Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times, on Iranian unrest:
We are inspired by the bravery of Iranians who continue to demand their rights, even in the face of their government's relentless and shameful brutality. Iran's leaders are so desperate to repel a rising tide of popular unrest that even Ashura _ which marks the death of Shiite Islam's holiest martyr _ is no longer sacred.
The anniversary, which fell on Sunday, is supposed to be a time of peaceful commemoration. Even during war, Iranian governments have honored the prohibitions against violence during a two-month period surrounding Ashura. Tehran's current rulers have proved again that their only belief is in their own survival.
On Sunday, the police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, reportedly killing at least 10 people, and arrested hundreds more. ...
The government is trying hard to keep the Iranian people, and the world, from learning the full extent of its abuses. Foreign correspondents have largely been barred from the country. Journalists there risk their lives when they dare to do their jobs. Redha al-Basha, a Syrian journalist with Dubai TV, has been reported missing. He was last seen in the midst of the protests, surrounded by security forces. He must be released unharmed. Thankfully there are still many people _ journalists, bloggers, concerned citizens with cell phone cameras _ who are determined to get the word out. ...
The Iranian people are demanding what all people have a right to demand: basic freedoms, economic security, and the knowledge that their government is committed to protecting, not killing its citizens.
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San Francisco Chronicle, on job creation:
On the one hand, the national unemployment rate stands at 10 percent. On the other hand, Washington's 2009 fiscal year ended on Sept. 30 with a record deficit of $1.4 trillion.
With the federal government approaching its debt limit of $12.1 trillion, the Senate had to vote on a small increase in the government's debt ceiling _ and all of those numbers are making most of our creditors, and some of our voters, very nervous.
So nervous, in fact, that the major question buzzing around Washington for the past several weeks has been whether our leaders should focus on creating jobs (which will take more spending) or reducing the deficit (before there's nothing left to spend). Both factions have some powerful economic evidence on their side. But in the final analysis, what matters right now is getting Americans back to work. ...
When people aren't making any money, they can't pay any taxes.
This leaves us with a paradox: In order to create jobs so that taxpayers can start paying into the Treasury and reducing the federal budget deficit, the government is going to have to do some deficit spending. It matters enormously that the job creation programs are wise ones _ more aid to cash-strapped states is good, for instance, along with programs to get credit flowing toward small businesses. ...
It also matters enormously that the government figures out a way to rein in this spending at the right moment. Deficits do matter _ but the deficits that matter the most are the ones in our near-term future, not next year. Even after the economy begins to grow again, the U.S. population will still be aging, and we will still have the enormous Medicare and Social Security deficits that were projected long before the recession began. If we're not careful, those are the deficits that will cripple our growth for years to come.
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Chicago Tribune, on national debt:
Decades or centuries from now, scholars will examine U.S. government documents from our time and notice something strange: In four consecutive years around the close of the 20th century, the federal budget was recorded as having a surplus. That hadn't happened since 1969, it hasn't happened since, and the way things are going, it may never happen again.
Recent years have seen the collapse of all federal fiscal discipline. At the end of the 2001 fiscal year, the national debt stood at $5.7 trillion. Today, it's over $12 trillion. With the population at roughly 300 million, your share is, oh, about $40,000. And you ain't seen nothin' yet. In the next decade, according to the Obama administration's own estimates, Washington will pile up another $9 trillion in deficits. ...
It's a crisis that grew gradually for years and is now growing rapidly. It's one that will force Americans to choose between getting our fiscal house in order or inviting an economic decline of the sort we associate with banana republics. And it's one that demands action sooner rather than later.
Right now, we're aboard the Titanic in a sea of red ink _ but we still have a chance to avoid the iceberg that looms straight ahead.
If we hit it, our options will get a lot worse.
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The Boston Globe, on the Christmas terrorism attempt:
The attempted attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was the third act of international terrorism in this decade to be disrupted by passengers and crew. It confirms an essential truth about the age of terrorism: Average citizens are the last line of defense, and in many ways the most important.
Quick decisions turn would-be victims into heroes, and undermine the goal of terrorism, which is to disempower people through fear. The realization that citizens can protect themselves is in some ways more reassuring than disrupting plots through intelligence or electronic surveillance _ it proves that average people aren't just pawns. It gives them a role to play, and a reason to summon the strength to stand up to threats.
Of course, it shouldn't come to this. There were failures in both intelligence and screening that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get aboard Flight 253. But the painful reality is that lapses can occur in any system, and so the best defense is multiple layers of defense. That's where would-be victims come in: the final pairs of eyes, watching the match get lit or the suspicious bag be loaded. ...
