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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on U.S. options limited on Putin's land grab in Crimea:
Barring an unlikely change of heart, Russia has effectively annexed the Crimea from Ukraine. The use of troops without identifying patches and insignia was a cynical and clumsy ruse that fooled no one.
Indeed, for pure cynicism it's hard to beat that while Russian President Vladimir Putin and other smiling top Kremlin officials were welcoming visitors to the winter games in Sochi, an Olympic event intended to promote international harmony, planning for the incursion was likely well under way.
The United States has a limited number of options to convince the Kremlin it made a mistake, one that can still be reversed. However, the United States is not without means of recourse.
The G8, the world's eight largest industrial democracies, should not only move its upcoming summit from Sochi but consider excluding Russia altogether. It barely qualifies in any case; the World Bank ranks it as the world's ninth largest economy and very soon it will be overtaken by India.
The United States and other Western nations should begin closing off Russia from the world banking system and denying visas to Russian officials who were actively complicit in the Crimean incursion.
The United States should suspend talks on pending trade agreements with Moscow. It's not inconceivable that Russia will overplay its hand and cause Ukraine to split into a pro-European West and a pro-Moscow East. If that happens, we should stand ready with trade and aid and eventual membership in the European Union for the Western Ukraine.
A resolution denouncing the Russian action should be brought before the U.N. Security Council. The Russians will veto it, of course, but not before embarrassing themselves by having to defend Russia's violation of international treaties.
The Obama administration should shed its customary caution and greatly increase its efforts to oust Russian ally Bashar Assad as president of Syria.
While no one thinks Russia's land grab will result in a shooting war, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel should postpone his plans to downsize the American military. Just in case, mind you.
Finally, President Barack Obama should curb his insistence on publicly explaining and rationalizing his foreign policy initiatives. The actions should speak for themselves.
The Gleaner, Henderson, Ky., on World Cup preparations:
The Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, flush with oil riches and seeking to push its way to the front of the international stage, is in the midst of an enormous, decade-long building boom to construct facilities and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament, the largest and most-viewed sporting event in the world.
Unfortunately, Qatar is preparing for that moment of international cooperation and sport by grievously exploiting its foreign workers, subjecting them to dangerous conditions that should be drawing forceful condemnations from the world community.
A recent report by the government of India, which supplies a large share of Qatar's workers, suggests that more than 500 of its citizens have died there since 2012, primarily, according to the Guardian, in either on-site accidents or from working in inhumane conditions.
Nepal, another big supplier of Qatar's labor force, recorded the deaths of 383 Nepali workers in that country in 2012-13. International observers and human rights groups have described working conditions for foreign laborers in Qatar as intolerable and inhumane, citing dangerous work sites, confiscations of passports by employers, withheld wages, oppressively overcrowded worker dormitories and limited access to food and water despite 12-hour work shifts often in triple-digit temperatures.
Although conditions are difficult for foreign workers in many Gulf countries, Amnesty International notes that Qatar is different because of its unusual exit permit system — under which foreign nationals can't leave the country without permission from their employers — its ban on unions and the sheer size of its foreign labor force.
In November, at the end of an eight-day trip to Qatar, United Nations special rapporteur Francois Crepeau urged the government to adopt basic labor protections involving worker safety and minimum wages, and calling for reform of the nation's sponsorship system for foreign workers, in which the importing employer holds all the power.
Crepeau's full report is due in June. The International Labor Organization also says Qatar's policies fall far short of that group's standards, which include workers' right to organize, a set minimum wage and the freedom of workers to leave a job.
So why should the world care?
Beyond the basic human rights issue, Qatar is hosting so many foreign workers in part to turn itself into an international tourist destination, and to prepare for the 2022 World Cup ...
Qatar needs to do more, and FIFA and the nations involved in the World Cup should press the emirate to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of its immigrant workers.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on horror in Nigeria:
The deteriorating situation in northeastern Nigeria created by attacks of a violent Islamist organization, Boko Haram, bears U.S. watching but not U.S. involvement.
Most of the attacks by the group trying to overthrow the government center around the city of Maiduguri and are directed against schools and schoolchildren, who, in the eyes of Boko Haram, represent anti-Islamic government activity that should be extirpated.
The killings have several disturbing aspects. First is their sheer number. Boko Haram has claimed thousands of lives since 2009, including at least 74 people killed in the past three weekends. Fifty-nine children died after the militant group set fire to their boarding school on Feb. 24.
