- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

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


Sept. 2

Anniston (Alabama) Star on the aura was broken for journalists:

Twelve years ago, the beheading of the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl by al-Qaida jihadis in Pakistan reaffirmed the dangers of reporting from the world’s most dangerous places.

Caught up in the turbulent times just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pearl died at the hands of radical Islamists committed to violence against America and its closest allies. The ghastly manner in which he perished - a videotaped beheading - made it all the worse.

Twelve years later, two more American journalists have suffered similar fates - not by al-Qaida, but by the Islamic State, a nebulous group that claims to have established an Islamic Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq. James Foley, a reporter and videographer captured in Syria in 2012, was beheaded in August as retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State sites. On Tuesday, the world learned that another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, had also been beheaded.

Journalists have died in dangerous places for as long as newspapers and war correspondents have existed. Some left behind spectacular examples of reporting and photography - think Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist killed in the Pacific during World War II in 1945. Others have been lost to history, a statistic for those who document the risks journalists in war zones take.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says 1,073 journalists have died, worldwide, since 1992. The deadliest places for journalists coincide with nations corrupted by war and unrest, and those whose governments turn a blind eye toward press freedoms.

The Islamic State governs neither a nation, state or recognized boundary. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA and White House official now at the Brookings Institution, told the Orlando Sentinel that the Islamic State “is far more difficult to deal with” than Iran or the militant group Hezbollah.

The group “wants to terrorize Americans, it’s not really interested in deals.”

We remind those who say journalists shouldn’t be in these places of extreme violence that despots, warlords and jihadis would act free of detailed scrutiny if this reporting was silenced.




Sept. 2

The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on the vice president’s assertion:

It was a little, incongruous shall we say, for the country’s two-term vice president, Joe Biden, to say, as he did at a rally this past weekend, “It’s time to take America back!”

From whom, exactly? He and his running mate have been in power since 2009. Their party also held sway over both houses of Congress for the first two years, and it still controls the powerful Senate.

How utterly bizarre for even a gaffe-prone sitting vice president to succumb to this kind of miscue, exhorting others to “take America back” when he already, essentially, “has” it. But such are the verbal cul-de-sacs we get into when venturing into divisive rhetoric.

Alas, this kind of fire-breathing has come to be expected in the political silly season, which officially kicks off with the relative peace of Labor Day. Is there any escaping it?

One would hope so, for it is precisely this kind of circular firing squad that has America in the doldrums.

Most Americans, we would guess, are dog tired of the various political factions shooting at each other rhetorically, assassinating each other’s character and otherwise completely ignoring the country’s problems and letting them fester and ooze.

We need to do something radical in the Information Age: We need to inform ourselves. We need to decide what we believe. And we need to take action. Support your preferred candidates. Discuss the issues civilly with friends. Keep up on current events. And, of course, cast a knowledgeable vote.

Don’t take the country back. Just recognize it’s there for you - even if you haven’t been there for it.




Sept. 3

Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, on CVS ending sales of tobacco:

Kicking the tobacco habit just got easier, especially if you shop at CVS drug stores.

The retail chain said earlier this year that it would remove tobacco products from its 7,700 stores by Oct. 1. They beat their own deadline by almost a month by ending sales of tobacco products Wednesday.

When CVS announced its plans, company leaders said the sales of tobacco, and its harmful and widespread effects on people, contradicted the company’s broader mission in delivering health care - the pharmacies also have about 900 walk-in clinics. Appropriately there will also be a name change for the company with the new emphasis: CVS Health.

In addition to dropping tobacco, CVS also offers smoking cessation programs to its customers. USA Today reports the programs include “an assessment of the smoker’s ‘readiness to quit,’ education, medication support to help curb the desire to use tobacco and coaching to help people stay motivated and avoid relapses.”

The move is a fascinating curve in a business arc, and it also demonstrates responsible corporate citizenship that other companies should emulate.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have noted, cigarette smoking harms almost every organ in the body. It causes almost 500,000 deaths in the nation each year - and it’s responsible for 10 times as many premature deaths than all the deaths in all the wars in U.S. history. It causes 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths (more than 159,000) each year; there are about 224,210 new cases of lung cancer every year. Driving the point even closer to home, Kentucky outpaces every other state in lung cancer deaths.

Way to go, CVS.




Sept. 2

Express News, San Antonio, Texas, on clock ticking for Congress on Ex-Im:

The end of September will be do or die for the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

Congress must do or the Ex-Im Bank will die and, along with it, crucial help for Texas companies whose lifeblood is the export of goods. Also gone will be good Texas jobs.

A recent Express-News article by business writer David Hendricks spelled it out.

The Ex-Im Bank, which provides loans and loan guarantees to foreign companies that want to buy U.S. goods, will end if not reauthorized by Sept. 30.

The tea party has targeted the agency as a purveyor of corporate welfare. A Texas congressman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Stephenville, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, criticizes Ex-Im for that and for alleged fraud.

Hendricks noted that there have been some publicized cases of fraud in Ex-Im transactions. It is a rare government program, however, that doesn’t have such incidents. If the programs provide a critical service, this means they should be cleaned and tightened up, not eliminated.

The Ex-Im Bank provides such a service.

Between 2007 and 2014, the bank helped 1,338 Texas exporters sell $21 billion in goods. Its loans returned $1.057 billion to the agency in fiscal year 2013, and its loan default rate has been just above 0.2 percent per quarter.

This indicates need - and benefit.

Yes, private banks can also provide such services, but at terms likely to be more expensive. That means less growth for U.S. and Texas export companies. Other countries have programs similar to what the Ex-Im Bank provides.

