Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer on Margaret Thatcher's legacy:
Any modern history that does not include Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher among the most important world leaders of the 20th century instantly sacrifices any claim to credibility.
Former British Prime Minister Thatcher, who died Monday at 87, all but remade the United Kingdom of the 1980s in her own ladylike yet unyielding image, much as her friend and ally Ronald Reagan remade the United States in his.
In many ways, Reagan and Thatcher were and are the bookends of late 20th century Western conservatism. Although Thatcher lacked Reagan's seemingly effortless amiability, she was every bit his match in resolve. The "Iron Lady" label came courtesy of Soviet journalists, and would soon become a term of admiration and, to some, endearment.
Like Reagan, she came to power at a time when Britain was suffering from crises of both economics and national confidence, and saw bloated government as the heart of the problem. ...
Her administration's privatizing of state-run industries would hardly seem radical to most Americans: Among the government-operated institutions at the time were British Airways, Rolls-Royce, the coal and steel industries, a telecom company, gas, water and electrical utilities.
Supporters credited her with an economic revival; critics accused her of insensitivity to the wretchedly poor and of further widening England's historically yawning social and economic chasms. But her convictions were unshakable.
Thatcher is said, by foes and admirers alike, to have had an absolute confidence in her own rightness. It was a trait that sometimes worked to her and her country's advantage, as when she astutely saw in Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a possible end to the Cold War; and sometimes to her detriment, as when she imposed a hugely unpopular tax in 1989 and was eventually ousted by her own party.
Thatcher was described as "a very divisive figure" by none other than Bernard Ingham, her own loyal press secretary. He also described her as "a patriot with a great love for this country."
Houston Chronicle on U.S.-Mexico border security:
On the Texas-Mexico border, the rust-colored wall along the Rio Grande, an 18-foot-high barrier of concrete-reinforced steel with gaps every quarter mile or so, undulates over farmland, wetland and desert at a cost of $20 million per mile. Since the river meanders, the wall encroaches on private property, cuts through the campus of The University of Texas at Brownsville, isolates an American nature preserve, disturbs animal life and disrupts lives and commerce on both sides of the border.
In the words of Texas border residents, the wall is nothing more than "a billion-dollar speed trap," ''a political fence," ''purely symbolic."
To be more precise, it is an ugly symbol of a nation that has lost its bearings over border security. Even a Border Patrol spokesman conceded recently that its impact is minimal when it comes to impeding the flow of undocumented border-crossers and illegal drugs. "What it does is buy us a little time when we're trying to apprehend someone," the spokesman said.
For far-off politicians in Washington, officials who are often betrayed by border stereotypes, the wall — nearly 700 miles have been completed — is an easy, albeit expensive substitute for serious immigration reform. ...
True border security involves working with Mexico to sustain its growing economy, thus providing a viable alternative to citizens who might have considered making the dangerous trek north in a desperate attempt to feed their families. It also means working to reduce the demand in this country for illegal drugs.
True border security does, indeed, mean "boots on the ground" — to use Gov. Rick Perry's favorite phrase — to make sure that the horrendous drug-cartel violence on the Mexican side doesn't bleed over onto this side. It's important to note that border cities, so far, remain some of the safest in the United States.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was in Houston last week, discussing border security with state and local stakeholders. What she called "common-sense immigration reform" included not only strengthening security but also "supporting the travel and trade that are vital to our economy." Those kind of efforts make sense, not building more walls.
The Denver Post on President Barack Obama's proposal to map the human brain:
A proposed $100 million push to better understand the enormously complex human brain has the potential to lead to breakthroughs in treating Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even traumatic brain injury.
Given the enormous financial and human toll of these conditions, it's an investment worth making.
And considering the strength of neuroscience studies at University of Colorado, the emphasis could create new opportunities for collaboration and research in the Centennial State.
We hope Congress can find a way to fit the expense of such an effort into a reworked budget plan intended to put the country on a sustainable fiscal path.
However, fiscal prudence cannot be the sole goal of a retrenched budget. Such a plan also must make considered expenses that result in societal improvements.
Fortunately, an initiative to map the brain, announced this week by President Obama, could do both. Not only does it have the potential to make life better for the many whose lives have been adversely affected by various brain conditions, it also could save significant amounts of money in future health care costs.
A study by the RAND Corp. estimates it costs $157 billion to $215 billion annually (in 2010 dollars) just to treat dementia.
By way of comparison, the study found the annual cost of treating heart disease was $102 billion, and for cancer, $77 billion.
A breakthrough that would allow Alzheimer's patients to live more independently, for even a few years, could result in significant reductions in publicly funded health care costs.
