Updated: Thursday, 28 Feb 2013, 10:01 AM EST
Published : Thursday, 28 Feb 2013, 10:01 AM EST
Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on mortgage relief:
A year ago, when the nation's biggest banks settled with state and federal officials over claims of foreclosure abuses, the public was led to believe that the deal would allow millions of hard-pressed borrowers to escape the threat of foreclosure. It still hasn't happened.
A third progress report was issued recently by the monitor of the settlement, which, among its terms, required the banks to grant $25 billion worth of mortgage relief, much of it by reducing the principal balances on troubled loans. The report showed that through the end of 2012, 71,000 borrowers had their primary mortgages modified, versus 170,000 who received help on their second mortgages, including home equity loans.
Both types of assistance can help struggling borrowers — to a point. But as Jessica Silver-Greenberg reported in The Times, housing advocates say that in many cases, banks are not helping with troubled primary mortgages, which often leaves the homeowners facing foreclosure. Instead, the banks are forgiving the second mortgages, which allows them to say that they have met their obligations under the settlement.
In other words, banks are structuring the debt relief in ways designed to tidy up their balance sheets, rather than to keep as many people from losing their homes as possible. Banks often do not own the primary mortgages; they only service them for investors who own them. But they do often hold second liens on their books. In general, the holder of a second lien gets nothing when a home is worth less than the mortgage balance or is sold in foreclosure. But by forgiving the second liens, the bank at least gets credit for "helping" the borrower.
In the report, the settlement monitor, Joseph Smith, said the banks still had much work to do on the borrowers' behalf. We'll believe it when we see it.
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on BP's civil trial:
BP's general counsel said recently that he's confident that the company will escape the harshest level of civil penalties for the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It's not surprising that he would argue against the notion that the oil giant was grossly negligent for the spill, which poured 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. The company hopes to keep its liability from being quadrupled under the Clean Water Act, which is what a finding of gross negligence would trigger. The difference is huge: $4.5 billion for simple negligence or more than $17 billion for gross negligence.
.... It is important to remember what led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the company's spotty track record on safety. None of BP's PR efforts can change that.
The federal government's most conclusive report on the Deepwater Horizon explosion... found that BP's failure to assess the risks of its Macondo well and the company's drive to cut corners at the expense of safety were the main causes.
Significantly, the Joint Investigation Team of the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the Coast Guard was the only non-criminal probe of the disaster with subpoena power. That allowed investigators to question, under oath, a large number of witnesses... and to have access to extensive records from the companies involved.
Members of the joint investigative team clearly believed that BP personnel sacrificed safety in order to save time and money at the company's Macondo well. The group's September 2011 report noted that at the time of the blowout, the project to drill Macondo was behind schedule and $58 million over budget. The document included a chart keying on seven critical decisions in the design of the well and the drilling process — all made by BP managers. ...
The bottom line is simple: BP should pay the highest penalties possible to undo the grievous damage it has done.
The Anniston (Ala.) Star on four-year college degrees:
Whether it's Darwinian theory or basic logic is irrelevant. All job-seekers need to know that it's getting increasingly difficult to land decent employment without a bachelor's degree.
That's not a new premise, of course. Regardless of the field, four-year degrees have long been seen as a needed pathway to a better life and sustainable employment. While today's trends show that bachelor's degrees are indeed needed, they're often earning job-seekers positions that pay low and require menial tasks.
In other words, today's BA is fast becoming yesterday's high school diploma. And the trickle-down effect that has on high-school grads seeking work is obvious.
Recently, a New York Times story explained how companies such as law firms now often require four-year degrees for entry-level positions such as file clerks — jobs that used to be filled by high school graduates or those with two-year degrees.
According to the Times, economists call this "degree inflation" and say this trend is spreading into positions such as dental hygienists, cargo agents and claims adjusters. The bottom line: With high unemployment and tepid job markets, it's now more important than ever for job-seekers to have a college degree on their resume.
Again, that's not new. ...
"Degree inflation" is the real deal; it may get worse. ...
Los Angeles Times on the Voting Rights Act:
Rightly regarded as one of the most lustrous legacies of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlaws discrimination in voting nationwide, but it also requires that states with a history of denying minorities the right to vote obtain the approval of a federal court or the U.S. Justice Department before changing election procedures. This "preclearance" provision, contained in Section 5 of the act, has been repeatedly reauthorized by Congress — most recently in 2006, when it was extended for another 25 years by margins of 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate.
