Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
San Francisco Chronicle on Russia's adoption policy:
Russian President Vladimir Putin just signed a cruel and spiteful law that will bar Americans from adopting Russian children. The new law will wreck the lives of the 46 children whose American adoptions were already under way, hundreds of other American families who had launched the adoption process, and the lives of countless children to come who will now live out their childhoods in Russian orphanages. Americans adopt nearly a thousand Russian children every year.
The worst part is, Putin did it just to thumb his nose at the Americans for daring to protest his government's loathsome human rights record. It wasn't enough for Putin to crush dissenters and others who object to his increasingly autocratic rule — he had to bring vulnerable orphans into it, too.
The new law was originally written as a tit-for-tat response to the U.S. Magnitsky Act. Sergei Magnitsky was a 37-year-old lawyer who was beaten and left to die in a Russian prison after implicating many Russian officials in a massive fraud scheme — and in a rare bipartisan moment, the U.S. Congress passed travel and financial sanctions against those officials believed to be responsible for his death.
Those officials remain quite powerful in Russia, however — which is why the Kremlin drafted a bill to impose similar visa and asset freezes on Americans accused of violating Russians' rights abroad.
That would have been enough to make their point, wretched as that point was. ...
Now those children have fallen victim to a political game which has nothing to do with them and everything to do with Russian officials' outrageous sense of wounded pride. What's truly outrageous is denying these children, many of whom had already bonded with their prospective adoptive parents, the chance to have a family and a home.
The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle on Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf:
He may have channeled the no-nonsense fighting spirit and know-how of Gen. George S. Patton. He might have been this generation's Dwight D. Eisenhower — a military hero-turned president — if he'd had the personal ambition.
He sure had the popularity.
Instead, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf pulled a Douglas MacArthur — and faded away. From the spotlight, anyway.
The military hero of the first Gulf War spent his twilight years quietly helping children and charities before his passing last Dec. 27 at 78.
It's difficult to overstate Schwarzkopf's importance to modern U.S. military history.
The Gulf War of 1991 was this country's first major ground assault since the Vietnam War — and we all know how that one ended. The United States desperately needed a confidence boost, the clarity of a decisive end, and as few coalition casualties as possible.
In addition, we were taking on one of the world's most unscrupulous, unbalanced bullies, a would-be Hitler, and the mother of all trash-talkers in Saddam Hussein. ...
There are probably two kinds of military heroes: the men who risk life and limb for their country and countrymen, and those visionary leaders who successfully command them. Norman Schwarzkopf was both kinds, having earned three Silver Stars for valor, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and more in Vietnam. ...
The ambiguity of the first Gulf War's end wasn't Schwarzkopf's doing. Rather, he lent America's all-volunteer Armed Forces a clarity and John Wayne-style swagger that cut off and killed any of the country's remaining self-doubt from the Vietnam era.
He was, as any hero, the right man at the right time.
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on cancer drug shortages:
Disgraceful. That's the best description of the findings released recently that show unnecessary and damaging shortages of some cancer-treating drugs have led to relapses among some kids fighting cancer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and elsewhere.
It wasn't the hospital's fault. In fact, it was St. Jude that blew the whistle on this disgrace.
A St. Jude investigator, Dr. Monika Metzger, led a blue-ribbon team from Stanford University School of Medicine and Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, among others, in a study of what happens to children who lose access to a certain cancer-fighting drug and have to shift to substitute drugs during treatment.
Often, the results are shocking. The children get much sicker. They suffer from more severe side effects. Sometimes their cancer returns.
And it doesn't have to be that way. Stronger regulation and oversight of drug supplies, plus better product and inventory management by private drug manufacturers, could fix this problem.
That kids are suffering needlessly because of glitches in our drug manufacturing processes is unacceptable.
Portland (Maine) Press Herald on the federal wind energy tax credit:
For decades America has had a bipartisan energy policy that promoted domestic energy sources that reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Oil and gas companies take advantage of federal incentives to tap into sources that would otherwise be too expensive.
There would be no American nuclear power industry if not for federal loan guarantees.
