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Diplomats need more aid, safety

The Journal, Martinsburg, W.Va.

Dispatching Navy vessels armed with cruise missiles to take station off the coast of Libya and sending 50 more Marines to protect the U.S. embassy in Tripoli probably were necessary to safeguard American diplomatic personnel in that country.

Four of them already have died at the hands of Islamic extremists who attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi recently.

U.S. officials are investigating whether the assault and rioting at the American embassy in Cairo were part of a campaign of violence organized by Muslim terrorist groups. If so, it will be nothing new.

But the military response to violence in Libya must be a limited one. Even if the United States had the military resources to send such forces to embassies in every country where Islamic terrorists might attack, the sovereign nations involved would not tolerate such presences for long.

Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of countries hosting embassies from other nations to keep them and their personnel safe. There are indications the Libyan government attempted to do so in Benghazi, but failed in the face of an enormous, well-armed mob.

Still, U.S. policy should rest on a demand that countries where we have embassies take their safety seriously. If that is not done, the embassies should be closed. They are staffed by diplomats, not soldiers, who should not be exposed to unnecessary danger.

Occupy Wall street, a year later  

The Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

One year after demonstrators took to the streets near Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park to protest the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, Occupy Wall Street-inspired encampments are largely gone, but the problems the movement highlighted remain stubbornly apparent nationwide.

The protests — which began in New York City on Sept. 17, 2011 — turned public attention to issues such as corporate malfeasance, big money in politics, deregulation of financial institutions and, foremost, income inequality.

It was a new kind of movement. No charismatic leaders; no big-monied, behind-the-scenes interests; just a seeming outpouring of frustration. The protests quickly changed the terms of debate on economic issues, distinguishing the haves and have-nots as the “1 percent” and the “99 percent.”

While the movement has dissolved, the issues stuck. Indeed, whether the wealthiest should pay more in taxes has been the No. 1 issue differentiating President Barack Obama (who, in Occupy-like terms says they should “pay their fair share”) and Republican challenger Mitt Romney (who argues for lower taxes for all).

Working groups that sprung out of the movement still meet regularly, focusing on issues such as election reform and fair working conditions for non-union employees. Other Occupy activists continue to network.

Libya’s oil options diminishing

Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

The murder in Benghazi on Sept. 11, of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, along with three colleagues could have catastrophic consequences for Libya. The crime demonstrates vividly the impotence of the authorities, thus far, to rein in heavily armed militias in a country that is still awash with weaponry from the revolution.

In light of this appalling deadly attack, many international companies that have committed to operations in post-Qaddafi Libya will be reviewing their decisions. Meanwhile, those like Shell, who decided the country was still too dangerous to return to, will be congratulating themselves on their decisions.

Without foreign investment, the oil-driven Libyan economy will not be able to broaden and diversify, to create much needed jobs. Worse, unless the militias are confronted and disarmed, they will continue to undermine what stability there is in the country, and drive increased factionalism.

Yet it is not all bad news. The Libyans voted in July for a Legislature that will oversee the drafting of a new constitution within the next 18 months. Even as the world was still getting to grips with the news of the Benghazi assassinations, that Legislature went ahead and in two ballots, chose a new prime minister from a candidate list of eight. Mustafa Abu Shagur, now has two weeks in which to form his government. It is absolutely clear that the new premier’s priority has to be security. ...

The truth is that until now, the unelected Libyan government has had neither the mandate nor the appetite to confront all those armed groups that are acting outside the law. ...

Disarming the militias will not be easy. ... Abu Shagur’s new government must start to respond, the minute it takes office.



Sept. 15

The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss., on re-assessing anti-terrorism efforts:

Eleven years after the 9/11 attacks, regular reminders about that awful day persist, whenever you pass through an airport, see the altered Manhattan skyline or hear about the latest casualties in Afghanistan. Less visibly, millions of security cameras track your movements, and the government has amassed vast powers to snoop on you.

But the palpable sense of fear that gripped the nation has dissipated, and terrorism has taken a back seat to the economy and other issues in the presidential campaign, something that would have been unimaginable in the fall of 2001.

As important as the economy is, terrorism shouldn’t be relegated to an afterthought. Of the many things done following 9/11, some were smart (reinforcing cockpit doors on jetliners) and some were silly (the color-coded alert system). After 11 years, it’s time to reassess the threat and recalibrate the responses.

The threat has evolved. Osama bin Laden is dead, and his al-Qaida organization is on the ropes, far less able to mount a 9/11-style attack. Its effort to recruit Muslims in the U.S. for terrorism has mostly been a flop. ...

At the same time, the threat is far from eradicated. Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, remains at large. The Taliban, which sheltered bin Laden before 9/11, continues trying to reclaim power in Afghanistan. Radical Islamists are seeking a foothold in failing states in the Middle East and Africa. A showdown over Iran’s nuclear program could bring about a resurgence of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, either from Tehran or its Hezbollah allies. Then there’s the continuing danger from home-grown terrorists, be they self-activated jihadists like Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan or non-Muslim anti-government fanatics. ...

