Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Star-Ledger, New Jersey, on racism and sexism:
Now and then, we choose the most convenient prism through which to view our most serious social problems, however superficially, because it comes packaged in equal doses of celebrity and infamy.
There is a drug crisis in most states, but it hardly registers until Rob Ford’s drooling visage fills the TV screen or Philip Seymour Hoffman drops dead. This country has a mass shooting problem, with 4,500 dead and 19,600 more bleeding on ER tables so far this year, but the world doesn’t notice until Plaxico Burress puts a hole in his own thigh. We cannot educate children in many cities, but the tragedy goes unnoticed until some altruistic billionaire drops $100 million on Newark.
So now there is fresh dialogue about racism and sexism, spilling into the mainstream media with an inadvertent shove from Donald Sterling and Jill Abramson, but to discuss either as a cause celebre’ is to trivialize the real issues.
Abramson, a journalist as subtle as a blowtorch, was accused of unspecified acts of brusque behavior, committed among the princely hierarchy at the New York Times. But the theme that had the most traction was an unsubstantiated claim involving a lower salary than the one earned by her predecessor.
Indeed, Abramson might be a sympathetic figure. But gender justice isn’t so much about an executive making $450,000 as it is about pay equity in America, an issue that was muted the moment the U.S. Senate blocked a vote last month, and about having the worst maternity leave policy in the world.
Moreover, racism isn’t merely the purview of dotty old men such as Sterling. Racism is common cause in our political culture – not only in Cliven Bundy’s America, but in the institutional marginalization of minorities by our courts and our laws, which conspire to produce segregated schools and voting restrictions and countless wars waged on the poor.
Theologian Paul Tillich said if we don’t develop a keener eye for racism or sexism or homophobia, and address them only when the news cycle gives us no other choice, we’re mistaking moralism for morality. The real systemic sins are hiding inside the latter. Yet the cycle spins on.
Orange County Register, Santa Ana, California, on China’s hacking:
Actor Claude Rains is perhaps best known for his role as Capt. Louis Renault in the 1942 film “Casablanca.” In a memorable scene, he orders a popular café shut down on orders from his German overseers.
“How can you close me up? On what grounds?” asks the café owner, played by Humphrey Bogart. To which Renault replies, “I’m shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on here.”
Just then, a croupier hands Renault a pile of money. “Your winnings, sir,” he tells him. To which Renault replies, not the least bit sheepishly, “Thank you very much.”
We were reminded of this scene Monday when the Obama Justice Department indicted five members of the Chinese military on charges of hacking the computers of five U.S. companies – Westinghouse Electric, Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, U.S. Steel and SolarWorld.
Attorney General Eric Holder declared himself shocked, shocked that Beijing would stoop to such cyberespionage. And he vowed that the U.S. “will not tolerate actions by any nation that seeks to illegally sabotage American companies and undermine the integrity of fair competition in the operation of the free market.”
We imagine that John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, the network equipment company, must feel a little like the café owner in “Casablanca.”
Indeed, while the Obama administration has decided to crack down on China’s alleged hacking, it has not responded in a meaningful way to recent revelations that the National Security Agency has secretly installed surveillance technology in servers and networking gear – including products made by Cisco.
In a letter Thursday to President Obama, Mr. Chambers cites reports that NSA actually has intercepted IT equipment in transit from manufacturers to customers. Those reports also included a photograph of a Cisco product being modified.
Cisco’s CEO warns that the actions of the NSA, tacitly sanctioned by the Obama administration, have undermined confidence in the U.S. technology.
“This confidence is eroded,” he wrote the president, “by revelations of governments’ surveillance, government demands that make it difficult for companies to meet privacy expectations of citizens and laws of other countries, and allegations that governments exploit, rather than report, security vulnerabilities.”
That erosion of confidence has already hurt U.S. companies, like Cisco, doing business in foreign markets.
Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on NASA:
If you want to see the price of our dysfunctional government, just look up — up toward the International Space Station.
It once was a symbol of international cooperation but it is now caught in a web of intrigue that threatens its existence. The United States, having shut down the space shuttle, the only craft it had capable of bringing astronauts to and from the space station, is now at the mercy of Russia, which is taking advantage of that situation.
We have a single seat on each flight of a Russian craft — at a cost of $71 million per trip. Only one-third of the crew at the station at any given time is American, even though the U.S. paid for most of the station’s $140 million price tag.
