Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Vindicator, Youngstown, Ohio, on Congo human-rights problems:
A year after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the central African nation of Congo and pledged $17 million to fight the epidemic of sexual violence, innocent women, girls and even boys are still being raped at will _ and in shockingly large numbers.
But what is most disturbing about the situation is that the United Nations has had a peacekeeping force in the country for 10 years ....
A U.N. report was released this week documenting the atrocities committed between 1993 and 2003. More than 5 million people died.
The report singles out the military of neighboring Rwanda for war crimes and genocide. ... Against that background, the epidemic of sexual violence, which was illustrated by the mass rapes that took place over a four-day period this summer, demands an aggressive response from the United Nations. ...
But as the New York Times revealed this week, the gang-raping of at least 200 women in the village of Luvungi took place while dozens of peacekeepers were based just up the road. ...
The international community cannot remain silent any longer. The Unites States ... has a responsibility to lead the way in protecting the civilian population in Congo.
Human decency demands no less.
The Oregonian, Portland, Ore., on food stamp soda embargoes:
No, no, no. Telling adults that they can't use food stamps to purchase a soda?
It's a terrible idea.
To be sure, New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, deserves credit for attacking the obesity crisis straight-on. More mayors, governors and CEOs should be zeroing in on this problem, too, because it threatens to take a huge toll in pain, suffering and health care costs.
In New York City, close to 40 percent of public school children now are fat. Among Hispanic children, it's 46 percent. An estimated 57 percent of New York City adults are overweight, too. The status quo is plainly unacceptable.
But Bloomberg's recent proposal to ban food stamp users from buying sodas is an overreach. It would peer over the shoulder and meddle _ punitively _ in the grocery carts of struggling Americans. ...
Forbidding adults to buy sodas with food stamps implies that they're incapable of selecting a soda every once in a while. Such a ban would be fundamentally unfair and prejudicial.
That's what the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded in 2004, when it refused to allow an even more punitive food stamp experiment to unfold in Minnesota _ one that would have banned their use on junk food. ...
The way to get at the obesity epidemic is not to try to block poorer adults from drinking beverages richer adults still enjoy. The best way is to expand fresh food choices and provide more incentives for food stamp recipients to eat well and wisely. ...
As for the soda smackdown, though, that deserves to fizzle out _ cold.
Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner on U.S. energy policy:
It's difficult not to be charmed by the homespun pitch from Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens. He has been marketing his "Pickens' Plan" to wean the United States off foreign oil for some time now, and he presented his case to editorial writers at a conference in Dallas.
His message isn't "Drill, Baby, Drill" but "Try everything; do everything." He's partial to natural gas, which would pad his already substantial bottom line, but he also touts the development of renewable energy including nuclear, solar, wind, biomass and anything else that may arrive on the horizon. And oil, as long as it's "friendly" oil.
What the nation needs, Pickens says in his familiar Texas drawl, is an energy policy.
What passes for energy policy now is a hodgepodge of competing plans that pit renewable-energy advocates against the petroleum kings and their financiers, with few seeking middle ground. ...
Florida will be a key player in the push to identify energy sources to sustain us in the future. The state has an abundance of sunshine, and Gov. Charlie Crist has been pressing for better use of solar equipment. ...
Each energy source has its drawbacks _ wind and solar power can't yet be produced inexpensively enough to compete with "cheap" oil and coal; nuclear plants take years to permit and build. Much of the natural gas Pickens would like to unleash is in offshore deposits.
For years to come, oil, coal and natural gas will play a role in our economy. But we shouldn't hitch our 21st-century horseless carriage to fossil fuels by refusing to explore the potential for cleaner, renewable energy.
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on Obama's teleprompter dependence:
Few presidents have been as confident, relaxed and articulate on the podium as Barack Obama, which makes it an enduring mystery why he's so dependent on teleprompters.
Obama has proven that he's a soaring orator. But his oratory is often marred by two mechanical assistants placed to the left and right of the speaker's lectern.
He used two teleprompters to give a five-minute speech to a room of sixth-graders in the Washington suburbs. He uses teleprompters at his (news) conferences even though the Q-and-A portion is unscripted.
When a teleprompter fell over with a crash during a Joe Biden speech at the Air Force Academy, the vice president feigned alarm at having to go back to Washington and tell the president he'd broken it.
Still, the notion persists that the teleprompters with the president rhythmically looking left and then right reinforce the perception of Obama as too cool, too distant. The latest such criticism came from an unusual source, former Vice President Walter Mondale, who said Obama's reliance on "idiot boards" kept him from connecting with his audience.
When even an 82-year-old senior statesman in the president's own party is saying ditch the "idiot boards," maybe it's time to put them in storage for eventual display at the Obama presidential library.
Canon City (Colo.) Daily Record on proposed wiretap surveillance Internet regulations:
The Obama administration is proposing new regulations for the Internet to make it easier to conduct wiretap surveillance of suspects.
