Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Los Angeles Times on Olympic tax loopholes:
Olympic athletes are very special people. But are they more special than, say, Nobel Prize winners, or police officers, or nurses, or spiritual gurus, or brilliant inventors or researchers whose discoveries enhance our lives? If an election year happens to fall in an Olympics year, yes.
Both presidential candidates have embraced an astonishingly silly but highly populist measure in Congress to exempt Olympic medalists from taxes, an idea that, naturally, originated with that bastion of silly but populist tax proposals, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. The U.S. Olympic Committee awards honorariums in the amount of $25,000 for each gold medal, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze, which means, Norquist's group sputters, that a gold medalist would be on the hook to send up to $8,986 of his or her winnings to the IRS.
Never mind that the fact-checking organization PolitiFact ruled this claim "Mostly False," because any decent accountant could reduce that tax bite to as little as zero by deducting the expenses paid to win that medal, such as travel, uniforms, classes, payments to coaches, cost of equipment, etc. Republicans, with some Democratic support, quickly sponsored legislation in the House and Senate to make Norquist's notion law, and the White House weighed in by saying that if Congress approves the bill, President Barack Obama will sign it.
Why? There's no legitimate tax policy reason. Politicians in both parties complain endlessly about the complexity of the U.S. tax code and its many needless loopholes, yet they're only too happy to add to the complexity and drill another loophole in an election season when liberals and conservatives alike are rooting for Team USA in London.
This mindless bill should be rejected with the authority of a Kerri Walsh Jennings block.
The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss., on NASA:
The next time you use your cellphone, watch satellite-delivered television programming, use a cordless power tool, drive on enhanced radial tires, drink a bottle of purified water or find your way with a GPS device, thank the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
From medical advancements to aircraft anti-collision warning systems to personal computers, NASA scientists and contractors advancing our space program invented, developed or improved the technology that made all of these conveniences possible. It's hard to imagine what our lives would be like today if the American people had not accepted space exploration as a national priority in the 1960s.
The incredible challenge of designing and building rockets that could soar around the earth, the guidance systems to direct these rockets to the moon, the need for small, lightweight technology that can manage volumes of data at one time, the food and clothing that would allow a human to leave the earth and travel through almost unimaginable temperature changes and weightlessness, all required the development of technologies at a level of sophistication previously unknown.
Through the Apollo and Shuttle programs, the demands on NASA and its contractors and the ability to conduct scientific experiments in the pristine atmosphere of space required even more advance technologies.
But it also meant that in giving NASA what it needed, those same technologies could be applied to other purposes. ...
Despite the exciting landing of the Curiosity Mars mission, many Americans — and many politicians — are quick to point to NASA as a multibillion-dollar budget item we don't need. Put those dollars to social programs, they argue. Use the money to create jobs. ...
Let's not be too hasty to bite a big hand that literally does feed us.
The Oneonta (N.Y.) Daily Star on intolerance and the Sikh temple shootings in Wisconsin:
The recent shooting deaths of six victims at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin brings to light once again the struggles we face over achieving tolerance for beliefs other than our own, which is a foundation of our nation's creation.
In this case, those of the Sikh faith were targeted in their own house of worship, whether mistaken by the shooter for Muslims or because they wear distinctive turbans and beards as part of their faith. They were seen and treated as something other than rightful American citizens guaranteed the freedom to practice their religion. ...
The shooter accused of the attacks — 40-year-old U.S. Army veteran Wade Michael Page — was shot by police, then committed suicide, that day.
While we may never know his motives, media reports have said Page was a white supremacist who felt action was needed against any that did not fall in line with the betterment of white, Christian males.
It is hard for most of us to understand how someone could do this. Some in the Sikh community wondered aloud, "What did we do wrong?" after the shooting. ...
Those of the Sikh faith also faced persecution. According to Washington, D.C.-based think tank Sikh Coalition, there were at least 300 reported incidents of attacks against Sikhs in the months after 9/11. They were painted, like Muslims, as terrorist and un-American. ...
It is vital to acquire knowledge and understanding of other faiths and cultures. And we must work to root out the injustice and intolerance that led to such acts of hatred and terror against some of our own.
