Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Dallas Morning-News on cyber security:
We live in a scary world, as the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., underscored recently. Now, imagine a scenario in which foreign actors can cripple our nation's critical infrastructure - electrical grids, data networks and air-traffic control, to name a few of the vulnerabilities - without exploding a single bomb.
The Associated Press reports that foreign hackers have wriggled their way into the networks controlling the U.S. power grid, obtaining engineering schematics and passwords. With a few keyboard strokes, they are capable of installing malicious code that can knock out electricity service to millions of American households.
The AP cited one case involving Iranian hackers, but remote breaches involving others have occurred about a dozen times in the last decade. The government's tendency is to keep these breaches secret. The effect is to lull Americans into a false sense of security but also to reduce public pressure to address this as the urgent threat it is.
Hackers have repeatedly proven their ability to penetrate secure government databases. In 2013, cyber criminals hacked into retail giant Target's credit card database and put the accounts of some 40 million customers at risk. A critical-infrastructure cyber attack, by contrast, could send the nation's electrical grid into a cascade of shutdowns capable of blacking out entire cities or states.
The website of cyber security firm Norse (map.norsecorp.com), offers a live glimpse of the international hacking war that's already underway. In about a 20-minute span one recent afternoon, we watched as computer sites in Saskatoon, Canada, and Mersin, Turkey launched thousands of attacks on sites in California. More came from China. Still more from Russia.
Other sites were attacked in Washington State, New York, Dallas and Phoenix, to name a few. There's no way to tell what the goal is, but hackers normally are looking for weak spots to penetrate and exploit.
Experts say the U.S. power grid has been probed by hackers from various governments as well as the Islamic State. A Homeland Security Department report in 2012 noted 198 cyber attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure, with 41 percent targeting the energy sector.
What to do? Experts say the cost to secure the nation's power grid could reach $7 billion by 2020. Customers ultimately will bear those costs, which must include establishing multiple firewalls across the country to ensure that an attack on one section of the grid doesn't prompt cascades of outages.
The government should come clean with the public about the magnitude of the threat instead of playing it down. We've seen what terrorists can do with guns and airplanes. The public needs to understand that this, too, is a serious and very real threat to our way of life.
The New York Times on the United Nations Security Council and Syria:
After nearly five years and more than 250,000 lives lost, the major world powers have now agreed on a plan for ending the civil war that has torn Syria apart and allowed the Islamic State to greatly enlarge its regional foothold. A resolution approved unanimously by the United Nations Security Council on Friday puts the Council formally behind a plan negotiated over many months that calls for a cease-fire, talks between the Syrian government and the opposition and a two-year timeline to create a unity government and hold elections.
The resolution is a positive development. But it leaves unsettled crucial differences that have long plagued Syrian peacemaking efforts. And it leaves unresolved a host of tough decisions that the United States, Russia and other key players, namely Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria's own president, Bashar al-Assad, must still make.
The vote was a rare show of unity for the Security Council, which abdicated its responsibility after Russia and China vetoed four resolutions in 2011. Those initiatives sought to pressure Mr. Assad at a time when international action might have prevented him from taking vengeance on political opponents, leading to Syria's unraveling. Since then, a military victory by either Mr. Assad or the Syrian rebels has become unlikely. Meanwhile, the Islamic State has exploited the chaos by seizing fresh ground in Syria and Iraq and mounting attacks that increasingly threaten not only the region but the West and Russia as well.
Absent an end to the civil war, there can be no effective campaign to defeat the Islamic State. Yet there is still no agreement on who will represent the Syrian opposition, an array of moderate and extremist groups supported by different countries.
Also unresolved is the future of Mr. Assad. Rebel groups backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey insist that he be removed from power. Russia and Iran have sought to prevent his overthrow by increasing military and financial support. Initially, the United States demanded Mr. Assad's removal but it has since softened that position. It now backs a negotiated transition in which opposition members would be included in a national unity government with elements of the Assad regime.
