- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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


April 15

The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on Rwanda’s turnaround:

It has been 20 years since the genocide that took as many as a million lives and left Rwanda in ruins. So it is illuminating that a new report shows that life expectancy in the formerly splintered African nation has doubled in that time.

The development reveals what can happen when murderous, corrupt regimes are replaced with leadership focused on maintaining peace and improving living conditions.

Harvard professor Paul Farmer, along with Rwandan health experts, just published a study of the life expectancy data in The Lancet, the world’s most prestigious medical journal.

“In the aftermath of one of the worst spasms of mass violence in recorded history, few imagined that Rwanda might one day serve as a model for other nations committed to health equity,” their report notes.

The 1994 genocide, carried out chiefly by the country’s Hutus against their rival Tutsis, killed nearly 20 percent of the nation’s population and displaced millions more.

One particularly horrible statistic to emerge from the genocide: Half a million women were raped during the fighting, and up to 20,000 children were born as a result.

That was then. The story now goes far beyond the life expectancy data, which obviously were going to improve somewhat once the mass killings ended.

In Rwanda today, the genocide - while it will never be forgotten - has been put aside as the victims and the perpetrators join hands in a remarkable effort to build a better nation.

Investment in Rwanda has nearly tripled since 2005, and although it lacks many natural resources, the country has become economically vibrant.

Moreover, most of the population is covered by health insurance, and malaria deaths have fallen more than 85 percent since 2005. The crime rate is low, and Rwandan women can now safely walk the streets at night.

If this kind of reconciliation and revival can happen in a forlorn corner of the world like Rwanda, couldn’t it also happen in other places?

In fact, it has happened elsewhere: Just last week, Michael D. Higgins became the first president of Ireland to ever visit Britain’s Parliament and be received by Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle.

Given the bloody history of Ireland’s conflicts with the United Kingdom, it is encouraging the two sides are on friendly terms.

And although it took 20 years to overcome the horrors of Rwanda’s genocide, we can only hope that the reconciliation, like that between Ireland and Great Britain, offers similar hope to other troubled parts of the world.




April 15

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on U.S. military activities in Africa:

The Defense Department’s Africa Command, created in 2008, continues to expand U.S. military activities in Africa, now in at least 18 countries.

The operations are taking place in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti (which hosts a major U.S. base), Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Togo, Tunisia and Uganda. The United States has operated drones out of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Niger and the Seychelles. A U.S.-trained officer led a coup d’etat in Mali in 2012.

Last month, a U.S. Special Operations force commandeered a tanker in international waters that Libyan rebels were attempting to use to export Libyan oil for their own profit. The armed intervention was carried out at the request of the shaky Libyan government and responded to the desires of American oil companies operating in Libya. A parallel use of U.S. military forces to protect the assets of American oil companies is the guard function they carry out on a pipeline in Colombia, South America.

In March, President Barack Obama authorized the insertion of U.S. forces into Central Africa to aid the Ugandan military in what have been unsuccessful efforts to track down the Lord’s Resistance Army of Joseph Kony. This action was taken in spite of previous failures to trap the LRA and public criticism of the Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni for a law that its legislature has passed and he has signed that is sharply discriminatory against homosexuals.

It is difficult to argue that America has important strategic interests in any of these countries. Absent the agreement of any African nation to the establishment of a U.S. Africa Command headquarters on its soil, it remains based in Stuttgart, Germany.

It is hard to fathom why U.S. military activity is on the rise in Africa, but it may be driven to a degree by Pentagon fears that its budget will be cut in the post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan era, now that Americans are tired of distant wars. The problem is the activity is expensive - planned expansion of the Djibouti base alone is estimated to cost $750 million - and it risks involving the United States in unnecessary military adventures. Someone needs to “red pencil” the expansion before it proceeds further.




April 10

Las Vegas Review-Journal on Obamacare’s true numbers being a revealing failure:

On the afternoon of April 1, President Barack Obama pulled out the pom-poms and assumed the role of cheer captain at the White House Rose Garden to celebrate the great Obamacare victory. The Affordable Care Act had reached its purported goal of 7 million sign-ups, and by the March 31 deadline, no less.

Not 7 million paid consumers. Not 7 million who were previously uninsured, which we were told was the primary objective of the law. Just 7 million people who at least chose a plan via healthcare.gov or the state exchanges.

It was fitting that this pep rally was held on April Fool’s Day.

The Obama administration continues to demonstrate an extreme lack of transparency on the president’s signature legislation, particularly with regard to paid enrollment and the number of sign-ups who were previously uninsured.

The sad truth about Obamacare: It largely has resulted in a churning of the insured. The law forced the cancellation of coverage for millions of people, who were then forced to buy a new, more expensive, Obamacare-compliant policy. An extensive study released Tuesday by Rand Corp. backs that up, estimating that only about one-third of exchange sign-ups were previously uninsured.

