Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Star-Ledger, New Jersey, on unwillingness to make a debt deal keeps U.S. economic rebound stalled:
The International Monetary Fund is that elite group of pinched-nosed accountants who have been running around Europe for the last several years forcing countries such as Greece and Spain to cut their spending.
These are not the guys you want to invite to your party. They are the ones who snap on the lights at midnight and start telling everyone to gather up the beer cans and wine bottles for recycling.
So it is worth noting that the IMF is telling the United States to spend more now, while the economy is sputtering, and to solve the debt problem by cutting spending over the longer haul, with entitlement reforms.
The global lender believes the sequestration spending cuts that Republicans forced on Washington are slowing economic growth, and making it impossible to put the army of unemployed Americans back to work. It notes that the deficit is shrinking fast, and suggests that unemployment is a killer problem that deserves more attention. Slow growth today, in America and Europe, is making the job of cutting debt more difficult, because slumping economies yield less tax revenue.
Imagine that. ...
The IMF predicts the United States economy will grow at an anemic rate of 1.9 percent next year without new policies, nowhere near enough to seriously cut unemployment. If the two parties were sensible enough to strike a grand bargain that increased spending today in return for modest austerity tomorrow, the rate of growth would jump to 2.7 percent, creating millions of jobs.
Obama is ready for a deal like that, which is why he stepped up on Social Security. But no reasonable deal has traction.
So for now, millions of American families suffer long-term unemployment, the economy slumbers, and the Treasury's long-term plan is to borrow more and more money from China. It's enough to make you want to hand control to the pinched-nose accountants.
The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., on America's growing math problem:
Rep. Ed Markey was trying to explain why the Keystone XL Pipeline shouldn't be completed.
He's wrong about that, but that's a different editorial.
Last week, the Massachusetts Democrat was debating Republican Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL and his opponent in the June 25 special election to choose a replacement for John Kerry, who left the Senate this year to become Secretary of State.
Rep. Markey, playing a numbers game on the Keystone issue: "It's really not math. It's just arithmetic. It's very simple arithmetic. It's not as complicated as math."
Ridicule ensued from assorted conservative outposts about what dailycaller.com called Rep. Markey's "somewhat confusing remark."
Yet according to merriam-webster.com, arithmetic really isn't always as complicated as math. That online dictionary's first definitions of those words:
"arithmetic: a branch of mathematics that deals usually with the nonnegative real numbers including sometimes the transfinite cardinals and with the application of the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to them."
"math: the science of numbers and their operations, interrelations, combinations, generalizations, and abstractions and of space configurations and their structure, measurement, transformations, and generalizations."
And now that Rep. Markey's grasp of that defining distinction has been confirmed, he should reflect on this alarming, persisting math problem:
The federal budget — and national debt — have soared since he was first elected to Congress.
That was back in 1976, when the budget was $372 billion and the national debt was $620 billion.
This year, the budget is $3.8 trillion, and as of today, the national debt is $16.75 trillion.
Do the math.
Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on rare good news in Iran:
To Westerners, so weary of the carefully cultivated arrogance and belligerence of Iran's outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the fact that a genuinely moderate cleric, Hassan Rouhani, will succeed him can only be taken as encouraging news.
What's somewhat surprising is that Iran's all-powerful religious establishment even permitted Rouhani to be on Friday's ballot in the first place. His opponents were all ultra-conservative.
And yet Rouhani won a surprisingly easy victory, sending a clear signal - actually, a sharp rebuke - to Ayatollah ali Khamenei that regardless of his unbridled political power, the Iranian people have their own priorities. A much better life is probably at the top of their list, along with better relations with the rest of the world.
But can the hoped-for changes actually happen? Iran's economy is in shambles, largely because of sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies, and there are no easy solutions, especially if Iran maintains its quest for nuclear weapons, which Rouhani has defended in the past.
Tehran would have to sharply change direction, and it's hard to imagine the ayatollah allowing that to happen, even in the face of last week's election results.
The White House was so pleased with Rouhani's victory that it immediately called on the ayatollah and his associates to "heed the will of the Iranian people."
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said he was organizing an urgent summit of Arab and other Islamic states to discuss the situation.
You can't assess the situation in Syria without also considering the implications of Iran's election results, and that makes Rouhani's triumph all the more intriguing.
Kansas City Star on Syrian rebels need more aid from the U.S.:
The tragedy that Syria has become, with more than 93,000 deaths since rebels began challenging dictator Bashar Assad, is about to get more direct U.S. involvement.
President Barack Obama has been understandably reluctant to entangle the U.S. more deeply in another Middle East hotspot. ...
The second-guessing has begun on whether the U.S. is acting too late. But some form of stepped-up intervention is called for.
Assad, who once contemplated a career as a London-educated optometrist, has instead followed in his late father's footsteps as a brutal leader.
