Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
San Francisco Chronicle on campaign distortions:
In the heat of battle this presidential election year, accusations are flying from both campaigns of lies, half-truths and contradictions. Yet, the candidates no longer show contrition when a statement is unmasked as a distortion or an out-and-out lie. Instead, they accuse the media of spin.
Can we run a democracy free of (apparently) bothersome facts?
Romney pollster Neil Newhouse, responding to media objections to a Romney campaign ad that falsely claimed the president had eliminated work and job training requirements for welfare beneficiaries, declared: "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
Distortions have long been part of electioneering. The news media saw their job as calling out false statements and contextual inaccuracies. Yet, as reporting seemed to have less and less effect on how the candidates conducted their campaigns, journalists became more aggressive. They began abandoning the he-said-she-said-let-the-reader-decide construction in favor of boldly calling out "lies, half-truths and contradictions" (as we say in The Chronicle)...
For their attempts to preserve a functioning democracy, media now are the object of partisans' scorn, and voters seem not to care.
How else do you explain Paul Ryan's convention speech, where he shamelessly offered up five brazen deceptions: about the closing of the GM plant in Janesville, Wis., about Medicare, about the deficit, about the downgrading of U.S. debt, and about retaining the safety net for the poor.
Or Romney's convention statement President Barack Obama began his presidency "with an apology tour"?
Not that the Obama campaign has the corner on the truth. Scrutiny there has revealed statements as distortions or half-truths, too.
The result: Voters are disgusted, and low voter turnout is forecast for the November election.
Science tells us voters are drawn more to candidates who share their values than they are persuaded by facts, but what voter values dishonesty? Voters of both parties should demand better of their candidates.
The News & Observer of Raleigh on U.S. Capitol neglect:
What's next? Leaving the gum on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? Or perhaps Republicans in the U.S. House will decide to leave the pool at the World War II memorial empty. Maybe they'll want to cut back services at the Smithsonian and leave the fingerprints on John Glenn's Friendship 7 capsule.
For who would have thought the day would come when the harsh partisanship of even the tea party Republicans would prohibit important repairs to no less a building than the United States Capitol, the heart and soul, at least in terms of hard structures, of American democracy?
But that's what's happening.
The Capitol Dome is in such a state and Stephen Ayers, who holds the position of architect of the Capitol, says it now ranks as a safety hazard.
The Dome, that grand and historic symbol, hasn't had any major renovations in 50 years. Given that it is in Washington, a city which suffers extremes of weather with blistering summers and heavy snowfalls in winter, that is remarkable.
And, as it turns out, neglectful.
There now are 1,300 known cracks in the Dome. That means there likely are many more. ...
Democrats in the Senate have appropriated $61 million to fix the Dome. Republicans in the House, where tea partyers willing not long ago to shut down the government over a budget dispute are in charge, won't act. They're standing by their austerity promises. ...
For the American people, no matter which political side they happen to be on, this dispute surely rises to the top of the list of reasons why Congress finds itself with improvement ratings in the cellar underneath the cellar. ...
Many descriptions of that scenario come to mind. Shrewd politics isn't one of them.
The Republican, Springfield, Mass., on new rules for auto fuel efficiency:
You can't please all of the people all of the time.
But you can sometimes come awfully close.
When you can please the big auto makers at the same time that you are making environmental groups happy, you must be doing something right. And if you do this with a cheer from big labor even while getting a green light from the state of California, which has at times been in the habit of making its own rules, then your plan must be pure magic.
What's making everyone so happy? The Environmental Protection Agency's new rules on auto fuel efficiency. Is there anyone who doesn't like the new standards, which were issued on Aug. 28? Oh, sure — Republicans and their presidential nominee, former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney. But given that the new rules came out of the White House, this should come as no surprise. But the new standards, which would require auto fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, were OK with just about everyone else.
It's worth noting how far — and how fast — the nation has moved on this front. A mere five years ago lawmakers were debating whether it would be possible to require an average of 30 mpg by 2025. Compared with the new rules, they were talking small potatoes.
Savings at the pump. More energy independence. A cleaner environment. Technological breakthroughs.
These are just some of the reasons why the EPA's new fuel-efficiency standards are such a winning proposition. Opponents' arguments? They simply don't like regulations.
Thankfully, the more sensible side is carrying the day.
The Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel on national political conventions:
National political conventions ain't what they used to be.
Once upon a time, they were events where deals were cut that made or broke careers, fights broke out and factions struggled for control of the party's soul. The switch to a reliance on primaries and caucuses to select delegates pledged to particular candidates pretty much precludes suspense.
Conventions have become coronations. Mitt Romney sewed up the Republican nomination long before Tropical Storm Isaac was named, much less threatened to swamp Tampa before turning toward Louisiana and growing into a hurricane. And there was never any doubt President Barack Obama would be the Democrats' nominee. ...