Second, the inability of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and his armed forces to subdue Boko Haram is shameful. The country has an impressive 500,000 troops, but they have either avoided battle with the militants or fled when encountering them. Senior military officers instead devote their time and energy to skimming off the country's oil wealth.
Third, northeast Nigeria borders on Cameroon, Chad and Niger. This means that the disorder could spread easily to the neighbors, turning Nigeria's national problem into a regional one. Each of the countries could also serve as a refuge for Boko Haram forces evading Nigerian efforts to bring them under control.
None of this is an American problem, however, and it should not become an excuse for U.S. military involvement in that part of West Africa. Mr. Jonathan needs to use his armed forces to put Boko Haram out of business and he must coordinate with the presidents of Cameroon, Chad and Niger to mount a regional security effort.
The matter becomes increasingly urgent as the pace of the organization's attacks rises. It must be dealt with promptly before it gets any worse.
Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star on the D.C. virus strikes again:
When the nation's governors gathered in the U.S. capital, they tried to deliver a bipartisan message that gridlock in Washington is impairing efforts to govern at the state level.
Too bad their efforts to drive home that point were undercut by their own displays of partisanship.
Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, chairman of the National Governor's Association, delivered the script.
"While Washington remains mostly gridlocked — preventing long-term solutions — we are addressing challenges by reforming education, building infrastructure, improving health care and developing energy resources. Governors do not have the luxury of standing still. Our hope is that our federal partners will do their part and take action," said Fallin, a Republican.
Chiming in was Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat. "The whole country's frustrated with this place," he said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the association, pointed out that "unlike what you see in Congress," state officials "love to share and steal ideas from each other and see them improved."
A month previously when delivering the governors' State of the States address, Hickenlooper pointed out that more than 26 percent of most state budgets come from the federal government. "The politics of fiscal responsibility can no longer be centered around crisis and deadlines," Hickenlooper said.
By the time the governors had disbanded, however, it was apparent that the same divisions that are hamstringing Washington are also interfering with cooperation among states.
After a group of Democratic governors met with President Barack Obama, they tore into Republicans. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, said Republican governors "have been distracted by a more radical social agenda that gives tax cuts to the wealthy (and) asks the middle class to pay for them while they cut education and the opportunities that allow us to grow jobs."
Shumlin tried to return to the script several days later in a bipartisan media briefing after governors met with Obama. "We governors actually have to get things done. It's not like Congress down here," Shumlin said.
That's when Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana launched his now-famous tirade against Obama. "The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy," Jindal said, drawing gasps that he had broken protocol. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, claimed Jindal's remark was "the most insane statement I've ever heard."
To Americans more removed from the scene, however, it seemed like the visiting governors had succumbed to whatever virus infects Washington. It's unfortunate the governors couldn't stay on point. It's a message Washington needs to hear.
San Diego Union-Tribune on fracking:
Hydraulic fracturing, the energy-exploration process known as fracking, has created huge economic booms in North Dakota, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania over the past decade.
Fracking — which uses underground water cannons to free up natural gas and oil supplies — has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs and vast new wealth in energy-rich California, according to a USC study. This would mean a gigantic influx of new tax revenue for a state government with a long list of unmet needs.
But state environmental groups assert it is dangerous and untested, and vow to fight its use in accessing huge reservoirs of oil beneath Central California.
Thankfully, however, we have yet another reminder that the greenest president in U.S. history disagrees with this alarmism. The Obama administration recently confirmed that it had approved three new hydraulic-fracturing projects off the Santa Barbara coast.
This should matter in California's debate over fracking. But coverage of the debate rarely notes that the Obama administration has for years dismissed fracking opponents, most notably in a 2013 news conference in which Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said their criticism "ignores the reality" of fracking's history.
Given their quasi-religious hatred of fossil fuels, greens aren't likely to change their tune. But the Golden State media, at least, should stop ignoring the reality of the president's embrace of fracking.
The Buffalo (Ny.) News on Karzai forcing U.S. military to plan for pullout from Afghanistan this year:
President Barack Obama had little choice but to float the threat of the "zero option" to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
Karzai's stubborn refusal to sign the bilateral security agreement that would allow troops to stay in Afghanistan is wrongheaded and dangerous.
If the United States is forced to withdraw its troops by the end of the year, the Taliban and al-Qaida will almost certainly fill the power vacuum. The Afghan army is not ready to take over the country's security, which is why U.S. officials want to keep as many as 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to train those soldiers.