But unless Congress acts, one form of domestic energy would lose its federal subsidy and be forced into an impossible competition in a marketplace where all its competitors have an edge.
That would be a big mistake.
Wind energy is an emerging technology that has the potential to be a clean alternative, lessening our need to burn coal and other fossil fuels.
The federal tax credit supports the growth of a domestic manufacturing industry and a source of electricity with no fuel costs. ... And by keeping prices competitive, it lets the wind industry develop at a time when recent discoveries and techniques have made natural gas prices drop dramatically. Low cost natural gas does not make the need for renewable power disappear. We still need to take advantage of multiple sources of energy, and while gas is cleaner than coal, it's still a source of carbon pollution that contributes to global warning.
Because Congress cannot put a price on carbon, we all end up paying for the results of a warming planet, and there is no disincentive to burn fossil fuels. ...
If we are serious about developing domestic energy, we should look beyond a single source, even if, like gas, the source is plentiful and relatively inexpensive.
Congress should support clean energy and jobs and extend the wind energy tax credit.
The Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune on diverting Missouri and Mississippi River water to Western states:
For years, upriver and downriver interests have argued over use of Missouri River water. Now a third option looms that could confound the issue further: diversion of water to parched Western states by way of a pipeline.
As a general proposition, the idea makes sense, allocating the nation's water supply to most advantageous uses. In the Great Flood of 1993, millions of gallons surging beyond the banks of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers could have been relocated to huge storage basins in the West with benefit to both areas. In normal times, when plenty of water fills the Missouri, nobody would object to diversion through a treatment plant and pipeline headed west.
Of course, it's not that simple. The proposed pipeline would cost $11.2 billion and take 30 years to build, but for such a basic improvement in the nation's infrastructure, cost should not be a stopper. Water supply could be the most important natural resource issue in coming years.
An argument would ensue in years when drought plagues upriver and downriver areas, leaving little support for yet another diversion argument, but without benefit of access to historic aqua data, I'm sure most of the time water could successfully be sent from here to there with benefit to both. I mean, why blow up the Bird's Point Levee near New Madrid to let floodwater out of the Mississippi if the water could be sent to Arizona and California instead?
A pipeline sending treated water to the West sounds like a good idea, but don't count on hearing the pumps anytime soon. The more desperate the situation becomes out West, the more serious the discussion will become.
Altoona (Penn.) Mirror a deadly 2012:
As 2012 draws to a close, we suspect the reaction of many is good riddance.
To say 2012 has been a tough year is an understatement. While the economy slowly improved and the nation made it peacefully through a divisive presidential election, the year will be remembered largely for tragedies...
2012 brought the terrible massacres in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The scope and the senselessness of these brutal attacks shock the conscience and leave us dumbfounded as to why the suspects could see these massacres as a reasonable way to express their grievances.
Sadly, attacks by gunmen were not limited to these major crimes. It seems almost daily that we hear of another incident somewhere in the United States in which a person — often a family member or a police officer — has been killed by gunfire. ...
All the families of the victims have our sympathies on their losses. For them and too many others, 2012 has been an emotionally painful year.
No one knows what 2013 will bring. But we hope the pattern of murders and gun accidents that have stained 2012 will not be repeated.
Peace on Earth is a common sentiment during the holiday season. Let each of us do our best to make sure that's our reality in the new year.
The Oregonian, Portland, on the 2012 stock market:
President Barack Obama's push to increase taxes on upper-income earners unleashed a form of economic stimulus in recent weeks. Some companies increased dividend payments to distribute money to shareholders before rates go up. And investors sold shares to reap gains before the New Year.
The possibility of higher tax rates doesn't fully explain these trends. For companies that had surplus cash, it made sense to return some to shareholders. And even without a looming tax increase, the timing was right for investors to sell some stocks after a strong year on Wall Street.
But it's clear that the political climate — the probability of higher taxes and the high level of uncertainty about the nation's fiscal path — has influenced investors. ...
Viewed from the left, the investors' gains show how the economy is rigged for the wealthy, allowing those with money to cash in even when the economy struggles.
