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Editorial

Glossing over repression in Egypt

For several years President Barack Obama has asserted that the United States must sometimes subordinate its commitment to human rights in backing repressive regimes that are supportive of U.S. national security objectives, such as fighting terrorism. The Egyptian government of Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi is providing a case study of why that doctrine is misguided.

The last straw for big soda?

It’s a match made in nanny-state heaven. Having failed to ban Big Gulps in New York City, former Big Apple mayor Michael Bloomberg has dumped $85,000 into the campaign in San Francisco to pass Measure E — a two-cent tax on all “sugary drinks.”

Unraveling a peril in Bangladesh

It has been more than a year since Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza building collapsed, killing 1,138 garment industry workers who had been crammed into an unsafe building. American and European retailers promised to insist on better conditions in the factories they buy from. But they still have a long way to go: A consortium of European companies announced last week that they found more than 80,000 safety problems in the 1,106 factories they inspected since the Rana Plaza disaster. More than a tenth of the facilities were so bad that they required immediate retrofitting for production to proceed — or even evacuation.

The ‘red line’ gets dimmer in Syria

One grim indication that the regime of Bashar Assad has been emboldened by the U.S. air campaign in Syria is the fresh reports of chemical weapons attacks on civilian areas. The Institute for the Study of War has compiled 18 allegations by Syrian sources of chlorine gas attacks by the regime since U.S. strikes against the Islamic State began in August. The first strike was reported Aug. 19 — the same day that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it had completed the neutralization of the chemical weapons stockpile surrendered by the regime. The most recent was reported last week, when government forces allegedly used chlorine gas against rebel positions in the suburban Damascus area of Jobar.

The Islamic State’s appeal

Western leaders sometimes suggest that the Islamic State is its own worst enemy, so extreme in doctrine and practice that it will galvanize opposition within the Islamic world. While that is proving true to some extent — Muslim governments, senior clerics and even other jihadist groups have joined the fight against the would-be caliphate — the sobering truth is that the Islamic State also has picked up popular support and the allegiance of other militants in countries as far away as Algeria and Pakistan.

Holding firm on Ukraine

Western leaders boast that the sanctions slapped on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine are inflicting real pain, and that’s true — even if Russia’s macroeconomic indicators still don’t look worse than those of France, Italy or even Germany. But there’s no indication that the punishment is having a salutary effect on Vladimir Putin. In a quick but high-profile trip to meet leaders in Milan last week, the Russian ruler was no more disposed than he has been to retreat from Ukraine or his larger neoimperialist agenda.

Gillespie’s plan would be worse than Affordable Care Act

Republicans calling for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, are a dime a dozen. Fewer offer a plan to replace the law with something they claim would work better. To his credit, Virginia’s Ed Gillespie, a GOP Senate candidate, is in the more select group. Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent, Sen. Mark Warner, favors tweaking the law without upsetting its framework.

Putin should worry about the price of oil, not ‘blackmail’

Last week, as falling oil prices have hammered the Russian economy, President Vladimir Putin has warned repeatedly that his country, a nuclear superpower, must not be “blackmailed.” He was talking about economic sanctions, but there is a different lesson he should be drawing right now and it has nothing to do with the United States or the European Union.

Ebola is no one’s ‘fault’

The ebola virus reached this country at the height of the 2014 campaign, so perhaps it was inevitable that the political parties would try to exploit it. To Republicans, the situation proves once again that President Barack Obama has failed to protect Americans. In one of the milder versions of this allegation, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal published an op-ed faulting Obama for spending Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resources on grants for exercise and healthy diets rather than fighting infectious disease. Some Democrats say, meanwhile, that we wouldn’t have to worry about Ebola if not for budget cuts to the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, for which the GOP alone is to blame. As one especially inflammatory TV ad puts it: “Republican cuts kill.”

Yemen unravels

President Barack Obama cited Yemen as a model for U.S. operations against the Islamic State last month, not long after he told an interviewer that the intervention in Libya was his greatest foreign policy regret. In fact, the two countries offer similar lessons in the deficiencies of Obama’s strategy. By backing local forces with airpower in Libya, the United States and its allies were able to overthrow a murderous regime — but, as Obama acknowledged, the failure to assist with building a state afterward has facilitated Libya’s collapse into chaos.