Much the same thing happened in December 2001, when shoe-bomber Richard Reid tried to blow up an American Airlines jet. And a more dramatic example occurred three months earlier, on 9/11, when passengers on United Flight 93 took the fight to their hijackers, crashing their plane rather than allow it to be pointed at the White House or Capitol.
The passengers of Flight 93 are honored at the site of their deaths in Shanksville, Pa. Thankfully, there is no memorial necessary for those who protected Flight 253. Many people share a sense of relief _ and even exhilaration _ at their success in bringing down their attacker.
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The News-Press, Fort Myers, Fla., on harsh penalties for domestic violence:
Batterers deserve stiff penalties for perpetrating domestic violence _ a crime that feeds on fear, shatters lives, and keeps communities in denial.
As it stands now most misdemeanor offenses for battery don't qualify the accused for prison time and too many batterers, upon arrest, spend, perhaps, only a night in jail.
Then, they have an opportunity to go back and terrorize their victims. That's not right.
Law enforcement, attorneys and victim advocates acknowledge that prevention is the best solution. That's true, but the person who commits the crime needs to know the act comes with a high price.
Probation time and weeks of batterers' intervention may help some, but this crime needs to be stigmatized more. ...
Much as sex offenders' mug shots are posted along with their vital information, it might do our community good to call out the batterers among us. Some might argue that this could harm someone's employment prospects and divide families. However, domestic violence is wrong, plain and simple.
No, we can't lock up abusers forever.
It would be ideal if society could successfully rehabilitate abusers and prevent potential abusers from ever acting out. It would also be ideal if abusers would keep their hands _ and harsh words _ to themselves.
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The Daily News Journal, Murfreesboro, Tenn., on low-level radioactive waste dumping:
Congress should pass a bill designed to stop the United States from becoming the world's dumping ground for low-level radioactive waste.
Co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Murfreesboro, the legislation would bar EnergySolutions from importing 20,000 tons of waste to America from an old nuclear power plant in Italy. The waste would enter through Charleston, S.C., or New Orleans and be processed in East Tennessee before about 1,600 tons would be disposed at an EnergySolutions facility in Utah.
Though this material isn't high-level radioactive waste, it is "special" waste, and by accepting it, the United States could open the door to countries around the globe depending on America to take their radioactive material. ...
EnergySolutions contends importing the Italian waste is crucial to keeping jobs at its disposal facility where it employs more than 500 people. Whether the bill would affect jobs is hard to quantify because in an Associated Press story company officials would not say whether preventing the importation of waste would force them to lay off workers.
But with low-level radioactive waste being produced by medical facilities, university research labs and utility companies across the nation, and with few permanent disposal sites, the United States needs to make certain it can handle its own needs before opening its borders to the world's waste. For 36 states, the Utah facility is the only one available. ...
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The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, on West Virginia native Robert P. George:
A former Morgantown man is America's top crusader seeking to reverse the sexual revolution, revoke women's right to choose, prevent marriage equality for gays, halt embryonic stem cell research _ and punish Catholic politicians who don't support all these church goals.
Dr. Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor holding an endowed chair once filled by Woodrow Wilson, was the subject of a six-page spread in the Dec. 20 New York Times Magazine.
The West Virginia native "is this country's most influential conservative Christian thinker," the national newspaper says. "...He has parlayed a 13th century Catholic philosophy into real political influence. Glenn Beck, the Fox News talker and a big George fan, likes to introduce him as 'one of the biggest brains in America.'" ...
Alarmed by the 2008 election of President Obama and a new liberal surge in Washington, George has become leader of a half-dozen Catholic, evangelical and Republican organizations striving to fire up the culture war against Democrats. He and colleagues drafted the "Manhattan Declaration" which has garnered 300,000 signatures favoring traditional sexual morality. ...
Catholicism has lost 20 million U.S. members in recent decades, and one-tenth of American adults now are ex-Catholics, surveys find. The church remains America's largest mostly because arriving Hispanic immigrants replace departing parishioners.
Will the current demographic and moral trend continue, or will the pendulum swing back toward past strictness? Keep reading the daily news and try to fathom where America is heading.
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The Oregonian, Portland, Or., on smoking cessation:
You'd think a rock-and-roller like John Mellencamp would have every motivation to quit smoking. Famous guy like that? The fact that his 14-year-old is begging and bugging him _ well, surely, one look in his son's eyes would be all the reason he needs to stop, right?
