Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on how Egypt has yet to earn our support:
The Obama administration is reportedly poised to ask Congress to exempt Egypt from the law that requires ending financial aid (in the case of Egypt's military, that is $1 billion annually) in the event of a military coup, and that would be a misreading of the situation.
Any support for such an exemption would have to be based on the belief that Egypt's recent referendum, which passed with overwhelming approval by voters, means the military leadership is actually practicing and embracing democracy.
The evidence, unfortunately, points in the opposite direction.
The most recent example is the arrest Sunday of a prominent intellectual who is accused of daring to criticize his nation's judiciary on Twitter. In Egypt, criticizing judges and the court system has long been forbidden, and apparently it remains so. How could such an impediment to free speech possibly advance democracy?
Three of these organizations were financed by the United States government and were promoting democracy. But the court held that their true objective was to "undermine Egypt's national security and lay out a sectarian, political map that serves United States and Israeli interests."
Egypt's opposition media have been shut down, and three journalists for Al Jazeera have been imprisoned without any charges. Meanwhile, the constitution adopted last weekend exempts the army, police and intelligence services from civilian control while allowing these very same arms of the government to prosecute anyone they deem threatening in military courts.
The great promise of 2011's Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia and spread very quickly to Egypt, took its time before reaching its goals in the former but has not even come close to bringing about the kind of pluralistic, democratic government so many Egyptians had in mind when they demonstrated against the stifling regime of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
But as bad as Mubarak may have been, he was at least a staunch ally of the United States, particularly on the issue of Israel's right to exist. The government now calling the shots in Cairo is no such ally, and pouring American dollars into its treasury won't change that unhappy truth.
Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette on the 5.4 million people who die from smoking worldwide each year:
Incredibly, the World Health Organization says 5.4 million people around the planet suffer agonized early death each year because of tobacco smoking. Cigarettes are an international curse, the worst cause of unnecessary sickness and lost lifespan.
Tobacco firms are, in effect, drug pushers. Their profits depend on getting young people addicted to nicotine, a drug with a grip as powerful as that of heroin. As long as smokers are unable to break the addiction, tobacco profits roll in.
The latest New England Journal of Medicine says the world could avoid 200 million needless deaths by 2025 -- and also gain trillions in tax revenue -- if tobacco taxes were tripled worldwide, preventing millions of youths from becoming addicted.
Dr. Prabbat Jha, author of the new study, says France cut its tobacco consumption in half between 1990 and 2005 by imposing drastic tax increases. He commented:
"Death and taxes are inevitable, but they don't need to be in that order. A higher tax on tobacco is the single most effective intervention to lower smoking rates and to deter future smokers."
He added that the United States and Canada could reap $100 billion extra revenue each year if they merely doubled cigarette taxes.
Last year, U.N. countries set a global goal to curtail smoking by one-third by 2025 and reduce smoking-caused premature deaths by one-fourth. Sir Richard Peto, co-author of the study, observed:
"Young adult smokers will lose about a decade of life if they continue to smoke. They've so much to gain by stopping."
Most American states have boosted taxes to prevent the young from becoming addicts. The U.S. average now is around $1.50 per pack. But West Virginia lags far behind, with just a 55-cent tax -- the nation's 44th lowest.
Each year, health reformers in the Legislature try to boost the state's cigarette tax, but high-paid tobacco lobbyists defeat this lifesaving attempt. As a result, West Virginia continues to have America's worst smoking rate -- an ugly distinction.
With the 2014 Legislature in full swing, conscientious senators and delegates who oppose unnecessary sickness and death among West Virginians -- and who see a need for extra revenue -- should rally behind an effort to help this state catch up with the rest of America.
Los Angeles Times on the Syria peace conference:
Expectations are understandably low for an international peace conference on Syria that opens Wednesday in Switzerland. It isn't just that the meeting almost didn't happen because of a dispute over whether representatives of Iran would attend.
There's also the fact that Russia, which has spearheaded the so-called Geneva II meeting with the United States, may be paying only lip service to the premise of the talks: that they will produce a "transitional governing body" in Damascus, with President Bashar Assad ceding at least some power. And the rebels who are grudgingly participating in the conference don't speak for all of Assad's opponents. Finally, Assad may believe that his hand has been strengthened not only by battlefield victories but by the legitimacy he has gained by agreeing to surrender chemical weapons.
