Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on the Pentagon budget:
In their budget-cutting zeal, Republicans are demanding harsh sacrifices from the country's most vulnerable citizens. At the same, they are determined to leave one of the biggest areas of wasteful government spending untouched: the Pentagon budget.
The budget plan they pushed through the House this month would spend $7.5 trillion on the military over the next dozen years. And that does not include the cost of actual war-fighting. The country cannot afford to spend that much, and it doesn't need to.
The $7.5 trillion was President Barack Obama's projection, which he has since lowered to $7.1 trillion. Saving $400 billion is better but still not enough, especially since it can be achieved merely by holding annual nonwar-related spending at its current swollen level, adjusted for inflation.
National security is a fundamental responsibility of government. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon has spent without limits and in some cases without sense. Annual budgets, adjusted for inflation, have grown by 50 percent in the past decade. And that is apart from the more than $1 trillion spent on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The White House and Congress must impose some rationality on this process. ...
The Oregonian, Portland, on the anniversary of the Gulf oil spill:
In some ways, the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago seems such a flameout.
While a panicked nation was for weeks held hostage to deep-sea video of a runaway wellhead, much of the oil is now gone or reclaimed. Less than a tenth of some 1,000 miles of sullied shoreline remain. Commercial fishing in most of the Gulf has resumed.
But that's where the good news ends. Nobody really knows the long-term environmental or economic impact of the explosion that killed 11 and loosed nearly 5 million barrels of oil in windblown sheets and current-driven plumes across the Gulf. And there is pitched debate about whether the federal government is any tougher in regulating the offshore drilling industry that started it all.
The result is an uncomfortable truth: What we saw in the Gulf of Mexico one year ago could happen again today. ...
Despite the unknowns, offshore drilling is back and even expanding.
Several deep-water permits have been issued since President Barack Obama's drilling moratorium was lifted last fall, while more than a dozen are in review. And Congress seriously weighs legislation that would expand areas open to offshore drilling while speeding the permitting process ...
It is regrettable that BP's blowout last summer seems a thing of the past. The full impact of the spill, unknowable today, will take years to learn. And the first challenge posed by it lies not behind us but before us: whether to promote offshore drilling when we have no assurances it will be any safer.
The answer should be no until we have evidence otherwise _ something Congress, regulators and the industry must provide before the BP debacle is lost entirely from memory.
The Brunswick (Ga.) News on sleeping air traffic controllers:
That's just like the federal government _ instead of assigning blame, instead of acknowledging that there is really such a thing as intentionally underperforming individuals, it overlooks the obvious. These slackers, people who don't do their jobs because they don't want to and feel they don't have to, are often fodder for deep analysis that often has citizens of this nation wondering if they and their government are from the same planet.
The federal government's response to sleeping air traffic controllers is a typical example. Rather than showing backbone and admitting that some people just can't _ or won't _ handle the job given them, the Federal Aviation Administration is changing the rules.
Come on, in any other century, people who fell asleep on the job, especially one where an unconscious state could lead to the deaths of hundreds of people, would automatically be fired. There would be no discussion. There would be no debate. There would be no suspension, and they certainly would be no reevaluating of scheduling practices. It simply would be a relationship between employer and employee that ended in these words: You're fired. It's the old-fashioned way of doing business, but it works.
The Federal Aviation Administration decided to consider changes after the fifth air traffic controller allowed himself to fall into the slumbering arms of the sandman, this time at a regional radar facility in Miami that monitors high altitude flights. The man was not terminated. He was merely suspended, even though his unwakeful state put others in serious jeopardy. ...
The federal government needs to do a little waking up itself.
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on lost luggage refunds:
Airline passengers would get their baggage fees refunded when their luggage is lost or delayed, if the Department of Transportation implements a proposed rule change, and that's reasonable.
A lost bag costs travelers time and often money _ they might have to buy clothing and other items. And it's hard to see how an airline can justify keeping money for bags it fails to deliver on time.
Not surprisingly, airlines are objecting. They say that being forced to pay refunds on lost or delayed bags will result in increased costs that will be passed on to all passengers. About 2 million bags didn't arrive on the same flight as their owners last year.
But airlines are no doubt more concerned about keeping the $3.3 billion in baggage fees collected every year. Surely they ought to be expected to provide something in exchange for that money.
Given the proliferation of fees that airlines have been imposing, it wouldn't be surprising if they tried to charge people another fee when their luggage goes astray _ call it a baggage storage fee. Or make the bag pay for it's unscheduled flight.
The DOT should stand firm on behalf of passengers and implement this change.
The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo., on debt reduction:
The discussion in Washington, D.C., has changed dramatically this year, from how to spend federal dollars to where to cut, both short-term and for the long run.
That seismic shift in political debate is necessary because we are rapidly approaching a point where our national debt could put our current economy, not to mention the fortunes of future generations, at great risk. The International Monetary Fund warned that the United States must get its debt under control quickly.
