Editorial Roundup: Excerpts From Recent Editorials

The Associated Press Published:

Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:


March 17

The New York Times on unfairness in the foreclosure settlement favoring banks over homeowners and taxpayers.

On March 12, the foreclosure settlement between the big banks and federal and state officials was filed in federal court, and it is now awaiting a judge's all-but-certain approval. The next day, the Federal Reserve announced the much-anticipated results of the latest round of bank stress tests.

How did the banks do on both? Pretty well, thank you -- and better than homeowners and American taxpayers.

That is not only unfair, given banks' huge culpability in the mortgage bubble and financial meltdown. It also means that homeowners and the economy still need more relief, and that the banks, without more meaningful punishment, will not be deterred from the next round of misbehavior.

Under the terms of the settlement, the banks will provide $26 billion worth of relief to borrowers and aid to states for anti-foreclosure efforts. In exchange, they will get immunity from government civil lawsuits for a litany of alleged abuses, including wrongful denial of loan modifications and wrongful foreclosures. That $26 billion is paltry compared with the scale of wrongdoing and ensuing damage, including 4 million homeowners who have lost their homes, 3.3 million others who are in or near foreclosure, and more than 11 million borrowers who are underwater by $700 billion.

The settlement could also end up doing more to clean up the banks' books than to help homeowners. Banks will be required to provide at least $17 billion worth of principal-reduction loan modifications and other relief, like forbearance for unemployed homeowners. Compelling the banks to do principal write-downs is an undeniable accomplishment of the settlement. But the amount of relief is still tiny compared with the problem. ...




March 18

The Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal on federal transportation legislation:

Seventy-four senators, Republicans and Democrats, joined together in a real accomplishment. They approved a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill... Authorization for federal highway spending ends on March 31. Without action, construction, repair and maintenance will halt across the country. ...

What will the House do? It should take the cue of the Senate, and quickly approve the legislation that won bipartisan support.

The Senate bill has many appealing aspects. It protects the money for public transit. It consolidates 196 transportation programs to a dozen or so. ... It requires spending at least 60 percent of the money on highway repair, a more efficient and effective investment.

Since 2009, and the expiration of the previous transportation bill (signed in 2005), Congress has approved eight temporary measures. Passage of the Senate bill would avoid an embarrassing ninth. ... The need is real. Borrowing is relatively cheap. So are materials. Heavy unemployment afflicts the construction industry. The overall economy could use the bolstering.

All of this isn't to overlook the flaws in the Senate legislation. Most striking is the failure to deal with a Highway Trust Fund on a path to going broke by 2014. The reasons for the funding troubles are plain, Americans driving less and often at the wheel of more fuel-efficient cars, diminishing the level of gas tax revenues flowing to the fund. ...

Rather than raise the gas tax, at 18.4 cents since the early 1990s, the Senate applied an assortment of gimmicks and diversions to patch funding shortfalls. ...

So a big job looms for Congress. What can be achieved now? Surely, enough House Republicans and Democrats can recognize what is possible, and give their approval soon to a Senate bill that is much better than another temporary measure.




March 21

Los Angeles Times on the House Republican proposed budget:

For the second time in as many years, the House Republican leadership has put forward a deficit-cutting budget plan that's more of a political statement than a governing blueprint. The proposed budget for fiscal 2013 promotes a long list of conservative policies that are only tangentially related to the federal fisc -- for example, repealing new federal restrictions on Wall Street and ending the moratorium on offshore oil drilling. Even the proposals that are purely fiscal in nature rely on changes in law that Senate Democrats won't support, such as repealing the 2010 healthcare reform law.

But then, the annual budgets proposed by the White House are largely political documents too. Besides, the author of the Republican resolution, Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), has said it isn't intended to become law. The whole point of the exercise, Ryan said, was to give voters a clear choice of paths forward in November. At some point, however, lawmakers will have to set the politicking aside and come up with a long-term fiscal plan that both parties can support. Ryan's proposal is not that plan.

Democrats are already focusing their protests on the big changes Ryan proposes for Medicare, starting in about a decade. ...

More problematic are Ryan's proposals to require states to pick up a growing share of the cost of Medicaid ... which eventually would force painful trade-offs between honoring the increasing obligations to retirees (in the form of Social Security and Medicare benefits) and maintaining other federal programs. It's also worth wondering why the House would spend time on a budget for 2013 when Congress enacted a 10-year spending plan last year that, unlike a budget resolution, has the force of law.

