Afghanistan is no longer a place we can ignore


Afghanistan is littered with the bones of soldiers from foreign countries. During the past 12 years, the blood of American soldiers has mingled in Afghanistan's soil with the 19th-century blood of British Redcoats and 20th-century blood from what was then the Soviet's Union's Red Army. Others will likely fight and die there in the future.

That is the history of Afghanistan. Some would say that is its nature. It is hard to know whether peace talks with the Taliban will change anything.

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama tipped his hand and set a deadline for the withdrawal of American troops. Hardened resistance fighters who have battled a better equipped, better trained foe for more than a decade now know that they can simply wait it out. They can buy time with negotiations and cease fires until the Americans, British and other allies leave the Afghans to fend for themselves.

Is the Taliban genuinely interested in a political solution after so many years of war? Or are they simply buying time? We suspect the latter. It's very hard to tell.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said American should approach talks with "low expectations." He believes the Taliban "expect to win the war once NATO is largely gone in 2015."

There was a time when journalism professors cautioned their students against what they then called "Afghanistanism."

Americans turned away from the backward distant land once their mortal enemy was gone. Little did they know that in the not too distant future, they would return to fight and, ironically, their enemy would be some of the same people they supported against the Soviets.

In the years between the Soviet departure and the American invasion, the Taliban came to power, running the country like a medieval oligarchy. Our purpose was to strike back at those who attacked us on our own soil and make our homeland safe.

Without a doubt, the blood spilled on Afghan soil helped eliminate a threat to our homeland. While the battle has raged, Americans have lived in relative security. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan. The threat from al-Qaida appears greatly reduced.

But is the job done? That's a question that only the future can answer. For now, we've decided to go home. Hopefully, we'll never need to return.


The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News, June 23


The U.S. Supreme Court says it's 2013, not 1965


In the summer of 1964, Ku Klux Klan members murdered three men who were working to register African-American voters in Mississippi. A year later, on what came to be known as "Bloody Sunday," police in Selma, Ala., beat and tear gassed hundreds of marchers demanding voting rights for African-Americans.

In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to attack the outrageous ways in which white officials in the South stifled black voter registration.

That same year, only 6.7 percent of registered voters in Mississippi were black, according to census data. Last year, black voter registration reached 90 percent, exceeding white registration in Mississippi. Today, Selma has a black mayor and so does Philadelphia, Miss., long haunted by the infamous murders of those three civil rights workers during "Freedom Summer."

Times have changed for the better.

On Tuesday, in a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that change by lifting decades of federal voting rights oversight on nine states, mostly in the South.

At issue was a part of the law that required those states to receive Justice Department approval before they impose any changes that could affect voting, such as polling place hours or voter identification requirements. Such "preclearance" was mandated in 1965 because in so much of the South, white officials relentlessly used every possible means to disenfranchise African-American voters.

President Barack Obama said he was "deeply disappointed" by the ruling. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said it "represents a serious setback for voting rights -- and has the potential to negatively affect millions of Americans across the country." Those sentiments were reflected in many other quarters.

Are voters in those states in immediate peril of being disenfranchised? In recent years, the Justice Department has rarely rejected a change in law or regulation submitted under the preclearance rule.

With this Supreme Court ruling, the Justice Department and the courts may still respond to attempts to disenfranchise minority voters wherever and whenever they occur. And they have been doing so.

The federal oversight of the nine states was never intended to be eternal. It was supposed to right a wrong, to help secure voting rights for minorities. If Congress detects that there is a pattern of disenfranchisement, it holds the option of creating a new set of rules for particular states.

The high court did not argue that voter disenfranchisement has been eradicated across the land. It did find that the Voting Rights Act must reflect the United States of 2013.


Chicago Tribune, June 26


Immigration reform will enhance America


This nation of immigrants is on the cusp of figuring out a just and fair path forward for the 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows.

It's time.

It's time to accept that despite good intentions on securing our borders, those seeking a better life for themselves and their families have been drawn to America for decades, even if it meant skirting legal paths and risking lives. A bipartisan compromise immigration reform bill crafted by the U.S. Senate's "Gang of Eight" deserves passage.

It makes sense financially and morally. The Congressional Budget Office last week said the bill would increase real GDP by up to 3.3 percent in 2023 and by 5.4 percent in 2033.

Morally, it helps secure the future for children of illegal immigrants, many of whom know no other country. It means undocumented workers will be responsible for paying taxes, beyond what their employers may now withhold under the assumption they are legal workers.

This isn't a get-citizenship-free bill. Immigrants with clean records who would be eligible to get in line would face fines, back-of-the-line waiting lists, requirements to show knowledge of civics and English, and more conditions before obtaining "lawful permanent resident" status after 10 years. That's a long line and a long wait, not amnesty.

And yet, some are still trying to derail comprehensive reform. Missouri U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt attempted to throw a wrench into progress, co-sponsoring amendments that call for ever-more-costly border security measures and unwieldy congressional oversight to slow changes.

A perfect border security system is a pipe dream. Its backers are stalling, burnishing their credentials with the far-right, anti-immigrant crowd. Meanwhile, employers are in a pinch for laborers and highly skilled workers as America awards too few legitimate work visas for industries and farms.

The U.S. Senate is hoping to pass an immigration bill by July 4, a fitting symbolic date for advancing the independence of a nation now trapped by outdated laws.


Kansas City Star, June 24