Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on the UN Commission on the Status of Women:
Some horrific events over the past few months, including the shooting of a Pakistani schoolgirl and the rape and murder of a young Indian physiotherapy student, should have been an alert for the world to unite in preventing violence against women.
But if a conference now under way at the United Nations is any guide, that message has not resounded with the necessary urgency. Halfway into their two-week annual meeting, delegates to the Commission on the Status of Women fear they will not be able to agree on a final communiqué, just like last year.
Who is to blame? Delegates and activists are pointing fingers at the Vatican, Iran and Russia for trying to eliminate language in a draft communiqué asserting that the familiar excuses — religion, custom, tradition — cannot be used by governments to duck their obligation to eliminate violence. The United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed similar language just six months ago.
Conservative hard-liners seem determined to fight it out again. They have also objected to references to abortion rights, as well as language suggesting that rape also includes forcible behavior by a woman's husband or partner. Poland, Egypt, other Muslim states and conservative American Christian groups have criticized one or more parts of the draft. The efforts by the Vatican and Iran to control women are well known. It is not clear what motivates Russia, although there is a strong antifeminist strain in President Vladimir V. Putin's government. He may also be trying to curry favor with Islamic states.
In any case, the suggestion that traditional values justify the violation of basic human rights is spurious. As Inga Marte Thorkildsen, Norway's gender equality minister, has noted, "Violence against women must be seen as a human rights issue, and that has nothing to do with culture or religion."
... The conference will be a failure if it cannot produce ambitious global standards that will deliver concrete results to protect women and girls.
Chattanooga (Tenn.) Free Press on choosing the next pope:
For the sake of the relevance and growth of the Catholic Church, the College of Cardinals might consider a man who, as pope, would champion more reasonable stances and help the church to become better suited for modern times. But that wouldn't be the right move.
If the Catholic Church is to be the least bit credible, it can't operate relative to the times or in a way that reacts to changing societal norms. It should stay exactly how it is — even if it may appear to some to be sexist, homophobic, closed-minded and/or antiquated.
Since, Catholics would argue, God's primacy, God's teachings and God's expectations of man aren't subject to change, the cardinals should not elect a man whose vision of the church is subject to change.
The cardinals should, however, strongly consider electing the first non-European pope in 1,272 years — especially since most of the Church's recent growth has taken place in Mexico, South America, Western Africa and the Philippines.
Also, unlike the last time the conclave met, they should refrain from electing a cardinal with any history of covering up sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.
Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky., on border security:
The apprehension of a Nepalese man who tried to cross our southern border illegally last November near McAllen, Texas, makes the very unsettling point that border security could be a life and death matter for our citizens.
The man in question was found to be infected with a particularly deadly strain of tuberculosis known as XDR, which can be almost untreatable. ...
This strain had only been seen once before in this country prior to last November.
It is gratifying that the Nepalese man was apprehended and placed in quarantine, but the great unknown is how many more similarly infected individuals may have slipped across the border undetected.
Border security is certainly better now than it was a few years ago, but the real question should be is it good enough.
The fact our border is still more porous than it should be is certainly not lost on the likes of al-Qaida. Are terrorist sleeper cells here already that used this entry point?
For the health and safety of our citizens, border security must be an integral part of needed immigration reform.
There is another reason found in the U.S. Constitution that in our judgment has received far too little attention.
Article 4, section 4 states that "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this Union a Republican Form of Government and shall protect each of them against invasion."
It is not much of a stretch to suggest that when millions of illegal immigrants enter our country contrary to our laws, it rises to the level of an invasion.
Houston Chronicle on restricting executive authority for drone strikes:
There was a sense of a Senate returning to form as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., munched on a Kit Kat bar in the middle of his 13-hour filibuster — a break from his reading articles about military drones. This grandstanding didn't stop the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director, unlike the silent holds that have blocked qualified candidates from filling the holes in our judiciary.
