Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
San Francisco Chronicle on the economy:
If you were to chart jobless numbers over the past three years, it would be flat-lining right now at a low point. Some 12.7 million Americans are looking for work, and in June only 80,000 landed jobs, a rate that barely keeps up with population growth.
The picture, in other words, is bad and unlikely to change much. Between now and the November election, there will be four more such monthly reports to see if the 8.2 percent unemployment rate improves. Don't bet on it.
The factors are well known. The Eurozone economies are sickly and won't revive soon. Major economies such as China and Brazil are slowing too. The United States, by far the biggest and most diverse, can't escape untouched.
Add homegrown troubles to the list. The Federal Reserve, having dropped bank borrowing rates to near zero, is scrambling for more answers, which it may introduce in August. Another major obstacle is the "fiscal cliff" deadline of January when Bush tax cuts will expire and huge trims in federal programs are due — barring a deal to sidestep this monumental disruption. Who wants to lend or hire in this fog of uncertainty?
Neither President Barack Obama nor his GOP challenger Mitt Romney had much new to say in the wake of the June jobless numbers. That's because Obama is paralyzed by Washington's failure to deal with the fiscal showdown at year's end and Romney trotted out his familiar lineup of lower taxes and less regulation. ...
... Neither side wants to cut a deal before the results are in. But given present polling, neither side is poised for a sweeping win that will hugely change the picture.
Leadership and responsibility will have to wait. A balanced, negotiated answer must be found for the sake of country and especially the jobless.
The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., on new home HIV test:
The FDA made a huge leap toward fighting AIDS with the approval of the first over-the-counter rapid HIV test with near-instantaneous results.
Starting in October, people who might otherwise not get tested for fear of stigma or white coats will have the option to learn about their health in the privacy of their home, with results delivered in 20 to 40 minutes.
The self-administered OraQuick test detects the presence of HIV in saliva using a mouth swab. It should be available in 30,000 pharmacies, grocery stores and online retailers this fall, an availability that stands as another milestone and tool in treatment.
About 50,000 Americans are infected with HIV each year; about 20 percent of the 1.2 million Americans with HIV do not know they have the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. These numbers make the need for accessible testing all the more apparent. ...
... The FDA has been considering the mouth swab test since 2005. It is unfortunate it took this long when the technology has been available for years.
OraSure Technologies representatives have yet to announce a price for the test, but said it will be under $60, so as not to deter high-risk people who may want to take multiple tests a year. The cost will also cover a 24-hour toll-free call center for questions, counseling and medical referrals.
In the meantime and in the future, the same rules apply: Practice safe sex and do not share needles if you are going to use drugs. Get tested if you may have been exposed — knowledge truly is power when it comes to your health. Though the OraQuick test is a remarkable development for diagnosis, what we really need is to prevent the disease from taking hold in the first place.
Chicago Sun-Times on cellphone privacy:
If Congress suddenly passed a law requiring all citizens to carry tracking devices that monitored their movements and snooped into their private communications 24/7, the outcry would be huge.
But as a report in the New York Times shows, that has pretty much happened on its own, without Congress or most of the rest of us noticing.
Last year, cellphone carriers gave officials text messages, cellphone locations and other private information 1.3 million times. Because a single request can involve multiple phone users, the actual number of citizens who were tracked undoubtedly was far higher. And there's every reason to believe the number will keep growing exponentially unless government acts.
With no reliable safeguards in place, the possibilities for abuse are limitless. And because government can store the information indefinitely, no one who carries a cellphone regularly can feel his or her privacy is secure.
Big Brother should have had it this good.
If Congress can't snap out of its gridlock to do something about this, state governments should act. Law enforcement must be able to do its job, but privacy rights can't be trampled in the process.
The Reporter-Herald, Loveland, Colo., on municipal court fines:
More Americans are learning it's not hard to get into a fine mess.
A recent New York Times story detailed the problems people can face as court fees and fines add up.
One Alabama woman was fined $179 for speeding three years ago. She failed to show up at court — she said the ticket had the wrong date — so her driver's license was revoked. Pulled over again, she was fined for driving without a license, and her bill grew to $1,500.
But the problem got worse when a private probation company became involved after she was unable to pay that tab.
She was jailed, then charged an additional fee for each day she spent behind bars. In all she has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company.
Unfortunately, her problems are not unique, as more municipalities turn over their probation systems to for-profit companies. ...
The Conference of State Court Administrators recently cautioned that the fines, fees and surcharges associated with traffic violations should not be "simply an alternate form of taxation." The Brennan Center for Justice has warned that extra fines and fees "create new paths to prison for those unable to pay their debts and make it harder to find employment and housing as well as to meet child support obligations."
When the penalty for a simple speeding ticket can mushroom into thousands of dollars, the system needs to be changed.
Americans expect and deserve their courts, and their fines, to be fair.
