Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the US and abroad

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


Feb. 10

Wall Street Journal on Obama's student loan forgiveness plan:

Liberals make it seem as if federal student loans don't cost taxpayers a penny. Some, notably Elizabeth Warren, are aghast that the government is profiting handsomely from lending to students. No need to worry, Senator. Buried in the White House budget is a $21.8 billion writedown on the government's student loan portfolio that no one seems to want to mention — perhaps because taxpayers can expect more red ink to come.

The budget news that dare not speak its name is that more borrowers with larger student debts are enrolling in President Obama 's Pay As You Earn loan forgiveness plan, which caps graduates' payments at 10% of their adjusted gross income minus 150% of the poverty line. After 20 years, borrowers can shed their remaining debt. Those who go to work in "public service" can be debt-free after 10 years.

The Administration's definition of public service is, well, broad. The liberal advocacy groups and Center for American Progress, which has been lobbying hard for more student loan forgiveness, would qualify since they're 501(c)(3) nonprofits under the tax code. Can journalists qualify, too?

Under a 2010 law, only new borrowers as of 2014 qualified for these generous loan forgiveness programs; Congress wanted to keep a short-term lid on the costs. Then in 2012 President Obama extended the loan giveaway retroactively to 2007, which happened to cover more of the young voters he needed to win re-election. Then last year he eliminated the statute of limitation in toto to qualify an additional five million borrowers.

Meantime, the Education Department and student-loan servicers have been aggressively steering more borrowers into these plans with the goal of keeping down politically embarrassing default rates. High-priced law and graduate schools have also been advertising the benefits. Georgetown Law holds seminars instructing students on how to stick taxpayers with the maximum writeoff.

According to the New America Foundation, 24% of Federal Direct Loan Program balances that have come due are enrolled in loan forgiveness plans, up from 14% about a year ago. Hence the White House's new $21.8 billion writedown, which isn't included in the White House budget summary tables that project how its proposals would affect deficits. That's because the writedown is now built into the budget baseline.

Instead and incredibly, the White House projects $14.6 billion in savings over a decade from its de minimis "reforms" to Pay As You Earn, such as extending the repayment term on balances greater than $57,500 to 25 years from 20. The putative savings are so large only because the original, undisclosed costs of extending eligibility were so big.

In a giant fiscal shell game, President Obama wants to pump these fictitious savings into expanding other higher-ed subsidies such as Pell grants. Then in next year's budget, he can propose more "reforms" to pocket more "savings" that he can use to increase spending again. The proper name for this budget charade is Kick It Forward.



Feb. 11

New York Times on Obama seeking a war authorization:

Nearly five months after launching a war against the Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration has gotten around to requesting formal authorization from Congress to conduct that war.

While indefensibly late, the move is nonetheless welcome if it triggers the long-needed substantive debate about the goals, scope and justification of a military intervention that was launched with the claim of authority from laws passed more than a decade ago to allow the use of force in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In seeking a three-year authorization, President Obama appears to be trying to avoid leaving an open-ended mandate that his successor could interpret unjustifiably broadly, much as his administration has. The request sets limits on the use of ground forces, which is good news if Congress and the White House view that as explicitly ruling out another protracted intervention.

The parameters of a proposed war authorization the White House sent to Congress on Wednesday, however, are alarmingly broad. It does not limit the battlefield to Syria and Iraq, the strongholds of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which is attempting to form a caliphate. It also seeks permission to attack "associated persons or forces" of the brutal group, a term that appears to be excessively expansive and could undermine Obama's stated intent to limit the force authorization.

While a new Authorization for Use of Military Force, or A.U.M.F., would sunset the 2002 law Congress passed to pave the way for the invasion of Iraq, it would leave intact the 2001 mandate for the war in Afghanistan. That is problematic, considering that the Obama administration has relied on that law to start attacks that were well beyond the scope of what lawmakers authorized at the time. In a letter to Congress delivered on Wednesday, Obama reiterated his intent to "refine, and ultimately repeal" that statute, which serves as a foundation for American military operations in Afghanistan. He should go further and set a date for its expiration.

If the White House prevails, it would get virtually unrestricted power to engage in attacks around the globe as long as it can justify a connection, however tenuous, to the Islamic State.