As terrorists and criminals increasingly put down their phones and turn to their keyboards to chat, federal law enforcement officials say changing technology is hindering their ability to monitor suspect communications. They want to require communication companies to have the technological ability to provide them with wiretap access and unencrypted versions of the communications.
Critics labeled the proposal as a sweeping new mandate that would be costly to communications companies and might even establish back doors that could be exploited by the wrong people.
The FBI's general counsel, Valerie E. Caproni, however, framed it simply as a way for law enforcement to keep up with evolving technology. "We're talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority," she was quoted as saying.
In that light, the proposal is reasonable and necessary.
The problem is that it follows years of abuses of the expanded authority granted federal law enforcement officials after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and passage of the Patriot Act.
In 2007 it was revealed that the FBI violated the law or government policies possibly 3,000 times in conducting searches of records. Earlier this year we learned the FBI violated legal procedures in collecting call records in more than 3,500 cases. ...
All this makes us wary when federal officials ask for broad new abilities to conduct surveillance. ...
Whatever the final form of the administration's proposal, there must be safeguards against such abuse.
The Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y., on the Rutgers University student suicide:
On Sept. 22, Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey, climbed onto the deck of the George Washington Bridge and jumped to his death into the Hudson River. Days earlier, he had been secretly taped having a sexual encounter with a man that was broadcast online. Two Rutgers students, including Clementi's roommate, have been charged with invading his privacy.
The case is most tragic. And it serves to reinforce efforts to teach tolerance at all levels, because it really can make a difference between life and death.
Our own region experienced the shamefulness of intolerance last year after a 14-year-old openly gay teenager from Mohawk filed a lawsuit against the school district, but an agreement was reached in late March. And last month, Gov. David Paterson signed the Dignity for All Students Act, which ensures that school administrators and educators have the tools and resources in place to afford all students an educational environment in which they can thrive.
It's unfortunate that we need laws for such things, but even they can go just so far. What we really must do is work to change the hateful mindset that cultivates such senseless human tragedy. ...
Tyler Clementi left a message on his Facebook page that read: "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry."
We all should be sorry.
San Francisco Chronicle on stem cell therapy clinical trials:
The world's first clinical trial for stem cell therapy began Oct. 11. The trial is still in its very early stages _ only 10 people who have suffered recent spinal cord injuries will be enrolled _ but it's still a landmark event.
The world will be watching the results of those trials at as many as seven centers around the country.
In at least one sense, the trial is already a victory. The political controversy around stem cells resulted in funding delays for scientific research, and many scientists were afraid that other countries would beat the U.S. to the trial stage.
Instead, a local company _ Geron Corp. of Menlo Park _ is running the trial, with American patients and within American borders. It's an encouraging sign, and it means there's a good chance that the industry will continue to grow here. It's also a rebuke to those who would happily block science _ including the federal judge who ruled in September that federal funding for stem cell research was illegal.
The trial is also a positive breakthrough in that it shows that the promise of stem cells is indeed within our reach. We don't know yet whether the trial will be successful, but at least we know that all of the money that's been invested so far into basic research will soon have positive manifestations. ...
The Journal Star, Lincoln, Neb., on federal transportation funding:
One of the important federal responsibilities being ignored by dysfunctional Washington politicians is the need to develop new funding sources for roads and other transportation needs.
The warning sounded recently by a bipartisan group of transportation experts deserves to be repeated.
The country is spending so little on transportation infrastructure _ roads, bridges, mass transit _ that the "social and economic foundations for American prosperity" are eroding, the report noted.
Most other countries are not being as shortsighted. ...
The warning came from a three-day gathering of transportation experts co-chaired by former Transportation Secretaries Norman Mineta and Samuel Skinner.
A root cause of the funding problem is that the per-gallon gas tax no longer is viable as the solution for transportation funding. Improvements in mileage mean that more vehicles are traveling more miles on U.S. highways and streets without a corresponding increase in revenue for transportation projects.
And the public strongly opposes an increase in the gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993. ...
The most promising idea to boost funding is to charge motorists by the mile. ...
But Congress is in such a deadlocked mess that no one is devoting much time to exploring the per-mile option. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is moving ahead _ literally.
The Montreal Gazette on Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo:
The Nobel Peace Prize's excellent decision to give this year's award to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has already had an electrifying effect.
China has reacted with outraged fury but the rest of the world, normally so mesmerized by China's enormous economic clout, has snapped briefly to order. The government of Canada, like many others around the world, quickly praised the award.
The international community has for too long been too complacent about the human costs of China's authoritarian regime and its disdain for basic rights supposedly guaranteed by the country's constitution. We have all been sharply reminded that there are higher values than cheap manufacturing capacity.
