Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Seattle Times on NBA player Jason Collins admitting to being gay:
The May 6 edition of Sports Illustrated should make the Boy Scouts of America board meeting a little easier.
NBA center Jason Collins’ declaration of his sexual orientation, and what will be his fleeting status as the only openly gay male athlete in pro sports, is a powerful testament that times have changed.
Collins is not flaunting his sexuality, he is making a statement that ought to be irrelevant but for now is a necessary step to get beyond, for himself and others.
No one paid much attention, but this month the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association joined forces with You Can Play, an organization dedicated to confronting homophobia in sports.
NHL owners and players support an inclusive sport that is open and comfortable for all. They made commitments to educate players, fans and the viewing public.
Time for the National Football League to stress inclusion of all players, regardless of sexual orientation.
Collins, a veteran NBA player, became uncomfortable not being forthright about who he is. Others will follow his bold example to discover, more and more, no one cares.
The Boy Scouts need to get the message. The organization mumbled a silly hint it might lift its ban on gay boys but exclude gay adult leaders.
Scouting is about families, and that means straight parents and gay children, and children with gay parents. Feeble attempts to draw lines will destroy efforts to nurture membership, involvement and support.
The Scouts need to get the big picture about society and face the practical consequences of dated, exclusionary policies.
The Sacramento Bee reports a California lawmaker is working to repeal the state tax-exempt status for any youth organization that discriminates based on gender identity, sexual orientation or religious affiliation.
The Boy Scouts should be guided by the imperative of a good deed. Change the rules, invite all families and flourish.
Los Angeles Times on erasing the stain of Guantanamo:
At his news conference Tuesday, President Obama made a powerful plea for ending the humanitarian and diplomatic disaster created by the continued detention of more than 160 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, more than 100 of whom are engaged in a hunger strike that necessitated the dispatch of an emergency medical team. The problem is that Obama has contributed to the crisis by acquiescing in congressional obstruction of his promise to close the facility. …
It has been more than four years since the newly inaugurated president issued an executive order promising “promptly to close detention facilities at Guantanamo.” Yet the prison remains open (though its population has dwindled from a high of nearly 800 inmates in 2005). Of those remaining, about half have been cleared for release but continue to be detained because of congressional opposition to their repatriation to Yemen and other countries whose authorities might not be able to prevent them from engaging in terrorism. Congress also has used its authority to prevent Obama from transferring detainees to the U.S. mainland, a factor in the decision to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military commission rather than in civilian courts.
But Congress isn’t entirely to blame. …
Before Obama’s news conference, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) had urged the administration to renew its efforts to transfer from Guantanamo the 86 inmates cleared for release three years ago by an interagency task force. Obama should do so, ideally with congressional cooperation but unilaterally if necessary.
Guantanamo is a stain on this nation’s reputation, not because of where it is located but because the men held captive there are languishing in a legal limbo that would be just as hopeless if they were transplanted to American soil. Notwithstanding Obama’s comments about the un-American nature of indefinite detention, more than 40 inmates are being held without the prospect of even a military trial. As he “re-engages” with Congress, Obama should also reconsider his own decision to deny those detainees their day in court.
The Albany Herald on President Obama’s ‘red line’ blurred in Syria:
Did they or didn’t they?
No one seems to know with certainty.
The White House said Thursday that U.S. intelligence officials believe that Syria likely has used chemical weapons on a small scale, in particular the deadly chemical sarin.
Sarin is a chemical whose production and stockpiling has been outlawed for 20 years. …
It is a horrible weapon, one that no government of conscience would use, particularly against its own people.
President Barack Obama has said that use of chemical warfare against opposition forces by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would be crossing a “red line,” ostensibly one that would result in America stepping up its involvement in the Syrian civil war.
The statement by the White House caught many by surprise, since administration officials such as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had downplayed Israel’s contentions that chemical agents had been used by Assad’s regime. Indications are that the Israeli intelligence was based on photographic evidence that was consistent with the effects of chemical poisoning. Britain and France also have concluded that Syria is using chemicals against the opposition.