While that type of sweeping mandate makes some Democrats uneasy, Obama is likely to get backing from many Republicans. Certainly, there is cause to be alarmed by the threat posed by the Islamic State. The savagery of the group, which has beheaded journalists and aid workers, warrants a muscular response from the international community. "If left unchecked, ISIL will pose a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States homeland," Obama wrote in the letter.

But as Congress tailors a new war authorization, lawmakers should reflect on the missteps and unintended consequences of efforts over the past decade to fight Sunni insurgent groups in the Middle East and Africa. While American bombs and firepower have undoubtedly killed many terrorists, some of the tactics the government has used have expanded the ranks of militant groups. A mandate for war that was intended to punish the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks was bloated to the point where it could be used to justify anti-terrorist campaigns just about anywhere.

Striking the proper balance is more an art than a science. Washington is more likely to get it right if it takes stock of the recent past and resists the temptation to keep the country on an unrestricted war footing.



Feb. 10

Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail on stopping drugs at the border:

The trend is alarming: sharp increases in illegal drugs flowing northward into the U.S. from Mexico. Since 2011, there has been a 50 percent increase in the volume of heroin seized by border officials, and a 105 percent increase in the volume of methamphetamine.

The drugs that evade detection go on to infect American communities. Two U.S. senators, West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito and Indiana's Joe Donnelly, would like the federal government do more to stem the tide.

Capito, a Republican, and Donnelly, a Democrat, have introduced legislation that would help combat heroin and meth trafficking along the southern border.

"(W)e need to ensure our national drug policy reflects the increase of drugs crossing the U.S.-Mexico border," said Capito. "We also need to equip our drug and law enforcement officers with the resources they need to fight back against this epidemic."

The bill would require U.S. Customs and Border Protection report to Congress on what resources it needs to respond to the increased drug trafficking on the border, whether it be better technology or more personnel.

Washington can then work to give our people on the border what they need to do their jobs more effectively.

In West Virginia and around the country, efforts to combat the drug epidemic are fought on two fronts. First, law enforcement tries to limit the supply of the illegal substances. Other leaders — educators, health workers, parents and policymakers — try to limit the demand.

It's a two-pronged problem. As long as people are willing to pay for mind-altering substances, criminal enterprises will try to supply them. And the more ubiquitous drugs are in our communities, the harder it is to keep young people from falling prey to them.

As a state, we must continue efforts to limit the demand side of the equation, but there's only so much we can do about the supply. Some states have tried making pseudoephedrine prescription-only to limit meth production. But those states have seen foreign drug cartels pick up the slack, pushing even more potent forms of meth.

West Virginia law enforcement isn't equipped to fight Mexican drug cartels. The federal government is. Capito's bill pushes federal law enforcement in a direction that will aid communities in West Virginia and elsewhere.



Feb. 6

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on Pope Francis' visit to America:

You don't suppose, do you, that Pope Francis could heal the rift that splits Washington?

It's welcome news, of course, that the Holy Father has accepted an invitation to address Congress on Sept. 24. It's probably safe to say that he's the world's most popular individual just about now.

It would take a miracle worker to bring Republicans and Democrats to the point of working together for the national good.

We're being facetious, of course. This is truly a historic event. The invitation to have the pope speak is unprecedented, and his address will no doubt be a momentous occasion.

It will be the first visit to the U.S. by Francis, who has set all kinds of firsts since his election. His coming is the sort of capital-E Event that leads bitter political opponents to set aside their differences for a time.

Take John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, for example. He's Republican speaker of the House, where she's the Democratic minority leader.

They're polar opposites, and can barely agree on the time of day, but they sang from the same hymnal to greet the news of the pope's coming visit.

Boehner: "His teachings, prayers and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another."

Pelosi: "Pope Francis inspired a new generation of people, regardless of their religious affiliation, to be instruments of peace."

Of course, the pope will not heal the bitter divide in American politics. But in some measure, and perhaps a very large one, he will remind us that we are all creatures of God, and thus brothers and sisters on this planet.



Feb. 5

Kansas City Star on ISIS:

The savage crimes against humanity committed by Islamic State militants now include the reported immolation of a captured Jordanian pilot.

It's another grim reminder that the world must focus its attention on stopping this horrific group from spreading further terror in the Middle East.

The actions of ISIS fighters, while happening far from American shores, can't be shrugged off with the wish that the movement will simply go away or eventually collapse.

These thugs appear to delight in ratcheting up their brutality.

