitions are poison for his country’s economy. They will not only exhaust his country’s very limited resources, but will further isolate his country from the rest of the world, politically and economically.

Online:

http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/

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May 10

The New York Times on President Obama’s upcoming visit to Hiroshima:

President Obama added a couple of firsts to his list of achievements when he became the first sitting president to visit Myanmar in 2012 and to visit Cuba in modern times. He will add another at the end of this month when he visits Hiroshima in conjunction with the Group of 7 leaders meeting in Japan. Though the White House is playing down expectations, the visit gives him a significant opportunity to offer some tangible new initiatives to advance his vision of a nuclear-free world - a major goal at the outset of his administration that has since faded against a host of other foreign policy challenges.

Although American ambassadors, John Roos and Caroline Kennedy, have visited Hiroshima in recent years, and Secretary of State John Kerry did so last month, senior American officials have largely avoided the war memorial for the 200,000 people who lost their lives in the two nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the war in the Pacific. Given the 70-year alliance between Japan and the United States that has flourished since the end of the war, Mr. Obama’s decision to visit the memorial seems well overdue.

Yet it was arrived at only after an intense monthslong debate within the administration. Some officials were concerned that such an appearance would be interpreted as an apology for America’s wartime actions and further inflame this year’s presidential election. During Mr. Obama’s first year in office, his critics unfairly accused him of making an “apology tour” when he traveled to the Middle East and Europe in an effort to reset relationships that had deteriorated during the Bush administration.

News reports have said that most Japanese are not looking for an apology, and Mr. Obama is not planning to offer any. Instead, according to one senior official, he will “offer a forward-looking vision focused on our shared future.”

Japan and the United States have much to celebrate. The alliance constructed from the ashes of devastation and war has helped keep the peace in Asia. The two countries continue to work together on development and security projects in other parts of the world as well.

Though he has fallen well short of his lofty aim of a world “without nuclear weapons” announced in 2009, Mr. Obama can justly claim important achievements. Among these are the 2015 nuclear deal that seeks to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and the 2010 New Start Treaty mandating cuts in the number of strategic warheads deployed by the United States and Russia to 1,550 warheads each.

One big obstacle to further progress has been Russia’s increasingly aggressive president, Vladimir Putin, who has opposed more arms reduction. Other impediments include a Senate that refuses to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and Pakistan, which has blocked negotiations on a treaty to halt production of fissile material.

Mr. Obama’s missteps have made his goal harder to achieve. Nothing is more at odds with his vision than his befuddling support for a $1 trillion program to rebuild the American arsenal over the next 30 years. But there are still opportunities to improve his credibility - small steps like canceling the new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile and persuading the United Nations Security Council to endorse the nuclear test moratorium that all countries but North Korea observe. Perhaps, too, in his visit to Hiroshima, a strong speech and even a new initiative.

Online:

http://www.nytimes.com/

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May 10

The Sante Fe New Mexican on Donald Trump:

Pity the poor Republican leaders. They must choose whether to back a candidate whose rhetoric is hateful, whose policy positions often make no sense and who isn’t even a true conservative. Or, they must choose to turn their backs on their party’s presidential nominee in 2016.

Some prominent Republicans - political consultant Mary Matalin, for example - have switched their party registration. She’s now a libertarian. They aren’t necessarily supporting Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, but they view Donald Trump as commander in chief as too big a risk. One prominent journalist, Jamie Weinstein of the conservative Daily Caller website, put it this way: “In a White House race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I’d prefer Clinton, just as I’d prefer malaria to Ebola. In most cases, malaria is curable. Ebola is more often deadly.” Even two former presidents, the two George Bushes, are saying they will not endorse Trump in the 2016 race.

Other members of the GOP are hedging their bets, postponing endorsements to see if nominee Trump holds up better under scrutiny than candidate Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan is walking perhaps the tightest rope. He is the 2016 convention chairman and the highest-ranking GOP elected official in the country. Yet Ryan has said he won’t endorse Trump - yet. He’s even offered to step down as chairman of the Republican convention if that’s what the nominee wants. Ryan told interviewers that, “I think he needs to do more to unify this party. Saying we’re unified doesn’t in and of itself unify us.” This is a principled (if self-serving, since Ryan will look prescient should Trump lose in a blowout) stance.

