Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Buffalo (N.Y.) News on the failure of health care reform to reduce medical costs:
It's hard to reverse course without paying attention to how you got on the wrong road to begin with, and how you correct your mistake. But that is exactly what President Barack Obama has done.
Having ridden the wave of victory in 2008, he dove in with force to create his own federal health care plan. He showed such pride in addressing the biggest-growing cost problem Americans faced. The only problem is that he did nothing to lower the costs of health care. Instead, he created a monster expense _ yet another entitlement program he said the government would be able to handle.
Then came the elections of 2010. The public condemned his free spending and delivered control of the House to Republicans. Meanwhile, a massive budget deficit threatened to sink the country.
Obama swallowed the bitter pill and said he would address the problems that had agitated voters. But he has not. He has talked the talk, but has refused to walk the walk. ...
In fact, Obamacare may become yet another entitlement that will need fixing, on top of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
Obamacare comes at a time when not only the federal government, but also state governments are in trouble. And one of the reasons state governments, and even county governments, are in trouble is because of the growing costs of Medicaid. It currently accounts for 21 percent of state budgets and is growing. It covers 53 million people, and Obamacare will add another 20 million in 2014. ...
While states will have to address this crisis, essentially these are problems the federal government owns. ...
If he fails to tackle these monumental problems, the public will clearly see that he has failed in his presidential leadership and doesn't deserve a second term.
The Brunswick (Ga.) News on government bureaucracy:
Let bureaucracy roam free and chaos will reign. It's the Rule of Always. It will always happen.
It certainly has with the federal budget. In fact, it's one of the major reasons why the government is getting the nation deeper and deeper into debt.
Just recently, the Government Accounting Office released a report that stunned even the most seasoned and entrenched bureaucrats in the federal system. Programs are more than duplicated or triplicated. In some instances, Congress may have authorized funding for as many as 80 programs that take aim at the same problem, if only at a slightly different angle.
Consider these figures released by the GAO: 20 programs to help the homeless, 15 separate agencies to watch food safety and 80 programs for economic development. With respect to the wise adage that one glove doesn't fit all, two, three or maybe even five programs that took aim at the same issue might be acceptable. But 80?
That's not all the GAO reported. There are 80 programs designed to help disadvantaged people with transportation issues, 47 for job training and 82 to improve teacher quality _ and the list goes on and on.
Congress dares to wonder why the nation cannot buy as much as a postage stamp without having to borrow from the government next store or overseas.
Members of Congress should be more than angry.
They ought to be embarrassed that it happened and that it continues to happen under their oversight.
Enough of this. It's time to do a little house cleaning. ...
The Seattle Times on U.S. involvement in Libya:
Options for lending aid and support to those challenging Moammar Gadhafi in Libya must be defined by the unified response they attract. The notion of the United States taking unilateral action is arrogant, wrong and unnecessary.
Even the rebel forces opposing the Libyan dictator reject the idea of Western troops in their country. Elsewhere, the calls for enforcing a no-fly zone circulate among those who could not credibly articulate the mechanics of such a plan, or its tactical mission.
Look first to the Arab League or the African Union. The mumbling will be deafening. NATO must parse its potential involvement with diplomatic deference to the nattering United Nations, where a meeting was held to discuss something or other. Russia and China stand ready to veto any proposed military response.
Could NATO act on its own? Sure, and use the intelligence gathered by that crack British team of agents picked up and sent home in shame.
The U.S. cannot argue with any credibility that it knows the Libyan rebel factions. The U.S. supported Gadhafi off and on for two generations as he served our purposes. How much credibility does that give the U.S. with those fighting in the streets? ...
Good intentions are not enough. Nearly 30 years ago President Reagan sent U.S. Marines to Lebanon to separate the parties in a civil war while peace was brokered. A suicide attack killed 241 servicemen.
The U.S. struggled in Iraq and Afghanistan because it did not know the territory, the culture and local politics. Apply those brutal lessons to any plans for U.S. involvement in Libya.
The Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth on IRS budget cuts:
The Republicans, energized by the mandate they feel they received in November's congressional elections, have honed in on reducing the nation's deficit.
It's a worthy goal.
With annual deficits more than $1 trillion these days, Congress has got to narrow the gap between revenue and expenses.
For the most part, the Republicans have focused on reducing spending, not enhancing revenue. One proposed spending cut, however, would actually add to the deficit.
That is the Republicans' plan to cut the IRS budget by $600 million this year and even more in 2012.
The IRS, no matter how unpopular it may be, is one of those rare agencies that makes money for the government. Every dollar the IRS spends going after tax cheats returns more than $10 to the federal treasury. That's a rate of return of which few investments in the private sector can boast.
If Republicans were truly serious about reducing the deficit, they would be endorsing President Barack Obama's desire to increase the IRS' budget, not trying to undermine that effort.
Tax collectors are never going to be popular, but they are indispensable to balancing the government books. Few Americans would pay taxes if they weren't compelled to, and the only thing that holds down the cheating is the threat of being caught by the IRS.
It is irrational to reduce that threat at a time when Washington needs every penny it can get.
