Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Eagle, Bryan-College Station, Texas, on the same-old Washington:
One only had to watch the contrast between Joe Biden and John Boehner during the State of the Union to know that any lessons learned from the November election have been forgotten.
There was a grinning Vice President Biden leaping to his feet time and again at President Barack Obama's scripted applause lines. And then there was a morose and moribund House Speaker Boehner looking as if would rather be having a root canal — with no anesthetic.
In other words, nothing has changed since Obama was overwhelmingly re-elected and the House remained firmly in Republican hands. Any hope for compromise on much of anything has frittered away.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican response to the president was so predictable it could have been written months ago.
Of course, we didn't hear what we needed to hear from the president. There was no explanation of any plans for reducing the overwhelming federal debt that is dragging this country down and stalling economic recovery efforts. Maybe he has none. If he does, we ask that he kindly share them with the rest of us. ...
There are many serious issues facing this nation — immigration reform, security, a return to economic prosperity, health care, gun control — that it will take a coordinated effort from Republicans and Democrats alike. Sadly, with the Democrats the party of "been there, done that" and the Republicans the party of "not only no, but hell no," that doesn't appear likely.
As we have said many times in the past, this country runs best when governed from the middle. ...
We simply cannot continue along the same path that has led us to too many cliffs in recent years.
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette on marriage fading in mid-America:
The University of Virginia's National Marriage Project has released another disturbing report. It reiterates that marriage remains strong for college-educated couples — but it's disintegrating in "Middle America," the nearly 60 percent of the populace with only high school diplomas.
As the gulf between affluent Americans and the less-privileged keeps widening, vast numbers of high school graduates apparently can't find careers solid enough to support secure families.
"Among that group, 44 percent of children are now born outside of marriage, up sharply from 13 percent in the 1980s," the project says. This bodes ill because "children born or raised outside of marriage are more likely to suffer from a range of emotional and social problems — including drug use, depression, attempted suicide and dropping out of high school — compared to children in intact married families."
The Institute for American Values, which helped write the report, said: "The retreat from marriage is both a cause and a consequence of increasing inequality in America."
Dr. William Galston of the Brookings Institution added: "We believe marriage is a fundamental building block of American society, and marriage is in trouble. That is contributing to widening class divides .... Societies suffer when marriage falters."
To boost wedlock among less-affluent high school graduates, the National Marriage Project report urges various efforts such as more specialized job training, and "triple the child tax credit to shore up the economic foundations of family life in Middle America."
Previously, the Project warned that fading wedlock among high school graduates may mean "that we will witness the emergence of a new society. For a substantial share of the United States, economic mobility will be out of reach, their children's life chances will diminish, and large numbers of young men will live apart from the civilizing power of married life." ...
Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal on repurposing the State of the Union address:
When the most memorable moment of the Capitol's State of the Union evening involves rising Republican star Marco Rubio lunging for a water bottle, it's a sure sign this tradition is badly in need of rethinking.
Florida's freshman senator was not even the featured attraction. Rubio was delivering the Republican rebuttal to the main event, President Barack Obama's second nationally televised ceremonial address in less than a month, the first being his inspiring inaugural address.
Rubio's theme: Big government is bad. He was not alone in rebutting the president. Kentucky GOP freshman Sen. Rand Paul rebutted on behalf of the tea party movement. ...
The State of the Union has developed the annoying ritual of the president's party standing and wildly cheering at each applause point while the other party sits grim-faced and arms folded. The Republicans cheer anything that sounds like a tax cut. Everybody cheers for the troops, whom the president committed to bring home from Afghanistan in substantial numbers. Sadly, Congress was cheering even though we have not won that war, and at this point, are extremely unlikely to. That's not quite the same thing as cheering for losing a war, but it's close. ...
As formulaic and ineffective as the State of the Union speech has become, it now serves a new and useful role: In an increasingly polarized Congress, it is one of the few times all the members gather together to be reminded of their common purpose.
Too bad that reminder is so swiftly forgotten.
The Seattle Times on confirming Chuck Hagel as U.S. secretary of defense:
Republicans in the U.S. Senate are wrong to filibuster the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as U.S. secretary of defense. They should let a vote go forward without delay, and confirm him.