No wonder a senior U.S. official cautioned that "this is the beginning of a process. It is not going to be fast."
But even if the odds of success are long, the Obama administration was right to press for the convening of Geneva II (which will actually take place in the lakeside community of Montreux). It is at least possible that the conference will help to stop the killing, speed humanitarian assistance and lay the groundwork for a political transition.
Although Russia blocked a resolution at the United Nations that would have forced Assad to step aside, there are signs that its patience with him may be limited. The U.S. also believes there are elements in the Assad government that seek what a State Department official called a "way out" from a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people, uprooted more than 2 million and ravaged Syria's infrastructure. And although the U.N. secretary-general withdrew an invitation for Iran, an Assad ally, to participate in the conference, it's not out of the question, as Secretary of State John F. Kerry has suggested, that Iran could play a constructive role on the sidelines.
Some critics insist that instead of concentrating on the diplomatic track, the Obama administration should have made good long ago on the president's repeated statements that Assad "has to go" by providing significant military aid to rebel forces. But it's too glib to suggest that it would have been easy for the U.S. to earmark lethal assistance to the "right" rebels.
Because of Assad's brutal repression of peaceful dissent, Syria was plunged into a civil war that has become a humanitarian nightmare. But this page has been concerned that a strategy of toppling Assad at all costs could have unintended consequences, including a chaotic struggle for control of the country and, potentially, the empowerment of groups sympathetic to Al Qaeda. Though far from guaranteed to succeed, the search for a political solution remains the better alternative.
The Star-Ledger on how the bridge scandal made Dawn Zimmer's Hoboken story believable:
Had Dawn Zimmer told her story last May - that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno threatened to hold Hoboken's hurricane aid hostage unless the mayor signed off on a pet construction project - would anyone have listened?
Not likely. If a Democratic mayor accused the Republican incumbent of playing politics with Hurricane Sandy money - while the governor was knee-deep in a re-election campaign - Zimmer's allegations would have been dismissed as election-year shenanigans. Her word against Gov. Chris Christie's.
We've all seen how Christie treats those who cross him.
But eight months later, Zimmer's going public, and her story has grown legs. In the span of a weekend, she's talked publicly, to the TV cameras, and privately, to federal prosecutors. For the moment, she has the nation's ear.
Zimmer's critics, namely the Christie administration, say the long delay torpedoes her credibility. She's agreed, in part: "I probably should have come forward in May when this happened," she said. Zimmer says she stayed silent because she feared Guadagno's backroom threats: that the administration would sink Hoboken's Sandy aid if Zimmer didn't play ball.
For eight months, Zimmer wouldn't sign a Hoboken redevelopment plan pushed by the Rockefeller Group, which is represented by David Samson, Port Authority chair and a powerful Christie ally. That's why, she believes, her city has gotten just $342,000 in Sandy aid - despite applications for $100 million. Pennies, for a city Sandy nearly drowned.
Bridgegate convinced Zimmer to break her silence. That's understandable. For one, the Legislature's GWB probe revealed the Christie team's heavy-handed tactics. Bridgegate's smoking-gun emails lend credence to Zimmer's accusations.
Guadagno denies everything, and the administration is defending its Sandy aid procedures loudly. But Zimmer's gone all in: She opened her diary to reporters and investigators, and will testify if asked. She volunteered for a polygraph and challenged Guadagno to do the same. She produced emails from Christie's minions, pushing for approval of the Rockefeller project.
All signs of a person with little left to lose.
Bridgegate put the administration's bullying on display: Christie's appointees conspired to gridlock traffic last September in a political power play aimed at Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who didn't endorse the governor's re-election bid.
And in Jersey City, Mayor Steven Fulop, another Democrat, was cut off from the administration within hours of telling the governor's campaign team he wouldn't endorse the Republican.
And now the allegation in Hoboken, where the Democratic mayor wouldn't rubber-stamp a questionable redevelopment plan, despite alleged threats of retaliation.
Critics say Zimmer lashed out only when she saw blood in the water. The reality is less calculating. She spoke up because Bridgegate made her story more believable.