Viewed from the right, this year's performance — in particular fourth-quarter dividend payouts by companies and sell orders by investors — shows how tax policy affects economic decisions.
To a degree, both arguments are correct. So the real question is what economic policymakers should do because of these trends. Whatever they do, it's important to remember that the stock market and economy do not necessarily react to political and financial events in the same way.
This year's market gains in part reflect a relatively low starting point and the lack of other attractive investments options. As a result, stocks increased in value across the globe in countries with all types of governments and economies. ...
Instead of focusing on winners and losers, public officials in Washington, D.C., should concentrate on addressing problems that undermine the economy.
Investors, whether individuals or companies, need a more certain operating environment. ...
Those on the lower end of the income scale need more opportunities. ...
Who knows where the stock market will finish in 2013. But if Congress can provide more certainty and opportunity, it's a good bet that more Americans will have something to toast next New Year's Eve.
The Oneida (N.Y.) Dispatch on the nomination of Sen. John Kerry for U.S. Secretary of State:
If you have to have a backup plan for nominating a new secretary of state, it would be hard to do better than President Barack Obama's selection of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
The senior senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would replace Hillary Clinton, who has given notice of her desire to step down after four grueling years as one of the most-travelled secretaries of state in U.S. history.
The selection of Clinton was a gutsy move by Obama. His former Democratic rival for the 2008 presidential nomination not only had star power, but many feared that the irrepressible Bill Clinton would prove a liability. Instead, the former first lady and the current president have worked seamlessly together without complication.
Kerry is Plan B following the ferocious right-wing assault on Obama's planned nomination of Susan Rice, our United Nations ambassador. ...
In any event, Kerry has been a member of the U.S. Senate since 1985, all of that tenure on the Foreign Relations Committee, with the last six years as chairman. He's often travelled in his official capacity and been something of a special envoy for Obama, including yeoman's work in convincing a recalcitrant Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, to hold an election.
He also went to Pakistan to steady our relationship with Islamabad after the unauthorized U.S. incursion to kill Osama bin Laden.
The president and Kerry have their differences on foreign policy, but Kerry is a political pro. He understands the role of a secretary of state perhaps as well as any nominee ever has and Obama has demonstrated his ability to work with a secretary with gravitas. ...
The Jerusalem Post on Israeli President Shimon Peres' duty:
President Shimon Peres is under fire, once again, for speaking his mind. During an annual conference of Israel's ambassadors at the President's Residence, Peres sounded off on an issue close to his heart: peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Referring to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a "partner for peace," Peres declared that there was no alternative to the two-state solution.
In response, the Likud Beytenu party issued a statement saying, "It's very unfortunate that the president chose to express a personal political view that is detached from public opinion when it comes to Abbas, who refuses to make peace."
This is not the first time Peres has intervened on controversial political matters, matters that have normally been avoided in the past by the men who have served as president. ...
Still, while the president's duties are outlined in the 1964 Basic Law: The President of the State, there is nothing in the law that would prohibit the office-holder weighing in on issues he deem to be pressing or important. And the president is appointed by the Knesset — a democratically elected body — which makes the choice of president a reflection of the will of the people. Those who voted for him knew Peres's political positions. ...
Attacks on a president for making controversial comments are usually motivated by political considerations. Rarely are they the result of a principled position on the limits of a president's powers and functions, though they are sometimes disguised as such. ...
Whether we agree or not, we should be lenient with a president's occasional political comment, particularly when made by a man of Peres's stature.
The only prime minister to serve as president, Peres has decades of political experience under his belt. If in bringing that experience to bear on current events, he is of the opinion that a diplomatic opportunity is being missed or a potentially damaging policy mistake is being made, he not only has the right to voice his opinion, he has an obligation to do so. ...
China Daily, Beijing, on the state of the nation:
"Omnishambles" is the Oxford Dictionary's "Word of the Year 2012". It denotes "a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations".
Dictionary.com chose "bluster", because "2012 was full of bluster from the skies and from the mouths of pundits".
In China, no established institution has come up with a credible word of the year yet. But judging from the scattered lists and rankings available, the choices appear a lot less dismal, a lot more optimistic.
