- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

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


Nov. 4

The Daily Star, Hammond, Louisiana, on space travel:

Americans are spoiled when it comes to space travel. We beat the Soviet Union (now Russia) to the moon. We’ve sent unmanned crafts to Mars. We’ve sent craft toward Jupiter. Our satellites roam the nightly skies.

So when there’s an accident involving a rocket, such as the one involving an unmanned Orbital Sciences rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station that exploded just above the launching pad, or the “anomaly” experienced by the Virgin Galatic test vehicle SpaceShipTwo that crashed in the Mojave Desert Friday, the question comes up as to how such a thing can happen.

Virgin Atlantic chief Richard Branson expressed shock at the crash but vowed to push on.

“Space is hard - but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together,” Branson said.

Admirable, to be sure, but is it really achievable in the long run? When tragedy struck the American space program (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) with the fire aboard the Apollo spacecraft that killed three astronauts, NASA and the space program rebounded.

When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on liftoff or when the Shuttle Columbia blew up upon return, the space program rebounded.

But will those who can afford the $250,000 ticket for three exhilarating minutes want to take the chance? Time will tell.

The accident left one pilot dead, the other seriously wounded. But it leaves an even greater void. NASA has already seen its budget diminish, and the shuttle program has been mothballed. The public hasn’t demonstrated a strong desire to see the billions of dollars in taxpayer money sent into outer space.

It all begs a larger question. Is there truly a place for space travel for private companies taking civilians up into the outer reaches of space?

Given the exploratory nature of humans, it’s a question that at some point, those companies and the American people may not know how to answer.




Oct. 31

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tennessee, on sea power:

While Uncle Sam’s attention is being diverted by crises in the Middle East, Asian nations are ramping up their naval forces to face the growing colossus of the seas: China.

The entire region, a major portion of the earth’s surface, is involved.

Vietnam has nearly doubled its naval spending, Japan is preparing for the largest defense budget in its history and the Philippines is trying to create a respectable naval force, The Associated Press reports.

India has become the biggest arms importer in the world. South Korea is quickly modernizing.

China wants to become the dominant power of the Pacific, the AP said, replacing the United States.

Over the past decade, it has quadrupled its annual military budget, much of which goes to its navy.

It has a long way to go. America’s $665 billion a year in military spending is three times that of China and more than the next eight countries combined. But China is spending nearly as much as all 24 other nations in East and South Asia put together.

Much of China’s naval spending goes for submarines, a fleet that is expected to match U.S. numbers by 2020.

“Submarines are seen as a potential for an underdog to cope with a large adversary,” one military researcher explained. “They can move silently and deny aerial or maritime control.”

A Chinese diplomat said the country’s growing military effort is “transparent” and “serves national defense exclusively.”

Can all this armament lead to a stalemate, proving once again the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction? We can hope so, even as we recognize that guns are designed to be shot.




Oct. 29

Los Angeles Times on Verizon Wireless:

Verizon Wireless, the country’s most popular mobile phone operator, has been quietly inserting into its customers’ Web browsing sessions an identifier unique to each device they use, making it possible for websites and advertising networks to build profiles of individual customers based on their browsing habits. What’s worse, even if Verizon’s subscribers happen to find out about this and ask the company to stop, it won’t.

Rather than inviting the rest of the Internet to violate its customers’ privacy, Verizon should find a more respectful way to generate advertising dollars.

Ordinarily, Web-browsing apps reveal little about the people using them. The typical website tries to pierce the anonymity by planting a unique identifier called a cookie on each visitor’s computer or smartphone, storing information about what the visitor does while on that site. So do online advertising networks, which can use the cookies to track what individuals do on all the sites that carry their ads. If that’s a troubling prospect, you can set your browser to erase cookies or prevent them from being stored on your machine.

Verizon Wireless, however, has flipped the process on its head. It inserts a unique code into the information that each device transmits through Verizon’s wireless network as it browses the Web. The company then uses the code to sell demographic information (but not names or personal profiles) about that customer to advertisers so they can make their pitches more relevant to that person. Meanwhile, those sites and associated ad networks can collect and use the code to build a profile of a user even if he or she is blocking cookies.

Verizon says it changes the codes regularly to guard against permanent profiles, but that’s not much of a concession to its customers’ privacy rights. To stop the company from selling information gleaned about them, its customers have to opt out of a program they didn’t sign up for in the first place. And even opting out doesn’t stop the company from inserting the identifier into their Web browsing.

AT&T; is exploring a similar technique, although it pledges to change the code daily and let users stop it from inserting the code at all. Verizon should do at least that much. Ideally, though, Verizon and other Internet providers wouldn’t plant identifiers in their customers’ data without their explicit consent in advance. If Verizon doesn’t see the problem with its actions here, the Federal Trade Commission should enlighten it.




Nov. 4

New York Times on America’s big bet on Indonesia:

Secretary of State John Kerry’s presence last month at the inauguration of President Joko Widodo of Indonesia was another sign of the Obama administration’s greater involvement in Asia. It was also an investment in America’s relationship with Indonesia, whose importance as an emerging democracy and the largest economy in Southeast Asia is sometimes overlooked.

Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, and its election, like Tunisia’s last month, is further evidence that Muslim nations can evolve peacefully under democratic systems. Some 135 million Indonesians cast ballots on July 22 as Widodo defeated Prabowo Subianto, a former general and son-in-law of the deposed dictator Suharto. The victory was even more remarkable because Widodo, a former governor of Jakarta who won by more than eight million votes, was the first president not to come from the political elite or the ranks of former generals.

