- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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


May 26

New York Times on Bid Laden’s bookshelf:

The release of a partial list of books, documents, press clippings and other materials the United States government says were seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan does make for some intriguing rummaging. We imagine Bin Laden cooped up in his hideaway devouring reports on 9/11, trying to figure out his nemesis America through stacks of mainstream and fringe books and articles, boning up on France, firing off messages to Al Qaeda lieutenants, or penning the occasional love note to a wife. It makes for rich speculation, but the question at the end is whether this trove obtained when Navy SEALs raided Bin Laden’s hideout and killed him four years ago tells us anything useful about the architect of the great crime of 9/11.

One problem is that the material declassified by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is only part of the cache; the rest is still secret. Another problem is the timing of the release, and the choice of what was made public. Finally, it is not clear whether the books and articles were selected or sought by Bin Laden, or were just materials brought to him by visitors and lieutenants. That makes a difference: The books found in Hitler’s bunker after he shot himself were those he chose to bring there, and so can speak to his state of mind at the end.

Given those caveats, “Bin Laden’s Bookshelf,” as the intelligence office dubbed the cache, is not particularly surprising for a reasonably well educated and narcissistic leader of a terrorist organization studying his enemy and trying to maintain control of an increasingly decentralized network. As with the banality of all evil, there is certain to be a humdrum quality to the daily reading and communications of a man who requires practical information and managerial skills, even if it is in pursuit of a fanatical idea through mass murder. What is interesting is not that Bin Laden read “The 9/11 Commission Report,” but whether he felt the least bit of remorse or only malicious pride. That we can only surmise.




May 21

Seattle Times on the US icebreaker fleet:

On a crisp November day 41 years ago, Champagne was cracked over the massive hull of the icebreaker Polar Star on the Seattle waterfront. The ship cranked up its 78,000-horsepower engines and churned off toward the Pacific Ocean. A few days later, it was joined by its sister icebreaker, the Polar Sea, also built at Seattle’s now-closed Lockheed shipyard.

That was the last time the United States built new heavy-class icebreakers. Since then, the government-owned icebreaker fleet has dwindled to just two working vessels, the medium-class Healy, primarily used for research, and the aging Polar Star - both based in Seattle. The Polar Sea is mothballed on the Seattle waterfront, potentially bound for the scrap heap.

That neglect exposes important strategic interests. Arctic ice has shrunk 13 percent each decade since the 1970s. Climate change, as President Obama said this week, poses national security threats.

For much of the year, icebreakers are the ships capable of exerting sovereignty in the U.S. territorial waters that stretch 200 miles off the Alaskan coast. Icebreakers operated by the U.S. Coast Guard are the United States’ eyes and ears, whether the issues are illegal fishing or rescue operations. Commercial vessel traffic in the Bering Strait has doubled since 1998.

Meanwhile, Russia’s icebreaker fleet has grown to 40, including a new supersized icebreaker ominously called “50 Years of Victory.” Canada, Sweden and Finland have larger fleets than the United States. China expects a new icebreaker to come online in 2016.

The U.S. Coast Guard needs a more robust icebreaker fleet. In a 2010 study, the agency said it needs six heavy-duty icebreakers and four medium-sized ones to serve the Coast Guard and Navy missions in the Arctic. It is well past time for Congress to act.

This week, in a welcomed outbreak of bipartanship, U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., - the chair and ranking minority member of the Senate Energy committee, respectively - introduced legislation to build six new icebreakers.

At $856 million per vessel, that is a huge request. If fulfilled, Puget Sound shipyards stand to gain.

Congress, like the American people, must recognize the strategic threats and necessities as climate change melts the Arctic. In the past decade, U.S. strategic actions were focused in the desert, not on the ice.

In the meantime, the Polar Star has outlasted seven presidencies. It is now officially on “caretaker” status and is projected to reach the end of its usable life in 2020. That would leave the United States without a heavy icebreaker.




May 23

The Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky, on President Obama being no friend to police:

Police officers across this country should have everything they need to protect themselves and the citizens they are trying to protect and serve.

Whether it be batons, shields, machine guns, personnel carriers, Humvees, helmets, battering rams or camouflage uniforms, police officers should have access to this equipment.

After what we witnessed in Ferguson, Missouri, and more recently in Baltimore, where lawless thugs were throwing large rocks and large pieces of concrete at police officers, it is quite obvious they need these things to protect themselves from people who wish them harm.

Most would agree police need certain types of equipment to protect themselves, people and property during riots.

Apparently, President Barack Obama doesn’t see it this way.

It’s no surprise coming from a president who has made his disdain for law enforcement well known in his coded speeches about them. We believe that in Ferguson and in Baltimore, Obama added fuel to an already ongoing fire when he talked about how law enforcement doesn’t get along with minorities in their communities.

