Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials (The Washington Times)

August 12, 2015

By The Associated Press  

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


Aug. 12

The Tampa (Florida) Tribune on President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran:

Those who dismiss Republican opposition to President Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal as partisan posturing should consider the stance of Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, expected to replace Harry Reid as the Democratic Senate leader and a reliable defender of the president.

After “deep study, careful thought and considerable soul searching,” even this liberal stalwart found Obama’s concessions to Iran too much to stomach.

Among Schumer’s objections: the treaty’s flimsy inspection requirements. U.N. inspectors can request visits to Iranian military sites, but access can be delayed or denied. As he wrote, “… inspections are not ‘anywhere, anytime’; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling.”

He also doubted that penalties would be effective should Iran cheat on the treaty. The only way the “snap-back” of international sanctions could be achieved is through the U.N. Security Council, which Schumer recognizes can hardly be counted on to protect the United States’ interest, much less Israel’s.

Moreover, as Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has reported, a treaty provision apparently grandfathers any contracts signed with Iran after the sanctions come to an end. So these new contracts may not be affected should the sanctions be re-imposed, diminishing any fears Iran would have of violating the accord.

Further, as Satloff points out, the accord commits the United States and its treaty partners to assist Iran in the development of energy, finance, technology and trade – essentially requiring the United States to help our longtime foe, a nation that has threatened the existence of Israel, to become more powerful.

So Schumer has good reason to conclude that, at best, the treaty would strengthen an unrepentant Iran and position it to become a nuclear power, even if it is after 10 years.

Congress will vote on the treaty in the coming weeks, and is expected to reject it. But the president can veto that vote, and the treaty will go into effect unless two-thirds of Congress vote to override the veto.

So far, only a handful of Democrats in Congress have joined Schumer and come out against the deal. They include Rep. Ted Deutch of Broward, who wrote in a Sun-Sentinel op-ed, “There are different predictions about what will happen if Congress rejects this deal. But the consequences of approving it aren’t up for debate. Opening Iran up to foreign investment, increasing its oil exports and unfreezing over $100 billion in assets means more money for Hamas for building terror tunnels in Gaza, more weapons for Hezbollah in Lebanon, more slaughter in Syria, and more violence worldwide.”

Indeed, ending the sanctions is expected to boost Iran’s economy by 7 percent or more. And this will be done without evidence that Iran is keeping its promises.

All this would empower a nation that calls the United States the Great Satan to spread more terrorism and turmoil around the globe.

And as the Iranian-American writer Hooman Bakhtiar points out in The Wall Street Journal, the agreement will remove the names of disreputable characters from Western sanctions, among them a murderous thug who once tried to assassinate Bakhtiar’s uncle, an Iranian freedom fighter. Bakhtiar writes, “Joining him (the assassin) will be numerous other Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leaders responsible for the deaths of many Iranian dissidents, U.S. servicemen in Iraq and civilians in Syria and elsewhere.”

Obama maintains that the alternative to his flawed treaty is war. But the world is likely to be far less safe if the United States, with the most powerful military in the world, plays the patsy to an oppressive, terrorist regime intent on annihilating Israel and violently opposed to Western culture. This deal should be soundly rejected.




Aug. 12

Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Post-Gazette on U.S. involvement in Ukraine:

The United States is becoming more embroiled in Ukraine, in spite of what is becoming an economic disaster accompanied by a murky internal military situation.

The U.S. Army has 300 troops in Ukraine to train its national guard; the Americans will soon be instructing the Ukrainian army as well, pushing U.S. military aid there to $244 million. The United States also organized in Ukraine a two-week military exercise, involving 1,800 troops from 18 countries, and a second with U.S. forces in neighboring Moldova. Neither Ukraine nor Moldova is a member of NATO.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has added 2,400 Islamists to the pro-government forces who are fighting Russian-backed dissidents in the east. The Islamists, who are traditionally opposed to Russian forces in Chechnya, will fight the Russians anywhere.

Talks among the parties to the Ukraine struggle do not appear to be making any progress, although the February cease-fire is still in effect.

The chief crisis facing the Ukrainian government is economic. Its debt, a staggering $19 billion for a country fighting a war, is being juggled by the government, the International Monetary Fund and other donors. Unlike the economically failed state Greece, Ukraine is not a member of the European Union and has little or no claim on European financial sustenance.