Former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission, tells us “this is exactly the right time” to re-examine the threat and response. He’d like to see Congress do the job itself.

But if that can’t happen — either because members are too partisan or find it impossible to decide what not to do — then the job should go to another independent commission, which could provide the necessary political cover.



Sept. 12

Warren (Ohio) Tribune Chronicle on EPA coal action:

Earlier this year, a federal judge came down hard on the Environmental Protection Agency for overreaching its authority as part of a war against the coal industry and reasonable energy prices. But the EPA has appealed the judge’s ruling, and that should make it clear Congress needs to step into the situation.

In January 2011, the EPA took an outrageous, unprecedented action. It revoked a surface mining permit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had granted four years previously. ...

This March, U.S. District Judge Amy B. Jackson ruled the EPA did not have the power to rescind the permits. In doing so, the agency exceeded the authority granted it by Congress, Jackson decided.

She is absolutely correct. The EPA has launched a campaign to wreck the coal industry and thus, force electric power costs up dramatically. If it is allowed to continue, entire states, including Ohio, will be devastated. Tens of millions of Americans will pay more for electricity. Many industries that rely on low-cost power will find they no longer can compete. ...

Judges on the appeals court should uphold Jackson.

If, for some reason, they do not, Congress should step back into the picture with a law amending the Clean Water Act to rein in the EPA. ...



Sept. 17

The Journal Times, Racine, Wis., on home ownership tax code:

When you buy a new home, there’s been a cherry on top for years to help seal the deal.

That incentive has been the mortgage interest deduction, where homeowners get to write off the interest they pay on their homes.

The argument is it helps incentivize homeownership and helps millions of Americans achieve the dream of buying a home for their families.

But following discussion at the Republican National Convention, there is concern that the deduction could go away. It’s a legitimate concern, if that really is the case. ...

If you eliminate the deduction entirely, all of a sudden millions of people will see their tax bills go up by potentially thousands of dollars or more.

It’s thousands that people clearly cannot afford, based on the number of people filing foreclosures and unable to pay property taxes.

Luckily, even though Republicans didn’t say in their platform they would protect the deduction at all cost, they said, “We strongly support tax reform; in the event we do not achieve this, we must preserve the mortgage interest deduction.”

In that case, with a simpler tax code, even though homeowners wouldn’t get a big bump in their checking account after tax day, it would mean more money in their paychecks throughout the year, because less money would come out initially.

As long as the bottom line ends up the same for homeowners, that is OK. It’s vital, that in the end, homeowners’ taxes — especially those for the middle class — should come out the same with or without the deduction. If that is not possible, then keep the deduction. ...



Sept. 17

The Denver Post on presidential candidates’ definition of “middle class”:

OK, go ahead and chuckle at Mitt Romney’s definition of the middle class. He asked for it.

“No one can say my plan is going to raise taxes on middle-income people, because principle number one is (to) keep the burden down on middle-income taxpayers,” Romney told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“Is $100,000 middle income?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less,” Romney said.

Yes, it’s absurd. But before you split your sides, calm down and consider that President Barack Obama’s definition is not much different. And that’s not just our judgment. As The Washington Post said recently, “Obama also has set his definition for ‘middle class’ as families with income of up to $250,000 a year,” whom he’s promising to protect from a tax hike.

Does the definition of middle class even matter?

Yes, in the present political environment, it does, and the reason is those trillion-dollar deficits. They can’t be closed without attention to both the spending and revenue sides of the budget. However, if nearly everyone is part of the middle class, as seems to be the case under the Romney/Obama consensus, then we won’t get much revenue by either raising tax rates (Obama’s preference) or closing questionable loopholes (Romney’s preference) without giving the already beleaguered middle class a pretty rough time.

Don’t get us wrong. We favor a generous definition of middle income. But how about excluding the 20 percent of households at the top of the income distribution ladder and the 20 percent at the bottom? Surely the remaining 60 percent have every right to consider themselves middle income. ...



Sept. 18

Chicago Sun-Times on the teacher strike:

Teachers and students should keep one key fact in mind as they return to school:

The new contract is an unequivocal win for students and for the thousands of top-flight teachers in Chicago.

It bears repeating again and again because while the strike is over, Chicago’s teachers still must ratify the deal. And they should, without hesitation. The union’s House of Delegates ended the strike, but the 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union still must weigh in.

The new contract is a win for all because, among other gains, it creates a high bar for hiring teachers. This sets the stage for major changes that we hope will improve teaching and learning. ...

Here’s how it will work: Only those teachers rated in the top two of four categories under a new, state-mandated evaluation will be eligible for teaching jobs; “developing” or “unsatisfactory” teachers are left out. Because the stakes are so high, the CTU rightly fought hard for a fair evaluation system.

The contract also makes clear, per state law, that layoffs will be decided first by performance, not strictly by seniority. That means the weakest tenured teachers will be shown the door first, a huge and overdue change. The only exception, and it’s a big one, is for new, non-tenured teachers. They will continue to be laid off before tenured teachers, except for those with unsatisfactory ratings.

