Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
San Antonio Express-News, on the swine flu vaccine:
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has a consoling message for everyone who has tried unsuccessfully to get the H1N1 vaccine: Don't worry _ more vaccine is on the way.
That message might be more reassuring if the American people hadn't already heard it.
Public and government awareness of the swine flu pandemic is more than six months old.
In July, federal health officials predicted that 160 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine would be available by the end of October. They were only off by about 130 million. In fact, approximately 30 million doses have been made available to the states thus far.
In an op-ed published in the Nashville Tennessean last week, Sebelius wrote, "Without question, we need significant improvements in vaccine production."
That would be an understatement.
Both Congress and the Obama administration should be examining why production of the vaccine for a viral threat that was well known and that has caused nearly 4,000 deaths in the United States since April has been so distressingly sluggish.
The shortage has put state health departments in the position of rationing scarce vaccines. Texas, with a population of more than 24 million, has received only 3 million doses.
The process of determining how H1N1 vaccines are being allocated should be transparent.
Unfortunately, it isn't.
As the Express-News reported, Bexar County received fewer vaccines per capita in the initial state allotment than Dallas, Harris, Tarrant or Travis counties.
The Texas Department of State Health Services says the allocation is based on the population of "priority vaccination groups, vaccine formulation, national supply, geography and other factors."
Yet it also refused to release records indicating which medical providers in the state had requested and received the H1N1 vaccine.
Last week, the department belatedly responded to an open records request from The Dallas Morning News and released the information. It shouldn't have required that.
When it comes to public health, information about where vaccines are going _ and why _ should be a matter of public record.
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Marietta (Ohio) Times, on the Fort Hood shootings:
The name Maj. Nidal Hasan raises questions for authorities seeking to try the Fort Hood shooter that are as interesting as trying to figure out the Army psychiatrist's motivation for opening fire on fellow soldiers.
Hasan, if found guilty, certainly deserves the full weight of American justice upon him. His act is no less heinous than that of the bombers of the U.S. Marine base in Lebanon in the early 1980s, the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building or even Sept. 11 itself. ...
Hasan, alleged to have killed 13 in his rampage and to have wounded dozens more, faces a trial in the military system, where he is afforded certain rules that aren't in place in civilian courts. ...
If the drive for an execution is the motive, holding a military trial won't necessarily lead Hasan to the death chamber.
The military doesn't routinely execute the accused, having conducted its last execution nearly 50 years ago. ...
Hasan's defense team already is arguing the major is facing a problem in being tried at Fort Hood, where it will be tough to seat an impartial jury.
We would contend that, unless a military base is under a rock, it will be hard to find a soldier _ or for that matter, a civilian _ without a pre-formed opinion of Hasan.
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Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, on health care reform:
Everyone with humane instincts certainly wants all Americans to have whatever medical care they really need. But "wishes don't grow on trees." Good medical care is expensive. It can't be "free." The real issue involves how to provide the best medical care possible for everyone within reasonable costs, so the "cure" doesn't become more deadly than the problem.
We are close to a medical care "showdown" in Congress. Will it be ruinous? Or will it be a reasonable improvement?
The ideal, of course, would be for every American to be able to provide for his or her own medical care, through personal means or insurance, or through joint employee-employer plans, with local governmental provisions for real "charity" care by hospitals and doctors for those who are really poor and otherwise would fall through the cracks.
But with medical care having become such a huge cost challenge, liberals in Congress are proposing to inflict an irresponsible burden _ more than a trillion of borrowed dollars _ upon all American taxpayers.
That would be added to taxes that already are too high, and regular red-ink annual budgets, that have created a $12 trillion national debt, on which we must pay interest.
"Somebody" has to pay. There are not enough "somebodies else," so we'd better avoid a new trillion-dollar-plus medical care burden.
The liberal Democrat House of Representatives bill proposes new taxes.
Do you want new taxes? Oh, but the new taxes would be only on the "fat cats." There are not enough of them to bear the burden. Any new taxes would be "passed on" in the costs of everything, burdening our economy, with negative effects on even "skinny cats," all of us.