Overcoming the ‘new mediocre’

It’s never wise to base policy on the gyrations of the stock market, but the sell-off on Wall Street this week reflects investors’ increasing nervousness about global economic growth — and their fears are not unfounded. To the contrary, the International Monetary Fund’s forecasters describe the global recovery as “disappointing” and “uneven” and have reduced their 2014 growth projection for the world economy downward, from 3.7 percent in April to 3.4 percent now. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warns of a “new mediocre” in economic performance. Behind that lapidary phrase is a human reality of joblessness, stagnant wages and frustrated hopes.

A square deal in Hong Kong

Pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong persist in part because of the self-defeating way local authorities — and their masters in Beijing — have responded to them. More than once the encampments on downtown streets have started to dwindle as unfinished schoolwork and sleep-deprivation take their toll on the middle-class student protesters. Then authorities dispatch police or groups of thugs to attack barricades, as happened on Monday and again on Tuesday. Or they abruptly announce the cancellation of talks they had previously agreed to, as happened last week. In each case, the response has been a resurgence of people to the streets and the erection of new blockades.

Federal government gets sued for saving AIG

Former Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke found himself facing tough questioning in a federal courtroom last week, and he seemed “none too pleased about it,” as the Wall Street Journal put it. Bernanke’s interrogator was a lawyer for Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former chief executive (and a major shareholder) of insurance giant AIG, who is suing the U.S. government on the grounds that its 2008 bailout of the firm violated his constitutional rights. Bernanke has said that the rescue of AIG, which ultimately involved $182 billion in government commitments, was a necessary evil that he and the Bush administration undertook only because AIG’s collapse would have imperiled the world economy. By his apparent demeanor in the courtroom, Bernanke communicated annoyance at Greenberg’s attempt to punish this good deed — and we don’t blame him.

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Chinese leaders should allow Hong Kong voters more choice

With Hong Kong protest leaders calling their supporters out onto the streets again, there’s good reason to doubt whether talks with the government that were expected Friday will ever take place, let alone whether they could accomplish anything. Protesters’ demands for full democracy remain irreconcilable with Beijing’s decree that only China loyalists be allowed to stand for the city’s top office. Between those positions, however, lie solutions that could give Hong Kongers what they deserve: a freer choice of leaders. It would be foolish not to explore them, and soon.

Pay workers for time spent at security checkpoint

Imagine you’ve finished your shift, left your workstation, and as you exit the building you have to wait an additional 20 or 25 minutes to clear a security checkpoint set up by your employer to ensure that you aren’t stealing anything. Should you be paid for that time as part of your workday?

Reining in pensions

Here are the facts of life about the American public sector: Citizens depend on local government for vital services, from education to parks; the quantity and quality of those services depend directly on how many tax dollars are available to pay for them; and insofar as those resources are already committed to pensions and other forms of deferred compensation for public employees, they can’t be used to maintain and enhance services in the here and now.

IMF sends an urgent message about global recovery

If anyone was unaware of the challenges facing the global economy, the International Monetary Fund lays them out well in a new report. The extraordinary stimulus efforts of some of the world’s largest central banks haven’t been enough to produce a healthy global recovery and could be setting the stage for another financial disaster.

Paying for our wars

The cost of the new U.S. military operation in Iraq and Syria is already approaching $1 billion, according to a study released last week. The Pentagon has meanwhile launched a $750 million mission to fight Ebola in Africa and has committed to rotating U.S. troops through NATO countries bordering Russia. These are all justified initiatives with broad support from Congress and the public. But the budgetary foundation needed to sustain them is crumbling.

Congress must act to help children in need

Before there was an Affordable Care Act, the Children’s Health Insurance Program helped plug one of the many coverage holes in the nation’s health insurance system. At an annual cost of $13 billion, most of which comes from Congress and the rest from state governments, CHIP covers some 8 million children in families too well-off to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to afford private insurance. The uninsured rate for minors has fallen from 14 percent before the law’s enactment in 1997 to 7 percent today.

Ebola: Don’t be scared. Be careful.

Federal officials announced Tuesday that a passenger who flew from Liberia to Dallas last month had become the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. On Wednesday came word that health officials are monitoring several more people for signs of illness, including five school children who had contact with the first Ebola patient.