This is a questionable statement to begin with because in most cities, including Bowling Green, law enforcement and people of color have a good relationship.

As though Obama hasn’t made his disdain bad enough for law enforcement, he is taking it a step further by prohibiting the federal government from providing some military-style equipment to local departments and putting stricter controls on other weapons and gear distributed to law enforcement. Obama says the federal government will no longer provide armored vehicles that run on a tracked system instead of wheels, weaponized aircraft or vehicles, firearms or ammunition of .50 caliber or higher, grenade launchers, bayonets or camouflage uniforms.

To add insult to injury to these police departments, the federal government is trying to recall prohibited equipment the departments already possess.

Humvees, manned aircraft drones, specialized firearms, explosives, battering rams and riot batons, helmets and shields would come under tighter control.

Why don’t you go ahead and just take police officers’ pistols from them too while you are at it?

Obama is essentially tying one hand behind police officers’ backs with this absurd prohibition and tightening down on other items such as helmets, shields and riot batons.

These officers need a lot of the items that Obama is banning. With the policy change, Obama potentially is putting more police officers’ lives in danger.

It was interesting to see an interagency group found “substantial risk of misusing or overusing” items such as tracked armored vehicles, high-powered firearms and camouflage, behavior that could undermine trust in police, the group says.

Does anyone honestly believe people breaking the law in Ferguson or Baltimore were worried police officers were wearing camouflage or driving armored vehicles?

Of course not. They were too busy burning businesses down, throwing rocks at police and looting stores to get free merchandise.

Law enforcement has every right to be angry at this president. He has shown through this action and past statements that he is not their friend.

This latest action is just one more slap in the face to law enforcement, and we hope because of this misguided action by Obama, no officers’ lives are lost because they didn’t have the equipment they needed to protect themselves.

If they do because of this prohibition, Obama will own the responsibility.




May 22

Sun Journal, New Bern, North Carolina, on needing reliable passenger rail:

Less than a day after a passenger train derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight people and blocking lines up and down the Eastern Seaboard, a U.S. House panel voted to cut Amtrak’s budget by $252 million, or one-fifth.

True, the cuts were on capital improvements, not safety features. Still, this vote shows the short-sightedness that is crippling transportation.

America needs passenger trains, but for the most part, we don’t have them. Wilmington lost its last passenger rail route in 1968. To catch a train, folks here must get to Fayetteville, then wait till late at night for the right train to arrive.

Even where train service is available, the cars are often old, the tracks rickety and the equipment mostly outdated. (A safety device that could have slowed the Philadelphia train before it jumped the tracks won’t be installed on the line till later this year, maybe.)

Americans who think we’re the most advanced nation on Earth need to travel more. In Europe, in Brazil, in Japan or China, they’ll see slick modern trains in beautiful, smoothly run stations, cruising at speeds of 125 mph or more between cities. By contrast, some of our rail terminals, and even airports, seem like bus stations.

OK, our population is less dense and far more spread out than most of those countries. Also, their governments subsidize their railroads heavily. They think it’s worth the cost, reducing urban congestion, cutting pollution and taking thousands of cars off congested roads.

To be honest, Uncle Sam subsidizes cars and airlines in many ways, direct and indirect. Our passenger rail system, Amtrak, however, is supposed to turn a profit and “run like a business.”

Face it: Passenger traffic was always a loss leader for America’s railroads, which made their money off freight.

President Nixon did the railroads a favor by relieving them of this burden and creating Amtrak in 1971. Some conspiracy theorists hold that Nixon intended for Amtrak to fail, so it could be quietly abolished later.

But we didn’t abolish it, because we need it. So, Congress has nickeled and dimed it ever since.

Studies show that passenger rail can work over mid-sized distances - say, 500 miles or less. The Northeast Corridor, between Washington and Boston, is a classic example.

Other examples might include a Wilmington-to-Raleigh link. Or, travelers could trade lower ticket prices for a little extra time and ride a train to Charlotte to catch their airline connections.

Train travel may become even more important as our nation ages, keeping options alive for elderly people who cannot drive.

Before that can happen, though, we’re going to have to fix up the old, broken rail system we have now.

Conservative estimates of that price tag have gone as high as $21 billion.

Adding high-speed trains and tracks would be even more expensive. Still, we found the money to build the interstate highway system.

We found the billions to launch communications satellites. Surely we can afford more than a Third World rail network.

In the past decade, ridership on U.S. railroads has increased from 24 million to 31 million per year, even with all the headaches. If we build them, they will ride.

A version of this editorial first appeared in the Wilmington Star-News, a Halifax Media Group newspaper.



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