Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal on immigration reform:
The election results aren't likely to bring Democrats and Republicans closer together on all the grave issues facing our country, but it may have narrowed the gap on one of them — the undeniable need for sweeping immigration reform.
If true, a break in the impasse can't happen fast enough. President Barack Obama promised to deliver on comprehensive immigration legislation in his first term in office. He didn't do that during his first two years when an amenable Congress was controlled by the Democrats. He was mostly stymied by a majority of Republicans after the 2010 midterm elections.
Nevertheless, Obama did laudably take executive action this year, announcing that the administration would be helping young illegal immigrants get a chance to stay in the country rather than deporting them. He also has pledged to work hard for broader reforms; the election results may help him achieve that goal. That's because some Republican leaders — seeing that their party's support among Latinos has eroded greatly from the days when former Texas Gov. George W. Bush was in the Oval Office — are now talking about reform. To his credit, Bush pushed for big changes in the country's immigration policies, but the GOP leadership in Congress would not budge.
Now, in a bipartisan effort, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are pitching changes that would bolster security at the borders but also provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The two senators made the same suggestion in 2010, but the idea went nowhere. ...
Immigration reform has been kicked around long enough. Realistic solutions are needed, not more hollow rhetoric. Congress and the president have plenty of motivation to get this done and should seize on the opportunity.
The Telegraph, Macon, Ga., on jobless benefits:
Washington's focus on the "fiscal cliff" — a potentially disastrous combination of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1 — has shifted attention away from the biggest problem in the economy, which is the more than 12 million Americans still unemployed. More than 5 million of them have been sidelined for more than half a year, which means they're no longer receiving unemployment insurance benefits from their state. Instead, many are receiving extended unemployment benefits paid for by the federal government. Unless Congress agrees to renew the program, however, that support will end as well, even before the country reaches the fiscal cliff.
It would be tragic if Congress abandoned the unemployed in order to clip a relative smidgen off the deficit — about $30 billion of a deficit of $1 trillion. According to the most recent federal survey of job vacancies, there were about seven applicants for every two openings. That's an improvement over the worst days of the recession, when the ratio of applicants to openings was more than 10 to 2. But it still means that there aren't nearly enough jobs available to put everyone back to work, especially when you consider the more than 9 million Americans who are either stuck in part-time jobs when they want full-time work, or who've become so discouraged they've dropped out of the workforce.
Nevertheless, Republicans and Democrats have battled for more than two years over how to offset the cost of the benefits, and more recently whether to continue funding them at all. There's a legitimate debate to be had over whether the country should continue borrowing money to pay for unemployment benefits. But the usual argument for cutting off benefits is risible when there aren't enough jobs to take.
The Cullman (Ala.) Times on wasted time in Washington:
While the United States teeters on the financial cliff, more attention is being given to the lurid extramarital affairs of military and government leaders than the more pressing problems facing the nation.
Sure, there is concern that David Petraeus, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, may have dropped a few secrets during his affair with the woman who penned his biography. And Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair's wife, Rebecca, has appeared on a television show to bemoan the Army life that leads husbands and wives to have affairs.
There's also the case of Gen. John Allen, who some officials accuse of sending suggestive emails to a Florida woman.
OK, we get it. The scum rises regularly in society. Men and women cheat, but other than those who are involved in these tangled affairs does anyone really care to know the details or care to listen to the shameless characters blabber about their shortcomings?
The American obsession with pitiful personal details is becoming absurd. Let's move a little closer to the fiscal cliff and focus on what economists warn could be an economic catastrophe at the turn of the year. ...
Vast amounts of time are wasted in Washington and by the media on learning the details of personal failures of high-profile characters. Once the garbage is spilled, not much of it has any real consequence concerning national security, and certainly no bearing on the state of the economy.
Congressional leaders have enjoyed plenty of recreation with the presidential election and all the trimmings that go with a year of campaigning. It's time now to turn away from the trappings of sensational stories and focus on the future of the country.
The Seattle Times on FCC media-ownership rules:
The Federal Communications Commission appears intent on weakening media-ownership rules and compounding the mistake by ignoring its own troubling findings.