Now it is time to turn that rhetorical passion into legislative action. If Paul and his acolytes are serious about restraining executive authority, then they should set their targets on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. Passed after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the AUMF granted the president authority to use all necessary force against those who planned, authorized committed or aided in the 9/11 attacks or those who harbored them. Since then, it has been used to justify military force not just in Afghanistan, but Pakistan and Yemen. And against U.S. citizens. Without any explicit restrictions, folks outside the White House are left wondering whether Congress authorized the president to use military force anywhere that could possibly house al-Qaida sympathizers. Legislative history implies that Congress specifically did not include authority within our national borders, but we shouldn't have to guess at whether the president can kill citizens on domestic soil.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has joined Paul in introducing a bill to prohibit drone killings of citizens on U.S. soil if they don't represent an imminent threat. But why not look at the AUMF itself? When contemplating presidential authority, we hope that Democrats always imagine a President Dick Cheney. And for Republicans, well, President Barack Obama seems to foster enough healthy skepticism. But for too long both parties have cared more about partisan politics than the ramifications of unchecked presidential power. We hope Paul's filibuster will help bring an end to that era.
The Republican American, Waterbury, Conn., on home mortgages:
Six years after the collapse of the housing bubble inflated by the political treachery of then-Sen. Chris Dodd and others, 27.5 percent of U.S. home mortgages still remain under water. That's almost 14 million homeowners with more mortgage debt than equity, according to the Zillow Negative Equity Report. ...
Where they got in trouble was believing prices would rise forever, freeing them to cash out their equity periodically to buy expensive consumer goods, pay for lavish vacations, finance grand home improvements or simply afford lifestyles their incomes couldn't support. During the housing boom, Americans cashed out more than $1 trillion in equity by refinancing or through second mortgages or lines of credit, all with variable interest rates below those of traditional fixed-rate instruments. But when the bubble burst, they were submerged by rapidly falling prices and rising interest rates. And the rest, including trillions in lost household wealth and 5 million-plus foreclosures, is Chris Dodd's legacy.
Did Americans learn anything about reckless borrowing? CNBC reports a $7.2 billion (19 percent) surge in new equity lines of credit in the last year. That's a far cry from the $28 billion likewise financed in 2006, and industry observers say, based on anecdotes, this new equity borrowing is funding home improvements, college tuition and other worthwhile expenses.
Maybe so, but that doesn't mean the new loans are risk-free to borrowers or taxpayers. It's not as if the mortgage and housing crises have passed. ...
Notwithstanding the copious grandstanding by politicians and government bureaucrats, nothing fundamental has changed since the bubble burst. And almost every new mortgage continues to come with the implied backing of taxpayers because the Obama administration actually has expanded the role of Fannie and Freddie in housing finance, even as they are stuck with more than $5 trillion in essentially worthless mortgage-backed securities. So almost every new dollar borrowed presents a new risk for taxpayers. ...
Muskogee (Okla.) Phoenix on pocketknives on commercial planes:
Dropping our guard again can't become the legacy of the 9/11 terror attacks.
The Transportation Security Administration's decision to let passengers carry pocketknives on flights unnecessarily rolls back protections designed to keep 9/11 from happening again.
Terrorists used simple box cutters to take over planes and crash them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.
Now the TSA will allow smaller pocketknives — blades less than 2.36 inches long and less than half an inch wide — on planes.
Small blades can be sharpened into deadly weapons.
At least that was the fear when pocketknives were banned in the first place.
Those blades are just as deadly now as they were in 2001.
The TSA policy aligns the United States with international standards and allows the TSA to concentrate on more serious safety threats, the agency said.
The TSA may believe those knives and small bottles of shampoo or lotion are harmless. But terrorists have hidden explosives in tennis shoes.
Criminals and terrorists count on people letting down their guard because they don't like the inconvenience of being diligent.
Many of the things that are banned for carry-on are acceptable to be in luggage kept in the plane's cargo hold.
Anyone who is surprised by having a pocketknife seized has not been paying attention for the last 12 years.
You don't stop brushing your teeth because your dentist says you don't have cavities.
Keeping potential weapons off planes is not a violation of passengers' rights.
Keeping terrorists off planes is an affirmation of passengers' rights.
San Francisco Chronicle on China's climate change initiative:
Finally, a nation that is contributing heavily to climate change is taking a major step to reduce its emissions. Unfortunately, this global leadership is not coming from the United States. It's coming from China.