And it could be of immense comfort to people who suffer the agony of seeing their loved ones lose their ability to function and recognize friends and family. ...
The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg, S.C., on North Korea's saber-rattling:
Another week and more tough talk from North Korea is likely.
This past week, the North Korean army warned the U.S. government that its military has been cleared to wage an attack using "smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear" weapons.
The threat from the unnamed army spokesman is one in a series of escalating warnings from North Korea, which has railed for weeks against joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises in South Korea and has expressed anger over tightened sanctions for a February nuclear test.
It's difficult to know just serious to take the North Koreans. Their constant bashing of the United States has been going on for years. But with its new leader in place and uncertainty about how he and the military interact, there is the possibility that North Korea could attempt a nuclear attack on South Korea, Japan or even the United States. ...
And the bottom line: Pentagon spokesman George Little offers sensibly, "Our desire is peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. The North Koreans have two choices. They can choose the path of peace or they can choose the path of provocation. One is better than the other for everyone involved, including the North Korean military and the North Korean people."
Portland (Maine) Press Herald on disputes among lawmakers over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
The least controversial "controversial" nomination is expected to come before the U.S. Senate next week when Congress comes back from its spring recess.
Richard Cordray, former attorney general for Ohio, has been nominated to become the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a new agency designed to look out for consumers and protect them from the kind of shady lending and investment schemes that brought the economy to its knees in 2008.
No one questions Cordray's credentials, character or ability to do the job. He has, in fact, been running the agency on a recess appointment, and won high praise from Democrats and Republicans. ...
The Republicans are demanding that the agency be restructured, replacing the single director with a commission.
That would make the agency weaker and could paralyze it completely if a partisan minority blocked the nomination of a tie-breaking commission member. That was done with the president's nominees for the Labor Relations Board, creating a deadlock that stopped it from functioning.
They are also demanding that the office be funded by Congress and not from a fee collected from the Federal Reserve. Control of those purse strings would also give a minority of lawmakers the ability to shut the bureau down.
The Republicans say that although they support consumer protection, they were excluded from the process when the bill was written and this is the only way they can have meaningful input. But that's not the issue.
What's before them is the Cordray nomination, not the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. ...
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer on gun control legislation:
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy on Thursday signed into law one of the nation's toughest gun-control packages. He did so watched not just by family members of the children gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December but also by the state legislators who'd put aside ideological differences to hammer out the bipartisan measure.
It was an instructive moment.
Sensible gun laws that protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners while aiding public safety are possible. Political compromise can be accomplished. Incremental change is not only achievable but also desirable.
In Connecticut, it became an emotional issue among Sandy Hook parents that the high-capacity ammunition magazines that helped Adam Lanza slaughter their innocents weren't all banned, only restricted — including a requirement that existing owners register their magazines. Yet that is still a move forward that may help reconcile gun enthusiasts to the need for more controls.
When the U.S. Senate returns to work this week, at the top of its agenda will be a proposed requirement for universal background checks on firearms purchases. Yet despite polls that show the idea enjoys overwhelming public support, even among gun owners, there is a good chance it won't make it to the floor for a vote. The National Rifle Association's Senate allies appear to have enough votes to require a supermajority of 60 members to force final action. This is the kind of parliamentary stunt that Americans ought to resent, regardless of their political persuasion....
It's time for senators to stand with the people and not the NRA.
Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier on elected officials communicating directly with constituents online:
An article distributed last week by The Associated Press focuses on the Obama administration's efforts to control the imagery and information flowing out of Washington, highlighting the benefits and pitfalls.
"Capitalizing on the possibilities of the digital age, the Obama White House is generating its own content like no president before and refining its media strategies in the second term in hopes of telling a more compelling story than in the first," writer Nancy Benac offers.
"At the same time, it is limiting press access in ways that past administrations wouldn't have dared, and the president is answering to the public in more controlled settings than his predecessors," she adds.
The article correctly notes the president's strategy mirrors what other politicians are doing.
Iowa's own Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican, for instance, is a well-known user of Twitter. Nearly 67,000 followers learned Tuesday that Grassley attended five meetings in two days in Iowa and from a room at a Super 8 motel watched the Hawkeye men beat Maryland in the NIT basketball tournament. He also shared the thought on his Facebook page.
Grassley, like every senator, also has an official dot-gov website, and he offers weekly video addresses and other clips on YouTube.
Clearly, access by the citizenry to elected officials represents a time-honored tradition. Technology simply makes contact much more immediate and available.
Benac, though, concludes the Obama administration's efforts tilt strongly toward control and raise "questions about what's lost when the White House tries to make an end run around the media, functioning, in effect, as its own news agency."
