Updated: Wednesday, 06 Mar 2013, 10:02 AM CST
Published : Wednesday, 06 Mar 2013, 10:02 AM CST
Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on the president's Organizing for Action:
Blithely ignoring his own past warnings, President Barack Obama is wading ever deeper into a campaign and politics quagmire filled with potential hazard for his second term. He ought to come to his senses. If he doesn't, it won't be easy to clean this muck off his shoes later on.
The president's team has formed Organizing for Action, a group intended to advance his priorities using the potent grass-roots technology and troops from his winning re-election campaign. According to a summary prepared for donors and reported by The Post's Tom Hamburger, this includes 2.2 million volunteers, 33 million Facebook friends, 22 million Twitter followers and 17?million email subscribers. We see nothing wrong with that.
But how the Obama people are going about it stinks. They have registered the group as a 501(c)4 organization, under a section of the Internal Revenue Code that provides tax-exempt status for "social welfare" organizations, a broad category that was originally envisioned for civic leagues and the like but which has become a favored dark alley for political operators. Such groups are not required to publicly disclose donors or amounts of contributions, as they would be if they operated under the rules of the Federal Elections Commission. As "social welfare" groups, they must pledge that their work is not "primarily" electoral politics, but that has been left ill-defined by tax authorities. Some electoral and political activity is allowed. ...
Judging by recent reports, Organizing for Action should be renamed Paying for Access. The Obama team has been talking about raising half the group's money through $500,000 donations from the president's top supporters. ...
Moreover, Obama's team says that donations will not be listed precisely; rather, they will be listed "in ranges." This affords the donors a useful veil.
The president ... was the one who a few years ago warned us of "a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics." Now Obama seems to be leading the stampede.
The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle on the pope as a world leader:
The pope is much more than the head of the Catholic church.
He is the head of a city-state called Vatican City that actually issues passports and has a population count (about 800). That makes him a world leader. And even though he heads the smallest city-state on the planet, no world leader's reach comes close to the pope's. This is a position for which national boundaries mean little. His jurisdiction and followers are scattered all about the countries of the world.
A papal visit can be a life-changing, even world-changing event.
Moreover, ours is a world starving for moral leadership, regardless of religion or denomination. What other leaders in peace, love and morality come quickly to mind?
Indeed, many believe that John Paul II was one of the great world leaders of the 20th century. The Poland native's gentle staff stood up to Eastern Bloc communism and fractured it in much the same way Moses' own freed the Israelites.
John Paul II was a decidedly difficult act to follow — and Pope Benedict XVI also was cast into the fire of a blazing pedophilia scandal. Benedict's fatigue and his frustrations — even about a lack of privacy — were evident in his last public addresses before becoming the first pope in six centuries to walk away from the job.
The leader of 1 billion Catholics, and the voice of conscience for many others, a pope carries the world on his shoulders. What a burden it must be for even the holiest among us. And that weight is usually added at an advanced age...
The process to choose Benedict's successor is shrouded in smoke — literally. But here's hoping the next pope can be a shepherd of peace not only for his own flock but for a world awash in conflict, confusion and chaos.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike could sure use a John Paul the third.
The Miami Herald on U.S. non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels:
The Obama administration's emerging support for rebels in Syria is a welcome move, although it comes too late to help the estimated 70,000 people who have died over two years as President Bashar Assad wages a desperate fight to maintain his dictatorial grip on the country.
The administration's hesitant approach to the Syrian conflict has been based in large part on fear of the unknown. Unlike in Libya, officials knew little about the insurgents fighting Assad. They feared that arms sent to the rebels would wind up in the hands of anti-American Islamist terrorists.
Countries in the region with the greatest self-interest in getting rid of the corrupt Assad regime — mainly, Saudi Arabia — were unwilling to act, hoping the U.S. would take care of the problem for them.
That did not suit President Barack Obama's policy, which favors acting in tandem with regional allies rather than taking action unilaterally. Nor did greater involvement in a Middle East war fit the mood of an American public weary of overseas military commitments.
But those arguments can no longer be sustained in view of the Syrian regime's increasingly brutal and cowardly tactics, such as the deliberate targeting of hospitals and medical professionals, and Assad's near-certain defeat.
Even the cautious Saudis have finally been moved to act, reportedly financing a large weapons shipment to nationalist and secular factions within the rebel movement in an effort to stop the slaughter of civilians. ...