The House Republican minority plan would impose no new taxes, but obviously would make fewer "free" promises. It would reduce costs of the threat of medical malpractice lawsuits, fight Medicaid and Medicare fraud and provide for screening high-cost procedures, seek generic drugs and other cost reductions to reduce waste.
Neither Democrat nor Republican plan is sound nor fully satisfying, of course. But economic disaster would certainly not be satisfying, either.
The danger is that there is a rush for monstrous socialized medicine that would crush our economy _ and be inescapable.
A basic rule in medical care is "Do no harm." Now is certainly a time for us all to apply that rule.
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The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), on where to move Guantanamo Bay detainees:
A tiny town in Illinois seems to have pulled the rug from under some S.C. politicians grandstanding to the point of demagoguing on the possibility of terrorism suspects being transferred to a military prison at the Naval Weapons Station Charleston.
Thomson is a village of 500 people in northwestern Illinois and the site of a nearly empty state prison, the Thomson Correctional Center. The village president (mayor), Jerry Hebeler, says moving prisoners from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be terrific news for his town. Why? Because having the terrorism suspects in Thomson Correctional Center would be an economic boon for his little neck of the woods. ...
Contrast that approach with the fear-mongering efforts of some S.C. candidates for public office to circulate petitions aimed at preventing transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the Naval Consolidated Brig in North Charleston. Never mind that the brig has housed, without incident, at least one notorious terrorism suspect. And never mind that the brig has an unprecedented six consecutive compliance ratings of 100 percent from the American Correctional Association. The suggestion that S.C. citizens have something to fear in housing terrorism suspects in a top-rated corrections facility is an affront to the armed forces people who operate the brig. ...
To date, military proceedings for Gitmo detainees have been held at the nearby Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. Federal officials visited the Thomson facility Monday. A few Gitmo detainees will be moved to New York to stand trial. As one might imagine, some residents say they don't think it's appropriate to have the men accused in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to be tried so close to where the twin towers stood. Others say they see no problem.
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The New York Post, on President Obama and Iran:
When it comes to Iran, President Obama hasn't made it to the top of his learning curve yet.
Despite Tehran's readily apparent games-playing in talks over its nuclear program, the president continues to hold out hope for a deal _ any deal _ with the Islamic Republic.
Who knew Obama, who holds a Harvard Law degree, was such a slow learner?
"Meaningful engagement and dialogue," Obama & Co. had promised, was finally going to open wide the long-shuttered door between Washington and Tehran and help bring a newly cooperative Iran into the community of nations.
Yet, nearly 10 months into Obama's term, it's safe to say that U.S. efforts to engage Iran have backfired _ repeatedly.
Instead of cooperation, Iran's political leaders have responded to U.S. overtures with more defiance, more delay and, indeed, more provocation _ not to mention heightened domestic repression.
Worse yet, the White House has now put itself in the humiliating position of supplicant _ begging Iran for some positive gestures.
Only to be rebuffed.
Last month, Iran _ to much hopeful fanfare in the press _ ostensibly accepted a proposal under which it would send its enriched uranium to Russia, while international inspectors checked its nuclear program for signs of WMD development.
But when push came to shove, Tehran refused to follow through, demanding changes in the negotiated agreement that would allow it to send the stockpile to several countries.
Rather than hold the mullahs' feet to the fire, the Obama administration _ desperate to salvage the deal _ sent word through back channels that it would agree to the new conditions.
Whereupon Iran again said no dice _ demanding further that the uranium remain in Iran, under international care.
That, of course, would let the Iranians simply evict the inspectors at a moment's notice _ which is precisely what North Korea did under the infamous Jimmy Carter plan.
All this, as news surfaced that Iran's "new" nuclear reactor is really at least seven years old and too small to house the centrifuges needed for peaceful purposes _ but just the right size for the machinery needed to produce weapons-grade uranium.
Meanwhile, Iran continues its ruthless suppression of political dissidents who have risen up over the past five months _ particularly after the regime stole the presidential election last summer.
And, despite it all, Obama seems to think he can reform the fundamentalists.
