Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the US and abroad

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


Aug. 13

Miami Herald on United States and Cuba relations:

The symbolic hoisting of the Stars and Stripes by U.S. Marines — the same men who lowered the flag more than five decades ago — over the newly proclaimed U.S. Embassy in Havana will signal the start of a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations that holds the promise of a better future for the Cuban people.

When President Obama announced Dec. 17 that the two countries had embarked on a path to restore the full diplomatic relations that were broken more than a half-century ago, we labeled it a "roll of the dice." And so it remains — a work in progress that has been painfully slow on those issues that mean the most.

Mr. Obama said the new policy was based on the belief that, "We can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement." It was gamble, but one worth taking in an effort to break the stalemate that has kept Cubans frozen in an economic and political time warp that stifles their freedom, self-expression and creativity.

To date, dictator Raúl Castro has shown no sign of relenting on the human-rights front. According to Cuba's Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, there have been more than 3,000 political detentions since the thaw. There will be more, no doubt, because Cuba's people feel emboldened to challenge a regime that dares not loosen the restrictions of a police state lest it all come tumbling down suddenly.

But the new relationship will give American diplomats greater leeway to reach out to dissidents. Instead of asking permission to travel around the island, diplomats simply have to notify the government of their travel plans. Not ideal, but then Cuba is not a free country. That's the whole point of the new policy, to achieve by engagement — soft power, if you will — what hard power could not achieve during the Cold War and beyond.

Secretary of State John Kerry has insisted that human rights will remain at the top of the agenda. The United States must show it is keeping up the pressure, especially in the face of criticism that Cuba's regime hasn't given up much, if anything. But let's not kid ourselves: It took six months for the United States and Cuba to negotiate the relatively straightforward matter of restoring full diplomatic relations. It will take much longer to make progress on those issues that so deeply divide us.

In the meantime, there are other, little-discussed changes that could have a significant impact on the Cuban people if the government could be persuaded to put them into effect. Most are in the realm of economic policy. As the economy becomes more open — it's already happening — Cubans' entrepreneurial spirit will give them a greater degree of economic freedom and, thus, pave the way for a political opening.

The government should be encouraged to take steps to allow private business to flourish: Get rid of the parallel dollar market that works to the disadvantage of ordinary Cubans as it enriches government coffers. Update the primitive banking system so the government cannot freeze dollar deposits on a whim. Update the civil-court system so small entrepreneurs can resolve conflicts with the government in a fair, impartial manner. And, for heaven's sake, allow Cuban workers of foreign businesses to be paid their full wages in a foreign currency so that the government does not reap the benefit.

The final goal is political freedom, with everything that implies. It's not going to happen overnight. But we have no doubt that this will, indeed, be the ultimate outcome.




Aug. 17

Chattanooga (Tennessee) Times Free Press on five servicemen killed in July attacks on military facilities in Tennessee:

A nation's broken-hearted father spoke to this broken-hearted city and to the broken-hearted families of five servicemen who died here a month ago at the hands of what U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called a "perverted jihadist."

The very eloquent and plain-spoken Biden moved easily between grief, tribute and stirring patriotism. What he didn't do — in any sentence of his nearly 25-minute address — was mince words.

"Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Petty Officer Randall Smith and Lance Cpl. Squire Wells — these are the men made of the stuff that makes this country the greatest country on earth. They're part of the less than 1 percent of the U.S. population that protects 99 percent of us. They are what makes us who we are. They are the backbone the virtual bone and sinew of this country. And in the face of dangers and threats, we look out for one another. We stand together. We never, never bow. We never, never bend. These perverse ideologues, warped theocrats, they may be able to inspire a single lone wolf to commit a savage act, but they can never, never threaten who we are."

At times, seeming to focus his attention directly to the families, he said what only a man who has lost a spouse and children — including a son who died of cancer in May — can really say with meaning.

"Nothing can replace the son who, as he walked away from you and turned and smiled at you and lit up your life. Literally lit up your life just smiling at you. And a husband who knew your fears even before you expressed them, whose gentle hand could soothe them away. The dad who tucked you in at night and touched your face and made you feel so secure. The brother who always, always, always had your back.

"But please know he'll be the voice you hear in your ear telling you 'that's OK.' He'll be that feeling in your chest that calms you down, that look from the mirror that gives you the confidence to move forward, and that sunset that says, 'I see you. I see you.'"

Vice President Biden brought us to tears, dried our tears, then brought us to our feet in roaring determination to survive and stand tall.

Now it is time — past time — for federal investigators to do their part. It is time for authorities to help us heal by clearing the air about exactly what happened here on July 16 when Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez drove a rented silver Mustang convertible in front of the military recruiting center on Lee Highway and sprayed bullets into the window before speeding away to a Navy and Marine reserve center several miles away. There he ran inside and began shooting again. In a matter of minutes, four Marines were dead and a sailor lay fatally wounded. Abdulazeez died during the ensuing gun battle with police. Another Marine and a Chattanooga police officer were injured.

