Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Tampa (Florida) Tribune on same-sex marriage:
Barring some unforeseen disruption, today it will be legal for gay couples to marry throughout Florida. It is a difficult issue for many, one that can bring into conflict individual rights, religious beliefs, cultural traditions and rapidly changing social attitudes.
It is useful to remember that only a little over six years ago, more than 60 percent of Floridians voted for the amendment that limited marriage to a man and a woman. Views have dramatically changed since then, and it is doubtful it would receive that kind of support now.
In any event, the courts have found, understandably, that gay citizens are entitled to the same rights as all others and the ban on gay marriage violates the "due process" and "equal protection" provisions in the U.S. Constitution.
Those who have religious objections deserve respect, and it would be appalling if activists mounted legal attacks on organizations affiliated with religions that view marriage as being only between a man and a woman. But those troubled by the ruling should remember government allows many other activities proscribed by various religions.
The marriages began Monday in South Florida. Today, many other same-sex couples will be able to obtain marriage licenses at courthouses around the state. That should represent no threat to anyone's personal faith and can be seen as a healthy development if you believe stable, committed relationships are good for society.
Los Angeles Times on college ratings system:
The Obama administration has taken on the admirable but tricky task of rating colleges based on real-life factors that might matter the most to working families. If they're going to scrape up the money for a four-year education, these families tend to worry foremost about how much it will cost, whether their children will graduate and get a job, and whether the new graduates will be able to pay off student loans. Less important to them might be what professors elsewhere think of a college, or how many applicants it rejects, factors that weight the rankings produced by various publications, most notably U.S. News & World Report.
It was obvious from the start, though, that a government ratings system would run into complications that might render it meaningless or unfair. Unfortunately, a preliminary sketch of the system, released to solicit public feedback, does little to allay those concerns.
The U.S. Education Department is rightly trying to avoid what one official called "false precision" — parsing minor variations among colleges and universities that make no real difference. But as a result, it is going so broad that the ratings would be all but meaningless. It intends to divide schools into three categories, essentially: excellent, bad and in between. Most colleges and universities would fall into the in-between category, which means that very few would receive a low rating. In other words, the only information families would get is that most schools are fine. That may be reassuring, but it isn't especially helpful.
And it's even unclear how useful the information would be on schools with low ratings, which might turn off applicants for reasons that aren't relevant to their situation. Does the school have a low graduation rate, or does its focus on fine arts mean that graduates have trouble finding jobs soon after college? Would students intent on a career in the arts care about the latter, or figure that the less robust job market in arts is still a better fit for them than one in, say, petroleum engineering?
The Obama administration has pledged to avoid simplistic comparisons that don't reveal the real value of a college education. That's to its credit, but so far, the ratings appear to oversimplify complex information and compare too many apples with oranges and bananas. Worse, administration officials are considering linking federal funding for colleges to their ratings, which would be a terrible decision. Once a college's funding depends on its graduation rate, it can simply lower its standards to the point where almost everyone obtains a degree. The administration has given this an honest try, but it would be better off abandoning the project now than creating a shallow and misleading ratings system.
Aiken (South Carolina) Standard on restoring national trust:
American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has scaled down the list. Concerns over the economy have, as well.
For the past decade, these were the two most significant, long-standing issues garnering public concern in the U.S. They've been replaced, at least to some degree, by the increasingly exasperating vacuum of leadership that exists in Washington, D.C.
In a Gallup poll published on Jan. 2, Americans that were surveyed listed poor leadership in government as the most important and troubling issue in 2014, a noticeable shift in the answers given in the same poll over the past 10 years.
The dissatisfaction with government isn't anything really new. However, it's intriguing to note that as the economy shows signs of improvement and the U.S. looks to scale back operations in the Middle East, Americans are becoming more and more concerned about whether Congress, the president and even government in general can get anything done.
The U.S. clearly has serious challenges ahead of it, and while government never should be the ultimate problem solver, policy makers do have a vital role and responsibility in making sure the country stays on a steady path. Years of gridlock and inactivity in Washington, D.C., have rightfully shaken the confidence of Americans when it comes to fulfilling that duty. Both sides have been at fault. The mishandled rollout of the Affordable Care Act by President Barack Obama and his administration certainly contributed to confidence levels diminishing. The failures of the Veterans Administration and its inability to properly take care of American veterans was certainly an eye-opener. The uncovering of the NSA's secretive and dubious surveillance of Americans had to add to that slippage, as well.
Obviously, however, polls such as these are just a snapshot of the moment. The upcoming term in Congress should offer a number of chances to at least partially restore some of that faith in government.
Additionally, the positive economic news of the year's end - with job growth, lower gas prices and a strong stock market - thankfully show that it's not all doom and gloom ahead of us. Moving forward, however, there has to be some type of bipartisan movement among federal lawmakers for confidence in government to start to trickle upwards. Let's hope there's a healthy appetite for consensus and progress on the part of national leadership in the year ahead. Otherwise, the chance at a rosier future for the U.S. turns bleaker and even more troubling.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on refugee tide:
Responding to stresses and pressures from the arrival of 1.5 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon, with a population of 4.5 million, has taken steps to stem the flow.
War in Syria over the past four years has sent a flood of 3 million asylum seekers into Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. Turkey is big enough to absorb its share. Jordan is accustomed to refugees, having accepted Palestinians and Iraqis prior to the Syrian onslaught. Iraq has received the fewest among Syria's neighbors, given its own strife.
Lebanon has been hit hardest. Its border with Syria has been open for the most part. It also has a reputation for accepting refugees, notably Palestinians, with occasional catastrophic results for its domestic tranquility. The arrival of Sunni Muslim Palestinians in the 1970s created an imbalance among Lebanon's religious groups that helped set off a bloody civil war between 1975 and 1990.