He intends to give Iran until the end of the year before deciding whether his diplomatic outreach is working.
Fact is, you don't need a Harvard Law degree to know the answer right now.
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The Daily Independent (Ashland, Ky.), on the nation's smokers:
For the first time in almost 15 years, the rate of smoking among American adults has increased. That's a number that we find both surprising and distressing.
Surprising because while smoking is just as deadly today as it was in 1994, increases in federal and state taxes have made the smoking habit far more expensive today than 15 years ago. Yet, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, slightly more than one out of five American adults continue to dig deeper and deeper into their pockets to pursue a habit that is a major cause of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases and is likely to shorten the lives of those who continue to puff away.
Based on a 2008 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just less than 21 percent of Americans were current cigarette smokers. The new numbers come just a year after the percentage of adult smokers fell below 20 percent for the first time, at 19.8 percent. While it was clear even then that the federal government's stated goal of reducing adult smoking to 10 percent by 2010 was not going to be achieved, at least the numbers were moving in the right direction downward.
In fact, since the first surgeon general's report on the harmful effects of smoking were published in the 1960s, the rate of smoking among adults has declined by half from more than two in five to about one in five.
While health officials acknowledge that the first increase in the rate of adult smoking since 1994 may be just a "blip," they are just as concerned that the 2007 decline below the 20 percent level "appears to be a statistical aberration," said Dr. Matthew McKenna, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.
"Clearly, we've hit a wall in reducing adult smoking," said Vince Willmore, spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization.
There's a general perception that smoking is a dying public health danger. Feeding that perception are indoor smoking laws, higher cigarette taxes and Congress's recent decision to allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco. Indoor smoking bans range from the limited ban like the one in Ashland and a number of other Kentucky cities, to a statewide ban like the one in neighboring Ohio. To be sure, smoking in public is becoming less and less socially accepted.
The latest figures were collected before a 62-cent federal tax that took effect on April 1. On the same day, Kentucky's cigarette tax doubled. In fact, in the last five years, Kentucky's tax on a pack of cigarettes has risen from a minuscule 3 cents to 60 cents.
For the record, Kentucky no longer leads the nation in the percentage of adult smokers. That "honor" is shared by two of our neighboring states, West Virginia and Indiana, which each have an adult smoking rate of about 26 percent. However, the CDC is quick to point out that the adult smoking rates are nearly as high in Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Why is it that Kentucky is located amid the top six states with the greatest number of adult smokers? It can't just be because tobacco continues to be a major cash crop in this state. After all, farmers in North Carolina and Virginia also grow a lot of tobacco, but they apparently do not use the crop they grow as much as we do in Kentucky.
The high rates of cancer, emphysema, heart disease and other smoking-rated ailments in Kentucky clearly show that the state is paying a high price for its high rate of smoking. Let us hope that the increase in adult smoking proves to be just a one-year aberration in Kentucky and throughout the nation.
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(Melbourne) Florida Today, on mortgage fraud in Florida:
The Sunshine State has been just that for con artists who exploit tax financial regulation and oversight of the mortgage business.
That includes the Space Coast, where a husband and wife team from Grant and two business associates were indicted by a federal grand jury last month on 17 charges each of mortgage-related fraud.
The indictment against Daniel Duffy, Nicole Torres, Steve Manley and Anthony Tucci describes 14 separate real-estate transactions from 2003 to 2007 in Brevard and other counties in which they used false information to get mortgages and flip homes among themselves.
The charges were part of a nine-month investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office into widespread mortgage fraud during the state's real-estate boom, a crackdown that swept up 100 defendants who allegedly took out more than $400 million in loans obtained by fraud on some 700 properties.
U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Karen Hoppman described many of the defendants as "industry professionals or multiple borrowers."
And that's just the tip of the iceberg, says Middle District U.S. Attorney A. Brian Albritton, who called Florida "ground zero for mortgage fraud."
The battle against home loan fraud is ongoing and law enforcement should wage it vigorously, putting behind bars the crooks who broke the law and stamped ethical standards into the dirt.
