Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Los Angeles Times on the Boy Scouts' gay gap:
The Boy Scouts of America didn't go as far as it ought to have with its new recommendation on gay Scout leaders, but it did make reluctant headway. This wasn't the leap of an organization that now views sexual orientation with more tolerant eyes, but rather a shuffling step by a tradition-bound group that has been prodded by dramatic changes in societal views of sexual orientation, as well as the financial realities of needing to woo back corporate donors such as Walt Disney Co. that are reluctant to sponsor an organization that discriminates against gay people.
The resolution approved last week by the Scouts' national executive committee puts an end to the organization's official ban on gay Scout leaders and volunteers. But rather than banning such discrimination entirely, it leaves the decision up to individual troops and units. (The new policy is expected to be ratified by the executive board July 27.) Some of those troops already have shown interest in welcoming all interested and qualified adults, regardless of sexual orientation; many others are expected to keep a ban in place.
Compare that with the way the Girl Scouts recently made news: A Scouting council in western Washington rejected a $100,000 donation that came with the stipulation that it not be used to support transgender Scouts. That's in line with the organization's history. The Girl Scouts also became racially integrated much earlier than the Boy Scouts, and had little problem accepting atheist members.
Why is the Boy Scouts so locked in the past? That's a more complicated question than it might seem. The group is rooted in conservative concepts of traditional manliness and patriotism; the Girl Scouts, an entirely separate organization, was founded on the philosophy that although girls should learn homemaking skills, they also should engage in the nontraditional pursuits of athletics and outdoors activities. The two groups diverged early when the Boy Scouts aligned with religious organizations.
The Boy Scouts is now being pulled from two directions: growing support for gay rights around the country, and a conservative, religious base that threatens to leave the organization if it joins that larger movement. At times, changes in Scouting tradition have cost the group dearly. In the 1970s, about a third of its Scouts decamped after a switch in emphasis from outdoors skills to skills such as family finances. It switched back.
But many religious groups are more open-minded on this matter than people think; even the Mormon Church welcomed a 2013 decision to admit gay Scouts, an important statement because close to 40% of Boy Scout troops are based in Mormon churches. If the organization wants to remain relevant, it must learn to reflect these more accepting times.
Chattanooga (Tennessee) Time Free Press on Donald Trump:
With billions of dollars of his own money behind him, Donald Trump believes he can be as politically incorrect, as bold, as inelegant and as in-your-face as he wants to be.
In the end, his remarks won't buy him a presidential nomination, sensitivity awards or sympathy, but is it possible his offensive remarks could have a ring of truth in them?
Way back, more than half a month ago when Trump announced his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination, he blustered in a nonscripted speech about Mexican illegal immigrants "bringing drugs," ''bringing crime" and being "rapists."
Even though illegal immigration is still, well, illegal, polished, politically correct candidates don't talk like that but speak in generalities about the border, about immigration reform and about Obama administration immigration overreach.
They don't want to get their hands dirty by painting the voters they'd one day love to have with the broad brush of the criminal misdoings of some of the illegals.
But just how much misdoing is perpetrated by illegals?
According to the United States Sentencing Commission data obtained by Brietbart News, illegal immigrants account for 3.5 percent of the U.S. population but represented 36.7 percent of federal sentences following criminal convictions in fiscal year 2014.
If the percentage seems unbelievable, it does include immigration violations. But even without immigration violations, illegal immigrants account for 13.2 percent of all offenders following federal criminal convictions in 2014. That's more than three times the percentage of their numbers in the country.
Of all federal cases that involved convictions, illegal immigrants represented 74.1 percent of drug possession sentences, 20 percent of kidnapping/hostage taking sentences, 16.8 percent of drug trafficking sentences, 12.3 percent of money laundering sentences and 12 percent of murder sentences.
The recent murder of a woman in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant who had been deported without success five times has heightened concern about the issue so much that even soft-on-immigration liberals like Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., criticized the system that allowed the alleged murderer to be free to commit such a crime.