A couple of crucial caveats must be closely watched: If there aren’t enough strong teachers for every job, Chicago may end up watering down its evaluation. The school system also must keep a tight lid on who’s eligible for a job. The new contract allows for hiring developing teachers if they meet yet-to-be-determined criteria, the union says. ...

The contract doesn’t fix all that ails the school system. The shabby conditions in schools — a dismal student-to-social worker ratio, the need for libraries and air conditioning — aren’t remedied.

But the teachers penetrated the public consciousness with these very real concerns in a deep and, we hope, lasting way.



Sept. 14

London Evening Standard on Afghanistan:

Britain is officially withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in 2014, at the same time as the United States. The Defense Secretary, Philip Hammond, has however hinted in an interview recently that the process is to be speeded up. “There may,” he said, “be some scope for a little bit more flexibility on the way we draw down.” ...

This is the right approach. Our troops have shown remarkable courage and endurance, and still the killing goes on... The question is, what will they leave behind? A fully functioning democracy is unlikely; so is an uncorrupt state. But there are hopes that Afghanistan may not return to the chaos of the 1990s. British troops have invested much energy in training the Afghan military and police. Notwithstanding attacks on allied troops by their Afghan colleagues, that effort is paying off. Indeed the success of Afghan forces in doing the work of British forces is the reason Hammond feels able to think about an earlier withdrawal.

... A Royal United Services Institute report suggested that elements of the Taliban would be willing to negotiate a ceasefire, renounce al-Qaeda and allow some U.S. bases to remain after withdrawal.

The most sensible course would be to engage in these negotiations. Hammond indeed says that we shall have to get used to “reaching out, Northern Ireland-style to at least the moderate part of the insurgency”. So we should. And if the Taliban would not be prepared to countenance President Hamid Karzai remaining in power, well, that is a price we can pay. If we keep al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, we can then concentrate our scrutiny on the greater security threat from Pakistan. If negotiations with the Taliban lead to a settlement that will make British troops unnecessary in Afghanistan, that would be a good outcome.



Sept. 17

Ottawa (Ontario) Citizen on carbon tax:

Remember the federal election of 2008, when the Conservatives championed a carbon tax? They promised a tax on everything that would kill jobs. And they won, beating Stéphane Dion’s Liberals.

This might seem like revisionist history, but it’s perfectly consistent with the “facts” you can find on the Conservative website these days.

The website quotes New Democratic Party MP Nathan Cullen as saying he prefers a cap-and-trade system to a carbon tax, but that what matters is putting a price on carbon — which either system would achieve. The Conservative “fact check” concludes: “A ‘price on carbon’ is a tax on carbon. That makes it a carbon tax.”

If so, the Conservative platform of 2008 clearly called for a carbon tax when it promised the Conservatives would work to develop “a North-America-wide cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases and air pollution, with implementation to occur between 2012 and 2015.”

Here we are in 2012 and the Conservatives’ promised cap-and-trade system is nowhere to be seen. But political parties not keeping their election promises is nothing new. What is new is demonizing Idea X by saying Idea Y is better, then a few years later, when a different party is in Opposition, claiming Idea Y is identical to Idea X.

Just how stupid do they think Canadians are?

It is true that both a tax and a cap-and-trade system would establish a price on carbon. That doesn’t make them identical. They are both also much better for business than trying to reduce emissions by imposing costs through regulation — costs that, like any others, are passed on to the consumers.

So while we’re muddying crucial distinctions, why not just call regulation a carbon tax too? Why are the Conservatives determined to put a tax on everything?



Sept. 19

The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on the Japan-China Senkaku Islands dispute:

As popular outrage continued to swirl in China over Japan’s decision to make the disputed Senkaku Islands state property, anti-Japanese demonstrators took to the streets to mark the 81st anniversary of an incident that paved the way for the Japanese invasion and occupation of Manchuria.

The “day of national humiliation” for China occurred Sept. 18, 1931. Chinese refer to it as the Liutiaohu Incident.

Because of the nature of this anniversary, there were concerns that the violence seen in recent days could escalate.

But while some demonstrators threw rocks and took other actions, Chinese law enforcement authorities were on high alert. This averted the sort of previous mob violence that targeted Japanese shops and factories.

The authorities are now cracking down harder on out-of-control protesters... They are also turning to the media to publicly condemn acts of violence.

Beijing should take this as the cue for bringing the situation under control. ...

We demand that China refrain from any further acts of provocation.

Beijing has told Tokyo to “repent its mistakes and return to the negotiating table to settle the (Senkaku) dispute.” But China recently rejected Japan’s plan to send a delegation of Diet members to China, effectively denying Japan a chance to resume dialogue.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who is touring China and Japan, stressed at a news conference in Tokyo, “It is in everyone’s interest for Japan and China to maintain good relations and find a way to avoid further escalation.”

We could not agree more.

Although the Japanese government’s position is that there is no territorial dispute, surely there must be steps that both Japan and China can take to ease this unfruitful conflict.

Both countries have many areas of common interest that should prove mutually beneficial. The ball is in China’s court now to create an environment conducive to candid talks.


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