Ukraine’s 55 percent inflation rate is lower only than Venezuela’s and South Sudan’s. The government resists reform of its rampant corruption, the IMF’s condition for a bailout. Ukraine’s single largest creditor is American financial firm Franklin Templeton, which speculated in $7 billion of its bonds. The first payment is due Sept. 23.

Ukraine’s 2014 loss of Crimea to Russia and the occupation of some of its eastern region by Russian-backed militias make it a sympathetic victim. But its resistance to economic reform and use of Islamist Chechen forces make it a questionable partner for the United States.




Aug. 11

New Orleans Advocate on a study of childhood obesity throughout world:

The notion that if you don’t exercise, you get fat does not seem the basis for scientific study because the answer is obvious.

But looking under the headlines, a new study from LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center points out the dimensions of an issue that is important worldwide but incredibly so in Louisiana.

The insight gleaned from the study is that, while diet and exercise play major roles in health, “physical activity makes an even bigger impact on children’s weight than we previously thought,” said Peter Katzmarzyk, an author of the study in the international journal Obesity. “This study shows that obesity cannot be explained away by culture, class or status, and these research results reinforce the need for kids to engage in play time and other forms of physical activity each day.”

The challenge of television and the gaming screen for American kids is one thing, but the giant study – international in scope and involving children in poorer and wealthier countries – showed that lack of exercise is a concern that crosses many lines of class, race or family situation. This research assessed associations between lifestyle behaviors and childhood obesity in a multinational setting, surveying both high- and low-income children.

Researchers collected data from more than 6,000 children between ages 9 and 11 from 12 countries, varying from Brazil to Kenya to the United Kingdom and United States. Previously, most of the data on obesity came from the wealthier countries.

What the text shows is, far beyond the obvious connection between lack of activity and weight, is that the temptations toward physical laziness in youth are universal enough to give pause to those in public health who want to pin the problem on one behavior peculiar to, or one particular condition in, a rich or a poor society. Or, for that matter one particular solution like turning off the television.

The results “reinforce the importance of promoting healthy lifestyles among children as an obesity prevention strategy across different cultures and environments.” Easier said than done, as any parent of a pre-teen can tell you. But Katzmarzyk said it’s also important to have the baseline data in this study to dispel notions that one factor – say, changing diet instead of exercising – can be a panacea for obesity.

What this study also illustrates, though, is how much Pennington’s researchers take the lead in dealing with a crisis that not only has implications for Louisiana’s children but those across the world. The Pennington study included researchers from major institutions from Helsinki, Finland, to Tianjin, China. This study helps document foundational knowledge about the breadth of growing children’s bottoms, but also it reinforces the key role that Pennington has carved out in international scientific inquiry.




Aug. 12

Los Angeles Times on detainees’ wages in the U.S. federal immigration detention system:

Each year, tens of thousands of people being held in the federal immigration detention system are put to work scrubbing floors, cooking meals and landscaping grounds, among other menial jobs. They can work as much as eight hours a day and 40 hours a week. The pay: $1 to $3 a day.

That’s right. Up to $3 a day in a nation where the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Since the work shifts are voluntary, it’s hard to call this slavery, but it is highly objectionable that the government takes financial advantage of detainees being held pending immigration hearings.

As The Times reported this week, Congress set the voluntary work program’s dollar-a-day minimum wage in 1950, when the hourly minimum wage nationwide was 75 cents. Congress reviewed the rate in 1979 but chose to leave it unchanged. Critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, point out that there is nothing stopping Immigration and Customs Enforcement from paying more than that unreasonably low minimum, but the government has chosen not to.

At one level, the voluntary work program seems like a reasonable idea. ICE officials say it helps detainees break the monotony of incarceration, shores up morale and reduces discipline problems. Wages are usually placed in individual accounts for use at the detention center commissary (where critics say prices are exorbitant), and any balance goes with the detainees when they are transferred, freed or deported.

The problem is the wage level: 13 cents an hour. It’s especially objectionable when the workers are not prisoners being punished for crimes but would-be immigrants and asylum-seekers awaiting word on whether they will be deported or allowed to remain in the United States.

There’s more at play here than fairness to the detainees. According to one estimate, the private contractors and local governments that run most of the facilities shave at least $40 million off their annual operating costs by having work done in-house for which they otherwise would have to pay minimum or market wages.