When Syrians started fleeing into Lebanon in 2011, the Lebanese did not want them settled in camps, which are more easily served by nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The reason is Lebanon feared that phenomenon would lead to more permanent settlement, as had occurred with the Palestinians. An estimated half-million Palestinians are still in Lebanon more than six decades after having left Palestine to await a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
The Lebanese government has now imposed controls on the entry of Syrians into Lebanon, which has alarmed refugee advocates, international authorities and Syrian refugees themselves. Lebanon's new policy will require Syrians to state a reason for their visit and to apply for a visa of limited duration.
Given the U.S. role in provoking and prolonging the conflict in Syria, there is reason for America to help Lebanon meet the challenge presented by the Syrian refugees. After all, they now constitute one in four people in that small country.
The Oklahoman on U.S. third-quarter growth:
The U.S. economy's third-quarter growth hit 5 percent, the best rate in 11 years. The question now is whether government action played any role. For conservatives, the improved economic outlook vindicates those who've tried to rein in federal spending.
Stephen Moore, chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, makes a solid case for the economic benefits of restrained federal spending. Moore notes that the federal outlay, expressed as a share of gross domestic product, has declined significantly. In 2009, federal spending equaled 24.4 percent of GDP. By 2014, it represented just 21 percent. A recent estimate suggests it fell below 20 percent in the final quarter of 2014.
Moore says this shift creates "an anti-Keynesian boost to growth, because the government is taking fewer private sector resources each month."
The spending shift is a product, in part, of the often-derided "gridlock" that's dominated the federal government since Republicans won back control of the U.S. House in 2010. President Barack Obama and congressional liberals have been thwarted in advancing many of their preferred big-spending solutions. While Republicans have also been stymied at advancing their preferred policies, Moore persuasively suggests the results of doing "nothing" have helped private-sector job creation.
But officials interviewed by The New York Times insist that increased state government spending is now "providing a small but significant increase to prosperity." Yet it's hard to buy that argument. If government spending is the solution to economic woe, no one has put that theory to the test more than Obama. During the first two years of his term, with absolute Democratic control of Congress, Obama was free to tax and spend. And he did.
When Obama was first elected, the national debt totaled $10.6 trillion. It recently hit the $18 trillion mark, an astounding 70 percent increase. Obama's stimulus package, enacted in his first year in office, was touted as a way to bring the economy out of its recession doldrums. Instead, post-"stimulus" economic growth remained consistently anemic throughout Obama's six years in office, improving significantly only in recent months. If government spending truly stimulated economic growth, we should have seen that effect years before now.
Furthermore, one of the biggest boosts to economic growth has come from the declining cost of oil and gas. That decline is the result of abundant supply provided by private-sector energy producers, including many in Oklahoma. Federal policies played virtually no role in facilitating the boom. If anything, the Obama administration has sought to stifle energy production.
The flaws of government spending as economic stimulus are also apparent in the aforementioned Times article. One of the new jobs created thanks to increased state and local government spending went to John Lynch in Naples, Fla. Lynch is one of two part-time workers the city has hired to help "trapped pelicans." The Times called the creation of those two positions "an important symbol that times were flush again."
We suspect that many people, upon reading this information, will have a different reaction. In reality, the creation of government-funded pelican-helper positions only reinforces the fact that the private sector does a much better job than government of allocating scarce resources for maximum benefit. It also serves as another reminder that jobs "created" by government often exceed parodies of government waste.
The Korea Herald on allied stance between U.S. and North Korea:
The U.S. measure to slap new sanctions on North Korea in response to the communist state's alleged cyberattack on Sony Pictures may be a reminder to Seoul officials of the need to moderate their response to a recent peace overture from the North.
A White House statement said Friday that President Barack Obama had signed an executive order authorizing additional sanctions against the North to respond to its "ongoing provocative, destabilizing and repressive actions and policies, particularly its destructive and coercive attack on Sony." It noted the measure was "the first aspect of our response" to the hack apparently motivated by Pyongyang's anger with a Sony movie involving a plot to assassinate its leader Kim Jong-un.
In his New Year address Thursday, Kim suggested he was ready to hold summit talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, if the right atmosphere and circumstances were created.
His remarks were accepted as "meaningful" by the Park administration, which earlier proposed to hold ministerial-level talks with the North this month to discuss pending issues, including the reunions of separated families. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Seoul official told reporters Friday that Kim sent a clear signal that his regime wanted to improve ties with the South. The official said the two sides should seize the momentum no later than mid-February, before South Korea and the U.S. begin their annual joint military drills. Kim cited the suspension of the joint exercises by Seoul and Washington as one of preconditions for a meeting between him and Park.
The U.S. State Department has made no official comment on Kim's speech, though it said Washington supported the improvement of inter-Korean relations after the South made the dialogue proposal Monday.
Seoul appears to be seeking to use a possible resumption of family reunions before the Lunar New Year holiday in mid-February as momentum for beginning the process of building mutual trust that it hopes could eventually lead to a third inter-Korean summit. But it is likely to find it difficult to offer substantial incentives to Pyongyang in the course of carrying forward inter-Korean talks when the U.S. is tightening its sanctions on the communist regime.
More fundamentally, the Park administration may need to coordinate its stance with Washington on whether and to what point to decouple progress in talks with Pyongyang from the prolonged deadlock in denuclearizing the recalcitrant and unpredictable regime. It would also have to ease concerns that its reconciliatory approach could undermine growing international efforts to improve the dire human rights conditions in the North.
A wiser choice for Seoul now may be to cautiously gauge Pyongyang's true intent and sincerity toward change before making significant concessions to press ahead with inter-Korean dialogue.