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Outside Voices: Pope’s misstep

Vatican keeps stumbling over Holocaust-denying bishop

Miami Herald, Feb. 10: Pope Benedict XVI stirred up another controversy last month when he reinstated a bishop who said of the Holocaust: “There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies.”

Apparently, Pope Benedict either didn’t know that British-born Bishop Richard Williamson believes that the Holocaust never happened, or else he misread what a stir the rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop would cause.

In Germany, where it is against the law to deny the Holocaust, Chancellor Angela Merkel took the extraordinary step of publicly criticizing the reinstatement of Williamson. In protest, Israel’s chief rabbinate severed ties with the Vatican. Jews everywhere expressed their outrage, while others had to wonder what sort of vetting the Vatican did on Williamson.

The Vatican responded to the uproar by reiterating Pope Benedict’s “full and indisputable solidarity” with Jews and warned against denying the Holocaust. The Vatican demanded that Williamson recant. So far, the bishop has merely issued an apology to the pope for the trouble this has caused him, without mentioning the Holocaust.

Unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict sometimes has a tin ear for diplomacy.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 11: Airline travelers hardly can be blamed if they are reflexively hostile to the idea of in-flight, wireless Internet service becoming a feature of life in an airplane’s cabin.

The specter of being trapped hours in a cramped seat next to a Web-based road warrior easily can be seen as just another high-altitude indignity.

But at least two domestic carriers – Delta and American – have begun to offer Wi-Fi on an experimental basis. The airlines see the move both as a revenue generator (they charge $10 for flights that are shorter than three hours) and an amenity to passengers.

The Washington Post reports that the move has drawn skepticism from the Association of Flight Attendants, whose members worry that, inevitably, they will be asked to become laptop cops, adding another stressful component to a job that already has more than its share or burdens.

But managed well, airline Wi-Fi probably will be a boon to passengers and flight attendants alike, contributing to smoother air travel. Two rules would prevent most problems:

•No voice communications. It’s not about safety; it’s about the potential for mutiny on a planeful of yakkers.

•Mandatory headphones. Many passengers already are plugged into iPods or other digital media devices. They cause no problems, even in close quarters, and neither should YouTube watching, as long as headphones are in place.

Not every technological advance is a boon.

Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 11: In England, when fans of the top-tier Chelsea soccer club dislike the team’s performance, they taunt the coach with a cruel chant: “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Investors reacted in a somewhat similar manner Tuesday after newly minted Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner unveiled an incomplete, $2 trillion plan to bail out banks. Within hours, the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 indexes each lost about 5 percent of their value – a harsh rebuke from Wall Street.

The primary features of Geithner’s plan are a joint public-private fund to buy as much as $1 trillion in toxic bank assets, and a $1 trillion program to boost lending to consumers and businesses. That’s separate from the $800 billion-plus economic stimulus bill working its way through Congress and last fall’s $700 billion bank bailout.

The size of the Treasury rescue is massive, but officials couldn’t give many details about how it will work.

Taxpayers have seen the prequel, and it wasn’t pretty. In the last few months of the Bush administration, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson beseeched Congress for $700 billion to bail out banks. Congress agreed, and Paulson quickly disbursed half of the fund.

His action probably prevented a total meltdown in the financial industry, but it did little to ease lending or blunt the broader recession. Worse, the government cannot account for much of the $350 billion.

Geithner and President Obama vow this time will be different. They say they will insist on transparency, which should’ve been a basic requirement in the first go-round.

The package also includes $50 billion to stem mortgage foreclosures. Treasury will work with the Federal Reserve to reduce monthly mortgage payments and set up guidelines for banks to modify loans, action that is sorely needed. But Geithner wasn’t ready to provide details on that plan, either, saying he will do so in a few weeks.

In an economy suffering from a widespread lack of confidence, the administration’s rollout Tuesday only contributed to that mood.

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Editorial: Washington state lawmakers scramble to keep public in the dark

State lawmakers want to create a legislative loophole in Washington’s Public Records Act. While it’s nice to see Democrats and Republicans working together for once, it’s just too bad that their agreement is that the public is the enemy. As The Spokesman-Review’s Olympia reporter Jim Camden explained Feb. 22, lawmakers could vote on a bill today responding to a court order that the people of Washington are entitled to review legislative records.