The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., on the Romney-Ryan ticket:
Republican Mitt Romney has selected his vice-presidential running mate and the choice provides a dark forecast of what to expect from a Romney administration, should there be one.
In his presidential campaign, Romney has been — at best — vague about his stance on major policy issues including taxes, the budget deficit and essential services such as Medicare.
But Romney's new running mate, Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has not. A 14-year member of Congress, Ryan's record is crystal clear and brings an ominous new focus to Romney's meandering campaign. Voters must take notice of the damage it could wreak on basic social service safety-net programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps.
The current House Budget Committee chairman, Ryan, 42, is one of the most extreme of the House Republicans on fiscal issues. Considered the mentor of the House tea party obstructionists, he has produced his own budget proposal.
Called the "Path to Prosperity," Ryan's plan (embraced by House Republicans but fortunately not the Senate) is the classic wolf in sheep's clothing. Disguised as a deficit-reduction plan, it instead is a guide to dismantling the country's excellent Medicare health system for senior citizens, abolishing meaningful Medicaid coverage for the very poor and disabled, and privatizing Social Security.
It also would make major cuts in food stamps, the last protection of many poor and unemployed citizens against hunger, and make benefits harder to get. ...
But it is Ryan's budget proposal that is likely to be most alarming to all but ultra-right or tea party voters.
The Romney campaign has been quick to point out that Ryan's budget plan is not necessarily that of Romney, who will be releasing his own plan. Someday. Eventually. Meanwhile, Romney has been virtually silent on details of his budget and tax proposals.
But his choice of Ryan speaks loudly and voters must listen to what it tells them.
The Morning Journal, Lorain, Ohio, on the Romney-Ryan ticket:
School opened (Aug. 11) for American voters who are confused by the partisan cacophony of this presidential campaign.
The new teacher, Paul Ryan, is the perfect choice as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's VP running mate.
Ryan has the gift of being able to explain formidable economic issues and make them clearly understandable.
Ryan is articulate and sufficiently aggressive to blow away the smoke and shatter the mirrors that the White House spews and manipulates to create the illusion of governing in the people's interest....
To date, Romney hasn't been able to cut to the heart of the matter like Ryan can. Romney has stayed too far above the fray when close-in, hard political punches need to be thrown at the Obama White House Lie Machine....
In short, Ryan and Romney must make it clear and simple: Obama and his enablers are steadily destroying America, its economy, its future and the freedom that our founders and fathers entrusted to us.
That destruction must be stopped and the repair begun with the Nov. 6 election.
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on Mars rover Curiosity:
The perfect landing of the Mars rover Curiosity after an eight-month voyage was a triumph for NASA, a precision maneuver that required the one-ton vehicle to slow from 13,000 mph to zero in what the space agency has called "seven minutes of terror." NASA had struggled with landing heavy equipment, suffering losses of spacecraft sent to Mars in the past. This success, which proves the space agency can do it, is crucial if there are to be future manned missions to Mars.
As significant as the landing was, however, it's only the beginning of the rover's two-year mission. Curiosity has established full communications with Earth and has already started sending stunning pictures home, including a color panorama of Gale Crater, its landing spot.
Curiosity's mission isn't limited to photography. The rover, the most complex ever designed, will also analyze rocks and soil in a quest for the chemicals that serve as the building blocks of life. The rover will seek to determine whether there were ever conditions on Mars that could have allowed microbes to live.
That's a fascinating prospect. If Curiosity does find something exciting, it could build interest in further exploration of the planet, perhaps even in sending astronauts there.
It remains to be seen whether the excitement over Curiosity will result in a renewed interest in space exploration. That has seemed to lag since the mothballing of the space shuttle and the recession. Space exploration is undeniably expensive — the Curiosity mission is a $2.5 billion project.
But Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that is managing the mission, pointed out that it's about $7 per American citizen — the cost of a movie. John Grotzinger, the mission's project scientist, replied, "That's a movie I want to see." ...
Oshkosh (Wis.) Northwestern on Boomer retirement:
There was very little in the way of surprises in a recent survey of Baby Boomers conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons or AARP as it is more widely known. But there are lessons to be learned from the headlines produced by the survey.