Similarly on the fence is New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. She says she wants to know Trump’s position on federal spending in New Mexico, its military bases and, of course, the national laboratories (while she’s wondering, she might want to find out more about that wall Trump wants along the border; it would be an ecological disaster.) Martinez’s one step into presidential endorsement politics - for Sen. Marco Rubio - fizzled after Rubio had to drop out.

Even though she leads the Republican Governors Association and likely will be out stumping for Republicans in the fall, there’s nothing that says the governor can’t focus her attention down ticket and leave presidential politicking for others. This might be a fence she straddles until November. New Mexicans should ask her why she would even consider supporting a man who threatened to deport all Muslims and encourages supporters to violence.

Beyond the endorsement dilemma is the reality that the Trump nomination could be an epic disaster for the GOP - some reluctant Republicans are still exploring a third-party option beyond the usual libertarian (where former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is a candidate for the nomination). The Economist magazine calls the potential Trump nomination one of the party’s worst moments. The headline from May 7: “Donald Trump’s victory is a disaster for Republicans and for America.”

From there, The Economist states: “During its 160-year history, the Republican Party has abolished slavery, provided the votes in Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act and helped bring the cold war to a close. The next six months will not be so glorious. After Indiana’s primary, it is now clear that Republicans will be led into the presidential election by a candidate who said he would kill the families of terrorists, has encouraged violence by his supporters, has a weakness for wild conspiracy theories and subscribes to a set of protectionist and economically illiterate policies that are by turns fantastical and self-harming. The result could be disastrous for the Republican Party and, more important, for America.”

And that, citizens, is what Republican Party leaders, elected officials and just average voters must keep in mind. Donald Trump is not going to make America great again. He is bad for America. Fervent Sanders or Clinton supporters need to consider the dangers well - this election isn’t about who is more progressive than thou; it’s about whether Trump should be president. Period.

Weinstein, the clever writer who compares Trump to Ebola, summed it up like this: “But as bad as Hillary would be as president, there is little threat another Clinton presidency would end the American system as we know it. You can’t be so sure with Trump. What are the odds a President Donald Trump would attempt to become honest-to-God American dictator? Five percent? Ten percent? No one can say for sure, but certainly greater than any other presidential contender in my lifetime.”

Online:

http://www.santafenewmexican.com/

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May 9

The Charlotte Observer on North Carolina’s new law limiting LGBT anti-discrimination protections:

In his 10-page lawsuit Monday against the U.S. Department of Justice, Gov. Pat McCrory offered a hauntingly familiar defense of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law: HB 2 doesn’t discriminate against transgender individuals, because transgender identity isn’t really real.

That’s a rationale, legal and otherwise, that was used against gays and lesbians during their fight for equality. It’s no less disturbing now - and no more valid.

The governor’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court early Monday, first argues a technicality - but an important one. Transgender people can’t be discriminated against under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, McCrory says, because unlike blacks, women and other minorities, they are not recognized by Title VII as a protected class.

The governor cites several federal court rulings, from 2008 and earlier, that agree. But DOJ, which filed its own lawsuit later Monday, has recent court decisions on its side. Those include a U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last month that requires educational institutions to treat transgender students “consistent with their gender identity.”

To which the governor says: What gender identity? Regardless of whom Title VII might protect, McCrory says, HB 2 doesn’t treat transgender individuals differently from non-transgender individuals. “All state employees are required to use the bathroom and changing facilities assigned to persons of their same biological sex, regardless of gender identity, or transgender status,” the lawsuit contends.

In other words, if everyone just goes to the restroom that corresponds with their genitalia, what’s discriminatory about that?

It is, essentially, a denial that a transgender person has claim to a different “gender identity,” which is the same rejection that was made of gays’ and lesbians’ claim to “sexual orientation.” It’s not biology, the reasoning goes. It’s a choice.

Scientists and physicians disagree, including 20 pediatric endocrinologists from across North Carolina who wrote to McCrory last month urging him to consider the science behind gender assignment.

“There are babies born in whom chromosomes suggesting one sex do not match the appearance of the genitalia,” the doctors wrote, adding: “Our patients already face major medical and social challenges, and HB 2 creates unnecessary hardship.”

On Monday, the governor insisted on prolonging that pain, and in doing so, he also continues to jeopardize billions in federal funding for North Carolina. McCrory, however, tried to frame his lawsuit as a public service of sorts, saying it was an attempt to clarify who gets protection from discrimination, and who gets to decide.