When Mellencamp's son, Speck, asked him to quit, the 58-year-old musician came back with a counter offer. (Folks, it's called stalling.) If Speck could get a million people to sign up on Facebook, Mellencamp promised he would ditch the habit. Probably.
Look, it's hard. Seventy percent of adult smokers say they want to quit, and 40 percent tried to quit in the past year, at least for one day. But even if you're President Barack Obama, with a credible shot at global domination, it's very difficult to dominate yourself _ and kick an addiction. And if you're at the other end of the power-and-glory spectrum, waiting in an unemployment line or at a food bank, extracting tobacco from your life is that much tougher.
Some 430,000 Americans will die from smoking-related causes this year. But an equally sad statistic reflects the health chasm between rich and poor. Roughly a third of adults who live below the poverty level smoke, while only about 20 percent of other Americans do. The state of Oregon understands that deep divide as well or better than any other state and, for many years, has placed a high priority on smoking-cessation programs to bridge the gap.
People on the Oregon Health Plan can get lots of support, including counseling and pharmaceutical treatment, to help them quit. Unfortunately, however, they may not know they're eligible for this help. Our state hasn't done a great job of promoting (or funding) the services. Massachusetts, in contrast, has just shown what is possible when you not only offer the help but also start shouting about it.
One caution: The Massachusetts data are only preliminary. But they indicate that if you offer virtually free smoking-cessation support to impoverished people who are motivated to quit, they'll take you up on it. In 2006, when Massachusetts first began offering the services to its poorest residents, 38 percent of them smoked. Now, it appears that 28 percent of them do.
That's a huge drop. And The New York Times reported this month that the drop may also have triggered lower rates of hospitalization for heart attacks and emergency room visits for asthma attacks. Which, of course, saves big money.
About 11 percent of Medicaid expenditures, or roughly $22 billion a year, go to treating smoking-related illnesses. (The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the United States could save $100 million over 10 years if it covered smoking-cessation programs for pregnant women alone.)
Oregon helped to set the standard of care in this realm, but our state now needs to do some serious shouting about it. We hope that Speck Mellencamp reaches his goal of a million people signing up on Facebook to persuade his dad to quit. But it might be simpler for Mellencamp to go the tried-and-proven route of a smoking-cessation program.
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The Jerusalem Post, on Iranian unrest:
Looking back from the perspective of more than three decades, the exile of the Shah of Iran and the country's fall to Islamist tyranny in 1979 was arguably the West's worst geo-strategic setback in the second half of the 20th century and doubly disastrous for Israel.
This photo obtained by AP shows Iranian protesters beating police officers during an anti-government demo in Teheran on Sunday.
Those who had hankered for change on the grounds that anything would be an improvement over the Shah and his Savak secret police were mistaken. Once in power, the revolution began consuming its own.
A coalition of middle-class reformists, students, intellectuals, leftists and Muslim hard-liners had created an enormous populist movement that forced the cancer-ridden Shah from the throne. But the religious extremists, galvanized by their forbidding leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were the organizational backbone of the revolution. By intimidating, torturing or killing anyone who stood in their way, they solidified their grip on power. ...
In response, the Khomeinists have fired at protesters in Teheran, even as the unrest has spread to Tabriz, Shiraz and elsewhere. Despite the regime's best censorship efforts, the world is watching a blood-and-fire uprising in the streets.
On Sunday, an adult nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was assassinated. He was among some 15 killed by Khomeinist forces as Shi'ite Muslims marked Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein _ and is the source of the schism between Shi'ites and Sunnis.
When a Shi'ite government shoots Shi'ites on Ashura, its legitimacy has reached a nadir. ...
Since this regime cannot be usefully engaged, it needs to be destabilized _ from every possible direction.
The more the Iranian people believe the free world is behind them, the more willing they will be to stay in the streets _ and the harder it will be for the Khomeinists to muster the nerve to crush their overwhelming sentiment for change.
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Telegraph, London, on domestic Islamism:
Friday's attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic airliner by a British-educated Islamist was foiled by the bravery of its passengers and crew. We cannot assume that we will be lucky next time. And the indications are that there will be a next time. According to police sources, 25 British-born Muslims are currently in Yemen being trained in the art of bombing planes. But most of these terrorists did not acquire their crazed beliefs in the Islamic world: they were indoctrinated in Britain. Indeed, thousands of young British Muslims support the use of violence to further the Islamist cause and this despite millions of pounds poured by the Government into projects designed to prevent Islamic extremism.
