Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Loveland (Colo.) Daily Reporter-Herald on the rule of law and Staff Sgt. Robert Bales:
If there's a single outcome that will show that the United States succeeded in its military mission to Afghanistan, it will be that the rule of law has been established. ...
In the 10 years since Americans have been there, we've had victories -- as well as horrific setbacks.
One of those setbacks could, if not handled properly, jeopardize the progress of the entire past decade.
On March 11, nine Afghan children and eight adults, all civilians, were shot in cold blood in their homes near an army base housing U.S. soldiers. One of them, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, has been accused of pulling the trigger.
Since his arrest, Bales has been spirited away from the country where the crime occurred and jailed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He was charged with 17 counts of murder, and if he is convicted, he might face the death penalty. He also faces many other charges ...
However, the process will continue through the military court system, which could mean less transparency for those who need to see the rule of law in action the most: the Afghan public.
At almost every turn, the military has worked to restrict the flow of information about the case, which is too bad. It would be easy to imagine the reaction if a foreign national had been accused of similar crimes on American soil and then moved to his or her home country for trial. The outrage would be incredible.
The Army must ensure open and accessible justice in this case ... To do otherwise could undermine the entire reason for our presence in Afghanistan.
Houston Chronicle on domestic natural gas:
To drill or not to drill, Baby?
That is the question that is launching a thousand heated partisan debates early in this presidential campaign season.
Is drilling merely a catchy slogan, as President Barack Obama has suggested in recent campaign speeches? Or is it an important piece of a national policy with the potential to lead us to energy independence and, eventually, to a sustainable energy future? We have argued consistently and strenuously that it is the latter. ...
This situation provides an enormous opportunity, if only our leaders, Democratic and Republican together, will see it and act decisively. That opportunity is to dramatically expand the domestic market for natural gas.
Doing so would also answer the president's protestations that more drilling won't change high gasoline prices at the pump. Yes, that is true...
But not so much if our fuel of choice, for transportation in particular, becomes natural gas. ...
We'll grant that this is not an instant fix. But over the intermediate and long term, shifting our fleet vehicles, our 18-wheelers, even our diesel-powered freight locomotives to run on natural gas, will pay dividends of price stability.
If Obama is serious about an "all of the above" energy policy, and we hope he is, greatly expanding the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel is the obvious place to start. ...
San Francisco Chronicle on the Trayvon Martin case:
This country should be outraged by the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black youth shot by a self-appointed neighborhood crime watcher. Racial profiling, a tepid police inquiry and a gun-happy self-defense law play into angry protests that have drawn in even President Barack Obama.
Getting to the bottom of the event won't be easy. That's why outside investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and the state of Florida make sense. These inquires won't -- and shouldn't -- stop public rallies and marches that have the salutary effect of keeping up the pressure for answers. ...
The racial overtone is unmistakable, an element that all Americans should ponder. Would Martin have attracted attention if he were a white kid? Does a natural concern for neighborhood security automatically mean all black youths are suspects? ..
One unusual feature is a Florida self-defense law, also on the books in some 20 other states, though not California. The so-called "Stand Your Ground" statute gives a citizen the right to lethal self-defense even if the confrontation is avoidable, as the Martin run-in may have been. ...
The Martin case has put on display some of this country's rawest divides over race and crime. It will be the job of investigators to provide answers that may cool the public's anger, if it isn't too late already.
The Boston Herald on the Republican budget plan:
Months ago many in his party were clamoring for Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to jump into the presidential race. But he knew that the job he already had as chairman of the House Budget Committee was just as critical to the nation's future.
He once again stepped into that deepening leadership gap in Washington, D.C., the one left wide open by a president who apparently wants to turn us into Greece. And in doing so Ryan proved he has the courage and the intellectual firepower to lead the Congress and the nation to a better place.
At the heart of the new Republican budget plan is an effort to simplify the tax code for individuals ...and close some loopholes -- all aimed at growing the economy. No talk of class warfare here, just an effort to reduce the deficit with some sensible spending discipline.
And instead of growing the national debt as a share of gross domestic product (it currently consumes about 73 percent of the economy), gradually reducing that by about 15 percent over the next 10 years.
The Ryan plan also tackles that third rail of American politics -- Medicare. ...
While Democrats no doubt can't wait to run yet another commercial of a Ryan look-alike throwing some senior citizen off a cliff, the truth is that the only way to save Medicare is to change it. But courage is at a premium on Capitol Hill this year and Ryan's plan will likely languish. But that doesn't mean it isn't the right path.
The Seattle Times on sex-trafficking legislation:
Helping victims of human trafficking, some who have suffered rape and forced prostitution, put their lives back together requires providing them with a full range of reproductive services, including contraception and abortion.
That guidance ought to help move a U.S. Senate bill reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed by the Judiciary Committee last fall but stalled since by political wrangling over reproductive rights in the House. The $130 million appropriation is smaller than previous spending levels, but it toughens enforcement and increases funding for victim assistance.
