- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:

March 4

The Gleaner, Henderson, Ky., on World Cup preparations:

The Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, flush with oil riches and seeking to push its way to the front of the international stage, is in the midst of an enormous, decade-long building boom to construct facilities and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament, the largest and most-viewed sporting event in the world.

Unfortunately, Qatar is preparing for that moment of international cooperation and sport by grievously exploiting its foreign workers, subjecting them to dangerous conditions that should be drawing forceful condemnations from the world community.

A recent report by the government of India, which supplies a large share of Qatar’s workers, suggests that more than 500 of its citizens have died there since 2012, primarily, according to the Guardian, in either on-site accidents or from working in inhumane conditions.

Nepal, another big supplier of Qatar’s labor force, recorded the deaths of 383 Nepali workers in that country in 2012-13. International observers and human rights groups have described working conditions for foreign laborers in Qatar as intolerable and inhumane, citing dangerous work sites, confiscations of passports by employers, withheld wages, oppressively overcrowded worker dormitories and limited access to food and water despite 12-hour work shifts often in triple-digit temperatures.

Although conditions are difficult for foreign workers in many Gulf countries, Amnesty International notes that Qatar is different because of its unusual exit permit system - under which foreign nationals can’t leave the country without permission from their employers - its ban on unions and the sheer size of its foreign labor force.

In November, at the end of an eight-day trip to Qatar, United Nations special rapporteur Francois Crepeau urged the government to adopt basic labor protections involving worker safety and minimum wages, and calling for reform of the nation’s sponsorship system for foreign workers, in which the importing employer holds all the power.

Crepeau’s full report is due in June. The International Labor Organization also says Qatar’s policies fall far short of that group’s standards, which include workers’ right to organize, a set minimum wage and the freedom of workers to leave a job.

So why should the world care?

Beyond the basic human rights issue, Qatar is hosting so many foreign workers in part to turn itself into an international tourist destination, and to prepare for the 2022 World Cup …

Qatar needs to do more, and FIFA and the nations involved in the World Cup should press the emirate to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of its immigrant workers ..




March 2

Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., on state’s Super I-Way:

Kentuckians may cling to their landlines when it comes to telephones.

But they are clinging in fewer numbers as the state and the world shift to cell phones and the digital age.

And some key players, including Kentucky’s U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Somerset Republican, are speaking up about the pressing need to expand high-speed, Internet broadband throughout the state, an expansion the congressman has taken to calling the “Super I-Way.”

So the state legislature should give serious consideration to a bill that would allow telephone carriers to scale back investment in landlines so, the carriers claim, they can invest more money in newer technology and better wireless service statewide.

Senate Bill 99, better known as the “AT&T; Bill,” for the telecommunication giant’s aggressive lobbying in past years, has passed the Senate and is now before the House, which has killed it for the past several years.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, has been critical of past versions of the bill, believing it could cause people - especially in rural areas - to lose landline service they have depended on for decades. Corporate backers of the bill didn’t help through what consumer advocate Tom FitzGerald described as the “robo-call and astroturf” campaigns of past years.

But Hood Harris, the new president of AT&T; Kentucky, said the bill has been modified to add protections to people who wish to keep landline service in rural areas. But it also would relieve AT&T; and other carriers of the obligation to provide new landline service and allow them to offer wireless or Internet services in some areas.

And that, he claims, would allow AT&T; to reallocate funds to invest in new and better technology while continuing to serve existing customers, commenting, “It is not our intent to hurt customers.”

Stumbo, while skeptical, allows that the bill is “getting better.”

For that reason, it deserves a hearing before the House Economic Development Committee, where it has been assigned, and, if it is approved by the committee, deserves a vote on the House floor.

The technology is complex and the details can be mind-numbing. Critics, including Mr. FitzGerald and AARP of Kentucky, worry it could hurt service for rural and elderly customers.

But SB 99 deserves a fair hearing as Kentucky seeks to evolve from Butcher Holler, in the words of Rep. Rogers, into “Silicon Holler.”



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