Officials in San Francisco, which considers itself to be a "sanctuary" city for illegal immigrants, disregarded a request from immigration authorities to keep Francisco Sanchez, a repeat drug offender, locked up. Sanchez, in a jailhouse interview with a television station, as much as said he came to the city because of its sanctuary status. The gun he used even was found to belong to a federal agent, though it was uncertain how he got it.
Despite the incident and despite the glaring U.S. Sentencing Commission numbers, some politicians still don't want to see the problem.
"Our policy," said California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney who is running for U.S. Senate, "should not be informed by our collective outrage about one man's conduct."
Her statement brings to mind the statement attributed most often to 17th-century English Presbyterian minister and writer Matthew Henry: "There are none so blind as those that will not see."
Trump's presidential primary opponents are right to criticize the bombast of the billionaire, but those who don't get the intent of his message may be doomed to second-tier status in the primaries or, eventually, to a second-place finish in the presidential race. And in presidential politics, second-place is first loser.
Most Americans are less afraid of the jobs illegal immigrants take than the lack of inherent fairness in their being able to sneak across the border to win those jobs, benefits, driver's licenses and permanent homes. Since it is not physically possible to round them all up, send them back to their countries of origin and have them apply for legal citizenship, something needs to be worked out.
The Republican who comes up with and can articulate such a solution, which would include a secure Southern border and citizenship for those staying but not until fines are paid and thresholds are met, will appeal to Hispanic voters who will be key to future GOP victories but also to Joe Sixpack Americans who have willing, open hearts but also believe in a sense of right and wrong.
Which all, in the final analysis, trumps Trump but good.
Decatur (Alabama) Daily on Obama's commutations a welcome step:
President Barack Obama on Monday commuted the sentences of 46 federal convicts, most of whom were serving sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
One of the 46 was Robert Joe Young, of Joppa, sentenced to 20 years in prison on numerous drug-related charges in 2002 and now scheduled for release later this year.
The commutations bring Obama's total to 90, plus 64 pardons. Yet with 1½ years remaining in his term, the president has issued far fewer pardons and commutations than did his recent two-term predecessors, both Democrat and Republican. No one can accuse the president of being too eager to use his pardon authority. That he finally is doing so is a new but welcome development.
In announcing the commutations, Obama noted they and his 43 previous ones mostly were for nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under outdated sentencing rules. If sentenced today, those receiving commutations now would get shorter prison terms.
On his radio show Monday, Rush Limbaugh, as is his wont, was quick to attack the president's action. For Limbaugh, this is a perfect opportunity for Republicans to take the offensive and return to an election-winning "law and order" strategy.
Like other Republican partisans still nostalgic for an idealized Ronald Reagan, Limbaugh is living in the past. (For the record, Reagan issued 406 pardons and commutations as president.) Although Limbaugh scoffs at the notion, criminal justice reform is, as Obama said Monday, a bipartisan issue.
Some of the Republicans who have worked to bring about sentencing reform are no one's moderates or RINOs — or "Republicans in Name Only." They include GOP presidential candidates Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. They also include, although not as consistently, Alabama's own Sen. Jeff Sessions, who supported the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which eliminated some of the disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine sentences. That disparity had, in turn, created a racial disparity. African American offenders received harsher sentences than their white counterparts because they were more likely than white offenders to be sentenced for crack cocaine rather than for the powder variety.
Sessions, however, opposes a current attempt in Congress to scale back use of mandatory minimum sentences.
Sentencing reform is a matter of justice. Sentences of 20 years to life in prison for nonviolent drug offenses are not just. But sentencing reform is also a matter of facing reality. America's prisons are overflowing with nonviolent offenders who often come out of the prison system turned into the hardened criminals they weren't before their incarceration. That has the potential of making us less safe, not more.
