Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J., on credit card fees:
When it comes to credit card swipe fees, Americans are getting Third World treatment.
U.S. consumers and businesses pay markedly higher charges than those in other developed nations when it comes to purchasing with plastic, according to a report by the Merchants Payment Coalition. ...
Every time a consumer uses credit, roughly 2 percent to 3 percent of the charge goes to banks or other payment networks, which set the fees at rates that often vary from country to country. American swipe fees are double those in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and four times those in Australia, the merchants contend.
The beauty part for the credit card issuer is that it scores twice – once in a transaction fee it gets from the merchant and again with an interest charge to the customer. In 2008, those charges produced an estimated $48 billion for American banks, an average of $427 per household, the merchant coalition claims.
The swipe fees per transaction are small but have almost tripled in amount over the last decade. ...
Lawmakers, including Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., have introduced legislation that would impose more restrictions on such fees.
That's a good start, but it's not enough. The bills are stuck in committee. They deserve a better treatment, as do the merchants and consumers burdened by these too-high charges.
On the Net:
The Hays (Kan.) Daily News, on efforts to issue an apology to American Indians:
Congress is making a habit of begging forgiveness for this country's past behavior. Or at least acknowledging our predecessors did not always make the best decisions. ...
Last week, the Senate approved such a resolution as part of a defense spending bill. The official statement, which was introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., indicates remorse for years of ill-conceived policies and acts of violence toward American Indians. ...
Apologizing for misdeeds that took place centuries ago strikes us as rather short on substantive meaning. The broken promises and treaties, massacres, thefts and forced relocations are all in the past. Present-day conditions on purposefully isolated reservations include extreme rates of poverty, crime, illiteracy, infant mortality and substance abuse. ...
Replacing yesteryear's beads and trinkets with today's casinos and bingo halls should not be enough to rectify the wrongs of our forefathers. Neither should saying we're sorry.
American Indians need reparations, not apologies. ...
And they don't need it in the form of cash payments. They need it in specific programs, laws and mindsets that eliminate the possibility of future acts of prejudice. They need it in the form of education that continues decreasing our fear, mistrust and hate of "others." They need it in legal vows not to seize any more territories for our own expansionist desires. They need it in the actual practice of equality for all.
Deeds, not words, are needed.
On the Net:
The Providence (R.I.) Journal on Roman Polanski:
Many are rallying to the defense of Roman Polanski, 76, director of such acclaimed films as Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist, which won him an Oscar. His arrest in Switzerland for fleeing the United States more than 30 years ago for the admitted rape of a 13-year-old has sparked protests from the intelligentsia in his adopted country, France, as well as Hollywood biggies Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Penelope Cruz, who seem to view him as a martyr to American Puritanism.
Whoopi Goldberg declared on TV's The View, "I know it wasn't rape-rape. It was something else but I don't believe it was rape-rape."
A newly released transcript of the case, including questioning of the child victim, begs to differ. ...
The transcript recounts that he allegedly plied the child with champagne and Quaaludes during a 1977 modeling shoot and raped her. The victim, now 45, who received a cash settlement from Mr. Polanski after she filed suit, says she forgives him and wishes the ordeal were over.
If he were a Catholic priest, you can bet Hollywood would not be demanding that Mr. Polanski be given a break. But because he is one of theirs, and because he had a horrifying childhood (he escaped from the Krakow ghetto during the Holocaust, and his mother died at Auschwitz), there is tendency among the entertainment illuminati to apply a different standard.
That would be wrong.
On the Net:
The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, on President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize:
As the newest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, President Barack Obama has a task no other winner has faced: figuring out how to respond gracefully to an enormous honor given embarrassingly prematurely. ...
The adulation with which much of the world has greeted the new president has fueled those critics who paint him as vain and insubstantial. Now, he has to explain why he, who has spoken eloquently of international cooperation and hope for the future but has had little time to achieve any concrete improvements, has won the world's most prestigious accolade ahead of others who have toiled for years, risking their lives to bring peace, justice and freedom to the world's bleakest corners. ...
Millions of Americans share the Nobel committee's high hopes that Obama's collaborative approach to the world will repair the nation's international standing and lead to greater cooperation and improvement. But it's a work in progress – barely.
The Nobel committee has used the prize to show political support – or as some see it, as moral pressure to constrain or direct the president's exercise of U.S. power – rather than to honor meaningful achievement. That can't help but undermine the credibility of the prize.
