Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Rocky Mount (N.C.) Telegram on revise mandatory minimum sentencing:
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s call last week for a revision of mandatory federal sentencing laws is a welcome but overdue proposal.
Holder specifically took aim at low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have filled the nation’s prisons during the so-called “War on Drugs” of the past 30 years.
Mandatory minimum sentencing and so-called “three strikes” laws were enacted throughout the 1980s and 1990s as politicians sought to “get tough” on crime and more aggressively combat the failing “War of Drugs.” These laws removed any discretion in sentencing from judges based on the actual conditions of specific cases and imposed arbitrary prison time for general classifications of different types of crimes.
The result was a swelling of the U.S. prison population — mostly with inmates convicted of drug-related crimes. Holder said the prison population has grown by almost 800 percent since 1980, with more than 219,000 federal inmates in facilities that are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity.
Holder said he has instructed federal prosecutors to stop charging many nonviolent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences. He said he plans to work with Congress to give judges greater discretion in sentencing.
It’s way past time for the United States to bring some common sense to the criminal justice system and return flexibility to judges when they hand down sentences. The increasing cost of maintaining the country’s prisons continues to divert needed resources from law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and drug prevention and intervention programs.
Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders promote injustice and do nothing to protect public safety. Holder is correct in his call to abandon them.
The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on post-invasion Iraq finds civil war, not democracy:
Americans, whatever their position on the decision to invade Iraq 10 years ago, had hoped that when the controversial war was over that peace would prevail, but judging by recent events something akin to a civil war is tearing the country apart.
Sectarian warfare cost an estimated 1,000 Iraqis their lives last month alone, making July one of the worst months in years. So far in 2013, more than 4,000 Iraqis have been killed by acts of violence. Almost every day there are reports of multiple bombings taking multiple lives, and it is always Muslim against Muslim, Shia against Sunni.
This is not the outcome the United States had in mind when it invaded Iraq, captured the despised Saddam Hussein, saw him executed, and drew up the plans for an Iraqi democracy. Washington didn’t take into account — or perhaps didn’t give enough credence to — the deep, long-standing religious differences among Iraq’s Muslim population.
All over Iraq, as people celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the holiday that annually marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan) bombs took more than 60 lives, officials said. Washington immediately condemned the bombings, describing the attackers as “enemies of Islam.”
They may be, but these attacks represent a continuation of a bloody pattern that has developed over many months. The United Nations reports that 1,057 Iraqis were killed and 2,326 more were wounded in attacks in July. Those are the highest monthly casualty figures since 2008. …
There is almost no hope for an early declaration of victory in the global war on terror, and the plight of the Iraqi people is grim evidence that even an infusion of a Western-style democracy offers no promise of security. It turns out that, quite often, religious affiliations are more important than political theories.
The Sacramento Bee on Egypt’s military makes a bad situation worse:
The military coup that toppled former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s Islamist government has proven as destructive to the nation’s hopes of democracy as the regime it replaced.
In a government-backed bloodbath Wednesday on the streets of Cairo, government forces demolished two camps set up by pro-Morsi demonstrators.
Hundreds were killed and thousands injured when soldiers fired live rounds into crowds of civilians, snipers targeted protesters and pro-Morsi militants killed police officers and others.
As too often is the case, President Barack Obama’s response Thursday morning was timid. Again, the president stopped short of naming the takeover and crackdown a coup, and did not use what little leverage he has to ward off more carnage.
While Obama canceled joint military exercises planned for next month with Egypt’s military, he did nothing to remind its leaders of the $1.3 billion in military aid the United States dispenses to Egypt every year.
The stakes in Egypt are too high for the United States to tiptoe around its heavy-handed involvement in arming what has turned out to be yet another repressive regime.
In his remarks, the president condemned Wednesday’s violence but warned that the U.S. should avoid becoming too entangled in Egypt’s latest upheaval. …
The Egyptian military’s actions have shown in horrifying detail that American dollars are indeed at work in Egypt. Less clear is whether any of the aid is being used to support, as President Obama said Thursday, “a future of stability (in Egypt) that rests on a foundation of justice and peace and dignity.”
In response to the massacres, Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei tendered his resignation Wednesday, writing, “It has become difficult for me to continue bearing responsibility for decisions that I do not agree with and whose consequences I fear.”