Opportunistic, yes. But Zimmer's eight-month wait is the reason anyone is listening today.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the Army's efforts to oust 'toxic' leaders:
Dave Matsuda, an anthropologist studying suicides among troops in the U.S. Army at the Army's request, is pointing at "toxic leaders" as part of the problem.
Matsuda was hired in 2010 by then-Brig. Gen. Peter C. Bayer Jr. (now a major general) to try to help U.S. commanders understand what was going on below the surface in Iraq.
Bayer was supervising the Army's draw-down in Iraq at the time. He wanted Matsuda's help figuring out why almost 30 soldiers in Iraq had committed suicide or attempted suicide the previous year.
After studying the cases of eight of the dead soldiers, Matsuda found that while they did have complicated personal lives — generally given as the reason they had committed suicide — there also was fault to be found among the military commanders who had led them.
In each of the cases, he discovered a leader or leaders who had contributed to creating a "toxic" environment for the soldiers.
Much of Matsuda's story was told this month on National Public Radio. He said the evidence does not show the leaders caused the soldiers to take their lives, but his report said that suicidal behavior "can be triggered by ... toxic command climate."
He described platoon leaders taking turns to see who could "smoke" the soldier the worst, finding the most extreme tortures, duties and other annoyances to make that grunt's life miserable. It was psychological warfare at the soldier's expense.
And often, when the soldier responded as you would expect, the leader turned up the heat.
A retired general who led forces in Vietnam, Walter Ulmer, called bad leadership an "institutional cancer" and said he would give the Army a six on a scale of 10 in efforts to eliminate it.
The problem is as old as the nation's military forces, which were organized in 1775. What's new are the efforts to identify it, label it, open up a discussion about it and eliminate it.
In one recent effort, the secretary of the Army in 2003, Thomas E. White Jr., asked for help from researchers at the Army War College.
"Given an institutional objective to establish and maintain effective command climate, how can the Army effectively assess leaders to prevent those with destructive leadership styles?" was the question White asked.
Students at the war college provided a description of toxic leaders that Col. George E. Reed, then-director of Command and Leadership Studies at the college, wrote about in Military Review, the army's professional journal, in 2004.
"Destructive leaders are focused on visible short-term mission accomplishment," the students' report said. "They provide superiors with impressive, articulate presentations and enthusiastic responses to missions. But, they are unconcerned about, or oblivious to, staff or troop morale and/or climate. They are seen by the majority of subordinates as arrogant, self-serving, inflexible, and petty."
They come in all shapes and sizes, Reed noted. "A loud, decisive, demanding leader is not necessarily toxic. A leader with a soft voice and facade of sincerity can also be toxic."
In 2009 and 2010, the Center for Army Leadership at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas surveyed more than 22,000 troops to get a more global understanding of the problem. Those researchers found that about 20 percent of soldiers said their own leaders were toxic, and 80 percent said they had observed a destructive leader in the previous year.
In 2012, armed with the years of research, the Army revised its leadership manual to identify toxic leadership, and followed that up with a tiny pilot project, involving eight commanders, that allowed subordinates to evaluate their leaders anonymously.
There are plans to expand that process this year, and the Army expects to have anonymous evaluations of about 1,100 battalion and brigade commanders by late next year.
The Army also has removed some officers from their jobs because of their destructive leadership style. For example, three brigade commanders were removed or disciplined in 2011. A brigade consists of about 5,000 soldiers.
The Army's efforts have not escaped the attention of lawmakers.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a leader in the congressional effort to reduce sexual assaults in the military, commended the Army.
"Military leadership is absolutely right to proactively work on identifying bad leaders within its ranks, and to improve military command climate in this way," she said. "And it's all the more impressive that this is an internal process, not compelled by outside pressure."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who also has been active in the effort to reduce military sexual assaults, pointed at toxic leaders as one reason for the high number of sexual assaults in the military.
Macho doesn't mean being a bully. Leadership doesn't mean picking on the little guy, or woman. Fighting the enemy on the outside is a tough enough job. Soldiers shouldn't be fighting the enemy on the inside, too.
China Daily on cultivating Iran progress:
The nuclear deal with Iran reached last November in Geneva was eight years in the making, so carrying it out will require maintaining sincerity and trust, says a Xinhua News Agency commentary.