On the Net:
The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore., on unemployment benefits:
Despite a growing consensus that the Great Recession has ended, unemployment is expected to continue rising well into next year.
That's why it's imperative that Congress move swiftly to approve another extension of unemployment benefits to help the millions of Americans who remain mired in economic misery.
Last Thursday, the Senate reached a tentative deal to extend unemployment benefits by 14 weeks in all states. ... Without a nationwide extension, 1.5 million Americans will have exhausted benefits by the end of the year, an unwelcome prospect for an economy just starting to recover from free fall. ...
Republican critics of extended unemployment insurance say it can be a disincentive to looking for work – an argument that overlooks the wasteland that the job market remains in Oregon and most other states. ...
Critics also claim extending benefits at a time the economy is recovering is counterproductive. But unemployment benefits are one of the most effective forms of short-term stimulus. The average state jobless check is $300 a month, and unemployed Americans plow that money back into the economy, paying rent and buying food and other necessities. ...
The Great Recession technically may be over. But it's going to take a while for the "jobless recovery" to end and the real one to begin.
Until that happens, Congress should help unemployed Americans from plunging deeper into poverty.
On the Net:
The Herald, Rock Hill, S.C. on the moon blast:
NASA scientists say they had a valid reason for hurling two spacecraft into the moon. We wonder, though, if they just felt like blowing something up.
The experiment allegedly was designed to create a cloud of lunar dust that scientists could analyze for water content. To accomplish this, NASA officials planned to slam a 2.2-ton empty rocket stage into the moon at twice the speed of a bullet, equal to the power of 1.5 tons of TNT.
"Cool," said millions of Americans in unison, envisioning a giant explosion they could watch from their backyards.
The whiz kids at NASA managed to hit the moon with the two empty rockets (they had missed on eight previous attempts) and the resulting dust plumes pleased the scientists. But the audience of civilians were not impressed.
For those expecting a dazzling explosion, the experiment was a dud. The impact caused little more than a fuzzy white flash.
The mission was executed for "a scientific purpose, not to put on a fireworks display for the public," said one NASA official.
Well, hey, the public is paying for this show, and we want a big explosion, maybe some flames and a giant cloud of moon dust spewing from the lunar surface. Try a bigger rocket next time.
If not, we may start to question why we are spending millions of dollars to crash stuff on the surface of a moon astronauts already have visited in person numerous times. Some might even call it loony.
On the Net:
The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla., on President Obama's move to stop federal workers from texting while driving:
With the stroke of the presidential pen last month, texting while driving became a forbidden activity for millions of federal workers.
The new decree sends an important message, not just to government employees but to an entire nation of drivers who spend too much time focused on everything but the road. We just hope they're not so busy multitasking that they fail to notice. ...
Research has shown that in texting, drivers regularly take their eyes off the road for more than five seconds at a time. ...
Advocates say a total ban is needed - a stance that collides with motorists' growing tendency to use their wireless electronics while driving.
Whether by policy or by law, a ban on texting while driving poses enforcement challenges. Catching violators can be difficult, and texting has become so habitual that many drivers ignore restrictions.
Heavier ticketing and higher penalties might persuade more motorists to do the right thing.
Innovation also could help. Technology created the texting problem, and perhaps it can help solve it. There are products, for example, that can shut down a wireless device when it senses the car is in motion.
Still, drivers shouldn't need a machine to make them do what common sense demands: Put aside distractions and focus on the road.
On the Net:
San Francisco Chronicle on gays in the military:
President Obama, we're still waiting:
On Saturday night, the president reiterated his commitment to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that forces gay men and women to conceal their sexual orientation while serving in the military. The policy was a mistake from the day in 1993 it was proposed by President Bill Clinton: Those who serve this country should not have to compromise their honesty to do so, and a nation that is fighting terrorism should not compromise its ability to recruit and retain an effective force - whether the issue is translators or combat soldiers.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two bills by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, that represent actual progress on gay rights: One designates May 22 as Harvey Milk Day, the other recognizes the same-sex marriages from out of state that were performed before Proposition 8 took effect.
Obama's words were nice, but what is needed is real action to end myriad vestiges of discrimination against gays and lesbians.
On the Net:
The Hindu, Madras, India, on the war in Afghanistan:
The request by the United States and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, for an additional 40,000 troops sharply highlights NATOs rapidly worsening problems. ...
There is, however, a void at the centre of NATO policy on Afghanistan. The original plans were to find Osama bin Laden, destroy Al Qaeda, and overthrow the Taliban regime, which harboured bin Laden. All those plans have failed disastrously, recoiling on the occupation forces. ...
