Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Miami Herald on air traffic controllers and fatigue:
The news has been scarier than usual: Iraq is on the boil, which has serious implications for U.S. security, random and mass-shooting tragedies seem to be coming at us weekly.
Add to these the fact that air traffic controllers are too sleepy, and anyone who boards a plane should be very afraid. The controllers are suffering from chronic fatigue while on the job — the task of keeping the millions of people who fly from here to there safe in the air. It remains a major threat to the safety of the flying public that the Federal Aviation Administration must address immediately.
It's not as if the FAA had no idea that too many of its 15,000 air traffic controllers are at risk of nodding off or sluggish thinking. Three years ago, it was disclosed that there were controllers who were falling asleep in front of their screens, which forced the FAA to take a closer look at work scheduling, which has contributed to the problem.
This latest disclosure is a result of a report, mandated by Congress, from the National Research Council. At issue, short-term, is the policy that allows controllers to work five eight-hour shifts over four consecutive days — the last one being a midnight shift.
Controllers love it because they get 80 hours — the equivalent of two traditional work weeks — off before they have to return to work. However, the report says that this scheduling likely results in "severely reduced cognitive performance" during the midnight shift because of fatigue.
The schedule might be popular, but it's a dangerous one. The FAA should sit down with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and develop scheduling that reduces fatigue on the job and increases flight safety.
To its credit, the FAA imposed a fatigue risk management program after several controllers were caught sleeping on the job a few years ago. Cutbacks, however, have thwarted the program's effectiveness. This is not encouraging news. Neither is what's roaring down the pike, coming straight at helpless plane passengers and crew members at the mercy of air traffic controllers who might — or might not — be at the top of their game. The FAA is confronting a deluge of retirements. Controllers are required to retire when they turn 56. The agency will have to replace about two-thirds of this workforce — 10,000 controllers — during the next 10 years.
Flying shouldn't be a crap shoot because someone was asleep at the switch.
Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on the re-election Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos:
Colombians had reason to celebrate last week. The national soccer team trounced Greece and Ivory Coast in its two first-round World Cup games, and President Juan Manuel Santos was elected to a second term.
Santos won fewer votes than challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga in the initial presidential election on May 25, but neither candidate captured a majority. In the June 15 runoff, however, Santos received 51 percent of the vote.
The election was largely viewed as a referendum on peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which Santos initiated in 2012. Prior to Santos' re-election, his government announced that it also would begin preliminary peace negotiations with the nation's second largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).
The runoff outcome is major victory for stability and economic growth in the region and helps ensure not just the continuation of the FARC peace process but also sustained ties between the United States and one of its closest allies in Latin America.
But Santos' first international appearance in his second term wasn't in Havana, where the FARC peace talks have been held. He traveled to Brazil, where he applauded Colombia's national soccer team as it defeated the Ivory Coast, 2-1, last Thursday.
It was a smart populist move in a country that cares about soccer almost as much as it cares about politics.
Santos' victory strengthens Colombia's bid to become South America's next international economic success story. The United States should continue to support Santos' openness to foreign investment in Colombia - and his efforts for peace in the region.
Wall Street Journal on Egypt sentencing three journalists to prison for seven years:
These days the Middle East seems to be returning to the Middle Ages, and this week Egypt made its contribution to pre-modernity by jailing three journalists for the crime of doing their job.
An Egyptian judge sentenced an Australian, an Egyptian-Canadian and an Egyptian who work for Al Jazeera's English-language news network each to at least seven years in prison. The men were accused of collaborating last year with the Muslim Brotherhood to "give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war." All three have worked for other large international media outlets.
This case is really about a larger dispute between the Egyptian military regime of new president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Qatar's ruling royal family, which owns Al Jazeera and supported the Muslim Brotherhood. After mass public protests last year, the military removed President Mohammed Morsi, who belonged to the Brotherhood.
The charges against the journalists are invented and the sentences were quickly denounced around the world. Secretary of State John Kerry called them "chilling, draconian" and "a deeply disturbing set-back to Egypt's transition." He's right, but they are also typical of the new old Egypt. More than 1,000 Brotherhood members have been arrested and convicted to long sentences or death. Egyptian liberal activist Ahmed Maher was sentenced last year to three years in prison. A dozen other journalists are in jail, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Not that the military seems to care much about outside criticism. The sentences came down a day after Kerry had visited al-Sisi and had said the general "gave me a very strong sense of his commitment" to improve Egypt's human-rights record and transition to democracy. Egypt's future now depends on enlightened military rule, and so far there are few signs of that.
Boston Herald on Hamas and the kidnapping of three hitchhiking Israeli teenagers in the West Bank:
Little news from Palestinian territories startles Americans these days. Everybody has heard everything before — horrible violence and war included. Yet we can't get used to the idea of Palestinians rejoicing over Israeli misfortune.