Between 1982 and 2006, the Justice Department used the preclearance process to block the enforcement of more than 2,400 voting changes on the grounds that they would undermine minority voting rights. Yet this proven protection may be on constitutional life support. On Feb. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case from Alabama that challenges Section 5 and the formula by which nine states, mostly in the South, and parts of seven others (including California) are required to obtain preclearance when they redraw district lines, modify registration procedures or change any other practice that might disadvantage minority voters. Supporters of the Voting Rights Act fear that conservative members of the court — and perhaps not only conservatives — are poised to rule that the law violates the prerogatives of states that no longer practice the sort of blatant discrimination that inspired the original legislation.
That would be a mistake of historic proportions. It may no longer be true that African Americans registering to vote are required to face down hostile election officials or endure literacy tests, or that city councils and legislatures in the South are all-white and determined to remain so. But subtler forms of discrimination against blacks and other minorities persist — such as gerrymandering to dilute their voting power or relocating polling stations to make them less accessible to minorities — and Congress has reasonably determined that they are more of a problem in some places than in others. The court should respect that judgment. ...
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, on competing American manufacturing:
Over the past six years, Ford's Engine Plant No. 1 in Brook Park, Ohio, has held a mirror to the health of the domestic auto industry.
In 2007, with Ford hemorrhaging cash, company executives announced they were "temporarily" closing the factory while the company worked through its inventory of engines. The shutdown lasted almost two years while Ford put itself through a painful restructuring and re-imagining of its product lines and strategy — and the entire American auto sector suffered a near-death experience.
Recently, Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford's American operations and the man who brought bad news to Brook Park six years ago, was back to announce that the company was bringing work from Europe to suburban Cleveland. Engine Plant No. 1, which reopened in 2009 with a single shift, will soon add 450 employees to the 1,065 working there now. The number could grow even more because the plant will be making the 2-liter EcoBoost engine, a fuel-efficient model the revitalized company deems absolutely critical to future competitiveness.
In a very different era, Ford employed 16,000 in its Brook Park complex. Those days are long gone. But the rebirth of Engine Plant No. 1 — thanks in no small measure to the sacrifices of its United Auto Workers members — is evidence that American manufacturing can compete and succeed in the global marketplace.
Kearney (Neb.) Hub on solving big issues with small laws:
The trend in Washington, D.C., has been to tackle big problems with big legislation, but why not tackle our big issues one step at a time?
Two years ago, lawmakers signed off on an overriding and, according to some, an exceedingly expensive overhaul of health care.
The bill addresses so many topics it was difficult two years ago to gauge exactly how effective it might be. Just as difficult to gauge was how many lawmakers who voted on the issue actually read the legislation and could speak authoritatively about it.
Soon after the massive Affordable Health Care Act was passed, lawmakers rammed through a 2,300-page overhaul of financial regulations. Again, the law is so massive it is difficult to believe many lawmakers actually read it.
All we really knew two years ago about the health care and financial overhauls is that they created new bureaucracies with broad-ranging authority.
This year and in the coming years, Americans will learn more about the real costs of these massive pieces of federal legislation. ...
In the urgency of the moment, our elected leaders set aside prudence in exchange for expediency, and rammed through massive laws without regard to their huge price tags or unanticipated side effects.
This approach to lawmaking is reckless and, in many instances, it's avoidable. For example, the timetable and framework for a federal budget already are in place, yet it has been five years since Washington enacted a federal spending plan.
Let's do away with the big laws. Let's replace them with little laws that address smaller problems, which, if properly tackled, can contribute to the resolution of much larger problems.
It's simple. Solve a smaller problem. Repeat.
The Denver Post on China's hacking:
For a decade, the Chinese government's cyber-espionage activities have been an open secret in Washington.
The hacking and theft of intellectual property were widely known but not publicly discussed by either the companies being victimized or the federal government.
However, with the recent public release of a detailed report by cyber-security firm Mandiant, which draws a clear line between the Chinese military and extensive hacking activity, the behind-the-scenes drama has taken center stage.