If Sarin has been used, it has been limited. Intelligence officials have noted a lack of mass casualties that might be expected from use of chemical weapons.
The announcement was enough for some, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to call for U.S. action, but the line that was crossed wasn’t red enough for the administration, which says U.S. intelligence has “varying degrees of confidence” that sarin is being used.
The United States certainly doesn’t want to make a misstep here, but neither can we turn our back on our allies. If the line is blurry now, it will sharpen. Obama has clearly stated that use of chemical weapons in Syria is a game-changer, and there is no way to back away from that commitment.
The Daily Reflector, Greenville, N.C., on rushing immigration bill:
The 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the centerpiece provision of Arizona’s radical immigration law essentially gave a green light for other states to adopt similar hard-line measures. Given the N.C. General Assembly’s penchant for extremist legislation this session, it was only a matter of time before the Republican majority moved in that direction.
While the legislation might curry favor with the conservative base and the nativist tea party contingent, Arizona lawmakers will attest to a far colder reception among business leaders, who correctly predicted that significant financial losses would follow passage. North Carolina’s economy hardly needs additional obstacles to success and, in addition to its moral flaws, this immigration bill would represent an insurmountable one.
The House Judiciary Committee this month held its first hearing on the so-called “RECLAIM N.C.” act that would dramatically alter the state’s immigration policies. …
The financial effects are impossible to precisely calculate, but are enormous. A January story in the Arizona Republic reported booking down 30 percent for the Phoenix Convention Center, with the law often cited for groups heading elsewhere. Forbes magazine traced lower consumer spending and a decrease in business investment to the anti-immigrant legislation. And agriculture stands to lose billions if the measures proliferate.
Federal lawmakers are now working on a reform package that U.S. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, believes could win 70 votes in the Senate. Such bipartisan agreement is nearly unbelievable in today’s Washington but would put pressure on the House to give the measure serious consideration as well.
Instead of acting prematurely, North Carolina would be better served to allow that process to play out. There is no harm in seeing what Congress might deliver first. Not only would it save legal immigrant residents from enduring the treatment criticized in Arizona, it could spare businesses, farmers and the state from losing millions as a result of its recklessness.
Chicago Tribune on getting rid of tariffs on trans-Atlantic trade:
Within a few months, the U.S. and European Union will formally launch free-trade talks. Now is the time to think big.
After years of neglect, this trade relationship is ripe for improvement. Europe is suffering through a prolonged economic downturn and America needs all the growth it can get. Liberalizing trade is a sure way to give business a boost. Both sides have strong incentives to make progress. It can’t happen soon enough.
As a matter of principle, there should be no barriers to imports and exports between the U.S. and Europe. …
Europeans remain wary of America’s genetically modified food, for instance. Americans have different standards for approving prescription drugs. Rules for headlights, seat belts and other auto parts need to be harmonized. The negotiations are liable to get complicated.
Not every trade issue is so terribly difficult, however. Here’s a simple idea that would make a big difference: Get rid of the system of tariffs and duties that needlessly obstruct trade across the Atlantic.
There is no reason why the U.S. and Europe should impose these taxes on goods just because they happen to cross the ocean. What a coup it would be to jump-start trade talks by saying: No more!
No more tariffs and duties on the vast majority of goods being traded. Zero ‘em out.
America did just that with Canada and Mexico in the North American Free Trade Agreement. …
For industries such as chemicals, machinery and cars, which pay the most in tariffs and duties, a zero deal would make a big difference. It would encourage more economic activity and import competition. It also would introduce important efficiencies: About one-third of trans-Atlantic trade is between branches of the same firm — a company shipping stuff from one of its locations to another.
A free-trade agreement between the U.S. and Europe should start with eliminating tariffs and duties, but it should not stop there. The tough work of tearing down regulatory barriers and harmonizing standards has the potential for an even greater payoff. For too long, and for no good reason, free trade has eluded the U.S. and Europe. Let’s make a deal.
