- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

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


Dec. 9

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on Russia:

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who loves to strut on the world stage, appears intent on regaining his nation’s lost stature. But the reality is that Russia is a nation in decline.

Global oil prices have tumbled to a five-year low, and Russia’s ruble has fallen 40 percent against the dollar so far this year. Economists predict that inflation may soon reach 9 percent and continue climbing.

Even more serious for Putin, although likely to draw less attention from the Russian people, is another prediction by economists: Capital flight is expected to reach $128 billion.

In other words, Russia has serious financial problems that Putin had not anticipated. It is something for which he is to blame, however.

“It is a completely new reality for him,” said Sergei M. Guriev, an economist who chose exile last year.

“Whenever Russia wanted the oil price to go up, it has gone up,” Guriev said. “He has always been lucky, and this time he is not lucky.”

In the United States, we have long worried about our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. In Russia, there’s an even more striking dependency on domestic oil production, which provides 60 percent of the nation’s exports.

Though Americans may rejoice in the recent drop in prices at the gasoline pump, these low prices represent a clear threat to Russia’s economy and, if less directly, to Putin’s stewardship.

In the wake of the Western sanctions, Moscow thought it would find financial help in China, but the banks there apparently do not have the capacity. Thus the debt could deplete Russia’s $400 billion in foreign currency reserves.

Vedomosti, Russia’s most respected business daily, last week published an editorial that suggested that “the biggest problem of Russian leadership is inability to admit mistakes” and declared that “the economy is seriously ill, and the ruble rate is one of the indicators crying about the illness.”

And it added this potent comment: “Russia’s leadership refuses to admit there is an illness, and pushes it into the depths.”

The West’s big fear? That Putin may see war as a way out of his troubles. Then our present domestic worries would seem insignificant.




Dec. 10

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on president getting political snub:

The sad thing about President Barack Obama’s visit Tuesday to Nashville was the complete politicization of the occasion.

The president of the nation comes to town for a speech, and the governor doesn’t even show up. Neither do our U.S. senators.

Why this snub? The governor and our two senators are Republicans, and party loyalty is more important than official niceties these days.

Once upon a time, any official of any importance would consider it mandatory to welcome the president to town. Political differences were put off for the time being. No longer.

The only dignitaries present on Tuesday were Democrats. The occasion turned into a partisan rally. About the only Republicans who turned out were protesters bearing anti-Obama signs.

A show of official courtesy used to be automatic on such occasions. If the president happened to make any critical remarks, the response was to grin and bear it.

After all, he’s the elected leader of the nation. Politics were to be played out in Congress.

Now it’s politics from day one, politics now and forever.

Our nation is the worse for it.




Dec. 9

Los Angeles Times on illegal file sharing:

The entertainment industry spent years suing Internet users, file-sharing companies and websites over illegal music and movie downloading while the companies that make high-speed downloads possible -broadband providers such as Time Warner Cable and AT&T; - watched from the sidelines. That changed last week, when music publishers BMG Rights Management and Round Hill Music sued one of the country’s larger Internet service providers, cable TV operator Cox Communications, for not cutting off customers accused repeatedly of illegal file sharing. The publishers are right to expect Cox to help fight piracy, but the courts should resist their attempt to turn ISPs into bare-knuckled enforcers.

The publishers’ lawsuit is based on the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which absolves ISPs from liability for their users’ copyright violations if they meet certain conditions. According to the publishers’ complaint, Cox failed to comply with the law’s requirement to implement a policy cutting off repeat infringers’ accounts. The publishers say their anti-piracy contractor, Rightscorp, notified Cox of millions of infringements on roughly 200,000 Cox accounts, yet the accounts have remained open “without consequence.”

Rightscorp monitors file-sharing networks, then threatens legal action against those whose broadband accounts were allegedly used for piracy unless they pay a small fine. In other words, it seeks a cheaper, easier way to enforce copyrights than rights holders can obtain through the courts and their pesky due-process rules. Its approach won’t work, however, if ISPs don’t identify the account holders, and they’re under no legal obligation to do so unless the copyright owner has filed suit. Nor are ISPs compelled to forward Rightscorp’s demands for money to their subscribers, who may be blissfully unaware that someone was using their account for piracy. Rightscorp shouldn’t be able to use the 1998 law to compel ISPs to support its business model.