Furthermore, as Alan Simpson has said, this is different than the debt and deficit scenario of the 1990s. "We can't grow our way out of this," said Simpson, a Republican former senator from Wyoming. With Erskine Bowles, a Democrat and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, Simpson chaired President Barack Obama's Deficit Reduction Commission last year.
Together, the two men drafted a deficit and debt reduction plan that drew bipartisan support _ and criticism. But it didn't win enough votes on the 15-member commission to be formally submitted to Congress.
However, the so-called Gang of Six _ three Democrats and three Republicans in the Senate _ will reportedly introduce legislation based on the Simpson-Bowles plan.
For a variety of reasons, we believe the Simpson-Bowles plan is preferable to either the proposal proffered by Obama, or Rep. Paul Ryan's plan, which was approved by the House of Representatives. ...
The time is now to seriously attack deficits and the debt. And Simpson-Bowles should be the foundation for doing so.
The Lima (Ohio) News on Obama's revenue vision:
President Barack Obama blasted Republican budget reform proposals in his national address and announced his plan for solving the budget deficit. It can be summarized as: Tax rich people because they should bear "a greater share of this burden."
Obama's class-warfare rhetoric painted a portrait of two Americas, two competing ideologies and two visions for the nation's future. The battle, he said, is "about changing the basic social compact in America."
His vision of a government taking ever more from its productive citizens, then acting as a kind of national conscience and clearinghouse that decides who should get the spoils, left us chilled. Most people, we believe, want a different America, one of individual initiative and self-responsibility, of voluntary participation in our community life, and of voluntary contributions of time and money to our fellow citizens in need. ...
And so he outlined all the many tasks of government that should be preserved. His plan relies on demanding more-prosperous Americans pay more in taxes, and he would further complicate an already objectionable tax code by "limiting itemized deductions for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans," another attempt to divide the country based on economic status. ...
Obama's approach is not a vision consistent with our nation's founding. Perhaps, as foreseen by Benjamin Franklin, "When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." Obama is correct that there are two competing visions for the future of the nation. One is born of our nation's founders and that honors individual achievement and prosperity. The other extorts from it.
San Francisco Chronicle on S&P's U.S. long-term debt rating cut:
The Standard & Poor's rating agency's decision to cut this nation's long-term debt rating to negative is hardly a surprise. Analysts have been warning for at least two years that the United States could be put on negative watch.
But the timing of the S&P's revision could have serious political ramifications. President Barack Obama and the House Republicans have just presented two very different plans for reducing budget deficits. The two sides were just beginning to dig in _ and to make threats regarding the U.S. debt limit, which Congress must raise soon _ when along came S&P announcement. ...
The news sent shocks through the financial markets, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling by more than 200 points. And that's just a warm-up for what could happen if Congress fails to raise the debt limit _ a move that would depress the dollar and force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. House Republicans have said that they won't raise the debt limit without getting big cuts in spending first, but the country doesn't have time to wait for Congress to score political points.
If the S&P's rating announcement shakes Washington out of its cocoon and convinces our elected officials to act, then that will be a large silver lining. S&P said that the rating decision was as much a comment on our frustrating politics as it is on our debt. "We see the path to agreement as challenging because the gap between the parties remains wide," said the S&P statement.
In other words: If American politicians can stop fighting and work out a solution to this mess, the country stands a chance. If they keep going the way that they have, then they'll take the country's credit rating down with them.
The Dallas Morning News on the Space Shuttle exhibits:
Forget that we're all Texans here and more than a little biased. If you asked unbiased people in Botswana to name the city they most associate with space exploration, chances are they'd say Houston.
When humans landed on the moon in 1969, the very first sentences out of commander Neil Armstrong's mouth were heard around the world: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." For all of the past 135 shuttle missions, the first and last sentences out of the mission chief's mouth included some reference to Houston.
It boggles the mind, then, to contemplate the Washington decision-making that awarded exhibits of retired shuttle orbiters to New York, Washington, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and a fourth to (drum roll) . Los Angeles.
The announcement came on the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight _ a flight that shuttle biographer Henry Dethloff describes as having been conceived in large part during discussions on Oct. 27, 1966, about creation of a reusable launch vehicle. And where did those discussions occur? Houston.
The commander of the first shuttle mission, STS-1, was John Young, who spent nearly all of his career training at the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston. From his current home near Houston, Young can drive to the space center's museum and look over capsules and all kinds of memorabilia from his early days in the Gemini program and its Mercury predecessor. ...
Young and millions of visitors to the Johnson Space Center can tour just about every aspect of the U.S. space program except one big one: the shuttle itself. ...
This decision isn't just a disappointment. It's an outrage.
The Toronto Star on British royal succession:
We thought it was going to be great fun watching the royal wedding, checking out Kate's gown and the ladies' ridiculous hats. But politicians are adding a serious tone to the party. The British government wants to change the centuries-old rules of succession _ if the royal couple have a firstborn girl, she could inherit the throne. It has also drawn up plans to change the Act of Settlement of 1701 that allows only Protestants to wear the Crown.
