Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
San Francisco Chronicle on Boy Scout gay policy:
At long last, the Boy Scouts are living up to their professed ideals of fairness and respect by reconsidering a ban on gays. It's an overdue sign that the organization can square its beliefs with changing American views.
Last July, the Scouts stood by a longtime ban, covering both leaders and youths. It was a hurtful move that kicked out a lesbian mom as den leader in Ohio and barred an East Bay teen, Ryan Andresen of Moraga, from achieving Scouting's top rank of Eagle after he came out as gay.
The organization, which marked its 100th anniversary in 2010, might have thought that time could stand still and public awareness could be tamed. But corporate donors withdrew funds, and board members rethought their stand. Recently, President Barack Obama mentioned gays for the first time in an inaugural address.
The result is that the Scouts might be reconsidering their ill-chosen stand at an upcoming national board meeting. Instead of a top-down pronouncement on the topic, the decision will be left to local groups who sponsor scouting units. In reality that means that conservative church groups may still insist on shunning gays while community groups and other organizations can drop the shameful exclusion.
It's a partial step, but it's an unmistakable one in a country that no longer bars gays from the military and increasingly accepts gay rights.
Boy Scout Law asks youths to be friendly, courteous and kind, among other qualities. It's time to add tolerant and respectful to the list.
Savannah (Ga.) Morning News on the "No Budget, No Pay" bill:
The concept is so simple that even a U.S. congressman can understand it: No work, no pay.
On Jan. 23, a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House approved legislation that would withhold the pay of members of Congress if they fail to pass a budget resolution, which is included in their job descriptions. ...
The measure directs both the House and Senate to pass budget resolutions by April 15. If either chamber fails to pass a budget in that time, members of that body would have their paychecks withheld until one is passed. It also extends the debt ceiling through May 18.
That gives Congress and President Barack Obama a few more months to agree to spending cuts — something the Democrats wouldn't do as part of the deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff.
Yes, the vote means kicking the can down the road a bit longer. But this time, it's for a good reason.
The Democratic-controlled Senate hasn't passed a budget in four years. That's inexcusable. It's also a violation of the 1874 Budget Control Act. ...
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the upper chamber will pass "No Budget, No Pay" fairly quickly. Then both houses can immediately get down to work and approve a budget that reduces debt and is fiscally responsible for the long haul, not one that's a short-term fix. ...
Putting members of Congress on the spot — Republicans as well as Democrats — is overdue. If duty alone won't make them do their jobs, maybe the threat of going without paychecks will.
Daily News, Bowling Green, Ky., on assisting the French in Mali:
It is appropriate for France to take the lead role in its former African colony of Mali against Islamic extremists there.
It is equally appropriate that the U.S. support that effort logistically. The freedom of all democratic nations is threatened by radical Islamists who have al-Qaida links.
No country has been targeted more than the U.S. by these groups. Subsequently, the French fight is, by necessity, our fight as well.
The weakened government in Mali has been struggling since a military coup unleashed chaos last March in the capital. ...
In September, a convoy of extremists entered Douentza. In the following months, extremists forced women to wear veils and enlisted children as young as 12 years old as soldiers in training.
The U.S. has taken an active role in helping the French, who began its mission in Mali on Jan. 11 after extremists pushed south and threatened the capital.
The U.S. Air Force has flown five C-17 flights into Mali, delivering more than 80 French troops and 124 tons of equipment thus far in an ongoing airlift operation. The U.S. is also considering a French request for aerial refueling support.
U.S. support of France in Mali is much needed and will hopefully help the French military run these extremists out of the region.
While France has not always been the most supportive ally to the U.S. in the past, it says a lot that America is taking the high road on this most serious issue and doing all it can to provide aid and assistance to the French. ...
San Angelo (Texas) Standard-Times on the Keystone XL pipeline:
After giving an unabashedly liberal inaugural address, approving a pipeline that environmental groups say will contribute greatly to global warming and possibly taint a major Midwestern aquifer would probably not be among President Barack Obama's priorities for his second term.
