Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Anniston (Alabama) Star on victory for journalism:
As the world mourned Monday the Paris bloodshed and debated President Obama's European absence, a critically important development took place in Washington.
James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, won his legal fight against the U.S. Department of Justice, which wanted him to disclose the sources he used in his newspaper and book coverage of a failed U.S. operation against Iran's nuclear program.
Risen, backed by his employer and legal team, refused for more than seven years. Prosecutors believe the facts came from Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer on trial for giving Risen the information.
At stake was journalists' ability to report free of government interference, a bedrock component of the First Amendment's press freedoms.
Undoubtedly, Monday's announcement that Risen won't have to testify at Sterling's trial is a victory for journalism and the public's right to know about their government's actions. Risen's rights as a journalist should be considered rock-solid ...
Perspective, as always, is important.
Before James Risen came Gareth Jones, a Welsh reporter who traveled to Soviet Ukraine and reported on the government-caused famine that killed millions in 1932 and 1933. Jones' dispatches were carried by newspapers in Britain, Germany and America.
A 2009 story in the London Telegraph explains what happened next. The Soviets banned him and criticized his work's authenticity. Two years after his reports were published, he died in China, killed by bandits. "Later investigations into the circumstances of his death uncovered a trail of Soviet involvement," The Telegraph wrote.
Gareth Jones, journalist, risked — and lost — his life for writing about terribly important facts a government wanted suppressed.
By comparison, James Risen was fortunate. His life wasn't in danger. But his journalistic ethics were, as were his legal rights should he refuse to testify and risk being held in contempt. The Obama administration's crusade against leakers of government information scooped up Risen, which was absurd, making his a cause celebre for the lovers of journalistic freedom.
We cheer Risen's victory. It was long overdue. But we're not naive to think similar situations won't arise again. Joel Kurtzberg, Risen's attorney, said the Justice Department has, in essence, created court precedent that journalists may be forced to deal with for years to come. That's chilling. "I worry about future administrations," he said. "Now there's bad precedent, and not every executive branch in the future will exercise their discretion the way this one did. It didn't have to go this way."
Wall Street Journal on President Obama's college plan:
The State of the Union address is coming, which means it's time for President Obama to propose new federal entitlements. His latest gift horse from taxpayers comes under the pretext of improving America's workforce: free community college.
Community colleges are public state or local institutions, often two- or three-year programs, that attempt to narrow the skills gap for high-school graduates who don't attend four-year colleges. The schools vary widely in quality, and in practice they often provide remedial training in basic math and reading skills to kids who were promoted through failing K-12 schools.
The White House proposal would waive tuition for students who attend community college at least half-time and maintain a 2.5 GPA (that's a C+). You have to work hard not to get that grade. Washington would then cover 75% of tuition on the condition that states pay the rest. The Obama Administration calls this a federal-state "partnership." It's more accurate to call it the education version of Medicaid without the fiscal discipline.
To be eligible, community colleges would have to offer academic credits that transfer to four-year colleges or occupational programs that produce high graduation rates and degrees in demand by employers. The Administration doesn't specify how it would measure the latter, but you can bet it would include nonprofit and government jobs.
Colleges must also "adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes," such as paying for books and transit costs. President Obama is also proposing a new worker-training fund whose objective is the same as Washington's 30 some other job-training programs.
White House officials are whispering to reporters that all of this will cost federal taxpayers $60 billion over 10 years, and another $20 billion by the states, if you choose to believe them. The White House predicted in 2010 that expanding its income-based repayment (i.e., student loan forgiveness) plans would cost $1.7 billion that year and $7.4 billion over the following decade. By 2014 the Administration's estimate had ballooned to $7.6 billion for 2015 alone.
The bigger problem with the new entitlement is that there are already plenty of training programs and financial assistance for students attending community colleges. According to the College Board's annual survey, tuition at public two-year colleges averages about $3,300, which is less than the $5,090 in average student aid (i.e., grants and tax benefits). Low-income students can also receive up to $5,730 in Pell grants, which Mr. Obama has greatly expanded.
The White House says its plan is based on a Tennessee program that pays for two free years of community college for state residents. If that's how states want to spend their tax dollars, at least voters are in a position to hold local schools accountable.