The Rand study also estimates that, through March 28, 3.9 million people were covered through the federal and state Obamacare exchanges. That’s not exactly 7.1 million. Granted, the study doesn’t include a deadline surge of enrollees, but if it took from Oct. 1 until March 28 to get 3.9 million sign-ups, it stands to reason that there is no way an additional 3.2 million signed up between March 28 and March 31.

As for paid enrollees, Forbes.com’s Avik Roy used the Rand study and a report last month from management consulting firm McKinsey to determine that 76 percent of those who have paid their first month’s premium were previously insured, while just 24 percent were previously uninsured. A separate Forbes report estimates that 15 to 20 percent of enrollees haven’t paid. It’s safe to assume that many Americans who visited an exchange and selected a plan left it in their online shopping cart with no intention of ever purchasing it because the premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs were astronomical.

This was not what was promised. As Roy rightly notes, the Congressional Budget Office, in its original estimates, predicted that the vast majority of those eligible for subsidies on the exchanges would be previously uninsured individuals. Instead, the vast majority are previously insured people. The only notable achievement of Obamacare thus far is the expansion of Medicaid (5.9 million added, per Rand), which could have been accomplished without the law.

For Americans who had become uninsurable because of disease or a debilitating condition, Obamacare is working. Now they can get health insurance at a reasonable price. But Congress could have helped these people obtain coverage without ruining health care for everybody else.

Yet the celebration goes on. With the dubious sign-up goal of 7 million reached, President Obama immediately latched onto the idea that vindication is here, debate is over and repeal is unworthy. The reality is that the Obama administration has made health insurance dramatically more expensive while reducing choice and not substantially reducing the number of uninsured. That’s worth repeal right there. No fooling.




April 11

Kansas City Star on Kathleen Sebelius helping create a fairer health system:

By agreeing to serve as President Barack Obama’s health and human services secretary five years ago, Kathleen Sebelius assumed a front-and-center role in a historical effort.

Presidents since Harry S. Truman have tried to end the moral injustice that left millions of Americans without access to affordable health care. Obama and the Democrats in Congress, who at the time controlled both chambers, had a mission and an opportunity to change the system.

Sebelius left the Kansas governor’s office to become a part of it. Her role in getting the Affordable Care Act up and running was never easy, and it would become excruciating. But Sebelius, who resigned her post on Friday, contributed a great deal toward creating a fairer and better health care system for America.

Obama tapped Sebelius because she’d been insurance commissioner in Kansas and she’d succeeded as a Democratic governor in a state as Republican as they come.

But Sebelius had the good fortune in Kansas to work with a Legislature populated at least in part by moderate Republicans who were willing to work with her for the good of the state.

Washington was different. For five years, the top priority of Republicans in Congress and in many state legislatures has been to sabotage the president’s health care law.

States refused to create their own insurance exchanges, leaving the Health and Human Services Department with a bigger job than had been envisioned. Congressional Republicans refused to release money to properly promote the marketplaces.

None of that excuses the epic website debacle that nearly derailed the entire health care law. The online insurance marketplace that was a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act barely worked for a full two months.

As Kansas governor, Sebelius was a wonkish, detail-oriented executive. But she lost control of the development of HealthCare.gov, the insurance marketplace. The wrong people were in charge, lines of authority were unclear and too much was required in too short a time.

Sebelius either didn’t realize the extent of the problems or she downplayed them to Obama. Both scenarios are equally bad.

The turnaround of HealthCare.gov has been as dramatic as its crash. By the March 31 deadline, enrollment in the insurance exchanges exceeded expectations. …

After catching blame for the failure, Sebelius received little credit for the success. The White House staff that engineered the turnaround had little use for Sebelius and her team.

It was time for the secretary to leave. Obama’s choice of Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace Sebelius indicates his desire to have a proven manager in charge as health care reform progresses. She is a good choice, and Congress should speedily confirm her.

As for Sebelius, history will treat her efforts more kindly than the headlines that are accompanying her departure. Recollections of the blank screens and error messages that marred the roll-out of HealthCare.gov will fade in time, and Americans will focus on what matters.

Thanks in part to her work, millions of Americans can see a doctor and deal with serious medical problems without fear of financial ruin. Insurance policies can’t be canceled when a consumer becomes seriously ill or reaches a lifetime limit on treatment. Hospitals are reducing errors and controlling costs.

Getting kids insured has always been a priority for Sebelius. So it’s fitting that her resignation should come at the same time as a report showing the uninsured rate for children dropped 2.2 percentage points while she was in office, to 7.5 percent. That piece of good news makes for a very satisfying sendoff.




April 15

Wall Street Journal on Scotland’s nuclear dodge:

Proponents of Scottish independence have made the removal of nuclear-armed British submarines from Scotland’s waters a centerpiece of their campaign ahead of a Sept. 18 referendum. In Edinburgh, anti-nuclear politics reign.

