Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Newsday, Melville, New York, on unexamined DNA evidence in rape cases:
Actress Mariska Hargitay, who plays a New York City sex-crimes detective on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," got it right when she said prosecutors had shown flagrant disrespect to women by routinely failing to follow through on DNA testing in rape cases.
That's maddening. But we're happy to hear that Cyrus R. Vance Jr., Manhattan's district attorney, has set out to repair this ugly lapse with a plan to help prosecutors nationwide do such tests. Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation and other groups will help Vance with the distribution of $35 million in civil forfeiture assets.
Why a national program? Because no person should be violated and no violator should go free.
The testing of rape evidence -- hair, blood and other bodily secretions -- should be a police staple. ... But lab tests cost $1,000 each, and authorities in places like Cleveland; Memphis, Tennessee; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, can't always afford them. This is very dangerous.
Look at New York. The city had a backlog of about 17,000 untested files in 2000. Over the next four years, it managed to clear hundreds of them -- and that effort led to 49 indictments in Manhattan alone. It has since tested all of the files.
It's crazy for any city to let sex offenders prowl its streets without accountability for their crimes.
Vance's program is crucial. It's about more than clearing the streets. If effective, it will tell victims their safety matters to all of us. It will tell evildoers they're not home free yet.
And it will show all of us that America is still a place where justice must prevail for everyone.
Times-Call, Longmont, Colorado, on food ingredients:
If your breakfast this morning came out of a box, odds are that "natural and artificial flavors" were part of the experience.
The "natural and artificial" combination has been a part of processed foods so long that many Americans have for years hardly give a second thought to what they're eating.
It's as if the word natural, in the consumer's mind, balances the artificial part of the equation. Food makers even focus on the word natural.
But as more Americans pay attention to what they eat, they are demanding to know what those natural and artificial flavors -- and other ingredients added as flavor enhancers -- are made of. That is, if their bread is made of something more than wheat, oil and salt, they want to know what it is.
Bread is at the center of one recent movement to change what food manufacturers produce and sell. A petition demanded that sandwich-maker Subway eliminate the use of azodicarbonamide in the making of its bread. Azodicarbonamide is a chemical used to make bread more spongy and soft and, therefore, more tasty. That quality also makes it good for use in yoga mats and shoe soles. So Subway removed the ingredient -- although it still might be in the bread that's in your home pantry.
And beverage companies Coke and Pepsi recently removed brominated vegetable oil from their beverages -- Gatorade, Powerade and fruit-flavored carbonated soft-drinks -- because brominated vegetable oil, which keeps citrus flavoring agents from rising to the surface, is patented as a flame retardant.
It's good to have power in the hands of consumers, who can sway manufacturers and distributors, even giants like Coke and Pepsi, to change what they put in America's food stream. But that cannot happen unless consumers know what's in their food. The long list of ingredients might not fit on the side of a box or can, but it is reasonable for food manufacturers to post complete lists of ingredients online. Then let consumers research and decide for themselves.
But consumers must understand that chemicals are the building blocks of everything from car tires to cake, and multiple syllables do not necessarily equal "bad for you."
Azodicarbonamide, for instance, breaks down into other chemicals when bread is baked. Among them is a chemical that the body easily excretes and another that can be found in beer, wine and soy sauce.
And just because a chemical in your food can also be found in a non-food product doesn't mean that it's bad for the body. Calcium sulfate dihydrate is used in drywall and fertilizer. Better known as gypsum, it's also used to coagulate your tofu.
America's food manufacturers aren't working just to make good food; they are out to make money. So, consumers must be alert to marketing that misleads, but they also must not panic about minute and multisyllabic ingredients that ultimately will have less effect on their health than the fats and sugars they consume.
Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune on assisted suicide:
We are hearing more these days about "death with dignity," which is a dignified way of saying it makes sense to breathe our last in the most painless and pleasant way possible under terms we control.
Techniques range from withholding life-sustaining medical intervention to more controversial but increasingly acceptable assisted suicide.
The latter got a lot of publicity recently when 29-year-old Brittany Maynard took her own life rather than suffer the ravages of brain cancer. She had moved to Oregon, one of five states where a doctor can legally prescribe drugs to end life. She did it consciously and with full support of loved ones, whose last memories of Brittany are of a person most comfortable and in most control who simply went to sleep. Brittany wanted to say goodbye on her own terms.
