Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The San Diego Union-Tribune on the GM bailout:
The announcement that the federal government would sell 200 million shares of General Motors back to GM for $5.5 billion and then dispose of its remaining 300 million shares by early 2014 makes a vast taxpayer loss close to a certainty. If the remaining shares sell for the same $27.50 as the initial block of 200 million shares -- and GM's many headaches make a big stock surge unlikely -- the hit would be $12.5 billion.
Was this worth it? If you believe the 1-million-jobs-were-saved claim, you may say yes. But that claim is based on the very dubious idea that GM would have disappeared without federal intervention. The decision by first President George W. Bush in 2008 and then President Barack Obama in 2009 to have the federal government invest in the automaker allowed GM to avoid the sort of normal bankruptcy process that would have helped it leverage a lower wage structure from the United Auto Workers, one that would have put GM on a par with most of its competitors.
Who agrees that the union made out very well from the taxpayer bailout? Stephen Rattner, the executive Obama chose to oversee the GM deal. "We should have asked the UAW to do a bit more. We did not ask any UAW member to take a cut in their pay," he said.
Here's one more twist on the outcome of the Troubled Asset Relief Program: Taxpayers made billions after the federal government was paid back with interest by the most reviled recipients of relief -- big banks and the American Insurance Group. But not with General Motors, whose fundamentals were bad far before the housing bubble collapsed in 2007.
Keep this in mind when you hear simplistic talk about the "success" of the auto bailout.
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette on GOP political contributions:
Radical filmmaker Michael Moore says the wealthy 1 percent elite may rule America's economy, "but they have only 1 percent of the vote." Thus they can't win elections through their numbers. So they must do it with their money -- virtually all donated to Republican candidates.
However, the 2012 national confrontation showed that billionaire cash isn't enough to carry an election. Billions spent to sell the GOP ticket produced mostly losses.
For example, Karl Rove induced the rich to give $400 million to his two "Crossroads" committees backing Republicans -- to no avail. After returns were counted, Donald Trump sneered by Twitter:
"Congrats to Karl Rove on blowing $400 million this cycle. Every race Crossroads ran ads in, the Republicans lost. What a waste of money."
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife gave an estimated $150 million in a failed attempt to elect a GOP president -- and he told The Wall Street Journal he's prepared to spend twice as much next election.
Billionaires Harold Simmons and Bob Perry each invested more than $20 million in the 2012 lost cause. A mysterious firm created just two months before the election, Specialty Group Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn., gave $10.6 million to a tea party Republican committee that backed losers.
Part of this astronomical spending sprang from the controversial "Citizens United" Supreme Court case of 2010, in which conservative justices ruled that corporations are "persons" with unlimited "free speech," meaning the right to buy political ads. ...
We can't guess how future balloting will turn out. But, for now, it's gratifying to see that fat-cat money wasn't able to purchase the 2012 election.
Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on the Mortgage Debt Relief Act:
As Washington and the nation focus on the "fiscal cliff," a critical protection for underwater homeowners also is about to go over the edge.
The Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
The legislation allows borrowers to avoid paying income taxes on the amount of principal that is being forgiven as part of a loan modification or a short sale.
If the law expires, homeowners will have to pay taxes on the debt reduction. This is ridiculous.
Consider: an individual buys a home for $150,000. The economy tanks, he loses his job and faces foreclosure. He manages a short sale of the home for $80,000. Unless the law is extended, he would be taxed on the $70,000 debt that is being forgiven, as if the value that doesn't exist were personal income.
The tax also would be imposed if the bank modified the loan, reducing the principal so that the homeowner could better manage payments. This would be devastating to struggling homeowners...
Slapping a tax on borrowers trying to get back on sound financial ground is no way to revive the economy or the housing market. When the law was written, it was widely expected that housing, and the broader economy, would be back to normal by now. Today, the reasons for passing the act in 2007 remain painfully evident in many communities. ...