Warren (Ohio) Tribune Chronicle on F-22 problems:
In April 2008, some pilots flying the Air Force's vaunted F-22 Raptor began reporting trouble breathing while in the air. More than four years later, the Pentagon still hasn't solved the problem, apparently a serious one involving equipment. ...
A few pilots actually have refused to fly the F-22, because of the oxygen system failure.
The F-22, at more than $400 million each when fully equipped, is among the most advanced weapons in the U.S. arsenal. It is a stealth craft, made to invade enemy airspace without being detected. Given the shift in tactics used by the armed forces, it is critical the Air Force be able to deploy F-22s whenever and wherever they are needed.
Yet earlier this year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered no F-22 be sent on a mission outside a "proximate distance" from a base — in case pilots suffer oxygen deprivation. ...
Some members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, want answers about the F-22. They should insist on assurances pilots are not being jeopardized — and national defense is not being hampered. Then, they should demand to know why it took so long for the Air Force to address what clearly is a serious problem.
St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press on the federal farm bill:
Everybody eats, so all of us will be affected by the $500 billion farm legislation making its way through Congress.
The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, commonly known as the Farm Bill, will reverberate through our region for the next five years provided lawmakers meet a Sept. 30 deadline for final approval. The version approved recently by the Senate makes some key reforms but falls short in other areas. The House takes up the legislation next.
On the plus side, the Senate bill would eliminate direct payments to farmers, cutting about $9.3 billion in spending over five years. Instead, the government would subsidize insurance programs to cover losses from weather or market swings.
Farmers long have advocated for policies that will allow them to make a living from the marketplace, not from government programs. This is a step in that direction.
In the current economy, where commodity prices are strong and farm income is up, the policy shift will be simple enough to put in place. But farm prices change like the weather in the Midwest. Five years from now, we won't be a bit surprised to hear policymakers call for reforms and improvements to this policy to protect family farms. ...
The vast majority of the sweeping agriculture legislation — 80 percent — is dedicated to nutrition programs. About 46 million people now receive food assistance, or 1 in every 7 Americans. This is up from about 28 million in 2008.
The recession clearly has caused more people to need help. However, the food program is rapidly approaching the point of being unsustainable. Examples of waste and fraud are numerous. ...
... Congress owes us a policy we can stomach.
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., on Iran:
In the old days, a nation-state would send off an emissary resplendent with flags and beating drums to deliver a stern message to one of its peers.
Today, in the case of Iran, a similar message is being sent in an utterly different way, by "a senior administration official" speaking "on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the diplomatic and military situation."
On the front page of The New York Times, this warning was delivered to the erratic mullahs of Iran: "When the president says there are other options on the table beyond negotiations, he means it."
While the methods of delivery of such a warning are different, the realities on the ground in the Persian Gulf include new minesweepers to keep open the Straits of Hormuz to sea trade. Additional aircraft capable of striking, should Iran seek a confrontation, are part of the warning.
We hope that the warnings are heeded, and the deployments achieve their purposes without shots being fired. A military confrontation is in no one's interest, least of all Iran and its neighbors.
International sanctions continue to be pursued against the Iranian nuclear program, but clearly the U.S. government is taking measures that deliver a strong message, whatever the delicacy of the diplomatic and military situation.
The Post and Courier of Charleston on Pakistan:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wisely called Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar recently to express regret over a U.S. air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. She also issued a statement saying, "We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military."
As a welcome result, the Pakistan government agreed to finally re-open crucial supply routes and border crossings that NATO forces need for their continuing mission in Afghanistan.
Another result: Some Americans are again decrying what they at times fairly regard as President Barack Obama's misguided impulse to apologize for America when no apology is warranted.
But in this case, the administration said it was sorry only after a diplomatic standoff, which lasted more than seven months, over that U.S. air strike.
And for what it's worth, Clinton's statement did not include the words "apologize" or "apology." ...
The gratifying success of that operation, prudently launched without warning to Pakistani officials, can't erase President Obama's foreign policy missteps, including his continuing failure to slow Iran's march toward a nuclear arsenal.
And certainly the United States shouldn't make a habit of saying we're sorry when we've done nothing wrong.
But as the current commander in chief has learned over the last three and a half years, it's much easier to criticize a president's foreign and military policy decisions than to make them.
And while saying "we are sorry" to Pakistan leaves a sour taste, knowing that it will help U.S. and NATO troops makes that bitter medicine easier to swallow.
Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Palestine
The tragedy of the Palestinians has hung like a black cloud over the Arab world for almost 65 years. It is inconceivable that a people should be corralled like animals in their own country by a dominant, nuclear-armed neighbor, backed, through thick and thin, by a superpower. Yet that is what Israelis have done to the Palestinians. Moreover, there has been systematic theft of Arab land in the Occupied Territories, as a way of imprisoning the luckless Palestinians still further.
A report just issued by Oxfam details the enormity of what the Israelis are doing. Oxfam's findings show that illegal Israel settlement activity is emasculating the Palestinian economy. It states that restrictions on the use of land, water and movements are effectively depriving the Palestinians of some $ 1.5 billion a year.
