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Column: What Others Have to Say

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Education on politics critical

The Ironton (Ohio) Tribune

With just a little more than one month remaining before the Nov. 6 general election, it is more important than ever that voters pay attention to the information they’re getting as well as the source that it comes from.

It is impossible to watch television or browse the Internet without being bombarded by political ads. Most citizens have been getting propaganda in the mail nearly each day. Chain letter emails spread like wildfire, often containing only half-truths and one-sided presentations of information that is taken out of context.

Of course, the political campaigns themselves are doing their part to always put a positive spin out there for their candidate, and not just at the presidential level.

The point is, citizens must educate themselves and pay close attention to the information they’re given, where it comes from and who stands to gain from it.

The truth is hidden somewhere in the political spin and propaganda, but voters will have to be smart in seeking it.

Files expose Scout misconduct

The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss.

Add the Boy Scouts of America to the list of trusted institutions that failed sexually abused children.

From 1970 to 1991, the Boy Scouts failed to report hundreds of suspected sexual abusers to authorities and in some cases “urged admitted offenders to quietly resign,” sending them off with clean recommendations, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times of the Scouts’ once confidential files.

The Scouts say what matters most are its policies today, not files going back decades. And that’s true. But since the pre-1992 records were forced into the open as a result of litigation, the Scouts have not released their more recent records or combed through those files to cull and report suspected abusers.

This is troubling because the older records, which came to be known as the “perversion files,” teach a timeless lesson. The Scouts, like other institutions, often saw molestation as more of a public relations problem than a crime. These institutions tried to ensure that molesters wouldn’t abuse children on their turf but had little compunction about sending them off to abuse others.

So why haven’t the Scouts gone back through their post-1991 files to bring more abusers to justice? Because, a spokesman says, the files “are an incomplete record set that are not used to track reporting.”

That’s not much of an excuse for an organization that offers a crime prevention merit badge. Until recently, the organization’s top leaders would not have qualified to earn it.

NFL officials embarrassed

The Oneonta (N.Y.) Daily Star

You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate the folly of the recent unpleasantness between the people who own the money printing press that is the NFL and its referees and other game officials.

The refs had been locked out of their jobs by the NFL owners since the beginning of the league’s preseason exhibition games and for the first few weeks of the regular season. In their place, the league hired replacement officials.

These gentlemen did their best, but their best was not nearly good enough. Terrible calls, misunderstood rules and general incompetence were the rule rather than the exception.

The NFL was clearly embarrassed on the Packers and Seahawks call, and the commissioner and owners at last came to their senses and gave in to most of the refs’ demands. The result was that the players weren’t the only professionals on the field when the Cleveland Browns played the Baltimore Ravens.

Why did the owners think they could get away with it?

That’s easy. They always had before.

The NFL — like many other employers made the mistake of discounting the importance of experience and talent. Still, it’s nice to have the real refs back where they belong.



Oct. 1

Savannah (Ga.) Morning News on Iran’s nuclear capability:

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did what he had to do for his nation’s survival: Draw a clear, red line.

He did it to show when Iran’s progress toward nuclear energy would be unacceptable.

The United States should back it up. More importantly, Iran should respect it — and back off.

Iran has been working to enrich uranium. Nearly everyone in the civilized world believes that the enriched uranium will be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons to be used on Israel, as opposed to providing electricity to the Iranian people.

Netanyahu’s red line, which he literally drew on a picture of a bomb in front of the U.N., sits at 90 percent completion necessary for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. He hopes that a clear line will work to discourage Iran from continuing their nuclear program, and has said that the red line’s goal is to prevent war, not encourage it. ...

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel’s “Zionist regime” and has denied the occurrence of the Holocaust, which ultimately led to the creation of the Israeli state. There’s ample evidence, given Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, that nukes could end up in the hands of people who crash airliners into tall buildings.

President Barack Obama has wagged his finger at Iran, saying its leaders would be in deep, deep trouble if it went too far. Not surprisingly, the leader of the free world has been largely ignored. ...

A nuclear Iran poses a clear threat to Israel. Because of the potential for arming terrorists, it threatens the rest of the world as well. Netanyahu’s red line should be backed by the red, white and blue.



Sept. 30

Kenosha (Wis.) News on simplifying the tax code:

Now that the housing market has started to recover a little bit, more people are looking at the role tax policy might have had in the housing bubble that burst several years ago and dragged the nation’s economy into a recession.

The average taxpayer gets $559 from the tax deduction for mortgage interest, according to the Tax Policy Institute

Of course, the bigger your mortgage, the bigger your potential interest deduction. There actually is a ceiling on the size of a mortgage that qualifies for this tax subsidy, but it’s absurdly high: $1.1 million. That high a ceiling is only a limiting factor for the highest income earners, the ones who qualify to borrow that much money. For most of the housing market, there is no ceiling on the size of a mortgage that qualifies for favorable tax treatment.

The Obama administration is reportedly considering a proposal to drop the mortgage interest deduction for those whose incomes are higher than $250,000. The effect on the budget deficit of that proposal would not be very significant, according to some analyses.