But the president should do so and soon, before the Republicans and the energy industry on one side and the environmentalists on the other can make it a major political issue. And it would remove a major irritant in U.S.-Canadian relations since the Canadians very much want to see it built.
One by one the Obama administration's objections to the $7 billion project, which would carry 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada's tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, have been met.
Nebraska, the state that potentially could be most adversely affected by a spill from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, has signed off on the project, as have the other five states the line will cross. ...
House Speaker John Boehner said Nebraska's approval of the route "means there is no bureaucratic excuse, hurdle or catch President Obama can use to delay this project any further."
Actually, there is one: the State Department is reviewing the project, which was first proposed in 2008. The study is expected to approve the project in March, which would leave the administration truly out of excuses.
Obama professes to be serious about climate change, but the various forms of "clean" energy have yet to be proved economically and technologically feasible on anything like the scale needed to fill America's energy needs.
Thanks to major finds of natural gas and oil, the United States is virtually energy independent and is actually exporting modest amounts of oil. Given the instability of many of the global energy-producing areas, that independence should not be surrendered lightly.
The Patriot News, Mechanicsburg, Penn., on women in combat:
"America's brave men and women in uniform."
It's the construction that politicians, elected officials and candidates most often use when they're called upon to publicly honor the nation's armed forces.
But U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta gave those words some added punch with his announcement that women would be allowed to serve alongside their male counterparts in many front-line combat roles.
Panetta's Jan. 24 order overturned a 1994 rule banning women from serving in ground combat units.
According to published reports, Panetta's decision gives the services until 2016 to seek special exceptions for positions they believe should remain closed to female service members. ...
But Panetta's order is also an explicit acknowledgement of life as it already is for the fighting men and women of the services and the risks that America's daughters, siblings, significant others and wives are exposed to daily.
Women now comprise 15 percent of service members and their blood has proven as red as their male colleagues. In the last decade, 61 female service members were killed in action in Iraq and 23 fell to enemy fire in Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reported recently. ...
Panetta's order lifts a barrier to promotion to female soldiers who have been "attached to" or "co-located" with combat units, rather than officially assigned to them, the Times also reported. ...
But as Panetta made clear, the services' physical fitness requirements will not be diluted to accommodate the roughly 230,000 anticipated combat jobs — primarily in the Army and Marines — to women, published reports indicated.
To be sure, the move would not have been possible without the broader sea change in American culture as a whole that has seen women not only close the gap with men, but exceed them in such areas as education personal freedom. Admittedly much work — notably on wage equality — still remains. ...
The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch on the economic recovery:
No one disputes that the nation's ongoing recovery from the recession that began in late 2007 is the most sluggish since the Great Depression. The question of what's causing the sluggishness and what should be done about it, though, highlights a deep ideological divide among Americans and their leaders.
Richard Vedder, professor emeritus of economics at Ohio University, makes a compelling argument that the anemic growth of the U.S. economy in recent years is a result of, instead of a justification for, expanded government aid in the form of food stamps, extended unemployment benefits and Social Security disability payments.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal recently, Vedder said that this type of government support has made it more attractive not to work, which has led to a drop in the percentage of Americans in the workforce and an attendant decline in economic output....
A number of other economists, including ones who have gone on to work for President Barack Obama, have noted a link between unemployment benefits and a disincentive to work....
Meanwhile, Congress just renewed the "emergency" unemployment benefits extension for another year as part of the New Year's "fiscal cliff" deal, and federal-government policies in recent years seem aimed specifically at expanding, not paring, programs such as food stamps.
Government has no magic powers to instantly heal the economy. But policies that create disincentives to work and therefore inhibit growth can have the opposite effect.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Little Rock, on political name-calling:
Somewhere in President Barack Obama's short inaugural address (it only seemed long), our newly re-elected chief executive paused to deliver a pious little sermon on the evils of name-calling — and for good measure, the evils of delay, spectacle and absolutism, too.
The Rev. Obama crammed all those sins into a couple of sentences that might have passed for a mini-homily from some less-gifted televangelist:
"For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."
Well said, at least for an absolutist who would like his own program approved without delay. And for the country's No. 1 political celebrity — someone who's no slouch himself at staging spectacles like a presidential inauguration. ...