Conventions used to be like carnivals; now they resemble infomercials. And their predictability is bipartisan. ...
...Not only are the nominations a foregone conclusion, but the development of party platforms is an exercise in irrelevancy. The winner will rip out inconvenient platform planks at will. ...
Conventions have become pep rallies. There is value in that to both parties — energizing party loyalists to sway undecided voters during the final push to Election Day could make a difference in a close race — but the value diminishes every four years.
The Repository, Canton, Ohio, on the federal Amish trial:
The trial of 16 Amish men and women accused of forcibly cutting the hair and beards of other Amish in southeast Ohio is attracting national and even international attention. It's no wonder.
Non-Amish always have been curious about, and perhaps a little envious of, the uncomplicated lifestyle of the Amish. Combine that interest with the craving for bread-and-circuses entertainment that's so prevalent in the reality-show culture these days, and it's not surprising that the federal trial in Cleveland has become an Internet sensation.
Let's hope some productive thoughts also pass through the minds of those who are following the courtroom drama....
The trial also is intriguing because it raises so many questions about the role of government in individual lives. Where's the line between religious freedom and intervention of the state, between private discipline and criminal abuse? Should hate-crime laws cover shame and paralyzing embarrassment as well as outright intimidation?...
It's worth considering whether the widespread fascination with them and with this trial could be a window into important insights about our own lives.
Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star on crop insurance:
A few generations ago, a drought such as the one now gripping the Midwest would have triggered an outpouring of sympathy for farmers dependent on the whims of the weather for their livelihoods.
Now things are not so simple.
A prediction of record farm income earlier this month from the U.S. Department of Agriculture drove home how effective the safety net is for some, particularly those who raise commodity crops like corn and soybeans. ...
The backlash has been fierce, particularly from conservative and tea party types. ...
What's changed during the past couple of decades is the growth of crop insurance. The number of acres insured by U.S. farmers has risen from 45 million acres in 1981 to 262 million in 2011, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service.
Taxpayers subsidize an average 60 percent of the premiums farmers pay for crop insurance. Payout can be up to 85 percent of the revenue that would be generated based on average yields.
So in a year such as this one, when the price of corn is soaring to record levels, even farmers who find cobs with only a few kernels on their shriveled stalks still can expect to get a sizable check from their insurance company. ...
The Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons is among the organizations calling for scaling back crop insurance. The center wants Congress to enact caps on subsidies for crop insurance premiums for individual farmers.
The deluge of taxpayer dollars flowing to farmers in this drought could and should boost support for the center's position.
The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa, on the national debt:
Albert Einstein is credited with observing compound interest as the most powerful force in the universe.
"He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn't, pays it," he continued.
Right now, America understands compound interest yet is paying for it, too.
At $15.595 trillion, U.S. debt this year exceeded the country's Gross Domestic Product. To be sure, that's an alarming figure. Republicans made hay of it at their convention — as well they should.
In 2000, the first year of President George W. Bush's term, debt as it compared to GDP swung from plus 57.7 percent to 57.8 percent in the red. Then we cut taxes twice and went to war twice.
The first war in Afghanistan has cost us $561 billion and promises to remain expensive even after troops leave in 2014. Meanwhile the war in Iraq, now generally viewed as wholly unnecessary, cost $806 billion and still requires massive amounts of money.
All of it's borrowed.
Debt piled up during Bush's administration from 57.8 percent of GDP to 74.1 percent. Anyone familiar with how compounding interest works knows how that curve will soar — especially when expenses continue to exceed income.
In the past four years, those numbers have marched steadily and unsurprisingly upward: 86.4, 95.1, 98.7 and 101.7 percent of GDP. (Japan's debt-to-GDP ratio is 220 percent, and see where that country is.) ...
There's plenty of blame to go around. ... Democrats and Republicans both failed to recognize where the country was going.
Cutting taxes seemed like a good idea when the Treasury was full. But that was before 9/11, and the budget was not tweaked when the country marched off to war. Then the ultra-expensive bank meltdown hit. ...
The fact Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are running neck and neck shows Americans are more savvy about how we arrived at this point than politicians give them credit. ...
Chicago Sun-Times on a veggie-only McDonalds:
McDonald's is opening two vegetarian-only restaurants.
Not, unfortunately, in one of the hipper neighborhoods of Chicago, or even somewhere in California. But in India.
McDonald's plans to open two veggie-only sites next year, one in Amritsar and one in Katra.
This makes sense. For reasons of religion and tradition, Indian diets tend to be low in meat, with about 30 percent of Indians eating no meat at all.
But vegetarians are growing in number in this country, too, and we're pretty sure a veggie McDonald's would fare well in, say, Logan Square or Andersonville.