The commission's first-ever review, released Nov. 14, found the ownership of broadcast radio and television stations by women and minorities to be at single-digit percentages.
The FCC wants to aggravate this extraordinary lack of diversity by allowing the consolidation of newspapers and television stations or radio stations in the 20 largest markets.
The FCC found white ownership increased while minority ownership eroded. Blacks owned 1 percent of all commercial-television stations in 2007, and 0.7 percent in 2011. Asian ownership was at a half percent in 2011. Latino ownership increased a fraction to 2.9 percent. Female ownership of TV stations went from 5.6 percent to 6.8 percent.
These statistics shape news gathering and journalism, access to the airwaves and the mix of views available and presented.
Efforts by the FCC to weaken media-ownership rules have been knocked down by public opinion, Congress and the courts in the past. In 2011 the commission was directed by a federal appeals court to conduct a survey.
For the FCC's narrow purposes that box has been checked, because it wants to proceed without holding public hearings or formal reviews of the findings.
Craig Aaron, president of media watchdog Free Press, raised a pointed question: "Why is the FCC contemplating a giveaway to the nation's largest media conglomerates when the rest of the industry has turned away from the failed consolidation model?"
For a plan with no public support or purpose, Aaron notes, "... the main beneficiaries of this change would be News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch and Tribune Co.'s Sam Zell."
America is enriched by the diversity represented in its politics, media and culture. The FCC is moving in the opposite direction.
The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch on the federal debt ceiling:
It would be wrenching for the country to be faced with another showdown over the federal debt ceiling. But the solution should not be, as Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner recently suggested, to dispense with the debt ceiling because it is an inconvenient impediment to ratcheting up the national debt.
Geithner said on Nov. 16 that the debt ceiling — the cap on federal indebtedness that requires congressional approval to raise — should be eliminated.
The idea is preposterous. The debt ceiling is the only thing that forces Congress and the president to confront the results of their out-of-control spending....
Doing away with the ceiling would stoke problems down the road in exchange for short-term expediency. President Barack Obama cannot stand for re-election, and Geithner already is on his way out the door, so long-term solutions to the nation's burgeoning debt will not top their agendas and there will be no penalty for their irresponsibility....
Voters retained the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the Democrat edge in the Senate despite very low approval ratings for congressional incumbents overall. This virtually guarantees a replay of some of the gamesmanship over the debt, taxes and spending cuts that accompanied last year's failed attempts at a "grand bargain."
The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee on U.S. Senate filibuster reform:
Popular notions of the U.S. Senate filibuster, the practice of talking bills to death or delaying their passage, tend to come from film, such as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," or from legendary past examples. ...
In the past, senators actually had to stand on the floor and talk all day and all night to keep debate going. That naturally limited filibusters.
In the last decade, however, filibusters haven't worked that way. The Senate allows "silent" filibusters — the mere threat of a filibuster — to force the majority to assemble 60 votes to cut off debate and move legislation. These "pseudo-filibusters," or "obstructionism on the cheap," have turned the filibuster from a tool of last resort to a regular part of Senate procedure. ...
No longer do senators attempt to put together a majority coalition to carry the day. They threaten filibusters and the business of the Senate grinds to a halt.
This is not a hallowed tradition, but a clear abuse. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used to oppose changes, but now supports reform.
"I think the rules have been abused, and we are going to work to change them," Reid said recently. "We will not do away with the filibuster, but we will make the Senate a more meaningful place. We are going to make it so we can get things done."
That's the right stance. ...
In our constitutional republic, the majority is supposed to rule, with checks and balances to prevent rash decisions. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 22, "the fundamental maxim of republican government . requires that the sense of the majority should prevail."
By adopting changes to its rules, the Senate would assure that the minority could use the filibuster, but the will of the majority would prevail after a reasonable period of public deliberation — restoring the principle of majority rule.
The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain on Petraeus' testimony on the U.S. consulate attack in Libya:
Former CIA Director David Petraeus has told Congress that classified intelligence showed the deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was a terrorist attack but the administration withheld the suspected role of al-Qaida affiliates to avoid tipping them off.