... As ambitious as his plan is, it seems fated to wind up in the same dustbin.




March 19

San Angelo (Texas) Standard-Times on repealing a relic of the Cold War:

The Soviet Union did not much believe in letting its citizens emigrate. After all, what sane person would want to leave the "workers' paradise"? And it especially did not believe in letting its Jewish citizens emigrate for reasons ranging from ingrained anti-Semitism to fear of a brain drain to the West.

Nonetheless, Soviet Jews began clamoring to leave, especially for Israel, which with its law of return allowed Jews immediate entry and accelerated citizenship.

But the Kremlin did its best to discourage them from even trying, with petty harassment, voluminous red tape and regulations that limited the amount of money and other possessions they could take with them. In addition, successful emigrants were socked with a huge fine, ostensibly to repay the state for their education.

Obviously, this did not sit well with the United States. Two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington state and Rep. Charles Vanik of Ohio, won unanimous passage of an amendment to the Trade Act of 1974 that denied trade benefits to countries with nonmarket economies that restricted emigration and other human rights.

It took a while for the amendment, and other pressures on the Soviet Union, to work, but even before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 Russians were emigrating with few restrictions.

The now-pointless amendment, however, remained as a continuing source of irritation and ill will with the Russian Federation, especially because unreconstructed "Cold Warriors" wanted to keep it on the books in case they needed to punish Russia for some other transgression. ...

The Senate Finance Committee is considering legislation to eliminate the amendment as an impediment to trade...

American farmers and manufacturers stand to lose valuable markets to our competitors because of this Cold War anachronism. It's past time to let it go.




March 19

Loveland (Colo.) Daily Reporter-Herald on why federal programs need reform to account for more baby boomers retiring:

As the U.S. unemployment rate has dropped over the past year, a persistent refrain from many quarters has been that part of the drop can be chalked up to people removing themselves from the labor force. And conventional wisdom says that, as the economy continues to improve, many of those people will return to the job hunt, causing the unemployment rate to tick up again.

Well, maybe not, says Barclays Capital economist Dean Maki.

Maki, in a recent report titled "Dispelling the Urban Legend," contends that the labor force is shrinking mostly because more baby boomers are retiring. His report predicts that demographic will keep the labor force rate down, along with unemployment figures, even as discouraged workers jump back into the labor market.

Even if Maki's conclusions are solid and come true, they won't be known for some time. But here's something that is known: The growing number of retired baby boomers, coupled with a potentially smaller labor force, will put an even greater strain on Social Security and Medicare, two federal programs that are already in trouble. ...

Implicit is the need for long-term solutions, something Congress and the Obama administration have been unable to agree on. ...

... As we've said numerous times, everything needs to be on the table in Washington when it comes to getting the government, and the economy, back on track, and reform of the tax code would be the best place to start. And lawmakers cannot continue to put off reforms of Social Security and Medicare. The growing number of baby boomer retirees highlighted in Maki's report, and a demographic problem we've known about for years, should make speedy reform of those two programs a priority.




March 18

The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle on campaign finance:

Super PACs have become this year's super-villains.

Thanks to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing them, "super" political action committees that are independent but support certain candidates can raise unlimited amounts of money -- and individuals are allowed to give unlimited amounts to them.

Technically, the Super PACs aren't allowed to coordinate their activities with the candidates they support. But it's naive to think they would ignore a candidate's wishes. ...

The public, though, is deadly serious about wanting Super PACs banned, by a margin of nearly 70 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post poll -- an astounding consensus crossing party lines. ...

We do wonder how one goes about banning Super PACs under the First Amendment. While the current incarnation of PACs is obnoxious and unsettling, one of this nation's most cherished liberties and greatest assets is the freedom to form associations -- including those that promote political causes and candidates. How to rein in Super PACs without stepping on that vital freedom is a tricky task.

While we sort that out, however, there's another election practice that is a ton more dangerous to the body politic: The profligate support of candidates by public-sector labor unions. ...

