Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Houston Chronicle on climate change:
As world governments prepare for a pivotal conference in Copenhagen next month to map future strategy to contain global warming, and the U.S. Congress debates legislation to reduce carbon emissions, evidence continues to accumulate that the threat is accelerating.
A new study by a team of British scientists indicates that man-made carbon emissions continue to increase despite the global recession. While emissions in the United States fell by 3 percent last year, they jumped 2 percent worldwide, most of the increase coming from China. The U.S. and China are the world's largest carbon emitters.
Equally ominous, the planet's oceans are steadily losing capacity to absorb the greenhouse gases that trap heat and fuel global warming.
The Global Carbon Project study concludes that unless emissions are substantially reduced, the result would be a rise in average global temperature by nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. That is on par with previous worst-case scenarios outlined by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Scientists have estimated that temperature spikes above 2 degrees could have disastrous consequences, including large rises in sea level, droughts and stronger storms.
One of the authors of the study, Professor Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia, says the conclusions raise the stakes for delegates to the Copenhagen gathering, who will try to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Accords that committed signatory governments to emission reduction goals. The United States did not sign on to that agreement.
In another indication that global warming is accelerating, record minimum sea ice in the Arctic was reported last month. The Catlin Arctic Survey estimates that based on the dwindling expanse and thickness of ice coverage, the Arctic Ocean will become ice free in summer within two decades.
The latest developments should raise the political heat in Washington to produce workable legislation to reduce carbon emissions while propelling the U.S. into a leadership role in crafting an international agreement to limit climate change.
On the Net: http://www.chron.com
The Blade, Toledo, Ohio, on Great Pacific Garbage Patch:
... Percolating in the Pacific Ocean, abut half way between California and Hawaii, is an aquatic landfill commonly called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch ... an accumulation of debris that is estimated to be as large as twice the size of Texas.
The trash comes from ocean-going vessels as well as nations bordering the Pacific Basin and is brought to this one location by converging ocean currents that then hold it captive. The plastic that makes up some 90 percent of the debris breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that float below the ocean's surface but do not biodegrade.
These tiny bits of plastic, which can absorb any number of toxic chemicals from ocean water, often are ingested by marine organisms that are themselves eaten by bigger fish that may be caught by commercial fishermen and eaten by American consumers as well as people from other countries. ...
Efforts are just beginning to figure out how to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as well as other, smaller patches elsewhere in the world's oceans, but getting nations to accept responsibility and pay to clean up trash that's far away and out of sight in international waters will be difficult ...
But pay they _ and we _ eventually must.
On the Net: http://tinyurl.com/yc7lhv3
Longmont (Colo.) Times-Call, on consequences of reducing federal withholding rates:
When the federal government was bailing out the banks, the auto industry and Wall Street, it also included a token item for most workers: a rollback in federal income tax withholding rates.
The intent was to put more money into the economy to forestall an even deeper economic collapse.
Many Americans are finding out now, however, that their stimulus comes with mighty large strings attached.
The government now estimates that 15.4 million taxpayers had their withholdings reduced by too much, meaning they will have to pay a higher tax bill come April 15. About 1.2 million could technically face a penalty, according to the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration.
The people most likely to be affected are those who have two jobs and couples in which both spouses work. Others include those who work but also collect Social Security benefits.
Of course, the Internal Revenue Service is downplaying the potential from this misstep. It said far fewer people could face a penalty for having too little withheld, and those who do get penalized should be able to get a waiver because of the problem. The agency also said most people will merely see a smaller tax refund rather than have to cough up the extra money.
Though that may be true, the underlying premise is that the government and its legions of tax accountants and tax lawyers did not foresee that about one in 10 taxpayers would be affected adversely by the withholding scheme.
The adage still proves correct: Beware a deal that seems too good to be true _ even when it comes from the federal government.
On the Net:
Courier-Post, Cherry Hill, N.J., on differing approaches to coping with piracy off the coast of Africa:
Spain's government undermined efforts to fight piracy last week by paying a $3.3 million ransom.
As long as Somali pirates know they will collect huge ransom payments, they will keep attacking ships.