The Obama administration has sometimes muddled that message. Though it is hard, even distasteful, to acknowledge it, the abrupt removal of Mr. Assad now would only destabilize Syria even more. Still, it would be shameful if such a butcher was allowed to run in elections that the new plan calls for within two years.
The element of the plan that could most help Syria's long-suffering civilians is a cease-fire, but it is far from worked out. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is supposed to give the Council options within a month for monitoring a cease-fire. Using the agency's peacekeepers is probably unworkable because there are no clear cease-fire lines.
Another major question is whether Russia, which is leading the Syria negotiations along with the Americans, is really committed to peace. Most of its strikes in Syria have been aimed at rebel forces, not the Islamic State, and, according to rescue workers and residents, that pattern continued on Sunday when its warplanes killed scores of people at a busy market in the rebel-held city of Idlib. If Russia really believed in the peace plan it helped write, it should have set an example by striking the Islamic State, not the rebels who are supposed to join transition talks.
There are many other obstacles to sort through, including whether Iran will play a constructive role and, once the civil war is ended, whether enough ground forces can be recruited from Syria and elsewhere to defeat the Islamic State. The Syrian war needs to end but it's hard to be hopeful when even the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, says, "I'm not too optimistic about what has been achieved today."
The Telegraph, United Kingdom, on fighting in Afghanistan:
When British service personnel arrived in Sangin, the then defence secretary, John Reid, announced he would be happy to see them leave "without firing a shot". That quickly proved hopelessly naive. Troops battled heroically just to defend their own bases, let alone complete the intended mission of reconstruction and economic development. Some 106 soldiers died in the years that followed.
With news that the Taliban have overrun Sangin, families of those wounded and killed understandably ask if their loved ones' sacrifice was in vain. Diane Dernie, mother of Ben Parkinson, who lost both legs near Sangin in 2006, says she feels "a desperate sense of waste". British personnel have now flown back to help prop up Afghan forces. But therein lies part of the problem.
The ambitious plan that John Reid and Tony Blair hoped to implement failed to take account of two lessons. The first is that it is pretty hopeless to rely purely on local forces who, owing to their ethnic background, lack the will to defend a part of the country they do not truly consider their own. In ethnic Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, ethnic Tajiks can feel as foreign as soldiers from Stockton-on-Tees, yet without the experience and training. Therefore, as Con Coughlin points out below, the West must continue to support Afghan forces.
The second problem is financial. In southern Afghanistan, the opium trade and Taliban control are inextricably intertwined. The West hoped to knock out two birds with one stone. But as Colombia has discovered recently, taking on and reforming an entrenched drugs economy can bring a country to its knees.
Capturing territory has never been a problem for our brave soldiers. Devising a way of holding it against extremists has proved much harder for our politicians. As we consider the future of Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and now Syria, this is the question that most needs answering.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on "Black Lives Matter" protests inside the Mall of America:
The move by Black Lives Matter to plan a protest at the Mall of America for the second year in a row strikes at the often-tricky balance between free speech and the rights of private property owners.
In recent months, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis has drawn the eyes of the nation to its cause by staging die-ins on light-rail tracks, marching on freeways at rush hour, setting up camp outside the city's Fourth Precinct police station. Those demonstrations have been effective, it must be acknowledged, specifically because they relied on a nonviolent disruption of systems in public spaces. Whether those incidents were properly handled by law enforcement authorities and elected officials is still a matter of debate.
What is not in dispute is that the Mall of America is not a public space and that it has the right to protect its property rights, business purpose and the safety of those who work and visit there. Hennepin County District Judge Karen Janisch acknowledged as much in a ruling Tuesday that barred three Black Lives leaders from the protest. But she noted that a restraining order could not be granted against an entire group that is not a legal entity and has no formal membership. Janisch was quick to note that her order was not to be interpreted as a sanctioning of the protest.
