Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Boston Herald on the Oklahoma tornado:
This nation has been pinballing from one tragedy to another over the past half-year, and at times it seems we are simply incapable of absorbing more grief.
From the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy to the shooting in Newtown, Conn., to the bombing here at the Boston Marathon to the latest — the tornado that on Monday literally leveled the city of Moore, Okla.
Yes, the city of 55,000 today lies in ruins.
But improbable as it may seem now, the community of Moore, Okla., remains intact.
That distinction was made perfectly clear in the sight of first responders — official and otherwise — working through the night on Monday to clear the rubble that was once an elementary school, in the slim hope of finding more survivors. These are men and women whose children attended those schools, whose families gathered together at church, and who hurried their neighbors into shelters when the skies began to churn.
What greater sense of "community" can there be, after all, than a teacher who throws her body over her students, huddled in a school bathroom, as the tornado roars around them?
Yes, as we have so often before, we saw this week both the worst of Mother Nature — and the best of humanity.
When terrorists struck Boston just a month ago the people of Oklahoma reached out immediately, because they understood our pain and our grief ... They reached out to us. Now it is time for us to reach back.
Los Angeles Times on federal wiretapping:
Pushed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Obama administration may ask Congress for the power to snoop on more types of communication online. The timing couldn't be worse, given the outcry over the Justice Department secretly grabbing journalists' phone records and emails in its pursuit of government leakers. The bigger issue with what the FBI is seeking, though, is that it applies 20th century assumptions about surveillance to 21st century technologies.
Congress passed the Wiretap Act in 1968 to give federal investigators the power to listen in on suspects' phone calls if they obtained a federal court's permission. The advent of wireless phones and digital networks led the feds to worry about their ability to monitor suspects who used new technologies, so lawmakers amended the law to require telecommunications companies to build wiretap capabilities into their networks.
That requirement, however, applies only to service providers that use or connect to the traditional phone grid. These days, there's a growing number of ways to communicate through data networks that don't use any part of the phone grid, including online teleconferencing and virtual telephones built into instant-message programs ...
The irony is that the Internet is actually making it easier for the feds to gather information about suspects without warrants. As the Center for Democracy and Technology pointed out, the widespread use of GPS-equipped mobile phones has effectively put a tracking device in the pocket of virtually every suspect. Combine that with the information collected online about the websites people visit, the material they download, the friends they keep and the people with whom they communicate, and it hardly seems as if the FBI is being left in the dark.
The Brunswick (Ga.) News on American voters:
Another member of the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced yet another bill in a futile attempt to limit how long members of Congress can stay in office. The measure, authored by Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., would limit House members to three terms, or six years, and senators to two terms, or 12 years.
Since the change would require a constitutional amendment, two-thirds of Congress would have to approve it followed by ratification of three-fourths of the 50 states. That's a long road for any legislation to have to travel, which is as it should be when talking about altering the U.S. Constitution.
There's a better way to achieve this objective. What's needed are men and women vying for office who are more concerned about their nation, about the future of all Americans, and less about their own political careers. In other words, the nation needs statesmen.
Capping how much money can be spent on elections and re-elections also could prove beneficial to the American public. Spending millions of dollars on political contests is absolutely ridiculous, even for members of Congress and even in the USA.
What's needed above all else are wise voters — men and women who care enough about the future of their nation to take the time to look beyond political labels and study the candidates. Voting along party lines is not working out so well for the country ... Our infrastructure remains in a state of meltdown, children in public schools are still not getting the education a country of our means can afford and years later we are still debating what to do about undocumented aliens and how to manage - properly manage - the nation's budget.
The Anniston (Ala.) Star on the IRS and tea party groups:
The controversy over the IRS applying extra scrutiny to tea party groups seeking nonprofit status is a teachable moment.
What precisely should be taught is a matter of perspective.
Tea Party members, already concerned about what they see as Big Brother government, are saying their fears are justified by the news that the IRS targeted them and other conservatives.
Republicans are doing their best to tie the scandal to President Barack Obama, suggesting that a president they frequently deride as incompetent has suddenly been revealed as an uber-competent Nixonian schemer who is pulling all the strings.
Conservatives are making it an opportunity to bash a favorite target, the Internal Revenue Service.
Members of Congress at a hearing on the matter late last week did what they do best — striking a disingenuous posture of outrage. They are shocked — shocked, mind you! — that the IRS would stoop to such a tactic and in response must play to the TV cameras.
Such is the state of our politics, and in this case things are likely to get worse before they get better. ...
ProPublica goes on to set up how government streamlining set in motion 15 years ago is a major contributor in how one ideology was singled out for close inspection. ...