The larger question raised by the publishers’ lawsuit is: At what point do ISPs have to disconnect subscribers whose accounts are used repeatedly to violate copyrights? Yet BMG, Round Hill Music and Cox don’t need to answer that to make headway against piracy. The Copyright Alert System jointly developed by the major movie studios, record labels and largest ISPs doesn’t threaten to cut off anyone’s Internet access, but it does send out warnings and take increasingly intrusive steps to prod broadband subscribers to stop piracy. The system sent out more than 2 million warning letters to users in its first year, and the vast majority responded by stopping the infringements in short order. Cox has a similar “graduated response” system, but it lacks the clarity and standardization of the other ISPs’ effort. Rather than trying to impose new rules through the courts, the publishers should join Cox in making the existing warning system work for all concerned.




Dec. 10

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on work and wages:

Americans should be pleased at November’s job figures released Friday, which showed 321,000 new positions created and average weekly earnings for ordinary employees up 0.7 percent.

At the same time, the unemployment rate stayed stubbornly at 5.8 percent and a scalding report released Tuesday by a global economic think tank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, underscored the negative relationship between income inequality and economic growth.

Within the 34 member countries of the organization, the richest 10 percent earned 9.5 times as much as the poorest 10 percent. That compares to seven times as much in the 1980s. The report said the rich-poor gap is now the largest in 30 years.

The OECD estimates that the United States lost 6 to 7 percentage points in economic growth over that period due to income disparity. The report gauges that the economy of the United Kingdom would have grown an additional 20 percent if the income gap, enhanced by so-called “trickle-down” economic policies, had not worsened. A primary reason is the additional income, put in the hands of the rich by government policy, did not, in fact, trickle down.

As to November’s U.S. jobs numbers, it still cannot be said that the country is experiencing a rapid recovery from the recession which started in 2007. One reason for the slowness of the turnaround is the chronic stagnation in middle-class wages. That leads to pallid personal consumption, which is the core of the U.S. economy.

The OECD prescription for income inequality is, first, higher taxes on those with greater incomes to pay a larger share of a country’s expenses and, second, policies to raise the standard of living for the lower 40 percent on the income scale. If OECD’s contention is correct that closing the wage gap would produce a bigger economic pie for everyone, then the policy change makes perfect sense.




Dec. 10

Seattle Times on CIA’s torture report:

Torture is abhorrent to the American sensibility - especially when the perpetrator is America.

But if this is the nation it purports to be, America must fess up to the revolting conclusions of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report presented Tuesday.

In its 500 gag-inducing pages, the executive summary of the report details the Central Intelligence Agency’s campaign of secret and illegal “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on suspects detained following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon.

Among other things, detainees were subjected to the controversial “waterboarding” practice of simulated drowning. One lost an eye, another died of hypothermia, and others were required to stand on broken legs or force-fed through a disturbing procedure called “rectal rehydration.”

These revelations become more deplorable with the report’s conclusion that the CIA misled Congress and the White House about its program, and that none of the barbarism led to information that kept Americans safe.

The cringe-worthy sadism done in the name of national security ranks among America’s most sickening contrarian actions.

At the same time, President Obama has yet to fulfill his 2008 campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility where some torture took place.

But the nation’s saving grace comes in its historic insistence on admitting to its mistakes.

“One of the things that sets us apart from other countries is that when we make mistakes, we admit them,” Obama told TV network Telemundo on Tuesday.

The nation admitted to 144 years of gender-based voter discrimination when it ratified women’s suffrage in 1920.

It took 134 years after abolition for an apology for slavery in 1997.

And it took two years for the U.S. government to acknowledge in the midst of the Vietnam War that U.S. soldiers slaughtered hundreds of unarmed civilians in the My Lai Massacre in 1968.

Only when the country acknowledges such mistakes and holds itself to the moral standards it preaches globally can it truly claim to be the great nation politicians casually profess it to be.




Dec. 10

New York Times on authorizing military force:

Nearly five months and 1,100 airstrikes into the American-led war against the Islamic State, Congress has barely begun to fulfill its constitutional war-making responsibilities. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday belatedly opened up debate on legislation that would authorize the use of force, but there’s no expectation that the work can be finished before the legislative session ends on Thursday. That means it will be put off at least until January, when the new Congress takes office.

The delay also means that President Obama will continue to conduct the war in Iraq and Syria under an outdated 2001 authorization, without explicit approval by Congress and without the necessary limitations that the committee chairman, Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and two other members, Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, have urged.

Presidents often resist attempts by Congress to limit their powers. But after 13 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq that first targeted Al Qaeda and then evolved into conflicts in other states (like Yemen) against “associated” extremists, America cannot afford to get caught up in another endless, all-consuming conflict.

The Menendez bill attempts to address such concerns in part by prohibiting the deployment of American ground troops in the fight against the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, except in specific circumstances, including collecting intelligence; enabling airstrikes; and carrying out operational planning or “other forms of advice and assistance to forces fighting ISIL in Iraq or Syria.” The reference to “other forms” refers in part to rescue operations in support of American troops who may be injured on the battlefield, a reasonable exception. Still, the language seems too open to broad interpretation and could be used by presidents to justify almost anything.