Syrians first rose up against him as peaceful protesters in early 2011 and have been subjected to horrendous attacks daily in what grew into civil war. As rebel factions struggled, radical Islamist elements of the Syrian resistance, including an offshoot of al-Qaida in Iraq, have gained ground and power. The U.S. is correctly concerned any U.S. weapons must not end up in the hands of the Islamists, and finding the right rebels to arm is not simple.
The warfare is complicated by Syrian allies, particularly Iran — which helps arm Hezbollah and Syria — Russia and others. The U.S. role, aided by European allies and Israel, is still to be determined. Stepping up to stop the massacre of civilians by chemical warfare is a moral and just effort. But just how far that defense goes is a calculation that war-wary Americans must hear about in detail from the president soon. A sustained international effort to broker a peace and support a future Syrian government post-Assad that shares power among the divergent religious sects holds the best hope for resolution.
Chicago Tribune on immigration reform is more than border security:
Federal spending on border security is at a historic high. Illegal crossings are at a 40-year low. Deportations reached record numbers in President Barack Obama's first term. Let's get on with the business of fixing the rest of our dysfunctional immigration system.
We're talking to you, Sen. Mark Kirk.
The U.S. Senate began debating an immigration bill, the product of months of negotiations by the Gang of Eight, a group of four Republicans and four Democrats who are serious about getting this done.
The bill's authors haven't declared victory in the effort to seal the border. Their measure contains up to $6.5 billion for more agents, more fencing and more surveillance equipment, including drones.
Much of that wouldn't be necessary, frankly, if lawmakers worried more about letting workers into the country legally instead of keeping them out. That means overhauling the visa system so American businesses can hire the workers they need. It means dealing with the 11 million immigrants who came here without permission to fill jobs for which there were no available visas.
The Gang of Eight proposal would update the visa system to reflect the changing needs of American businesses. It would provide separate, flexible allocations for high-tech, white collar and low-skill workers, with an additional program for agricultural guest workers. The increase in visas would come at the expense of current programs that favor relatives of immigrants already here.
The bill would require employers to use an electronic screening system to verify the immigration status of new hires. ...
Opponents have offered amendments that would set those benchmarks higher — so high, the bill's supporters say, that the path to citizenship would be out of reach.
The full Senate already has rejected one amendment that would have withheld provisional status — leaving the 11 million living in the shadows — until the entire border is under surveillance. That could take 10 years or more.
Kirk was one of 15 senators who voted against bringing the bill to the floor for debate at all. He's still stuck on the "enforcement first" model, and he's apparently not impressed with the falling numbers.
He says he likes a plan outlined by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. That amendment would raise the bar that must be met before immigrants can apply for green cards. The bill's supporters say Cornyn's targets are unreasonable and prohibitively expensive. ...
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the conservative point man on the Gang of Eight, has said he won't vote for the bill he helped draft unless the enforcement provisions are stronger. He's trying to broker a compromise. Step one: Get Kirk and others to let go of the idea that until the border is fixed, everything else has to stay broken.
Arizona Republic on National parks need upkeep:
It's time for America's "Well, duh!" moment.
Family-friendly wonders of the world don't come cheap.
Our national parks are suffering from the meat-ax budget cuts of sequestration after years of deferred maintenance. That's no way to treat America's best idea.
Our great-grandparents' enthusiasm for preserving some of this nation's wow places produced an amazing legacy. We have a duty to preserve that legacy for our children's children.
A report released last month by the House Natural Resources Committee shows parks are being forced to cut hours and services, reduce access to campgrounds and facilities and further delay maintenance.
This isn't just about the aesthetics or the comfort of visitors. ...
At the Grand Canyon, seasonal staffing has been reduced, bathrooms are cleaned less frequently, the visitor center closes earlier and there are fewer ranger-led activities for visitors.
A report from the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility found an increase in assaults and threats against rangers and park police. This is no time to cut staffing.
The sequestration cuts come as parks face a $12 billion maintenance backlog, the House report said. The unfunded to-do list includes repairing or replacing deteriorated roads, bridges and trails, as well as upkeep on facilities and historical sites.
Public support for the parks remains high. Four of every five of those polled for the National Parks and Conservation Association said they worry about budget cuts degrading the parks and the visitor experience.
The zeal for budget-cutting needs to be balanced with the reality that many things Americans take for granted cost money. Well-run, well-maintained national parks are among those national values.
America's best idea deserves the proper funding.
Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on the responsibility now rests with Afghans:
The moment has arrived for the people of Afghanistan to step up. In a ceremony in Kabul this week, NATO officially handed over responsibility to Afghan leaders and security forces to take the lead in all security operations.
Six years ago, Afghanistan's army and police forces totaled around 40,000. Now the number has risen to more than 350,000.