China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, so the news (reported by Xinhua, a state-owned media service) that it's going to introduce a carbon tax is huge. The tax is unlikely to be on the scale that experts suggest would make a serious dent in climate change: In 2010, China's ministry of finance suggested levying a carbon tax of 10 yuan ($1.60) per ton in 2012, to rise to 50 yuan ($8) per ton in 2020. Experts have suggested a tax of 500 yuan, or $80 per ton.
Still, even a small Chinese carbon tax would mean a dramatic step forward for the planet. And it's a lot more than anything the United States has done.
China's announcement also comes as a bit of a surprise. For years, China has been a strident opponent of coordinated international efforts to combat climate change — rivaled only by the United States in this opposition.
Yet China has much to lose from the steady encroachment of climate change, and it's finally starting to acknowledge that fact. ...
... Improving the environment isn't just a matter of good policy for the Chinese government, it's a matter of political survival.
Even if China's plan is driven by its own internal politics, it's still a better plan than what the United States has — which is no plan at all. ...
It's just one more sign that the rest of the world is moving forward on climate change, boosting their own renewable energy industries and improving the health of their populations in the process. Meanwhile, the clock is running out and the United States is still running in place.
Texarkana (Ark.) Gazette on North Korea:
Let's not hold our breath over the latest United Nations sanctions against North Korea for pursuing nuclear weapons capability. We will turn blue and pass out long before the megalomaniacs running the rogue nation give up their nuclear ambitions.
Many believe the latest round of sanctions only will aid Kim Jong Un's propaganda machine by shoring up nationalist fervor. The latest sanctions will affect only the North Korean elite class. The majority of North Koreans already live in abject poverty and have been hit hardest by previous sanctions.
The newest Security Council punishment cracks down on the sale of luxury items. ...
The ruling class that will be hit by these latest sanctions lacks the numbers — most likely the guts — to mount much of a protest.
So Kim Jong Un, like his late father, Kim Jong Il, will bluster about the UN being controlled by the U.S. which, North Koreans believe, bullies the smaller nation. Even as their stomachs rumble and they lack medical aid, North Korea's masses embrace nationalism in this David and Goliath scenario. They will consider their nation at war. ...
The world's diplomatic options are limited, but there is one flicker of hope — although it rests with a nation we cannot exactly call an ally.
North Korea's rulers have managed to carry on despite previous sanctions because China has skirted the crackdowns and provided oil and food. That has kept the country going through famine, disasters and the biggest disaster of all, poor leadership. ...
North Korea will continue its slow, steady efforts to arm itself with nukes. We only hope China's disenchantment with the leadership there steadily and swiftly grows.
The Jerusalem Post on Hungary's Jews:
The populist, conservative prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, is once again at odds with the European Union. As part of a wider campaign to consolidate and perpetuate right-wing control over central Hungarian institutions, from the courts and the press to religious expression and confidential information, the Hungarian parliament — two-thirds of which is controlled by Orban's Fidesz party — is poised to vote in amendments to the country's constitution that the Council of Europe, the body responsible for defending human rights in the EU, has warned will put Hungary's democratic checks and balances at risk.
This is not the first time Budapest has clashed with Brussels.
Last year, similar amendments to the constitution proposed by Hungary's parliament were sharply opposed by the EU. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso launched "infringement proceedings" in a successful bid to torpedo the laws. ...
Now the Hungarian prime minister is back to his old tricks. Hiding behind the claim that the amendment proposals are "private bills," Orban wants to institute limitations on political advertising in commercial media, make recognition of religious groups dependent on cooperation with the government and curb the constitutional court's powers.
The Jewish community, which numbers about 100,000, has served as the canary in Hungary's coal mine. As the history of civilization demonstrates, whether in Catholic Spain, in Nazi Germany or in Hamas-controlled Gaza, anti-Jewish sentiments are an unfailing prognosis of wider trends of antagonism to democratic ideals and freedom.
And Hungary is no exception. ...
Hungary is a sorrowful example of how rampant anti- Semitism can be a surefire barometer for reactionary, antidemocratic trends. Wherever Jews live in an atmosphere of antagonism and fear, it is likely that democratic checks and balances and other ideals of an open society are in the process of being dismantled.
