New Ulm Journal, Sept. 9
When to intervene is complex question
The Syrian issue facing Congress, the U.S., indeed the whole world community, is one of the most complex questions in international relations. When is it proper for one nation to interfere in the affairs of another? At what point does respect for one nation's right to self-determination yield to concern for the rights of oppressed and endangered individuals?
It's the same question people face when they see something bad happening — a parent screaming at a kid in a store, some man slapping his girlfriend, someone shoplifting. When should we step forward and get involved, when should we mind our own business?
When are we our brother's keeper?
In the case of Syria, the evidence seems clear that chemical warfare, the kind that has been banned by international agreement for years, was used against civilians, and it is also obvious that the Syrian government is responsible for the deadly attack.
The international community, with the exception of Syria's friends and apologists, is horrified. Some want to call in the U.N. and let them handle it, but with Russia holding veto power in the U.N. Security Council, that will result in no action. Others want someone, like the U.S., to do something, but don't want to get involved themselves.
The United States has been placed in a position, in part by our president's "red line" statements, and in part by the expectations of others, where we are expected to be the enforcer, the one who steps up.
It is not a popular decision. We have done more than our share of world policing; in fact, many think we have done too much.
Congress must consider the consequences of our taking action, and the consequences of taking no action. If we do take action, many nations in the Middle East will consider us bullies, but if we don't, many nations will consider us weak.
There are few clear guidelines for this decision. Congress has a tough decision ahead, and it will need to muster all the statesmanship it can as it makes it.
St. Cloud Times, Sept. 8
More details with schools' tech, please
The start of a new school year offers an annual reminder of how technology is redefining the delivery of education.
Witness the Sept. 2 Times news report "Schools swap books for tablets," which detailed two of the latest local efforts. This fall, the Sartell-St. Stephen school district purchased 1,110 MacBook Airs for grades 9-12 and 900 iPad Minis for grades 6-8. Also, St. John's Prep now provides all students in grades 6-12 an iPad for use in their classes.
Digital technology certainly is a good thing when it comes to motivating today's students. But it also raises many challenges, the biggest of which involve effectiveness and equality. State, district and even classroom leaders would serve students, their families and all taxpayers well by creating and sharing policies that thoroughly address these areas with regard to technology.
As this board noted a few years ago when the rush to tablets — specifically iPads — started, educators need to provide understandable data to the public that shows digital technology is improving student performance.
Schools (read taxpayers) are spending thousands of dollars and more acquiring an array of high-tech machines. Similar — perhaps even more — is spent on software, training and application. And many schools are requiring students to pay technology fees.
So what are schools saying this investment will yield? National studies point to more engaged learners and some improved academic outcomes. But what are local schools experiencing?
Policies outlining goals supplemented with results will go a long way toward understanding why educators want taxpayers to pay for a major, ongoing expense.
There is no denying that digital technology has heightened awareness of socioeconomic gaps among areas of the state, school districts, schools within a district and even students themselves.
That's why it's critical for policies to address expectations regarding technology, especially if studies show these new tools make for better-educated students. Policies must be thorough, covering everything from the state's role in making sure all districts can afford technology to whether a specific school requires students to have the ability to access the Internet outside of class.
Again, this increased technology is good because it motivates students for school. The key, though, is making sure those kids are getting smarter and that they all have equal access to it.
Duluth News Tribune, Sept. 8
Obvious danger requires fair and responsible rules
The packaging on electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, doesn't say much. Which actually is kind of scary. Just what's being inhaled into the body when "vaping?" Certainly not just vapors, as suggested by the slang verb for puffing on the products. And what's being exhaled for everyone around to breathe in and ingest?
One thing the packaging does say: e-cigarettes contain nicotine. How much? Doesn't say, and, according to experts, it can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and from brand to brand. But does it even matter? It's not like there's such a thing as a safe amount of the highly addictive, cancer-causing drug nicotine.
Even scarier? E-cigarettes, as addictive, dangerous and harmful to health as they may be, are actively being marketed to kids, just the way tobacco cigarettes used to be. Remember Joe Camel and the portrayal of smoking as cool and hip and what everyone who's anyone was doing? This time — powered by nearly $21 million in advertising in 2012, according to the New York Times — it's kid-friendly flavors like watermelon and cookies-and-cream milkshake and the portrayal of vaping as cool and hip and what everyone who's anyone is doing.
Unlike tobacco, however — and this may be most troubling of all — kids can buy e-cigarettes easily and legally, including online. And they are. The percentage of U.S. middle school and high school students taking drags on e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week. In 2012, more than 1.78 million middle school and high school students nationwide had tried e-cigarettes, a precursor to tobacco cigarettes.
So something clearly has to be done, right, before a whole new generation embraces a filthy, unhealthy habit and sees it as just a normal part of our culture? ... (T)he Duluth City Council has an opportunity to take some sensible action.
The first of three ordinances the council owes it to the community to approve would require a license to sell e-cigarettes the same way sellers of tobacco have to be licensed. In fact, an existing tobacco license would cover e-cigarettes under the measure. A second ordinance would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in places already designated by law as no-smoking, like inside public buildings, along the Lakewalk, at bus stops and elsewhere. And a third ordinance would close a loophole in clean indoor air laws meant to allow the sampling of tobacco in tobacco shops prior to purchase. Some are exploiting that provision to sell group-smoking experiences in lounge settings.
"The big misconception for a couple of weeks was that Duluth wants to ban e-cigarettes. That's not it at all," Jill Doberstein, program manager for tobacco prevention and control for the American Lung Association in Duluth, said in an interview last week with the News Tribune editorial board.
No, the idea is responsible regulation of their use, not the banning of e-cigarettes altogether.
Some users of e-cigarettes swear by their effectiveness in quitting tobacco even though the government has yet to certify them as safe and effective smoking-cessation devices the way it has nicotine patches and other products.
The safety and effectiveness for smoking cessation of e-cigarettes is still being studied and determined, and while the jury is out, adults certainly should be allowed to ignore the health risks and dangers and use e-cigarettes. They can be allowed to forget that the only safe air to breathe is clean air. It is a free country.
But allowing e-cigarettes to pollute the air of others, to be pushed on unsuspecting kids, or to be used without any rules, regulations or controls whatsoever is, well, it's just downright scary.