New York Times on the CIA spending in Afghanistan:
The news that the Central Intelligence Agency has been spending lavishly in Afghanistan should come as no surprise. The agency went to work in the country right after Sept. 11, 2001, and has played a dominant covert role hunting down al-Qaida and the Taliban ever since, while the Pentagon and other agencies have pursued more transparent military and development operations costing many billions of dollars.
Even so, details of the agency’s involvement recently reported by Matthew Rosenberg in The Times are eye-popping and infuriating. For more than a decade, the agency — using suitcases, backpacks, even plastic bags — has made monthly cash payments to the offices of President Hamid Karzai amounting to tens of millions of dollars. One Karzai aide called it “ghost money” because “it came in secret, and it left in secret,” although now that it has been reported publicly, Karzai has owned up to it.
While it is not unusual for intelligence agencies to pay money for information or other assistance, the scale and brazenness of the operation are indefensible. …
There are many reasons to be outraged. Not the least of these is that the payments helped fuel corruption just when other agencies, including the White House and State Department, were pressing the Afghans to crack down on corruption and prosecute those responsible. American leaders have argued again and again that Afghanistan’s success, and America’s success in Afghanistan, including its ability to withdraw troops by the end of 2014, depended on a government in Kabul that could win the hearts and minds of its people and competently deliver services. …
The United States and other donors have warned the Afghans that continued international assistance — which the country is expected to need for years to come — will be conditioned on concrete steps to curb corruption. Now that the CIA payments have been exposed, it will be harder to make that argument.
Congress should publicly call the CIA to account. Especially at a time of economic hardship at home, what possible justification is there for continuing to spend millions of dollars in ways that are at such cross-purposes with American principles and interests?
The Kansas City Star on the high costs of cheap clothing:
Poorly paid Third-World workers are dying — literally — to produce low-cost clothing that’s sold at leading retailers around the United States and the world.
Last Wednesday morning, more than 3,000 people were inside Rana Plaza when some workers saw cracks in the building. But its owner — who is politically well connected — claimed: “There is nothing serious. It will stand for a hundred years.” Instead, it soon fell down; police caught the owner Sunday as he tried to flee to India.
Unfortunately, owners of many overseas garment factories are more interested in squeezing extra money out of their operations and less inclined to take worker protection seriously. So the profitable Western retailers that buy all of this low-cost clothing must more aggressively promote employee safety.
The companies should conduct more on-site visits to these factories. They ought to insist on higher levels of worker protection and wages for employees. Retailers should reject buying from factory owners who don’t meet stricter safety standards.
Many Bangladesh citizens are outraged by last week’s disaster. Rightly so, they expect their government officials to insist on more humane working conditions.
The concerns of these citizens and garment industry workers must be taken seriously, not just in Bangladesh but in corporate boardrooms around the globe.
The Star, Toronto, on Jason Collins blazing trail:
It was only a matter of time before someone did it. And the first gay athlete to come out, who is active in a major North American pro team sport, is hardly a household name. But none of that diminishes the impact of Jason Collins’ blunt announcement: “I am a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
It’s certain he’s not the only one. Thanks to Collins, it will be easier for the next National Basketball Association player, hockey star, baseball idol or football hero to tell the public he is gay. And as the pro sports locker room — one of the last bastions of traditional macho attitudes — becomes more welcoming, fans and players at every level and of all ages will be encouraged to tell the truth about who they are.
That’s the real significance of Collins’ revelation in Sports Illustrated this week. He writes that he didn’t set out to be a trailblazer. “If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
That took courage. There’s a reason that, over decades of active professional play by thousands of North American athletes in the big four sports, not one stepped forward to declare he’s gay. None was willing to risk a backlash in the club house and from a homophobic population that, to society’s shame, represented a majority view.