But by nationalizing the program, the feds are likely to make community colleges more expensive and bureaucratic. States would have an incentive to cut their own direct funding for community colleges and redirect spending to student grants. For every dollar states spend on student aid, they would reel in three more from Washington. Community colleges would then raise tuition to pocket more federal cash.
The new entitlement is best understood as an extension of the Administration's ideological project to add higher education to the list of entitlements that keep the federal government in charge of American life from cradle to grave. First Mr. Obama nationalized the student-loan market, adding $1 trillion in taxpayer liabilities. Then he made forgiving those loans easier. This year he plans to propose a new rating system for colleges that the feds will eventually use to determine which schools receive federal aid.
Meantime, the Administration has spent years harassing for-profit colleges by trying to impose a "gainful employment" rule that ties federal aid to student debt and incomes. The rule could shut down nearly 1,400 for-profit programs educating 840,000 students if it survives another legal challenge, but the Administration won't apply the rule to community colleges or nonprofit schools.
Yet according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the three-year college completion rate at community colleges is 21%, compared to 62% at two-year nonprofits and 63% at for-profits. The reason for the disparity is that many community colleges do a poor job of meeting the needs of non-traditional students who tend to be older and work while attending school. Enrollment at for-profit colleges soared over the last decade in part because students and employers could see that many community colleges weren't providing the skills they require.
And now the Administration is proposing to give inferior community colleges another competitive advantage with this new entitlement that bribes students with "free" tuition. So: Punish private schools, subsidize often inferior public schools, snatch regulatory control from states, and add tens of billions in new taxpayer obligations: The ObamaCollege plan is everything we've come to expect from this White House.
Miami Herald on emerging from Haiti:
The earthquake that rocked Haiti five years ago brought unimaginable death and destruction. Its aftermath generated unforeseen compassion and largesse.
Billions in foreign aid was pledged and legions of humanitarian workers poured into Haiti while powerful figures stepped up, such as former President Bill Clinton, who co-chaired the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the international coordinating body for the reconstruction process.
A caring, worldwide spotlight finally fell on Haiti, bringing an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild the troubled country's infrastructure with an amount nearing $10 billion — the equivalent of a massive Kickstarter project to rebuild a nation, literally and figuratively, from the ground up.
But as Haiti prepares to mark the fifth anniversary of one its most tragic events, the magnitude 7 earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, it continues to face a series of political and economic challenges.
Today, veteran Miami Herald Caribbean reporter Jacqueline Charles, who has covered the destruction and reconstruction of Haiti, says there's been progress. "The rubble is gone," she said, of the debris that once could fill up to five football stadiums.
But five years later, the lives of Haiti's vulnerable people have seen little concrete change because they are once again gripped by political instability due to feuding between the administration of President Michel Martelly and his political opponents.
Homes that were to be constructed for those left homeless by the quake are not yet a full reality. The country's largest ghetto of quake victims sprung up and only in recent months have its tenants found housing.
So what has gone awry?
Lucrative construction deals to rebuild have gone to outside companies, not local Haitians firms, which means the money has not trickled down.
Haitians have often been held back by bad leadership from decision-makers, but the blame also goes to an earthquake-aid system that operates ineffectively and sputters along. Corruption in high places makes donors shy away from channeling money through the Haitian government, yet Western aid bodies have rarely proved themselves to be any more accountable.
Despite all that remains undone in Haiti, there's progress: Battered roads have been replaced; there's a new international airport and new hotels, as well as some visible signs of international investments.
Those involved in the reconstruction of Haiti this week are defending their work and its value. Haiti's former prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, writes in an upcoming Miami Herald Other Views piece that much progress was made during his tenure: "There have been significant accomplishments in education, the reconstruction of old and construction of new infrastructure, the complete transformation of our tourism sector and our gains in making Haiti a safer place to both visit and invest."
Tom Adams, Haiti special coordinator for the State Department, also painted a brighter picture during a conference call this week: As the five-year mark approaches, he hopes the story is "not that Haiti is in permanent political gridlock, but that Haiti has made progress."
The Accountability Lab, which monitors how world aid is spent, says it's imperative that as Haiti continues to rebuild, it creates a culture of transparency within the aid system, or its efforts will be doomed. Good advice.
After all, this is Haiti's last and best chance. It needs to get this right.