Sloppiness and corner-cutting might be the best explanation at this stage. Thus far, no investigation has yielded evidence of partisanship or a political order from higher up in the government. Republicans in Congress vow to look closer to see if political motivations are at the heart of the policy at the Cincinnati office.
Perhaps Congress and the president should examine the conditions that led to the most recent incident and seek out solutions to fix it ...
The Oklahoman on exporting natural gas:
It isn't much in the grand scheme of things, but considering the Obama administration's loathing of non-green energy sources, the news that a Texas company may soon be allowed to ship natural gas overseas is cause for some celebration.
The United States is awash in natural gas, which has depressed the market and led natural gas companies in Oklahoma and elsewhere to direct more of their resources toward finding and producing oil. However, the demand for natural gas is great overseas.
The administration has been cool to the idea of approving construction of liquefied natural gas export facilities, something U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, has sought to change. The cold shoulder toward LNG is a bow to environmentalists who, as part of their anti-fossil fuel efforts, have fought any move to establish these facilities.
But last week the Energy Department gave conditional approval to a plan to let Freeport LNG Expansion L.P. export up to 1.4 billion cubic feet of LNG per day from its terminal south of Houston. It's only the second such project to win the administration's approval; the other was for a terminal in Louisiana.
More than 20 other proposals are on the table from energy companies eager to tap the overseas market. Clearing the backlog could result in about 40 percent of the current U.S. natural gas production being exported. This could eventually push natural gas prices up, which would pinch consumers but also would benefit Oklahoma companies and state revenues ...
Seattle Times on freedom of the press:
On his first full day in office, President Obama declared "a new era of openness," supposedly easing access to federal records and lifting the pall of secrecy that hovered over the George W. Bush White House.
By some measures, Obama has been the worst modern president for press freedom. His administration has filed an unprecedented six criminal cases against whistle-blowers, accusing leakers of espionage when, as in the case of Thomas Drake, they were intent on exposing government waste.
The recent seizure of records for 20 phone lines for Associated Press reporters and editors further tarnishes this record. This is a breathtaking intrusion into the work of investigative journalism. Without a warrant, the Justice Department seized two months worth of phone records, including personal cellphones. AP was denied a chance to fight it in court.
The last time a journalist's phone records were seized without warrant was 2001, according to the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press. Such intrusions do violence to investigative journalism, especially in the complex world of national-security reporting. Who will call a reporter with a sensitive tip if a warrantless DOJ subpoena lurks in the background?
Tension is inherent between journalists covering national security and the government's duty to protect. That balance has required discretion by journalists — the AP held its story on the failed al-Qaida plot for five days, until the CIA said there was no security threat — and restraint by the executive branch.
The AP phone scandal suggests the balance has tipped badly against the First Amendment.
At the request of a chastened White House, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, is drafting a national reporter shield law. A good shield law, such as one passed in Washington state in 2007, would vigorously protect journalists from having to reveal sources or information and put the burden on the government to find information with other means.
Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell recognize the need for a shield law, and should resist attempts to water down the bill. Respecting the First Amendment requires more than empty words.
The Kansas City Star on India and China:
India and China together account for about 38 percent of the world's 7-billion-plus population. Because these Asian giants share a border, the whole planet holds its breath if they are at each other's throats, as they were again earlier this month.
Chinese and Indian troops faced off in a border dispute in the remote Ladakh region of the rugged Himalayas, where the exact location of the boundary between the two powers has never been clear. After the Indian foreign minister, Salman Khurshid, threatened to cancel a previously scheduled diplomatic trip to Beijing, troops eventually backed off and something like calm returned.
Khurshid made his trip to Beijing, and as a result both Indian and Chinese diplomats said they would work together to prevent similar disputes in the future. But that's not the only good news. More high-level diplomatic visits are scheduled for this year. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang is to travel to India on May 20, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India is to visit Beijing later this year.
It clearly is in the interest of the United States to encourage India and China to resolve disputes peacefully, although our diplomats must recognize that internal realities in each country sometimes make that difficult ...
The governments of both countries suffer from insecurities, which can lead to miscalculations in international relations. But this is an opportune time for India and China to show off their diplomatic progress. A world with so many other hot spots to worry about would be greatly relieved not to have to keep a nervous eye on the Indian-Chinese border.
The Australian, Sydney, on Australian foreign policy:
When Julia Gillard released the government's Australia in the Asian Century white paper in October last year, it was heralded as a road map to guide regional foreign policy engagement in the coming decades.
It was touted as "an ambitious plan" that would ensure Australia was positioned to seize the opportunities and deal with the challenges of being located on the edge of the fastest growing economic region in the world. More than six months on, as the government's attention has been diverted to other ambitious but flawed policy agendas, and funding has been cut to Australia's diplomatic corp, the much-trumpeted white paper is at risk of being yet another triumph of political spin over policy substance.