Pro-Morsi demonstrators bear their share of responsibility for the rapidly deteriorating situation across Egypt. Supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood have burned Coptic churches, destroyed government buildings and engaged in murderous street fights with Morsi’s opponents.
But the escalation of violence by the ruling military government only dims Egypt’s hope for representative government and radicalizes Egyptians on all sides of this conflict.
Martyrs are being made in the streets of Cairo. …
The United States’ financial support of Egypt’s military has shown little ability to curb the interim government’s abuse of its citizens. Aid can be as much a carrot as a stick, and President Obama has to be willing to use it as such.
Kansas City Star on embracing linguistic diversity to strengthen America:
America’s metaphorical melting pot simmers on, despite some misguided efforts to put a lid on it.
The U.S. Census Bureau offers fresh proof of the nation’s linguistic diversity with a new mapping tool and report that show roughly where people who speak a language other than English in the home live.
Nationally, the percentage of people 5 years and older who speak a language other than English at home is on the rise. About one in five now do, but more than half of them also speak English “very well.” The portion of Americans who do not speak English very well has held steady in recent years at only 8.7 percent. …
Greater and lesser pockets of diversity emerge when one zooms in on the map. In California, 44 percent of people don’t speak English at home. In Laredo, Texas, it’s an astounding 92 percent.
Here in the heartland, English has a firmer hold. In Kansas, 11 percent of people speak something else at home. In Missouri, it’s only 6 percent.
America remains a pluralistic society whose diversity is a strength. …
Kansas erected needless barriers, passing a law in 2007 that declares English to be the official language for public business.
Missouri lawmakers have considered bills, too. Two years ago, the House passed one to require the state driver’s license test to be administered only in English. Cooler heads in the Senate let it die.
The Census Bureau’s map offers more than trivia. Communities can use the data to plan language services from translators who help emergency responders to English proficiency programs to library acquisitions. Government’s job is to serve all residents, not just the ones who speak a preferred language.
More important, anyone can use the map to see that non-English speakers are among us. They are our neighbors throughout this great land.
We should not turn our backs on them just because they do not speak English very well.
The Denver Post on going nowhere on U.S. nuclear waste:
A federal court delivered a much-deserved rebuke of the Obama administration this week for its handling of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada.
It turns out the administration can’t simply ignore a law it doesn’t like — or at least couldn’t in this case. If the law says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must review Yucca’s license application, then that’s what the NRC must do.
But make no mistake: The court decision has not in any meaningful way revived the site as a potential depository for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. Indeed, we think it mainly highlights the dysfunctional state of civilian nuclear policy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got it right in his reaction. “The place is locked up, it’s padlocked,” he said. “Nothing is happening with Yucca Mountain.”
As you might guess, the Nevada senator is delighted with this paralysis. But most Americans should be disturbed. Ideally, the U.S. should not be storing radioactive waste at nuclear plants scattered about the country. Spent fuel should be reprocessed, as it is in other countries, which would recycle more than 90 percent of it. And the remainder should be stored in a secure location, such as — you guessed it — Yucca Mountain.
But even with this court ruling, the U.S. is no closer today to a rational disposal policy. The obstacles to opening any depository, beginning with a state’s effective veto and various congressional approvals, remain too high.
Although we have supported the Yucca Mountain site, it may be time for officials to rethink what to do about nuclear waste and adopt a less-than-ideal but workable fallback plan. Anyone serious about transitioning this nation off fossil fuels needs to recognize that nuclear energy will have a role — and that it is critical to solve the problem of nuclear waste.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on anger forces a doctors’ group to leave Somalia:
The reluctant pull-out of the medical aid group, Doctors Without Borders, from Somalia after many hard, dangerous years there is a sign of the circumstances that prevail in that East African region.
Doctors Without Borders — “Medecins Sans Frontieres” in French — is probably the hardiest and most non-political of the humanitarian groups. It is usually the first in and the last out of world disaster areas, providing care in the most difficult of circumstances to the most miserable victims of sometimes savage conflicts. Thus it has been in Somalia, where MSF has operated since 1991, when the government there collapsed.
That area on the map — divided, without coherent government, torn by inter-clan and religion-inspired fighting since 1991 — has been the site of deadly fighting that has claimed up to 1.5 million lives and displaced (either internally or as refugees) mostly into Kenya or Ethiopia, another 2.3 million.
