- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 26, 2014

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


Feb. 21

Jackson (Tenn.) Sun on fixing labor law to allow Volkswagen to expand:

Controversy surrounding last week’s vote by Volkswagen workers rejecting unionization under the United Auto Workers ended up casting doubt on whether the world’s second largest automaker would expand operations in Tennessee. We believe the focus is on the wrong issue.

What the German company wants is to establish a works council at the plant. It operates works councils at every other Volkswagen plant. Works councils represent blue collar and white collar workers in helping negotiate working conditions such as safety and production issues, but not pay. Volkswagen is highly supportive of works councils as good for the company and good for workers. More important, no one appears to be in opposition to establishing such a works council at the Chattanooga plant.

Republican Sen, Bob Corker, who helped recruit Volkswagen while mayor of Chattanooga, spoke out strongly against workers approving the UAW. He even went so far as to claim he had inside information that the company would not expand the plant to produce the new mid-size sport utility vehicle if workers chose to unionize. Corker’s remarks have been roundly criticized as interfering with the vote.

The one person who has made sense during the controversy is Gov. Bill Haslam. He noted that Tennessee has recruited and worked with companies that are unionized and non-unionized. He said the state has no union litmus test in recruiting economic development. He also pointed out that Tennessee’s right-to-work status and largely non-unionized workforce has been a major factor in recruiting Japanese companies. He also noted that the move toward unionization could dissuade smaller manufacturing suppliers from locating in Tennessee. These are sensible facts and observations.

What no one seems to be asking is why Volkswagen can’t have works council without having the United Auto Workers represent rank and file workers. Apparently, this is somehow a function of U.S. labor law.

It is clear from Volkswagen management that the company remains neutral on the union issue. But what also is clear is that Volkswagen wants a works council in Chattanooga. Worker rejection of the UAW should not be allowed to endanger Volkswagen expansion in Tennessee. Let’s fix the labor law so the company can function here as it does at its plant in Mexico and others around the world. If we fail to fix this problem, Mexico is in line to get production of the new SUV.




Feb. 25

The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., on triumph and peril in the Ukraine:

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich abruptly abandoned his post last weekend, leaving Ukraine’s protest movement momentarily victorious. It was an ignominious defeat for a corrupt leader who has sought to counter at every turn the popular forces opposed to his misrule.

But virtually at the moment of victory, the Ukraine faces the strong possibility that the nation’s eastern Russian-speaking provinces will secede and call in Russian troops to defend them, opening up a new chapter in Ukrainian turmoil.

Avoiding this potentially chaotic split and turning the victory for the Ukraine’s pro-democracy movement into a peaceful and stable government will call for wise decisions by Ukraine’s new leaders, firm support for a peaceful outcome by Europe and the United States, and a Russian decision to stop meddling in Ukraine. Good luck on that last condition.

Secession sentiment apparently is strongest in the Russian-speaking Crimea, an isolated peninsula that already considers itself an “autonomous republic” within the Ukraine. A major Russian naval base at Sevastapol has nearly 30 years to run on a lease from the Ukrainian government, so there are already 25,000 Russian military personnel in the Crimea, giving Russia strong leverage.

Russian President Putin would like to undo the breakup of the Soviet empire that led to Ukrainian independence and create a “Eurasian Customs Union” trading bloc to compete with the European Union. He used a combination of trade sanction sticks and economic support carrots last year to persuade Ukraine’s Yanukovich to turn down an association with the European Union and create closer economic ties to Russia. It was that decision that triggered the student protests in November that culminated in the collapse of Mr. Yanukovich’s authority on Saturday.

The Ukraine also has another problem to deal with - a plummeting economy. Russia is contributing to the problem by putting on hold the economic support it offered former president Mr. Yanukovich.

The interim Ukraine government must take steps to shore up national support in the eastern provinces that lean to Russia. Meanwhile, Europe and the United States should move swiftly to prop up the Ukrainian economy, and counter Mr. Putin’s effort to undermine it.

EU and U.S. support is essential to bolster the Ukraine’s democratic forces and possibly avoid a civil war in Eastern Europe. Mr. Putin shouldn’t be allowed to seize this moment to realize his imperial dreams.




Feb. 25

Los Angeles Times on DNA research:

The manipulation of human genes could lead to profound advances in our ability to cure or prevent terrible diseases. But in some cases, it might also mean introducing genetic material that could be passed from one generation to the next, changing the human gene pool in a manner that could inadvertently harm peoples’ health.

Such “inheritable” DNA is a hotly debated issue among bioethicists, and one that an advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration will review Tuesday and Wednesday as it considers whether human trials should be allowed for a new therapy that could prevent a rare but devastating inherited disorder.

Mitochondrial disease involves the specialized compartments within human cells that are responsible for creating most of the energy needed by the body. When a person’s mitochondria are faulty, the resulting disorder can be disabling or fatal, with symptoms that can include loss of motor control, muscle weakness and pain, cardiac or liver disease, seizures, respiratory difficulty and susceptibility to infection. It is passed on to a child through the mother’s mitochondria.