It also wouldn’t be fair. If national policy intends to support home ownership with a tax deduction, the benefit should apply to everyone.

A better way to change the disproportionate mortgage-interest benefit now available to wealthy taxpayers is to limit the size of the mortgages that qualify. The current limit could be gradually reduced over a period of years to a more reasonable limit that could vary with regional housing markets. San Francisco’s housing market is expensive compared to Kenosha’s, so the limits shouldn’t be the same. ...

Eliminating the mortgage interest deduction would be a big bite out of tax policy, and it might not be a proposal that could generate much support, but candidates keep saying we should have a simpler tax code. ...

Couldn’t we at least take a baby step?



Oct. 2

The Grand Island (Neb.) Independent on personal responsibility:

Self-discipline and personal responsibility have long been hallmarks of the people of the United States. The understanding is that without them, freedom is impossible. Without the “self” and the “personal,” someone or something else must provide discipline and responsibility. And when that happens, freedoms are diminished.

Scorecards on the nation’s adherence to these two principles are mixed, and often focus on failures. We are more overweight than ever, despite the obvious health risks and costs. Our prisons are overflowing with people who couldn’t or wouldn’t follow basic rules that are essential for a free and civil society.

Schools have their own problems, especially with some parents who seem oblivious to the fact that education is vital in order for their children to have a chance at the American Dream. Yet teachers have long known that parental involvement is often lacking in the cases of children who most need it.

Out-of-wedlock births are alarmingly high, despite overwhelming evidence that those children face a terribly steep road in becoming stable and productive people. ...

Despite discouraging examples such as these, the good news is that self-discipline and personal responsibility are still the norm for most Americans. For example, The Wall Street Journal reports that growing numbers of young people are saving for their futures. It takes real discipline to put off spending today in exchange for benefits that are long into the future. ...

Even though examples of self-discipline and personal responsibility still outweigh the failures by a wide margin, we need to more effectively address shortcomings. Far too many people are affected, and our freedoms are at stake.


Sept. 30

The Denver Post on electronic patient records fraud at hospitals:

The federal pitch to move to electronic medical records came enveloped in promises of lower costs and better care.

It all sounded pretty good.

Recent reports, however, have raised questions about whether doctors and hospitals are using this new-found digital efficiency to cheat government-run Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder recently issued a stern warning to those who are using e-records and sophisticated software to “upcode” services in order to collect more from the government.

Promising vigorous investigations is a good start, but they need to take more systemic action.

The government should create an oversight system, something it failed to do when it began pushing the digital conversion with $30 billion in stimulus money to help doctors and hospitals buy equipment.

Monitoring the many different types of billing and medical software in use around the country is a complex but necessary task.

The American Medical Association has recommended federally mandated testing assuring that electronic billing systems are accurate and not structured to make upcoding easy.

The Office of Inspector General is investigating the matter, and that assessment of problems should be useful in devising solutions. ...

To be sure, Affordable Care Act reforms, which move from a fee-for-service model to one that pays fees based on outcomes, could help slow such abuses, and that’s good.

A multi-pronged approach emphasizing oversight and systemic reimbursement revisions could go a long way toward minimizing fraud in this otherwise beneficial health care innovation.

We live in the digital age, and a change to electronic patient records was inevitable, but the use of these new systems to cheat must not be.



Sept. 29

Evansville (Ill.) Courier & Press on Bill Clinton and Republicans:

Former President Bill Clinton is justifiably known for his political and psychological resilience. Not for nothing is he known as the Comeback Kid.

But what happened recently at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York would have sent a lesser man crashing to the floor of the Sheraton Hotel ballroom with a severe case of whiplash.

Clinton, whom the GOP strove mightily to evict from office, is being favorably invoked, even courted, by Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee. Standing by the former president’s side, Romney said, “If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this election season, by the way, is that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good.”

He was referring to Clinton’s speech in support of President Barack Obama at the Democratic convention, which resulted in a slight boost — a “bounce,” in political parlance — in the polls.

Joked Romney, “All I got to do now is wait a few days for that bounce to happen.”

Such comments from a leading Republican would have been unimaginable 13 and 14 years ago, when congressional Republicans were striving mightily to drive Bill Clinton from office. Thanks to their efforts, he became only the second U.S. president, after Andrew Johnson, to be impeached. ...

Then as now, it was a time of bitter partisanship by House Republicans who found no charge too outlandish or outrageous to hurl at the president. To be fair, the Clintons gave them lots of ammunition with Travelgate, Chinagate, Hillary Clinton’s missing billing records, Bill Clinton’s womanizing...

Now Clinton has come back once again — to re-elect Obama. Notice that, unlike during the debates early this year, Romney didn’t offer to make a $10,000 bet on the outcome.



Sept. 28

Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Syria:

The Free Syrian Army has once again demonstrated its ability to strike at the heart of the Assad regime. The military’s General Staff Command Building has been extensively damaged in two major explosions that were followed by a ground attack that last for two hours. From his presidential palace, not far away, Bashar al-Assad will have heard the explosions, maybe even have felt the force of the blasts and seen the pall of black smoke rising into the capital’s sky. ...

