The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 2:32 PM
-- Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Columbus Dispatch on public roles and responsibilities of journalists:
The messy firing of former National Public Radio news analyst Juan Williams, after he made comments some considered intolerant of Islam, has sparked a national debate over the public roles and responsibilities of journalists and their bosses and opened the nonprofit radio corporation to criticism.
The carping is justified in at least one respect: NPR, which receives about 10 percent of its income from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, should give the public a better explanation for the firing. ...
In a discussion with Fox personality Bill O'Reilly about the role Muslims play in anti-U.S. terrorism, Williams said that, when he's flying and sees people "in Muslim garb" on the plane, he gets "nervous" and "worried."
Put non-Muslim Americans on truth serum and a substantial portion would sympathize. An honest description of a fear-based emotional reaction, however irrational, isn't proof of bigotry. ...
A more meaningful discussion would focus not only on whether Williams was out of line as a journalist but, in general, on the sentiments he expressed. ...
Fears like those expressed by Williams should be dissected and explored, not censured and shoved under the rug.
Loveland (Colo.) Daily Reporter-Herald on Great Britain's fiscal example:
The newly elected government in Great Britain is on the brink of enacting truly historic change.
And by doing so, government leaders hope to set the country on the path for sustainable spending for decades to come.
The coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats looks to make sharp cuts in public welfare spending, eliminate more than 200,000 government jobs and raise the retirement age to receive benefits one year, to age 66.
The cuts will amount to $130 billion by 2015. Also planned is an increase in the national value-added tax, from 17.5 percent to 20 percent. ...
The country most similar to Great Britain in terms of its deficit would be the United States, which is projected to have a deficit equal to 10.7 percent of the country's economic output. Bluntly stated, a day of reckoning also must come soon for this country, either by policy choice (preferred) or because of economic calamity (disastrous).
Notable among the changes in Great Britain is the shared nature of the cuts. In addition to the cuts for welfare and the increased retirement age, the children's benefit in the country will be eliminated for those making more than $70,000.
Such changes are being explored right now in the U.S., but not by any group with authority. The president created a special bipartisan commission to look at the budget deficit and national debt, and its work will likely lead to a recommendation of benefit reductions - or at least a limit to their growth - spending cuts and, yes, tax increases.
When that group returns, lawmakers from both parties should take heed.
As Great Britain is showing, true fiscal reform must account for many suggestions, and the sacrifice must be shared.
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on Halloween starting Christmas shopping season:
If Halloween is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, there's a reason for that.
"Black Friday" - the day after Thanksgiving, when retail stores typically begin turning a profit on the year - has traditionally been the start of the economically vital holiday shopping season.
Stores, however, are edging toward making Halloween the starting line for holiday shopping. In many stores, seasonal sales and promotions began.
By itself, Halloween isn't a particularly big retail event. The National Retail Federation predicted that spending would be $5.8 billion, back to 2008 levels just before the economic roof fell in.
By contrast, spending over the traditional Thanksgiving to New Year's season is anticipated to be $447 billion, up 2.3 percent from last year.
The stores were happy to sell large quantities of candy, costumes and decorations, but that's not the point of Black Friday's informal move.
The idea was to increase traffic in the stores, entice shoppers with sales on bigger ticket items and hope they return later in the holiday season. Unsaid is that the stores hoped to get the shoppers while they still had money.
Holiday sales have become important barometers of American economic activity. We Americans have a simple way of observing our holidays. We spend. And that spending drives 70 percent of the economy.
The Journal, Martinsburg, W.Va., on federal transportation projects:
In many states, including West Virginia, the transportation infrastructure has been neglected for many years. President Barack Obama is counting on Americans' knowledge of that to pressure Congress to approve what amounts to a new "stimulus" bill.
There is talk of a $50 billion measure that would be used to fund transportation projects throughout the country.
But Obama and liberals in Congress have an agenda - and it does not necessarily include what most Americans want. In addition to highway and bridge repairs, Obama wants the money for new rail lines, airport improvements and new highways.
Clearly, he wants to spend the money in ways calculated to win him votes in 2012.
Congress should reject the bill. If $50 billion is available, it should be handed out to states with no strings attached - to make needed improvements, not just to advance the popularity of Obama and liberal lawmakers.
The Dallas Morning News on GOP governance:
Republicans swept into power across much of the country, gaining control of the House and more seats in the Senate. What's more, they won key governors' races, including victories in swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. The comeuppance for President Barack Obama and his party marks the third consecutive presidency in which voters rebuked an administration in a mid-term election.
This newspaper welcomes the news that now both parties will be held accountable for what happens in Washington. We are hopeful that a Republican-led House will be more likely to rein in deficit spending and reform a flawed health care package passed by Democrats.
Going into the election, voters clearly remained worried about the economy and jobs. Those anxieties were matched by rising fears about the national debt and growth of government. Democrats, vulnerable on each front, endured the brunt of voters' frustration. ...
The (Republican) party must resist the urge to play divisive politics with the hard questions of governance. ...