Researchers working with animals have devised a possible solution. A donor egg with healthy mitochondria is used, but the nucleus is removed and replaced with the nucleus from an egg of the afflicted mother; the egg is then fertilized in vitro. Because all but a minuscule amount of human DNA is contained in the nucleus, the child would be almost entirely the genetic offspring of the original couple. But because a bit of genetic material comes from the donor’s mitochondria, the procedure is sometimes called “three-parent IVF.”

The procedure is intended to allow afflicted women to bear healthy children who could have their own children and grandchildren without the need for such a procedure. If approved, it would be the first time scientists were changing the genetic material of humans in a way that could be passed down through the generations.

Critics also point out that the monkeys born through the procedure have not yet reproduced or lived out their life cycles. What if problems show up later in their lives, or in their offspring?

Considering these caveats, it seems far too early for the FDA to even consider allowing human trials. But it should encourage researchers to continue exploring the keys that might unlock gene-based cures.




Feb. 23

Kansas City Star on being honest about inaction in Syria:

Here’s how President Barack Obama explained his policy in Libya: “In this particular country - Libya - at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence.”

Judging by the administration’s tepid response to even ghastlier violence in Syria, this “unique ability” was the critical determinant in Libya - not the moral imperative to prevent more bloodshed.

An international coalition that included the Arab League was in favor of airstrikes in Libya, the rebels were united and it was a relatively low-risk, high-yield engagement. Conversely, Syria has more robust air defenses and its religious makeup - as well as the opposition - is dangerously stratified.

But Syria is more troubling than Libya in every conceivable way. There are more than 8 million internal and external refugees and almost 140,000 people have perished, compared with 1.5 million refugees and 30,000 deaths in Libya.

Beyond the revolting human cost, there are serious strategic concerns. Al-Qaida is becoming more entrenched and intends to use Syria as a base for future operations. The entire region is being destabilized by the worst refugee crisis in recent history. Sectarian tensions have been inflamed by Saudi and Iranian proxies, spurring violence in other parts of the region. Yes, Syria is a more difficult situation, but there’s a lot more to lose.

Obama sounded impressively authoritative when he declared to the American and Libyan people, “As president, I refuse to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” There’s no shortage of excruciating images from Syria, either, but Obama continues to wait. Assad’s chemical weapons may be neutralized, but the regime is happy to go about the business of slaughter with conventional weapons (clever ones, too, such as barrel bombs filled with shrapnel and hot oil).

Blatant rhetorical inconsistency serves as a good warning - never take high-minded presidential reassurances at face value. This goes for “rejecting the forces of tyranny” or “anchoring global security” as well, comments Obama made in his speech last September about chemical weapons in Syria. Yes, the canisters, shells and gas are now secure. The people of Syria and our interests in the Middle East, on the other hand, aren’t. Let’s be honest about it.




Feb. 25

Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal on no level of Obamacare can cure sedentary U.S.:

More than one in three people in the United States is obese, the category beyond overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers. In New Mexico, at least one person in 10 - about 11 percent of the state’s population - has diabetes, strongly linked to being sedentary and overweight.

A new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggests an answer as to why, and it has little to do with Washington, D.C., policy or medical insurance coverage.

Lead author Edward C. Archer, who studies nutrition and obesity at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, tracked the movements of 2,600 adults age 20 to 74 to see what they did all day.

It amounted to not a lot.

Obese women averaged about 11 seconds a day of vigorous exercise; men and women of normal weight less than two minutes a day. Archer says it’s a real commentary on how lifestyles have changed, with people today “living their lives from one chair to another.”

“We didn’t realize we were that sedentary,” he says. “There are some people who are vigorously active, but it’s offset by the huge number of individuals who are inactive. I think they’re living the typical life. They drive their children to school, they sit at a desk all day long, they may play some video games and they go to sleep.”

And while a cornerstone of Obamacare has been expanding access to preventive care, that alone won’t tip the scales, as it were, on the serious health effects - and costs - of 11 seconds of exercise a day.




Feb. 25

The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, on North Korea should be condemned for shocking abuses reported by U.N. panel:

Michael Kirby, the chief of a special U.N. commission on North Korea that has issued a nearly 400-page interim report on human-rights abuses in the oppressive state, said he was “moved to tears” after hearing survivors testify about apparent crimes against humanity.

Let’s hope the world is moved enough and shocked enough to hold Kim Jong-un and other senior North Korean leaders responsible for these horrendous abuses. Meanwhile, the reported atrocities cry out for Security Council condemnation and continued investigations. The commission’s final report is due to be released next month.

As Kirby, a retired Australian judge, told the BBC recently: “Bearing witness, collecting the stories … can sometimes bear fruit a little later.”

Eyewitness accounts provided overwhelming evidence of state-sanctioned executions, torture, arbitrary imprisonment and even infanticide, reminiscent of Nazi Germany, according to the interim report.

