Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on China-Russia natural gas deal :
It's always a mistake to read too much into body language, but in a Financial Times photo of the Russian and Chinese presidents signing a huge 30-year, $400 billion natural gas deal Vladimir Putin looks slightly discomfited while Xi Jingping looks like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary.
The deal eased pressure on Russia from Western Europe's dependence on Russian gas, which Putin has been willing to wield as a diplomatic weapon in his efforts to get his way in Eastern Europe, a fact surely not lost on the Chinese.
The Chinese, whose booming economy seems to have an inexhaustible demand for energy, are looking for alternative sources of natural gas. Given the up-and-down relations between the Russians and Chinese, it's inconceivable China would allow itself to become wholly dependent on Russian supplies, especially after the European example. Meanwhile, Russia, whose treasury is resource-dependent, must have markets for its gas.
Owing to problems Russia and its gas company, Gazprom, have had with the European market, the Chinese were apparently able to drive a hard bargain, forcing concessions they would not have gotten in normal times. Gazprom has committed to build a $55 billion pipeline to the Chinese border and develop its eastern Siberian gas fields to supply the Chinese.
Putin faces a thorny long-term problem. Russia's population is shrinking, especially in its far East. China's population is growing, desperate for work, and right next door is resource-rich but underpopulated eastern Siberia. Already illegal Chinese immigrants have begun to leak across the border.
There's a saying in Western financial circles: If I owe you $10,000 I don't sleep at night; if I owe you $10 million, you don't sleep at night. Outside observers can only wonder: Who's sleeping more soundly over this deal: Putin or Xi?
Anniston (Alabama) Star on gun rights in America:
What America needs are common-sense gun-control laws that respect both sides of the argument and do whatever's necessary to thwart preventable gun-related violence.
Last Friday, a young man in an upscale California community killed six people and then committed suicide with legally bought handguns. Elliot Rodger, the gunman, left a trail of social-media explanations for why he sought revenge against those he felt had shunned him. In the last few days it's become apparent that Rodgers' previous encounters with law enforcement and mental-health officials weren't enough to stop this unsteady young man from committing another of these all-too-common American mass murders.
The Second Amendment -- regardless of your modern-day interpretation of it -- doesn't touch on one of gun control's biggest problems: how to keep firearms out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them because of health concerns.
This passage from Monday's Los Angeles Times is particularly wise. "The mental health system is imperfect, by design -- a teeter-totter that weighs patients' civil liberties against public safety. Rodger existed in the middle, on the fulcrum, simmering and disturbed, just beyond arm's reach."
When it comes to gun violence in the United States, statistics are both helpful and confusing. Since the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut in December 2012, there have been at least 44 additional school shootings in America, according to gun-control advocacy groups Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Nevertheless, Bureau of Justice data released last summer show that the number of gun-violence deaths dropped 39 percent between 1993 and 2011.
If you want a verified statistic involving guns in America, you can find it.
Devoid of spin or political influence is this fact: guns are readily available to too many people with mental-health issues. Databases designed to prevent the mentally ill from legally purchasing guns work well in too few states. And from the law-enforcement perspective, there's this: Half or more of the people shot and killed each year by police have mental-health problems, according to a study from the National Sheriffs' Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center.
America's quest for a safer nation compels us to rethink the "teeter-totter" that's allowing guns to legally get into the hands of the wrong people. The death toll rises, yet again.
Chicago Tribune on Mideast trip shows pope's talent for diplomacy:
Pope Francis was guaranteed to make headlines on his visit to the Middle East just by the fact that the head of the Roman Catholic Church was going to one of the most tense regions in the world. He did make headlines ... but he also showed he has a remarkable talent for diplomacy and a flair for the dramatic gesture.
The safest course would have been to script every moment of his itinerary and reduce the risk of controversy.
So what did he do? Made an apparently impromptu invitation Sunday to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to visit the Vatican to pray for peace. Both men accepted. Since Peres does not lead Israel's government -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does -- this is not likely the stuff of a big diplomatic breakthrough. Still, it was a grand symbolic gesture: raising the prospect of Jewish and Palestinian leaders praying together at the seat of Roman Catholicism.