The recently resigned spy chief explained that references to terrorist groups suspected of carrying out the violence were removed from the public explanation of what caused the attack so as not to alert them that U.S. intelligence was on their trail, according to lawmakers who attended Petraeus' private briefings.
The retired four-star general addressed the House and Senate intelligence committees in back-to-back, closed-door hearings as questions persist over what the Obama administration knew in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and why its public description did not match intelligence agencies' assessments. ...
Republicans remain critical of the administration's handling of the case. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Petraeus' testimony showed that "clearly the security measures were inadequate despite an overwhelming and growing amount of information that showed the area in Benghazi was dangerous, particularly on the night of September 11." ...
While the full depth of Petraeus' testimony hasn't been made public, what has been discussed about it continues to raise questions. The slaying of an American ambassador is serious business and the citizens of this nation deserve to know the full facts about the administration's handling of the entire affair.
The Boston Globe on the Norquist Taxpayer Protection Pledge:
'Nobody's turning on me," anti-tax activist Grover Norquist insisted recently, but the evidence is suggesting otherwise: To their credit, Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and several other senior Republicans are walking away from Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which has hamstrung serious budget negotiations in Washington for years. It's a welcome acknowledgement that opposing any net income tax increases regardless of the circumstances, as Norquist's pledge requires, renders any serious effort at deficit reduction impossible.
Norquist rolled out his pledge in 1986, when maximum marginal income tax rates of 70 percent were still a recent memory. But today, the maximum rate is 35 percent. Meanwhile, the United States has in the last decade fought two wars without seeking additional funding, and is still recovering from the worst recession in half a century. Reagan-era fiscal policies need not be binding now, as key GOP lawmakers are now explaining. "I care more about my country," Chambliss declared recently, "than I do about a 20-year-old pledge."
Many on the left suspect these Republicans are operating cynically; they'll toy with accepting higher revenues, this logic goes, only to revert to a hard-line anti-tax stance in the end. But in fact, a combination of tax increases and modest entitlement reforms is necessary to bring the budget into balance over time. And after the GOP's election drubbing, Graham, Chambliss, and others may be making a more practical calculation: that Norquist's pledge is hurting them and their party politically. Whatever their reasons, any disavowal of the pledge helps to improve the political climate and make a balanced debt deal more likely.
Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Israel:
The celebratory gunfire in Gaza that greeted the start of the Nov. 21 truce may have been in part to greet the end of the slaughter of the Israeli onslaught. This has seen at least 162 Palestinians die, the majority of them civilians, and in excess of 1,200 people injured. Some of these will die later and many more will have to live with crippling disabilities for the rest of their lives.
But the hail of bullets that was fired into the air also marked a victory. The Israelis had done their worst and had discovered that in return, Hamas rockets had been fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Once again, the Palestinians trapped in the Gaza ghetto had not been cowed and this time, the Israeli Army had hesitated to send in ground forces, because the Netanyahu government had a good idea of the fierce opposition they would meet. No one on either side has forgotten the humiliating defeat that Israel's once seemingly invincible troops had met in 2006 in southern Lebanon, at the hands of the more lightly armed, but carefully organized Hezbollah militia.
There was however more of a victory than most of the jubilant Hamas fighters realized. That victory is this: Whatever happens now to the cease-fire, Israel has just experienced a psychological and strategic defeat, largely of its own making, which its leaders and generals would do well to recognize and analyze.
Egypt is also no longer a friendly neighbor, prepared to help Israel enforce its economic blockade of the Palestinians in Gaza. ...
The Assad regime can no longer use the issue of the Golan Heights and further Israeli aggression as it levers to keep its own people in order. ...
The upshot is that Israel finally finds itself entirely friendless in the Middle East. ...
Israel has grown and flourished through the conflict it has manufactured since 1948. It does not have a clue how to survive as a state at peace. ...
The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on women in politics:
If Japan is to have any chance of political renewal, it must promote the power of women.
We urge the political parties to take bold steps to significantly increase the number of female Diet members in next month's Lower House election.
The Liberal Democratic Party's election manifesto, for instance, promises to harness the power of women to forge a better society.