Measures in Congress would extend the tax break and spare Americans paying taxes on "assets" that don't exist.
Congress should heed common sense...
The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa, on GOP attacks on Secretary of Defense candidate:
It's a depressing reminder of just how messed up Washington is when Republicans get angry at a Democratic president who might hire a Republican to head the Pentagon.
But the Obama administration, facing a fiscal crisis fomented by unyielding Republicans, had to waste valuable time to defend retired Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican.
Hagel is among candidates President Barack Obama is considering to replace the retiring Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense. Twice wounded in Vietnam, Hagel served two terms in the Senate before retiring a decade ago.
A rarity in his pragmatism and political moderation, Hagel endorsed Obama's candidacy in 2008 and now serves on the president's Intelligence Advisory Board.
His views and credentials make him a good fit for the task ahead, which is to persuade Congress to slash a staggering Pentagon budget bloated by billions of dollars of projects, personnel and equipment congressmen want for their districts but the Pentagon doesn't want or need.
What has certain Republicans in a tizzy are Hagel's foreign policy positions. As a senator, he referred to "the Jewish lobby" and its power to dictate U.S. Middle East policy in Israel's favor, be it at the expense of the Palestinians' legitimate claims or U.S. security. ...
As confirmation of his observation that pro-Israel lobby groups dictate U.S. policy, the Emergency Committee for Israel says it's planning to air attack ads in the U.S. denouncing Hagel's possible nomination. Republicans used the same smear tactics to derail U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's elevation to Secretary of State even before Obama nominated her. ...
There is a difference between being anti-Israel and being Israel's pawn.
Chuck Hagel apparently thinks that's the way it should be. And most Americans, weary of Middle Eastern countries' blood-drenched squabbles, agree.
The Seattle Times on U.S. Arctic interests:
Changing environmental and political conditions in the Arctic reinforce the need for the U.S. Coast Guard to have the equipment and vessels appropriate to the hazardous conditions.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., joined forces to secure passage of a Coast Guard authorization bill that maintains the nation's capacity to deploy icebreakers to represent U.S. interests.
Melting polar ice caps are creating a new commercial and political dynamic, with the prospects of greater Arctic access as a trade route.
As a consequence, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are seeking permanent observer status on the Arctic Council, which overseas policy issues in the region. ...
Currently, the Coast Guard has one operational icebreaker, the Healy, a medium icebreaker primarily equipped for scientific research. The Coast Guard's only heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, is near completion of an extensive overhaul...
Cantwell cites a Coast Guard study that concluded that six heavy-duty icebreakers and four medium icebreakers are needed to help meet Coast Guard and U.S. Navy mission requirements. The country is nowhere close. A new vessel can push $1 billion and take a decade to build.
Icebreakers represent a practical investment in the nation's security and commercial interests. ...
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, on the fiscal cliff:
Now that House Speaker John Boehner has failed to persuade enough members of his own Republican caucus to support a proposal that would have raised taxes on a relative handful of the highest-earning Americans, it is likely that President Barack Obama will need to look to the Senate to avert the fiscal calamity that's approaching like a runaway freight train. For the good of the nation, leaders there must rise to the challenge.
Recently, it appeared that Boehner and the president were moving toward a deal that would increase revenues and rein in spending enough to avoid a series of massive, automatic and across-the-board tax hikes and expenditure cuts that many analysts fear will trigger a new recession....
But then Boehner abruptly stopped negotiating with the White House and focused on what he called Plan B, a budget package that would have raise taxes on Americans who earn $1 million or more a year. Presumably, he was trying to show Obama and other Democratic leaders that his caucus was willing to go only so far on taxes....
Since Obama and Boehner were within shouting distance of a deal to cut the deficit by $2 trillion over the next decade, there's at least a chance the president can now reach an accord with leaders of the Senate before serious damage is done...
It is imperative that all sides return to Washington after Christmas ready to prove that they can indeed negotiate, compromise -- and govern.