In addition to releasing media-savvy videos that purport to show beheadings and the fiery death of the pilot, ISIS has made sex slaves of untold numbers of girls and women, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and killed men, women and children.

There's no easy solution to reducing the mayhem ISIS is causing or the threat it poses to further destabilizing the Middle East.

The bombings against ISIS strongholds must continue. The United States properly has committed itself to lead this campaign but does need continued crucial support from Arab states.

President Barack Obama and the GOP-controlled Congress must put aside partisan sniping and continue the controlled use of air strikes against ISIS. Rushing to put U.S. soldiers on the ground in ISIS strongholds is not a move that deserves strong consideration at this time.

Some members of Congress want to send more military assistance to Jordan, an idea that has some merit. Meanwhile, administration officials are grappling with how deeply America can become involved without overly offending various factions in the tinderboxes of Syria, Iraq and Iran.

ISIS leaders appear to know all this and seemingly have tried to gain the upper hand by using social media as propaganda tools intended to bring others into their bloody cause.

Unfortunately, too many unstable young people, including some from European nations, have sought to join ISIS to fight a war they cannot win and for a cause that cannot be defended.

The murder of pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, for the moment, seems to have united almost all factions in the Middle East against ISIS and its butchery.

Officials from different warring parties in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran lashed out at ISIS. The people of Jordan vowed to step up the war against the monstrous movement.

Jordan's King Abdullah II blasted ISIS, saying "this terrorist organization is not only fighting us, but also fighting Islam and its pure values."

That could become a rallying cry for more people in Middle Eastern countries to rise up and oppose ISIS.

Still, it's extremely difficult to predict the actions of a foe whose moral compass is completely out of sync with humanity and civil society.

The United States and other champions of humanity must find strategies aimed at reducing and ultimately ending these terrorists' abilities to take hostages, kill innocent citizens, and displace and brutalize people who want nothing more than to live their lives with their families in peace.



Feb. 8

Khaleej Times, Dubai, on redefining America's agenda:

Barack Obama's foreign policy for many has been self-explanatory. But it is always the Congress that has begged to differ and had obstructed moves aimed at reconciling with many of the former foes — be it Cuba, Iran or Venezuela. That is why apparently legislators on the Capitol Hill called for a policy statement from the White House detailing out the priorities of the administration, as the president moves towards the fag end of his two-term career.

United States National Security adviser Susan Rice told the Republican-dominated house that President Obama's foreign policy is ambitious but on an achievable note. That in simple words means it is less jingoistic than his predecessor, George Bush, and no less realistic than that of Franklin Roosevelt. The top White House adviser, by keeping her fingers crossed, went on to argue that America's leadership success depends on issue-oriented politics and approach, and it encompasses as wide-ranging factors such as eradicating Ebola from Western Africa, correct relations with Moscow to reconciling with Iran in lieu for a permanent deal on its uranium enrichment. Moreover, she said, the US would have to make hard choices among many competing priorities and must always resist the overreach that comes when it makes decisions based upon fear.

That is not an end in itself, as it goes on to tap the war against terrorism, especially in the Middle East in confronting the Daesh, Al Qaeda and the like. The last but not the least of offshore priorities is the Asia Pivot doctrine, which involves congenial relations with China, India, Japan and the developing economies at large. If catalogued in the context of yesteryears, it stops short of warmongering ambitions that had for long been America's prerogative to make its presence felt as the policeman of the world.

The fact that Obama has desisted to this day from sending troops for a new war is a promising shift in itself. But Susan and Secretary of State John Kerry will have to do a lot of tough-talking as the Congress attempts to resurrect the policy and funnel in arms and troops for Ukraine. Taking into account the mindset of the hawkish elements, Susan was non-committal as far as Ukraine was concerned. That is why she said, Obama is reconsidering his opposition to the idea of arming the government in Kiev, but no decisions have been made.

Confronting Moscow is neither in Washington's interest nor good for serenity of Europe vis-à-vis Western interests worldwide. This is where the policy — along with Iran as the Six-Nation talks resume later this month — will be tested not only on the floor of the House but also on the diplomatic field as Republicans will try to manipulate ground realities. Obama's last two years in office will have to focus on the legacy that the president wants to leave behind, and that should include fundamentals such as closing down the Guantanamo prison, clinching a deal with Iran and opening up with the East for business rather than armament.