The Senate bill is a good one. It is far better than the effort in the House where misguided Republican modifications make it untenable. The House bill, for example, shifts financing for victims' services to the Justice Department from the Department of Health and Human Services. The latter agency is being punished by conservative Republicans for rejecting a $2.5 million grant request from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; the conference wants the money but refuses to refer trafficking victims to abortion providers and family planning services or make other reasonable accommodations.
Partnerships with a broad coalition of faith-based organizations, law enforcement and nonprofits are an integral part of fighting human trafficking and slavery. But victims need a level of service ... Congress must move swiftly on the Senate bill.
The Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel on job applicant privacy:
It has become fairly standard for employers to view the social media sites of prospective workers in order to learn more about them.
A recent Associated Press report, however, detailed a new and disturbing trend of employers actually asking job-seekers to surrender their Facebook login and password information. The employers then spend time scouring the page for whatever intelligence they can gather. Some employers demand that new hires "friend" them on Facebook or allow them to follow Twitter accounts.
This is an outrageous invasion of privacy with no justification for the vast majority of occupations.
The line between private lives and public personas often gets blurred online, but the line exists. Facebook users have the option to keep most, if not all, messages, photos and other elements private, accessible only by those chosen by the users. Those communications are private. An employer has no more right to see them than to enter a person's house and rummage through the dresser. ...
There might be instances when it is appropriate for employers to monitor social networking sites of their workers -- if, for example, security clearances are required. But the vast majority of employers have no legitimate reason to invade the private lives of workers.
Job-seekers are finding themselves forced to choose between employment and privacy. It is a choice they shouldn't have to make.
At a time when unemployment is high and just about any job is better than no job at all, employers hold the upper hand. They should not abuse this power. Employers should respect the privacy of prospective employees and stop demanding access to Internet accounts that are otherwise off limits to the public.
Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.Va., on fluctuating gas prices:
One of the frustrations of our four-year economic slowdown is that just when things begin to look a little brighter, gas prices go up.
That "pain at the pump" affects almost every one, and in turn, slows down recovery for many businesses as well.
Moreover, these days we are seeing a greater discrepancy in the cost of fuel in different parts of the country. ...
AAA reports the average price for regular unleaded in Huntington, W.Va., at $3.94 per gallon. It was about the same in Ashland and Ironton.
Yet, in Wyoming, the average was $3.45.
While no one claims to completely understand the fluctuations in the cost of fuel, at least part of the issue today seems to be distribution.
Abundant oil supplies in North Dakota and Canada have helped keep prices down in that region... Meanwhile, pipeline construction has not kept pace, and that shortage slows delivery of crude to various refineries in areas around the country.
The West Coast markets continue to have the highest prices, with California at $4.35. But states in the Midwest -- West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin -- are all above the national average, too.
Pipeline construction that could help is still two or three years from completion, and some of that is being challenged on environmental concerns. Meanwhile, we will pay a little more.
Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, on small business assistance:
Washington actually got something done.
Our nation's capital -- usually the land of gridlock -- agreed to a package of bills designed to encourage private investment in small businesses.
The Democratic-run Senate approved what's been dubbed the "JOBS Act" on a bipartisan 73-26 vote, with both Wisconsin U.S. Sens. Herb Kohl and Ron Johnson supportive.
Leaders in the Republican-run House of Representatives quickly indicated they would accept a Senate change to the bill seeking more protection for investors.
Democratic President Barack Obama said he would sign the legislation.
The "Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act" will make it easier for certain entrepreneurs across the country to raise money for their business ideas from lots of small-dollar investors. Among other provisions, it also will ease the red tape on small businesses seeking to offer lower amounts of stock to the public.
The JOBS Act is not a quick fix for the slowly recovering economy. Its incentives will take time to help small businesses grow. ...
Nonetheless, Washington is recognizing that the world of business is changing, in part because of the Internet. And many mom-and-pop operations with innovative ideas could benefit considerably from the wider equity options.
Raising small-dollar amounts from lots of investors is known as "crowdfunding." It comes with inherent risks for investors and recipients.
That's why more protections were added to the bill.
Small businesses and startups needs more access to capital to grow and create jobs.
The JOBS Act is a modest yet necessary move in the right direction that better reflects the modern and changing economy.
The Telegraph, London, on nuclear arsenals:
Seldom has the leader of a superpower volunteered a public admission that his armed forces are over-endowed with weapons. President Barack Obama provided an example of far-sighted statesmanship when he told an audience in South Korea that America has "more nuclear weapons than we need" and further cuts were necessary.
Obama's words were all the more striking given that America comes second in the global league of nuclear powers, deploying 1,950 operational warheads compared with 2,430 controlled by Russia. Under the "New START" treaty signed in 2010, both countries are bound to cut their arsenals to a maximum of 1,550 warheads by 2018.