Some half million Jews now live in over 100 different settlements built in contravention of international law on the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The continued expansion of settlement activity, says Oxfam, coupled with the tough restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, is destroying the viability of a future Palestinian state. ...
Oxfam concludes its report by pointing out that the European Union is both Israel's largest trading partner and also the biggest donor to the Palestinians. It therefore calls on Brussels to insist that Israel stop illegal settlements and ceases its destruction of what is left of the Palestinian economy. ...
The Israeli reaction to Oxfam's conclusions has been as predictable as it is sickening. Israel has accused the charity of putting "political above humanitarian" considerations. It also has the gall to warn that any attempt by aid agencies to act directly with the Palestinians will be "irresponsible and inflammatory" and would undermine a negotiated settlement to the conflict.
Financial Times, London, on Egypt:
The manner in which Mohammed Morsi became the first elected president of Egypt in June made confrontation inevitable between his Muslim Brotherhood and an army that has held power for the past 60 years. The generals had maneuvered to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament, appropriate its legislative powers, and award themselves the right to dictate the new constitution.
Yet, the struggle for power has — so far — taken the form of a jostle for position. Morsi defied the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Mubarak-era supreme constitutional court by convening the dissolved parliament. It was then adjourned by the Brotherhood-aligned speaker after a matter of minutes. The president had put down a marker.
Parliament served notice of a legal challenge against its closure, but made clear it respected the rule of law and separation of powers (it was the constitutional court that dissolved the assembly). ...
A threatened collision was instead turned into rituals of institutional respect. The Brothers are not by nature precipitate. Their tactics are those of the long march.
The real clash will come over the new constitution. Morsi has conceded that elections for a new parliament should take place after the constitution is agreed. But he seems to assume it will be drawn up by a group chosen by the ousted parliament, which packed it with Islamists at the expense of women, minority Coptic Christians and liberals — not to mention constitutional experts.
The generals have made it clear they will not allow the Islamists to superimpose sharia law on Egypt. Some of them even cite Ataturk — who imposed a secular order on post-Ottoman Turkey — to justify and explain their intentions. ...
... Islam should, of course, be recognized as one fount of law, but never overriding universal rights. This debate is central not just to Egypt's future. Getting it right will shape the future of the region.
Ottawa (Ontario) Citizen on Target stores coming to Canada:
The arrival of Target stores in Canada has generally been hailed as a good thing. The American-owned Zellers chain was bought out by the more dynamic American retailer and its stores will be converted to the Target brand. The move creates some new jobs, considerable capital investment and offers consumers a better choice.
It doesn't seem like something that should have to be approved by the federal government, and yet, it is. The Investment Canada Act enables the government to determine if such deals would be of net benefit to Canada.
The government has said yes, no surprise, and graciously granted Target approval to sell Canadian "cultural products" in its stores.
Some have interpreted this to mean Target must carry Canadian content, but that's not the case. Instead, the government is granting an exemption to 20-year-old rules that dictate all elements of the culture business must be Canadian controlled.
To do otherwise would have been silly. Foreign-owned retailers like Costco and Walmart already sell Canadian books, CDs and DVDs.
The government says allowing Target to sell Canadian products will benefit our cultural industries. That's old-fashioned reasoning. Book, music and video stores are struggling to survive as people switch to digital entertainment. Target can't stem that tide.
The government was right to allow Target to sell what it wants, but the rules that give government a say are outmoded. Canadian content rules might have had their day, but it is long past. Culture is global now — and increasingly, digital. Canadians don't need government to tell them what they can buy or who can sell it to them.
The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on China-Japan Senkaku Islands dispute:
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has confirmed the central government plans to buy three of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that belong to Okinawa Prefecture.
We hope the move will lead to stable control of the uninhabited islands by the government and mark a first step toward eased diplomatic tensions with China and Taiwan, which claim sovereignty over them. ...
The planned nationalization of the islands will undoubtedly provoke an angry response from China and Taiwan. But the long-term purpose of the move is to rein in unnecessary provocative acts by putting the islands under state control to avert dangerous unforeseen incidents.
We urge China to make a cool-headed response to the government's plan.
It is indisputable that the Senkaku Islands, which are under Japan's effective control, are Japanese possessions. The central government has leased the three islands from the owner and bans private citizens from landing on them.
When Japan and China negotiated an agreement to establish formal diplomatic relations in 1972, the governments of the two countries became aware of the possibility of a territorial dispute over the islands.
But China showed a willingness to shelve the issue, and no diplomatic row broke out over the islands for some time.
However, the issue has become a diplomatic sore point between the two countries in recent years because of China's naval expansion in the region and increased activities by Chinese boats in waters around the islands. ...
Our hope is that the government will take this opportunity to acknowledge that there is a territorial dispute over the islands so that both sides can hold candid talks over the issue with an open mind.