Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Kansas City Star on judge's NSA ruling strikes a blow for privacy in America:
A federal judge has taken a big step toward the conclusion that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of Americans' telephone usage data is unconstitutional.
Richard Leon, of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., sharply argued in a ruling that Americans' expectations of privacy, protected under the Fourth Amendment, probably have been violated.
The government likely will appeal, and the case could get to the Supreme Court. But it already has created an outlet for fresh public debate. Civil libertarians on the left and the right have hailed the decision. Others are skeptical that Leon's ruling, in a case spawned by two individuals' lawsuits, will survive.
Referring to the spy agency's practice as "almost Orwellian," Leon challenged its defenders' reliance on a 1979 Supreme Court case (Smith v. Maryland). Telephone technology in American culture has so radically changed, he noted, that the earlier case is essentially irrelevant.
Perhaps most damaging to the Obama administration's defense of the NSA's ability to do massive counter-terrorism data-scraping, Leon wrote that there has been an "utter lack of evidence that a terrorist attack has ever been prevented because searching the NSA database was faster than other investigative tactics."
Americans should take comfort that the pendulum may now have a better chance of swinging toward a proper balance between national security and individual freedom.
China Daily on U.S. navy's risky behavior:
According to U.S. media reports, Chinese and U.S. warships narrowly avoided a collision in the South China Sea last week. The incident is clear proof that the intensive operations of the US navy in China's coastal waters represent a growing risk to China's national security.
Even before the full account of the incident is made available, details revealed by the US media show the US should be held responsible for the incident.
Citing U.S. military sources, Reuters reported on Friday that a U.S. guided missile cruiser in the South China Sea was forced to take evasive action last week to avoid a collision with a Chinese warship maneuvering nearby. The U.S. warship was operating in the vicinity of China's aircraft carrier the Liaoning, which is on a preannounced training mission in the waters.
The Liaoning and its accompanying vessels are conducting training in waters close to China's coast, which is in compliance with international law and practice. Intruding into these exercise zones or keeping close to any other vessel poses risks to all.
Given the behavior of U.S. warships and military planes near China's coast in recent years, it is clear the U.S. warship was spying and even harassing the Chinese ships. And by crying for others to follow its rules, the U.S. is only flaunting its military muscles while reconnoitering on another's doorstep.
In fact, with the Chinese navy increasing its inshore and offshore exercises, foreign warships and military planes, including those from the United States, have been keeping close by and sometimes ignoring the international custom of respecting the preannounced exercise zone. It is the US conduct alone that is dangerous to vessels and personnel from both sides.
The two countries have agreed to build a new type of major-country relations, and deepening mutual trust, better managing their crises and avoiding strategic misjudgments have to be part of that endeavor.
In a speech addressing a forum held in Beijing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi rightfully summarized that non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation should be the three pillars for China and the US' efforts to build better relations.
Actions born of unfounded suspicions of motive only increase strategic mutual distrust.
The Australian on Afghanistan at the crossroads:
The homecoming of the last of our Afghanistan combat troops by Christmas will gladden the hearts of all Australians.
They are heroes, every one of them -- men and women who have done a magnificent job fighting in hostile conditions. They deserve the thanks not just of a truly grateful nation but of the wider NATO coalition that united 12 years ago in the aftermath of 9/11 to take on obscurantist jihadist terrorism in its lair.
In warmly welcoming them home there is a need to realize that though most foreign forces are now on their way out, the challenges presented by Afghanistan remain acute and that if there is not to be a recrudescence and takeover by Taliban and al-Qa'ida terrorism -- the widely apprehended so-called "Saigon Scenario" -- there remains much to be done.
Tony Abbott has proudly pointed out that in our deployment's area of particular responsibility, Oruzgan province, things have improved immeasurably. Security has been largely stabilized and social and economic progress achieved. Many girls now attend school.