Abdulazeez, 24, was a Kuwait-born, Chattanooga-raised Jordanian whose parents are of Palestinian descent. At first, a federal prosecutor said the shootings were being investigated as a case of homegrown domestic terrorism. Days later after walking back the prosecutor's remark (as well as comments from a congressman on the committee overseeing Homeland Security), the FBI called Abdulazeez a "homegrown violent extremist." The FBI added that it was "too early" to say whether he was "radicalized" before the attacks. Now the vice president calls the attacker a "perverted jihadist."

Chattanoogans have shown that we are a stable and forgiving city, willing to dress our wounds and work to unite communities. But we all know the way to let a wound fester is not to allow it healing air and light. For weeks, investigators have hidden behind statements about incomplete ballistics testing and unfinished forensic examinations — even while other statements from these same investigators cited such tests.

Authorities must stop the semantics and the dodging. No matter what we eventually call it — mass shooting, homegrown extremism, homegrown terrorism or international terrorism — what happened here was terror and it was unthinkable.

Now it is our history, and it's time to level with us, completely, about exactly what that history is.




Aug. 15

Macon (Georgia) Telegraph on relations between United States and Japan since World War II:

The war in Europe was already over. In fact, as Aug. 15, 1945, rolled around, it was only a formality that the war in the Pacific would soon end, too. Japan had suffered the wrath of a new weapon dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9. Though some in the Japanese military lobbied to fight on, Emperor Hirohito did not follow their counsel. He feared that if war continued, with the awesome power of the atomic bomb and the Soviet Union's declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria, the Japanese race could be eliminated.

In Hirohito's surrender announcement to his people he said, "Moreover, the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization."

Although VJ Day isn't until Sept. 2, it was on Aug. 15 when it was announced to the world that Japan had surrendered and the war, that was said to be the last world war, was over. Like the war in Europe, it had been costly. According to the Pacific War Online Encyclopedia, the war in the Pacific cost 70 million lives, 22 million of those military. Of the military deaths, 111,606 were U.S. forces with 253,000 wounded. Japan lost 1.7 million from its military. It's estimated that China lost 4 million military and 18 million civilians. Is it any wonder China continues to have difficult relations with Japan?

The days since World War II have been astounding. The United States has continued to be the world's leader in almost every category of measurement, and Japan has come back from devastation with help from its conqueror to become the world's third largest economy. The country took on a pacifistic rather than militaristic attitude that has served it well over the past 70 years. With an ever-aggressive China, that's becoming problematic, and the U.S. has been urging Japan to expand its military.

Last month, according to The New York Times, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's proposal passed the lower house of Parliament that would allow, for the first time since World War II, the Japanese military to send its troops on combat missions overseas. That proposal still must be approved by the upper chamber where it's also expected to pass.

Even with that approval in hand, some Japanese are against expanding a military role. Many are still haunted by memories of what happened 70 years ago when the nation's military got too full of itself, and in the words attributed to Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto following the attack on Pearl Harbor: "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

Yamamoto may have had some inkling that he now faced what would later be called "The Greatest Generation."




Aug. 15

Boston Herald on next year's summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro:

The only thing smellier than the Rio de Janeiro lake that sickened rowers preparing for next year's summer Olympics is the process by which the lords of the International Olympic Committee allowed this to happen.

No, this isn't sour grapes over Boston 2024. Honestly now, other than from those deriving a paycheck from the group, has anyone heard a whimper of local regret?

But the same process that led to Vladimir Putin's costly bread-and-circuses winter 2014 vanity production in balmy Sochi — the same process that has led to Beijing, where the average February temperature is 40 degrees, "winning" the 2022 winter Olympics (no other country with the exception of Kazakhstan even wanted it) — is the very same one that endangers athletes in filthy Brazilian waters.

Mitt Romney stepped in to save the Salt Lake City Olympics from the stench of corruption, but there continue to be lingering doubts about the ethics of the IOC, reinforced by their insistence on being sheltered in Lucerne, Switzerland — same as the now-proven corrupt governing body for world soccer, FIFA.

Of course, Rio insisted it would be cleaning up its polluted waterways in time for the 2016 Games. But one year out the job is far from done. And is it really surprising that 13 of the 40-member U.S. team (plus four staffers, including their coach) in Rio on a trial run for the games came down with stomach illnesses?

In a recent report prior to the current trials, the Associated Press hired its own experts to test some Olympic water venues, including Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, where the rowing competition took place. "Some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach," the AP found. "Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites."