The Obama administration could fix this by raising the detainees’ minimum wage to the federal level. An even better solution would be for Congress to extend Fair Labor Standards Act protections to detainees who perform work supporting detention operations, add enough money in the budget to pay for their wages and establish an oversight structure to monitor compliance and working conditions. In other words, treat the job-holding detainees like the workers they are.




Aug. 12

The New York Times on Obama administration ranking biggest external threats to U.S.’s national security:

In what order does the Obama administration rank the biggest external threats to America’s national security? The short answer: It depends on whom and which agency you ask.

Official opinion is all over the lot, a sign of a rapidly changing world, different bureaucratic priorities and confused thinking. Which raises this question: If officials cannot agree on what the most pressing threats are, how can they develop the right strategies and properly allocate resources?

Start with America’s military establishment. Last month, the Pentagon put Russia at the top of its threat list. Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, branded Russia the No. 1 “existential threat” in his confirmation hearings, followed by North Korea, China and the Islamic State, or ISIS. Other top military officials have said much the same thing in testimony before Congress.

There is no doubt that relations with Russia have taken a dangerous turn, given Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and reckless exercises over NATO airspace. The Pentagon is also chafing under budget cuts, and rattling Cold War sabers may be a good way to pry more money out of Congress. But the idea that Russia is America’s top threat is not shared by other important players in Washington, including the White House. General Dunford’s comments reflected “his own view and doesn’t necessarily reflect the view of – or the consensus – analysis of the president’s national security team,” Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said last month.

Last September, Mr. Obama declared that “at this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain.” But which groups – Al Qaeda or ISIS?

For some time, the administration has considered Al Qaeda the more serious threat because it carried out and is still planning attacks on American territory while ISIS was mainly focused on seizing territory in Iraq and Syria to establish a caliphate. Many terrorism and counterintelligence officials still hold that view and have warned that Qaeda operatives in Yemen and Syria are exploiting the chaos in those countries to lay the ground for much more damaging “mass casualty” attacks.

But on July 22, the FBI director, James Comey, declared ISIS to be the bigger threat. He told the Aspen Security Forum he was particularly worried about ISIS’ social media campaign, which it uses to prey on “troubled souls” in the United States to either join the fight in Syria or Iraq or launch attacks in America. In February, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, cited threats in cyberspace, including from Russia, as the chief danger, followed by counterintelligence, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

To some extent, the different emphases result from different responsibilities. The FBI has the lead role in preventing attacks in this country. The Pentagon has forces deployed against Al Qaeda and ISIS and is responsible for defending America’s NATO allies if Russia becomes aggressive with the Baltics or other allied countries.

While military commanders seem persuaded that the chance of war with Russia (the only country whose nuclear arsenal is on par with the United States) has increased, the risk is only slightly higher than before. The administration remains committed to working with Moscow when possible to achieve peaceful outcomes, as it must.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in the 2015 national military strategy, “Today’s global security environment is the most unpredictable I have seen in 40 years of service.” A formidable challenge for the administration is deciding what its priorities should be.




Aug. 11

Khaleej Times, Dubai, on the UAE providing aid to Yemen:

The UAE’s generosity proves it is keen to share its prosperity with the less fortunate across the world. By going to the aid and assistance of Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, the country has shown that it is a friend the Arab world can rely on. The UAE has always doubled its aid response during catastrophic situations and has led from the front. Yemen is close to its heart, and the country is not only providing succour to the displaced and the destitute, it is also physically involved in helping the people of the war-ravaged country come out strongly from the crisis.

Brave Emirati military personnel from the air force and army have done the country proud in retaking Aden from the Houthi rebels. Soldiers have laid down their lives while helping Yemen secure its territorial integrity. The allocation of Dh300 million to help Yemen overcome food shortages will bring stability to the country. The UAE Red Crescent agency has already shipped in thousands of tonnes of food and medical supplies, as well as other essentials to hapless Yemenis who are suffering from war and the devastation caused by it.

Organisations from the UAE have not restricted aid supplies to one destination. Supplies are also being delivered to places that are under Houthis control, including the capital, Sanaa. That is why the UAE ranks first globally as the largest aid donor to Yemen in 2015.

It is laudable that the UAE accounts for more than 30 per cent of the total aid provided by countries around the world. The country is also actively choreographing a plan of action to broker a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Yemen deserves peace and the UAE continues to be a partner in its recovery. More countries should take a leaf out of the UAE’s book and assist the war-torn country get back on its feet again.