Chicago Sun-Times on fast food calorie posts:
So much for sticker shock.
Recent efforts to make fast food restaurants post calorie counts have been based on the assumption that people would make healthier choices if they had better information.
A recent study of dining habits among low-income families in New York City, though, suggests that mandatory calorie labeling isn't as effective as you might think.
While most parents and teens noticed the calorie counts, only 9 percent of teens and 16 percent of adults said it mattered to them, New York University researchers reported in the International Journal of Obesity. And there was little difference in the amount of calories consumed before New York mandated fast-food labeling in 2008 and after. That would seem to make a case against having calorie counts.
But we still support giving consumers the information as part of a larger effort to help Americans make healthier choices. In our overweight world, it sure can't hurt.
The Dallas Morning News on energy costs' effects on the economy:
Oil has topped $100 a barrel for the first time since the financial meltdown snapped a bear trap on the U.S. economy.
The nation still hasn't freed itself, and the prospect of increasingly expensive oil isn't making escape any easier.
As oil prices crossed the $100 level, Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke tried to reassure Americans that the price spike from political revolt in Libya and Egypt would not scuttle the nation's modest, tenuous economic recovery. Bernanke might be right, but that doesn't mean the nation isn't in line for more economic pain.
Some analysts warn that oil prices could soar to $130 a barrel if the unrest spreads to Saudi Arabia and other key oil producers. Even if oil doesn't reach that level, the price spike already has had an impact. Americans' confidence in the economy has plummeted from the most positive the Gallup organization had measured in the last three years. ...
Every additional penny you spend on food or gasoline is a penny you can't spend in the rest of the economy. ...
Consumers will hunker down, businesses won't hire new employees, and banks won't lend to small businesses. The cost of the energy needed to produce and transport food will make groceries more expensive. Adding to the uncertainty are crises faced by bloated federal and state governments that need to make deep cuts. No doubt, economists, many of whom had been forecasting modest economic growth this year based in part on the 11th-hour extension of the Bush tax cuts last year, will be revisiting their predictions. ...
Until something approaching certainty returns to the chaotic Middle East, oil prices will rise, and we'll continue to feel pain.
San Francisco Chronicle on Guantanamo prison:
President Barack Obama has been trying to send encouraging signals to demonstrators demanding democracy in the Middle East. But his decision to maintain the Guantanamo prison will only undercut U.S. credibility in the Arab world.
Obama is backtracking on one of his bedrock campaign promises to close the prison, a twilight-zone lockup that he's disparaged as a recruiting ad for terrorists. Instead of emptying it out, the White House will continue operations, rev up military tribunals and tweak legal rules slightly toward the rights of inmates.
It's a dismal result that institutionalizes exactly what Obama had pledged to end. It is a vestige of the erosion of civil liberties during the post-9/11 panic.
The reasons may be many, but they mock Obama's claim to the moral high ground in crafting new anti-terrorist policies. By a heavy bipartisan margin, Congress wants no part of White House plans to close the place and ship inmates from the Cuban base to American soil for civilian trials. ...
The new game plan is largely the same as the old, though the Obama team insists the legal rules give prisoners fuller notice of charges and more frequent reviews. It's a claim that doesn't mean much given Obama's emphatic anti-Gitmo rhetoric. ...
Gitmo is now enshrined legal policy. It's a humiliating moment for the White House and a new low point for American justice.
The Washington Post on China and human rights:
Everyone knows that the future belongs to China, right? Its economy recently surpassed Japan's as the world`s second-largest. Its navy is roaming ever farther and with growing confidence. It is training a generation of scientists and engineers in numbers the United States can only imagine. Its high-speed rail network is the envy of the Obama administration _ or at least it was, until top railway officials were sacked for apparent corruption and possibly shortcuts on safety.
But if things are going so well, why are China's Communist dictators so nervous? For two years now, they have been cracking down with increasing force on peaceful lawyers, journalists and citizen activists _ and since the people's uprisings in the Middle East, the crackdown has taken on a new ferocity.
An anonymous Internet campaign calling on Chinese citizens to join the "Jasmine Revolution" has had little apparent success in generating protests. But it has whipped Chinese police into a spasm of aggression against Chinese and foreigners alike. The government has effectively retracted its promise to allow foreign correspondents to report freely, warning them away from sites where protests might take place. On Feb. 27, police assaulted or intimidated more than a dozen members of the foreign media who had ignored one such warning, according to Human Rights Watch.
Chinese have been treated far worse. At least 100 activists have been rounded up, and some have been charged with "crimes" that could lead to multi-year prison sentences. ...
Communist Party officials routinely claim to enjoy the support of their people, though they do not dare subject that claim to the test of elections. Apparently they do not even believe the claim themselves. The result is that the vibrant civil society China will need as its economy grows instead is being stunted.
The Obama administration has raised human rights concerns with the Chinese government but often in a muted way. U.S. officials should do better, lest they help prove the assessment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xia, during her brief moment of Internet connection: "I'm crying," she wrote. "Nobody can help me."