Blustering, the Chinese foreign ministry called the award a "desecration" and an "obscenity," and suggested that it will "harm" Norwegian-Chinese relations. This is the true face of China's government: bullying, intolerant, obdurate in the face of criticism. The Nobel committee, whose courageous choice does much to atone for its absurd decision last year to award the prize to newly elected U.S. President Barack Obama, obviously hopes that the award to Liu will chip away at Beijing's inflexibility.
An essayist, critic and pro-democracy activist, Liu is his country's most famous dissident, at least outside the country. Inside China, where the Internet, phone system, and other means of communication are tightly monitored, it is not thought that many people know anything about Liu or his work. But some things can't be kept secret. Word of mouth will slowly but certainly spread this news across China. ...
This year the Peace Prize committee was careful to praise China for lifting millions of its citizens from poverty. Fair enough. But it also rightly reminded the regime that economic success does not replace responsibility to uphold human rights. ...
Arab News, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on the Afghanistan government's talks with the Taliban:
Confirmation from Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai that his government has been having "unofficial" contacts with the Taliban is encouraging. Dialogue with the Taliban has to happen. Without it, the country has no chance of peace. Despite the presence of 150,000 foreign troops in the country, this has been its bloodiest year since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. The insurgency is growing in strength _ and as it grows, the determination of NATO countries to keep their forces in Afghanistan ebbs.
The reason the last Dutch government collapsed was because one of the main partners, the Labor party, wanted Dutch troops withdrawn and recently the Italian foreign minister indicated that his country planned to withdraw its forces. In the U.S., too, public support for the American military presence is waning. Withdrawal will not happen tomorrow but the writing is on the wall _ and Karzai knows it. He knows too that although the ill-equipped and disunited Taliban forces are unlikely ever to be in a position to defeat the Afghan Army, it is not winning either. What is happening is a bloody stalemate. The country sinks deeper and deeper into a security quagmire.
Karzai in fact called for talks with the Taliban before. His decision to appoint a 68-member strong High Peace Council with powers to negotiate with elements of the Taliban indicates that he is serious about bringing them into the fold. ...
Karzai's hope is to neutralize sufficient numbers of insurgents by offering them jobs and money _ in short, bribing them. Doubtless there will be those in the West who are horrified at such an idea. But it is a lot better (and ultimately cheaper) than the present notion that opposition to the Karzai government can be crushed militarily. ...
The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on international currencies:
Concerns are growing that intensifying competition among countries to weaken their currencies could lead to a global economic catastrophe.
To prevent this nightmare from becoming reality, it is most important for China and other key emerging countries to join international efforts pledged recently by the finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of Seven richest nations.
In their talks in Washington, the top G-7 economic policymakers confirmed that they will work together to tackle the threat of a disastrous global devaluation race to ensure stability of the world economy.
The leading industrial nations agreed to press China and other emerging countries with trade surpluses, which are a major part of the problem, to ease their rigid currency control.
Serious debate on this challenge that also involves emerging countries should take place during the meeting of leaders from the Group of 20 major economies scheduled for November in Seoul.
We hope the G-20 meeting will start international efforts to work out a multilateral plan not only to respond to the foreign exchange issue but also to correct imbalances and prevent friction among countries.
The current situation, which has sparked talk of a "currency war," stems from a combination of China's inflexible policy of controlling the exchange rate of the renminbi and the headlong rush among industrial nations into drastic monetary easing. ...
The solution should be found under a multilateral framework, with China promising to allow the renminbi to rise steadily as part of efforts to correct global imbalances and then taking actions to match its words.
International talks are under way to give China the status of a major country in the International Monetary Fund. But China needs to understand that a major economic power is obliged to contribute to maintaining the international economic order. ...
The Telegraph, London, on the UN Security Council:
The future global economic order hit the United Nations with full force on Oct. 12 as the new members of the Security Council were announced. India and South Africa _ emerging and potentially powerful representatives of Asia and Africa in the 21st century _ will join Germany and Brazil among the council's impermanent members. They are to sit alongside the permanent and veto-wielding U.K., U.S., France, China and Russia.
It is an important moment for the world's newest economic powers, the first time that they have all been fully represented in a global institution that was created in the aftermath of the World War II. India has not sat on the council since 1992, and will no doubt take advantage of the opportunity to push hard for reform and a permanent seat.
The council has multiple failings and the UN is frequently inept and inefficient. It is entirely possible that expansion could make the council even more sclerotic. The UN is supposed to be sorting out Haiti, yet the disaster zone is still a disaster. The UN is meant to be bringing peace to Sudan, but there are warnings of a fresh civil war. The council imposed fresh sanctions on Iran, but they were weakened by the need to accommodate Russia and China.
Still, the infusion of new blood at the Security Council could be an opportunity to improve its effectiveness. The UN is hardly perfect, but it is what we have, and its members tend rightly to take its standing and pronouncements seriously. The emerging economies often point to the unfairness of a world still run from structures created more than 60 years ago, and claim the ineffectual council is a reflection of its composition. Now they have an opportunity to demonstrate that they can make the body more relevant to the modern age.