Chicago Sun-Times on the NRA's solution to gun violence:
Is this the America we want to live in?
"The only way -- the only way -- to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection," National Rifle Association executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said in the NRA's first comments since the Connecticut school shooting.
In a blistering and paranoid rant, LaPierre offered up just one concrete solution to the national epidemic of gun violence that claimed 20 first-graders and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14:
Armed police officers in every American school.
Is that really the best we can do?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on new EPA rules
As conservatives like to say, the Environmental Protection Agency and the rules it writes do no good for the nation and are instead a burden on economic recovery. Back in the real world, Americans can now take a deep breath of relief that the EPA is still in business.
What business is that? It is the business of ensuring that the air we breathe does not corrupt our lungs and the water we drink is fresh and clear. As it happens, the EPA's key role was underscored just this month.
New EPA standards finalized on Dec. 14 target soot particles and force industry, utilities and local governments to reduce this harmful form of pollution which emanates from smokestacks, power plants, diesel exhaust and wood-burning stoves. Basing its action on numerous scientific studies, the EPA set the standard for soot particles at 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The previous standard, set in 1997, was 15 micrograms.
This is good news for Americans concerned about their health. Fine particles of pollution can go deep into the lungs and are linked to a wide range of health problems -- premature death, hearts attacks, strokes, acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. Older people with heart and lung conditions and children are especially at risk from soot pollution.
If anybody still thinks the EPA is being dictatorial, despite the health benefits of its regulations and the expected saving of thousands of lives, consider that the agency was fulfilling a court order. The EPA had been sued and a federal court ruled that the old standard was too weak and needed to be toughened according to the best available evidence. ...
Although industry is complaining that the new standard will destroy jobs, it's a good deal for the nation as a whole. Call it a fresh breath of air.
Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Iraq's failing political balance:
The stroke suffered by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is a cause for serious concern. The Iraqi government of Nuri Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has been sleepwalking back toward chaos and inter-communal strife. Since an arrest warrant was issued for deputy Vice President Tareq Al-Hashimi, a Sunni who then fled abroad, Al-Maliki has led national unity government in name only.
As a result of what was seen as an attempt by Al-Maliki, to consolidate the Shiite hold on power, most leading Sunni politicians have been marginalized. The autonomous Kurdish region has meanwhile been going its own way, even to the extent of making exploration and production oil deals with foreign majors, without consulting the central government in Baghdad.
A veteran politician, Talabani, as a Kurd, has been a powerful symbol of the aspiration for Iraqi unity. Indeed, some believe that had it not been for his influence, Iraq's Kurdish region would have gone far further in its quest for greater, if not complete, independence.
Had Iraq progressed any reasonable distance along the path of a pluralist democracy, within the constitution that voters backed overwhelmingly in 2005, Jalabani's stroke would not be a problem. But now, if the president, who is 79, is incapacitated for a long period, as can often happen with strokes, or is even forced to relinquish office, then the prospects for Iraq are suddenly very uncertain. ...
For those Shiites who, with Iranian encouragement, are thinking that payback time is fast approaching, for all the humiliations their community suffered under Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated dictatorship, a terrible reality is waiting.
It is probably not too late for the Al-Maliki government to avert a new tragedy through a substantial change of direction. However, what is needed is a level of vision and statesmanship that has sadly been lacking so far during his premiership. ...
With a more stable political and economic picture in place, the re-vitalized National Unity government could then turn its mind to the pressing issue of tackling the rising tide of terrorism.
The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on South Korea-Japan relations:
South Korea will soon be led by its first female president, Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party. In the presidential election held on Dec. 19, she defeated her opponent, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party. ...
South Korean voters sought "change within stability."
With the advancement of Samsung Electronics Co. and other businesses, South Korea appears robust. In reality, however, it is standing at a crossroads.
Incumbent President Lee Myung-bak put importance on economic growth and adopted policies that give consideration to such conglomerates as the Samsung and Hyundai groups. However, the fruits of the economic growth did not spread widely among the public. ...