We hope the public discussion, and the president's strategy to mitigate trade-secret theft, are just the beginning of a broad and multilateral effort to pressure the Chinese, as well as other nations that have been snooping around in corporate systems.
It is unfair for U.S. companies to spend the money and intellectual capital in developing ideas, business plans and sales strategies only to have that information stolen and used by competitors.
In this case, the suspicion is the secrets the Chinese military steals are funneled to state-sponsored companies that compete with U.S. companies in the global marketplace.
Of course, the Chinese government denies having engaged in such activities, but the Mandiant report is well-documented. There would have to be a stunning number of coincidences in play for the Chinese to have been accused in error.
The Obama administration responded to the report with a strategy white paper outlining approaches to the problem. It includes putting offending countries on "watch lists" and urging other countries to join in pressuring bad actors to stop their hacking activities. ...
It's a delicate matter, since there are many issues upon which the U.S. and China need to cooperate to serve mutual interests. But this country must defend its economic interests and find a way to stop aggressive Chinese hackers bent on appropriating some of America's greatest assets — the creativity and innovation of its people.
The Dallas Morning News on a U.S. trade treaty with the European Union:
Presidents are often defined by the surprising moves they make, not the decisions that simply sit well with their supporters.
Ronald Reagan ushered in the end of the Cold War through his meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of a nation that Reagan long excoriated for its communist dogma. Richard Nixon famously opened up relations with China, even though many conservatives couldn't believe that he would set foot there. And Bill Clinton stepped out of the Democratic comfort zone and reformed the welfare system. Those three moves not only served a larger good, they also reshaped how many thought of those presidencies.
Barack Obama has a chance to make history through a surprise move of his own. The president announced in his State of the Union address that he wants to create a mega-trade treaty with the 27 nations of the European Union.
Obama's trade representative, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, deserves credit for passing three trade treaties that the George W. Bush administration negotiated. But Obama has not exactly been a powerful voice for international trade, especially when compared with the last Democratic president, Clinton, who made trade central to his economic agenda.
A deal with Europe could change Obama's standing in this arena. If he succeeds in crafting a European treaty, he could prove himself a champion of expanding America's position in the world economy.
A trade treaty with the EU, home to 500 million people, also would open up innumerable possibilities for American companies, agricultural producers and global traders...
American labor and environmental groups should like the pact as well. They generally are lukewarm to international trade agreements because of the working and ecological conditions in some nations. But Europe has robust labor laws and environmental standards. That should make a treaty more palatable for these special-interest groups. ...
Americans would gain much from bold presidential leadership. So would Obama. This proposal is a chance for him to recast his legacy, much like presidents before him have done.
The Jerusalem Post on Palestinian unrest:
The unfortunate death of Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian arrested recently for throwing rocks at Israeli cars, has triggered violence in flashpoints around the West Bank.
An autopsy performed by the Health Ministry found that Jaradat died of heart failure and that signs of violence on his body, including broken ribs, were from resuscitation attempts.
But the Palestinian Authority, in an apparent attempt to escalate tensions, declared that Jaradat had been tortured to death at Megiddo Prison, where he was being held.
Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah-linked terrorist group, vowed to avenge Jaradat's death, which has become another source of rage for Palestinians already demonstrating in solidarity with four hunger-striking security prisoners and in particular against Israel's decision to re-arrest two terrorists who had been released in the October 2011 Gilad Schalit prisoner swap. Kadoura Fares, a former PA minister and the head of the Palestinian Prisoner's Club, warned of a third intifada. ...
And PA President Mahmoud Abbas might be interested in escalating violence ahead of President Barack Obama's visit to the region. Scenes of rioting in Palestinian towns across the West Bank on the eve of the U.S. president's arrival might push the Palestinian issue back on the top of the White House's agenda for the region. For some time, the bloody civil war in Syria, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Iran's push for nuclear weapons have eclipsed the Palestinian cause. ...
In the best scenario from Abbas's point of view, limited rioting could get the U.S. and Europe to renew pressure on Israel. But if he plays his hand wrong and the unrest deteriorates into a third intifada, Abbas could lose control of the situation, lose the presidency and ruin any chances for peace for years to come.
