Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail on how Marcellus gas can make the world a safer place:
Right now, Europe would love nothing more than to stop Vladimir Putin from reassembling the old Evil Empire of the Soviet Union
But Putin has Europe cornered this winter. Russia supplies 36 percent of the natural gas consumed by Germans.
Twelve other European countries are even more dependent with the three Baltic states and Finland receiving all of their natural gas from Mother Russia. It is difficult to stand up to someone when you are shivering from the cold.
West Virginia can help. The U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates that West Virginia and its neighbors are sitting on 141 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Marcellus shale formation.
Surely some natural gas from West Virginia and other sources in the United States can be sold and shipped to Europe to end the Russian monopoly.
But federal law restricts exports of natural gas, as House Speaker John Boehner pointed out in a column in the Wall Street Journal.
"These policies have amounted to our nation imposing economic sanctions on itself — sentencing consumers in the U.S. and abroad to higher prices and slower growth while ceding the international energy marketplace to countries such as Russia, Venezuela and Iran," Boehner wrote.
Exporting natural gas to Europe would benefit West Virginians. State government receives about $175 million a year in severance taxes from oil and gas. Increased sales abroad would increase those tax revenues. The state already exports more than $7 billion a year worth of coal.
Boehner called upon President Obama to approve the Keystone pipeline, lift his restrictions on oil and gas from federal lands and expedite applications to export liquefied natural gas.
Ending the Russian monopoly on natural gas throughout central and eastern Europe would allow those nations to be truly independent of Putin and Russia. Sales of natural gas from the United States to Europe would hurt Moscow in the pocketbook as half of Russian tax revenues come from oil and gas exports. The soft power of exporting energy would be far more effective than the current timid diplomacy displayed by Europe and Washington.
Drill, baby, drill — and make the world a safer and more peaceful place.
The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle on 100-year checkup:
Audits are a fundamental tool to hold government and quasi-government entities accountable.
Without thorough examination by independent parties, citizens would have to rely on the agency's word that its operations and accounting are above-board.
When it comes to the activities of the Federal Reserve, the nation's central bank, verbal assurances just aren't good enough.
Thankfully, momentum is building for legislation to enable the General Accountability Office to audit the Fed, something that has not happened in the 100 years since it was created to set monetary policy.
The bipartisan Federal Reserve Transparency Act passed the House late last year. A similar bill co-sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul is making its way through the Senate. The Kentucky Republican's father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a longtime Federal Reserve critic, tried unsuccessfully to get similar bills passed.
Though the proposed legislation provides no specifics about the scope of the audit, there already is substantial pushback from former and current Fed officials, who are used to doing most of their work in secret. Officials fear, for example, that their closed-door Federal Open Market Committee will be subject to "second guessing." Transcripts of deliberations are released five years after the fact to shield members from political blowback arising from policy decisions.
When government is nervous about openness, it should make everybody nervous.
We hardly would advocate micromanaging Fed operations, but there should be significant oversight. Deciding how much money enters the economy, and under what terms, are critical Fed responsibilities that should be better monitored.
We need increased transparency at the Federal Reserve. Considering its massive influence over the U.S. economy, its bureaucratic movements cry out for consistent oversight. That's something all citizens should approve of, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum.
Government simply can't be trusted to watch itself, and neither should its biggest bank.
Arizona Republic on border patrol doing better:
The U.S. Border Patrol, kicking and screaming, on Friday announced clarifications in its use-of-force policies.
They are small changes, just a statement of common sense. That they have to be said — and come only because of pressure from Congress and the press — says much about the need for greater oversight and restraint at this agency.
Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher told agents to stop jumping in front of vehicles they're trying to stop. He said they can no longer fire on a vehicle "merely fleeing from agents."
And if someone starts throwing rocks at them, agents should move out of range instead of immediately shooting.
Recommendations to this effect were blacked out of a congressionally requested report into 19 deaths, only to later be revealed by press reports. That's an indication that enough pressure driven by disturbing truths can bring change even to this recalcitrant agency.
Had these policies been in force, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez might be alive today.
He's the 16-year-old boy shot in the back while walking down a street in Nogales, Sonora. Border Patrol agents firing through the border fence hit him multiple times.
Pressure needs to continue on the agency to fully reveal its use-of-force policies, as all other police agencies do. The Border Patrol needs to be pressed to acknowledge mistakes and release a full accounting of deaths at the hands of its agents.