Society continues to struggle with this concept. Only in recent generations have we had the real option. Life in years past ended earlier and with less warning. Medical science lacked the means for preserving life as it can now, a new ability that brings great benefits but new challenges as well.
Too often today sick people and loved ones -- and society in general -- insist physicians do everything possible to keep an ailing patient alive even when hanging on is bad for all concerned. We all know of people in comas, in vegetative states, who are maintained indefinitely at great expense and trauma to loved ones. More common are people so old and mentally deficient their lives are a burden.
We all can imagine similar scenarios.
In such cases, everyone hangs on -- for what? Would it not be better if, with everyone's consensus, an earlier decision would be made to peacefully end life at an appropriate moment? With a physician's instruction, a simple dose could be taken at bedtime, like a sleeping pill. This sort of goodbye could be much more pleasant for everyone.
We're getting there. States are beginning to consider life-ending legislation that will allow individuals and designated legal decision helpers to make a much better issue of the final moment. ...
The Intelligencer/Wheeling (West Virginia) News-Register on birds killed by windmills:
It turns out alternative energy companies, supposedly kinder than kind to Mother Nature, have some dirty not-so-little secrets. At least one of them wants to keep it that way.
Americans learned last year that President Barack Obama's administration had given the wind energy industry a break no one else gets. Federal laws intended to protect some birds, such as bald eagles, were not being enforced against the firms.
That led The Associated Press to inquire how many birds are being killed by the giant, spinning blades connected to wind energy generators.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials were ready to give the AP reports on the matter from wind energy companies. One, PacifiCorp of Portland, Oregon, has filed a lawsuit to block release of the information.
The AP already knows of dozens of eagle deaths caused by wind farms. PacifiCorp operates more than a dozen wind farms in Wyoming and two other states. AP reporters know that at least 20 dead eagles have been found on company property in Wyoming.
If wind energy is such a wonderful idea, why is the firm so set on keeping bird kills a secret?
There is no acceptable reason for it to do so. The federal judge involved in the case should reject PacifiCorp's lawsuit and order that the information sought by the AP be released.
The Dallas Morning News on methane from Texas contributing to greenhouse gases:
... Natural gas is a cleaner alternative to oil and coal, but it also produces methane, a greenhouse gas that arguably is a greater contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide. While the warming impacts of carbon dioxide buildup take longer to reverse, methane leaks are more intense and warm the atmosphere 80 times as fast as carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide will heat the planet; methane leaks will heat it faster.
As the nation's biggest gas-producing state, Texas is responsible for about 30 percent of the nation's methane emissions, much of them from leaky pipes and valves along the gas production and storage process.
So far, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has stayed on the sidelines instead of working with the industry and environmentalists to reduce this waste. That's a big mistake. The federal government is expected to produce rules on methane emissions within a few months. It is in the best interests of Texans that the oil and gas industry, environmentalists and regulators beat Washington to the punch in the hopes of influencing federal rules.
Texas doesn't have to look far for examples of forward-thinking state leadership. Colorado this year became the first state to require the oil and gas industry to monitor and fix leaky valves and other points that could allow methane to escape. Wyoming, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- other states with gigantic gas-producing fields -- have followed Colorado's example.
In Texas, these simple steps to prevent methane leakage would have the same environmental impact as shuttering 13 coal-fired power plants and would add virtually nothing to the overall price of natural gas, says the Environmental Defense Fund, a market-based environmental group.
As a major oil and gas producer, Texas has an obligation to be part of the solution. Now it must show the will. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality should require companies to reduce methane emissions even without new federal legislation. Isn't it just good stewardship to require energy companies to monitor their operations for leaks and replace faulty equipment?
The TCEQ and Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, a preacher of Texas-based solutions, should show executive leadership and get ahead of the federal government.
Advanced drilling techniques have unlocked tons of natural gas trapped in shale formations, cut energy costs and encouraged investments in the U.S. energy industry. It would be unforgivable for Texas to fail to make a few simple fixes and relinquish those advantages.