Boomers, who are on the cusp of retirement, are more anxious about the future than they are about the current state of the economy. Of course the current state of the economy contributes significantly to their concerns about the future.
Simply put, Boomers, who range in age from 48 to 66-years-old, are more concerned about being able to afford living in retirement than they are about getting a job with benefits. ...
The angst being felt by Boomers stems from the political uncertainties facing Medicare and Social Security, two cornerstones of retirement planning. Adding to the anxiety reflected in the poll retirement is the fact that Boomers have largely ignored individual responsibility for their retirements.
Many Boomers are entering their retirement years with very little in the way of savings. Past generations could count on defined benefit pension plans funded by the company for which they worked, many for a lifetime. Boomers saw most pension plans switched from defined benefits to defined contributions as companies sought to shed the expense of retirement plans. That meant that Boomers (and future generations) bore the responsibility of saving for their retirements, most commonly in 401(k) savings plan which offered a modest match by employers.
The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that the average worker will need $900,000 in personal savings for retirement. Yet the institute says that "people within 10 years of retirement have saved an average of only $78,000." ...
The lessons Boomers pass on to their children and grandchildren are: Do not count on government programs to finance retirement and begin saving for retirement now and if a 401(k) account is available, contribute at least enough to earn the employers match.
The Oregonian, Portland, on the missing U.S. Farm Bill.
The American agricultural crisis is impossible to miss.
The worst drought in decades clutches most of the country in a death grip, with the worst impacts in the Southwest, the Midwest and parts of the Southeast. Only 26 percent of the nation's corn crop is in good condition, compared with 62 percent a year ago. Herds of cattle ranchers are selling their stock early rather than keep trying to feed and water it.
The crisis is impossible to miss.
Except for the U.S. House of Representatives, which left for its August vacation — whoops, district work period — without passing a five-year farm bill, and now seems unlikely to manage one before the current measure lapses Sept. 30.
Thomas Jefferson, who saw farmers as the bulwark of the republic, would have a whole additional reason to be dismayed at Washington today.
Traditionally, the farm bill has been bipartisan, as the members drawing it up represented their local crops more than their party. This year, the Senate passed a bill by a good-sized 64-35 margin, and the House package managed an unusually bipartisan route through the Agriculture Committee. But the House leadership refused to bring it up for debate and a vote.
Both bills have problems; the House bill cuts nutrition programs too much, the Senate bill includes a crop insurance formula likely to be very expensive. But without House floor consideration, followed by a House-Senate conference committee, nothing gets fixed, and nothing gets passed. ...
Ranking Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota suggests: "A lot of these freshmen have not been around here long enough to know what they're facing when they go home. They have no good answer to give their constituents about why they didn't do this, and it's going to make a very uncomfortable situation for them."
It should be.
America's farms deserve a farm bill.
The Jordan Times, Amman, on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting:
In an interview with the Saudi newspaper Okaz, His Majesty King Abdullah praised the agenda and timing of the upcoming extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Mecca, at the invitation of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz.
The summit will delve into developments in the region, and, as the Monarch said, is evidence of the "keenness of the king (of Saudi Arabia) to bring together all Arabs and Muslims at these critical circumstances Arabs and Muslims are going through".
"Holding the summit in the heart of Mecca during the last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan sends important signals," said the King.
It is indeed a sign that things cannot suffer delay, that the regional issues, particularly the Syrian crisis, need to be tackled with a view to arriving at solutions, and soon.
The Mecca meeting comes after many attempts to bring the situation in Syria under control, including going to the UN Security Council.
With all efforts failed, Riyadh is pinning hope on the Muslim nation to come up with a new approach to the Syrian quagmire that may succeed where all other efforts failed.
Invitation was also extended to Tehran to attend this Islamic meeting, out of recognition that Iran is a major actor in the making and solving of the Syrian crisis, now well into its 17th month.
Damascus' friends and allies can indeed play a critical role in ending the bloodshed and the perpetration of crimes in Syria, if they so wish.
If this last-ditch effort also fails because some powers would rather put their narrow interests ahead of the lives and rights of the Syria people, the situation will certainly deteriorate, and more death and destruction will be sown in Syria. ...
The situation in Syria is particularly worrisome, for the country is a close neighbor and its troubles can easily spill over into the Kingdom.