Boston Herald on traveling dirty secrets:
It is apparently the dirty little secret of international airline travel that more than 1 billion times a year passengers board planes without ever having their passports checked against Interpol's database of 40 million lost or stolen passports.
Even as investigators search for the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared out of the sky after leaving Kuala Lumpur, the tale of two men who boarded the jet with stolen passports was raising even more speculation about its fate. That the two men, ages 19 and 29 were Iranian, traveling together and traveling light, hasn't calmed any nerves.
But even if the two turn out to be simply unfortunate travelers — along with the other 237 souls on board — there is now no longer denying the security lapses that are a part of hopping a flight from most locations around the globe.
Only a relative handful of countries — the United States, Britain, the United Arab Emirates — bother to check passengers' passports against the Interpol database.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said his agency has long asked why countries would "wait for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates."
Fighting terrorism isn't the only reason for making those cross-checks either. There really is no good reason to be traveling with a stolen passport, now is there? Think drug smugglers, money launderers, criminals of all sorts.
The other take-away from this disaster is the revelation that Thailand is apparently the stolen passport capital of the world, where gangs of thieves have been known to go room to room at less-secure hotels.
It will ultimately be up to travelers to vote with their feet and their travel dollars for nations and airlines that put security first.
Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal on federal assistance program:
More than two months have passed since Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment benefits. The National Employment Law Project reports that 2 million Americans have been cut from the federal assistance program, many struggling to make mortgage and car payments, even to hold their households together. They have faced the misfortune of losing their jobs through no fault of their own and now seek work in a weak recovery.
In February, the economy added 175,000 jobs, the 48th straight month in which employment levels have expanded in the private sector. Unfortunately, the pace has not matched the stronger recoveries of the past, during which 200,000 jobs to 300,000 jobs per month have been generated. No surprise, then, that long-term unemployment (jobless for 27 weeks or longer) has remained frustratingly high.
Congress should have approved an extension for six months or a year without much trouble in December. Enough Republicans and Democrats, especially in the Senate, insist that they want to achieve as much. They have been at odds for weeks about how to pay for the extension, roughly $12 billion for six months.
Thus, many people suffer while lawmakers clash and lack the necessary sense of urgency.
This past week, both parties have revived their discussions. The hope is, they will find a way to bridge their differences.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has played a leading role in the negotiations. The Ohio Republican noted last week a need to repair "a broken system that is failing to connect Americans with jobs."
The system may need improvement. The suggestion should not be that the high number of long-term unemployed reflects a flawed program. The real culprit is an economy failing to generate enough jobs, payroll employment still below the peak before the recession.
As it is, too much has been made about lawmakers paying for an extension of jobless benefits. To be sure, the country has a huge deficit problem in the long term. Still, the deficit has shrunk by roughly half the past five years. More, the answer to the deficit problem does not reside in covering the expense of a temporary extension that actually would boost the economy.
That said, the politics are such that a mechanism for covering the cost is required. What both Democrats and Republicans could use is that sense of urgency. Many people in Ohio and elsewhere are hurting. They deserve better from their representatives in Congress.
Los Angeles Times on the labels on generic drugs:
When Congress gave generic drugmakers a shortcut onto the market 30 years ago, it required them to provide the same warnings as the brand-name medicines they were copying. Two recent Supreme Court rulings applied that stricture in an unexpected way: Even if generic drugmakers learned of a new side effect, they could not be expected to warn about it unless and until the brand-name drug did. In response, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed a rule to let generic makers add new warnings unilaterally — and allow them to be sued if they don't. One problem with the rule, though, is that it runs counter to the law, which still requires uniform labeling.
When drug manufacturers learn about a bad reaction to one of their products, they have to report it to the FDA — within 15 days if it's serious, less rapidly if it's not — so the agency can decide whether to change the drug's warning label. Brand-name drugmakers have the power to add new warnings temporarily while waiting for the FDA to approve a new label, and to alert physicians about the risk. But the FDA had previously barred generic manufacturers from taking such steps, and the Supreme Court held in 2011 and 2013 that injured patients couldn't sue them for selling unreasonably dangerous products as long as their labels were the same as those on the branded versions.
Fearing that the rulings left generic manufacturers with little incentive to monitor the safety of their products, the FDA has proposed to reverse its stance and allow all drug makers to add temporary warnings without the FDA's approval. The goal is the right one: to make sure doctors and patients are adequately warned about newly discovered risks as soon as possible.
