Miami Herald on White House sanctions against human rights violators in Venezuela:
President Obama’s executive order sanctioning some of the worst human-rights violators in Venezuela begins the process of holding individuals accountable for destroying what once was one of the proudest democracies in Latin America.
By itself, the order naming seven officials won’t stop President Nicolás Maduro’s regime from systematically harassing, beating and jailing members of the opposition. But it puts the bullies on notice that there is a price to pay for their actions.
The sanctions are the direct result of legislation passed by Congress in December authorizing penalties that would freeze the assets and ban visas for anyone accused of carrying out acts of violence or violating the human rights of those opposing Venezuela’s government.
The not-so-magnificent seven in President Obama’s executive order include officials in the intelligence service, national guard, public ministry and armed services. Among them is prosecutor Katherine Nayarith Haringhton Padrón, who has figured prominently in the effort to criminalize dissent by filing highly dubious charges against key opposition leaders, including former National Assembly legislator Maria Corina Machado and Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma Diaz.
The order means that she and the others will have their property in this country blocked or frozen. They are prohibited from entering the United States, and U.S. citizens are prohibited from doing business with them.
It is worth asking at this point how individuals supposedly working for “the people” and “socialism” in a country whose currency is increasingly worthless have accumulated the wherewithal to own valuable assets, possibly real estate, in the United States, and why they would need to visit “the empire” they so detest.
Surely ill-gotten gains from holding office could not account for it, because President Maduro has repeatedly assured his country that corruption plays no part in his beloved Bolivarian Revolution. If he cares, he would make it his business to find out what this property consists of, how much it’s worth and where the money to buy it came from. Don’t hold your breath.
The White House order is unlikely to improve the relationship between the United States and Venezuela, but for that the Maduro regime can only blame itself. The relationship is already in tatters thanks to the unrelenting stream of lies and propaganda coming out of Miraflores Palace in Caracas. Washington has been silent too long as the government denies Venezuelan citizens the human rights to which they are entitled.
The government’s attack on Venezuelan democracy, as outlined by Human Rights Watch recently, consists of a systematic effort to dismantle what’s left of its democratic legacy.
The latest actions include a January order granting powers to the military – trained for warfare – to use force against peaceful demonstrations, a clear tactic of intimidation. Meanwhile, there has been little accountability for numerous abuses committed by security forces last year against street protests, and prominent opposition leader Leopoldo López, a leader of those protests, remains in a military prison.
Obviously, it takes more than seven individuals to destroy democracy in Venezuela and bring the nation to the brink of ruin. The Obama administration should make sure that the notorious seven against whom sanctions were imposed on Monday are soon joined by their cronies.
New York Times on getting the whole world online:
Years before big technology companies like Google and Facebook began talking about using balloons, drones and cellphones to provide Internet access to billions of people in developing countries, leaders like President Bill Clinton were talking about bridging the “global digital divide.” And while progress has been made in recent years, most of the world’s 7.2 billion people still do not have access to the Internet.
The good news is that most of humanity now lives within reach of wireless networks. About half of the world’s population, or 3.6 billion people, had cellphone service last year, up from 2.3 billion people in 2008. And one-third of all people used mobile networks to connect to the Internet last year. Two main forces have made this possible: rising incomes in developing countries and cheaper wireless devices and service.
The most important thing world leaders can do to make the Internet available to more people is to pursue faster and more equitable economic growth. At the same time, improving access itself can help economies grow by making knowledge more widely available. There are numerous private efforts underway that aim to make Internet access universal.
Google is working on Project Loon, which uses a constellation of giant balloons to beam down wireless signals in the Southern Hemisphere. This will be most useful to people living in remote areas without terrestrial cellular networks. And Facebook has introduced Internet.org, which provides people in some countries, like Kenya, Colombia and India, with access to limited text-based content on their cellphones at no cost; Facebook and searches on Google would be included. The company seems to think that this will encourage some people who are already using cellphones to create a Facebook profile and consider paying for data plans by giving them their first taste of social networking and the Internet.
The big gains will come only when governments do more to increase investments in telecommunications directly or by encouraging private companies to build networks. The most certain way to do that is to foster competition by, for example, selling wireless frequencies to many different companies. This has been happening in places like India.
Other countries, including those in the European Union, have helped to spur Internet adoption by requiring telecom companies to share cables and other equipment with one another. Of course, many dominant state-owned or private phone companies will resist policies intended to encourage competition.