Free speech is one of this nation's most cherished rights. But the First Amendment guarantees neither a specific place nor audience for the exercise of that right. The question of whether shopping malls constitute town squares that are open to the public was settled in 1972. In Lloyd Corp. vs. Tanner, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "there is no open-ended invitation to the public to use the (mall) for any and all purposes, however incompatible with the interests of both the stores and the shoppers whom they serve."
Similarly, the Minnesota Supreme Court in the 1999 Wicklund case examined whether the mall's heavy public funding had transformed it into a public space. The court rejected that argument, ruling that "neither the presence of public financing alone nor the public financing coupled with an invitation to the public to come onto the property is sufficient to transform privately owned property into public property for purposes of state action."
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, in dismissing charges against some of the protesters in last year's incident, affirmed that reasoning. He also chided mall officials for not using all of the tools at their disposal, specifically their failure to seek a court injunction before the event and their decision to allow the protest to proceed for a time before moving in, which he said amounted to tacit approval.
Mall officials must feel a bit confounded at the moment. One judge chastised them for not seeking an injunction against the group; another judge says their request against the group was overly broad. Protesters, incensed that the mall also sought to legally force them to post a cancellation of the event on social media, say that to stand down now would mean the mall "would win." Mall officials know that if they do not seek immediate dispersal, they risk being seen as offering tacit approval.
This sets the stage for a tense confrontation between protesters and law enforcement officers in the nation's largest mall on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The burden will be high on both sides to exercise restraint and good judgment.
Black Lives Matter protesters have every right to seek what they consider justice, but in a nation of laws they are not entitled to every means necessary. Their cause is unrelated to the Mall of America. Their protest could be held anywhere. Public officials can decide to allow protests on freeways, on train tracks and even in front of police stations, but they must draw the line at safeguarding private spaces. Holiday shoppers, retail workers and security guards should not become unwilling pawns in this larger contest of wills.
The Washington Post on Lindsey Graham's withdrawal from the presidential race:
Lindsey Graham was always a long shot for the Republican presidential nomination, but the departure of the South Carolina senator from the race ought to be lamented. It is distressing that a candidate with his record of service, thoughtful views and humanistic approach to politics could never get any traction with the GOP base. That he is sidelined while Donald Trump -- with his easy answers and appeals to anger and bigotry -- seemingly soars should prompt real worry within the Republican Party, not to mention the country at large.
Mr. Graham announced on Monday in a YouTube video that he was suspending his presidential campaign; he concluded, "This is not my time." He was never able to register more than 1 percent in polling and, under the two-tiered GOP debate structure governing the large field of candidates, was kept off the main stage. Nonetheless, he commanded attention with his smarts, his quick wit and his willingness to identify and speak out on critical issues such as the danger of isolationism and the need for entitlement reform. We didn't always agree with Mr. Graham, notably on social issues including same-sex marriage and abortion, but we respected his principled approach to public office.
He didn't shirk from staking out positions that put him at odds with the Republican Party extremes that have outsized influence in the primaries. That made him the voice of reason about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, the reality of climate change and trying to work with Democrats to solve problems. He was politically courageous in arguing that the United States would have to deploy ground troops in Syria to defeat the Islamic State; he may yet be proved correct.
Most admirable of all was Mr. Graham's fearlessness in confronting Mr. Trump and the serial bigotry -- toward women, immigrants, the disabled, Muslims -- that has become a trademark of his unfortunate campaign. When other candidates held back and bit their tongues for fear of incurring Mr. Trump's wrath, Mr. Graham did not hesitate to do or say the right thing.
Like many others (ourselves included), Mr. Graham was befuddled by Mr. Trump's popularity and his sustained position as presidential front-runner. "Crazy as hell" was his blunt assessment. "If he is the voice and face of the Republican Party, I think our allies are shaking their heads and our enemies are licking their chops," he said.
So while Mr. Graham has pledged to support the Republican nominee, whoever it is, we hope he continues to show the principled leadership that marked his failed campaign and draws the line if it comes down to Mr. Trump.