Because mortgage fraud is not a victimless crime.
Just ask any hardworking Brevard County resident whose property values are now in the gutter or lost a job after the real-estate bubble made possible by deceptive loan practices turned into the housing bust and foreclosure tsunami.
But cracking down on past mortgage fraud alone won't fix what's broken.
What's required are tough regulatory reforms now moving forward in Congress as part of a larger Wall Street overhaul intended to prevent a repeat of financial-sector shenanigans that led to the economic meltdown.
The House is poised in December to pass legislation backed by President Obama to set up a consumer agency that would write new rules to protect homebuyers against deceptive or fraudulent mortgages and watch-guard the firms for compliance.
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St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press, on the Parents as Teachers program:
People notice when their tax dollars go toward programs that outlive their utility or never meet their objectives.
But people should also take note of programs that succeed and government leaders that steward them.
Such is the case with the Parents as Teachers program and U.S. Sen. Kit Bond.
Parents as Teachers began as a pilot project in a handful of Missouri schools in the early 1980s. Its intent was to remedy a finding of kindergarten teachers that students came to their classrooms too often ill-prepared to learn. The program meant to capitalize on the understanding that parents are the first teachers that children encounter and that parents need the resources to become better at this role ...
Mr. Bond, serving his second term as Missouri's chief executive in 1984, had learned the lessons of early childhood education from raising a son during his governorship ...
In 1984, Gov. Bond signed into law the Early Childhood Development Act, a measure that required all school districts in Missouri to provide Parents as Teachers as a service. Through screenings, group meetings and in-home visits, the program is meant to improve parenting practices, provide early warning of developmental delays and increase school readiness.
As evidence of the program's success, Parents as Teachers can be found in all 50 states and at least six other countries ...
Mr. Bond gets credit not only for fostering the program, but taking his support of early childhood education to Washington. At the 25th anniversary, the national Parents as Teachers president called him "a children's champion," and the senator remains convinced that the investment made in young people pays greater dividends for the nation. We agree with his assessment and thank him for the vision.
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The (London) Daly Telegraph, on the threat from al-Qaeda:
Two years ago, when Gordon Brown delivered his first foreign policy speech as Prime Minister at the Guildhall in London, he referred only fleetingly to what is now his most pressing preoccupation: the war in Afghanistan. That address, just a few months after his arrival in Downing Street, was intended to highlight Mr. Brown's Atlanticist credentials as a "lifelong admirer of America." He defined his outlook as "hard-headed internationalism" that sometimes requires equally hard-headed intervention to fulfil the first duty of government to protect and defend the country and its people from harm. For many years now, it has been apparent that the most immediate threat to life and limb has been posed by Islamists linked to al-Qaeda, either operating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan or taking their orders from there.
While the UK has many foreign-policy ambitions, this must remain the medium-term priority. It is also America's; and Mr. Brown seems confident that when President Obama finally makes known the future dispositions of US arms in Afghanistan, the approach adopted by our two countries will be similar a counter-insurgency strategy aimed at bolstering the government of President Karzai and preventing al-Qaeda's return, on the coat-tails of the Taliban, to their former haven. If the NATO mission in Afghanistan fails, it will encourage jihadis throughout the Middle East and the sub-continent, destabilise Pakistan and undermine the embryonic anti-clerical movement in Iran, a country whose nuclear ambitions remain the other great foreign policy headache. To that end, Mr. Brown's proposed London conference in January, which would map out a timetable for transferring power to the Afghans from next year, is welcome. It is important to establish clearly how success will be recognised.
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Jerusalem Post, on American political ferment:
There is a perennial debate among Jewish intellectuals in the United States about whether Jews are more naturally suited to be liberals or conservatives. Norman Podhoretz's latest book "Why Are Jews Liberals?" laments the fact that so many are; Leon Wieseltier's New York Times book review replies: How could Jews be anything else? Each side musters proof-texts from Jewish sources and history to make its case, though there isn't universal agreement on how to define "liberalism" and "conservatism."