There is plenty of blame to spread around. President George W. Bush got things started when he decided in 2004 that NASA’s mission should be a return to the moon and space colonization. That plan retired the shuttle in favor of building deep space rockets.
But that left a gap between the end of the shuttle program and the launch of new craft capable of carrying people into space.
When Barack Obama became president he decided we needed a quicker way for ferry astronauts to the station and left it up to commercial interests to figure out how to do it.
Congress balked and underfunded the commercial program, which means the first flight will be in 2017, not 2015 as Obama envisioned. Not the best solution but a workable plan — until Russia annexed Crimea.
In the tit-for-tat that followed, the Russians threatened to pull the plug on the Space Station by 2020. That would seem to make it even more urgent to get these commercial flights — flights that Stennis Space Center could play a big role in — as soon as possible.
We shouldn’t have to rely on Russia, an unreliable ‘partner’ at best and a country that doesn’t seem to be seeing us as much of an ally in its ambitions.
And we shouldn’t be playing politics with an investment of more than $100 billion.
The Augusta Chronicle, Georgia, on U.S. Export-Import Bank:
Government agencies, bureaus and departments whose services are no longer needed tend to hang around too long. Bureaucracies, once in place, are difficult to remove.
The task becomes far easier when the agency has an expiration date.
The U.S. Export-Import Bank is such an agency. And lawmakers should let its Sept. 30 expiration date pass without a reauthorization.
This Depression-era relic that most taxpayers have never heard of uses their money to secure financing for favored corporations and foreign governments under the aegis of “facilitating” U.S. exports.
Like most New Deal-era machinations, the Export-Import Bank’s time has come and gone.
Global trade is no longer the exotic and tumultuous prospect it was when President Roosevelt created Ex-Im to finance trade with the Soviet Union in 1934. These days, any major American corporation worth its salt has been doing business overseas without assistance for decades. And thanks to e-commerce, even small businesses are exporting their wares overseas.
So what does Ex-Im do exactly? If you ask Diane Katz, the Heritage Foundation’s regulatory policy fellow, Ex-Im is “a conduit for corporate welfare beset by unreliable risk management, inefficiency and cronyism.”
That assessment is backed up by a review of its annual report. Ex-Im’s biggest customers are multinational U.S. corporations such as Bechtel, Boeing, Caterpillar and General Electric – the kinds of “exporters” most would be shocked to learn need taxpayer-funded assistance.
As with most forms of corporate welfare, Ex-Im’s spoils tend to go to the companies with the most lobbyists and biggest government relations budgets. You can be assured Big Business lobbyists are working overtime to ensure the spigot to the government-finance hose isn’t turned off.
If our elected officials were truly committed to bolstering America’s competitiveness in global trade, they would eschew corporate welfare for a reduction in export tax and regulatory barriers – starting with Dodd-Frank regulations – and reduce the corporate income tax to encourage U.S. companies to repatriate their overseas profits.
Any way you slice it, Ex-Im is one dinosaur that should be allowed to go extinct.
Wall Street Journal on Holder convicting Switzerland:
‘This case shows that no financial institution, no matter its size or global reach, is above the law.” So declared Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday as his Justice Department announced that Credit Suisse is pleading guilty to conspiring to help U.S. citizens evade taxes. But this looks more like a case of enforcing collective guilt for political purposes, while ensuring that no material harm comes to a too-big-to-fail bank.
Though Credit Suisse agreed to pay $2.6 billion in Monday’s settlement, the bank isn’t unique. For years Washington’s larger target has been Switzerland itself. The Obama Administration views traditional Swiss bank-secrecy laws, which make it a crime to improperly disclose private customer information, as merely a tool to assist U.S. tax cheats.
In 2009 U.S. prosecutors settled with Swiss bank UBS for $780 million. Justice has lately been pursuing criminal cases against roughly a dozen other Swiss banks. Justice has also secured the cooperation of more than 100 other Swiss banks that don’t appear to be in any criminal jeopardy.
In case after case Justice wants account information on U.S. customers, which Swiss bankers by law have resisted disclosing absent specific evidence of criminal activity. Prosecutors aren’t getting the names they wanted in this case, so they’re settling for money, the firings of several bank employees and some banker-bashing headlines.
This is not to say that no crimes were committed by Credit Suisse employees.
But why insist on a criminal conviction of the entire organization? This would seem appropriate only if prosecutors decided that this was not a case of criminals embedded within a giant bank, but rather that the entire bank is a criminal enterprise.