The Telegraph, London, on French President François Hollande:
François Hollande, still no doubt rueing his gibe about Britain rolling out the red carpet for France to take home Olympic medals, celebrated his 100th day as president recently at his official holiday residence, on the French Riviera. The milestone was marked rather more violently in Amiens with overnight riots which left 16 police officers injured. With record unemployment, particularly among the young, a torpid economy and a level of public debt that ministers describe as "crushing", such upheavals may become more frequent.
Against this backdrop, how does Hollande make good his campaign promise to be Europe's anti-austerity flag-waver. The answer is that he doesn't. Next month, reality kicks in when he has to assemble the kind of austerity package he campaigned so hard against. The Cour des Comptes, France's independent national auditor, has set out the scale of the task. The government must find up to 12 billion euros in cuts this year and a further 33 billion next to meet the deficit reduction targets Hollande has signed up to.
Yet France's first socialist president in 17 years also intends to create 60,000 teaching jobs and has cut the retirement age from 62 years to 60 for those who started work young. He has imposed higher taxes on the wealthy — this is the man who once said "I don't like the rich" — but this has more to do with crowd-pleasing than revenue-raising. So far we have heard nothing about where the axe will fall in an economy where public spending already devours a crippling 56 percent of GDP — but fall it surely must. With his poll ratings already on the slide, Hollande is quickly learning the price of making reckless campaign promises that he knew could not be delivered.
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, on Egypt:
Now that the government of Egypt is no longer under military supervision, President Mohamed Morsi ought to reinstate that country's parliament and clearly affirm his will to uphold civil liberties.
After Hosni Mubarak, the former president, was induced to resign in February, 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled as a junta — if a comparatively benign one. When Morsi took office as president, the SCAF passed to him the headship of state which it had appropriated in 2011, but not before issuing a "constitutional declaration" limiting the president's powers. It also dissolved parliament, following a court order.
Now, the president has asked for and received the resignations of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the former chair of the SCAF who until recently had also been the defense minister for 21 years, and Sami Anan, the chief of staff of the army. Moreover, Morsi issued his own constitutional declaration, largely reversing the previous one, thus depriving the SCAF of its remaining aura of political authority.
Prudently, Morsi has promoted officers who are very much part of the military establishment, some of whom are known to be on good terms with the United States military; he has not attempted to put the armed forces under the control of proxies for the Muslim Brotherhood, of which the president is a leading member.
Yet Morsi has granted himself both executive and legislative powers. At present, there is little or no place for formal scrutiny of the new government. ...
The civilian presidency is good progress, 60 long years after the Free Officers' Movement coup d'état. But the present state of affairs offers very little to counterbalance Mr. Morsi and the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt needs a provisional parliament.
China Today, Beijing, on DPRK-China economic agreements:
The package of economic agreements signed by China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea marks the solid progress that has been made in bilateral trade and investment cooperation.
They will not only help boost the DPRK's battered economy. More importantly, they will contribute to the overall stability of the Korean Peninsula.
The two countries signed agreements on the establishment of management commissions for the two special economic zones of Rason, and Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands. They also agreed to cooperate in agriculture, technology and other areas.
The agreements, which have been reached at a time when China is suffering as a result of the current global economic difficulties, are testimony to China's consistent commitment to helping the DPRK develop its economy and improve the well-being of its people.
Despite the many political and security incidents that have erupted on the Korean Peninsula in recent years, China-DPRK trade relations have been continually growing. The bilateral trade volume jumped to about $3.5 billion in 2010 from about $1 billion in 2003. Last year, it rocketed to $5.7 billion. ...
The growing trade links will provide the DPRK with the commodities and equipment necessary to feed its people and improve the productivity of its industry.
But what could be even more valuable is that such cooperation will enable China to offer the DPRK its expertise in managing a transitional economy. China has made remarkable achievements in shaking off poverty and finding a development path that best suits its conditions and the DPRK could benefit tremendously from China's experience.
In the meantime, increased bilateral cooperation will provide China's northeastern regions with more investment options and the low labor and operation costs in the DPRK will reduce their production costs.
A potential and more significant benefit of the agreements is that as the DPRK's economy stabilizes, people's livelihoods will improve.