Making the Internet useful will require more than just equipment and networks. Many pages on the web are available only in English or a few other widely spoken languages like French and Mandarin, while billions do not speak those languages. Companies like Google and Facebook have invested in providing their sites in many languages and have offered free translation tools.
The World Wide Web Consortium, which is made up of universities, businesses, government agencies and other groups, is also trying to make the Web usable in more languages by making sure Internet formats and protocols work in different scripts. Governments and businesses should help those efforts by publishing educational, health and other information in more languages.
Bridging the digital divide is not quite as daunting as it once seemed. But neither is progress moving fast enough to allow billions of people to use a communications system that has become indispensable to the modern economy.
Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on Hillary Clinton:
Hillary Clinton cited “convenience” Tuesday as her motive for exclusively using private email correspondence on the job during her tenure as Secretary of State.
Of course, that depends on what the meaning of the word “convenience” is.
Clinton’s use of personal emails – and a personal server – for official State Department business would be troubling enough if it were committed by a public servant with an admirable record for transparency.
However, Clinton has long seemed annoyed by questions of her habitually secretive methods. That pattern first drew widespread attention in 1993 when, as first lady, she held closed-door meetings about her proposed overhaul of the American health care system. Clinton’s refusal to be more open about that plan helped consign it to political oblivion – and helped Republicans win control of the U.S. House for the first time in four decades in the 1994 midterm elections.
Then there were the Whitewater real estate scandal documents that went missing for two years before they were finally “found” in the private residence of the Clinton White House in 1996.
Much more recently, Clinton was far from forthcoming about what she knew and did before, during and after the Sept. 11, 2012 terror attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Irate over repeated questions during an early 2013 Senate hearing about the Obama administration’s initial story on what sparked the assault, she snapped back: “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”
Now comes the revelation of her dubious – and perhaps illegal – use of private emails in her role as secretary of state.
Clinton, after a week of not taking questions on the issue, tried to minimize its significance during a Tuesday news conference at the United Nations after delivering a speech there. But she did concede that the private emails practice was a mistake, explaining:
“I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails than two. I did it for convenience and I now, looking back, think that it might have been smarter to have those two devices from the very beginning.”
It might also be smarter for the Clinton camp not to try her old “right-wing conspiracy” diversion again.
Yet James Carville, former political adviser to Bill Clinton, said Monday on MSNBC:
“All of this is just the same cockamamie stuff that we go through. The (New York) Times got something from right-wing talking points. They print the story. … We’ve lived with this for 20 years. We’ll live with it for the rest of the campaign. It’s all about nothing.”
Connecting the dots between the political right and The New York Times must have been a challenge, even for an experienced political spinner like Mr. Carville.
And actually, the Times’ disclosure is about quite a lot, including Clinton’s exchanging of emails with President Barack Obama. The president told CBS on Saturday that he had learned about then-Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email and server “the same time everybody else learned it, through news reports.”
But White House spokesman Josh Earnest added on Monday: “The point that the president was making is not that he didn’t know Secretary Clinton’s email address, he did. But he was not aware of the details of how that email address and that server had been set up or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act.”
Meanwhile, Clinton said Tuesday that she deleted thousands of personal emails from her server. So they have not been forwarded to the State Department for review of whether they can be released.
As she put it: “No one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.”
But Clinton should understand and respect the importance of preserving official communications – despite potentially inconvenient implications for her 2016 presidential bid.
Wall Street Journal on the GOP’s renewable fuel evangelists:
Some of our media friends gripe that Iowa is the wrong state to start the GOP presidential race because it’s full of social conservatives. The real reason it’s a bad place to start is because it’s the heartland of Republican corporate welfare.
Witness this weekend’s pander fest known as the Ag Summit, in which the potential 2016 candidates competed to proclaim their devotion to the Renewable Fuel Standard and the 2.3-cent per kilowatt hour wind-production tax credit. The event was hosted by ethanol kingpin Bruce Rastetter, co-founder of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, who interviewed the candidates and made sure each one had a chance to light a votive candle to his cause.
“Don’t mess with the RFS,” declared Iowa’s GOP Governor Terry Branstad at the start of festivities, referring to the mandate that requires a minimum amount of renewables be blended into transportation fuels. Two of the biggest enthusiasts were Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, the social conservatives who won the last two Iowa presidential caucuses before sputtering in New Hampshire.
The fuel standard “creates jobs in small town and rural America, which is where people are hurting,” said Mr. Santorum, who must have missed the boom in farm incomes of recent years.
