Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Times, Gainesville, Ga., on space race:
An American original passed away last week, a man who was a household name for a generation raised in an era when outer space was brought closer to earth and anything seemed possible.
Scott Carpenter, one of NASA's original Mercury 7 astronauts, died Thursday at age 88. He was the fourth American in space and second to orbit the globe after John Glenn, who at 92 is the only surviving member of the group that included Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton.
Those who read the book or saw the movie "The Right Stuff" know the story of a handful of gutsy, daredevil test pilots who willingly became America's first guinea pigs in the space race with the Russians. They were "Spam in a can" with no assurances of survival amid the breakneck advancements that hurtled them into the heavens. And in the case of Grissom and many others since, lives were indeed lost in the effort.
It was a remarkable time in which a charismatic president welcomed a new era of modern marvels by promising to reach the moon within a decade, a bold challenge considering we had only begun to create the intricate technological systems needed for such a mission.
Yet our nation embraced such endeavors, from space travel to self-cleaning ovens, with an eye toward the future. ...
Fast-forward to today. We now see our nation locked in a death grip of political gridlock, unable to join hands on any issue, much less venture to new worlds. There is no rallying point like the space program to bring us together; our arguments these days are over earth-bound concerns like budgets, health insurance and life's other necessities. Even then, we have few leaders with the vision to conquer new frontiers, mostly self-serving ideologues eyeballing polls and the next election rather than the cosmos.
If the space program was a validation of what we can do as a nation when the people and their leaders unite behind a common goal, today's standoff in Washington reflects the opposite end of that spectrum. ...
Godspeed to Astronaut Carpenter and his Mercury pioneers who went before him. They embodied the best of us then, and their brand of courage and daring would be a welcome antidote to our present-day torpor. In fact, a little more of the "right stuff" these days might just be the cure for what ails us.
Paris (Tenn.) Post-Intelligencer on not only Congress, America is polarized:
America has changed in the last 15 years. We have become more polarized, dividing ourselves into conservative and liberal camps, and hardening the positions we hold.
That's part of what's making this government gridlock so tough to crack.
In 1998, a study shows, about a third of the 226 Republicans in the House of Representatives represented districts that Democrat Bill Clinton won. By 2012, only 17 of the 234 seats won by Republicans also voted for Democrat Barack Obama.
Every Republican-held House district in Tennessee voted at least 64 percent for Mitt Romney last year.
The change is sharply etched in figures from our own Eighth Congressional District for the last two presidential elections.
In 2008, the Republican nominees in the two most recent presidential elections did about 1 percent better in our district than they did in the nation as a whole. But in 2012, the same calculation showed the GOP's candidates did 19 percent better than the national average, indicating a much more Republican swing.
Why is this so? ...
Whatever happened to the melting pot of America? Why do we have so much trouble realizing that our differences strengthen us instead of weakening us? Where did the marketplace of ideas go?
If this trend continues, the current government shutdown may be small in comparison with gridlocks to come.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Obamacare is still a step forward:
It's hard to tell which has done more to hurt the initial phase of the Affordable Care Act: continued Republican opposition or the inept rollout of the new law. To many citizens, the rollout problems — which left millions unable to even log in to the system — simply confirm GOP propaganda that Obamacare won't work.
That's wrong. Despite those initial problems, the Affordable Care Act is still a big step forward in reforming the nation's health care system, and we believe it will prove itself in the long run. It ensures that most of those now without health care insurance will get it. It removes onerous insurance requirements such as those involving pre-existing conditions. And it will even, contrary to some of the hysteria, help small businesses provide health insurance for their employees, as James Surowiecki's the Financial Page column on The New Yorker's website noted.
The Obama administration had an opportunity with the rollout that started Oct. 1 to at least ease the concerns of critics and mitigate the propaganda. Instead, the website proved not ready for prime time. ...
In Wisconsin, the initial failure of the website (HealthCare.gov) means that some of the 92,000 people losing their state BadgerCare Plus health insurance on Jan. 1 may find themselves in difficulty, the Journal Sentinel's Patrick Marley reported Sunday.
Under a plan by Gov. Scott Walker, those 92,000 people will lose their state BadgerCare Plus coverage on Jan. 1 and be pushed on to the new federal health insurance exchange. ...
That's the problem that will resonate through the next several months. Will people frustrated with trying to get into a system they need come back to it? If they don't, they and the country will lose out on the promise and potential of Obamacare.
That's why the administration needs to fix the problems — and fix them now.
Kansas City Star on Congress looks ready to mess up 2014
It's become painfully obvious the past 15 days that too many well-paid members of Congress have no clue how to govern.
Plans gaining traction in Washington, D.C., to end the costly federal government shutdown, avoid the debt ceiling and avert economic catastrophe would simply punt the whole mess into next year.
One compromise bill would fund federal agencies until mid-January and raise the debt ceiling until early February.
That's right: Americans could see the current irresponsible mess recreated in just a few months — furloughed federal workers, cuts to government services and yet another brush with doom in the financial markets.