Times are changing. Gay marriage has become routine in Canada and is winning increasing acceptance in the United States. Gays and lesbians can now openly serve in the U.S. military and have been standard bearers of progress in all walks of life. Even in sports there have been breakthroughs. Tennis legend Martina Navratilova came out in 1981 and, just a few weeks ago, so did women’s basketball star Brittney Griner. “Just be who you are,” was her advice.
That’s significant, to be sure. But to come out — as Collins did — in big league men’s basketball, hockey, football or baseball represents a larger shift given the lightning rod profile of these sports and the traditional tough-guy posturing of their athletes.
Even Collins isn’t immune. In his lengthy Sports Illustrated essay he emphasizes that he goes against “the gay stereotype.” He notes: “I’m not afraid to take on any opponent . … I once fouled a player so hard that he had to leave the arena on a stretcher. … I’ve always been an aggressive player, even in high school.”
The next athlete to come out shouldn’t feel obliged to posture in this way. It’s not necessary to explain. It should be enough to simply tell the truth about who he, or she, really is. “I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie,” Collins wrote. But now that’s over. “Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.”
As if to underline that the time is right, mainstream reaction to Collins’ announcement has been overwhelmingly positive. NBA stars like Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant (once fined $100,000 for using a gay slur) have expressed support. So have President Barack Obama, media mega-star Oprah, and a host of other luminaries. Some hostility remains, in dark corners of the Internet and among retrograde politicians and preachers. But they can’t tarnish the example set by Collins. Building on it by having more high-profile athletes come out is the best way to defuse any lingering hate.
The Australian, Sydney, on Bunga Bunga bounces back:
After his ignominious exit from office 18 months ago, it is hard to believe former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is back with his hands on the levers of power in Rome. But he is, and the hope must be that, despite the long shadow he casts, the country’s newly minted government will be able to act boldly to tackle what the Bank of Italy has declared the most acute crisis since World War II in the eurozone’s third-largest economy.
Berlusconi is not a member of the new “grand coalition” of center-left and center-right parties. But his protege, Angelino Alfano, has been installed as deputy to the highly regarded new center-left Democratic Party Prime Minister Enrico Letta, while Berlusconi loyalists have been given major Cabinet posts. Berlusconi, in the words of a leading commentator, has the power to “kill the government from one day to the next”, and that is a measure of the remarkable comeback by the former prime minister despite the sex and corruption scandals that have engulfed him.
Having Berlusconi breathing down his neck is going to make life difficult for Letta. But, as long as he can keep the former prime minister on side, he should be able to take the measures he believes will get Italy out of its crippling recession by generating more growth and creating jobs.
The Khaleej Times, Dubai, on war games:
Washington and Seoul are now in a retiring mood.
After an exhaustive military drill on the Korean Peninsula, called Foal Eagle, they perhaps have a reason to believe that jingoistic North Korea has been coerced and shall be exercising restraint. They are mistaken. The so-called uneasy detente prevailing in the Pacific Rim is no criterion for lasting peace in the region. The joint military exercises that took place amid high tensions with North Korea has angered the Stalinist state, which has threatened to strike deep inside Japan and destinations across the Atlantic. The drills, which involved around 10,000 U.S. troops and South Korean counterparts, have provided an apt opportunity for Pyongyang to flex its muscles.
The point is what’s next for the duo that had, of late, also signed a new agreement stating any attack on Seoul would be tantamount to an aggression against the United States. The show of strength, coupled with the political will, hasn’t made any difference as far as the intentions of the communist state are concerned. This drives home the point that resorting to use of force or politics of coercion hasn’t worked. Pyongyang is as dangerous as it was two months back. Rather it has gone over the brink and has unleashed a new wave of terror in the region by loading its missiles and putting forces on high alert. …
The White House has to do something special and out of the box to overcome this mentality and make a serious endeavor to reach out to the regime in Pyongyang. The U.S. mindset that the drills were meant to defend its ally and buoy peace could backfire if Pyongyang started reading too much between the lines. Operation Foal Eagle could turn foul for many of the eagles in Washington.