If that looks like a balanced arrangement, don't be fooled. Russia's nuclear arsenal is decaying anyway, with the number of deployed warheads falling year on year as they reach the end of their lives. Vladimir Putin will probably meet the ceiling in the existing treaty simply by sitting back and watching his stockpile decline at its natural pace. Without the "New START" agreement, America would have been on course to overtake Russia and become the world's biggest nuclear power. As such, the deal gave Putin a free ride, while imposing a unilateral obligation on America.
That was understandably controversial in the U.S., where Obama had to work hard to secure the Republican votes needed for the treaty's Senate approval. The fact that he is willing to repeat the exercise shows that he is prepared to run risks in the interests of long-term disarmament, which is overwhelmingly in humanity's interests. Future security will depend on nuclear deterrence by the smallest number of warheads in the fewest possible hands. Obama, at least, understands that.
The Gazette, Montreal, on assisted suicide:
Whether to allow people with terminal illnesses to die at a time of their choosing with the assistance of a doctor is a thorny issue in which Canadian politicians have been reluctant to engage, even as it becomes more pressing.
Canada's Criminal Code now makes it an offense punishable by a jail sentence of up to 14 years to counsel or assist someone to commit suicide, or to agree to be put to death.
Whether to alter those laws is a highly controversial matter, with wrenching considerations involved, and little political capital to be derived from grasping this nettle.
However, with those of the boomer generation inexorably entering their dotage years, and their minds inevitably becoming increasingly fixated on their imminent death and the manner in which it will occur, it is a matter that pleads for attention now and action in due course.
An all-party committee of the National Assembly has done the entire country a much-needed service by conducting an extensive, in-depth study of medically assisted dying. The committee devoted two years to the study and to the preparation of its report.
It is an understatement to say that there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue. ...
The committee proposed that the Quebec government enact legislation consistent with its report by next year, and refrain from prosecuting doctors who assist patients in dying so long as the proposed procedures are respected.
But the law on the matter that currently stands is a federal law, and it would be best all around if laws on the matter were consistent on all jurisdictional levels.
The Conservative federal government is reluctant to move on this issue. ...
But this is an issue whose time for discussion and resolution is at hand. ...
In light of the humanitarian considerations involved, the national government should consider it a responsibility to take the matter in hand.
The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on the Nuclear Security Summit:
The threat of nuclear war has not disappeared, of course. But ever since the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the growing concern in the international community has been about terrorist groups using nuclear weapons, in fear that this could be a more realistic threat than nuclear warfare.
Two years ago, the first Nuclear Security Summit was held at President Barack Obama's behest to discuss the prevention of nuclear terrorism. The second summit is in Seoul... to come up with effective measures.
The biggest danger would be if a terrorist organization manages to obtain a nuclear weapon, either by theft or trafficking, with plans to explode it. But other forms of terrorism must also be prevented, such as spreading radiation by attacking nuclear reactors, as well as targeting vehicles or ships and inciting widespread fear by using "dirty bombs" containing radioactive materials. ...
First of all, there must be stronger monitoring and crackdowns on the "nuclear black market" to prevent terrorist organizations from obtaining nuclear materials and technologies. ...
The world has become an alarmingly dangerous place with the trafficking of nuclear material and technologies to produce highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium.
From uncovering the secret international trafficking networks to investigating the illicit organizations, much more cooperation is needed among international society.
In the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the situation was exacerbated by the total power blackout caused by the tsunami and other factors. There is the danger of a similar situation arising if a terrorist group sabotages a power plant and disrupts the entire power supply. ...
The great lesson to be learned from the Fukushima disaster should be that measures are needed for all contingencies, including accidents and terrorist attacks. The unexpected must not be labeled soteigai "(unforeseen)" and dismissed as such. ...
Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Syrian unrest:
Arming the Syrian opposition groups is an option that could still be considered with the crisis entering a decisive phase.
The international community, however, for the time being are waiting to see if President Bashar Al Assad will heed the recent unanimous UN call to stop all use of force and start negotiations. Assad is now tasked with pulling his forces off the streets and allowing access to humanitarian agencies before talks with the opposition. All this while, as hectic diplomatic efforts were underway to get Russia and China onboard to support a Security Council resolution for humanitarian purposes, there was a parallel narrative underway for lending support to the Syrian activists and rebels against the regime. So far this option has been flung back and forth without any effective plan coming into shape.
There could be two reasons why this has not taken off so far. First, the larger international community may have wanted to exercise the diplomatic and UN option before jumping into deeper waters and starting off a proxy war. Second, and more important is the disunity among the opposition factions under the umbrella entity, Syrian National Council. ... To counter this, the SNC is meeting in Turkey to overcome differences and formulate a joint strategy to fight the Syrian regime. The opposition's plan to evolve a "national pact" aimed at ousting Assad from office can only prove effective if the disparate groups are able to come together.
The Friends of Syria's meeting scheduled for April in Istanbul is likely to deliberate the results of the SNC meeting and incorporate its strategy... It is time Assad sees the writing on the wall and thinks in term of the national unity and the state's peace and stability.