Faced with increasing costs and the threat of a federal takeover, even the Alabama Legislature has embraced sentencing reforms, although more still are needed.
The United States imprisons more of its citizens than does any other nation in the world, including China and Russia.
Either Americans are more prone to criminal behavior than are people in other parts of the world, or we imprison too many people.
As it's unlikely Americans are just natural criminals, reforming the nation's sentencing laws and commuting the sentences of prisoners sentenced under the old laws seems the way to go.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Iran deal:
The historic agreement between Iran and six nations led by the United States, announced by President Barack Obama early Tuesday morning, sets the stage for containing the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran for more than a decade.
That significant step — long a goal of the Obama administration — was the result of two years of ground-breaking negotiations, which concluded with 18 consecutive days of intense talks that included Secretary of State John Kerry.
The 109-page accord contains specific restraints on Tehran that include: reducing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent; phasing out its centrifuges, used to enrich uranium, by about two-thirds; and giving monitors extensive and regular access to nuclear sites for the next 25 years. Kerry said that, in some cases, access will be permanent.
Ultimately and more broadly, the goal is to bring Iran back into the international community and end decades of isolationism and antagonism with the United States and many of its neighbors in the Middle East. That's where the promise of lifting oil and financial sanctions comes in, international controls that have hurt Iran's economy and the nation of 80 million people.
World leaders including David Cameron of Britain, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Pope Francis praised the agreement, while Israeli and Republican leaders wasted no time in condemning it.
The ball actually will be in the court of Democrats. Once Congress has the accord in writing, it has 60 days to review it. Obama has promised to veto any measure that would scuttle the deal, so persuading his fellow Democrats to go along will be key in preventing an override. The response so far has been cautious.
Even a rejection by the United States, however, would not necessarily mean the entire agreement would be scrapped. China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom all are parties to it, so the Iranian market could be opened to their companies and investors even without the United States.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the accord, and the U.N. Security Council is expected to vote as early as next Tuesday on a resolution that spells out the steps toward lifting sanctions.
Is the agreement perfect? Certainly not, but it is far better than allowing Iran to fester in dangerous isolation.
Kansas City Star on payday loans:
A settlement with the Federal Trade Commission will bring a permanent end to dishonest online payday loan operations run by two Kansas City area businessmen.
The action, which must be approved by a federal judge, shines an ignominious spotlight on a cadre of local entrepreneurs who made quick fortunes by raiding the bank accounts of mostly low-income consumers.
Timothy A. Coppinger, Frampton T. Rowland III and a host of their companies agreed to pay settlements totaling $54 million. The money will be used to compensate their victims.
The charges brought against the two businessmen are truly shocking. The FTC alleged that Coppinger, Rowland and their enterprises obtained financial information about unsuspecting victims, deposited money into their bank accounts without permission, then withdrew payments and claimed they were collecting on loans.
But in many cases the consumers hadn't even authorized a loan. And those who had were docked for fraudulent finance charges and interest rates.
It's good that federal enforcement has shut down the operations and victims will obtain some compensation. But the allegations seem egregious enough to raise questions about whether criminal charges are warranted.
Last week's settlement follows a similar action in January, in which the FTC ordered Overland Park businessman Scott Tucker to pay $21 million as refunds to bilked customers. Tucker remains a defendant in other FTC litigation. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has actions pending against several other Kansas City area online payday lenders.
Thankfully, the enforcement seems to have dampened this area's appetite for online lending. Banks won't cooperate and the entrepreneurs are no longer envied for their ill-gotten fortunes.
Some local schools, churches and charities were too quick to accept generous donations without questioning how their newly rich benefactors had acquired their wealth. Those institutions should be examining their own consciences now.
The unfolding legal actions against the online lenders must also be noticed in Topeka, Jefferson City and Washington. Too many politicians from Missouri and Kansas are beholden to traditional and online payday lenders who have contributed to their campaigns.