Justice obviously doesn’t believe that, which suggests how political this settlement is. While preparing to extract its money and headlines, Justice carefully worked with the rest of America’s vast regulatory apparatus to ensure that no material harm would come to the bank. Justice secured a pledge from the Securities and Exchange Commission that the SEC would not do what it otherwise would when a firm is convicted of a criminal offense. The SEC agreed to waive a rule that would have prevented Credit Suisse from acting as an investment adviser.
All of this suggests that the guilty plea is mostly a political statement intended to repair Mr. Holder’s standing with the liberal populists who think he hasn’t put enough bankers in jail. But it isn’t as if he and his financial crimes task force haven’t been looking. The problem is that indicting individuals requires finding actual criminal intent and behavior and then proving it to a jury when so much of what happened during the financial crisis was simply bad judgment.
Thus we get this plea of collective guilt that has no consequences. News reports say that we may be in for many more such pleas as we approach the November election and 2016. It’s hard to see how this serves the cause of accountability or justice.
China Daily on cyberthief crying wolf:
The U.S. department of justice’s decision to charge five People’s Liberation Army officers for “business spying” is ill-advised, if not downright stupid.
The initial response from Beijing is that the charge is a pompous farce that will in no way advance American interests.
In addition to a flat denial of US accusations, which lack any credible evidence, Beijing has struck back, presenting proof that the US is “the present-day world’s biggest cyberthief”, and “the foremost state sponsor of cyberattacks on China”.
The statistical information about US cyber intrusions the Chinese authorities produced makes it difficult for Washington to proclaim its own innocence.
The US indictment appears particularly awkward because Washington is simply rubbing salt into its bleeding wound from Edward Snowden’s revelations. It is common knowledge that China, its military in particular, is the biggest online target of the omnipresent US National Security Agency and US Cyber Command.
It is thus a matter of course that Beijing should call the indictment a cock-and-bull story and a thief crying catch thief.
Nor can Washington expect any sympathy from Chinese Internet users. To them, the indictment is but an additional footnote to US hypocrisy.
The charges are said to underscore a longtime Obama administration goal to prosecute state-sponsored cyber threats. Yet the Snowden leaks seem to indicate that the NSA and US Cyber Command are the most formidable state-sponsored cyber threats in today’s world. If they can be exonerated for what they have done and are still doing, blaming anyone else is shameless double standards.
US Attorney General Eric Holder should know very well that an indictment like this has little chance of being executed. Those charged are far away in their home country, where neither the government nor the people accept the legitimacy of the US charges. More important, the charge itself is flawed in both moral and jurisprudential terms.
It is yet to be seen if Beijing will make a tit-for-tat response by prosecuting specific Americans, which will be fully justifiable. But Beijing has already determined to suspend the work of a joint panel on Internet security, on the grounds that the Americans lack sincerity in the dialogue to establish a cooperative approach to cyber security.
The indictment will prove a sorrowful miscalculation, because Washington has nothing to win and a lot to lose.
Khaleej Times, Dubai, on Benghazi’s no-fly zone:
Three years of turmoil with three prime ministers having shown the door has brought things to a head-on collision in Libya.
The worst to come is in the form of a no-fly zone that was imposed by the army over Benghazi, as militants continue to fight pitched battles with the security forces. Since Colonel Muammar Gadaffi was overthrown, Libya has gone from worse to worst, and the writ of the government has been lacking. At times it seems to be a field day for the militants as they are free to sell the oil in international market as well as abduct the prime minister on their own! This state of affairs is not only unravelling the North African country but also enabling the tendency of militancy to explode beyond its borders.
With more than 50 people killed and hundreds injured in a latest clash between the military and the rebels, Benghazi is once in trouble. Libya’s second largest city was home to some of the worst upheaval as militants ransacked the US consulate in 2012 and killed its envoy and four other diplomats. This no-fly zone is one of the unique of its kind where in the state army is engaged against a paramilitary group that has laid its hands on aircraft, and is capable enough to fly its own sorties. This unnerving news incidentally comes in the wake of coup rumors by a deserted colonel of army.
It is no less than a tragedy for one of the prosperous and resource-rich African-Arab country to experience a web of militants among its midst and members of civil and military bureaucracy defecting to rebel groups. This civil war in Libya is a precursor for disaster, and something serious is in need of being done to save the country from going over the brink.