Orange County Register, Santa Ana, California, on foie gras:
Americans love food. Now more than ever, it's a refuge from the world's intractable difficulties - and a rich, tactile alternative to the arm's-length enjoyments of the Internet. And with money the key to satisfying desires online and off, the sky's the limit when it comes to luxury food. That's why it's no surprise that Californians still crave foie gras - despite the statewide ban that took effect two years ago.
And that's why it's important that a federal judge kicked off the new year by blocking the enforcement of that ban. Holding that federal poultry law pre-empts the Golden State's foie gras prohibition, Judge Stephen V. Wilson drew cheers from chefs up and down the coast - yes, even in activist redoubts like San Francisco.
Perhaps cleverly, Judge Wilson effectively sidestepped the broader constitutional issues. But that left open a window of opportunity for groups like the Humane Society, which insist that foie gras is a simple animal-cruelty issue. Their plan is to convince the (notoriously activist) Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that its permissive interpretation of the interstate commerce clause should extend to protect the ban. Previously, the court had ruled that California could prohibit foie gras without running afoul of constitutional legal precedent, which has long enforced the free flow of products across state borders.
If the Ninth Circuit agrees, it's likely that the foie gras case will make its way up the judicial food chain - possibly to the Supreme Court. Either way, the controversy will feed the flames of the culture war, which now extends in more ways than one to what and how we eat.
For evidence, simply recall the way that Huy Fong Foods' Sriracha sauce became a political football, or the unending arguments over efforts to force kids to eat government-approved healthy meals.
The more that food becomes a public health issue, an animal rights issue, or any one of our many bones of national contention, the more we'll feel like there isn't anyplace we can go to enjoy ourselves, relax or celebrate. Whatever the legal and ethical intricacies, that's going to worsen America's besieged, put-upon mentality - a painful loss not just for fun, but for freedom.
Kansas City Star on Congress making 2015 the year of 'net neutrality':
Republicans and Democrats might finally have found an issue on which they can agree.
With their new majority in Congress, GOP lawmakers may be poised to introduce legislation that prevents Internet service providers from playing favorites with data. So-called "net neutrality" has been a goal of Democrats for a while now. If recent reports out of Washington turn out to be accurate, lawmakers should capitalize on the opportunity.
Net neutrality is an arcane technical issue in many regards. In simplified form, net neutrality is the notion that Internet service providers — Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, etc. — should not be allowed to create fast and slow lanes between customers — you — and online content. Customers pay for access, and it's none of the providers' business what legal websites they visit or which streaming movie service they use. All of the bytes should be equal.
Without net neutrality, providers could choke data from competitors' sites, from sites that don't pay them off or from sites they just don't like. For example, Comcast could slow down Netflix, causing movies to buffer more often and making Comcast's own movie offerings more attractive.
The Federal Communications Commission has been developing net neutrality regulations over the last year and will release them by spring. A legislative compromise is almost certain to be preferable to FCC-imposed rules that would wind up in a lengthy court battle.
But there are only whispers to go on right now, not actual legislation. Democrats — especially President Barack Obama, who wields a veto pen and said he wants strong net neutrality rules — should not sign off on a weak deal. At a minimum, the law should protect a free and open Internet and should apply to wireless carriers. People consume their digital content on smartphones and tablets as much as wired computers and televisions.
Fortunately, supporters of net neutrality have a bargaining chip. If regulations wind up coming from the FCC, it might classify Internet service providers as utilities. There's a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo involved, but the bottom line is that as utilities, providers would have to deal not just with net neutrality but also with other burdensome rules. They might be willing to accept strong net neutrality if it means avoiding the rest.
Powerful political players have lined up on both sides of the issue. Major telecommunications and media companies have staked out positions. So have civil liberties and other groups. And they aren't staying quiet.
The FCC received millions of public comments on net neutrality in 2014. When the Sunlight Foundation studied those comments, it found that most were form letters generated by advocates with deep pockets, including "a shadowy organization with ties to the Koch brothers." The Koch brothers oppose net neutrality.
The Sunlight Foundation found something else in the comments, too. When it separated out the non-form-letter submissions, leaving only the letters from people who took the time to write something themselves, it found that less than 1 percent opposed net neutrality.
Americans want their Internet to remain free. Congress should give that to them this year.