President Obama has insisted he has no intention of deploying ground troops in combat against the Islamic State. His stated plan is to rely on indigenous forces for ground troops, backed by American air power. So he should have no problem accepting the ground troop limits in the legislation.

Nevertheless, Secretary of State John Kerry argued against these limits on ground troops at Tuesday’s hearing, saying Obama’s pledge “doesn’t mean that we should pre-emptively bind the hands of the commander in chief or our commanders in the field in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee.” He is, in effect, asking Americans to take Obama at his word and the administration’s insistence on this point calls into question just what the pledge on no ground troops really means.

Even if one took Obama at his word, his successor in 2017 may have fewer reservations about another enormous American-led ground war. Already, there are too many red flags about the potential for mission creep to ignore. Obama declared an end to American involvement in Afghanistan, yet he has already increased the size and expanded the mission of the residual American force that will be there in 2015. His military chief, Gen. Martin Dempsey, has publicly raised the possibility of deploying a limited number of troops to accompany Iraqi troops on complex offensive operations to retake Mosul and other areas under the Islamic State’s control. And privately, some officials talk about possibly deploying American (along with Turkish) ground troops if a decision is made to establish a buffer zone along the Syrian border that could be a shelter for refugees and a training area for moderate rebels.

Menendez’s bill also includes a much-needed sunset provision that would have the authorization expire after three years, which Kerry said the administration could accept. The timing is designed to get through Obama’s administration and then give the next president a year to assess the war before wrestling with Congress and reauthorization. The problem is that Kerry has also asked Congress to include a renewal provision after the three years. He didn’t detail how the renewal might work. If it is automatic, it could defeat the point of a sunset provision in the first place, namely that presidents should be required to go back to Congress to explain why a military conflict deserves continued support.

Kerry also urged the committee not to specifically bar the administration from taking the fight to other countries besides Iraq and Syria on the grounds that such a provision would alert the Islamic State that it could seek safe havens elsewhere. But if the conflict metastasizes, Obama should have to return to Congress and make the case for greater authority.

As much as Congress has tried to avoid the war authorization issue, so has Obama. Although he has long insisted that he has all the authority he needs under the 2001 authorization, or A.U.M.F., against Al Qaeda and the 2002 authorization for the Iraq war, he recently said he would welcome a new congressional authorization against the Islamic State and Kerry repeated that on Tuesday. But the administration has dragged its feet in proposing its own version, working with Congress on a joint version or even sending officials to participate in essential congressional hearings.

With time running out for this Congress, the best outcome this week would be for a committee that is still under Democratic control to approve a use-of-force authorization that imposes some limits on Obama. That would at least set a benchmark for when the Republicans take over in January. There are signs that some Republicans want a broad war authorization that could be exploited to justify military action against terrorist groups geographically beyond Iraq and Syria.

Going forward, any action on the use-of-force authorization must also be accompanied by a robust and thorough debate about American policy toward the Islamic State, including plans for Syria and for an overall exit strategy from the conflict. Sadly, at Tuesday’s hearing, too much time was wasted on arguing over whether Obama or Congress was the obstacle to drafting a use-of-force resolution.




Dec. 10

Khaleej Times, Dubai, on Ebola spreading:

The World Health Organization admits that it has not been able to stem its rapid spread and the continent of Africa is a major victim of the epidemic. The disease, to this day, has killed thousands in West Africa and has succeeded in landing offshore as far as the United States and Australia. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO in Africa, has warned against complacency, and believes that it will take a long time to overcome the dreaded phenomenon.

The million-dollar question is why is the international community, especially the scientific fraternity, still trailing behind in overcoming a virus that in the first instance only needs to be quarantined. The fact that carriers have sneaked out of Ebola-hit areas is a worrisome proposition, and initial clinical tests at several airports of Western countries have surprisingly not been able to detect it. Till now not a single suspect-patient was held at any of the airports, whereas reports continue to pour in of people being infected in far-off safe regions.

What has been going on to this day on the warfront against the virus is high-profile visits and sermons. That hasn’t worked, though it was of immense importance in raising awareness among the people. Only in Western Africa more than 6,500 people have died, and around 25,000 are said to be potential carriers of the epidemic. To stem its outbreak far beyond Africa and to nip it in the bud, all it needs is skilled paramedical staff and a hygienic environment to treat the patients. That means pouring in more money without second thoughts. It’s time for world leaders and philanthropists to join hands to save the humanity.



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