Nearly 3,500 coalition troops, mostly American, have been killed in the 13 years of war. From that sacrifice, al-Qaida and the Taliban have been severely damaged. Pulling out now would undo much of that progress. Still, the outgoing Afghanistan president is forcing the United States to plan for a pullout this year.
The White House is aware that it will soon be dealing with Karzai's successor, and the major candidates for president have all signaled that they would sign the security agreement. But who's to tell?
As reported in the New York Times, of the 11 parties represented in the April 5 elections, six include at least one candidate on the ticket who is widely considered to be a warlord.
Withdrawing our troops in the next 10 months should not be the way forward, and not only because it will be a logistical nightmare and invite a return of the Taliban and al-Qaida.
The move could further destabilize the region if India and Pakistan, nuclear-armed neighbors who have fought each other before, enter a proxy war in Afghanistan in a bid for regional influence.
It should be of no surprise that neighboring countries want the troops to stay. All 11 of the presidential candidates vying to succeed Karzai want some American troops to stay. The Afghan military wants them to stay. Everyone is on board, it seems, except Karzai.
With Karzai continuing to spew anti-American rhetoric, he leaves the Pentagon no option except to start planning a pullout, and hope the next president listens to reason.
Khaleej Times, Dubia, on uKhaleej Times, Dubiai:
The Venezuelan foreign minister made a smart statement, as he laid the blame of unrest in his country on media, and remarked that under the pretext of human rights violations, the West has always justified foreign intervention.
Elias Jaua who was in Geneva for a meeting of the United Nation's Human Rights Council, said Venezuela is a victim of 'psychological warfare'. His stunning words, true to the idealism and ideologue of his revolutionary country, however, are unlikely to inspire many in the West. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, nonetheless, adopted a reconciliatory and even-handed approach as he called upon Caracas to 'carefully listen to the people on the streets' and address their demands, accordingly. The world body chief, however, urged the protesters to be peaceful and not to resort to violence.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro has to admit that there is a dispute at hand, and the uprising of the people has political connotations. According to reports, scores have died in weeks of anti-government demonstrations. It is ironic that the ongoing unrest had started from a petty dispute wherein local students in the western states of Tachira and Merida were demanding more security after a rape incident.
The authorities concerned should closely look into how come this has graduated into a formal anti-government movement? The fact that Caracas tried to drive political capital by cracking down hard on the opposition has acted as a bone of contention. Moreover, Maduro played to the gallery when he expelled American diplomats on charges of indulging in espionage. This whole episode is in need of being re-studied and corrective measures undertaken to normalize the situation. Venezuela can make a good beginning by releasing the recently arrested opposition figures and initiating a broad-based dialogue.
China Daily on working with Russia on Ukraine:
As the West has reacted with alarm to Russia's approval of military action in Ukraine, tensions might further escalate.
Based on the fact that Russia and Ukraine have deep cultural, historical and economic connections, it is time for Western powers to abandon their Cold War thinking, stop trying to exclude Russia from the political crisis they have failed to mediate, and respect Russia's unique role in mapping out the future of Ukraine, says a Xinhua commentary.
Protests in Ukraine started on Nov 21, 2013, with peaceful demonstrations demanding the country's European integration, but soon snowballed into a violent movement against the authorities.
Crimea, an autonomous republic within Ukraine, has now become the center of the crisis.
Crimea is a multi-ethnic region enjoying autonomy after Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991. According to the 2001 Ukrainian Census, 58.3 percent of the Crimean population are ethnic Russians and most of them hold Russian passports. Russia also maintains its only Black Sea naval base in the port of Sevastopol, Crimea.
The Russian parliament on Saturday authorized President Vladimir Putin to use military force to protect Russian interests. Russia has increased movement of troops and equipment into Crimea.
Over the decades, Ukraine's population was divided along language barriers with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union, while eastern and southern regions look to Russia.
With the EU having proved unable to broker peace in Ukraine, the West should now show more appreciation for what Russia can do to solve the crisis. Given Russia's historical and cultural influence in the country, the Kremlin is the piece that cannot be missing in this political puzzle.
The West should also be honest with the fact that their biased mediation has polarized Ukraine and only made things worse in the country.
Looking to the future, Russia's economic cooperation and assistance are vital for Ukraine to solve its various problems.
The Ukrainians have to figure out what is best for their own country and solve the problems through political dialogue and negotiations.
At the same time, the United States and European countries must work with, not against, Russia to tackle the crisis.
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