Republicans' skill in getting the country to deal with the hard choices will determine whether the nation can escape fiscal jeopardy. It also will determine whether the GOP retains power and even elects a president. Republicans also have a new crop of governors to lead statehouses, which, of course, produced leaders like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
But these are fickle times. Just ask the once-popular Barack Obama.
The New York Times on an overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act:
Behind closed doors in Washington, American officials are shaping an overhaul of the 1994 federal statute that requires phone and broadband carriers to ensure their networks can be wiretapped.
Based on a chilling recent precedent, the risk is substantial that this so-called technical updating will spread far beyond what's said to be contemplated - and greatly expand the already expansive power of the government to spy on Americans. Congress should be especially cautious about the scope of the revision.
The precedent is the 2008 amendment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. While it also needed updating to keep pace with technology, the Bush administration added measures that sanctioned spying without a warrant, without suspicion, and without court approval. Retroactively, it gave legal cover to more than five years of the administration's illegal spying. Congress turned those provisions into law.
The Obama administration has no similar tracks to cover, but the risks of executive overreach are still there. It's essential for Congress to be deliberate about providing a check on the executive branch and striking a balance with other American interests. ...
The government's contention is that it seeks only to maintain its ability to conduct surveillance so that it can engage in legitimate spying via new technologies with the same proficiency that it can via old ones. If the goal were as straightforward as that, it would be difficult to challenge. Despite its abuses, wiretapping has long been accepted as a tool of law enforcement when used properly. ...
Officials have recounted how some carriers have been unable to carry out wiretap orders and how the Federal Bureau of Investigation has spent tens of millions of dollars to help fix the problems. But there is no public data about how often a communication service's technical makeup thwarts surveillance approved by a court. Congress must understand why these changes are so pressing before it considers the likely major new legal requirements needed to ensure that new technologies can be wiretapped.
San Francisco Chronicle on a post-Pelosi House:
Never say forever in American politics. In the summer of 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confidently laid out a scenario in which Democrats would win the White House that fall, pick up more congressional seats in 2010 and by 2012 begin to dominate Washington for "a long time to come."
"The stronger our majority, the more cooperation we'll get from the Republicans," she told our editorial board in June 2008. "And then maybe it won't matter who's in charge, because the American people will have made their views known."
That scenario was abruptly interrupted Nov. 2 with a strong conservative tide that allowed Republicans to reclaim control of the House of Representatives and narrow the Democratic majority in the Senate. Pelosi will lose her speakership despite her stewardship of one of the more ambitious legislative agendas in history - or perhaps because of the breadth of her successes. Pelosi became a target in many districts where centrist House Democrats were being challenged. ...
The newly empowered Republicans should be forewarned: The impatience that swept them in could just as quickly sweep them out in short order. American politics seems to have entered an era of volatility that has been amplified by the anxieties stirred by the Great Recession. Pelosi's Democrats held the House for just four years; the Republicans had control for just 12 years before that - preceded by four decades of Democratic rule. ...
For Obama, the challenge of the capital's realigned reality begins today. He has no choice but to narrow his sights or face the prospect of hopeless gridlock.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Iran nuclear talks:
Iran told the European Union last week that it was prepared to resume negotiations with the West about its nuclear program after Nov. 10.
This is good news for several reasons. One is that Iran's nuclear program is a matter of concern to the U.S. and the rest of the international community. While Iran insists that the program has only peaceful, energy-related objectives, the U.S. and most of the world suspect the Islamic republic is also seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capacity.
A second reason is that dialogue could reduce the possibility of a war with Iran. It has been suggested that Israel might attack Iran, to take out or retard its nuclear program or otherwise cripple it. That would prompt Iranian retaliation against not only Israel but also U.S. assets and allies in the tiny, vulnerable Persian Gulf emirates - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The ensuing regional war would almost certainly draw in the U.S. It is hard to argue that such a war would benefit America, in forces or in finance, particularly with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still not completed.
One of President Barack Obama's pledges during the 2008 campaign was to establish dialogue with Iran, without preconditions. He has not been successful with that, due partly to Iran's attitude toward such dialogue. Some of its leaders attack the U.S. publicly in harsh terms and make dire threats against Israel. Its attitude toward dialogue with the West is on-again, off-again.
Nonetheless, the subject is important enough for the U.S. to treat it seriously, even ignoring to some degree the provocative ravings of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is one of many spokesmen for Iran. The U.S. needs to persist in pursuing useful dialogue with this large, important state in a sensitive region.
The Montreal Gazette on Canadian consequences of U.S. political campaign spending:
Our American friends will find themselves with the most expensive Congress money can buy. The last-minute tsunami of campaign spending gives Canadians still another reason to feel smug - we really do handle this better here. But the orgy of spending in Congressional races can have negative consequences for us.
U.S. candidates are burning through a record sum this year, over $2 billion. That's 10 per cent more than in 2008, and there's not even a presidential election this year.
