The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., on the invisible department (Sept. 9):
Introducing the State Department’s budget request earlier this year, Secretary of State John Kerry quoted Vice President Joe Biden as saying, “Don’t tell me what you value — show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
The disclosure last week of details of the government’s “black budget” plan for the current year — essentially the budget for the government’s “hidden department” known as the intelligence community — reveals something about President Barack Obama’s values.
Intelligence spending has risen under President Obama, most notably for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Although the government is cutting spending for almost all so-called discretionary programs subject to across-the-board cuts ordered by Congress and is reducing the size and budget of the Defense Department in particular, the intelligence community appears to be exempt. ...
It appears that the government is spending about 11 percent more for the intelligence community than it did in 2008, the year before Obama took office.
The $52.6 billion total is down by about $2 billion from its 2011 peak, but it still ranks the hidden department as the fifth or sixth largest U.S. government agency, below the Defense Department, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and Education, and about on a par with State and Homeland Security.
With more than 107,000 employees, the hidden department ranks as the seventh largest federal agency in terms of personnel, behind Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury and Agriculture. It is way ahead of the State Department.
State is scarcely larger than the CIA, which is the largest of the 16 separate intelligence agencies that make up the hidden department. Included is the National Security Agency.
According to “black budget” data published by The Washington Post, the CIA budget has grown rapidly and its workforce has increased from 17,000 to 21,575 over the past decade.
One sign of Obama’s increased emphasis on covert action has been a dramatic rise in lethal CIA drone strikes on suspected terrorists. ...
The Post’s careful coverage of secret “black budget” documents provided by fugitive intelligence analyst Edward Snowden provides a rare look into a dark corner of government operations.
The hidden department is the repository of many surprising national secrets, as Mr. Snowden’s revelations have shown. The Post articles provide evidence that the department may also conceal bureaucratic bloat that Congress should curb.
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The Daily Comet, Thibodaux, La., on clicking seat belt for life (Sept. 9):
The numbers alone are staggering.
Six hundred eighty-four people have been killed on Louisiana roads already this year. More than half — 55 percent of drivers and 56 percent of passengers — were not wearing their seat belts at the time they were killed.
That is hundreds of people in the first two-thirds of this year who could well be alive today if they had only buckled up when they got into the car. ...
That is a powerful statement but one that could save lives if we heed it.
Wearing a seat belt in your car or truck is easy and doesn’t take but a second. Its return of safety, though, can literally be the difference between life and death.
The horribly tragic statistics speak for themselves.
They tell us that far too few of us are buckling up even though we all should know by now the tremendous difference a seat belt can make.
There have been some gains in recent years. Massive public relations campaigns have increased awareness of laws requiring seat belt use. Legal changes have made it easier for police officers to pull over and ticket those who are not complying with the requirement. And federal grants have paid for patrols and checkpoints aimed primarily at enforcing the seat belt laws.
Those are all good changes, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Far too many of us have not gotten the message. We continue to take unnecessary risks with our lives, and those risks translate into the heart-breaking numbers.
When you get into the car — driving or riding — put on your seat belt and insist that everyone else do the same. You could easily be saving your life and the lives of others.
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The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on vexing U.N. vetoes (Sept. 9):
Many Americans may be infuriated that Russia and China have signaled their readiness to veto any United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for intervention to punish Syria’s use of chemical weapons in its brutal civil war.
According to U.N. rules, adopted in 1945 when the international organization was created, any of the five permanent members (the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France) of the Security Council may veto any resolution brought before the council, thus preventing any action the other members may favor.
Critics believe that the U.N. founders made a terrible mistake in granting that veto power, and perhaps they’re right. But it would be a serious mistake to think that the veto power doesn’t serve American interests as well as those of our adversaries.
Over the years, the American ambassador to the U.N. has frequently exercised the right to cast a veto. ...
The first United States veto came in 1970 and dealt with a major crisis in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The United Kingdom, of which Rhodesia was once a colony, vetoed seven Security Council resolutions on that subject. Two years later, the United States cast the only veto on a resolution that was critical of Israel.
In fact, since 1972 the United States has been by far the most frequent user of the veto and nearly all the vetoes involved resolutions that were contrary to Israel’s political interests. ...
Benjamin Ferencz, a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II, suggested (in a recent letter to The New York Times) that in this case the Security Council should refer the matter to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, “which is competent to penalize crimes against humanity.” What he didn’t say, however, is how the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, could be forced to face that court.
Still, the U.N., for its faults and machinations, does provide a useful if imperfect global platform for maintaining peaceful relations and providing humanitarian aid, as world leaders envisioned when it was formed at the end of World War II.
The United States should never allow its involvement to diminish its security or sovereignty, but the United Nations, vetoes and all, does serve a valuable purpose.
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The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald on school funding and poverty (Sept. 4):
It’s always best to find the silver lining in news that on first blush may be less than ideal. So it is with a report in Tuesday’s Daily Herald that poverty rates in 83 suburban school districts rose an average of 18 percentage points from 2000 to 2012.
The five highest increases were between 42.9 percent and 53.3 percent and all were in what many consider to be well-to-do DuPage County. In many of those districts and those in other counties as well, double-digit percentage growth among their Hispanic student populations coincides with the increase in poverty rates.
And that’s where at least one superintendent sees the silver lining.
“Kids get better cultural experiences,” said Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 Superintendent Art Fessler, of the district’s burgeoning dual language program in which classrooms are composed of half native English and half native Spanish speakers.
Finding programs like that that help bridge the learning gap is key to making the change in demographics work throughout suburban school districts. ... What else can be done? Parents, for one, need to help school leaders in lobbying state legislators to help get the funding that is due. They also need to work with school boards to prioritize how that funding is spent. Finally, no matter their economic status, parents need to help their children succeed in the classroom by providing the support they need when they are at home.