The Telegraph, London, on Paris:
Last week, the world looked on in agony at the terrible events in France. For journalists in particular, the attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine felt like an assault on everything we stand for. The idea that anyone could be slaughtered simply for publishing their convictions is chilling. The exercise of free speech is a fundamental human right and a free press is essential to democracy. We grieve for those who have died for it.
The subsequent hostage crisis in the kosher grocery indicates, however, that Charlie Hebdo's incendiary cartoons were not the only motive for the attacks. The mad dog of anti-Semitism was unleashed in Paris last week. The perpetrators may have used the language of religion but they practised the creed of fascism. There were echoes of Auschwitz in their grim jihad: they wanted to terrify, to humiliate, to murder people with whom they disagree or despise. And while they were few in number, they managed to bring a modern city to a standstill in a country known for its tough security apparatus. Clearly, the contemporary terror threat is all the more dangerous for apparently relying upon lone wolves.
What can be done to improve our security here in the UK? One thing we need to do is to staunch the flow of money to extremist organisations. Last year, a Telegraph investigation revealed that the Government had given significant funds to the Muslim Charities Forum, despite the fact that several of the MCF's member charities were once themselves members of a group called the Union of Good, a fundraising body with alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The United States designates the Union of Good as a sponsor of terrorism.
Now Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has told this newspaper that the decision has been taken "to terminate funding". He added that "only organisations that uphold fundamental British values" will receive money in future.
This is a sensible move that goes hand-in-glove with the Government's efforts to beef up security with its new counter-terrorism bill. Some of its proposals, such as placing temporary exclusion orders on suspects returning to Britain, have attracted criticism from the civil liberties lobby.
But the effort to reduce the influence of extremists is sound. After all, what we so far know about the life of Chérif Kouachi - one of the brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo - illustrates how important it is to nip fanaticism in the bud. Here was a man who grew up in a poor part of France, who engaged in petty crime and who fell under the spell of a radical preacher. He was not in the model of American mass murderers who one day go mad for no obvious reason and turn a gun on their family and colleagues. Rather, links can be drawn between him and an international ideological network that systematically brainwashes its members. Kouachi claimed to be affiliated to al-Qaeda in Yemen, where he had apparently travelled, while another attacker claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Kouachi had also been jailed for terrorist activities and was named in a plot to break a terrorist out of prison. He and his brother were under surveillance for a long period, their telephone calls, internet use and movements all carefully monitored. And yet the French state chose to end this just months before they went on their spree. Many will be puzzled, even outraged by that decision. It is reminiscent of security failures related to the 7/7 bombings and the Woolwich beheading in London, both of which involved men who had been known to the authorities for extremist activities. The explanation for inaction is typically that resources are finely stretched and the culprits were not deemed sufficiently primed and dangerous to warrant close attention.
If resources are stretched in the UK, perhaps it is time to revisit how much Britain spends on protecting its citizens. In a powerful article for this newspaper, Dr Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, notes with dismay that Britain currently spends more on the heating allowance for the elderly in one year than it does on the entire annual budget of the security services.
Given the scale of the threat laid out by MI5, and given that the public has been warned of the possibility of an attack in the UK, this situation seems strange, to say the very least. Especially when one considers that advances in technology, exploited by the extremists, mean that there is so much more information and communication to monitor. Dr Fox adds that in 1993 there were just 130 websites in the world; by the end of 2012 there were 654 million.
The scale of the challenge may well be enormous, but with resolve and proper support, the security forces can win. Col. Tim Collins, a former SAS officer who also led the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment during the Iraq invasion, writes for us with admiration for the actions of the French security forces during the hostage crisis. Indeed, to co-ordinate two operations simultaneously is a remarkable feat.
Wars are not only won with swords, but also with spirit. Today, 30 leaders from across the world - including David Cameron, Germany's Angela Merkel, Italy's president Matteo Renzi and the Spanish premier, Mariano Rajoy - join thousands of Parisians to march in the French capital under the banner of Tous Unis! That is the best possible answer to give to the terrorists. If their intention is to sow discord and break Europe's will with fear, they will discover that these are not easy things to do. The continent is far stronger than they realised.
Civilised people of all faiths or none must show unity against this threat and demonstrate that brutal force will achieve nothing. Fascism has been confronted and beaten before. Individuals may be capable of doing terrible things, but common human decency can prevail. Free people cannot be and, we trust, will not be intimidated by threats of violence.