Richard Woolcott, one of Australia's most experienced diplomats, has ... suggested much of the progress being made in the region was illusionary. The former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade accused ministers of overstating the level of success in building and strengthening Australia's links with the region. ... What is needed is a readjustment of priorities so that the government's rhetoric on Asian engagement is consistent with its spending on diplomacy ...
The Gillard government is not averse to announcing bold plans with great fanfare. But the opportunities presented by the transformation taking place in our region are too important to be reduced to just another tool of political propaganda.
The Khaleej Times, Dubai, on the UK's continent vote:
The British Tories are up in arms against David Cameron. One after another conservative leaders are voicing their concern over the ongoing debate and direction of the party, and squarely blame the British prime minister for opening a Pandora's box with reference to the country's geopolitical relationship with the European Union.
The latest one to air his grievances was conservative cabinet minister Lord Howe. He said that the Tory leadership is running scared of its MPs by offering to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the continent. The elder politician and backbencher also criticised Cameron for kicking a tin on his way and in initiating this debate and politically losing the ground in terms of steering the party towards a leadership role. He didn't mince words and warned of grave consequences on leaving the Union. It is now, however, a foregone conclusion that Cameron wants a referendum by the year 2015, if his party wins the next general elections ...
The Japan Times, Tokyo, on China's defense policy:
Last month, China released its white paper on national defense, the eighth since Beijing began releasing the document in 1998. The white paper is invariably an exercise in frustration: China's detractors are always disappointed by the document, unsatisfied with its contents and the many questions it leaves unanswered.
The Chinese government adopts an aggrieved tone in responses to questions that highlight its flaws rather than acknowledging the distance Beijing has traveled since it began the white paper process.
Defense white papers are intended to offer insight into a government's security and defense policies. They provide transparency about planning and purposes by facilitating the understanding of the mind-set that guides national defense policy and identifying threats and challenges, and the specific measures taken to address them. ...
In a world characterized by multiple and complicated security threats and challenges — and the "arduous task to safeguard its national unification, territorial integrity and development interests" — that means the modernization of China's military will continue.
To allay concerns about the expansion of those capabilities, the white paper insists that China's foreign and defense policies are "defensive in nature."
It reiterates the claim that "China will never seek hegemony or behave in a hegemonic manner, nor will it engage in military expansion."
In a departure from previous editions, this year's white paper provides actual numbers of military personnel, designations of the force organization and structure, and details of China's missile forces.
According to the white paper, there are some 850,000 men and women in the People's Liberation Army, organized in 18 corps and brigades under seven military area commands ...
White papers are intended to provide context for defense thinking and spending, and answer the question "how much is enough?" This white paper does the first, but not the second ...
The Jerusalem Post on gun controls:
The despicable act of violence perpetrated in Beersheba on Monday has sparked fresh calls for an evaluation of Israel's gun control policy.
Undoubtedly, the fact that Itamar Alon had access to a handgun at a critical time when he was overcome by anger made possible the shooting rampage that left four innocent people dead and four families mourning, with five more people wounded.
Reportedly, Alon's bank had refused to reach an arrangement with him over his NIS 6,000 debt. In Alon's warped mind, this somehow justified a shooting spree. The same sort of public discourse over Israel's gun-control laws followed the tragic shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 that left 26 dead, including 20 children.
Further fueling the local debate was a bizarre comment by the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, made shortly after the Newtown massacre.
Strangely, LaPierre invoked Israel to support his own organization's campaign for the right of American citizens to bear arms.
In an interview with NBC News' David Gregory on Meet the Press, LaPierre called on the U.S. to implement a school guard policy similar to Israel's. ...
Yaakov Amit — head of the Public Security Ministry's Firearms Licensing Department — told Army Radio on Tuesday that there are just 160,000 handguns privately owned by Israeli citizens in a population of nearly 8 million, approximately 2 guns per 100 people. In stark contrast, in America there are 88.8 guns for every 100 people (according to the 2007 Small Arms Survey), by far the highest rate in the world.
Gun rights activists in the US view gun ownership as a basic right anchored in the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
In Israel, on the other hand, bearing arms is prohibited to all but those with special permission: security guards, residents or employees in settlements, citizens who regularly work with large sums of cash or jewels, IDF officers of certain ranks, and select few others ...
Guns are, unfortunately, a necessary evil. We cannot do without them. By embracing the approach of our rabbis to bearing arms and striving for an era in which weapons will be obsolete, we can go a long way toward preventing their misuse in the imperfect reality in which we live.