The ice-breaking deal, requiring that Iran halts the enrichment of uranium beyond 5 percent and dilutes its near-20 percent stockpile beginning on Monday, has given Iran and the whole world a long overdue hope of peace and stability. A cautious sense of optimism prevails in the international community.
For Iran, implementing the deal will ease the formidable grip of Western sanctions that have squeezed the country for so long, as the United States and its allies have pledged to relax them.
For the Western allies, a more cooperative Iran can help rebuild the balance of power in the Middle East, which will enable them to relax their diplomatic and military muscles to some extent.
There can be no doubt that it took courage for Iran and the P5+1 countries - the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany - to reach their agreement.
However, the decades-long mutual mistrust and suspicion between Iran and the Western countries will not vanish automatically.
Although US President Barack Obama had said his government will refrain from imposing new sanctions on Iran, some hawks and hardliners in Congress have called for harsh sanctions if they see any inobservance in the implementation of the deal.
Such comments, driven by political interests, are unnecessary, and they are potentially harmful to the positive momentum that has been established, as this positive development is both fragile and unstable.
Western countries should be patient with Iran, fully recognize its right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and let Iran carry out the agreement deal step by step.
At the same time, Iran should strictly fulfill the obligations it has agreed to and cooperate with all the concerned parties, so as to ease any doubts that exist and lay a solid foundation for further dialogue.
All the parties involved should demonstrate real political wisdom and address the concerns and interests of each side with complete sincerity and mutual trust. Only in this way can we give peace a chance.
The Australian on how President Obama is smart on intelligence:
Barack Obama has been wise to largely ignore the lunar Left's clamor for what would amount to the crippling of America's intelligence-gathering capabilities following the allegations made by the National Security Agency defector Edward Snowden from his sanctuary in Moscow.
The US President deserves credit for the way in which, in his keynote Washington address on the issue, he emphasized the crucial importance of intelligence gathering in the post-9/11 world and pointed out that the NSA, with which our intelligence agencies enjoy a close relationship, has not abused its powers, violated the law or been cavalier about civil liberties. He said nothing that comes even close to vindicating Snowden's contemptible actions or those of his campaigners, led by London's The Guardian newspaper.
He has, however, given ground on some issues -- declaring an end, for example, to NSA eavesdropping on the heads of government of friendly countries, a move that has potential ramifications for Australia and our issues with Indonesia. How smart Obama was to effectively admit to the spying without reciprocal assurances from those leaders over their own intelligence gathering remains to be seen. His intention to impose fresh controls over the bulk collection of metadata by the US government, placing it in the hands of a non-profit consortium or even private phone companies and allowing searches only after a court approval process, also suggests unnecessary meddling in a system vital to the security of the US and its allies. With the metadata in private hands it might lead to Chinese hackers having quicker access than the NSA. It is the comprehensive collection of all records in one database and the ability to search rapidly that enables terrorist links to be uncovered. So, too, is it hardly reassuring that Obama has instructed the NSA to abandon its practice of following suspicious phone call patterns across three "hops" and now limiting it to just two "hops" although common sense demands terrorist data is followed wherever it goes. The rationale behind Obama's determination to give foreigners the same privacy rights as Americans is also hard to fathom.
Balancing national security and the right to privacy is always challenging, especially in a world confronted by jihadist terrorism, with no country immune to its evil. Washington's interests and those of its allies will be best served if Obama stands firm and does not give in to those who hypocritically see the US as a threat yet laud Snowden's perfidy when he works hand in glove with Moscow's intelligence agencies in disseminating what the Pentagon now believes are the 1.7 million intelligence files he stole, many concerning and potentially compromising current operations against terrorists across the globe. The 9/11 Commission's report devastatingly detailed how Washington's inability to track terrorist communications allowed the hijackers to go undetected. There is always a legitimate case for control over agencies involved in surveillance. But crippling them would be a sure-fire way of allowing more 9/11s. Obama must be extremely cautious about changing a system that has proved effective. He must ignore the absurd narrative that Snowden is a hero. He is not. He is hell-bent on doing as much damage as possible to the US and allies like Australia. No changes should be made that could help him in that objective.