The Daily Star, Beirut, on Iran and Middle East unrest:
As dramatic events in the Arab world continue to unfold this spring, one frequent topic bandied about by pundits is the impact of the Arab upheavals on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The most striking impression one gets from all the chatter about Tehran is the boundless ignorance of too many of the would-be cognoscenti unspooling ready-made theories about the direct results that Tahrir (Liberation) Square will bring about in Tehran. For the most part, the political leadership and the publics of the U.S. and European nations receive their wisdom about Iran from think tanks located in the West, in articles penned by commentators sitting in Washington or London _ and for the most part these authors have no idea how the institutions of the Islamic Republic function or the subtleties of the varied constituencies among Iran's population of more than 70 million.
The truth about the Iranian regime is that it has a coherent and long-term agenda for expanding its influence throughout the region, and it pursues that agenda single-mindedly. Regardless of how one feels about the relative qualities of that influence, it must be granted that Tehran has done a remarkable job of achieving so many of its objectives in the 32 years since the clerical regime emerged _ and instantly became a boogeyman to many Arab and Western countries. ...
The Arab popular uprisings riveting the world's attention are leading Tehran to accelerate the implementation of its agenda. If Iranian leaders feel any trepidation at the collapse of the Egyptian and Tunisian autocracies, they are hiding it well, for they continue to project confidence.
In their eyes, their only true rival is Washington; this region, they reckon, can be managed. ...
The Japan Times, Tokyo, on rising oil and food prices:
Political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East triggered by the change of government in Tunisia is pushing up crude oil prices. Crude oil prices, which were rather stable in the range of $70 to $80 per barrel the past year, are now hovering above $100 per barrel.
Food prices are also rising. Rising food prices are said to be behind a series of anti-government demonstrations in North Africa and the Middle East. High oil and food prices are likely to hit households and could put a brake on the global economic recovery.
About 60 percent of world oil deposits are in the Gulf coastal areas of the Middle East. For the time being there will be sufficient crude oil and oil products reserves. But if anti-government protests intensify in oil-producing countries, speculative funds may move to push up crude oil prices. ...
Food prices have been also on the rise due to an increase in demand in emerging economies, bad harvests caused by climate changes and inflow of speculative money into markets. The food price index of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization hit 236 in February, with 2002 to 2004 serving as the base years _ a record high since statistics were first taken in 1990. ...
U.N. organizations and Asian developing economies will have an emergency meeting in Bangkok to discuss how to deal with rising food prices. The Asian Development Bank fears that continued political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East and rises in the prices of raw materials and foods could intensify inflationary pressure and push down the economic growth of the Asia-Pacific region. ...
The Bank of Japan should carefully watch the situation and strive to implement monetary policy that will prevent an economic downturn accompanied by price rises.
The Toronto Sun on gender bias in the insurance industry:
Ever wonder why a tiny Size 2 woman's blouse costs way more to get laundered at the dry cleaners than a man's XXL shirt with a collar that could encircle a woman's waist?
Is it just because women's buttons are on the "wrong" side?
Or is it gender-based discrimination?
Wiser women will steer clear of the question.
Women, know it or not, have a leg up when it comes to many bigger-ticket items, as women in the European Union will discover when rules banning gender-based car insurance pricing take effect next December.
The result will be their car insurance rates going up and men's insurance coming down.
Men think they are better drivers than women.
Tell that to an actuary, however, and the actuary will tell you that men are lying through their grills. ...
While trumpeting that their clients are in "good hands," Allstate Canada statistics between 2008 and 2010 show that 8.8% of all its male clients between the ages of 16 and 24 got into accidents, while 8.7% of its female clients suffered the same fate.
Big deal, you say?
Well, buckle up, because that seemingly insignificant 0.1% difference adds up to millions annually when the severity of the accidents is calculated. ...
Maybe now they will stop complaining about their Size 2 blouse and their husband's collared tent, and not sweat the small stuff of gender bias.
It's men, in fact, who get taken to the cleaners.
The Telegraph, London, on Iran:
Iran's posturing on the world stage underwent a transformation following the Arab uprisings. The lurid bombast of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was replaced by a more nakedly militaristic show of muscle as two Iranian warships sailed through the Suez Canal, for the first time since 1979, en route for Syria, that other sponsor of state terrorism. It was a show of defiance from a regime that has actually been badly rattled both by events in the region and the impact of sanctions.
Tehran has described the popular insurrections that have swept North Africa as an "Islamic awakening," yet the regime is petrified of contagion. Recently, the opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were arrested along with their wives, who are also political activists. As prominent figures in the green movement that was born after the disputed elections of 2009, they were detained the day before a planned street demonstration. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, suspected by hard-liners of being too close to the opposition, was replaced as head of the Assembly of Experts, the powerful clerical body that oversees supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
These are the actions of a nervous regime circling the wagons. It is not just internal pressure that is worrying the mullahs. Military, trade and financial sanctions imposed by the UN, the EU and the U.S. ... This is a moment not to ease the pressure on Iran, but to intensify it. Its nuclear ambitions make it the most dangerous country in the Middle East; the turmoil elsewhere must not lead the West to take its eye off the ball.