If the very recent suicide bombing near the Indian Embassy in Kabul is a guide, the Taliban may be re-establishing a presence in the capital. As to Osama bin Laden, he has never been found.
The issue of Afghanistan is now causing serious problems in several NATO countries, particularly the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Germany. ...
Al Qaeda continues to be a global threat but the Taliban are clearly not. At most they are a regional threat and it is surely significant that it is Pakistans armed forces that have dealt most effectively with that countrys Taliban elements when they have been set that task.
NATO, confused about what this global war on terror is all about, cannot solve anything in Afghanistan. It is time for the world to move towards an enforceable U.N. agreement that ends the U.S.-led occupation and restores Afghanistans tradition of strict neutrality, so that the region can find some semblance of stability and peace.
On the Net:
The Ashai Shimbun, Tokyo, Japan, on nuclear arms in North Korea:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il suggested that Pyongyang may come back to the six-party talks. "We are prepared to conduct multilateral talks after we look at the result of North Korea-U.S. talks. Six-party talks are also included," he said.
North Korea objected to the United Nations Security Council presidential statement that criticized Pyongyang's test-firing of missiles in April. The reclusive regime has repeatedly said it would not return to six-party talks. Kim's comment can be seen as a sign that North Korea is softening its stance. ...
The U.S. administration of Barack Obama also signified its willingness to engage in direct dialogue with North Korea – provided it is within the framework of six-party talks. There is still a profound difference in thinking between the two. ...
What are the "multilateral talks" that Kim referred to? We don't know what North Korea has in mind, but whatever it is, Japan and South Korea are parties directly affected by the North Korean threat. There is no way that consultations excluding the two countries can be accepted. ...
During the last days of the George W. Bush administration, the United States hastened to compromise with North Korea without adequately making adjustments with such countries as Japan, China and South Korea. The United States should not make the same mistake. In advancing U.S.-North Korea talks, close cooperation with concerned countries is indispensable.
On the Net:
The (London) Telegraph, on the attacks in Pakisan:
To grasp the full significance of the assault on the general headquarters of Pakistan's army, consider this scenario. Suppose the IRA had stormed the Ministry of Defence at the height of the Troubles and taken scores of soldiers and officials hostage. What would this have said about our ability to protect our national command centres?
The outrage in Rawalpindi was of this magnitude. ...
This woeful example of incompetence by Pakistan's army carries sombre lessons. Despite the success of the offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley, the army still cannot be trusted with an elementary military task like securing its own headquarters.
Moreover, the gunmen surely could not have succeeded without inside help. Some of the assailants wore military uniforms and no reinforcements rushed to the aid of the guards on the headquarter's perimeter. All this suggests a degree of complicity between the attackers and elements of the army.
Even today, Pakistan's military has an equivocal attitude towards violent extremists. Put bluntly, they pick and choose which to attack and which to indulge. The army is taking on the Pakistani Taliban, but turns a Nelsonian eye to elements of this movement who concentrate on killing British and American soldiers in Afghanistan. ...
This incident should teach Pakistan's army a thunderous lesson: all violent extremists are implacable foes who must be defeated.
On the Net:
Aftenposten, Oslo, Norway, on the effect of Obama's Nobel on U.S. domestic policy:
The Nobel Peace Prize makes Barack Obama an even bigger star in the constellation of international politics. But at home he's in trouble. Will the prize also weaken his power to accomplish his domestic goals?...
Although the markets are on the rebound, unemployment continues to grow. But this was what we expected after the financial crisis; it's understandable. What's worse is that Obama has encountered big problems in trying to push meaningful health care reform through Congress...
Moreover, Obama will soon have to collect the support necessary to bring concrete contributions to the climate meeting in Copenhagen in December. That's no small feat in a country where the car industry, as well as oil and coal energy, have strong proponents in both parties.
And then there's the toughest challenge of all: the war in Afghanistan...
Will the Nobel Peace Prize help Obama in his fight to solve domestic political problems? Probably not. The prize will make a number of Americans proud of their president, and rightly so. But many have criticized strongly the Nobel Committee's choice, especially Republicans. This may sharpen disagreements between the parties and create an atmosphere disinclined towards compromise.
The Nobel Prize is, in any case, an encouragement to Obama in an otherwise tough political reality. As he himself pointed out, it's a call to action on the peace initiatives he's put forth. Let's hope that Obama's myriad problems at home don't exhaust his energy and attention.