Is it time for a fundamental rethink of Britain's attitude toward domestic Islamism? Consider this analogy. Suppose that, in several London universities, Right-wing student societies were allowed to invite neo-Nazi speakers to address teenagers. Meanwhile, churches in poor white neighborhoods handed over their pulpits to Jew-hating admirers of Adolf Hitler, called for the execution of homosexuals, preached the intellectual inferiority of women, and blessed the murder of civilians. What would the Government do? It would bring the full might of the criminal law against activists indoctrinating young Britons with an inhuman Nazi ideology and the authorities that let them. Any public servants complicit in this evil would be hounded from their jobs.
Jihadist Islamism is also a murderous ideology, comparable to Nazism in many respects. The British public realizes this; so do the intelligence services. Yet because it arises out of a worldwide religion most of whose followers are peaceful politicians and the public sector shrink from treating its ideologues as criminal supporters of violence. Instead, the Government throws vast sums of money at the Muslim community in order to ensure that what is effectively a civil war between extremists and moderates is won by the latter. This policy supported by all the main political parties does not seem to be working. The authorities, lacking specialist knowledge, sometimes turn for advice to "moderate" Muslims who have extreme sympathies; supporters of al-Qaeda are paid to disseminate their ideology to young people.
Radical Islamist leaders are not stupid: they know how to play this system. The indoctrination of students carries on under the noses of public servants who are terrified of being labeled Islamophobic or racist. Therefore they fail to do their duty, which is to protect Muslims and non-Muslims alike from a terrorist ideology. If providing that protection requires fewer "consultations" with "community leaders" and more arrests, then so be it.
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The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on North Korea weapons trafficking:
Part of international weapons trafficking originating from North Korea has come to light.
In mid-December, a cargo plane taking off from Pyongyang landed in Bangkok for refueling. When Thai authorities checked the cargo declared as "oil-drilling equipment," they found a large quantity of North Korean-made weapons. They included 35 tons of anti-tank rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles worth more than 1 billion yen.
The ownership of the cargo plane has frequently changed and it now belongs to a Georgian company. It was also revealed that the plane had traveled to and from North Korea several times in the past. The crew were Belarusians and Kazakhs.
Although the destination of the plane was unclear, it planned to unload the cargo in Iran after stopping in Sri Lanka and Ukraine, according to flight plan information obtained by U.S. and European non-governmental organizations that monitor weapon transfers.
The incident revealed the proliferation of weapons from North Korea and the presence of a weapons trafficking network involving arms traders of the former Soviet Union.
In response to the second nuclear test that Pyongyang conducted in May in defiance of international criticism, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to strengthen sanctions against North Korea. As a result, all weapons exports from North Korea were banned.
The incident this time clearly violates the resolution. Furthermore, it occurred around the time U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth visited Pyongyang to encourage North Korea to return to the six-party talks over its nuclear program. Pyongyang's behavior derides international society. ...
It is important to further strengthen international cooperation and enhance the effectiveness of Security Council resolutions. Ground, maritime and air surveillance must be firmly established. ...
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The Globe and Mail, Toronto, on World Trade Organization's China decision:
China will be somewhat more open to the entertainment and culture of the rest of the world, as a result of a World Trade Organization decision last week. The upshot is that the Chinese government will no longer able to shape culture through monopolies, oligopolies and restrictions on foreign ownership in film distribution and similar businesses; henceforth, when it censors, it will be more or less explicitly censoring.
The decision by the WTO appeal tribunal upheld a ruling by a panel in August, in a dispute between the United States and China. Beijing relied on a clause in international trade law that allows nation-states to restrict trade in order to protect public morals. Washington was not challenging that power of moral supervision; instead, it denied that the controls on ownership and distribution in China were required for the sake of public morality.
In particular, the Chinese government will still be able to enforce the maximum of 20 foreign films that can be shown in Chinese movie theaters.
"Public morals" is an expression drawn from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the WTO's predecessor), as of 1994; it is not China's own choice of words for this particular dispute. It is probable that the Chinese government is at least as much concerned with politics, culture and its own business interests as with morality in any narrow sense of the word.
If Western distributors of films, books, DVDs, computer games and music (even cell phone ring tones) start operating in China, there are likely to be both cultural and economic consequences. The way in which popular culture is marketed has consequences for that culture.
Though the WTO decision does not deal with the making of cheap knockoffs in violation of non-Chinese copyrights and trademarks, the presence of Western competitors in China would surely be an inconvenience to the pirates.
The U.S. challenge arose from complaints by large corporations such as Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Bros. and Simon & Schuster, but commerce and culture are not entirely separable. The WTO's trade decision will not lead to a cultural revolution (in either a capitalist or a Maoist sense), but a noticeable shift in China's culture is likely.
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