Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
New York Times on an important victory on morning-after pills:
Reluctantly yielding to a federal-court decision, the Obama administration announced on Monday that it will take steps to allow a version of the so-called morning-after pill, known as Plan B One-Step, to be sold over the counter to girls and women of all ages. They will not need a prescription, nor will they be required to show any identification to obtain the emergency contraceptive. There will be no restrictions on where the drug can be sold; it will be up to the manufacturer to propose appropriate venues.
The turnabout from the administration's previous politically motivated restrictions on the pill was hailed as a breakthrough, or at least a significant step forward, by some advocates for women.
This latest stance substantially repairs the damage done when Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, intervened in December 2011 to block the Food and Drug Administration from approving the morning-after pills for all females of childbearing age. ...
In April, the FDA approved use of Plan B One-Step in girls ages 15 and 16, but that would still have required checkout clerks in drugstores to demand proof of age.
Now the administration has abandoned the legal battle and announced that it will move to make Plan B One-Step, an easy-to-use version of the pill, available without restrictions. However, it warned that Plan B One-Step might be granted "marketing exclusivity" for a period of time.
Ideally, there should be no restrictions on these remarkably safe and effective drugs that can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse.
The Anniston Star on snooping on the people:
Imagine for a moment a gaggle of high-powered Washington elites gathered at a White House podium. This bipartisan assembly includes the current president of the United States and top members of his administration as well as former President George W. Bush and key personnel from his administration. Also, included are the top senators and representatives on our intelligence committees.
The subject is the recent revelations that vast amounts of electronic data belonging to U.S. citizens are being collected by the feds in the name of national security. As articles in The Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post point out, the National Security Agency has secretly collected U.S. phone records and other online activity for several years spanning two presidential administrations.
All of this -- and probably much more -- is done in the name of thwarting the plans of jihadists who have already proven themselves capable of committing deadly acts of terrorism in the United States and across the globe.
Yet, Edward Snowden, a former private contractor working for the NSA, told reporters from The Guardian and The Washington Post that the programs are well over the line.
So, back to our podium assembly. President Barack Obama along with President Bush and Republican and Democratic members of Congress look directly into the TV cameras and walk back their defenses of the collection of so-called phone records metadata.
The programs are a step too far, they say. While legal under the PATRIOT Act, this massive invasion of the privacy of U.S. citizens must come to an end. Never again in this manner will we trade liberty for security, they promise.
Thwarting terrorist plots may become more difficult, they sigh, but the trust of the American people is more important. So from this day forward, they sum up, we will no longer gather up the electronic dust left by Americans as they use computers and mobile phones.
No American can reasonably expect such an announcement. Even if our leaders were sincere in their declarations, a backslide into electronic snooping would happen within hours of a terrorist attack in the United States. The stakes are too high and the tools too attractive to do anything else.
Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on easing travel restrictions to Cuba to boost freedom:
There is a quick way for our nation to help overwhelm Cuba's censorship and propaganda.
Simply allow Americans - the most effective ambassadors for democracy and free enterprise - to travel more easily to Cuba.
Having more Americans visit Cuba would almost surely boost capitalism in a country that is cautiously experimenting with property rights and private enterprise.
This can be done without the political firefight of eliminating the 50-year-old Cuban embargo, which greatly restricts trade and travel to Cuba.
We think the embargo no longer serves a useful purpose. Indeed, it gives the Cuban government a scapegoat for its failed economic policies. As John Caulfield, chief of Mission of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, says, Cuba's financial woes are a result of "Cuba's choice of an economic model."
But eliminating the embargo or allowing unrestricted travel to Cuba will require congressional approval, a political challenge.
In contrast, President Barack Obama by executive order can require general licenses be issued for all approved travel to Cuba.
Americans now can receive a visa to travel for such specific purposes as education and cultural studies. These trips must be guided by licensed travel services that are required to follow a strict agenda.
