Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Natchez (Miss.) Democrat on budget politics:
Why is it that each year at budget time our nation seems to be faced with a capitol filled with children?
Almost like clockwork, it seems, Congress begins drawing arbitrary lines in the sand and vowing to "shut down the government" if their political foes fail to cross the line and compromise on spending.
The cries of, "If I don't get my way, I'll just pick up my marbles and go home" are becoming more than a little tiring.
None of us wants, or needs, the government to shut down and come to a grinding halt.
What we need is not quibbling over the short-term issues of "billions" of dollars in differences _ which is what the current fuss entails.
What we need is a group of serious, civic-minded Americans, elected not to represent a political party, but the best interests of the people. Those people should be debating the "trillions" at stake in the coming years.
Our nation's time and focus are much better spent working on finding solutions to the long-term economic challenges this country faces, not the short-term political posturing that we're currently seeing.
Shutting down the government? If the first phase of the government shut down were to lock up Congress, then perhaps we'd have a good start to resolving the underlying problems.
Closing national parks, cutting the pay of soldiers in the field and putting other programs in jeopardy doesn't do much but make us look like a ship without a solid rudder.
America deserves better leadership than this.
Journal-Advocate, (Colo.) on the 9/11 suspects and Guantanamo Bay:
Last week, President Barack Obama announced a change of mind in regards to the trying of 9/11 suspects in civilian federal courts in New York.
Instead, avowed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged henchmen will face military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they are housed in the U.S. military prison.
The announcement came after Congress passed legislation that prohibits bringing any detainees from the prison to the United States. ...
We feel that this reversal is the right decision, as bringing these extremists onto U.S. soil carries a level of danger to our own doorstep that isn't necessary or prudent. We also don't believe that terrorists should be granted the equal rights and protections under the law that a U.S. citizen has. Furthermore, a civilian court proceeding leaves the door open to aborted justice if some overzealous lawyer or judge determines that the prisoners have not been provided all of their rights, or that the proper procedures and protocols were not followed.
And regardless of the politics behind the decision, the point of the matter is this _ it has been nearly a decade since the tragic and horrifying attack. That's 10 years of waiting for the family members left behind after planes crashed and the towers fell. ...We think they've waited long enough.
The Seattle Times on supporting military families:
As the United States supports military forces in three war zones, the families left behind will get more attention thanks to efforts launched Tuesday by the White House. ...
A scant handful of Americans have served in the military since the country stopped conscripting soldiers in 1973. ... While no one was watching, the demographics changed too. More than half of active-duty National Guard and reservists are married. An estimated 43 percent have two children.
Instead of drafting legions of young men, force requirements are filled through enlistments and heavily augmented with the call-up of reserve units. The mix has more women and older men, who leave families and jobs to serve.
Add in the role of the military as a de facto employment program in tough times, and the dynamic changes. For reservists the cycle repeats again and again.
First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, will visit cities across the U.S. in the next two days to promote "Joining Forces," a program coordinated by the Center for a New American Security. ..
They will lead what is described as a coordinated, comprehensive appeal to community organizations _ employers, educators, philanthropists and faith groups _ to be mindful of the needs in their area.
Military families have been overlooked as they shared the strain of separation from loved ones in harm's way. Their numbers now defy any response but an extended hand.
The New York Times on France's ban on full-face veil:
The formal imposition on Monday of the French ban on the full-face veil, which led to the prompt arrest of two women protesting the law, has been accompanied by the usual government invocations of French values, as well as issues of security and gender equality.
But there's no question about the real purpose of this giant step backward _ or of an earlier law banning Muslim veils in schools, or the "debates" organized by President Nicolas Sarkozy's party, Union for a Popular Movement, on "French identity" and secularism. They are all cynical attacks on Islam, the religion of about a tenth of France's population, to curry favor with France's increasingly anti-immigrant right wing.
Barring the niqab from government buildings, public services, streets and entertainment venues has been the most passionately debated of these measures, with some arguing that it is a symbol of the subjugation of women. But only a tiny handful of France's five million to six million Muslims ever don the full veil, and their decision to do so is patently not the business of the government or the police.
The ban serves only to encourage the spread of Muslim-bashing in France and elsewhere in Europe ...
Chicago Sun-Times on debit card "swipe fees" :
Stephanie Sack, who owns two Bucktown boutiques, is tired of paying hundreds of dollars a month in "swipe fees" to big banks, especially because the fees _ assessed each time one of her customers uses a debit card _ keep going up. ...
Stories like Sack's led last year to an effort spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to limit the fees banks can impose when someone uses a debit card. Rules capping the fees are scheduled to go into effect on July 21, but now there are efforts in both the U.S. House and Senate to delay their implementation.
Congress should reject those efforts and let the new rules go into effect.