China Daily, Beijing, on the new Republic of Korea president:
The inauguration speech delivered by Park Geun-hye after being sworn in as the first female president of the Republic of Korea has sent positive signals to Northeast Asia, which is in dire need of them to ease the tension that has built up after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea conducted a third nuclear test earlier this month.
Park has taken the helm of her country at a sensitive time, as the region is still reeling from years of tensions. How she copes with the situation on the Korean Peninsula will not only test her own political wisdom but also have an impact on regional peace and stability.
It is good to see, therefore, that Park has kept her campaign promise and vowed to pursue trust-building with the DPRK. This show of consistency alone was necessary if Park is to usher in a new beginning for interactions between the two Koreas during her five-year presidential term.
True, Park also condemned Pyongyang's nuclear program... But her promise to also build trust with Pyongyang step-by-step gives Seoul a lot of flexibility and raises hopes that when the knee-jerk responses toward Pyongyang's nuclear test subside, Seoul will make moves to ease tensions with its neighbor in the north. ...
While it is unreasonable to expect an immediate reconciliation of the two Koreas, it is reasonable to gauge that Seoul's new government could show a softer and less confrontational side to its neighbor.
As a close neighbor to the two Koreas, China is willing to do what it can to see the situation on the peninsula take a positive turn. It supports efforts that aim to build trust and de-escalate tensions in Northeast Asia.
In this regard, the country will continue to work with the ROK, as well as other parties concerned, to create conditions for resolving the peninsula's nuclear issue through negotiations and dialogue.
London Evening Standard on Italy's election:
The results of Italy's election threaten the country with paralysis; they also put at risk the Eurozone's fragile recovery. While Pier Luigi Bersani's center-Left bloc has won the lower house, narrowly beating Silvio Berlusconi's Right-wing bloc, neither has control of the upper house.
Meanwhile protest votes have given comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement third place. That Grillo could make so large an impact so quickly is a measure of the volatility and extreme disaffection of Italian voters. Berlusconi's resurgence says much the same: it beggars belief that a man convicted of tax fraud and disgraced in multiple sex scandals could still come close to leading Europe's third-largest economy.
What is clear is that whatever governing arrangement is now cobbled together, the fiscal discipline of Mario Monti's brief spell as prime minister is over. Monti's austerity program was, from late last year, starting to have an impact: combined with the European Central Bank's pledge to shore up the Italian economy, it had contributed to several months of relative calm in the eurozone. Now yields on Italian government bonds have risen sharply and markets are down. The result adds a significant element of instability to the dismal European Commission growth forecasts, which predicted that the eurozone will remain mired in recession for the rest of this year, with unemployment rising.
Italy may well now face another election, thereby prolonging the uncertainty. But it is hard to see any major party championing the austerity that the country's ramshackle finances need: Monti's party got just 10 per cent of the vote. With the Spanish government threatened by a major corruption scandal, and increasing international criticism of French President Hollande's lackluster economic management, the outlook for the Eurozone's troubled economies is looking significantly worse than it did two months ago. As the United Kingdom's largest export market, that should worry us.
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, on sexual violence in India and South Africa:
Even as the position of women continues to evolve in Canada and the West, recent events in two key emerging economies — India and South Africa — are poignant reminders of the challenges that remain in developing countries.
The horrific and deadly gang rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi last December, and the shooting of model Reeva Steenkamp in Pretoria on Valentine's Day have brought to the fore the issue of sexual violence and the particular dangers women face. Steenkamp's boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee and celebrity Olympian, has been charged with murder.
Both countries are having to confront the public's anger over alarmingly high levels of violence against women and the deeply ingrained societal biases against women that the two tragedies have highlighted.
India is to be commended, then, for acting quickly to bring in a new law toughening the penalties for rape, and making stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women and children crimes. The legislation reflects the expectation that the state must do a better job protecting women. ...
South Africa should likewise channel its outrage over the murder of Steenkamp into political action. The rate of homicides of females in that country is extremely high — five times higher than the global rate, according to the South African Medical Research Council. One-quarter of men have raped a woman.
The country must find new ways to bring up and educate boys and young men, so that they no longer grow up thinking violence against women is acceptable.
Just as India has been spurred to action, South Africa must use the tragedy to push for transformation, and to finally tackle the root cause of endemic gender-based violence and challenge a deeply chauvinistic culture.
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