When word of the apparent kidnapping of three hitchhiking Israeli teenagers in the West Bank reached Palestinian communities, residents passed around trays of candies in celebration. A Facebook campaign sprang up, with supporters of the kidnapping posting pictures of three fingers on their pages to represent the three victims.
It recalled the dancing in the streets of Palestinian towns in 2011 when Israel released 1,027 prisoners, collectively responsible for the murders of 569 Israelis, to recover one Israeli soldier.
Israeli troops have been turning the West Bank upside down in searching for the three — arresting scores and clearly putting pressure on the terrorist organization Hamas, which Israel blames for the kidnappings. Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank with which Hamas is supposed to have joined in a "unity" government, has denounced the kidnappings and pledged cooperation of his security agencies in finding the teenagers.
Hamas has denounced Abbas for cooperating, which the authority has done for several years, and praised the seizure of "Israeli soldiers," a false description of the three seminary students. Abbas likely is not unhappy to see Hamas pressured.
So is Israel using the teenagers as a pretext for attacking Hamas? Israel doesn't need a pretext. Hamas runs Gaza, from which rockets were fired into Israel for five days in a row last week, leading to Israeli air attacks on suspected rocket sites.
Hamas may win applause among Palestinians, whose opinion of Israel in polls can hardly go lower. But Palestinians will get nowhere until they understand that Israel's security is not a popularity contest.
Seattle Times on the National Security Agency:
Public outrage over Edward Snowden's revelations of spying abuses by the National Security Agency has finally had a welcomed consequence. Congress — supine for years in its duty to check the agency's power — is finally regrowing its spine.
The first indication came in May, when the U.S. House first passed important, but watered-down, reforms. The USA Freedom Act was intended to end the NSA's bulk and warrantless collection of American's phone records. But last-minute amendments gave the NSA too much wiggle room to conduct business as usual.
Last week, the spine stiffened. The House, by a 293-123 margin, moved to hit the NSA where it hurts — in its budget — by defunding what the Electronic Frontier Foundation called "two of the NSA's most invasive surveillance practices," including the practice of requiring American companies to install backdoor spy holes in communications hardware and software.
Among the Washington delegation, only U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert and Doc Hastings voted no.
A yes vote on NSA reforms resets the balance between the NSA's role between homeland protection and bedrock American civil liberties. In the post-9/11 decade of passive and deferring congressional oversight, that balance was tipped dangerously toward the former.
This reset now moves to the U.S. Senate. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, a champion of NSA reform even before Snowden's revelations, cites the agency's "long track record of secretly interpreting surveillance laws in incredibly broad ways" as reason for the Senate to further stiffen its spine.
He has the backing of the American people. A recent Pew Research poll found broad cynicism about President Barack Obama's support for NSA reforms. By a 4-to-1 margin, Americans disbelieved the claim that reforms will weaken the fight on terrorism.
Congress, finally, is reclaiming its oversight spine.
The Australian on the U.S. renewing involvement in Iraq:
The deadline set by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry of next Tuesday for Iraq's political leaders to form a new, fully inclusive government establishes a basis for U.S. involvement in the country. Such involvement is essential if the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is to be turned back. Kerry's rejection of hypocritical warnings from Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against U.S. military intervention, even limited air strikes, is a good sign. It serves notice, hopefully, that after a period when the U.S. has been largely missing in action in Iraq, Washington is determined to prevent the country becoming "a safe haven ... for extremist jihadist groups", as Barack Obama has said.
Iraq is in a mess. After Obama pulled U.S. troops out in 2011 without leaving a residual force, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, backed by Iran, was left to rule in the name of narrow Shia sectarian nationalism. The situation has left the Sunni minority disaffected, feeding the rapid growth in support for ISIS Sunni extremists.
Obama and Kerry know there is little hope of reversing the jihadist advance while Maliki's sectarian government retains power. The deadline, provided it is enforced, should go a long way towards creating a political environment that will be better equipped to confront the extremists. Achieving that change will not be easy. Maliki, working with Tehran, appears determined to continue in his Shia sectarian way, increasing the likelihood of civil war and the dismemberment of Iraq.
Without an appetite anywhere in the West — least of all in the U.S. — for a return to boots on the ground, options are limited. But in being forceful on his Iraq visit (and travelling to Erbil to meet Kurdish leaders, who have been ignored by Washington since 2006, when former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice went there) Kerry has conveyed the message that the US is back and means business. The 300 US military advisers being deployed, probably to identify possible drone and cruise missile attack targets and to beef up the Iraqi army, also indicate renewed involvement. Such determination has not always been evident under Obama.