Each time someone uses a Visa or MasterCard debit card, the bank that issued the card charges a fee of 40 cents to 45 cents or more, though the Federal Reserve found the actual processing cost is only 4 cents. Because consumers typically use debit cards for smaller transactions while putting the big stuff on their credit cards, debit card swipe fees can take a significant bite out of a retailer's profits.
Nationwide, businesses are paying $16 billion to $20 billion a year in debit card fees, a cost that partly gets passed on to all consumers, even those who use cash. ...
Banks call caps on swipe fees a form of unwise price controls and say the caps actually would harm consumers because banks would make up for the lost revenue by tightening credit and possibly ending customer reward programs and free checking accounts. They also argue that small banks could be forced out of the business.
But the law exempts smaller banks with assets of less than $10 billion. And why should poorer families who are more likely to pay cash subsidize reward programs for wealthier card users? ...
Swipe-fee reform is needed.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the next budget battle:
In a dramatic, near-midnight Friday finish, the White House and congressional leaders averted a shutdown of the federal government by reaching belated agreement on a 2011 budget.
In the end, Republicans and Democrats agreed to $38.5 billion in cuts, slightly more than President Barack Obama's initial proposal of $33 billion. While the accord slashes a long list of programs, the military will receive $5 billion more _ not less _ in the deal that will fund the government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
One political winner was Speaker John A. Boehner; the Ohio Republican was able to keep under control the tea party elements in his House majority who had sought cuts up to $100 billion. Obama also came out looking good for holding firm against the extreme cost-cutting demands while maintaining government operations.
The American people were winners, up to a point, since their government kept functioning. ...
The only way for the nation's leaders to settle the budget crisis once and for all is through calm and responsible deliberation, and not before midnight.
The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., on elctronic voting machines:
There have been ongoing complaints about supposed problems with the state's electronic voting machines since last year's Democratic primary election, and now the local Council of Governments has taken up the drumbeat.
It's time to resolve the matter.
The Legislative Audit Council is the obvious choice to investigate performance and security questions raised about the machines, which are used statewide.
Elections officials maintain that the iVotronic machines reliably tally votes and contend that reported problems were the result of human error. There's no security flaw in the system, officials says.
Even if all that's true, however, the continuing criticism about the machines has had the effect of diminishing public confidence in their use.
Some complaints have come from a couple of disgruntled candidates who apparently still can't believe they didn't do better in last year's elections.
Nevertheless, troubling discrepancies in vote tallies have been cited in Colleton, Richland and Lancaster counties. ...
An independent audit of the iVotronic system and its performance during the last election is needed to address the lingering questions about its reliability.
Otherwise, public confidence in the election process is at risk.
Los Angeles Times on threatened U.S. government shutdown:
The recent Sturm und Drang in Washington over a possible government shutdown was just a warm-up act for the more significant budget disputes to come this year. Rather than haggling over a few billions of dollars in spending, the debate over the budget for the next fiscal year will involve trillions of dollars worth of deficits and debt. And shortly after Congress adopts a budget, it will have to decide whether to raise the limit on federal borrowing beyond the current cap of $14.3 trillion.
From that perspective, the recent brinksmanship over funding the government through Sept. 30 seems like much ado about nothing. Still, the agreement reached last week mattered because lawmakers from both parties made real commitments that should ease the path to compromise on the bigger disputes _ assuming they recognize and honor those commitments.
On the Democratic side, merely agreeing to cut domestic discretionary spending instead of freezing it (as President Obama had proposed) concedes that Washington's focus has shifted. No longer are budget debates going to be about borrowing and spending more to stimulate the economy. Now the goal is simply to shrink the deficit.
That shift forces Democrats to examine the healthcare entitlements _ Medicare and Medicaid _ that are the real source of the long-term deficit problem. ... Republicans, for their part, agreed last week to continue operating government in the red at least through September. ...
Some lawmakers are expected to try to make the debt-ceiling bill more palatable by throwing in provisions to cut the deficit. But the right places to rein in government borrowing are the budget and spending measures Congress passes every year, and the tax cuts that Washington has been passing out like candy for the past decade. Lawmakers should focus their deficit-cutting efforts on those targets.
The Telegraph, London, on NATO and Libya:
Muammar Gaddafi has everything to gain by accepting the African Union's (AU) "road map" for a ceasefire, presented to him by Jacob Zuma, the South African president. The opposition forces, on the other hand, have much to lose.
So long as the Libyan leader continues to defy the UN's demands for an immediate ceasefire, his forces are liable to attack by Nato warplanes. Nato officials yesterday reported that another 25 tanks belonging to Gaddafi's forces had been destroyed by airstrikes, providing a much-needed boost to the rebels' efforts to halt advances by the regime. But Nato's ability to defend the rebels would be severely limited if the AU persuaded Gaddafi to observe a ceasefire and engage in peace talks.