True, 2012 has not seen substantial differences in some of the problems that average Chinese face. Corruption in public offices, skyrocketing housing prices, wealth gap, food insecurity and expensive yet poor medical services and public education continue to unnerve the nation. And the lackluster overseas markets along with the domestic economic slowdown once raised fears of further trouble.
But in China there has not been anything even close to "eurogeddon", which is high on Oxford Dictionary's shortlist of runners-up. There is no "financial cliff" to worry about either.
The outgoing year might not have been a completely cheerful one for every Chinese. But it surely has been one of hope.
The economy outperformed expectations and is showing signs of recovery in the second half of the year — assuring signs that the feared "hard landing" is a hyperbole, and that the economy remains healthy and brisk.
Earlier this year, the country finally announced the establishment of a social security network, which theoretically covers all citizens. ...
The new Party leadership's initial moves, focusing on style changes, are endearing and have left the impression that it is a team that ordinary citizens can access. ...
The fine momentum of constructive interactions thus far is the best the country could aspire for at the end of a year. ...
And there will be no better time to open up a new chapter than as we greet the New Year.
The Telegraph, London, on the U.S. government in denial:
The fiscal cliff was concocted by President Barack Obama and Congress as a way of holding a gun to their own heads. The fixing of a deadline for the automatic imposition of ferocious tax rises and deep spending cuts was supposed to concentrate the minds of America's political leaders and force them into taking the difficult decisions required to start reeling in the country's truly terrifying levels of public debt.
The stratagem has failed. There has been no "grand bargain" that addresses the root causes of the ballooning deficit — rocketing social security entitlements funded by a too-narrow tax base — just a sticking-plaster settlement aimed at buying more time. ... Given that the United States has a $16 trillion burden of debt and an annual budget deficit of $1.1 trillion, this package does not even begin to address the fiscal crisis.
... Meanwhile, a new two-month deadline has been set for hammering out an agreement on spending cuts. Sounds familiar? We have been here many times already with the eurozone sovereign debt crisis when deadlines became infinitely elastic as politicians refused to take painful but necessary decisions and instead kept lobbing money at the problem.
... As the powerhouse of the world economy, America cannot continue to live in denial and expect to maintain its dominant role. Its current debt trajectory is leading the country to ruination. ... Many economists believe that such a crippling level of public debt can destroy any prospect of economic growth. The impact on the global economy of such a slowdown would be disastrous. ...
... Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said: "This shouldn't be the model for how to do things around here." The most depressing aspect of this narrow escape is that if America's political leaders cannot display more maturity and a far greater willingness to compromise, that is exactly how things will continue to get done.
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, on the year of rising up against impunity:
A popular rebellion against impunity manifested itself in 2012, after a series of grotesque crimes against the vulnerable. In other years, people rose up against the impunity of the state and its officials - a theme of the Arab Spring. In the year just ended, tens of thousands of protesters against a Taliban shooting in Pakistan and a gang rape in India signaled a broad movement against the cultural norms and state policies that promote impunity for crimes against girls and women. In Canada, the norms of a free and open Internet that bullies hide behind came under sustained attack.
Three girls and women victimized in brutal and callous ways provided touchstones of universal power. Just as more people understand the Holocaust through Anne Frank's diary than perhaps any other source, the emergence in 2012 of three individuals whose lives of promise were cut short, in two cases, and nearly ended in a third, moved large numbers of people to action. ...
Resisting impunity meant pushing government and less visible targets — the social foundations of impunity. In Canada, reaching those who join in ostracism is a complex task; laws holding bystanders to account are on the way. In India, all parties have fielded candidates charged with crimes against women, a measure of the crimes' acceptance. In Pakistan, religious schools spread oppressive attitudes toward women and girls.
As in the Arab Spring, victory is far from assured. And there is a battleground in its early days — a battle against the United States gun culture, and the laws (or lack thereof) that support it. The massacre of 20 children and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school, like the crimes against these two girls and woman, was so outrageous it made silence seem like complicity. But impunity was on the defensive, and our wish for the New Year is that the resistance to it makes concrete gains.