Everything is tightly regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control to ensure there are no violations of the sanctions against Cuba. (Cuban-Americans appropriately have no restrictions on traveling to visit family.)
The approval process for the specific visas can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Obtaining general license is far less complicated, so expanding its use would eliminate red tape and diminish barriers to travel.
The Cold War is over and the Soviet Union is gone. Cuba remains an authoritarian state, but its grip seems to be slipping. That control would be further eroded should Americans be allowed to spread the seeds of capitalism and freedom in a country whose people badly need them.
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, on revelations about NSA demand a close look by Congress:
Revelations that the National Security Agency has for seven years quietly monitored U.S. telephone and Internet traffic with the permission of a secret federal court should be of concern to every American.
For more than 200 years -- with few governmental incursions except in times of war -- every American's freedom from unreasonable searches has been guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
But in an age of international terrorism, government faces the challenge of balancing every citizen's constitutional rights against its own absolute responsibility to protect Americans.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court is said to have approved the NSA's "mining" of the metadata that is automatically collected by the phone companies every time a call is made. Phone numbers are logged, ready for an analysis by incredibly sophisticated computer software. The NSA also collects emails, documents, photos and other material.
An American intelligence contractor, however, says intelligence gatherers are doing more than merely logging connections between phone numbers. Citing a visceral revulsion against such intrusions into the lives of U.S. citizens, Edward Snowden went public, went to Hong Kong and then went missing. ...
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said, "The National Security Agency does not listen to Americans' phone calls and it is not reading Americans' emails. None of these programs allow that."
Rogers said in a statement that "anyone responsible for leaking classified information should be punished to the fullest extent of the law."
But Snowden says he made his revelations because "the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America." He said his greatest fear is that nothing will change.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, this week characterized the program -- analyzing billions of phone calls -- as "an extraordinary invasion of privacy" and an assault on the Constitution.
If this debate were occurring in the 18th century, the discussion would be easier. Authorities knocking down doors in the middle of the night is the kind of overt threat that's easy to comprehend. But 21st-century technology gives government ways to get through doors undetected.
Snowden's allegations demand thorough investigation, even if Congress must conduct some of it behind closed doors.
Feinstein has scheduled a Thursday briefing by law enforcement and intelligence officials for all members of the Senate on the NSA program.
That's a start.
Chicago Tribune on the Senate passing a bad farm bill:
The Senate approved a nearly $1 trillion farm bill Monday night that proves Washington is still bent on catering to special interests and wasting taxpayers' money.
Let's count the ways.
The Senate bill perpetuates a sugar subsidy that raises the price of sweets and shuts out foreign competition. Great for the sugar industry, terrible for consumers.
The bill creates a new sweetheart deal for the dairy industry: an insurance program that will drive up prices by triggering production cuts when there's an oversupply of product. Good for the dairy industry, terrible for consumers.
The bill perpetuates the vast government subsidies for crop insurance. The government will continue to pay more than half the cost of the insurance. Farmers get subsidized and get a perverse financial incentive to take excessive risks without having to worry if their crops fail. Taxpayers get gouged.
The bill largely spurns Obama administration efforts to reform the international food aid program. Most food will still be bought in the U.S. and shipped abroad, rather than be purchased where it will be consumed. That's good for U.S. growers and shippers, but drives up the cost to taxpayers and reduces the number of people who are fed.
The bill cuts $4 billion over 10 years in the food-stamp program, but does little to deal with fraud in the program.
While the Senate bill promises $24 billion in savings, including the elimination of $5 billion a year in direct government payments to farmers, there's so much more potential here for reform.
Lawmakers like to say agriculture policy protects family farmers, but the beneficiaries are generally large agribusiness operators. ...
With less and less risk of bearing a loss, farmers have started planting what's known in the heartland as "corn-on-corn." Instead of rotating the crop in each field year by year, some farmers have been planting only corn. Corn last year. Corn this year. Corn next year.
That's poor stewardship, contrary to the critical goal of sustainability. ...