Given the AU's close ties to the Libyan dictator, it is easy to see why the anti-Gaddafi forces are opposed to the deal, particularly if it means that he remains in power. Gaddafi is a former chairman of the AU and one of its principal donors. ...
Not surprisingly, a hostile crowd greeted the remaining members of the AU delegation when they arrived in Benghazi yesterday, chanting "Gaddafi out!" Those governments, such as Britain's, that seek the dictator's overthrow will be hoping that the opposition sticks to its position that peace talks can only commence once he has been removed from power.
China Daily, Beijing, on antibiotics and drug resistance:
The joint call given by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health on Thursday against the improper and excessive use of antibiotics speaks volumes of the seriousness of drug resistance.
The ministry may have denied that improper and excessive use of antibiotics causes about 80,000 deaths a year in China. But it monitors drug use in only about 200 hospitals and is yet to oversee the use of antibiotics in a wider range of areas. ...
Given the wide use of antibiotics in agriculture and animal husbandry, microorganisms are rapidly becoming immune to antimicrobials, which usually is called antimicrobial resistance.
According to WTO figures, about 440,000 new cases of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis are reported every year, causing at least 150,000 deaths. The emergence of drug-resistant super-bacteria is said to have something to do with the abuse of antibiotics. ...
Of course, people have to be made aware of the harm that excessive or improper use of antibiotics can cause, because if patients are vigilant, doctors will exercise more caution in the use of antibiotics.
But the situation is not as simple as it seems. It is rather complicated, for we take in antibiotics not only through drugs or injections, but also through the meat, seafood, vegetables and fruits we consume.
Therefore, the Ministry of Health alone cannot control the use of antibiotics. Other departments, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, have to closely monitor their use by cattle and pig farmers, aquatic farmers and fruit and vegetable growers. Random checks on farms will help reveal whether farmers are using excessive antibiotics in animal feeds, fertilizers and pesticides. ...
Khaleej Times, Dubai on China and human rights:
Washington and Beijing are quite uneasy these days. An ensuing cold war between the two geo-economic giants is a point of concern for the world at large. The United States desire to lecture China on its fragile human rights record seems to have irked the last reigning communist giant, and a war of words is all around these days.
The ante has been upped after the State Department's annual report, which harshly criticised China for cracking down on dissidents and activists who are restlessly campaigning for civic rights. ...
It goes without saying that China has a problem to address in its domestic realms. Chinese authorities have never denied the assumption that there is unrest among a section of society, but blamed the external forces for interfering in its internal affairs. On the other hand, authorities have been unnecessarily coming down hard on human rights activists, and hundreds are detained under charges of treason and lawlessness. Beijing hit the international news headlines as it refused to release Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is languishing in prison for a long time, and blamed the world community for gate crashing into its sovereign affairs to serve vested objectives. Similarly, the recent arrest of renowned artist, Ai Weiwei, also an outspoken critic of the government, had led the US to put it in so many words its concern for the infant civil society in China. ...
China and the US have a lot to be worried about than merely human rights. With the Guantanamo blot pinching America's conscience, it won't be an easy task for Washington to lecture on civil liberties and fundamental rights. At the same time, Beijing would be better advised to look into the allegations of forced disappearances, house arrest and detention of activists, who beg to differ with the status quo of the day. China's sincere introspection can help ward off undue foreign interference.
The Age, Melbourne, Australia, on Pakistan's woes:
The relentless march of Islamist and tribal zealots in Pakistan is deeply worrisome. Pakistan's military has deployed troops, helicopter gunships and fighter jets to tackle extremists on the border with Afghanistan, and regularly boasts the number of militants it has killed. At least 54 was the claim last week following a strike in the tribal lands. And still they come.
Pakistan is losing the wider battle; to show competent government, respect the rights of minorities, give the chance of education to all its people and manage a successful economy. Most critically, Pakistan's government is losing ground to the preachers of extremist Islam, who hold out the illusion of easy answers to life's problems cloaked in the language of hate, segregation and violence. President Asif Ali Zardari appears hapless when promising to fight "militants to the finish" and having "no other option except to win". The more terrifying prospect is that his government will lose.
Pakistan _ or more accurately, its nefarious intelligence agencies _ found it convenient in the past to foster a rabid breed of Islamist ideology to unleash upon its longtime rival and neighbor India, particularly in the disputed territory of Kashmir. ...
The danger is less that an organised extremist force will seize power, but rather that the incipient rise of fanaticism within Pakistan will take creeping control of the state. ...
For the rest of the world, helping Pakistan is first a matter of following through with past promises. ... The country is too important to be left to founder.