That being the case, the LDP should be the first to start taking action in that direction. ...
By international standards, the ratio of women legislators in Japan is exceptionally low. The ratio of female members of the Lower House finally surpassed 10 percent three years ago but still stands at only 10.8 percent.
Last month, the World Economic Forum released a "Global Gender Gap Report 2012," which contains indexes showing the degrees of inequality between men and women in various areas. Japan's overall ranking fell for the second year in a row to 101st among 135 countries covered. While Japan's rankings in the categories of "health and survival" and "educational attainment" are not so bad, its position is low in "economic participation and opportunity" and especially so in "political empowerment," where it was ranked 110th.
Many countries have raised the ratio of female legislators by setting a rule that requires a certain percentage of lawmakers and candidates for the parliament to be women. This approach is called a quota system. ...
In Japan, too, parties should start by setting this kind of target for increasing female Diet members. Debate on possible future efforts to promote the cause, including new legislation, if necessary, should start immediately. ...
During her recent visit to Japan, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said revitalizing Japan requires making greater use of the power of women.
Well, that's so obvious and doesn't need to be pointed out by a foreign observer. ...
The Telegraph, London, on contaminated Arab politics:
So turbulent are the politics of the Middle East that even the dead cannot rest in peace. As if Palestine was not the focus of enough attention already — with attempts to upgrade the Palestinian status at the United Nations coming to a boil, and tensions between Israel and Hamas still simmering after the back-and-forth bombardment of recent weeks — the administration in the West Bank has taken the bizarre step of unearthing the body of Yasser Arafat, symbol of the national struggle, in order to determine whether he was poisoned.
This strange episode is a sign of the extent to which politics across the Arab world has been contaminated — and corrupted — by conspiracy theory. If signs of poison are indeed found, the blame will immediately be put on Israel — ignoring the fact that Tel Aviv had every reason to keep the erratic and discredited Arafat alive and kicking. Then again, the absence of evidence has scarcely kept those in the Middle East from buying into conspiracy theories of any and every kind, usually with Israel and the United States as the culprits.
Such paranoia is not a uniquely Arab or Muslim phenomenon — witness the ludicrous claims that have been made about President Barack Obama. But it finds its most comfortable home in parts of the world that might otherwise have to blame themselves for their economic or social problems. And the more widespread conspiracy thinking becomes, the more damage it does. It is tempting to laugh off those who insist that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job — but those in Nigeria and Pakistan who view polio vaccines as part of a secret Western sterilization program, to pick just one example, are responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocents. Better to bury the fantasies and conspiracies alongside Arafat's corpse.
Ottawa Citizen on a renewal of space exploration:
It's exciting news that SpaceX, the private company that just sent a highly successful spaceship to dock with the International Space Station, wants to put a human on Mars in a dozen years.
Elon Musk, the CEO, made the announcement recently. The target is 10 to 15 years from now, he said, but 12 years sounds realistic.
It has been years since NASA had a credible goal of going anywhere beyond low Earth orbit. (The station is just 400 kilometers from our planet.) The shuttles are grounded and there's no replacement vessel, nor even a firm plan to build one. The White House and Congress are lukewarm to commitments for funding a new spaceship, and NASA must now pay the Russians $50 million for each astronaut's ride to space. Astronauts also have to learn Russian (just as cosmonauts must learn English. The space station is bilingual.)
But it is now 41 years since a human last stood on the moon, and anyone who is serious about exploring space has to think big. That's what took Apollo missions to the moon, and what inspired Yuri Gagarin before that.
SpaceX is an echo of the excitement of those days, when getting to the moon by a deadline was a priority. More to the point, it has the backing of an impressive list of NASA insiders, past and present. Canada's own Chris Hadfield, who will command the space station, recently commented that "Dragon is really proving SpaceX's capability," after the successful mission of Dragon, an unmanned cargo ship.
Hadfield also told an interviewer recently that the space station's role is partly to test technology for travelling deeper into space. While NASA won't have a new rocket for at least a decade, it's refreshing to see a private company offering to carry some of the burden.