African Counterterrorism

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Elite U.S. Troops Helping Africans Combat Terror,” describes a prudent move with the potential of backfiring. The attitude towards the United States overseas can, at best, be called schizophrenic. They admire our democracy, our social mobility, even our movies. But when we start to get involved with the military, we are called “The Great Satan.”

Of course, our heart is in the right place. We want democracy to succeed even when it might not be in our best interest. Take Egypt, for example.

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Pope Francis and Mideast Peace

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Pope, in Mideast, Invites Leaders to Meet on Peace,” once again demonstrates the phenomenal ability of Pope Francis to serve as a source of goodness, and a refusal to let his light be buried under a bushel. The Pope is unaffected by any worldly limitations and has served as a prominent voice on the world stage in many other ways as well, speaking out for the vulnerable and the victims.

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Force Feeding at Guantanamo

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “U.S. Judge Decides ‘Anguishing’ Case on Force Feeding,” describes a situation foreign to most Americans, who have a love affair with food and treat it in a cavalier manner as indicated by the photo above. But try to imagine someone who feels so hopeless, caught in an untenable and unending situation that their only way to make their voice heard involves spurning the very object of life. And the hunger strikes at Guantanamo also carry long-term implications for future health and well being.

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Economic Hacking by China

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Five in China Army Face U.S. Charges of Cyberattacks,” describes a bold move by the Obama administration to hold China accountable for its army’s hackers, especially with regard to economic activities.

By only bringing charges against commercial hacking, the administration is making a distinction the Chinese may not consider relevant: China has long said that economic security and national security are the same thing. Still, when the Chinese stole more than 700,000 pages of emails from Westinghouse while their state-run company was competing with them, some type of penalty was inevitable.

The question now becomes whether the Chinese will retaliate in more than a pro forma manner. The U.S. is vulnerable in terms of corporate entities doing business in China, and China has already suspended participation in a joint group working on cyberattacks. However, it is hypocritical for the Chinese to give lip service to this group while they run a 12-story military tower in Shanghai devoted to evading it.

The U.S. companies bringing charges should be commended for braving the possibility of Chinese retaliation, and the Justice Department should also be praised for at last standing up to this detestable Chinese practice, now affecting more than 3,000 U.S. companies. Our nation generates its creativity through freedom, and the Chinese should not be allowed to steal that because they are only imitators.

Communications Mergers

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “AT&T to Acquire DirecTV in Move to Expand Clout,” describes yet another telecommunications merger pending approval by federal regulators. The announcement comes upon the heels of a request by Comcast to take over Time Warner Cable. Both mergers represent acquisitions in the neighborhood of $40 billion.

While it is noted that a strengthened AT&T would provide some competition to Comcast, it is not clear whether these mergers will help the American consumer to begin with. The telecommunications industry seems to be badly in need of increased competition, and creating one giant company to counterbalance another does not seem to be a prudent strategy.

In the midst of all these acquisitions, Sprint is now making noises about taking over T-Mobile, a perennial source of merger attempts. Perhaps, T-Mobile is just too small to survive on its own in today’s telecommunications landscape.

The mergers also have implications for American democracy. At a time when it is all too easy to restrict access or shape the news according to billionaire owners’ desires, our country would be better off with a thriving and diverse telecommunications industry to prevent attempts at manipulation. I think federal regulators should say no to both mergers and even make attempts to reverse this trend completely.

G.M. Vehicle Safety

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “G.M. is Fined Over Safety and Called a Lawbreaker,” should only represent a first step in the automaker’s attempt to rectify what has been called a broken vehicle safety record that led to 13 unnecessary deaths. Recalls for 2.5 million vehicles did not occur until years after the safety defect was reported, a defect that could turn off the ignition switch and leave the air bags inoperative in case of a crash.

General Motors will be required to undergo monthly safety evaluations from government regulators and will be forced to pay a fine of $35 million, the maximum allowed by law. Several legislators pledged to raise that limit to $350 million in the future.

General Motors also faces criminal legislation, suits from the Attorneys General of various states, Senate and House investigations and private litigation. While its new President pledged to become an industry leader in vehicle safety, it’s hard to determine how much of that promise is damage control designed to repair the company’s image.

It is uncertain how much else the government can do to bring the wayward company under control. It will be up to the automaker to truly make safety goal one and show more concern for its driving customers. If corporations truly are people, as suggested in recent Supreme Court rulings, then this one requires jail and rehabilitation.

Workers Oppose Russians

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Workers Quiet Unrest in Cities in East Ukraine,” provides a rare oasis of good news among all the turmoil that has beset this region. It is ironic that it is the workers who have risen up against the Russians, whose government that has for so many decades declared itself to be a representative of the workers.

The creation of town patrols by the miners and steelworkers has been organized by Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who owns their factories and mines. Because Russia is a steel exporter, it is not a market for his goods, and Mr. Akhmetov feels his company will go under should sanctions be imposed on East Ukraine by the outside world.

The miners and steelworkers have provided the muscle necessary to face down those who would create a Donetsk People’s Republic, and it has exposed the separatists’ lie that they represent the majority of the people in East Ukraine. The Russian protestors literally melted away as wave after wave of industrial workers rose up to maintain order and proclaim their unity with the Ukranian nation.

It is exciting to see this grassroots movement development because it represents the ultimate expression of democracy in the region, and it will be a boon to all the people.

HIV Prevention

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Advocating Pill, U.S. Signals Shift to Prevent AIDS,” promotes a new recommendation to prevent HIV, the viral infection that leads to AIDS. The use of a preventative medication is recommended for high-risk groups such as gay men and intravenous drug users.

While the use of condoms is considered very effective, their use is going down among these groups, and it is thought that they may be open to a daily drug regimen instead. The number of infected individuals in the United States has remained steady for a decade at 50,000 individuals, but barring some action, it is expected to go up.

It is hoped that the recommendation by the CDC for high-risk groups to use Truvada will increase the prescription rate among doctors and speed up the adoption of the drug by non AIDS specialists. There is generally a significant delay between a scientific breakthrough and its widespread adoption.

The new recommendation will provide a bonanza for the pharmaceutical company producing Truvada, but maybe the increased number of prescriptions — they are expected to rise 500-fold — will bring down the cost. Truvada currently costs $13,000 per year, but coverage by insurance companies is widespread.

Though many of the groups affected are on the fringes of American society, and their behavior may be frowned upon, they certainly do not deserve the death sentence of AIDS. I hope people rally to these vulnerable individuals and encourage the use of Truvada as a prophylactic.

Erasing on the Internet?

The lead article in The New York Times, “European Court Lets Users Erase Records on Web,” describes a decision with the rare possibility of changing the nature of the Internet, but it remains to be seen how it will be implemented and the degree of public access.

It is up to Google to decide how easy it will be to erase links and whether content will still be available to certain parties. Google must also decide the geographical boundaries to enforcement in the United States where there are first amendment issues.

One of the overriding aspects of Internet culture involves its neutral aspect in that everything about everyone may be published, accurate or not, and it is left to others to decide how important the content is, how it should be evaluated. There are, of course, privacy concerns, but the current solution seems a little draconian in its overarching philosophy and attempt to change things.

As such, I expect it will prove difficult to implement. If users are allowed free access to erase material, how will Google determine whether the subject of the content primarily concerns them? Will it have to include the mention of their name? Can they then erase content that concerns other matters as well?

The practical problems seem huge, and Google will be under a microscope for every item it handles, for every aspect of Internet culture that people try to change. One hopes it will only be under extreme circumstances that the public will be allowed to erase content.