North Korea vigorously disputes the findings, and the atrocities have not been independently verified because of the secretive nature of the regime. Kirby says the North Korean government refused to participate in the investigation or to allow the commission to visit to judge for themselves.

However, more than 80 witnesses painted a picture of the Hermit Kingdom as hell on earth, one that Dennis Rodman, a former U.S. basketball player and friend of the Dear Leader, fortunately did not experience during his presidential play dates with Kim Jung-un.

Kirby warned Kim in a letter that he, as head of state and leader of the military, and his lackeys could be held responsible for atrocities at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Realistically, that’s unlikely to happen soon since Kim and his minions are in control of a nuclear arsenal. The U.N. findings also could push the rogue nation into even more isolation and paranoia, especially since Kim still appears to be trying to consolidate his internal control after becoming head of state in late 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.

But no leader and no state last forever. When North Korea finally crumbles and its leadership tries to evade responsibility for its crimes, this report and others like it might be strong enough and detailed enough to stand in their way.




Feb. 26

Khaleej Times, Dubia, on transitioning in Egypt:

Hazem Beblawi has stepped aside at a very crucial moment. The Egyptian interim prime minister’s decision to announce the resignation of his government has taken many by surprise and political pundits believe it was a move made in haste.

How this acts as a catalyst in furthering Field Marshal General Abdel Fateh Al Sisi’s advent on the political canvas as the next head of state is still unclear. No succession decision or timetable has been made public yet, and the upcoming presidential elections are without officially named candidates till this date. Though Sisi had expressed his desire to stand for the highest elected office, the silence that he and his powerful army have been maintaining has made it a nail-biting affair.

Beblawi, the soft-spoken politician who managed the day-to-day affairs of the government, believes that his cabinet had shouldered a very difficult task, and in most cases its performance was good. His exit at a time when the North African Arab country is gripped by chaos and uncertainty is unexplainable. The rise in militancy in Sinai desert is a crucial factor that will come to test the resilience of the nation in the days to come. Beblawi himself acknowledged that Egypt had witnessed a sharp rise in strikes, but also added sarcastically that no government in the world could have fulfilled all the demands of its people in such a short period of time.

The fact that his resignation came minutes after a meeting between the powerful troika comprising him, the field marshal and interim President Adly Mansour indicates that a formal roadmap is at hand to steer the country out of ad hoc governance. In the next few days, General Sisi is also likely to take off his uniform and run for presidency.

Since the exit of president Mohammad Mursi in July, the interim authorities have done a remarkable job in not only restoring normalcy but also strictly implementing the salient features of a transition plan proposed by the military authorities. This is no small achievement. But the point is that Egypt as of now is mired in strikes and the politics of agitation. To further compound the situation, there is the return of the Muslim Brotherhood protesters on Tahrir Square and elsewhere, fomenting instability. Now with the nation having successfully vetted a draft constitution and making room for the next phase of political transition, the authorities in Cairo have to ensure that the upheavals are taken care of in a peaceful manner.




Feb. 24

The Japan Times on a regime of unparalleled brutality:

A United Nations human rights inquiry has concluded that the brutality of the North Korean government “does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” After detailing the multitude of crimes committed by the regime against its own people, the panel said that it would refer its findings to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible prosecution and warned North Korean leader Kim Jung Un that he could be tried for crimes against humanity.

That assessment is long overdue: The crimes and abuses of the Pyongyang government are well known; the only thing that has been missing is official acknowledgement of them.

Sadly little will come of this path-breaking report: China has objected to its content and conclusions, and will likely veto its consideration by the United Nations Security Council.

In May 2013, the U.N. Human Rights Council created a three-member panel to investigate human rights abuses in North Korea. Chaired by retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, the commission held public hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London and Washington, where it heard first-person accounts from dozens of victims and witnesses, and took private testimony from several hundred others.

Predictably, the commission was not allowed into North Korea. Nor was it able to visit parts of China that border North Korea or even Beijing to talk to experts and officials.

Nevertheless, the panel’s work went on, culminating in a damning 400-page report released last week. In it, the Commission of Inquiry concluded that North Korea “does not content itself with ensuring the authoritarian rule by a small group of people, but seeks to dominate every aspect of its citizens’ lives and terrorizes them from within.”

Widespread and systematic human rights abuses that include starvation, torture and execution “shock the conscience of humanity,” wrote Kirby.

The commission concluded that the abuses perpetrated by the Pyongyang government were not excesses, but rather “essential components” of the state and were committed “pursuant to policies at the highest level of the state.”

While the report was applauded by human rights activists around the world, and its conclusions were supported by governments from Seoul to London, the government of North Korea rejected the work “categorically and totally,” calling it “an instrument of political plot aimed at sabotaging the socialist system by defaming the dignified images of the DPRK and creating an atmosphere of international pressure under the pretext of ‘human rights protection.’ “

More significant, perhaps, is China’s rejection of the commission’s work.

The burden is now on the rest of the world to maintain its vigilance, to not be cowed by China and to maintain pressure on the Pyongyang government to make meaningful reform. Japan should take a leading role in such efforts.



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