In any event, there is one thing liberals and conservatives agree upon: In the course of Jewish history, Jews have done best in societies characterized by political, social and economic stability, and suffered where opposite tendencies prevailed. So, regardless of political orientation or denominational affiliation, it's plain that upholding the legitimacy of the American political system and preserving its stability is a Jewish interest.
That is why we were struck by "Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies," newly issued by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League. Conservatives would argue that lack of faith in the government is called "democracy in action." The sections of the report that draw our concern, however, spotlight the activities of a minority on the Right who have crossed the line from criticism of President Barack Obama's policies to denying the legitimacy of America's political system itself.
As is often the case, the excesses on the Right were precipitated by bad behavior on the Left. Recall, for example, how MoveOn.org compared George W. Bush to Hitler. Now, it is rightists who are accusing a president of plotting to destroy the American way of life.
Even the comparatively mainstream Rush Limbaugh has flirted with Hitler-Obama analogies. The more volatile Glenn Beck screams that Obama is taking the United States "towards socialism, totalitarianism beyond your wildest imagination."
But it is destabilizing conspiratorialists who trouble us. They say Obama is a closet Muslim, or assert that his Hawaii birth certificate is a forgery so he is constitutionally ineligible to be president.
Among the conspiratorialists are demagogues pushing claims that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is constructing concentration camps, and that a (supposed) "door to door" gun confiscation campaign is a precursor to martial law.
The ADL study draws attention to some lesser known demagogues including Texas-based Alex Jones whose broadcasts and Web sites promote the theory that the 9/11 attacks were an "inside job" by the American government, part of an elaborate plot involving international bankers, the Federal Reserve, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Group to create a New World Order. (Of course, 9/11 conspiracy theories also thrive on the extreme Left and in Arab circles.)
On a recent program, Jones warned that a public health education effort aimed at children to curtail the spread of H1N1 virus was actually a psychological warfare scheme to brainwash them to become informers against their parents. He said the government will use fears surrounding H1N1 to stage a pandemic in order to declare martial law. The H1N1 vaccine, said Jones, is a plot to sterilize the masses. The ADL report also points to some 200 militias across America training for the day when the government turns against its citizenry.
Some will dismiss the report as alarmist or argue that ADL national director Abraham Foxman is pandering to his liberal constituents. We worry, however, that Foxman's claim of "a toxic atmosphere of rage" in America is not hyperbole, but a true assessment of the political system's condition.
Regrettably, there are fresh signs that "toxic rage" exists here in Israel, too, among an increasingly radicalized segment of the settler population. It's manifested by a worrisome breakdown in army discipline among soldiers whose first allegiance is not to the state.
On Monday, several enlisted men from the Nahshon battalion held a political protest on base evidently out of pique that the IDF had dismantled an illegal outpost earlier in the day. The issues at stake transcend partisanship.
Demagogic Knesset members and post-Zionist rabbis who encourage servicemen to disobey their officers, or deny the legitimacy of the political echelon to direct the military are undermining the State of Israel.
Disrespect for legitimate authority, demonization of elected officials and demagoguery are bad for the Jews even when it takes place in their own state.
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The Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo), on new aid to Afghanistan:
In a new assistance package for Afghanistan, the government has pledged up to $5 billion (about 450 billion yen) over five years for a range of civilian aid programs, such as job training for former Taliban fighters and enhancing the capabilities of the police force.
The security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating steadily. The United States is considering sending additional troops. Improving the situation with military power alone would seem like a tall order. That explains growing expectations by the United States and European nations for civilian aid from Japan to help rebuild the war-torn nation.
Because of the war raging in Afghanistan, Japan is unable to commit substantial human resources for aid activities. The government's decision to provide financial support for civilian assistance is eminently reasonable.
The former coalition government led by the Liberal Democratic Party dispatched Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels to the Indian Ocean to refuel the ships of allied forces targeting terrorists in Afghanistan. The new administration led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama plans to discontinue the mission in January. Given the fact that demand for refueling has been falling, there is a strong case for the decision, which is in line with an election promise made by Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan.