After the Maersk Alabama was attacked in April, a hijacking that led to the dramatic rescue of Captain Richard Phillips by Navy SEAL snipers, crew members requested that the ship travel different routes or be repainted and/or renamed to avoid it being targeted again by Somali pirates. None of those things happened and, guess what, the ship was attacked again Wednesday. This time, however, private security guards aboard the ship prevented the pirates from getting on board. ...
The pirates attacked again despite the heavy military presence in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, despite knowing that attacking an American ship would be difficult. Why? Well, only the day before a $3.3 million ransom was delivered to pirates on a Spanish fishing vessel they had captured six weeks ago. The vessel had 36 crew members. The Spanish government paid the ransom.
Paying ransoms to pirates will only make the problem worse. The Spanish government acted foolishly in capitulating and, in the long run, put more sailors of all nationalities at risk.
If governments are going to spend money addressing the piracy problem, there are two ways to spend it: putting more Navy ships in pirate-infested waters and putting either military personnel or private security guards on all commercial vessels that travel the waters off the eastern coast of Africa.
Until the pirates of lawless Somalia come to understand that they will get a fierce fight every time they attempt to take a vessel, rather than a bag full of money, they will continue to violently attack ships. It's amazing that there are governments that don't understand this.
On the Net:
Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on charging juveniles as adults:
Florida is ground zero for a question that the U.S. Supreme Court is pondering: Is it constitutional for judges to send children to prison for the rest of their lives for crimes other than murder?
The case before the high court demonstrates how far out of the legal mainstream Florida is on this issue.
Nationally, just 109 prisoners are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes _ short of homicide _ that they committed as minors. But 77 of them, more than two out of three, are in Florida. No other state comes close _ California has four. ...
In Florida's brief to the high court defending the state's juvenile sentencing law, it argued that it has the right to imprison for life criminals who are deemed permanent threats to society. Granted.
But when the criminal is a child, it's not realistic for a judge to conclude that the growing, changing individual standing before the bench at sentencing can never be rehabilitated.
It would make far more sense to allow a parole board sometime in the future to decide whether a child convicted of a serious crime has been rehabilitated enough to get a shot at being a productive taxpaying member of society, rather than a tax-draining prisoner. ...
Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, Florida shouldn't have to be told that its practice of forever locking away minors who don't commit murder is as unreasonable as it is unusual.
Bottom line: Court should reject locking up children for life for crimes other than murder.
On the Net:
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on wrong numbers on stimulus:
Giving citizens information on how federal stimulus money is being spent is a good idea, but only if the information itself is accurate, and therein lies the problem with the Web site Recovery.gov.
President Barack Obama promised to create the site "so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent." But the Web site depends on self-reporting by recipients of money from that $787 billion stimulus package. Apparently, some of the people filling out the forms don't have a clue what their congressional district is. And instead of finding out, they've simply picked a number out of the air and put it on their report.
That's why the site reports that $5 million has gone to Louisiana's 8th Congressional District and $2.8 million to the 22nd Congressional District, even though Louisiana only has seven districts. The Web site mentions amounts that went to the 12th, 14th, 26th, 32nd and, most puzzling of all, the 00 district.
The problem isn't limited to Louisiana. Other states have phantom districts on the site, too. ...
But this self-reporting approach seems like a recipe for bad information, and fixing something with so many reports will be a challenge.
If the congressional district number is wrong, other information could be wrong, too. Without better quality control, the Web site is an embarrassment for the administration that doesn't result in a better informed public and doesn't inspire confidence in government.
On the Net: http://www.nolalive.com
Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel on lobbyists and campaign finances ethics issues:
Money talks, as the saying goes, and it is speaking with considerable authority in Tennessee politics.
This was supposed to have changed following the Tennessee Waltz scandal a few years ago when five sitting or former legislators were indicted on charges of bribery and extortion.
In the aftermath, new regulations were imposed on lobbyists and campaign finances, and the Tennessee Ethics Commission was established to enforce the new rules. That was then.
Now candidates are raising as much money as ever, and lobbyists remain a part of the election process. Loopholes in state law are merely opportunities by another name. ...
Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, for example, has raised $4.8 million in his campaign, and the gubernatorial primary is nine months away.
While lobbyists are prohibited from donating directly to a politician's campaign, they are not barred from donating to a politician's political action committee. They also have been able for a long time to establish their own PACs and then donate to candidates. ...
In addition to PACs being a relatively safe haven for lobbyists, they also have fewer restrictions for individual donations. Individuals can donate no more than $2,000 to a legislator's re-election account in a primary and general election combined, but they can give up to $66,100 to a PAC set up by a lawmaker.
In a similar vein, a legislator's PAC can give $15,000 to a Senate and gubernatorial candidate and $10,000 to a House candidate. ...
What the public should demand is timely and thorough disclosure _ where the money is coming from and to whom is it going. Disclosure will come more often during 2010, and it will need to be followed, not merely by the media but by all who seek to make an informed vote in the August primary and the November general election.
On the Net:
The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, on 9/11 terrorist's American-soil trials:
The five terrorists that will be put on trial in an American courtroom plan to use the event to spread their virulent views, one of their attorneys admits.
We love that the attorney is being so open and honest about it. But as courtroom blockbuster surprises go, this is hardly one of them. The terrorists' plot to use the unwarranted mouthpiece of an American courtroom to spread their bile is so patently obvious that you have to ask: Is it just what the Obama administration wants?
Does the Obama administration have that dim a view of America and how it has protected itself against Islamic terrorists that it wants to give five of them a soapbox? Do they hate the Bush-Cheney team so much that they're willing to use terror trials and terrorists to indict the former administration in a public courtroom?
Otherwise, what could possibly be the point of trying enemy combatants in a civilian courtroom? The administration even admits that acquittals won't set the suspected terrorists free.
Again, what is the point? ...
It's as if the president of the United States and his attorney general, Eric Holder, were sympathetic to the terrorists' cause and want to give them a pulpit from which to attack America.
On the Net:
London Evening Standard on Bank of England secret lending:
The Government is trying to make us eat less meat. A report in the Lancet today, based on a study partly funded by the Department of Health, recommends that the number of animals bred for meat should be reduced by 30 per cent. The Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, backs the report, on public health and environmental grounds.
But is it really that simple? Granted, ruminants, specifically cattle, emit methane. But the effect of meat on the environment depends to a great extent on where and how it is produced and how far it is transported.
Beef produced in South America on cattle ranches for which forests have been cleared, which is then transported to Europe, is environmentally damaging in several respects.
But British beef, if produced in an environmentally sensitive manner and transported as short a distance as possible, is less problematic.
It would help if meat, in supermarkets and in catering, were clearly labelled to show its country of origin. Farmers are custodians of the environment. And, according to the National Farmers Union, their carbon emissions account for only one per cent of the UK total.
By all means, let ministers encourage us to adopt a varied diet _ though fish is scarce. But a blanket target to reduce the number of animals bred for meat is crude.
There are other means of reducing carbon emissions: today the Forestry Commission recommends that another four per cent of our land mass should be used to plant trees. That is an initiative we can all support.
On the Net:
The Japan Times, Tokyo, on world hunger:
According to the United Nations, more than 1 billion people _ one of every six persons on this planet _ go hungry each day. In a world of unprecedented prosperity, that statistic is shameful. More appalling still, the number of undernourished individuals is growing despite rising levels of affluence and wealth. It is a moral imperative that we halt this alarming trend and work to eliminate the growing problem of hunger worldwide.
If morality is not sufficient motivation, then more hard-nosed practical considerations should suffice: Hunger undermines growth, creates instability and ultimately threatens the legitimacy of an international order that condemns one-sixth of its members to a daily struggle to survive. ...
The dangers are not just to individuals alone. Hunger breeds unrest. The price of wheat, which supplies about 20 percent of food calories consumed worldwide, doubled in 15 months during 2007 and 2008. A surge in food prices last year triggered riots in more than a dozen countries; one government (that of Haiti) was forced to resign as a result.
Fears of shortages and instability have prompted governments to stockpile key staples, creating bottlenecks and exacerbating the situation in other states: In a globalized food chain, local decisions quickly ripple beyond national borders. ...