Among the companies that benefit is SANA International, a 13-employee San Antonio company that Hendricks described.

“Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to grow like we have,” said SANA International general manager Rossie Ortiz.

Many business groups and others, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have been pushing back.

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has launched an investigation of possible corruption in the agency, focusing on four employees who left Ex-Im.

Even if this committee uncovers abuses, the need must be weighed against the harm that would be done if Ex-Im isn’t reauthorized.

If the nation didn’t have the Ex-Im Bank, it would be less competitive globally.




Sept. 2

Wall Street Journal on NATO:

This week’s NATO summit in Wales is being billed as one of the most important in its 65-year history, and with good reason. The Atlantic alliance needs to prove it is serious about deterring the no longer unthinkable prospect of another major war in Europe.

Lest you think we overstate, on Monday the Italian newspaper La Repubblica quoted Vladimir Putin telling European Commission President José Manuel Barroso that “if I want, I can take Kiev in two weeks”_a statement the Kremlin did not deny (though it did denounce the leak). Putin is talking openly about “New Russia,” with specific mention of the cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine as well as Odessa on the Black Sea.

Such talk may be bluster, but the stealthy seizure of Crimea was supposed to be unthinkable only a few months ago. So was Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine last month. The problem with calling something unthinkable is that it tends to dull the thinking needed to keep it that way. Europeans also thought the world wars of the last century were unthinkable right up until they broke out.

Wars happen when aggressors detect the lack of will to stop them. After Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, we warned that “Ukraine, which has been pushing Russia to move its Black Sea fleet’s headquarters, could be next.” (“Vladimir Bonaparte,” Aug. 12, 2008.) We also noted that “the (NATO) alliance needs to respond forcefully.” It didn’t. Here we are.

The good news is that NATO’s institutional leaders, civilian and military, have been awake to reality for some time. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s energetic Secretary General, was warning well before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that NATO’s European members needed to spend a great deal more on defense. “We must shift the argument from the cost of defense to the cost of no defense,” Rasmussen said last October.

NATO Supreme Commander Philip Breedlove has also been clear in describing the nature and sophistication of Russia’s military moves. “Surprise, deception and strategic ambiguity have been adeptly employed by Russia against Ukraine,” the general wrote in these pages on July 16, adding that “this strategy, quite simply, has significant implications for Europe’s future security.”

Far from clear, however, is whether Western political leaders share this sense of urgency.

As for the ostensible leader of the Free World, President Obama is busy downplaying the threats to world order by saying, as he did on Monday, that “the world has always been messy” and the new global disorder is something “we’re just noticing now because of social media.” Social media aren’t sending those Russian tanks toward Donetsk.

The only way to deter such military aggression is with a show of comparable military and political resolve.

NATO states_including the U.S._will have to reverse the trend of cuts to military spending.




Sept. 2

Seattle Times on Kenneth Bae, North Korea:

North Korea’s surprising decision over the weekend to let CNN and The Associated Press interview three imprisoned Americans is a strong sign its leaders are ready to talk.

This latest gesture renews hope for the release of former Washington resident Kenneth Bae, whose family resides in the Edmonds area. Bae, North Korea’s longest-held American prisoner since the Korean War, was arrested in November 2012 while guiding tourists across the border.

The former tour guide and devout Christian appeared visibly thinner in a video broadcast worldwide on Sunday. Two other Americans await formal trials, though they say they do not know the exact charges against them.

Under the watch of a North Korean prison guard, Bae said he is being treated humanely, but eight hours of labor, six days a week is degrading his health.

Columbia University Professor Charles K. Armstrong, a North Korea expert, says this could be an opening to ease tensions and secure the release of all three Americans on humanitarian grounds.

“Particularly in the case of Kenneth Bae, who’s had the worst treatment for the longest time,” Armstrong says. “It’s important to try to get his release, which doesn’t mean the U.S. needs to do anything egregious like deposit money into the North Koreans’ bank account.”

In a statement Monday, Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, begged Kim Jong Un to have mercy: “It is in your power to release my brother. You could do it today. Please do so.”

Tight-lipped U.S. State Department officials say they are working behind the scenes to help. Their offer to send an envoy stands.

North Korea should take them up on it.




Sept. 3

Khaleej Times, Dubai, on Obama’s wage debate:

The United States president apparently has a social contract in mind, which keeps the Americans amused and his opponents on the edge. After the Healthcare Act, also known as Obamacare that literally split Congress on the socialist-capital lines, the first Black African-American president says that it’s time to press the Capitol Hill to raise the minimum wage of federal employees. This demand on the eve November mid-term elections is no less than a trump card, forcing the Republicans to go crazy in coming up with fudged or real statistics to brow beat the White House.

Obama claims that the US economy has bounced back from recession and it’s time for the lawmakers to open up the purse. Once again the Republicans and the corporate bosses would be under the scanner if they opposed Obama’s gesture to raise the wages. It seems America is gradually sliding into a debate where the state is increasingly taking up the charge of regulating the economy for the people. Be it insurance, home mortgage, medical care or determining the wages issue, the debate to limit the state role and let the process be governed through inertia has gathered momentum.

Obama will long be remembered for such initiatives, which literally constitute more than 100 million daily wage earners, pensioners and those associated with Social Security privileges. He has a valid point to call for increase in wages but that should not stop with federal employees, and its benefits flow down to private and other informal sectors of economy. A crucial point that has to be kept in mind is that America’s long-term jobless rate remains high and real hourly wages have stagnated. Obama has to graduate his initiative to make it a corner stone of his social contract, which many Americans are obsessed to call a ‘New Deal’.



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