The reality is that the governor and N.C. Republicans already made that decision. With HB 2, they decided Charlotte couldn’t protect gays and lesbians from discrimination, and that transgender individuals shouldn’t get to choose which bathrooms they use.

The arguments behind that law were made clear Monday: The Civil Rights Act doesn’t recognize transgender people, and our state doesn’t recognize a transgender person’s gender identity. Because if “gender identity” doesn’t exist, then neither does the discrimination in HB 2.

It’s a rationale that denies not only identity, but dignity. It should be rejected by the courts, and by the people of North Carolina.

Online:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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May 9

The Post and Courier on meeting between NATO and Russia:

There is now a new Cold War in Europe. Speaking in Germany on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned of Russian aggression and denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for “nuclear saber-rattling” and “going backward in time” to an earlier era of military confrontation.

A mid-April meeting between NATO and Russia - the first in two years - was highly confrontational on the Russian side, according to various reports. Russia denounced NATO moves to strengthen its Eastern defenses as a threat to Russia. And it has heightened intelligence and military operations in Eastern Europe as evidence of its rejection of NATO’s decision, under President Bill Clinton, to accept nations bordering Russia as members.

Defense Secretary Carter said the United States “will continue to hold out the possibility that Russia will assume the role of a constructive partner moving forward,” adding, “We do not seek to make Russia an enemy.”

But NATO’s departing Supreme Commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, said he and his advisers believe that President Putin is just one of a small group running Russia who have made their objectives clear and are likely to be in power “for some time to come.”

He also said Russia has made “drastic” improvements in its military in the past three years and that NATO now has to refocus its operations, tactics and intelligence capabilities on Russia after 14 years of fighting a counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan. He added, “Now that we see that Russia has not accepted (the) hand of partnership but has chosen a path of belligerence, we need to readdress where we’re heading.”

In his remarks at the U.S. European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Secretary Carter said Russia’s talk about using nuclear weapons was the “most disturbing” aspect of Russia’s new posture.

“Moscow’s nuclear saber-rattling raises troubling questions about the commitment Russia’s leaders have to strategic stability, their respect for norms against the use of nuclear weapons and the profound caution that nuclear-age leaders showed with regard to brandishing nuclear weapons,” he said.

Russia should “make no mistake,” Mr. Carter continued. “We will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us.”

The New York Times reports that one concrete demonstration of this renewed commitment is a plan to deploy one additional U.S. Army combat brigade to Europe next year and to consider establishing the continuous rotation of a brigade-sized force to the territory of threatened NATO partner nations on the Russian border.

The history of the Cold War suggests that Russia will likely make counter moves that NATO will have to match to reassure its members. A new Cold War appears to be well under way, and it will require a renewed commitment to the defense of our allies and our national interests.

Online:

http://www.postandcourier.com

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May 8

The Boston Herald on Puerto Rico bailout:

A bipartisan group in the House of Representatives is expected to unveil a bill this week for a non-monetary rescue of Puerto Rico from financial disaster. Passage is urgent; what happens will demonstrate whether Congress is capable of reasoned action in an election year.

Puerto Rico has been in economic decline for a decade, living on borrowed money. It missed a principal payment of $367 million on $422 million due last Monday. The island government paid $22 million in interest and was able to roll over $33 million into obligations of later maturity.

This was the overture. Total debt exceeds $70 billion. Puerto Rico has no hope of coming up with it. On July 1, $2 billion is due. If Congress procrastinates, expect lawsuits galore. Not surprisingly, holders of Puerto Rican debt have been lobbying for the most favorable provisions they can get.

The draft under consideration reportedly includes a financial control board more or less like the Massachusetts board that ran the city of Springfield from 2004 to 2009. The new board could reduce debt under the supervision of a federal court, as in a true bankruptcy.

Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla insists that a board not have final say on some matters like taxation, which he wants reserved to the island legislature. Some face-saving vagueness may emerge in any law, but if one passes, Congress will have to be strict.

Congress is involved because only municipalities, not other governments, may claim bankruptcy protection. Some hard-pressed states like California and Illinois may try to wiggle in under provisions of a Puerto Rico bill. If so, they should be rebuffed.

These are age-old issues. Congress refused financial aid to defaulting states in the 1840s on the grounds it would encourage extravagance.

This bill should not be the final act. Congress should attack the crazy quilt of laws that helped cripple Puerto Rico in the first place.

Online:

http://www.bostonherald.com

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