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.
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Politicians have stoked fears that lifting a 1970s ban on exporting U.S. crude oil would increase gasoline prices at home. Last week the Government Accountability Office said they are wrong.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Officials at the Federal Reserve are telling banks to change their risk-taking culture or else. Their argument is familiar, but it’s being pressed with new force.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.