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and a defender of crop insurance, recently struck a nerve when he admitted, "There is five times as much fraud in crop insurance than in food stamps."
The government should have no role in crop insurance for wealthy agribusinesses. The subsidy should be greatly scaled back to assist only those farmers who require help to obtain a reasonable level of emergency coverage.
The Senate has failed again to come up with a far-reaching farm bill. The House will take up its own version in the coming weeks. Congress, come on. Wean the agriculture industry off of welfare.
The Australian, Sydney, on Julia Gillard's clumsy, manipulative gender war:
Yet again, Julia Gillard has played the gender card to distract voters from Labor's policy challenges and the continuing speculation about her leadership, and to set up a phony dichotomy with Tony Abbott.
In doing so, the Prime Minister confirmed she has a tin ear for understanding the mainstream of Australian politics. Before an enthusiastic audience of Labor women on Tuesday, Gillard launched Women for Gillard - a fundraising vehicle seeking to exploit her attempt to manipulate a gender divide in the community. Yet the poorly scripted speech, replete with an absurd reference to men who wear blue ties, confirms how detached Gillard is from mainstream voters.
It is understandable that Australia's first female Prime Minister wants to make women's issues a focus of her government, but her words would have greater authority if she had not supported a man for Speaker who had sent text messages describing women in vulgar terms ...
Gillard described the election as "a decision about whether, once again, we banish women's voices from our political life". Voters looking for facts to substantiate this assertion will search in vain. Labor cannot win re-election by mounting a case based on straw-man assumptions or personal attacks. Gillard argued that a Coalition government would make abortion "a political plaything of men who think they know better". In reality, the Opposition Leader has pledged to make no changes to abortion laws and to leave decisions about the RU486 abortion pill to the independent regulator. And under a Coalition government, several women will sit around the cabinet table, including deputy leader Julie Bishop.
The discovery of a tawdry menu depicting Gillard in sexist terms at a Coalition fundraiser undermined the Coalition's rebuttal of Gillard's gender war - at least until the revelation last night that it had not been distributed. Yet her jarring rhetoric has not been welcomed by several well-known feminists who would normally be in her corner. Eva Cox said it was a shallow attempt to appeal to female voters. Jane Caro said it was clumsy and manipulative. ...
The Star, Toronto, on U.S. phone spying gives terrorists a win:
If Americans preferred not to think about how much they have surrendered in the war on terror, they can't avoid doing so now. They can't make a phone call to their dentist or hairdresser without having their home or cellphone number secretly taken down by Washington, along with the other party's number, the time of the call and its length. It's that bad.
If Osama bin Laden were still alive he'd chalk up this surveillance gone wild as a coup for Al Qaeda. More than a decade after the 9/11 attack, it still has the United States living in fear and trading away freedoms for security. This is beginning to look like a war the U.S. is determined to lose, one way or another.
With the acquiescence of both Democratic and Republican intelligence leaders in Congress who fear being branded soft on terror, both U.S. President Barack Obama's administration and that of George W. Bush have secretly interpreted the Patriot Act of 2001 so broadly that no one can escape pervasive scrutiny.
Thanks to media leaks Americans now know that under the Patriot Act the secrecy-shrouded Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered the Verizon telecommunications company, serving 121 million customers, to hand over to the security services its records on an "ongoing, daily basis." ...
Stung by the leaks, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has moved to tamp down a public outcry by taking the rare step of declassifying some details about the "telephony metadata" surveillance. Americans should be reassured that key members of Congress have been kept in the loop, he said. The White House is committed to protecting "privacy and civil liberties." ...
Perhaps some good will come of this. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and others are pressing for "a real debate in the Congress and the country" over balancing privacy rights and security. Ominously for the administration, people are calling the surveillance "un-American."
In effect, the U.S. government is asking its citizens (and people elsewhere who use the Internet) to trust it as it trolls through their private lives looking for bad actors. The sheer audacity of that demand speaks volumes about America's unhealthy obsession with terror. It's past time to move on.