Our first reaction when we read the news about a vegetarian-only McDonald's was to laugh. Aren't these the folks who invented the double-beef-patty Big Mac?
But why not? A veggie McDonald's is an excellent idea — right here at home.
As a sort of security blanket, McDonald's could start on Devon Avenue, the hub of Chicago's immigrant Indian community.
The Daily Star, Beirut, on the new U.N. envoy to Syria:
Lakhdar Brahimi, the new U.N. envoy to Syria, has been busy making the rounds of TV studios, responding to the usual slew of questions about his imminent foray into the world of high-stakes diplomacy.
However, Brahimi's mission appears to be in tatters before it has even taken off. If members of the Security Council and the rest of the international community truly intend to invest time following up Brahimi's efforts in the coming weeks and months, they should consider calling off the entire exercise.
Syria's information minister restated what everyone already knows. The Syrian regime has no intention of doing anything until a simple condition is met: The "foreign conspiracy" must be brought to an end, because — in the eyes of Damascus — it is the only relevant aspect of the unrest that has gripped the country over the last 17 months. According to Omran Zoubi, who held a news conference to expound on his government's views, "nothing" is really happening in Syria, because the media has blown things out of proportion.
Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition, both inside and outside the country, have stated firmly that they have no interest in Brahimi's mission, and absolutely no readiness to sit down and talk things over with members of a regime that has systematically engaged in destruction in nearly every major town and city in the country. ...
And, members of the international community appear to be satisfied with assigning blame for the Security Council's failure to act, while setting "red lines" on matters such as the use of chemical weapons.
Brahimi is now spending his time searching for multiple ways to express the idea of "difficult," and when his tenure ends, commentators will be searching for multiple ways to express the idea of "utter failure."
London Evening Standard on women executives:
The Evening Standard debate, hosted by Google, on how best to promote women in boardrooms was lively and stimulating. It took place as the EU proposed that 40 per cent of non-executive directors of larger listed companies should be women.
That idea got short shrift, though attorney Cherie Booth felt that good intentions alone had not achieved enough. The consensus was that it is executive positions that matter most. The priority is for companies to encourage able women to consider promotion and acquire the right experience for it.
Quite simply, companies and institutions will not flourish as they might if they do not deploy the talent of the whole workforce, nearly half of whom are women. This is not a matter of quotas but about a willingness to encourage talented women to consider higher positions and to help find ways to make it possible for those with dependents to combine work and family responsibilities.
Diversity in workplaces is not just a matter of gender — but a better balance of the sexes is in all our interests.
Calgary (Alberta) Herald on U.S. military deserter Kimberly Rivera:
The Canada Border Services Agency is right to order American deserter Kimberly Rivera to return to the U.S. by Sept. 20.
Rivera has been living in Toronto since 2007 with her husband and children — ever since she decided she didn't want to be deployed to Iraq. Rivera's situation stands in sharp contrast to those who fled to Canada to avoid U.S. military service during the Vietnam War. Those individuals had been drafted against their will. Rivera chose to enlist in the U.S.'s all-volunteer army. She simply didn't want to go to Iraq, so she abandoned her unit by coming to Canada while on leave and applying for refugee status.
Rivera is now awaiting a response to her application to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds, but this plea deserves to be rejected. She knew when she enlisted for military service that she might very well be sent to a war zone. Moreover, "humanitarian grounds" is hyperbole in her situation. If she is deported, she will not be sent to some Third World country where she faces the prospect of torture. She'll go back to the U.S. and the likelihood of a year in prison, the type of sentence two other deserters expelled from Canada under similar circumstances in the past few years have faced.
People must take responsibility for their actions, and Canada should not be a dumping ground for soldiers who refuse to do their duty.
The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on the issue of "comfort women":
Japan-South Korea relations are souring again over the issue of "comfort women," who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.
What opened up the discord was South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's comment that he landed on one of the disputed Takeshima islets on Aug. 10 because the Japanese government had made no progress on the comfort women issue despite Seoul's demand for compensation.
The islets in the Sea of Japan, controlled by South Korea, are claimed by Japan.
In response, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a Diet committee this month that the government could not confirm the existence of documents that showed that the women were taken by force. South Koreans took his remarks as a distortion of history, and protests are spreading across South Korea.
We wonder if it was appropriate for Lee, as president, to incite nationalism by bringing up disagreements on the question of history. ...
Five years ago, Shinzo Abe, as prime minister, stated that there was no "coercion in the narrow sense," that authorities did not take away women by force like an abductor.
Later, the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament adopted resolutions demanding the Japanese government apologize for the comfort women issue, describing it as "one of the largest cases of human trafficking in the 20th century."
It was a warning by international society against Japanese politicians who are still unable to squarely face the mistakes Japan made in the past. ...