It is now up to coaches and competitors to protect themselves — bleaching oar handles, scrubbing their hands, putting water bottles in zip-locked bags.

The local environmental agency admits to not even having the equipment or personnel needed to test the water.

Rio's mayor said, "The IOC needs to tell us that we need to (test)."

Good luck on that score.




Aug. 19

The New York Times on military aid to Egypt:

Egypt's rising authoritarianism has been met with a collective shrug in Washington, which sends Cairo $1.3 billion in military aid each year.

One notable exception is Senator Patrick Leahy, who is raising alarm about human rights abuses Egyptian security forces have committed as they battle militants in the Sinai Peninsula. He recently asked Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter whether Egypt had run afoul of a federal law he sponsored that bars military units that have committed human rights abuses with impunity from receiving American aid.

"According to information I have received, the number of militants has steadily increased, due, at least in part, to ineffective and indiscriminate operations by the Egyptian military and the lack of licit economic opportunities for inhabitants of the Sinai," Mr. Leahy wrote in the July 20 letter.

Mr. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, is asking a rhetorical question. It is abundantly clear to the senator and Egypt experts in the American government that Egypt's security forces have committed abuses with impunity in recent years. In May, the State Department told Congress in a report that security forces have "committed arbitrary or otherwise unlawful killings during the dispersal of demonstrators, of persons in custody and during military operations in the northern Sinai Peninsula."

Mr. Leahy's point is that continuing to enable a despotic government by shipping over American Apache helicopters, missiles and ammunition is not only unwise but almost certainly unlawful. Mr. Leahy points out in his letter that the Egyptian government has prevented American government officials, journalists and human rights organizations from traveling to Sinai to investigate because of safety concerns. The real reason is likely that it wants to keep the evidence of its scorched-earth approach to fighting militants hidden.

That will become even easier for Egypt now that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt granted his government sweeping powers to continue cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, a political movement, and other opponents under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The new counterterrorism law, which was formally adopted on Sunday, codifies the harsh and counterproductive approach the government has taken toward the political opposition and establishes new tools to stifle dissent. It will also make getting credible news about Egypt even harder. Publishing information that is at odds with the government's account of military activities can now be punished with a fine of at least $25,000.

The Leahy law compels the State Department to ensure that military assistance and aid is withheld from foreign troops that have committed abuses without being held to account. Over the years, it has been applied rigorously in some parts of the world and largely ignored in others.

Mr. Leahy's letter, by calling attention to the fact that the law is being flouted in Egypt, should compel the Obama administration to rethink its feckless Egypt policy. It may also prompt other lawmakers to consider whether their continued largely unconditional support of the Egyptian government is backfiring.

While Egypt undoubtedly faces a genuine terrorist threat, its current approach may well be producing more militants than the government is able to execute or lock up. The implications of that should be of grave concern to the American government.




Aug. 11

The Telegraph, London, on concern over nuclear power:

One of the more perverse responses to the tsunami that knocked out the Japanese nuclear plant at Fukushima in 2011 was a backlash against atomic energy. Germany, for instance, accelerated plans already in place to phase out nuclear power, which accounts for around 17 per cent of the country's electricity supply, after the Japanese disaster triggered protests from German voters. Arguably, however, the Fukushima incident demonstrated the resilience of well-maintained nuclear plant. A greater natural disaster could hardly be imagined than the huge earthquake and consequent inundation of the surrounding area. Yet the damage caused by the reactor meltdown was relatively limited given the scale of the catastrophe.

Japan took its 48 reactors offline but has since responded in a level-headed way and this week restarted its first plant since the disaster. Shinzo Abe's government is pushing for a full return to nuclear to offset the cost of importing natural gas and coal to meet Japan's energy needs. Germany, by contrast, is burning more coal than at any time for 25 years, just when the consumption of fossil fuels is supposed to be falling, even if its new production is cleaner. In addition, removing nuclear from the energy equation will make the Germans more dependent upon Russian gas.

Here in the UK, meanwhile, arguments continue over the first of a planned new generation of nuclear reactors to be built for 30 years, at Hinkley Point in Somerset. At issue is not safety but economics, with concerns being raised about the high subsidy being offered. ... Analysts with the HSBC bank recently suggested that the deal between the government and state-owned French developer EDF is "becoming harder to justify." There are doubts, too, about the European Pressurised Reactor after financial difficulties facing a similar scheme in Finland. To complicate matters, Austria has started a legal challenge in the European Court of Justice over the levels of UK state aid for Hinkley.

This newspaper has long championed nuclear power and often criticised the failure of the last Labour government to sustain the industry. New reactors are needed but there is a risk of being lumbered with a white elephant under current plans. Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, needs to reassess them before committing taxpayers to what may be an unsustainable project at Hinkley Point.