By Tuesday, House Republicans who created the ongoing debacle were out of ideas about how to end it with any shred of dignity for their side.
Speaker John Boehner, looking more lost than usual indicated in a brief news conference he was still in the mood to capitulate to the band of tea partyers who hate the Affordable Care Act and don't really care that government is not being allowed to serve the American people.
Some Senate Republicans want to craft a deal that President Barack Obama and Democrats will embrace, then hope for the best in the House.
Congress must do better than this. Americans want to see lawmakers pass a real budget and look toward long-term debt-reduction measures.
Sacramento Bee on NFL and dementia:
If you join tens of millions of other Americans today by turning on a football game, think for a moment about Mike Webster, the tough-guy center who anchored the great Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970s.
Think of Iron Mike especially if you're the parents of kids who aspire to emulate their heroes.
Webster is one focus of "League of Denial," a PBS-Frontline documentary that aired last week about head injury and dementia among retired football players. Webster died in 2002, broken at age 50, in Pittsburgh.
Pathologist Bennet I. Omalu, then working in the Allegheny County Coroner's Office, discovered why Webster in his final days could no longer remember his way to the grocery store and slept in his car: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head.
Too often, the National Football League has failed to acknowledge the connection between head trauma suffered by some gladiators who play the game that American so loves, and dementia later in their lives.
Frontline based its documentary on reporting by brothers Steve Fainaru, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Iraq coverage while working for The Washington Post, and Mark Fainaru-Wada, who helped break the BALCO steroid scandal. Their book, "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth," was published last week.
The NFL, a master at public relations, has tried to spin its way out of the problem. The league ought to devote at least as much energy to solving the problem of repetitive head trauma as it does trying to persuade its fans that there is no story here.
The Khaleej Times, Dubai, on the undone US-Afghan deal:
Despite playing to the gallery, the United States and Afghanistan are far from hammering out a bilateral security deal. The goals of both countries are different and ironically, they don't see eye to eye even after working together for more than a decade in the war on terrorism.
Though both Kabul and Washington say that they have resolved disagreements on thorny issues, there is still a lot of homework that needs to be done. One of these is the issue of immunity for US soldiers who stay on in Afghanistan after NATO's withdrawal next year.
Kabul has failed to win a guarantee that Afghanistan would be protected by U.S. troops from external attacks. The U.S. has backtracked on this pivotal issue because it involves Pakistan. Afghanistan has a history of military and cross-border infiltration from across the Durand Line. ...
What Afghanistan faces today in terms of seeking guarantees from the U.S. is almost like déjà vu, reminiscent of the case of Iraq. The long list of compromises and concessions that Washington wants is making the Afghan deal almost go down the drain. The same happened in Iraq, which led to the total withdrawal of U.S. forces without any post-withdrawal or interim arrangement. If Kabul too is meted out a similar treatment, it shouldn't cry foul but work closely with its rejuvenated security forces for erecting an order that is foolproof and vibrant enough to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Nonetheless, Kerry's assurance to Karzai that no unilateral attack on Afghan soil would be carried out without consulting the local authorities is something to rejoice at. What is required now is a tenable accord to provide the war-torn country with economic aid and assistance, and help rebuild it with peace and development restored. Given the psyche and history of the Afghan people, cooperation is much better than compromises in the realm of security.
The Australian on the grand perils lurking in Washington's debt crisis:
The high-stakes bickering in Washington between Democrats and Republicans to resolve the government shutdown and to avoid a disastrous debt default has invited international contumely and contempt for America's political system; disorder rules in the US capital and the world's financial system has seemingly been brought to the brink of a catastrophe that could rival 2008's global financial crisis.
Not only is there acrimony between President Barack Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, a split within the Grand Old Party itself has also derailed the prospects of a long-term solution, even if a temporary way through the immediate impasse on lifting the $US16.7 trillion ($17.5 trillion) debt ceiling emerges in coming days.
The U.S. Treasury has said that on Thursday (US time) it will exhaust its emergency borrowing powers and be left with about $US30 billion to pay the superpower's bills, enough to last for a week or two. Fitch Ratings has warned that the US could lose its AAA credit status. ...
Certainly investors have reassessed their holdings of U.S. securities. If the U.S. government misses a payment, the whole ball game changes. As some analysts already fear, the judgment will be that U.S. Treasury securities - the fundamental tools in global markets - are no longer as good as cold, hard cash. The standoff in Washington is also undermining the credibility of the greenback as a reliable global reserve currency, which is already under a cloud thanks to repeated rounds of money printing. ...
These are trying times in the global economy; investor confidence may deteriorate because standard rules of thumb can no longer be relied upon. The lesson for a medium-sized, open trading nation such as Australia is clear. Debt does matter, as does economic credibility in a febrile market climate. Fiscal repair is a first-order issue for Tony Abbott's government. The federal budget is in structural deficit and the economic outlook is poor. Whole programs and functions in Canberra must be abandoned. Yet the Prime Minister is introducing costly new national disability insurance and paid parental leave schemes. The Coalition's commission of audit is the best chance to get our own fiscal house in order.