Since the days of the Cold War, the Royal Navy has operated submarines armed with ballistic nuclear missiles out of Faslane, a base on the river Clyde, 25 miles northwest of Glasgow. Trident missiles are also stored at a Royal Navy armaments depot near Coulport village, 2 miles west of the Faslane base.

The left-wing, pro-independence Scottish National Party views the Trident as a symbol of British imperialism. “For decades we have been part of a Westminster system that has sought to project global power,” the SNP’s pro-independence white paper says. “Trident is an affront to basic decency with its indiscriminate and inhumane destructive power.”

Should the Scottish people vote to leave the United Kingdom, the SNP says, the Trident subs will have to be removed from Scotland’s waters by 2020. SNP leaders seem to be indifferent to the practical headaches and up to £20 billion in estimated costs London will have to bear to relocate a fleet of nuclear submarines.

An independent Scotland, the SNP argues, can still join NATO as a non-nuclear member no longer obliged to host strategic weapons. Yet NATO is a nuclear alliance, and the SNP position is a classic case of freeloading: The party wants Scotland to enjoy the benefits of the British and Western nuclear deterrent without having to bear its historical responsibility for maintaining it.

On Tuesday, Russia test-fired the RS-24, a new ICBM that, according to the Russian media, “can carry multiple, independently targetable nuclear warheads designed to evade missile defense systems to a range of 12,000 kilometers.” The SNP may imagine that the need for nuclear deterrence is a thing of the past, but sober people shouldn’t. The SNP’s nuclear dodge is another reason, if more were needed, for voters to reject its feckless politics.




April 11

Khaleej Times, Dubai, on recent ruling by U.S. Supreme Court:

The latest ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, striking down “aggregate limits” relating to political campaign funding has led to a complete reversal of contribution laws, enacted in the aftermath of Watergate to prevent rich Americans from buying votes.

The Supreme Court in McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission struck down the overall limits on campaign contributions, though it did not touch the limit (of $2,600 per election) on individual contributions to Presidential or Congressional candidates.

Led by chief justice John Roberts and four other conservative judges, the court said the overall limits intrude on a citizen’s ability to exercise the most fundamental First Amendment activity. Justice Clarence Thomas, the most conservative member of the court, said he would have gone further and removed all restrictions on political contributions.

Critics have, however, slammed the judgment arguing that this would encourage political corruption on an unheard of scale. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the four dissenting judges, warned that the ruling “eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws.” Campaign finance reforms were introduced in the US in the early 1970s following the Watergate scandal, to reduce the role of big money in elections.

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972 required that candidates must disclose the source of contributions and campaign expenditures. Later, statutory limits were imposed on contributions and the FEC was established. Over the decades, laws relating to campaign funding have been tweaked with limits set on donations.

An individual cannot give more than $2,600 to any candidate in an election, which meant a maximum of $5,200 (for the primaries and general election). An aggregate limit for individual contributions of $48,600 was also fixed for donations to all candidates. A higher aggregate limit of $74,600 was set for contributions to national party committees or political action committees (PACs). The aggregate limit for all contributions was $123,200.

But the latest Supreme Court judgment renders this limit meaningless, as it removes the aggregate limit on donations to PACs. And while there are limits on how much a PAC can give to a candidate, no limits on the number of PACs exist. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court has, in a series of judgments in recent years, diluted America’s tough laws relating to political contributions and preventing the influence of big money.


https://www.khaleejtimes.co m


April 116

The Australian on vote on enhanced status for the Palestinian Authority:

Former foreign minister Gareth Evans’s claims about dire consequences for Australia had we voted against enhanced status for the Palestinian Authority at the UN in November 2012 are overblown.

At the launch of Bob Carr’s Diary of a Foreign Minister, Evans claimed that if Julia Gillard had not been rolled on the issue Australia would have suffered from the worst foreign policy decision in a generation.

A “no” vote against observer status for the Palestinians, he said, would have isolated us “from every friend we had in the world apart from the US and Israel” and “mortally wounded our credibility and effectiveness on the UN Security Council”.

Like Carr, Evans is no slouch when it comes to self-belief. But there is nothing to support his hyperbole. The US voted no and has not suffered the opprobrium Evans outlined. Palestinian leaders have continued close contacts with the Obama administration, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas again in the Oval Office last month. Canada, a close ally of Australia, also voted no and has suffered no retaliation.

Almost 18 months on, Carr’s intervention to block the no vote looks no better informed. The case against the UN resolution was that it would do nothing to enhance negotiations for a two-state solution and foster the delusion that the Palestinians can win statehood through the back door via a UN vote rather than talking with Israel. The vote was a con. After all the grand pronouncements, it has not improved the lot of the Palestinians.

Wisely, Carr’s successor Julie Bishop has signaled Australia will now follow a different course. Her pledge not to support any more ill-conceived UN resolutions will better serve Australia’s interests than Carr’s grandstanding.



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