Secretary of State John Kerry said recently "the opposition needs more help," signaling that the administration is moving toward a major policy shift. But that still leaves American policy far too vague. It's time for the administration to stop mincing words and speak clearly about U.S. willingness to provide direct assistance, including military aid, to Syrian insurgents. ...
The Seattle Times on Arctic energy exploration:
Mother Nature made the point the Obama administration chose to ignore two years ago as it was processing an application by Shell Oil to proceed with oil and gas development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
The Arctic Ocean is a rough place to do business.
Shell operations were pummeled in both locations last year, and recently the company called off plans for the 2013 drilling season.
Oil rigs had trouble, and so did a new tug. Harsh weather, accidents and errors combined to send the Shell rigs to Asia for repairs.
All of the early warnings were seemingly ignored during the permitting process, so high winds and seas, ice and limited visibility made the point.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico made the hazards and difficulties clear. Imagine spill response within truly harsh conditions.
Respect the lessons learned.
Last month, the Interior Department approved a plan to expand energy production and wildlife protections in a widely praised move for the 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
The agreement makes approximately 11.8 million acres available for oil and gas leasing and closes 11 million acres to energy development.
The Bureau of Land Management estimates three-fourths of the recoverable oil and half of the recoverable gas are in the plan.
Energy supplies are open, and other resources — subsistence living, recreation, fish and wildlife, historical and scenic values — are protected.
Do not ignore Mother Nature. Shell was lucky. Better options exist, and the Interior decision provides for them.
The Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine, on the average American and sequestration:
To hear President Barack Obama tell it, we should begin feeling something like the apocalypse.
Sorry, Mr. President, but most of us have already shrugged our shoulders. We have become so accustomed to near-misses, last-minute deals and cans being kicked down the road that we don't get very excited anymore.
You say the restrooms won't work at Acadia, some federal workers will work four days rather than five and an aircraft carrier is stuck in Norfolk?
The federal sequestration that went into effect March 1 cuts $85 billion from this year's $3.6 trillion budget, or about 2.3 percent.
But it is very difficult for the average person to determine what that means, and politicians aren't making it any easier.
Obama has been barnstorming the country predicting that the "brutal" cuts will "eviscerate" government programs.
Republicans, meanwhile, point out that federal spending has increased 17 percent since the president first took office and even after the cuts the government will spend more than it did the year before.
Indeed, these cuts will only slow the growth of the federal debt, not reduce it. ...
The biggest problem with sequestration isn't what it does, but what it fails to do: restructure entitlements and taxes. ...
Ultimately, the Democratic administration will try to make the sequestration cuts as painful and obvious to the public as possible.
Republicans, meanwhile, will minimize the impact and blame Democrats for any dislocations that result.
The rest of us, weary of lurching from one disaster to another, will watch with resignation and disdain as our broken Congress continues to flounder.
The Des Moines (Iowa) Register on antibiotics in farming:
A soldier shot in World War I may not have been killed by the initial wound. Yet there was a good chance a subsequent infection would take his life. By World War II, that soldier had a better chance of survival due to the wide availability of antibiotics. These miracles of modern medicine fight infections and save lives.
But the vast majority of antibiotics developed to treat people are given to the animals people eat. Farmers add low doses to feed and water to prevent disease in crowded livestock facilities. The drugs also promote growth. A bigger cow, pig, turkey or chicken translates into more money for producers.
How does this widespread use in animals affect humans? It is killing us, a growing number of scientists say.
Bacteria are adaptable little guys. Over time, they develop a resistance to commonly used antibiotics. Those more resilient bacteria then move from animals to humans. The bacteria causing everything from urinary tract infections to pneumonia in humans are more difficult to treat with common antibiotics.
Tens of thousands of Americans are killed each year by drug-resistant infections. It costs the country's health care system billions of dollars.
So what should be done? Obviously, there is a desperate need to develop new antibiotics. People have heard by now they should avoid overusing and misusing these drugs, which can contribute to resistance. But the extensive use of antibiotics in agriculture — and its culpability in a human health crisis — cannot be ignored. Science isn't ignoring it. Neither can Washington lawmakers. ..
At the very least, Congress should require more reporting on what drugs are being used on what animals so scientists can better track the impact on human health. ...
It's time for this country to care as much about protecting human health as growing big cows or chickens.
The Oregonian, Portland, on Washington taking an economic lesson from young adults:
After a series of reprieves and delays, Sequester Day has arrived. ...
While President Barack Obama and congressional leaders ponder the possibilities... they should spend a little time thinking about a recent Pew Research Center report on household debt.