Tragically, there is rising evidence that this bitter civil conflict is heading for a stalemate with the fighters unable to make the progress they planned. Certainly, their much-heralded advance on Aleppo, which they announced they would take in a major push, has not yet succeeded. ...

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the UN that the organization was paralyzed because Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council meant that no progress could be made toward the international community finding a solution. Such an outright criticism of Moscow and Beijing demonstrates the depth of Washington’s frustration. There was, however, absolutely no sign that Russia or China were about to change their minds and back UN initiatives. ...

If Assad’s troops therefore cannot win, the question is how they will lose this civil war. The answer may lie in some more explosions, in which the bombers somehow clearly penetrated the highest security. Were more top members of the regime to perish, maybe even Assad himself, in a similar blast, inside a supposedly secure area, the fighting might at last come to an end. Then, they would have to begin a long and difficult process of reconciling bitter foes, in the name of a united and free Syria.



Oct. 1

The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on Japan-Russia talks:

Japan and Russia will move to improve relations with high-level talks this autumn, ahead of a scheduled visit to Russia in December by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

This is an opportunity to strengthen bilateral ties and bring stability to Northeast Asia, amid tension over territorial disputes in the region. The talks should be used effectively. ...

Russia has been seeking to increase its oil and gas exports to countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with the aim of diversifying its currently Europe-dominated customer base. This strategic move aims to capitalize on the amazing economic vigor of the Asia-Pacific region and secure economic development for Siberia and the Russian Far East, sparsely populated regions that lack strong industry.

Moscow’s new diplomatic drive to expand ties with Japan reflects its recognition of the importance of Japanese investment and technology. Russia needs them if it is to develop along the lines of President Vladimir Putin’s vision of a Eurasian nation.

On the other hand, Russia’s rich energy resources have great appeal for Japan, a resource-poor nation which has begun exploring a future without its past dependence on nuclear power. ...

When Japan considers investing in and cooperating with those industries, it should demand adequate and convincing explanations about the profitability of projects and require that the Russian government improve the business environment. ...

Japan’s bitter territorial standoffs with China and South Korea are sources of worry for Russia too, which wants to enhance relations with its neighbors in the region.

That is why Moscow has said it will not take sides in Japan’s spats with South Korea and China, over the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan and the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Furthermore, Russia has expressed hope for a peaceful settlement. ...

Implementing this steadily would be the best way to make progress toward what Putin calls a mutually acceptable solution to the Northern Territories issue.



Sept. 30

The Globe and Mail, Toronto on terrorist Omar Khadr:

Omar Khadr was raised to be a terrorist, and became one. But Canada has no cause to loathe him, or punish him anymore. This country should do what should have been done many years ago with him — focus on how to achieve his rehabilitation, safely.

Khadr was 11 when his Toronto family took him to live in the Afghan terror camps of Osama bin Laden. At 15, he was apprehended by the United States on the battlefield. He is now 26, and has never known what it is to live an ordinary, constructive life in freedom.

He deserves that chance now, within a parole framework that provides for support and sensible rules — such as not living with his family. Canada shouldn’t throw away its young people, even those who have gone terribly awry. It shouldn’t seek retribution because it abhors their families (his late father and several brothers were al-Qaeda members, and his mother and sister have spoken approvingly of terrorism). It shouldn’t seek to make political gain from that kind of abhorrence. ...

Now that he is back in Canada, those standards should prevail. Ostensibly, Khadr’s jail term runs until late in 2018, but in Canada the first chance at parole for a 15-year-old who commits the most serious crime in the Criminal Code, murder, is at seven years, and he has already served 10, most of them in harsh conditions at the U.S. terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He should be treated fairly by the parole system. ...

Khadr pleaded guilty when faced with a possible penalty of life behind bars to killing a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a firefight, and other crimes. He has paid a heavy price for his crimes, and his family’s. Khadr needs a chance now to live as a human being, not a symbol.



Sept. 27

London Evening Standard on Cameron’s call for greater intervention in Syria:

Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t just feature on the David Letterman show during his visit to New York. More important was his speech to the UN General Assembly, an impressive performance. Much of his address amounted to an impassioned call for greater intervention in Syria. While not condemning China and Russia by name for blocking efforts to impose sanctions on the Assad regime, he declared that those who aided and abetted Bashar al-Assad had assisted a “reign of terror” that had resulted in the deaths of up to 20,000 civilians, many of them children.

Cameron has put his finger on a genuine problem at the very heart of the world order: how is the international community, an inherently disparate body, to take a stand against a regime that stops at nothing to stay in power, if the UN General Assembly has no clout and the Security Council is stymied by China and Russia? That is the chief problem in mustering an organized UN response to the crisis in Syria: two of the biggest powers on the Security Council are, effectively, on the regime’s side. ...

... Cameron is right to condemn the regime’s tactics but it is by no means clear that the rebels, who include jihadist elements, would be a moderate and unifying alternative. We should be thinking harder about containing the war and especially its toxic effects on neighboring Lebanon.

Cameron has made a good showing on the world stage. He has not made the mistake of claiming an ethical foreign policy — but that’s effectively what it is.


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