The challenges facing Indonesia are considerable. Despite the country’s membership in the Group of 20 major economies, more than 100 million Indonesians live on $2 a day or less and the gap between rich and poor is at a high. Indonesia needs to reduce corruption, build roads and bridges, create jobs, expand education and tackle a $20 billion-plus fuel subsidy bill that benefits the wealthy above all and is depleting the budget. It needs to end the palm oil production that wiped out one-fifth of forested areas between 1990 and 2010 and turned the country into a top emitter of greenhouse gases.

Widodo has little experience with economic or foreign policy, and security issues as well, so he will have to learn quickly. The United States is counting on Indonesia to be a partner in its efforts to balance an increasingly aggressive China and to help manage disputes between China and other nations that lay claim to the South China Sea.

The Obama administration is also pressing Indonesia to redouble efforts to prevent the recruitment of new Muslim extremists to the Islamic State, crack down on terrorist financing and share intelligence with neighbors. Indonesia has had success over the last decade in keeping extremism in check through arrests and prosecutions, and it can be an example to others facing similar threats.

Indonesian politics are complicated at the best of times. With Widodo as president, the stage is now set for a long-term battle between reformers promising better governance for all people and an authoritarian, elitist old guard. The country will be best served if Widodo can stay true to his vision.




Nov. 1

Express-News, San Antonio, Texas, on rule of law in Mexico:

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s strides in opening up his country to foreign investment will avail Mexico not enough unless investors have confidence in the rule of law there.

Each day seems to bring news of some criminal depredation. Forty-three teaching students in Iguala are still missing and unaccounted for after a September incident. And there are strong indications that the police, in collusion with drug cartels, are responsible for that.

It appears that the narcos control so much of Iguala’s government there that they and the police are virtually indistinguishable.

Students from a radical teaching college in Iguala were in the habit of “borrowing” buses to help stage obstructive protests. Police and others fired on “borrowed” buses. The students fled and 43 were later rounded up by police and allegedly turned over to the local cartel, Guerreros Unidos. This happened Sept. 26. The students have not been heard of since.

Members of the real police force are among those arrested for this abduction. A mass grave was found by farmers calling themselves community police forces. The grave contained human remains, just like another found in May in Iguala, but not of the 43 students. Mass graves show up regularly in Mexico.

The death toll of Mexico’s war on cartels and the cartels’ war on each other- an estimated 60,000 dead between 2006 and 2012 - demonstrates that cutting cartel heads off simply means they grow new ones. And each capture seems to spark a deadly clash for turf.

The United States can best help by tackling the drug addictions here that line cartel pockets. It can take note also that there are 6,700 licensed arms dealers in this country along the U.S./Mexico border, while there is only one licensed dealer in Mexico.

Ultimately, however, such corruption and the inadequacy of its civil institutions are Mexico’s problems to solve.




Nov. 5

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the Vatican:

When Pope Francis said last week that evolution and the Big Bang theory did not conflict with Catholic teaching, it really wasn’t news. This pope just has a talent for framing long-held beliefs in a fresh way, as he has done before in taking up the cause of the poor. Instead, this news was more a timely reminder.

Despite that unfortunate business with Galileo 400 years ago over his alleged heretical beliefs on the movement of planets, anybody who has been paying attention lately understands that the church has not been at war with scientific knowledge. Other popes have expressed the same ideas, especially on evolution.

Pope Francis, though, has a way of making headlines. In his remarks before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he may have raised the eyebrows of everyone from cardinals on down. “When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” the pope said. “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one, so they would reach their fulfillment.”

In other words, the creator God had a process - “a supreme principle” as he called it. “The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it,” Pope Francis said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

This is a thought that has also occurred to many believers in other branches of Christianity who have wrestled to reconcile their beliefs with the abundant evidence of the workings of evolution in the natural world. What if the Almighty used evolution (and the Big Bang) as His means of creation?

Once again Pope Francis’ intellect has clarified an issue, which in the United States at least has brought shadows, not light. The pope’s words are also a reminder that those who regard evolution as hostile to Christian belief are actually a minority among Christians.




Nov. 5

The Australian on measured response to Ebola:

IT has taken time, but the Abbott government’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa has been sensible and generous. Rather than capitulating to calls from Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek, the Greens and the Australian Medical Association to act sooner, the measures Tony Abbott and Health Minister Greg Hunt announced yesterday will make a valuable contribution to combating the deadly disease while safeguarding Australian medical staff. To their credit, hundreds of nurses and doctors are expected to volunteer their services.

Australian-owned medical provider Aspen, a company with extensive experience in developing nations, will be paid by the government to send volunteers to Sierra Leone under an agreement with Britain to manage a 100-bed field hospital. The hospital will be functioning by the end of the month. Britain, which is just six hours’ flying time from the West African nation, compared with 30 hours to Australia, has agreed to treat any Australian volunteers who contract the virus.

The government, whose prime responsibility is to safeguard Australians, was right to wait until it had secured the necessary guarantees. Impetuous, knee-jerk actions make for poor outcomes and, correctly, the Abbott government is a stickler for due process in its overseas dealings. It was similarly cautious in waiting for an official invitation from Iraq before joining the US in unleashing air attacks in the battle against Islamic State.

The government also has been generous in more than doubling its initial contribution of $18 million toward efforts to combat an epidemic that is unfolding far from Australia’s sphere of influence. Most of the additional $24m will be spent on the Sierra Leone treatment facility. Another $2 million will be spent on logistic support for other Ebola teams in West Africa, where the number of infections could reach 1.4 million by January if the disease is not contained.

Appropriately, $2 million will be spent improving preparations to deal with any outbreak of the disease in the Asia-Pacific region, including in Papua New Guinea and East Timor. Our domestic response to combating Ebola will also be stepped up.



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