Americans have done a much better job of reducing debt than the U.S. government has. And one group, adults age 18 through 35, has done a spectacular job — reducing median debt by 29 percent from 2007 to 2010. The median household amount of student debt among young adults even decreased slightly.
Of course, taxpayers have lower limits on their credit cards than the federal government does, forcing them to balance budgets sooner rather than later. And some of the reasons for reduced household debt are negative: If you lose your home through foreclosure, it erases a big chunk of debt.
But the Pew report reveals some positive trends that have implications for elected officials. An increasing number of young adults are showing discipline and avoiding big-ticket purchases they can't afford, in particular cars and homes.
For some the decision to avoid these purchases is a matter of necessity. For others it reflects the emergence of options that didn't exist for previous generations. In cities like Portland, it's feasible to get around with a combination of mass transit and car-sharing services. Collapse of the housing market has made renting a more economically attractive option to home ownership than it was in the recent past. And renting will become even more attractive if lawmakers roll back the mortgage-interest deduction. ...
If the White House and Congress, likewise, could cast aside long-held economic biases and work on a new plan suited to today's needs their meetings might produce positive results instead of increased animosity.
Tulsa (Okla.) World on Dennis Rodman:
Dennis Rodman, the controversial former NBA star with Oklahoma ties, has never been easy to like, but it never really mattered to him anyway. He has now added to his list of outrageous antics.
While overseas shooting a documentary, he made a stop in North Korea, where he attended a basketball game in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. They also had sushi together later.
At the airport afterward, on his way to Beijing, Rodman said that it was "amazing" that the North Koreans were "so honest." He also praised the late Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un's father, and the first leader of the country, Kim Il Sung, as "great leaders."
After dining and watching a basketball game with Kim Jong-Un, Rodman said: "He's proud, his country likes him — not like him, love him, love him. Guess what, I love him. The guy's really awesome."
Rodman, also known as "The Worm," is either playing the bad boy again or he really is stupid. Even playing in the insulated atmosphere of the NBA where everyday problems are unfamiliar, it is beyond reasoning that someone could not be aware of the level of misery that the Kim family has heaped upon the North Koreans for decades.
Rodman, who played college basketball at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, went on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NBA with several teams, becoming the league bad boy along the way.
We know "The Worm" doesn't care much about what anyone thinks about him and during his basketball career we could laugh at his outlandish behavior. After all, it was entertainment.
This, however, went far beyond an argument with a referee or fan. Embracing, literally, a family that has caused its own people and the world so much grief over the years? Stupid — and heartless.
Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq:
Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who joined U.S. President George W. Bush in the ill-starred invasion of Iraq 10 years ago, has admitted that a decade on, Iraq is not as he hoped.
The ouster of Saddam Hussein, he insisted to the BBC in an interview broadcast Feb. 26 to mark this pivotal event in recent Middle East history, had still been justified. However, he added: "I have long since given up trying to persuade people that it was the right decision."
It remains Blair's contention that had Saddam not been overthrown, the Middle East would have been far more dangerous and many more lives would have been lost in violence generated by the Iraqi regime. What he did not address is the stark reality that since U.S., British, Australian and Polish troops began the invasion on March 20, 2003, at a conservative estimate, some 100,000 mostly Iraqi lives have been lost, a great deal in terrorist violence. ...
It is the lies, deceptions and half-truths that London and Washington used to cover the real purpose of the invasion that stick in the craw for so many people around the world, not least the Iraqis themselves. The truth remains that the attack on Iraq was for George W. Bush to finish his daddy's unfinished business with Saddam...
Thus the awful reality is that the second attack on Iraq was purely personal. So blinded by this single motive was Bush, that he stood on the deck of the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and declared that the fighting was over — when it fact it had only really just begun, though he and his neocon advisers had neither the knowledge nor intelligence to perceive this.
The chances are that Bush would not have moved alone. Blair played an important role in bolstering the U.S. political campaign in the run-up to the invasion. .... And all this happened on Tony Blair's watch. The man is still without remorse.
The Sydney Morning Herald on Australia-Japan whaling dispute:
Japanese government has cited the eating of whales as justification for killing them, just months before the International Court of Justice in The Hague hears Australia's challenge to Tokyo's "scientific" whaling program.
Using an exemption in international law, the officially named "Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic" has been used for decades to justify the taking of endangered and/or threatened fin and minke whales in a disputed sanctuary south of Australia.
The International Whaling Commission's edicts and diplomatic efforts have failed to change Japan's approach. Even Canberra's close friendship with Tokyo has made little difference. Wisely, both countries have cordoned off the dispute from other issues. ...