But the danger isn't a partisan one; it's a practical one. If public-sector unions -- often using cash supplied by taxpayers, in the form of mandatory dues paid by workers -- are successful in essentially hiring their own bosses, who are in turn beholden to them, the upward pressure on public spending only increases. This, at a time when most states are bowing under the weight of public-employee benefits and retirements. ...

Super PACs are fun to hate. But the real action, the real potential for lasting harm, is elsewhere.




March 15

The Miami Herald on justice for Holocaust survivors:

Against formidable odds and a range of powerful opponents, including the White House, Holocaust survivors are finally starting to make progress in their fight to win the right to sue European insurance companies for benefits they have been denied for more than half a century.

The refusal to honor those obligations is bad enough, but the denial of the right to sue adds further injury. It violates a principle that every American considers a fundamental birthright -- the ability to go to court to seek redress of a legitimate grievance.

This unusual provision was part of an agreement to create the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, which came into being in 1998 with the blessing of the Clinton administration. The agreement has been upheld by the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, and strongly defended by both the Bush and Obama administrations down to the present day.

But that doesn't make it right. Holocaust survivors -- an aging and diminishing population, many in their 80s and 90s -- have not been treated fairly. ...

The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims paid out about $305 million, and an additional $200 million went to humanitarian programs for survivors. This is less than 3 percent of the amount owed to victims and their families -- estimated today at $20 billion. ...

Recently, a bipartisan effort led by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, was unanimously approved by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which she heads. ...

The bill should be passed by Congress and signed by the president, to redress a grievous harm and serve as a reminder that it's wrong to deny legal rights to an entire class of citizens and should never be tolerated.




March 18

The Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wis. on congressional travel:

You may have heard this phrase: "You can't get something for nothing."

Or you surely have heard this one: "There's no such thing as a free lunch."

And there's no such thing as a free, privately funded trip for our members of Congress.

Congressional travel became a hot topic with the Jack Abramoff scandal, in which the lobbyist plied congressmen with trips, gifts and meals in exchange for political favors. After Abramoff, in 2007, Congress passed a new ethics rule that says its members can't accept trips that last more than one day from organizations that retain lobbyists.

But that rule has been subverted by another phrase: "Where there's a will, there's a way."

Organizations are still paying for congressional trips but have separate but affiliated lobbying organizations. And members of Congress are still going on trips. ...

Members of Congress, or their mouthpieces, say these types of trips are educational. And probably, they are. But they're intended to educate the trip-takers on the organization's point of view. ...

There really is no such thing as a free lunch. The thing is, we're paying for it, too, when our representatives are getting their "education" from these organizations.




March 17

The Guardian, London, on collective knowledge:

In the decade since Wikipedia showed how it could be done, there has been an extraordinary democratization of knowledge. According to the free encyclopedia's own wiki page (of course), its hundreds of thousands of volunteers have created 21 million articles in 283 languages. The sniffy caveats about the absence of professional expertise have long been eclipsed by the obsessive exuberance -- and utility -- of fact-sharing by numbers. The global accessibility of instantaneous general knowledge is one of the wonders of our age.

We are now seeing this principle of mass engagement extended into just about every corner of human inquiry, echoed by a hunger for learning and discussion that sees thousands turning out to listen to fresh ideas being debated... We've reported on the crowdsourcing of scientific research, the ways in which tasks that might once have taken years can now be achieved in hours and days by enlisting armies of willing research assistants equipped only with a laptop and a desire to be involved in increasing the sum of understanding. Galaxy Zoo, with its global community of avid stargazers, leads the way in this endeavor, but its model has been applied to other disciplines -- from the curious souls who spend their evenings categorizing whale music to those who translate papyri, analyze oil paintings or map the spread of invasive species. ...

The Internet provides the opportunity for that spirit of observation and engagement to be shared and focused. It also makes the argument for the power of collaboration over competition, for openness over secrecy, which might begin to break down some of the guarded and protective behaviors that have long characterized professional science. Open science, the free sharing of research, has a long way to go, but citizen science begins to show what working together might achieve.




March 18

The Globe and Mail, Ottawa, on gay marriage and the Catholic Church:

According to Britain's Cardinal Keith O'Brien, countries -- such as Canada -- that legalize gay marriage are "shaming themselves" by defying natural law. This prince of the Church went so far as to use the word "grotesque" in his recent comments. While his language was harsh and his views regrettable, they are unsurprising.