But some people say the decision amounts to "checkbook diplomacy." Critics contend that the refueling mission was intended to help international efforts in thwarting terrorists and that Japan's assistance was valued by the United States. They argue that Japan cannot make a meaningful contribution to such efforts only by providing money while bringing its troops home.
The criticism may be a reflection of sensitivities that were aroused when Japan was roundly criticized for offering only financial assistance _ albeit a large amount _ when the Persian Gulf War flared 18 years ago.
But the criticism is off the mark. Japan should consider and decide on its own what it can and should do to help restore stability in Afghanistan, instead of acting in response to pressures from other countries. With Japan's military role in Afghanistan restricted by its pacifist Constitution, the best it can do is to provide as much civilian assistance as possible.
Japan can be proud of its past achievements concerning civilian aid to Afghanistan. Long before the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, Japan was providing technical support to ensure cities had stable supplies of drinking water and helping rice farming activities. The lessons learned from those experiences are being put to effective use for projects now being pushed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and others.
Japan's long-term commitment to helping efforts to rebuild Afghanistan will contribute to eliminating the root causes of terrorism. Civilian aid from Japan will also give indirect support to military efforts by the United States and other countries deploying troops to the landlocked country. That was why the White House press secretary immediately issued a statement welcoming Tokyo's promise of fresh aid to Afghanistan.
But the amount _ $5 billion _ does not represent specific spending plans. Apparently, the government hastily decided on the figure to placate President Barack Obama ahead of his visit to Japan over its decision to terminate the refueling mission.
To ensure that Japan's financial aid will not be consumed by rampant corruption in the government in Kabul headed by President Hamid Karzai, Tokyo needs to develop careful aid plans and closely monitor how the funds are spent.
The government should provide taxpayers with a convincing explanation about the importance of this costly aid package. It should also take effective steps to make Japan's contribution to Afghanistan's reconstruction known widely in the international community.
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Sydney Morning Herald, on state visits:
State visits, especially between the world's two leading nations, are heavy on ritual exchanges. In the time-honoured manner of United States presidential visits to China, Barack Obama gently asserted his nation's principles of "freedoms of expression and worship, of access to information and political participation." The Chinese, equally predictably, ignored him _ relegating his town hall-style meeting with young people to Shanghai local television and censoring his reference to internet freedom. ("Very lively," noted Hu Jintao of the meeting, revealing a hitherto unseen sense of humour.)
But this repeat of the old democracy-and-human-rights routine is no longer the main game. The ground beneath the bilateral relationship is shifting. Previous US presidents had the luxury of playing to a domestic audience from China, hectoring Beijing over Tibet and human rights issues. Things have changed. The trade imbalance, currency disagreements, nuclear proliferation and climate change have moved ahead of those old staples on the agenda.
China's export-led growth helped the country quadruple its gross domestic product between 2000 and last year, and financed the record levels of US debt that now form one of Obama's many headaches. China holds nearly $900 billion worth of US government bonds, and worries that Obama's spending to boost the US economy _ even on his health care plan _ may cause nervous markets to dump the dollar and reduce their investments' value.
For the U.S. this awareness of financial vulnerability is a new and uncomfortable sensation. The likelihood that U.S. domestic policies and priorities will have to change to accommodate international realities will generate difficulties for Obama at least equal to the tricky relationship with China.
Obama's strategy has been to focus on areas of mutual interest and the joint benefits that stem from co-operation. The Chinese know this win-win argument well _ they have deployed it for two decades to mollify neighbours' concerns about China's rise. But Obama also called, quite reasonably, for China to take a bigger role on the world stage, to share the "burden of leadership" with the U.S. At the two leaders' joint news conference following yesterday's summit, Obama said that co-operating made both countries more prosperous and secure. He is right.
Hu, too, "looked forward to having an in-depth relationship." Why wouldn't he? The two countries' economies are inextricably linked, and as yet China has nothing to gain by provoking the U.S. any more than Obama does by provoking China with button-pushing over Tibet or Taiwan.
If this is what the new U.S. approach of "strategic reassurance" towards China looks like, then the rest of the world can be cautiously optimistic about it.
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