Obama has conducted less than a third as many sessions with reporters in the Oval Office as President George W. Bush but twice as many press conferences, according to Benac. Obama in his first term also offered 674 interviews, 266 more than Bush and Bill Clinton combined. ...
Critics argue against a "media filter" that blocks messages elected officials intend. But a strainer on the other end, one that takes stringent control of imagery and information and offers only spin, damages credibility, too.
East Oregonian of Pendleton, Ore., on regulation of genetically modified crops:
Overheard from an Oregon legislator as he exited a committee meeting at the Capitol: "Are we regulating religion or agriculture?"
That's a good question, and has probably crossed the minds of many legislators in Oregon, Washington state, Idaho and elsewhere as they continue to be approached by true believers who want to ban genetically engineered crops or label food made from them. When asked to back up their arguments with facts, they really don't say much more than they don't like genetically modified food and they fear it will do something or other to someone or other. ...
In fact, the scientific evidence is quite the opposite. No peer-reviewed studies show health-related problems with genetically modified food. None. Zero. Zilch.
Let us be clear. We support all agriculture. We support organic agriculture, just as we support conventional agriculture and the cultivation of genetically modified crops.
Our "feeling" — and the facts support it — is that all types of agriculture can and should be able to co-exist. Farmers should have the right to choose which crops they grow without unneeded interference from the government or anywhere else. But they should also act responsibly when a neighbor brings up a legitimate concern such as cross-pollination.
If a problem were to emerge, surely individual farmers have the common sense and ability to work out an equitable solution.
We'd like to say that the issue begins and ends in the U.S. and our wants, but it doesn't. It really comes down to enabling agriculture to continue to feed a growing world population that, given the choice between eating and starving, would just as soon eat, whether the food is genetically modified or not.
The Guardian of London on the potential for future food shortages:
American households, according to a speaker at the American Chemical Society's meeting in New Orleans on Sunday, throw away 40 percent of the food they buy. ...
Globally, the story is much the same. A study by the UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers found that somewhere between 30 percent and 50 percent of all the food grown in the world never makes it to the plate. Up to 2 billion tons of food is devoured or tainted by rats, mice and other pests, or perishes in granaries, or is discarded by buyers because it doesn't meet supermarket standards. Up to 1 billion people are malnourished or hungry, morning, noon and night.
That so much food is grown, distributed and sold every day is a reminder that free markets can effectively deliver whatever people can afford. That so much is shamefully wasted when so many people go hungry is a reminder that free markets do not and cannot trade in what George Orwell, in the hungry depression years, called justice and common decency.
But food security is not just a problem for the poor. It will become, increasingly, a problem for everybody. That is because of population growth. Every day, there are another 220,000 mouths to feed. By 2030, the world will be home to eight billion people; by 2050, there will be nine billion. ...
There is only so much you can expect from photosynthesis. That per capita income for hundreds of millions of once-poor people in Asia and Africa has risen is good news. The bad news is that the world appetite for meat is also rising, which pushes up the price and reduces the supply of wheat, rice, maize and other staples for the poorer communities.
Huge tracts of the planet are already experiencing water stress. The oil that fuels the world's tractors is a finite resource; cheap phosphorus fertilizer cannot be guaranteed indefinitely. So, as human numbers multiply, the food on the plate becomes harder to serve. According to the U.N., 2013 could turn out very badly. Climate change, too, is likely to compound problems, with increasing extremes of flood, storm and heat. North American harvests were hit in 2012 by drought and record heat waves. Global grain reserves are already low, and a second disastrous harvest in the northern hemisphere could condemn hundreds of millions of crowded and angry city dwellers to poverty and hunger, with increasing likelihood of food riots.
Things that could be done: genetic research could offer new ways of resisting crop pests and disease; agricultural science could deliver new ways of enriching soil and enhancing yields; better education could encourage more careful preservation and use of resources. But all these would require years of concerted political engagement on an international scale. Food, either wasted on the plate or withered in the soil, is not just a problem for the market. It is a problem for the world's politicians, and one that becomes increasingly ominous, everywhere, with each successive harvest.
China Daily, Beijing, on efforts to limit the spread of a new strain of bird flu:
The continuous rise in the number of people infected with the new strain of bird flu means the authorities must be relentless in their efforts to fight the virus and a nationwide information network needs to be established to prevent it spreading.
The three new cases that were confirmed on Monday mean the number of people infected with the H7N9 virus has risen to 24 since the first case was reported in Shanghai on March 31. Seven of them have died.
The H7N9 strain is a form of avian flu not previously found in humans and given there are still uncertainties surrounding the virus, such as its exact origin and transmission channels, the growing number of human infections is causing increasing concern.