Scott Walker, who in 2006 said he opposed the renewable fuel standard, did a switcheroo and now sounds like St. Augustine. He’s for ethanol chastity, but not yet. The Wisconsin Governor said his long-term goal is to reach a point when “eventually you didn’t need to have a standard,” but for now mandating ethanol is necessary to ensure “market access.”
Jeb Bush at least called for phasing out the wind credit, which was supposed to be temporary when it became law in 1992. But he danced around the renewable standard, which became law when his brother signed the energy bill passed by the Nancy Pelosi-Harry Reid Congress.
“The law that passed in 2007 has worked, for sure,” the former Florida Governor said, though he reckoned that the mandate may at some point prove moot because “ethanol will be such a valuable” product. Ethanol Nirvana is always just around the corner.
Chris Christie wouldn’t repudiate the wind tax credit, perhaps because in 2010 the New Jersey Governor signed into law $100 million in state tax credits for offshore wind production. He also endorsed the RFS as the law of the land, saying the President should do “what the law requires.” That’s nice, but what voters want to know is what Mr. Christie thinks the law should be.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry sounded somewhat contrite for supporting the wind tax credit, which has been a boon for Texas energy companies. Now his default position is that states, not Washington, should pick energy winners and losers.
The only Ag Summiteer who flat-out opposed the RFS was Texas Senator Ted Cruz , who has also sponsored a bill in Congress to repeal it. In response to Mr. Rastetter’s claim that oil companies were shutting ethanol out of the market, he noted “there are remedies in the antitrust laws to deal with that if you’re having market access blocked.” Bravo.
Political cynics will say we’re, well, tilting at windmills by expecting politicians to swear off energy subsidies, but that merely proves our point about the Iowa caucuses. If they were thinking bigger, Republicans would understand that they’ll have more credibility to reform social welfare if they oppose corporate welfare.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Republican senators’ letter to Iranian leader:
The letter sent Monday by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warning him not to sign an agreement with major nations limiting his country’s nuclear program, was damaging to America’s role in the world.
This was the second venture in six days into foreign affairs by Republicans in Congress, which is distinguishing itself as the most dysfunctional branch of the U.S. government. The previous ploy was the March 3 address to Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party will be a contestant in Israeli elections on March 17. Mr. Netanyahu’s appearance was set up by an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The letter to the ayatollah, which cautioned that the next president could revoke the agreement and that Congress could modify it, was crafted by Tom Cotton, a freshman senator from Arkansas. It was signed by all but seven of the Republicans’ Senate majority and no Democrats. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey was one of the signers.
It is hard to understand the senators’ motivation as anything but a partisan attempt to embarrass President Barack Obama. They, and perhaps some Israelis, may have been seeking to draw on the furor surrounding the Netanyahu speech.
The impact on America’s standing as a negotiator in determining the Iran accord has to be negative. The Iranians say they see the letter as just propaganda. If there is an agreement, Mr. Obama can move forward on it and remove U.S. economic sanctions on Iran, at least temporarily, without Senate approval.
America’s partners in the talks are among the world’s most important nations – China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. They can only be appalled at seeing Secretary of State John Kerry and the president, who are charged with making the nation’s foreign policy, hit from behind by one house of the federal legislature.
The senators who signed the letter should be ashamed.
Khaleej Times, Dubai, on Malaysian airliner disaster a year later:
From the Air Traffic Control posts to military radars, it seems as if nobody was interested in pinpointing as to where the ill-fated aircraft was heading. The lack of coordination between military and civilian agencies is a case in point.
A year after MH370 went missing, shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board, the search operation and theories as to how and where it was lost are far from over. The most disturbing point that the report brings to fore is the attitude of air traffic controllers to grope in wilderness, as there was an emergency at hand.
From Kula Lumpur to Ho Chi Minh and from Cambodia to Indonesia, all aviation gurus manning the skies were aware of the aircraft’s deviated path – at some point of time on that day – but were clueless in coming to terms as to how to spot it and fly rescue missions. That is why the mystery lives on this day, propelling conspiracy theories as to whether it was hijacked, developed an unknown technical fault and lost contact, or the pilot committed suicide by flying it down in the oceans, or last but not the least: did the plane land clandestinely and sits in peace on solid ground! The answers are hard to come, and the report categorically lists out all trials and errors committed in haste and panic.
One year down the line, it is a challenge that stares on the faces of experts and rescue bodies. Ironically, no amount of scientific projections and calculations has succeeded in finding the debris. Neither any wreckage nor any fuselage! It is a phenomenon as if it was signed off for good on the fateful night.