The Pope recently denounced what he termed powerful political and cultural currents seeking to legalize gay marriage in the United States, where eight states now permit it.

The Roman Catholic Church has a rich theological and doctrinal tradition on which to base its opposition to gay marriage, and to condemn it, as O'Brien did, even as an "aberration" contributing to immorality. What is odd, and disturbing, however, is that the Cardinal did not justify his views only on the basis of church teaching, but also on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Responding to the current debate in Britain over gay marriage (the country permits civil unions between homosexuals, but not marriage), he said: "We're taking standards which are not just our own, but standards from the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, where marriage is defined as a relationship between man and woman, and turning that on its head."

The wording of the Declaration is not so clear as the Cardinal implies. To begin with, it does not say "man and woman," but rather "men and women," which allows for a broader interpretation. ... There should, however, be no room for ambiguity left in a document that is at the foundation of our concept of human rights. If the United Nations' statement of fundamental principles of human rights can be used to promote inequality for homosexuals, then it is failing in its duty to humanity. ...

Far from shaming themselves, countries such as Canada are fulfilling the Declaration's noble purpose.




March 21

China Today, Beijing, on Apple's Chinese copyright violations:

Apple is in hot water yet again after 22 Chinese authors accused the U.S. tech-behemoth of selling unlicensed versions of their books via its online store and demanded millions of dollars in compensation.

This is not the first time the big-A has been accused of such copyright violations, a Chinese writer and several publishing agencies filed a similar suit in August, and in September six writers demanded 6.5 million yuan ($1 million) in compensation for copyright infringement of 23 books.

According to its guidelines Apple requires the developers to secure the rights to any material and certainly the finger of blame should first be pointed at the independent software developers in China who pirated the books in the first place.

Yet it remains to be seen whether Apple will successfully be able to totally pass the buck their way.

Apple likes to portray itself as a lifestyle leader, but it should also play a leading role in promoting copyright protection in China. Unfortunately at times like this, it seems it is focused solely on the ends rather than the means.

If Apple had conducted stricter examination regarding copyright affairs before purchasing the independent developers' applications the dispute would never have arisen. ...

Although the authorities at various levels have made remarkable efforts to strengthen law enforcement and supervision, China still has a long way to go. ...

To fulfill its commitment to protecting intellectual property rights, Apple needs to take timely and effective measures to root out the pirated products in its online store and should use its undoubted clout to be a role model safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital era.




March 18

The Jerusalem Post on the death of John Demjanjuk:

In 1986, John "Ivan" Demjanjuk was deported from the U.S. to Israel to stand trial for committing murder and acts of extraordinary violence against humanity during the years 1942 and 1943. Dozens of Israeli Holocaust survivors identified Demjanjuk as "Ivan the Terrible," a notorious prison guard at the Treblinka extermination camp. ...

Clearly, an effort was made to publicize the proceedings, which, like the 1962 Adolf Eichmann trial, was used as a means of confronting the horrors -- and the moral lessons -- of the Holocaust.

Like Eichmann, Demjanjuk was found guilty under the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law of 1950 and sentenced to death by hanging -- the second case of capital punishment in Israel's history.

But Demjanjuk appealed and in 1993 the Supreme Court, sitting as an expanded five-man panel of judges, overturned the lower court's decision. ... (The justices) -- basing themselves in part on new evidence that became available after the disintegration of the Soviet Union -- ruled that a reasonable doubt remained as to whether or not Demjanjuk was in fact Ivan the Terrible.

Holocaust survivors and others brought at least 10 petitions demanding that Demjanjuk be tried for lesser war crimes while serving as a guard in other concentration camps including Sobibor and Majdanek. ...

While the Jewish state passed on the opportunity to convict Demjanjuk, it was Germany of all places that decided to pursue the matter, eventually convicting the Ukrainian in May 2011 for helping to murder 28,000 Jews as a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp. ...

Demjanjuk died March 17 outside prison walls in a German retirement home while waiting for his appeal to be heard. Understandably, many -- particularly Holocaust survivors -- were disappointed by Demjanjuk's ability to avoid justice. ...

But even within the framework of justice all is not lost. ...

According to Germany's Demjanjuk decision, even serving as an accessory to murder is a punishable crime.