Apparently at Abbas' urging, Francis made an unexpected stop Sunday at a graffiti-covered section of Israel's security barrier on the edge of Bethlehem, where the pope touched his forehead to the wall and said a prayer. Palestinians view the security wall as evidence of Israel's intolerable control over their territory. Israel sees the wall as essential to its defense against Palestinian attacks. The stop rankled Netanyahu.
A day later, at the suggestion of Netanyahu, Francis made an unscheduled visit to a memorial to victims of terrorism. He also visited the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism who espoused the idea of the modern Jewish state. That visit rankled some Palestinians. Overall, though, Palestinians had to be pleased that the pope during this trip repeatedly supported their bid for statehood.
The journey created no breakthrough in the long and immensely vexing process of reaching peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But the pope did force leaders on both sides, at least momentarily, out of their comfort zones. There's value in that. The pope should take his show on the road again soon.
Omaha (Nebraska) World-Herald on calling out the cyberbully:
Pretty hypocritical -- that's how some commentators are characterizing the U.S. government's decision to indict five Chinese military officials for hacking into U.S. companies' computer systems to steal economic secrets.
The critics argue that the far-ranging National Security Agency spying, as revealed by Edward Snowden, shows that the United States has its own hands dirty and lacks the moral standing to lecture China on cyberprowling.
To which the answer is this: The indictment by the U.S. Justice Department was fully justified. The scale of economic theft being carried out by China's military hackers amply warrants a frank and robust U.S. response.
And while the Snowden revelations did raise civil liberties concerns about some national security-related spying by our country, when it comes to cyberenabled economic theft, there is no moral equivalence between our country and China.
The Pentagon doesn't have 120,000 computer specialists in the Washington, D.C., area and elsewhere doing nothing but hacking into the databases of foreign companies, then distributing the corporate information to U.S. firms.
But that's precisely what China's military does to unfairly aid companies in its own country. Indeed, it does so on a colossal scale, all as part of a coordinated, state-sanctioned strategy.
"By any measure, it's the largest theft in human history," notes P.W. Singer, a technology expert at the Brookings Institution. "The scale of the IP theft is massive." The theft costs U.S. companies more than $100 billion a year.
"They're not paying for the R&D, but they're getting the benefits of the R&D," Singer says.
Take the example of SolarWorld, our country's largest manufacturer of solar panels. To succeed, the company depends on its own initiative and its own research, spending heavily on research and development. It obeys global trade rules. In short, it's an honest company operating responsibly in the marketplace.
But China took a different approach to developing its solar panel sector.
No one expects the Chinese officials to be hauled into court in Pennsylvania, where the indictment was filed. Instead, the aim is something else: to begin a process by which the United States builds broad support, in the corporate world and international community, to push back against China's irresponsible behavior to the extent possible.
Los Angeles Times on the Washington Redskins:
What's in a name? In the case of the Washington Redskins, a lot of history -- and an irrefutable ethnic slur that ought to embarrass the National Football League enough to finally force some action.
Citing the speed with which the National Basketball Assn. reacted to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's racially charged remarks about African Americans, 50 U.S. senators on Thursday urged the NFL to put pressure on Redskins owner Dan Snyder to drop the franchise's offensive name.
It is regrettable that Virginia's two Democratic senators, who represent a large portion of the team's fan base, opted not to sign the letter. (Republicans, for some reason, were not invited to sign.) Tim Kaine said he supports the name change but didn't like the tone; if so, maybe he should have sent his own concurring letter. Mark R. Warner's office said he didn't think it "was for Congress to dictate what the league does" and that "team names will change to reflect the times," implying the problem will resolve itself.
Warner is right in one regard: It is not up to Congress to dictate this change. But this was not a piece of legislation; it was a personal statement of 50 senators' objections to a patently racist term. It's hard not to conclude that Kaine and Warner, unlike Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, put fear of losing fan votes ahead of taking a principled stand.
And it is a slur. Defenders of the name point to an etymology that began with Native Americans calling themselves "red skins" to differentiate themselves from the European settlers, the "white skins." Those linguistic roots, however, do not trump the evolution of the term into an ethnic slur; it's been a pejorative for a very long time. The National Congress of American Indians and other tribal organizations have strongly objected to the term, and as targets of the slur, they are in the best position to call it so.