The most important step forward is creating new markets for the goods of poor and struggling nations. In other words, it is vital to return to the original purpose of the Doha Development Round _ to help developing countries _ and conclude a world trade agreement.
Developed nations, Japan prime among them, must recognize that opening domestic agricultural markets is in their own best interest _ even if that entails a short-term political cost in the process. That is the sort of change that the new government in Tokyo should embrace _ and will demonstrate the sort of leadership that Japan should be offering the world.
On the Net:
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's new rhetoric:
President Dmitry Medvedev's criticism of the governing United Russia party's heavy-handedness at its annual convention on Saturday suggests that intraparty infighting has replaced interparty democratic competition, but raises some hope that Mr. Medvedev is asserting his independence from Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister and former president.
On Monday, he followed up this sign of comparative liberalism by submitting to the Russian parliament a new statute to support non-governmental organizations. On the other hand, he upheld his own tsar-like power _ established in 2004 by Mr. Putin when he was president - to appoint the governors of Russia's 89 regions, and replaced four of them.
Mr. Medvedev began his convention speech by praising Russia's handling of the economic crisis, yet went on to say that the country has "a backward, commodity-based economy, which is in the modern sense of the word can hardly be called an economy."
Turning to politics, he observed that "being the ruling party ... is not a lifelong privilege." Mr. Medvedev came close to acknowledging a one-party dominance _ somewhat reminiscent of the much more oppressive Communist Party of the Soviet Union _ by pointing out that "practically all government elite are in your ranks," a status that, in his view, imposes special responsibilities. ...
Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev appear to continue to be on good terms, but the divergence of their rhetoric raises the prospect that Russian politics will come to be largely about two factions within the governing party, something like the rivalry of the Chretien and Martin factions at a time when the Liberals seemed to many to be likely to stay in power for a long time, though Canada is of course far more democratic than Russia.
The current duet of the Prime Minister and the President is odd, but Mr. Medvedev's direct criticism of the governing party awakes some hope that Russia will start to move away from Mr. Putin's authoritarianism.
On the Net: http://tinyurl.com/ycvve3x
International Herald-Tribune, Paris, on the European Union's new leaders:
The initial reaction across much of Europe to the selection of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the new top positions in the European Union was, basically, Who? Their relative anonymity, as well as the almost routine manner of their selection, were especially striking after years of heated debate over whether the E.U. should have a strong president and foreign minister. The battle included bitter referendums, disputes and leaks _ many of the most recent swirling around Britain's Tony Blair as the sort of charismatic leader who could raise the E.U.'s profile in international affairs. In the end, the E.U. did what it always does _ it took the safe, non-threatening route. Which, apart from being inevitable, is not bad.
Mr. Van Rompuy, who will fill the new office of president of the European Council, is a center-right, Haiku-writing politician who has been prime minister of Belgium for less than a year and is little known outside his country. Mrs. Ashton, formally Baroness Ashton of Upholland, who becomes the first high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, is a Labour politician from Britain who has served as European commissioner for trade for the past year and is little known even in her own country. ...
Leading the E.U. is basically a process of consensus-building, and here both Mr. Van Rompuy and Mrs. Ashton have fairly solid credentials. A veteran of Belgian Christian Democratic politics, the low-key, ascetic Mr. Van Rompuy was tapped by Belgium's King Albert II last December to heal a serious rift between the Flemish and French-speakers. To a great extent he did (leading to no small anxiety in Belgium over what will happen when he moves on next month).
Mrs. Ashton, for her part, was credited with steering the Lisbon Treaty, intended to streamline and strengthen the E.U., through a hostile British House of Lords, and she has won considerable respect in her current E.U. trade job.
These achievements, of course, do not amount to a wealth of experience on the world stage, and the debate over how strong the E.U.'s leadership should be will rage on. But that debate is really over how much power its members are willing to cede to Brussels. So far they've preferred to remain a relatively loose coalition, and that requires leaders more adept at coordinating and cajoling than at summiteering. Mr. Van Rompuy and Mrs. Ashton seem to fit the bill, and we wish them well.
On the Net: http://tinyurl.com/ycslx9l