Concord (New Hampshire) Monitor's two cents knock, knock, knocking pennies:
Americans have a complicated relationship with the penny. On one hand, people don't have much use for pennies and are happy to leave them in those ubiquitous plastic "need a penny" trays at convenience stores. But polls show that a majority of Americans can't bear the idea of permanently getting rid of the inspiration behind such sayings as "a penny for your thoughts" and "a penny saved is a penny earned."
The nostalgia is understandable (remember penny candy!), but the fact is that this lovable loser of a coin is costing the U.S. a fortune.
So far this year, the U.S. Mint has produced 6.8 billion pennies at a cost of 1.66 cents per coin (for a total of about $113 million). That's right: The penny costs more to make than it's actually worth.
Politicians of all stripes like to talk about government waste, and waste doesn't get much more obvious than that. If you're a businessman and your widget costs more to make than it's worth, you will be closing up shop before you make the first lease payment on the factory. But the U.S. Mint just keeps on cranking out pennies whenever banks start running short on change. And why do banks run short on change? Because, according to The Wall Street Journal, about 21 percent of pennies made since 2000 have fallen out of circulation. You don't need a Secret Service investigation to get to the bottom of the coins' disappearance: People treat pennies like heavy pocket lint.
And it's not like the bad math behind penny production is a recent development, either. The coin has cost more to produce than it's worth since 2006. In fact, in 2011, the Journal reported, it actually cost more than 2 cents to make a penny.
That said, pennies aren't the only problem for the U.S. Mint. At a cost of 8.09 cents per coin, nickels aren't exactly the epitome of smart money.
The problem, of course, is the volatile prices of the metal used to make the coins. A penny is 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper. A nickel is 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel. While changing the composition of the coins to, say, stainless steel may seem like an obvious solution, it's not quite that simple.
As U.S. Mint spokesman, Tom Jurkowsky, told the Journal, sure the Mint could change to a different metal to make coins cheaper to produce, but what would that mean for vending machines, banks and other industries that rely on machines that work based on a certain coin weight and composition? That's an expensive headache that could be largely avoided by retiring the penny and nickel instead of reinventing them.
If the U.S. is nervous about what it would mean to the economy as a whole if the penny was eradicated, it can look to Canada for guidance. America's neighbor to the north started phasing out pennies last year and so far everything has gone smoothly. No rioting in the streets, no change to the national character, no folk ballads (to the best of our knowledge) lamenting the loss of a jingling legend -- just real cost savings and less coin clutter.
The time has come for America to say goodbye to the penny and put the nickel on notice. Yes, the going rate for the thoughts of another would go from one cent to a dime, but that seems to be a small price to pay for a more sensible and cost-efficient approach to American currency.
The Daily Star, Beirut, on U.S.-led offensives against Islamic State militants and U.S. relations with Syria:
President Barack Obama spent some of his weekend tour of Asia discussing his country's policy on confronting the extremist group ISIS, and he had significant things to say about President Bashar Assad.
Observers have been watching the American president closely of late as accusations mount that the White House is coordinating its airstrikes against jihadi groups with the Syrian authorities, who can only benefit from the actions of the U.S.-led coalition.
Obama made it clear that Washington had no intention of joining forces with Assad to defeat ISIS, calling such a move counterproductive. But when asked whether his team was busy discussing ways to remove Assad from power, Obama answered flatly, "No."
While eradicating ISIS is necessary to deal with the Syria crisis, it's not enough. Obama and his team have become adept at saying what they oppose -- and acting on it -- when it comes to the jihadis, but they're not good at spelling out what they support -- or acting on it -- when it comes to Syria.
Granted, there is talk of a desired "political solution," but U.S. rhetoric and actions remain muddled on how such a process can be accelerated to save more lives.
The words and deeds are carefully calibrated to play to the supposed American public's preferences, namely fight terror, and don't send U.S. troops.
However, the words have nothing to offer to the majority of Syrians who are anxiously wondering how and when the war will end, with all sides benefiting from stability, justice and better government.
When it comes to deeds, the Obama team's casual indifference to Assad's future translates into indifference to millions of Syrians as they prepare for another miserable winter.
Washington has been prompted to act because of ISIS' gains in Iraq, and it has a policy there, but its Syria policy simply can't be placed on autopilot.