Hagel is a former member of their caucus, and on matters of war the two-term senator from Nebraska was the most levelheaded among them. He saw combat in Vietnam and was twice wounded.
He knows war. He knows how war so often turns out much more painfully than the visions of the keyboard belligerents who promote it. Hagel was the first Republican in the Senate to come out against the Iraq war, and he was right.
Sen. John McCain, who ought to know better, now badgers Hagel for doubting the "surge" in Iraq. Wasn't it a success? Short term, it was, just as President Richard Nixon's bombing in Vietnam was. Long term, it is unlikely the surge made any difference in Iraq. That country has its own political culture. So does Afghanistan.
The Senate obstructionists want an America with more boldness and resolve. Sometimes that's what a country needs. Not now. Our government has been bold on bad advice. Its resolve has become an unwillingness to see. Our leaders need to think more and shoot less.
There is also the matter of federal spending. The budget is still $900 million out of balance almost four years after the recession's official end. Spending has to come down, and that includes the military. Hagel understands that.
Our Democratic president ran in 2008 as an opponent of the Iraq war. In practice, President Barack Obama was not nearly as skeptical of war, especially in Afghanistan, as many of his supporters hoped. With Hagel, the president has a chance to pursue a more cautious policy about overseas military commitments and focus on reform and recovery at home.
The Advertiser-Tribune, Tiffin, Ohio, on raising the minimum wage:
Some extra land was discovered Feb. 12 within the 3.79 million square miles of the United States. It was the common ground found during President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.
The president proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9 an hour by 2016 and linking future increases to inflation.
Obama argued this could benefit employers.
"For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets," he said during the speech.
His logic is this: Business owners would get a boost from the economic impact that would result from putting more money into the hands of more Americans.
This is the exact argument conservatives are making in regard to lowering tax rates. This is the common ground.
There's another aspect to the president's stance.
"Corporate profits have skyrocketed to an all-time high," Obama said. "But it's also true that for more than a decade, wages and incomes haven't gone up at all." ...
So, we can agree that getting more money in the pockets of Americans would be good for the economy, not to mention the citizens. But how should that be accomplished? Get employers to raise wages? Or reduce tax rates? ...
The Grand Island (Neb.) Independent on where are the jobs and wage increases:
The nation is in the midst of economic recovery which began over three years ago. Financial markets have revived, home starts and prices are beginning to perk up, and business profits are growing.
One part of the economy isn't faring very well, however, and it is the part that all politicians profess to care about the most: the middle class and those toward the bottom of the economic rung. Job growth is anemic, with unemployment stuck at 7.9 percent. Wage growth is non-existent, and real median household incomes are falling. ...
Why has this recovery been so sluggish? For three years, interest rates have been artificially held at historical low levels. The federal government has spent billions in stimulus programs designed to recharge the economy. Why haven't hiring and wage growth followed?
Many argue that the problem is with government policies that actually inhibit growth, instead of promoting it. With the national elections over, activist regulators are firmly entrenched in Washington for the next four years. The EPA and other agencies are expected to redouble their efforts to use the power of government, in the name of protecting the middle class.
As a result, business leaders are bracing for a slew of new rules and regulations that are designed to restrict, control or punish, rather than encourage expansion. Other headwinds include the uncertainty of Obamacare, as the benefit of controlling costs is discredited. Competitive energy costs are vital to manufacturing, but government claims to embrace cheap energy are contradicted by actions that actually impede it. ...
Our economy is ready to grow at rates far faster than the past three years. To do it, businesses must adapt to today's circumstances, and grow in spite of them.
But it sure would help if government was a motor, not an anchor.
Longmont (Colo.) Times-Call on why more work is expected on national deficits, debt:
When President Barack Obama told the joint session of Congress that substantial work had been completed on the task of getting the nation's fiscal house in order, it might not have come as a surprise if the lighting in the hall had taken on a pink hue.
After all, it takes the rosiest of rose-colored glasses to make such a statement.
