New York Times on Pakistan's peaceful transition:
During most of his five years as Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari was so embattled that there were constant rumors that he would be killed, jailed or ousted in a military coup. On Sunday, he left office after a formal lunch hosted by his political rivals. This was the first time that an elected Pakistani president had completed his term; most others were overthrown or forced to resign. It was a remarkable development in a fragile nation not known for peaceful transitions. On Monday, Mamnoon Hussain, an obscure 73-year-old political figure, was sworn in as his successor.
This was all seen as a hopeful if unexpected sign that democratic institutions may be taking hold. Zardari, elected president after his wife, Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, was assassinated, was controversial. Senior judges tried to unseat him through corruption prosecutions; generals spread rumors of possible coups; the news media and the public criticized him incessantly; the Taliban vowed to kill him. But he confounded critics by surviving. He also strengthened democracy by moderating the powers of his own office and the confrontational tone of politics in general.
Pakistan remains a dangerous country.
It is vitally important that Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the military, headed by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, work together to strengthen democratic processes. Kayani, probably the most powerful man in the country, should step down as planned in November and be replaced by someone who will continue to decrease the Pakistan Army's role in politics.
Now that Pakistan has secured a $6.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, the government should make the reforms needed to get the country on a sound financial footing. That process has to include making sure that Pakistan's wealthy elite pay income taxes, and, if Pakistani leaders are smart, must also include shutting down a nuclear weapons program that wastes billions of dollars that could be better spent on social programs such as education.
The peaceful transition from Zardari to Hussain gives Pakistan a marker on which to build.
Omaha World-Herald on Olympics rightly bringing back wrestling:
After making a mess of things, the International Olympic Committee finally got it right.
Wrestling is back.
In an inexplicable move earlier this year, the IOC's executive board cut wrestling from the list of Summer Games sports, explaining that it wanted to look for new sports that would sell more tickets and be more television-friendly.
Wrestlers worldwide, and those in the English Midlands, rightly protested. After all, their sport was part of the original games in ancient Greece and has been included in every modern Olympics except 1900.
The ill-conceived move even brought together some unlikely allies. The United States, Iran and Russia all threw their weight behind the campaign to reinstate wrestling.
On Sunday, the Olympic committee admitted its mistake and voted to include wrestling in the 2020 and 2024 games. Although it stopped short of re-instating wrestling as a "core" Olympic summer sport, IOC President Jacques Rogge acknowledged that "wrestling has shown great passion and resilience in the last few months."
In the fight to remain in the Olympics, wrestling's international governing body reworked the sport's structure, added weight classes for women and adopted rule changes designed to make the sport easier for spectators to understand and more fun to watch. In the long run, those changes could be a real positive for the athletes.
Olympics officials axed wrestling because they said they wanted new, more popular sports. It was a dumb idea, and the vote to bring wrestling back shows they seem to understand that now.
Going back to its roots is a good move for the Olympics and for the athletes of the future.
Los Angeles Times on cashing in on Uncle Sam's sweet tooth:
Federal efforts to protect growers of sugar beets and sugar cane epitomize everything that's wrong with U.S. farm programs. At times they've artificially raised the price of sugar, costing consumers billions of dollars; at other times they've stuck taxpayers with the bill for the surplus sugar production they've promoted. The fact that the sugar program is likely to survive the latest rewrite of the farm bill unscathed is a testament to how limited the bill's "reforms" are.
Sweeteners are ubiquitous in processed foods, and sugar is the most popular by far. There are two primary sources in the United States: sugar beets, which are grown in parts of California (mainly in Imperial County) and 10 other states, and sugar cane, which is grown only in Hawaii, Texas, Louisiana and Florida. According to the most recent national data, there are 155 sugar beet farms in California — all in the southeastern corner — and two sugar refineries.
Like the rest of the agriculture industry, beet and cane growers enjoy considerable protection from the federal government that's not contingent on their incomes. But while other farmers are typically offered subsidized crop insurance (Taxpayers cover roughly 60 percent of the cost.) and guarantees against steep reductions in revenue, beet and cane farmers are also protected by import and production quotas that limit supply, deter competition and inflate prices.
Their trade associations argue that the sugar program offsets foreign governments' sugar subsidies, which trump American farmers' superior productivity.
The rationale behind the sugar program is the same one used to justify every federal farm subsidy: To ensure a reliable food supply, farmers should be protected against the unpredictable and potentially ruinous swings in harvests and crop prices, not to mention unfair foreign competition. The most straightforward way to do so would be a means-tested system that helps farmers who run into financial trouble. There's limited sensitivity to need in U.S. farm programs, however. As a result, their benefits flow overwhelmingly to the largest — and, consequently, most durable — agribusinesses. According to economist (and farm program critic) Vincent Smith, 10 percent of the farm operations collect 60 percent of the $23.5 billion in annual farm subsidies.
Both of the competing farm bills passed by the House and Senate would eliminate the egregious direct-payment program, which pays cash to farm owners based on their acreage even in times of record profits.
The unusually high farm profits in recent years have given Congress a golden opportunity to try to wean agribusiness from federal subsidies and market-distorting protections. But lawmakers seem incapable of making meaningful changes even to a program as flawed and costly to consumers as the one that protects sugar beets and sugar cane farmers regardless of their potential to thrive without Uncle Sam's help.