In South Korea, the aging of society and the declining birthrate are advancing at a pace faster than in Japan. But South Korea's social security systems, such as pension programs, remain fragile. More people feel the gap in society is growing wider. ...
For North Korea, Park advocates a policy of dialogue after judging that incumbent President Lee Myung-bak's hard-line policy did not lead to improved relations. ... it is important for South Korea to keep in step with Japan and the United States on diplomatic policy.
This year, Japan-South Korea relations drastically worsened after Lee landed on the disputed Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan and made a controversial remark about the emperor's visit to South Korea. At a time when new administrations are set to take off both in Japan and South Korea, they should seize this opportunity to improve relations. ...
In South Korea, there are concerns about the historical recognition of Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe, who will become Japan's next prime minister. ...
Abe emphasized that he will put importance on the Japan-U.S. alliance. Along with South Korea, which is also a U.S. ally, cooperation of the three countries forms the basis of stability in East Asia.
London Evening Standard on the UBS-Libor scandal:
The sheer scale of the UBS fine for its part in the Libor-fixing scandal is an indication of how seriously the financial authorities take the affair.
Crucially, UBS profited from the fixing of Libor -- the rate at which banks say they can borrow money from each other -- which could not be proven in the case of Barclays earlier this year. So in addition to the record $1.5 billion fine to financial authorities, in London, New York and Tokyo, UBS faces the alarming prospect of civil cases from clients.
This is, by any estimate, an exemplary fine for behavior which bordered on the farcical in the case of traders who wheedled and cajoled colleagues in other banks into collusion. But as with Barclays, it was also done to convey a false sense of security about the rate at which UBS could obtain credit during the financial crisis.
Although the financial authorities, including London's FSA, can congratulate themselves on the draconian punishment, the bigger question is how they managed not to identify a scam that seems to have been common knowledge for years before anything was done. ...
Nor did it appear to have registered with the bank's own compliance department, which ran five separate internal audits during the period. ...
This scandal has some way to run yet. Many banks were in on rigging Libor... This is not an issue of interest merely to financiers. If banks have to find millions to pay severe fines, even if not on the UBS scale, then they will have that much less credit to offer individuals and businesses who want to borrow. And among those who will pay for the costs involved are bank customers. As ever, we all pay for the sins of bankers.
Toronto Sun on the United Nations:
When the usual jackasses and jackals of the United Nations expressed their rabid hatred of western sensibilities in November regarding Israel, Canada proudly voted against them.
That said, this siding with Israel by Canada did not stop Prime Minister Stephen Harper from later phoning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to chide him for reviving settlement plans east of Jerusalem that have been plaguing peace talks since the outset.
But when the UN formally upgraded the Palestinian Authority from a non-member observer to a non-member observer state, it was only throwing more oil on an already slippery slope.
Any chance of peace between Israel and the terrorist-controlled Hamas government using the Gaza region of Palestine as a launching pad for Israeli-bound missiles, was set back dramatically.
It was a sad day, particularly since some usually thoughtful nations -- France in particular -- voted with the Communist big hitters of Russia and China, while despotic little regimes voted in their usual anti-Israel, anti-anything-western way.
We stand firmly with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who was in New York to voice his opposition to the UN's resolution, that such a "reward" should not come before a real peace is negotiated. ...
Just because the PLO's transformation into the Palestinian Authority gave it a modicum of undue credibility, now is also not the time to look upon Hamas as a legitimate government, despite the allusion that it was democratically elected.
To us, it is still a terrorist organization, and the Palestinian Authority is still the PLO, and bent on the destruction of Israel.
A few months before Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas got his much-coveted UN observer state status, his vitriol against Israel was in full rage, warning the international community siding with Israel to back off or else.
"Don't order us to recognize a Jewish state," Abbas said. "We won't accept it." And for this he gets rewarded by the UN?
What a farce.