The Wall Street Journal on voter revolt in Spain:
Voters in Spain went to the polls Sunday and scrambled the country's electoral map. After three decades of trading power, neither of the two traditional parties_the incumbent, center-right Popular Party (PP) and the center-left Socialists_was able to secure a majority in an election that saw the rise of two new parties. The risk is that political uncertainty will jeopardize hard-won economic reforms that have revived growth after a deep recession.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's PP was the nominal winner with 29% of the vote and 123 seats in the Cortes, or Parliament. That's 33 more seats than the second-place Socialists, but down from the 186 seats they had in the outgoing Parliament and well short of the 176 needed for an outright majority.
In third place was Podemos ("We Can"), a populist left-wing party in the mold of Greece's Syriza movement, which took 69 seats. The most disappointing result was that of Ciudadanos ("Citizens"), a liberal centrist party that champions lower taxes and more efficient government. Cuidadanos fell below polling expectations with 40 seats.
The fractured electorate means no single party can easily form the next government. The Spanish King will begin consultations next month with the parties and select a nominee for the next premier, usually from the party with the most votes. That candidate will then have to win the approval of the new Cortes.
One scenario would be for Podemos and the Socialists to form a left-wing coalition. The Socialists have made peace with some pro-growth reforms, but they would be relentlessly pushed to the left by Podemos, which supports a "citizenship wage," an anti-Western foreign policy and an economic program straight from a Thomas Piketty tome.
A better alternative would be for Mr. Rajoy to form a conservative-liberal minority government with Ciudadanos. The two parties have similar views on many questions, notably taxation, and the PP has already hinted it's prepared to pursue this option. Yet Ciudadanos has in the past signaled that it wouldn't join with either of the traditional parties, and it's unclear whether the staid Mr. Rajoy has the talent to make such an arrangement politically viable. A fresh election next year is a possibility.
Even if Mr. Rajoy cobbles together a minority government, his coalition would find it hard to press ahead with the pro-growth reforms the Spanish economy needs to avoid slipping back into recession. Thanks to supply-side tax cuts, public-spending restraint and labor-market reforms during his first term, Spanish growth has been much better than in most of the European Union and is projected to be 3% in 2015. But many of Mr. Rajoy's tax cuts don't kick in fully until next year, and the rigid labor laws that make it so expensive to hire Spaniards aren't fully dismantled.
A PP-Ciudadanos coalition could adopt the smaller party's refreshing policy ideas, of which there are many. Ciudadanos wants to lower corporate and personal-tax rates, while simplifying the tax regime overall. It also wants to increase transparency and accountability for public officeholders, and remove layers of bureaucracy across government. Spanish conservatives should get behind these proposals to create a national political consensus around smaller, more accountable government.
The danger if Mr. Rajoy can't stitch together a new government is that it would reinforce the widespread belief that enacting tough but necessary reforms is the political kiss of death in the eurozone. This is what has held back reform in France, Greece, Italy and elsewhere.
Some of our friends in the media are hailing the result as a revolution of young voters against an out-of-touch political elite. Maybe, but not every youth revolt ends well, and in the case of Podemos most of its program amounts to old statist orthodoxy repackaged for the age of Twitter. What Spain needs is a government with the mandate to promote enterprise, investment and growth. Let's hope the Spanish don't have to wait another year_or five_to get one.
The Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates, on reconciliation in Nigeria:
There's something rotten in the state of Nigeria and it needs to be investigated. Reports of mass killings are rife on social media. The military and protesters in the northern city of Kaduna and other areas inhabited by a minority community are involved in fierce fighting. Though the number of casualties is unclear, rights organisations smell a rat and have called for a thorough inquiry.
The problem seems to have erupted as members of the minority community in Zaria rallied for their leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, and the authorities moved in to crush the uprising. In the ensuing struggle, a large number of people died in a stampede. Zakzaky is reported to be in army custody, and many members of his family have been killed, including his two sons. However, the Nigerian army claims that a group of people tried to ambush a convoy carrying army chief General Tukur Buratai.