Obama said that over the past few years, the deficit has been reduced by more than $2.5 trillion through spending cuts and tax hikes on the richest 1 percent of Americans. "As a result," Obama said, "we are more than halfway toward the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances."
What is most troublesome about this argument is that it concedes the point of whether the federal budget will be in balance at any point in the next two decades. However, as the baby boomers surge toward retirement and their Social Security and Medicare benefits, the scope of federal spending will not have decreased at all in the long run. ...
By now, it should be obvious what needs to be on the table for the "grand bargain" to occur: Substantive cuts to the federal budget, modifications to Medicare and Social Security to ensure their solvency through the next decades and the elimination of tax loopholes that, while popular, have outlived their usefulness as policy goals. Such loophole closures should allow the overall federal tax rates to be decreased.
The federal debt and ongoing budget deficits matter — but by trying to advance the argument that a bulk of the work on them has been accomplished, President Obama has not shown a seriousness of purpose to get the true cost of government into balance.
The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal on judicial oversight of overseas drone strikes.
It's safe to say that if a Republican president carried out as many drone attacks as Barack Obama, Democrats and liberals would be howling. But you barely hear a peep from them.
Finally, though, some congressional scrutiny has been put on Obama's use of state-sponsored assassinations, and it's about time.
The Obama administration has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan alone, far more than authorized under President George W. Bush. The administration is tracking and executing terrorists based on secret intelligence — and the president's final approval.
Attacks also have been carried out in Somalia and Yemen and, at times, American citizens have been targeted. As commander in chief, Obama has a lot of latitude in the war against terrorism, but even presidential powers aren't absolute.
The strikes are supposed to be carried out only if subjects pose a "continuing and imminent threat" to the United States. But a Justice Department memo, first reported by NBC News, diminishes that requirement by suggesting a strike does not require U.S. authorities to conclude that a specific attack will take place "in the immediate future."
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators wants the Obama administration to cite all its legal opinions underlying the authority to use drones, especially to kill American citizens. This should be the first step toward a much clearer policy. ...
Drone technology and its use are bound to grow; indeed, drones are effective tools, allowing the administration to target terrorists, limit civilian casualties and keep our armed forces out of harm's way in the process. ...
As this technology continues to expand, it's imperative the government put sensible guidelines in place, including a reasonable system of checks and balances. The potential for abuse through this program is alarming and should be headed off now.
Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Libya's uprising anniversary:
On Feb. 17 Libyans will celebrate the outbreak two years ago, of the revolution that drove Moammar Gadhafi from power. The question is do they really have grounds for celebration? The news that the rest of the world reads about Libya seems to suggest that it is in the hands of trigger-happy militiamen and in danger of being over-run by fundamentalist terrorists.
So concerned are governments in Europe and North America that they have warned off their nationals from traveling to Libya, unless their trips are absolutely unavoidable. Benghazi, where there's been a series of killings, mostly of former regime police and military, but also last September of the U.S. ambassador and three colleagues, is supposedly entirely off limits.
Yet international politicians continue to fly in and out, looking for lucrative deals and the settlement of multibillion dollar debts run up by the old regime. These include UK Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government only 48 hours before had warned Britons not to go to Libya. Cameron even went on a meet-the-people walkabout in Tripoli's main square with minimal security protection, and survived the experience.
Libya's problems are not in fact rooted in violence but in the slow pace at which the country has been changing since Gadhafi's downfall. ...
The national capital of Tripoli is meanwhile the arena in which rival political and regional groupings are jockeying for power. ...
The reality of post-revolutionary politics in the Arab Spring countries is that nothing can be achieved without compromise. Unfortunately compromise is harder to reach when so many people of different opinions imagined that they were going to get what they wanted overnight. The genie of expectation is unlikely to be pushed right back inside the bottle. ...
But Libya, with its considerable oil wealth is in a far better position than Tunisia or Egypt to meet its challenges. Improvements will come, but they will take time. Revolutions do not bring quick fixes in their wake.