Whether the outbreak can be swiftly and effectively curbed is a severe test of the government's ability to handle public health emergencies.
After the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in China in the spring of 2003, which resulted in the deaths of about 800 people worldwide, the Chinese health authorities were accused of initially trying to cover up the disease.
Encouragingly, the authorities seem to have learned the necessary lessons from the SARS outbreak and they have adopted a non-evasive and transparent attitude toward the H7N9 infections from the very beginning. They have shared information and cooperated closely with the World Health Organization.
That there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission means that it should be possible to contain the H7N9 virus if effective measures are taken to prevent contact between infected birds and humans. ...
The Vancouver Sun on research of brain injuries in sports:
In recent years, we've heard a great deal about brain injuries in sports, particularly among children. So it might come as a surprise to learn that we know next to nothing about exactly how those injuries are caused. ...
This is precisely what neurosurgeon Michael Cusimano and his colleagues at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto are trying to do. In a study published in the current issue of the open access journal PROS One, they used data from the Canadian Hospital Injury Reporting and Prevention Program to determine the cause of brain injuries among five- to 19-year-olds playing ice hockey, soccer, football, basketball, baseball and rugby between 1990 and 2009. ...
And about one-third of all brain injuries in hockey occurred from being checked into the boards, while another 10 percent resulted from being checked from behind.
It suggests that we must seriously consider the advisability of any form of body checking, particularly among younger children.
Physical contact was also the primary cause of injuries in soccer, though the form of contact was somewhat different. In many cases, head-to-head collisions produced brain injuries, while in others, injuries occurred as a result of being kicked in the head. Hence the authors note that greater efforts to reduce contact and stricter penalties for high kicks might help to reduce soccer-related brain injuries.
Contact-based injuries were also common in football, basketball and rugby, but contact with fixed structures such as goalposts or backboards were also common in football and basketball.
And in baseball, the most common cause of brain injuries was being hit by an implement — either a baseball or a bat.
It's clear, therefore, that different sports need to be targeted in different ways. For example, ensuring padded and mobile fixed structures, along with reduced contact, might be beneficial in football, basketball and rugby, while enforcing no-stand zones and the possible use of helmets might help in baseball.
But Cusimano and his colleagues also suggest one thing should help with all sports: education. The authors suggest that sport-specific education be aimed at players, coaches, trainers, officials and parents at all levels. Among other things, this could help to increase support for rule changes, something that is sorely needed.
Finally, Cusimano and his colleagues suggest that independent bodies monitor rates of brain injury and efficacy of our efforts to reduce those rates.
Clearly, then, reducing brain injuries will require a multi-faceted approach.
The Sydney Morning Herald on an April anniversary for wireless phone technology:
Life begins at 40. And so it is as we celebrate the big 4-0 for the first mobile phone call. This is a device that has — sorry, just need to take this — done so much to improve communication, increase economic efficiency and bring mankind closer together. But its best years may be still to come.
One minute a fashion accessory, friend, entertainer and easy distraction, the next the mobile is a work tool, outsourced brain, entrepreneur or glorious handmaiden for people's revolutions. ...
For this we can thank Motorola technician Marty Cooper. He used a so-called "brick" to call his rival at Bell Labs on April 3, 1973. It did not drop out. Even so, at the time Motorola thought it would take three years to have a model ready for specialist users. Cooper didn't think it would ever be adopted through extensive networks. He was almost right.
It took nearly a decade before consumers could buy a mobile, for a hefty price. It was a further decade before a hand-size model and text messaging emerged.
In the mid-1990s smartphones accelerated the evolution and by 2003 phones could merge email, text and phone functions. At that stage mobiles were estimated to save the average worker 20 minutes a week — a small productivity improvement but one dwarfed by the spread of advanced smartphones since, pushed along by the iPhone in 2007.
It's easy to forget the problems the community has encountered in coping with mobiles.
The cancer fears. The lingering fights over mobile phone towers. The way drivers have risked their lives and everyone else's just to get that call. The fight to save public phone boxes for the tech non-savvy. The tendency to carry work home with you. And the freedom mobiles accord children, and the associated access to unsuitable content and unsavoury people.
Business models have also been shaken in ways no one predicted. People are reading news on their mobiles and betting through them. Pub trading between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. has sagged because people call and message to work out where they are going out rather than meeting at the hotel to decide. Shopping centres are being replaced by online store warehouses.
Then there are the coverage dropouts. Forty years on and black spots remain the bugbear of every mobile user — including Marty Cooper, who has told the BBC he bemoans how the industry has focused on faster speeds at the expense of shoring up network coverage.
But for all the years it took and all the obstacles it faced, most people have welcomed mobiles with open hands and wallets. ...