With hearings expected to begin this year, a verdict cannot come soon enough. Australians deserve to know if international law allows the use of scientific research as a front for risky, often abhorrent and, in most cases, unnecessary commercial whaling.
In the meantime, the culling of whales cannot be scrutinized properly. In response anti-whaling activists have been involved in clashes with Japanese government vessels in the Southern Ocean. A U.S. judge has labeled the protesters "pirates". ...
In this climate the danger is that the hawkish Japanese government will become even more entrenched in its whaling views. ...
The international community has a duty to utilize plentiful resources without endangering scarce ones, but Japan is not cooperating. Objecting to Japan's whaling policies does not, however, mean supporting extreme actions against its vessels. Indeed, violent protests risk deterring the Japanese from compromise. To that end, the Australian government has been wise to limit its involvement.
As the whaling season ends, the clashes will diminish, but the court case in The Hague will again test Australia-Japan relations. If Japan wins, Australia will need to re-energize efforts to reform the IWC to improve safeguards.
If Australia wins, Tokyo may push on toward commercial whaling anyway by agreeing to adapt its scientific program and stop the killing. Either way, the case offers a chance to break the deadlock and encourage more work toward preventing cruel and risky overharvesting of whales.
Financial Times, London, on Mexico's new president:
The gloves are off in the battle between Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico's new president, and the crony union and industrial leaders dominating the country's political life.
The authorities recently arrested Elba Esther Gordillo who, for over two decades, has led the 1.5 million-strong teachers' union, the largest in Latin America. She is accused of illegally diverting $156 million of union funds to pay for her own expenses. ...
"La Maestra," The Teacher — as she is commonly referred to in Mexico — denies the charges. Her allies claim the arrest was politically motivated. Just one day before Gordillo was taken into custody, Pena Nieto signed into law an ambitious education reform to overhaul the country's poorly performing school system. This new set of policies strips the union of the power to hire and promote teachers, establishing more rigorous criteria.
Of course, there needs to be no doubt about the judges' independence from the executive. Gordillo's trial must be fair and transparent. This is essential to dispel accusations that the arrest was illegitimate. Yet, the fact that Mexico's attorney-general felt he had the freedom to look into Gordillo's allegedly corrupt practices is welcome. Past governments were often reluctant to take on Mexico's endemic cronyism. Gordillo was able to enjoy the protection of both Mexico's largest parties, which had an interest in capturing the large voting block formed by her union. ...
Meanwhile, Pena Nieto is rightly pressing ahead with the reform agenda he outlined last December in his "Pact for Mexico". He recently received his party's backing to open Pemex, the oil giant, to foreign investment. This should create jobs and foster growth. He also plans to shake up Mexico's telecoms sector. Mexicans deserve a better service and lower prices than those offered by Carlos Slim's Telmex, a near-monopolist.
These steps are necessary if Mexico is to become Latin America's most dynamic economy. As he starts to take them, Pena Nieto has raised expectations — abroad and even more so in Mexico. Now he needs to deliver.
Ottawa (Ontario) Citizen on the country's doctor shortage:
The doctor shortage is slowly improving across Ontario, but that is small comfort to the many people still struggling to find one. A new study indicating that some doctors choose patients in a way that favors those with higher incomes is certain to increase the frustration levels of many of those doctorless patients. And it should.
The study, which appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that wealthier patients were 50 per cent more likely to get taken on as a new patient by doctors than welfare recipients — or at least researchers posing as them. Its author, Dr. Stephen Hwang, notes that since the research involved talking to receptionists or assistants it is not clear whether they were responding to their own biases or instructions from physicians, but it still represents a barrier because potential patients must go through staff to see a doctor.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario passed a policy in 2008 forbidding patient screening. It has told physicians that they must take new patients on a first-come, first-served basis, except in exceptional circumstances. Physicians, for example, can refuse patients if their medical needs are beyond their clinical competence or scope of practice. Physicians can also, according to the College, prioritize patients on the basis of need, something Hwang's study suggests is happening. Those posing as patients with chronic health conditions as part of the study were more likely to receive an appointment than those without. ...
But the real issue is the ongoing doctor shortage in Ontario and across the country, which creates a necessity to ration care. Until that becomes a thing of the past — and that will not be for the foreseeable future — all Canadians must have the best assurance possible that they'll have a chance to find a doctor when they need one.
A tornado roared through Oklahoma City suburbs, flattening entire neighborhoods,…