As for name-calling, this president's rhetoric has not been devoid of that political staple. As when, shortly before his re-inauguration, he held a press conference at which he accused the opposition of just about every conceivable sin but putting innocent children at risk. (He saved that one for his press conference a couple of days later about his gun-control proposals.) He said, among other hostile things, that the GOP was "crashing the American economy," holding it for "ransom" in order to get its way in budget negotiations, and is "consumed with partisan brinkmanship." ...
For someone who's opposed to name calling, he's pretty good at it. He somehow manages to preach against name calling while practicing it. No doubt he's absolutely opposed to absolutism, too. ...
Let this be said about our president: He always sounds sincere. If he ever tires of his day job, he might try acting. Which reminds us that the Greek word for actor is the root of an English one: hypocrite.
The New York Daily News on U.S. Senate proposals to reform immigration policy.
Congratulations to the four Republican and four Democratic U.S. senators who unveiled a framework for comprehensive immigration reform.
All the more power to Sens. Chuck Schumer, Marco Rubio, Robert Menendez, John McCain and their colleagues for kicking off a push that's essential to the nation's future.
Presented on the eve of President Barack Obama's much anticipated immigration address — and amid hopeful signs that the Republican-controlled House may be moving in the same direction — the senators' agenda called for:
— Enabling illegal immigrants to come out of legal limbo and live their lives without fear.
— Creating a path to citizenship for those immigrants — demanding they learn English and American history, pay taxes and go to the back of the green card line.
— Building a modern, effective employment verification system.
— Awarding green cards to immigrants who earn a Ph.D. or master's degree in science, technology, engineering or math.
— Tailoring inflows of immigrants to economic conditions and industry-based need, to ensure that immigrants don't displace American workers.
In a concession to Republicans, the plan would bar those 11 million unauthorized immigrants from seeking permanent legal status until federal border security efforts won the approval of an appointed commission of Southwestern governors, attorneys general and community leaders. ...
And looming over it all are the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who boasted that "It's up to me and Fox News" to kill reform. It's up to millions of levelheaded Americans to save it.
May the senators' courage — and the inclusion of Florida's Rubio, one of the Republican Party's rising stars, whose support offers the GOP the promise of winning over millions of Latino voters — put the wind behind this critical, long overdue legislative effort.
The Jerusalem Post on stopping Syrian chemical weapon use:
The government's decision to deploy Iron Dome in Haifa for the first time may or may not be tied to concerns over a chemical weapon attack emanating from Syria. But the dispatching of National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror to Moscow definitely was. ...
According to The New York Times, already in November, our military commanders discussed with the Pentagon troubling intelligence showing up on satellite imagery. Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites — most likely the colorless, odorless deadly nerve agent sarin — and filling dozens of 500- pounds bombs that could be dropped from airplanes.
Now, as the situation continues to deteriorate in Syria, and rebels gain ground outside President Bashar Assad's strongholds near Damascus and Aleppo — including, reportedly, near two chemical weapons installations — fears have grown that either Assad will use these out of desperation, or that jihadists or extremist organizations such as Hezbollah will get their hands on them. Conceivably, chemical weapons could be loaded in missile heads and launched at Israel.
Critics of the Obama administration have claimed that the White House is not doing enough to stop the fighting in Syria that has claimed the lives of over 60,000 and caused hundreds of thousands of Syrians to flee to Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere.
Some have pointed to President Barack Obama's appointment of John Kerry as secretary of state, Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense and John Brennan as CIA director as proof that the U.S. administration is unlikely to intervene aggressively in Syria. ...
Thankfully, there is a broad consensus — which includes Russia, one of Assad's few backers - that resorting to chemical weapons is a red line that must not be crossed, and that the Syrian regime must be stopped before it does. Less clear are the means that need to be taken to achieve that end in the most expedient way possible.
China Daily, Beijing, on China's economic growth and global economies:
Officials and economists alike seem to be sure that China's year-on-year growth will exceed 8 percent this year. While the existing data underpin such optimism, China faces both domestic and international challenges in maintaining stable growth. ...
