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Benzene spill highlights China’s latest water pollution woes

On Friday the government of Lanzhou, China, informed its 3.6 million residents that their drinking water would be carcinogenic for the next 24 hours. Benzene, a chemical used in plastics manufacture, was the immediate cause, but that wasn’t even the most horrifying revelation to come from this crisis. Today, reports from state media revealed that the benzene had been released into the environment as a result of oil pipeline explosions — in 1987 and 2002. The pipelines, owned by state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, were repaired at the time. Some 34 tons of contaminated soil, however, were left in place, the benzene allowed to migrate into an underground water duct that empties out via household faucets.

Heartburn grows over Heartbleed

Tens of millions of Americans have been affected by the theft of their personal information in the digital age. In a recent major data breach at Target stores, numbers and names were taken from about 40 million customers, and many millions more suffered compromises in other personal information such as email addresses or phone numbers. The victims trusted their retail stores, their credit- and debit-card issuers, their banks, and such security measures as a four-digit personal identification numbers, to protect their information.

Wall Street’s flash point

In “The Financier,” his great novel of American capitalism, Theodore Dreiser describes the thinking of his hero, Frank Cowperwood, who exploited banks, the state and investors. It isn’t wise to steal outright, Cowperwood concludes; that would be wrong. But “there were so many situations wherein what one might do in the way of taking or profiting was open to discussion and doubt. Morality varied, in his mind at least, with conditions, if not climates.”

A counter for hysterics in Michigan

DETROIT — Robert Griffin, now 90, who rose to be second in the Republican U.S. Senate leadership, was defeated in 1978. Since then, only one Michigan Republican, Spencer Abraham in 1994, has been elected to the Senate and for only one term. Evidence that former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land might end this GOP drought is that Democrats are attacking her for opposing “preventive health care.”

Don’t blame NATO expansion for Russian aggression

Tom Friedman, New York Times columnist, wrote a good column this week, arguing that the United States and Europe need to take a long look at whether they are ready to make the sacrifices involved in saving Ukraine from Vladimir Putin and, if not, let the Ukrainians cut the best deal they can.

The Colbert Report

WASHINGTON — In selecting Stephen Colbert to replace David Letterman as host of the “Late Show,” CBS has waged war on America’s heartland — or so proclaims that Palm Beach font of heartland mirth, Rush Limbaugh.

Pennsylvania school stabbings: Why?

In the midst of shock and sorrow, there is bewilderment. The mass attack Wednesday morning at Franklin Regional High School near Pittsburgh — with 19 students and a security guard stabbed or slashed, including at least one critically — leaves a host of unanswered questions. While the shrieks and sobs still echo, all the questions boil down to one: Why?

World has no need to fear China’s planned blue-water navy

Chinese officials gave U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel a tour of an aircraft carrier this week. The Liaoning is their only such vessel — but not for long. China plans to build three more by 2020 as part of its new “blue-water navy,” a prospect that sounds alarming but isn’t. The cause for concern lies elsewhere.

The healing in Rwanda

KIGALI, Rwanda — At the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, the most moving moments were unplanned. In the audience at Amahoro Stadium, first one woman, then another, then dozens in turn, cried out in uncontrollable anguish and had to be escorted from the ceremony. They were overwhelmed by memory. In their screams you could hear the screams of two decades ago.

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It’s law enforcement vs. the First Amendment, and citizens are losing

If you drive down Buckeye Road at the southern edge of Lima, Ohio, you’ll pass an industrial complex where General Dynamics makes armored vehicles for the U.S. military. But if you stop and take a photograph, you just might find yourself detained by military police, have your camera confiscated and your digital photos deleted. Which is exactly what happened to two staffers for the Toledo Blade newspaper on Friday, in an unacceptable violation of the First Amendment and common sense.

Demonizing the Kochs

WASHINGTON — Rush Limbaugh can relax. The popular “demon of the right” has been replaced at least through the midterms by the Koch brothers, Charles and David.

A tax reformer’s uphill push

WASHINGTON — The Sisyphean task of tax reform should be tried only by someone who will not flinch from igniting some highly flammable people — those who believe that whatever wrinkle in the tax code benefits them is an eternal entitlement. Tax reform’s Senate champion is Ron Wyden, the affable, cerebral and tall Oregon Democrat who once wanted to be the NBA’s greatest Jewish power forward since … never mind.

Too much money in politics already

The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned yet another federal law meant to check corruption and influence-peddling in national politics. The ruling shows two things: The Roberts Court’s destructive view on these matters wasn’t changed by the backlash to its Citizens United holding, and Congress must respond by designing new rules that can pass the court’s overly skeptical review. If lawmakers tackle the issue forthrightly, they have some workable options.