Many representatives elected Nov. 2 will immediately start to raise money for their 2012 races. And far too often, "raising money" is a euphemism for "selling your vote." Literally taking bribes is still fairly rare, as far as anyone knows, but legislators do sell their votes, in a sense, to raise campaign funds: They decide to vote for the positions advocated by special-interest lobbyists; those interests then make donations. ...
Part of the problem is that members of Congress are free of party constraint. Where Canadian Members of Parliament risk losing various perks or even official party re-nomination if they buck their leaders, Congress is in a sense 535 independents, each one taking his own position on each issue - and often raising more or less money depending on what those positions are.
Sometimes the special interests want protection against Canadian competition, or more pressure put on Canada to comply with this or that U.S. policy. There's an obvious danger there for us. But there's another risk, too: Sharp left-right polarization, and the resulting big swings in control of the House or Senate or both, make it very hard for Canadian governments and companies to predict U.S. policy. A boisterous and unpredictable neighbor can make you awfully nervous. ...
It's a mess. You know your system needs work when your Congress can be bought by anonymous bidders, like old master paintings at an art auction.
The Daily Star, Beirut, on the al-Quida threat to the Lebanese Christian community:
The somber news of the killing of dozens of Iraqi Christians gathered in a Baghdad church at the hands of al-Qaida militants has put the hardships endured by this religious minority under the spotlight once more.
The fate of the Christians of the Middle East has been a paradoxically cruel one. Christianity was born in this very land and its followers have hugely contributed to the communities in which they have lived. Yet, over the last century, Christians have often been treated as outsiders and - as in this last episode - even violently targeted.
Christians are certainly not the only group in the Middle East - religious or other - to have endured intolerance. But its consequences have undoubtedly unfolded on a much wider scale than in other cases. ...
Yet, violent attacks by militants against the Lebanese Christian community could potentially tip Lebanon's precarious sectarian balance, and unleash the violence that has usually been associated with such instability.
Worse even, if Lebanon were to seriously spin out of control, the risks that it become one more al-Qaida safe-haven in the region are not to be neglected.
And so, as al-Qaida is multiplying threats to repeat its bloody exploits in other parts of the region - addressing them Nov. 1 to the 8 million-odd Christian population of Egypt, and perhaps tomorrow to that of Lebanon - it is up to each Lebanese, regardless of his or her confession, to sound the alarm bell.
With a single conflagration on Lebanon's powder-keg, it is the entire country which runs the risk of blowing up.
China Daily, Beijing, on China's foreign direct investment:
The rise of China as a major source of foreign direct investment, a natural result of the gradual appreciation of the country's currency and its accumulation of huge foreign exchange reserves, should be a boon to a lasting global recovery.
However, the unjustified hostility that Chinese investors face in some countries, especially those debt-laden rich nations, show the international community is not yet ready to accept China's new role as a global investor.
Unluckily, neither are most Chinese enterprises.
Sitting on a ballooning foreign exchange reserve that reached about $2.65 trillion by the end of September, China has found it increasingly urgent to diversify its overseas investment from low-yielding U.S. Treasury bonds. ...
While China's outbound direct investment rose to $56.5 billion in 2009, Chinese companies had invested only about $900 million of that amount in the world's largest economy. That would not look so abnormal had investment-led growth not been badly needed to help lift the U.S. economy out of its worst recession since the 1930s.
The unfortunate truth is that, for short-term interests, U.S. politicians are still playing up unwarranted public suspicions about incoming Chinese investment. For instance, in August, 52 U.S. congressmen attempted to block China's first investment in the U.S. steel industry regardless of the obvious contribution such an investment would make to local employment.
If debt-laden rich countries like the United States continue to shut the door on China's ODI while trying to reflate a consumption-led recovery at home, the world economy is simply wasting a chance to avoid an unnecessary double dip. ...
The Telegraph, London, on a new al-Qaida cell in Yemen:
The emergence of a deadly new al-Qaida cell in Yemen that can plant sophisticated bombs on commercial aircraft has provided a graphic illustration of the rapidly changing nature of the global menace posed by Islamist terrorism. It is also a stark reminder of the limitations the West faces in its attempts to tackle the threat.
None of the leaders of the major Western powers has any appetite to launch military interventions on the scale recently witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan. From now on, as the recent review undertaken by the National Security Council spelt out, the emphasis must be on conflict resolution, namely providing aid and assistance to beleaguered nations. But how, precisely, can that be applied to a country like Yemen, where the government's authority hardly extends beyond the boundaries of Sana'a, its capital, and where al-Qaida sympathizers have been able to exploit tribal leaders' distrust of the central government to their advantage? This, after all, is a mirror image of what happened during the early days of al-Qaida's emergence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the latter, NATO now has upwards of 100,000 troops trying to root out the militants. ...
Reluctance to open another front against al-Qaida is understandable, and if military action by the West is needed in the future it is likely to take the form of surgical strikes by special forces and drones, rather than full-scale interventions. But so long as al-Qaida seeks to extend its franchise to places like Somalia and north Africa, there is always the possibility that one of its plots will succeed. And, at that point, military restraint by the West will not be an option.