The agency's good intentions, however, don't outweigh the fact that the law doesn't allow generic drugs' labels to vary from the brand-name equivalents'. Allowing each manufacturer of a generic drug to alter its label unilaterally would result in supposedly identical drugs carrying different warnings. That's not only confusing, it would be counterproductive if consumers gravitated away from the generics that carried more daunting — but more up-to-date — warnings.
The FDA is in an awkward position, having relied on manufacturers to take the lead in monitoring drugs after they're approved. But the agency doesn't have the authority to rewrite the 1984 law to give generic manufacturers the same labeling responsibilities that brand-name manufacturers have. Besides, only the FDA has access to all the data that the competing manufacturers compile about drug safety. It should take advantage of its unique vantage point and find a way to update the warning labels for all versions of a drug as needed, simultaneously.
Toronto Star on Canada's trade deal with South Korea is a calculated risk:
At first blush, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's free trade agreement with South Korea looks like pretty small beer. Federal officials say it will boost Canada's $530-billion annual global exports in goods and services by a relatively paltry $1.7 billion or so. Spread across a $1.9-trillion economy, the impact would be hard to feel.
There's even less to crow about if you share Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's understandable concern that the pact risks further hollowing out one of the heartland's key industries. "In terms of the agri-food sector, we are very optimistic about the opportunities that a Canada-Korea deal might provide," she says. "We do have reservations about the auto sector" and the 93,000 direct jobs that ride on it. There's merit in Queen's Park's call for a task force to monitor the rollout of this deal.
Harper says the pact will "create jobs and opportunities" when it comes into force after it is ratified by both governments. That will likely be next year. But in his rush to sign the deal Harper took a calculated risk. He failed to negotiate the same protections that the United States leveraged in its own 2012 trade deal with South Korea, and that may prove costly. Ford of Canada predicts that Korea will remain "one of the most closed automotive markets in the world." And Unifor, the country's largest private sector union, sees the deal as a "serious threat" to domestic production and jobs. We'll only know for sure once Korean automakers such as Hyundai and Kia gain duty-free access in a few years.
On the brighter side, the deal does provide a little catch-up for Canada in terms of getting a toehold in the Asian market. That matters, given the region's rapid growth.
As the Star's Les Whittington and Robert Benzie report, it is our first trade liberalization pact with an Asia-Pacific country, opening the door to deals with other Pacific Rim nations, including Japan. The European Union, the U.S. and Australia have all reached similar deals with South Korea, putting Canada at a competitive disadvantage and hobbling our exports. Much of this deal is about regaining lost ground.
Moreover like the recent Canada-EU trade deal — a centrepiece of Harper's political legacy which stands to boost our economy by $12 billion — the Korea agreement is welcome to the extent that it helps diversify Canada's exports, marginally easing our unhealthy over-dependency on the U.S. market.
The Australian on bleak days for Malaysia justice:
The world's preoccupation with the missing Malaysia Airlines flight is understandable. But the long-entrenched government in Kuala Lumpur must not be allowed to escape scrutiny over the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the sudden court decision to overturn opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's successful appeal against a conviction on sodomy charges and sentence him to another five years in jail. The move reeks of blatant political interference and, as the US State Department has said - on the eve of a visit to Kuala Lumpur by President Barack Obama - it raises serious questions about the rule of law and independence of the courts in one of the most important countries in our region, and one with which Australia has particularly close ties.
According to the Malaysia Bar Council and others, the Appellate Court's unusual decision to suddenly expedite hearing of the appeal against Anwar's acquittal, pending since last July, came only days before the deadline for nominations in the crucial Selangor state assembly by-election and a month before it was scheduled to be heard. Anwar, a perpetual and highly effective thorn in the side of the long-dominant Barisan National coalition, was set for a victory that would have made him chief minister of Malaysia's most populous and richest state - a powerful platform from which to campaign against the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak. This prospect was clearly too much for the ruling coalition, which is still smarting from the debacle it suffered in last year's general election when it lost the popular vote for the first time in 44 years, though it managed to cling to its parliamentary majority through quirks in the voting system and the gerrymandering for which it has long been notorious.
Anwar is now barred from contesting the by-election, as he will be from the next national election. No wonder Human Rights Watch has labelled the case "politically motivated persecution". Anwar has been put through a judicial wringer since first being charged in 1998. The country deserves far better than the endless political and judicial chicanery being seen in Kuala Lumpur.