The Japan Times, Tokyo, on Olympic wrestling:
The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee in a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Feb. 12 chose 25 out of the 26 sports contested in the 2012 London Olympics as core sports for the 2020 Olympics and added wrestling to the seven shortlisted sports "vying for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic program as an additional sport." In the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, 27 sports will be contested — the 25 core sports plus golf and seven-person rugby. In the 2020 Summer Games, 28 sports will be contested. Thus the 28th sport must be chosen out of the seven shortlisted sports plus wrestling.
In a meeting in Russia in May, the IOC Executive Board will pick one out of the eight sports for the 2020 Olympics. Thus there is the possibility that wrestling — which has federations in 180 countries around the world and has played a prominent role in the Olympics in both ancient and modern times — will not be a part of the 2020 Olympic Games.
The decision is a blow to many countries including Japan, whose wrestlers have performed well internationally. It will discourage many Japanese youths who have taken up or plan to take up wrestling, including girls who were inspired by Saori Yoshida, who won three consecutive Olympic gold medals in women's freestyle. Women's wresting was introduced for the first time in the 2004 Athens Games. In the London Olympics, four events in freestyle were held for women and seven events in both Greco-Roman and freestyle were held for men.
The IOC Executive Board has the responsibility to provide a full, official explanation for its sudden decision, which appears to have been made in haste. ...
... Japan should join the other countries that are opposed to the IOC's decision and launch strong lobbying activities to save Olympic wrestling.
The Telegraph, London, on a U.S.-European Union free-trade agreement:
It is good news that the United States and the European Union have confirmed that they are going to start formal talks about a new free-trade agreement. That President Barack Obama announced the move in his State of the Union address reflects a profound personal evolution on the issue. As a presidential candidate in 2008, he was a populist critic of free trade. But today, as he struggles to revive a sluggish economy while also cutting the U.S. deficit, he is a convert to its potential to open up markets and generate jobs. Recent assertions that the Obama administration wants Britain to stay in the EU — presumably to push the case for economic liberalization — suddenly make a lot of sense.
If the talks prove successful then they might validate David Cameron's strategy toward the EU. Critics say that his constant demands for reform threaten to isolate Britain. But his toughness also has the potential to compel Europe to liberalize in a way that benefits the entire EU and makes the case for Britain staying in. Trade between the EU and the US is worth an estimated 393 billion pounds annually and removing tariffs is predicted to generate an extra 115 billion pounds within five years for both sides. Although much of the talk is about the rise of China, America and Europe still generate over half of global economic output. If they can strengthen their market position by working together rather than against each other, Cameron's argument against EU protectionism will be demonstrated to be both economically and politically savvy.
Optimism must be cautious. The last round of world trade talks broke down when agreement could not be reached on agricultural import rules, and agriculture is likely to cause trouble in these discussions, too. But it is encouraging to see the U.S. and the EU understand that, in principle, free trade is a vital motor of growth.
Calgary (Alberta) Sun on Big Brother watching:
Big Brother is definitely watching, and it's got a lot of you worried.
That's one of the lessons from Sun Media's exclusive Leger survey that looks into the privacy concerns of Canadians.
When it comes to what issue is most important to us, 47 percent of survey respondents put threats to personal and family privacy first. That's far ahead of the environment (15 percent) and the world economy (14 percent).
... Our information is being taken from all over the place.
Sometimes this can all be rather benign.
Casinos in Canada take pictures of everyone entering, but the information isn't kept on file unless you've signed up for their self-exclusion programs.
While our Internet browsing is tracked, it's usually just used for marketing.
But it can be downright worrisome.
People's lives have been impacted by identity theft. This is aided by all the information we toss out there — not just online, but through our purchases.
Australian police are planning a facial recognition databank. Thankfully Canadian police aren't that far ahead. ...
Sure, people like Ontario's privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian are looking out for the regular guy. But it was government employees who lost data-keys containing personal information. Thousands of Canadians received letters saying their confidentiality had been breached.
As one survey question showed, a vast increase in security cameras is the least of your worries. Canadians would sooner see that happen than let the government keep their DNA on file or put a GPS device on their car.
The bottom line is that street smarts — or online smarts — matter. ...
Some people have gone online to scrub up their social media accounts. Others went as far as completely ditching the online world.
Keep that in mind the next time you tweet out your deepest secrets and personal information.