The government of Prime Minister David Cameron believes the succession laws are antiquated and should be modernized, but they need the agreement of Commonwealth countries who maintain the Queen as the head of state, including Canada. New Zealand has agreed to the changes. But our prime minister, Stephen Harper, refuses. What twaddle.
Asked about all this on the campaign trail, Harper made it clear he wants to keep things as they are: leaving the monarchy to the eldest son, even if he has six older sisters. "The successor to the throne is a man," he said. "The next successor to the throne is a man." He says he has no intention of reopening debate on the monarchy, or any other part of our constitution. ...
Prince William is marrying a "commoner" he met at university (who herself was not originally Anglican) and after their marriage they will live in a simple cottage in Wales. Most of his grandmother's children, including Will's dad Charles, have been through the divorce courts. But Harper is insistent that the succession rules remain as they were more than 300 years ago. Male primogeniture rules, at least as far as Canada's government is concerned. All we can say is: "We are not amused."
Arab News, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Syria's protests:
Syria continues to hurtle down the precipice. The more the Baathist regime in Damascus tries to rein in the widening anti-government protests using the heavy-handed tactics, the more intense they become. ... President Bashar Al Assad promised to lift the infamous Emergency law imposed 48 years ago after the Baathist revolution in 1963, a key demand of the protest movement.
However, the government move is clearly seen as too little too late. More important, many fear, and perhaps not entirely without basis, that by lifting the draconian Emergency law and bringing in another one in its place, the regime is taking away with one hand what it's offering with the other. Most of the sweeping, extraordinary powers that the security forces and the governing Baathist officials currently enjoy under the Emergency law are likely to be retained under the proposed new law. ...
Clearly, though, it is time to move on. The mounting pressure and widening protests in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere suggest that halfhearted and half measures or cosmetic gestures are not going to check the unprecedented unrest. People want real change and genuine comprehensive reforms. Change or be ready to be changed. That appears to be the stark choice before the countries facing the long pent up anger and frustration of their people. So instead of blaming outside interference, which is an increasing possibility with the United States acknowledging its support to opposition groups in Syria and elsewhere, regimes concerned would do well to address the genuine concerns and aspirations of their people before they are hijacked by external players. ...
Big powers must desist from playing with fire in this crucial Arab country. And the regime in Damascus should avoid offering them ready excuses or opportunities to do so.
The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on Tokyo after the great quake:
Tokyo. A vigorous and vibrant capital. A powerful magnet of money, goods and information. The principal engine of Japan's economic growth. That was until March 11.
The Great East Japan Earthquake has brutally revealed Tokyo's vulnerabilities.
On the night of March 11, the day when the huge earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan, the city was swarming with millions people trying to return home on foot due to disruptions in public transportation.
In the ensuing weeks, rolling blackouts caused great confusion among both businesses and people.
Now, anxiety about radiation from the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is spreading among Tokyo residents.
Foreign business executives and tourists have fled the metropolis in droves.
Should Tokyo reform itself radically? This is a question confronting all people who work and live in the city.
What Tokyo should do right now is to deal with the aftermath of the March 11 disaster. The capital has been heavily dependent on the devastated Tohoku and northern Kanto regions for farm and industrial products, and electricity.
Tokyo needs to provide as much support as possible to help rebuild ravaged cities and towns in these regions. ...
It is clearly time to start serious debate on ways to deal with the problem of the concentration of economic activities and government functions in the capital. ...
The Telegraph, London, on "mission creep" in Libya:
As we observed recently, the dangers of "mission creep" have always been inherent in the military conflict in Libya. The fundamental contradiction in the UN resolution that underpins the NATO action makes its stealthy expansion difficult to avoid. The resolution allows "all necessary measures" _ including military force _ to be used to protect civilians. Yet it does not will the means to remove the individual who poses the threat, Moammar Gadhafi. At the same time, the three Western leaders who have effectively taken control of the operation _ David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama _ insist that it should continue until Gadhafi's regime is toppled.
Faced with this impasse, Britain's National Security Council, a body established by the Coalition last year, has decided to send a small "military liaison team" comprising 10 experienced officers to Benghazi, to advise what passes for the armed opposition to Gadhafi. It has been evident for some time that without help, the rebels are incapable of winning this conflict _ yet it is also obvious that 10 advisers, while a welcome addition to the rebel cause, will not be enough to effect the overthrow of the Gadhafi clan.
Cameron emphatically ruled out occupation or invasion, but his words were carefully chosen to leave open the option of a military presence on the ground, something we are now about to see. We are assured that the "mentors" will not train or arm the opposition's fighting forces, nor be involved in planning or executing military operations. In other words, they are prevented from providing precisely the help the rebels require. For how long can this be sustained? Each development in this conflict leaves the uncomfortable impression of a strategy being sketched out on the back of an envelope.