But the question remains whether such progress will be sustained after coalition forces leave. The role of coalition forces of between 8000 and 12,000 soldiers -- predominantly from the US, but including some Australians, mostly in a mentoring and advisory role -- to remain after the end of 2014 will be crucial.
Yet hopes for this are now being seriously undermined by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he plays a crude political game ahead of April's election and publicly dickers over whether to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with Washington needed as the basis for an ongoing deployment.
Such a deployment is imperative if the sacrifices made in Afghanistan, including 40 of our own Diggers who have been killed, together with hundreds more wounded, are not to have been in vain.
Despite the enormous advances that have been made, legitimate doubts exist about the ability of the Afghan National Army to withstand the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.
The News-Star, Monroe, Louisiana, on whether school test results are just the shock the United States needs:
We like to say in the United States that we value education, but we seldom walk the walk to go with all that talk. Indeed, when the budget ax falls at the state or federal level, it's not unusual to find a few kindergartners fearfully huddled around the chopping block, jumping with every whack.
Is that too graphic an image? Perhaps, but sometimes, it takes a little shock to get folks moving in the right direction.
That's exactly the message we should glean from the recent release of the results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment. In the global exam given to about half a million 15-year-olds in 65 nations and educational systems, teens from Asia dominated while American students showed little improvement from 2009 and failed to reach the top 20 in math, science or reading ...
Of course, news of the results has prompted a flurry of claims that we are falling behind the rest of the world. So how do we correct our course?
"We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in response to the results.
Yes, all of that is probably true, but here we are again: That's the worst kind of talk ... platitudes. There's not even a hint of walk in that response.
So looking elsewhere — the world of academia, for instance — there are plenty more words. Solomon Friedberg, a professor of mathematics and chairman of the math department at Boston College, called the test results "appalling" in a recent opinion piece he wrote for The Los Angeles Times. Specifically, Friedberg said the key to helping our nation's educational system advance lies in three distinct areas — textbooks, teachers and testing. ...
Finally, Friedberg points out if we are going to be teaching to tests, then we had better make sure they are good tests. Specifically, they should measure "procedural fluency and deeper understanding."
Much of what Friedberg outlines could begin happening soon as Common Core Standards start rolling out in most states in the nation, including Louisiana. Common Core, after all, is about raising the bar for our kids, for our nation, for our future.
That's one action, we as Americans must demand. Indeed, it is just one of the many changes we must put in place to move beyond the stagnation.
Seattle Times on a cold, hard look needed for Shell's Arctic drilling plans:
Days after Shell Oil turned in revised proposals for oil exploration in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management responded with 10 pages of questions to answer.
Good. Skepticism by this Department of the Interior agency is the least to be expected after Shell's troubled launch of Alaska oil exploration and drilling plans in 2012 in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
Trouble with oil rigs and a new tug caused Shell to punt on the 2013 season, and now it is back asking to try again in 2014 in the Chukchi Sea, between Siberia and the top of Alaska, west of Barrow.
The bureau wants to know if Shell has addressed and corrected issues of noncompliance cited by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency. The information was missing from a November filing by Shell.
For an industry that failed to manage conditions in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, with BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, there is no margin for error in Alaska's Outer Continental Shelf.
The bureau describes the conditions as extreme cold, freezing spray, snow, extended periods of low light, strong winds, dense fog, sea ice, strong currents and dangerous sea states.
Safety and environmental hazards loom large in such conditions and complicate the ability of others to respond in emergencies.
In a letter Thursday, six U.S. senators asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to delay future oil and gas lease sales and permitting in the Arctic Ocean "until a thorough re-evaluation of the environmental and safety risks associated with Arctic drilling activities can be completed."(backslash)
Proceeding cautiously, and seeking credible explanations and assurances of remedial changes, must come before any Department of Interior consideration of new drilling plans.
In 2012, no oil had been spilled and no one was injured or any lives lost. Future drilling plans cannot be built on assumptions based on past good fortune.