That's an impressive increase, but as more than a decade of U.S. involvement has shown, it's an immense challenge to bring security and stability to the Central Asian country, which defied conquest by the British empire in the 19th century and invasion by the Soviet Union in the 20th.
The Associated Press reports that the transition "comes at a time the violence is at levels matching the worst in 12 years."
What are some of the needed ingredients for success?
Demonstrations by Afghan security forces that they can carry the fight strongly to the Taliban even as NATO forces continue to advise and, in emergency situations, provide airstrikes and medical evacuations. Progress against corruption in the government and military. Positive relations with neighboring Pakistan, where Taliban forces find sanctuary. And effective negotiations with the Taliban in peace talks that are about to begin in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.
Over the past decade, American and allied military personnel have fought courageously to bring Afghans to this moment. More than 2,200 Americans, and more than 1,100 allied troops, have given their lives. U.S. spending is in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
American development teams — including National Guard teams from Nebraska as well as members of Iowa's Army and Air National Guard — have worked hard to help the Afghan people pursue agricultural innovation and efficiency. ...
Foreign troops, totaling about 100,000 from 48 nations today, are scheduled to leave the country by the end of next year.
What a travesty it would be if the progress in moving Afghanistan forward on women's opportunities and the country's many other areas of need were to be short-circuited now by military failures, government mismanagement and political shortsightedness.
Afghanistan and its leaders must step up to the challenge.
The Khaleej Times, Duba,i on a lingering disaster:
It's been two years since the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, resulting in over 15,000 deaths. But perhaps the most dangerous consequences of the terrible natural disaster was the damage it caused to the Fukushima nuclear plant.
While the Japanese authorities were occupied with the overwhelming task of finding rescuers and rehabilitating them in the aftermath of the earthquake, the news that one of the nuclear site had suffered considerable damage — equipment failure, nuclear meltdowns and release of radioactive material — raised great concern worldwide. Even though the Japanese government was able to quickly curb the extent of the disaster — termed as the worst nuclear disaster since the accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986 — the threat of nuclear contamination has lingered due to ongoing problems with the functioning of the plant.
The latest issue is the discovery of a toxic radioactive isotope, tritium, discovered in groundwater at the nuclear plant. Tritium, which is used in glow-in-the-dark watches, was found at eight times the allowable level. The news follows a series of problems that have plagued the site this year. Just last month news of radioactive water leaking from a storage tank made headlines, while multiple power failures occurred in five weeks earlier this year. The regular supply of power to the plant is of critical importance because without the cooling, meltdown and subsequent leakage of radiation can potential occur. Exposure to radiation has serious health consequences for human being. While large doses of radiation in a short period of time can lead to radiation poisoning — the failure of organ tissue — continued exposure to even little amounts of radiation has been linked to cancer and other physical abnormalities.
The Fukushima plant disaster is proof of the dangers of producing and using nuclear energy in areas vulnerable to natural disasters. While it is true that nuclear energy is definitely a cost-effective and clean way of fulfilling energy needs in the modern world, the most stringent safety measures need to be employed at nuclear plants. But despite that, if the place is vulnerable to nature's wrath, a full-scale disaster can occur.
The Star, Toronto, on G8 agreement on Syria looks like victory for Russia:
Low expectations can turn even a meager achievement into something to celebrate. Witness the final communiqué issued at the conclusion of the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland.
The leaders agreed it marked significant progress in dealing with the savage civil war in Syria. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, perhaps the most wary among the assembled leaders, declared satisfaction with "a very different outcome . . . a much better outcome, than I thought we were going to have."
But will it be enough to make a real difference on the bloody battlefields of Syria? Probably not. Sadly, it's all that peacemakers have right now.
Before the meeting Harper had frankly and publicly despaired of G8 unity in light of the deep rift between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the other heads of government. ...
While scrupulously avoiding mention of Assad, G8 leaders agreed to support a "transitional governing body" for Syria. According to Cameron, there's no way Assad could sit on such a transitional body, given his crimes, so it amounts to another way of saying that he must go.
Harper agreed with that interpretation. ...
The danger is that Russia, and Assad's ruling party, will use the vagueness inherent in this agreement to delay the peace process. The composition of a transitional government, for example, allows for endless discussion on who should be represented. If, as Cameron said, it would be "unthinkable" for Assad to sit on that body, what about his hand-picked cronies? How clean do any participants' hands have to be in this most savage of wars?
Even the question of who used chemical weapons against which victims was put over to a United Nations investigating team which is to make a report, at some future date, and deliver it to the UN Security Council for assessment.
Meanwhile Assad's forces, bolstered by Russian arms shipments and reinforced by thousands of Hezbollah fighters, appear to be making solid gains on the battlefield. Time could very well be on their side. If this G8 agreement only produces more delay, and ultimate victory for Assad, it will go down not as a humanitarian breakthrough but rather a well-intentioned G7 failure — plus a success for one.