Some international organizations, including the United Nations and the African Union, after having spent some $60 billion there, like to pretend that the current body seated — sometimes — in Mogadishu, the capital, is gaining strength and support among Somalis. In fact, the area has at least three different governments — in Mogadishu, in Puntland, and in Somaliland, with other, more local bodies ruling in other towns and areas of what used to be Somalia, making the claim that it is coming back together after 22 years a wish or a joke.
The body in Mogadishu, which includes a president, prime minister, cabinet and other trappings of sovereignty, depends for its existence on the presence of 18,000 foreign troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda and Sierra Leone, all financed from abroad. A Somali national army is in the process of being trained by foreign troops, but the general view is that the Mogadishu government would be forced to flee the country in haste if the foreign troops were withdrawn. …
Medecins Sans Frontieres is pulling out, not because it is no longer needed — for example, a polio outbreak has just occurred in Somalia, with more than a hundred cases — but because it does not feel it can continue to work there in safety. The decision to leave was made after violent attacks on the organization’s staff members, who treated some 665,300 Somalis last year.
The Guardian, London, on Pakistan, the general is no longer untouchable:
Compared with the announcement in June in which the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, declared his government’s intention to press charges against Pervez Musharraf for treason, Tuesday’s court indictment against the former military ruler for murder in connection with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a sideshow. Few analysts believe there is hard evidence linking Musharraf to Bhutto’s murder, although a UN report concluded that he failed to make serious efforts to ensure her safety. The treason charges, if they materialize, are a different matter, as the legal case that he subverted the constitution when he imposed emergency rule in late 2007 is relatively easy to make.
Musharraf already faces charges in four cases related to his period of rule. One way or another, it amounts to the same thing: putting a once untouchable general on trial. Pakistan’s powerful military did not support his return from exile in London but they would also not want to see one of their own dragged through the courts. Much has changed in his absence. The chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, with whom Musharraf feuded for most of his time in office, is about to retire. …
More importantly, the army, too, is about to have a new leader. In his forthcoming book, Getting Away With Murder, the man who led the UN investigation in Bhutto’s assassination, Heraldo Muñoz, describes the outgoing army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, as a professional soldier of independent mind. Muñoz said that the general expressed doubts to him about the claim by his former boss Musharraf that Bhutto had been assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban. He also spoke fondly of Bhutto, saying she had grown as a politician. All this further muddies the waters about who was really behind her assassination. The author himself concludes that almost everyone played a part.
Musharraf was ill-advised to return to Pakistan, where his political support has evaporated and where he spends his time under house arrest. Even with a new army chief and chief justice, Sharif will have to balance the demand to seek justice for emergency rule, with the needs of a military that remains the most powerful institution in the land. A presidential pardon for Musharraf, if convicted, could be one way out. Establishing the rule of law is going to take somewhat longer.
The Khaleej Times, Dubai, on UN inspectors for Syria:
There seems to be some understanding between the United Nations and Damascus over the issue of inspections.
After delaying tactics, both the parties concerned have agreed to go ahead to probe into the allegations that Syria used chemical agents against its people. The UN team, which had been stranded in Cyprus for the last several months, is now on its way to Damascus. This is a promising development. Irrespective of its outcome, the inspections will at least kick-start a dialogue process between the powers-that-be, and then gradually lead to broadening of understanding over issues of peace and security.
Under an agreement reached with Damascus, the UN team will visit three sites and see for itself whether toxic agents were used or not. The mission that had disagreement over the scope of the investigation has now got the green signal, and is limited to reporting whether chemical weapons were actually used and which ones, but it will not determine responsibility for any attacks. Though half-hearted, it could be the way to go ahead. The 10-member investigating team under Swedish arms expert Ake Sellstroem has a responsibility to deliver and that shouldn’t be restricted to just probing into a past event. The thrust of the mission should be to reach the real victims and expose the principal characters behind the usage of chemical agents, if any. This in no way in contravention to the agreed terms and conditions, but would be an apt way out to suggest measures to read the crises in its totality.
Syrians have already witnessed 100,000 casualties since the uprising begun, and President Bashar Al Assad now sits on the mounds of the dead and destructed property. The war-torn country is far from being governed and it is no more than battlefields for rebels and pro-Assad forces. Damascus’ claim that it has nothing to hide is up for a litmus test.