The team has been called the Redskins since moving from Boston in 1937. That's 77 years; we don't think a team called the "Darkies" would have been tolerated for that long, although there's really not much difference. The team's owners have complained over the years that renaming the team would anger fans and make meaningless the millions of dollars that have been spent marketing the team. To which we respond: It's past time for a change. Cut your losses.
We should note too that the NFL, as a business association, is tax exempt (though the individual teams are not), which means American taxpayers are an unwilling party to this embarrassment. This page has argued before that Snyder should drop the offensive name, and we renew that call now. Change the name, and end the insult.
Toronto Star on Egypt:
Field Marshal -- sorry, make that Mr. -- Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi no doubt expected fawning Egyptians would snap smartly to attention and throng to the polls to hand him the presidency this week. But there's trouble in the ranks. Angry and apathetic voters are going absent without leave. Big time.
His Excellency was counting on a huge turnout to legitimize not only the coup against former president Mohammed Morsi, who took more than 13 million votes in the credible 2012 election, but also the repression since visited on the Muslim Brotherhood. However a Brotherhood boycott and public apathy at a rigged election has rained on the field marshal's victory parade.
Some polling stations in Cairo and elsewhere were all but deserted on Monday and Tuesday, as TV announcers harangued viewers to get out and vote. Panicky officials declared a holiday on Tuesday to goose the turnout. They threatened to fine people a hefty $72 for failing to vote. Finally, in desperation, they decreed that voting would continue on Wednesday until the balky voters get it right.
This rebuff to el-Sissi and his supporters is richly deserved.
They have presided over a campaign of repression that has put Morsi and others on trial, banned the Brotherhood, killed 1,400 of its supporters and jailed 16,000. And they have shown nothing but disdain for the electorate. El-Sissi hasn't bothered to appear at a rally, engage in a debate or put out a coherent platform. Instead, he has had toadying TV interviewers lob soft questions at him, and had his campaign vet the answers before they were aired to put him in the best light. His sole rival is regarded as window-dressing, a loser.
In contrast to the credible, closely-fought campaign that brought Morsi to power, this week's has been a rigged farce. It mocks Prime Minister Stephen Harper's fatuous assertion that the coup hailed a "return to stability." It just confirms how low Egypt has sunk.
Of course things will work out for el-Sissi and Egypt's establishment. The army won't have it any other way. The presidency is his. But Egyptians don't have to pretend to be engaged. And the world doesn't have to respect the result.
Khaleej Times, Dubai, on Europe's political earthquake:
The surprise gains by Euro-sceptic, right-wing outfits in the ongoing European Parliament elections has stunned the major political parties in the continent, who are worried that the carefully built, post-Second World War consensus on European integration may start unraveling soon.
Parties opposed to European integration including the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the far-right wing National Front in France, the anti-immigrant National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and Greece's Golden Dawn have gained substantially in the elections to the European parliament.
While about 400 million Europeans were eligible to vote, the turnout was just over 43 per cent. Anti-immigration parties that had been sidelined in national elections in several countries have scored victories. In the UK, for instance, the UKIP is all set to nearly double its vote share from the 2009 elections. A party that had won a mere one per cent of the votes about 20 years ago, the UKIP is expected to win nearly 28 per cent of the votes, beating all three mainstream parties including Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Nigel Farage, the UKIP chief, has described the party's stunning emergence as "a political earthquake," a point that was echoed across the Channel by Manuel Valls, the Socialist French Prime Minister. "This election is more than a warning. It is a shock, an earthquake," he said after the National Front won 25 per cent of the votes. While the centre-right UMP scored a little above 20 per cent, President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party won less than 15 per cent of the votes.
Even in Germany, foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier raised concerns about the rise of Euro-sceptic and anti-migrant parties in the European elections. "There is no doubt that many populist, Euro-sceptic and even nationalistic parties are entering the European Parliament," he remarked. "In some countries it won't be as bad as had been feared, but France's National Front is a severe signal, and it horrifies me that the NPD from Germany will be represented in the parliament."
Despite the gains by far-right parties in the UK, France, Germany and Greece, centrist parties will continue to retain majority in the parliament. The emergence of far-right outfits also reflects the disenchantment of European voters with mainstream parties, many of who failed to tackle the economic crisis.