Indeed, if the world economy fares better this year, as the International Monetary Fund has forecast, it will provide solid support for China's growth, which remains heavily dependent on the external environment.
But the IMF's prediction that "the worst may have passed" does not mean the global economy will recover instantly. The expected recovery, if any, is set to be gradual and mild, and it will not provide a strong shot in the arm for the Chinese economy.
Apart from increased financial market volatility from the European debt crisis and uncertainties regarding the U.S. fiscal position, Japan has vowed to start monetary loosening. As many have rightly pointed out, it has the potential to bring about a "global currency war" by triggering a chain effect.
For China, the volatility resulting from international financial turbulence is very harmful, as it can cause fluctuations in the domestic financial and real estate markets, and can push up inflation, all of which will force policymakers to tighten their monetary stance, which will in turn cause an economic slowdown.
The heads of the central bank and the National Development and Reform Commission have expressed their concern about rising inflation this year. ...
China's policymakers need to be aware of the possible pitfalls ahead. While the international community should refrain from launching new monetary loosening policies, China needs to issue more consumption-friendly policies to increase its endogenous vitality. Boosting domestic consumption will help it avoid short-term measures, such as increasing the money supply, which could cause more harm than good in expanding the economy.
London Evening Standard on the UK/eurozone economy:
The flight of traders from sterling is happening not only because some of them feel there isn't much to be said for the United Kingdom economy, after recent bad growth figures.
The movement from the pound is also for the more positive reason that the eurozone feels safer than last year. In 2012, sterling was a refuge from the euro; this year there is more confidence in the single currency.
Investors too are moving toward equities. The buoyant state of the London stock market is hard to reconcile with a downbeat view of the economy. Nonetheless, the movement from sterling as a safe haven may be aggravated by the prospect that the Chancellor could exceed official borrowing forecasts this year. If the UK were to lose its triple-A credit rating, that would further undermine confidence.
The dip in growth in the last quarter of last year may have been affected by one-off factors, especially in the oil sector, but there is still cause for concern about the health of the economy. The Office for National Statistics report on high levels of household debt is especially worrying. Families overstretched by debt repayments are in no position to spend.
There are other concerns. Inflation has remained high in part as a result of quantitative easing... And rising costs depress demand — eating into salaries that are rising by far less than prices and leaving less for spending. Many of these problems affect other economies too. But we are still dependent on the health of the eurozone and while its future is safe there has not yet been the restructuring of its weak economies that would provide real stability. ...
If the last quarter of stagnant growth is followed by another, we really will have a feel-bad factor to handle.
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, on managing the Arctic:
The Arctic is getting hotter — so hot that China is claiming to be a "near-Arctic" country and wants to join the Arctic Council as a permanent observer. Singapore, India and South Korea — as well as Greenpeace and the Association of Oil and Gas Producers — have also applied for observer status.
Clearly, the melting of the sea ice and the opening up of new shipping routes linking the Pacific to the Atlantic, as well as the North's tremendous resource potential, are attracting a frenzy of attention. Canada, which this year becomes chair of the Arctic Council, has a unique opportunity to strengthen the leadership of the world's premier forum for intergovernmental co-operation in the North, just as global interest in the region intensifies.
Under Canada's two-year leadership, the council, which negotiates binding treaties, should seriously consider the observer applications of China, Korea and the European Union. Better to have China in the Arctic club that already exists; then it has to play by the rules and respect the sovereignty of the eight Arctic states that ring the North Pole. China, the world's top greenhouse gas emitter, has long had Arctic ambitions. ...
The Arctic is home to one-fifth of the world's fisheries — as well as 13 per cent of global undiscovered petroleum and 30 per cent of undiscovered natural gas. The extraction of these resources will only exacerbate climate change, and lead to possible territorial disputes, oil spills, and an increased military presence. ...
The sustainability and safety of the North and its people must not be compromised by commercial activities. Any new voices on the council should not drown out those of Inuit, Sami and other aboriginal groups who already have permanent observer status, but no voting rights. It will be a difficult balancing act... but also a chance for Canada to enhance its global standing as a circumpolar leader.