Editorial voices from around the U.S.
Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States as compiled by The Associated Press:
A tough and thorough report by an independent panel of experts last week should be all the justification that President Obama needs to make critical changes in the National Security Agency’s spy programs to protect Americans’ privacy without undermining national security.
Until now, President Obama has tried to deflect criticism of the NSA secret surveillance projects that a federal judge last week labeled “nearly Orwellian.” The president has offered soothing assurances that he understands why the public is worried, but he has never committed to undertake the changes necessary to ensure a minimum level of privacy. It’s time to stop talking and start acting.
The president is expected to announce next month what he intends do about the secrecy programs. He should embrace those changes that provide greater accountability and enhance the civil liberties of Americans. If there are recommendations he cannot accept, he must make a persuasive case to the public as to why.
President Barack Obama predicts 2014 will be a “breakthrough year for America.” That may be a tough goal to reach.
In Washington, D.C. alone, consider the difficulties: Political gridlock is rampant. Midterm elections are bound to ramp up the partisanship. Republican opposition to virtually anything Obama touches is intense and shows no signs of stopping. And some of the nation’s top legislative priorities – the Affordable Care Act, stronger guidelines on background checks for gun purchases, federal-level immigration reform, for instance – are either wrapped in controversy or going nowhere.
But despite the faults of the Obama administration – the Obamacare rollout; his failure to adequately sell the American public on the need for health-care reform; its profound lack of transparency and openness – much of 2014’s promise rests in the hands of D.C. lawmakers.
U.S. government is not a one-man show; the Founders saw to that. So Obama enters his sixth year as president needing a combative Congress, particularly the GOP-controlled House, to meet him halfway on issues both thorny and easy to solve.
Recent years give us little of the president’s optimism, even though the economy is slowly improving and the financial markets are riding an extended upswing. Despite the Tea Party’s diminished influence, congressional Republicans seem hell-bent on governing against the president, not for the people. Until that brick wall is breached, Washington will be what it is.
In the same news cycle Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would free more than 20,000 inmates from his country’s prisons, President Barack Obama announced a rather less grand gesture of clemency. He commuted the sentences of eight people convicted of crack-cocaine offenses – all of whom have served at least 15 years – and used his pardon power to erase the criminal records of 13 miscellaneous ex-offenders.
Even this mingy and belated use of presidential clemency power was enough to make news. The American Civil Liberties Union noted that until then, “Obama had only pardoned 39 people and commuted only one sentence, which is the fewest by any president in recent history.”
Even if the president could free another batch of eight prisoners every week for a year, his mercy will still have touched only about one-fifth of 1 percent of the inmates in federal prisons. The 2 million serving time at the state level will need to look to their governors for relief.
The War on Drugs is the single biggest driver of our bloated prison population, especially at the federal level, where thousands are serving sentences under mandatory-minimum laws that put low-level nonviolent offenders behind bars for decades, or even life. Another shake-up of pardon procedures is overdue. The initiative needs to come from the White House, and commuting eight sentences barely counts as a start.