Alleged mass killings at the hands of Nigerian army are also a concern. The US State Department has called for an investigation into these allegations. It goes without saying that Nigeria has a serious law and order problem, and the country is a victim of Boko Haram's terror attacks. The government should ensure sectarian conflict is kept at bay. President Muhammadu Buhari, who is at war with Boko Haram, should look into this crisis and address it on a priority basis. Excesses committed should be probed and every effort must be made towards reconciliation.
The Baltimore Sun on the trial of William Porter:
The trial of William Porter didn't give Baltimore the clear message many were hoping for. Because it ended in a hung jury, we are still waiting for some indication of whether and how the death of Freddie Gray will lead to criminal penalties for any of the officers involved. Nonetheless, the experience of the last few weeks offers us three lessons about the city and about how these cases might go forward.
Mosby's charges weren't crazy
State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby surprised many with the speed and aggressiveness of her charges against the officers involved in Gray's arrest. Some questioned whether they were well thought through, whether she had the evidence to make them stick and whether she had cast too wide a net in going after all six officers. None of the cases may have exemplified the reasons for those doubts more than Mr. Porter's. He was a junior officer on the scene and told two of his superiors that Gray said he was hurt and would need medical attention. Moreover, he might have seemed sympathetic to jurors, since he grew up in West Baltimore and still lives in the city.
Nonetheless, at least one juror evidently was insistent that he should be convicted on each of the counts he faced, including manslaughter. Ms. Mosby's deputies made a case that convinced some subset of the jury that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on charges that required difficult conclusions about the officer's state of mind and the murky law about when inaction constitutes a criminal offense. And they did so despite a vigorous and effective defense by Mr. Porter's attorneys. Ms. Mosby may or may not eventually secure convictions on the charges she brought, but they are at least plausible.
Baltimore can produce a fair jury
It took Judge Barry Williams less than two days to empanel a jury for Officer Porter's trial. Every single one of them knew about Gray's death and the settlement the city paid to his family, but Judge Williams found 12 he believed could be fair and base a decision on the evidence and the law.
We don't know what went on in the jury room, so we can't say whether each and every one of them took to heart Judge Williams' adminition not to be "swayed by sympathy, prejudice or public opinion." But we can say that the assumption by some that a Baltimore jury would automatically vote to convict just to avoid the possibility of more rioting was wrong. We know this group deliberated extensively and reviewed evidence before coming to the conclusion that they could not unanimously agree on the charges. At least one juror believed Mr. Porter was not guilty on each of the four counts and was unwilling to be swayed from that position.
The city is better than cynics believe
The Police Department canceled all leave when Officer Porter's case headed to the jury. State troopers and local police from around the region assembled in Druid Hill Park, and city schools CEO Gregory Thornton sent out a sternly worded letter before the decision telling students that any who walked out of class in protest would be disciplined. After Judge Williams declared a mistrial, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake urged "respect for our neighborhoods" and warned that "in the case of any disturbance in the city, we are prepared to respond. We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city." News helicopters hovered over downtown, ready to capture the images if another round of riots erupted.
What they captured instead was video of perhaps two dozen protesters marching from the courthouse to City Hall, carrying signs, chanting and otherwise peacefully experessing their views. Throughout the evening, some hundreds took to the streets, either downtown or in West Baltimore, but many of them came out with the intent to prevent violence rather than to protest. To be sure, there were expressions of anger and disappointment that the jury did not convict. But those who spoke to the media frequently displayed an intricate knowledge of Mr. Porter's case and an understanding of what a mistrial means.
We're a long way from this being over, and the attitude on the streets might change markedly if we get to the end of six trials with no convictions. But those who thought the city would erupt into violence and chaos at the slightest provocation were wrong. Baltimore is better than that.