They too are reluctant to question their benefactors, much less regulate them. But regulate they must. We need controls on the rampant sale of consumer financial information, and tight caps on interest rates charged by short-term lenders.
It is too easy for unscrupulous businesses to take advantage of people at a time of need.
New York Times on Pentagon moving to end transgender ban:
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has taken an important step toward repealing the Pentagon's ban on open service by transgender troops, a discriminatory policy that has cut short the careers of talented service members and forced thousands to serve in silence.
The Pentagon is making this move nearly four years after it began allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly. Critics had long warned that changing that policy would weaken the armed forces and hurt morale. In fact, it has strengthened the military, just as integrating openly transgender troops will expand the talent pool of those willing to serve.
Carter announced on Monday that he has asked a group of senior Pentagon officials, led by Brad Carson, the Defense Department's acting under secretary for personnel and readiness, to study the type of guidelines and regulations needed to carry out the new policy. Once that work is completed over the next six months, officials expect that transgender people will no longer be barred from joining the military.
"We must ensure that everyone who's able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so," Carter said in a statement. He instructed the team to "start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness." While the study is underway, it is highly unlikely that the Pentagon will discharge any service members for being transgender, because Carson's office will have to approve any expulsion.
The working group will cover routine paperwork questions, like name and gender changes on personnel records, as well as more substantial issues, including medical coverage for transgender troops who transition. Officials will need to figure out how to handle cases involving transgender service members who are in occupations that are open only to men.
None of this should be hard to carry out. Several of America's closest allies have seamlessly integrated openly transgender troops in their militaries. Any doubts about their ability to serve should have been put to rest by the exemplary records of those who have begun transitioning publicly in recent months. Their powerful stories commanded the attention of senior leaders at the Pentagon.
"For both the secretary and for Brad, the personal stories have been moving ones," a senior defense official said. "They have helped shape what is otherwise an abstract concept."
In recent months, several lawmakers have also begun to press the Pentagon to allow open transgender service. And so far, there has been no public opposition to integrating transgender troops.
"The brave men and women who serve in our military should not be excluded from the rights and freedoms that they risk their lives to protect," Representative Adam Smith, of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement on Monday. "It's that simple."
Carter is wise to end a policy that denigrates transgender Americans and damages national security by forcing out good troops the military needs.
"Young Americans today are more diverse, open and tolerant than past generations," Carter said last month. "And if we're going to attract the best and brightest among them to contribute to our mission of national defense, we have to ourselves be more open, diverse and tolerant, too."
Khaleej Times, Dubai, on Greece buying time:
Greece has a moment to cheer as Eurozone leaders have agreed to provide a new cushion to its cash-strapped economy. The third bailout of its kind would not have been possible had Athens not taken the referendum route, compelling lenders to funnel in more money to stop Athens from leaving the 28-member union.
The gamble paid off and now Greece has time to introduce reforms, as its economic wheel comes full circle. But the million-dollar question is why did the donors, primarily the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, take so long to strike a deal? A glance at the salient features of the agreement suggests that there is nothing new in it. Greece has been demanding 'bridge financing' to cover its short term needs, but European leaders did not listen to what Athens was saying all along.
The struggling country's assets will now be put in a $50 billion special fund to prop up banks, which were shut two weeks ago because of lack of liquidity. Oddly, the same delegates will sit in for few more marathon sessions to chalk out the terms and conditions of the bailout! What this new deal has assured Athens is that it will now have more time to pay back its vast debts - and there won't be any reduction in the amount to be repaid. The consolidated debt remains at $320 billion and Athens has agreed to a multi-billion dollar privatisation of its assets after effectively defaulting last month.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the author of the austerity doctrine, had some consolation when she remarked that Greece's debt cannot be written off even though PM Alexis Tsipras shrewdly negotiated the deal without giving away too many political concessions. He has bagged enough cash and bought some time to stay afloat, but Athens will have to keep its fingers crossed when it signs on the dotted line. The devil is always in the details.