The Japan Times, Tokyo, on UN sanctions against North Korea:
The United Nations Security Council on March 7 unanimously adopted a resolution that tightened sanctions against North Korea in response to its nuclear weapons test on Feb. 12, its third such test.
Opposing the resolution, the country has hardened its attitude to the point of threatening a pre-emptive nuclear attack against the United States. North Korea's isolation will become deeper if it continues to ignore the international community's warnings about its development of missiles and nuclear weapons.
Even China, the benefactor of North Korea, supported the sanctions. Pyongyang should take the meaning of the sanctions very seriously and return to the six-party talks, which are aimed at denuclearizing North Korea, as soon as possible. ...
... What is different from the earlier U.N. sanctions against North Korea is that the new UNSC resolution obliges the U.S. member nations to take the actions specified by the resolution, instead of requesting them to do so.
Another critical difference is that China took part in writing the provisions of the resolution, indicating that Beijing feels that North Korea's long-range rocket launch in December and nuclear test in February made its new leader, Xi Jinping, lose face and that China has lost patience with North Korea. Pyongyang should take these facts seriously and realize that it is on the brink of complete isolation in the international community. ...
The international community, in the meantime, should make sure that the sanctions will be tight and effective. China's role is especially important since it accounts for more than 80 percent of North Korea's total trade.
Full implementation of the UNSC resolution by China will deliver a strong message to North Korea. Beijing should refrain from any actions that will weaken the sanctions.
London Evening Standard on Falkland Islands referendum:
The outcome of the March 11 referendum in the Falkland Islands was never in doubt: as it turns out, 99.8 per cent of islanders voted to remain British, with just three people voting against. Nor does the vote have any legal force. Still, it sends an important message at a time when Argentina has been renewing its claim to the islands, almost 31 years after the Falklands War: the islanders want to remain British and do not want to be part of Argentina.
The impact on the islands' status is likely to be negligible, given that Argentina had already refused to recognize the referendum and the British government had no intention of giving them up anyway. But the vote does affirm the crucial principle of self-determination. For Argentina to take control of the islands in the foreseeable future would make a mockery of that principle; this would not serve the islanders' wishes. Whatever the emotional significance that the islands have assumed in Argentina — their recovery is enshrined in its constitution, despite Argentina having owned the islands only for a few years in the early 19th century — any sensible Argentine politician should surely accept that the nation has more pressing problems to confront. The Falklands wish to remain British: we should leave the matter there.
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, on post-Chavez Venezuela:
Venezuela's acting president, Nicolas Maduro, has revealed a clear strategy to win election next month to replace his late mentor, Hugo Chavez: cast himself as much as possible as the second coming of the populist leader who died March 5, tap into the wellspring of grief among the country's poor, demonize the opposition as enemies of those same people and promise to pursue the identical, badly managed socialist agenda that has left the oil-rich country's economy in tatters. ...
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to the cancer-stricken Chavez last October by 11 percentage points, is the better choice. But the larger-than-life ghost hovering over this election seems an all but impossible hurdle to overcome.
After defeating a top Chavez lieutenant to become governor of one of the country's largest states in 2008, Capriles pursued policies to rebuild schools, improve health care and tackle hunger. This pragmatic centrist advocates a Brazilian style of moderate left-leaning reform, which helped revitalize that country, alleviate poverty and attract foreign investors. He has opposed the Chavez government's heavy-handed meddling in the economy, including the wave of nationalizations and expropriations that left the vital energy sector starved for capital, and has called for a crackdown on the rampant corruption that went unchecked during the Chavez years.
These are all reasonable policies badly needed by a country facing chronic shortages of staples, one of the world's biggest fiscal deficits, 20-per-cent-plus inflation and a badly distorted exchange rate. If Maduro genuinely wants to preserve Chavez's legacy by finally making good on his unfulfilled promises to create a more equitable society with a thriving economy that would benefit all Venezuelans, he needs to set aside the borrowed vitriol and let his natural pragmatism take over while pursuing policies to win back badly needed investment for the oil-and-gas sector and rebuild relations with the U.S., Venezuela's most important paying customer.