Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on Afghanistan:
A flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul this past weekend signaled the official end of Operation Enduring Freedom - America's 13-year war on terror in Afghanistan.
But the reality is that the war is not over, and Americans shouldn't act like it is.
Though al-Qaida, the architects of the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist plots, has been partly dismantled and the Taliban is a shadow of its former self, extremism still has a foothold in the war-torn nation.
Barbarians hoping to keep the nation stuck in the Dark Ages already have been emboldened by America's drawdown. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid referred to the weekend flag-lowering event as a "defeat ceremony" and vowed the insurgents' fight would continue.
Afghanistan, as a nation, is not yet in a position to stand on its own. The country's fledgling government remains mired in corruption, and its national economy is almost entirely dependent on foreign aid and illegal drug exports.
Unless the United States wants to see the country go the way of Iraq - overrun by extremists after a full U.S. withdrawal - the American people and their leaders should steel themselves for a long-term commitment to establishing peace and stability.
And, really, shouldn't that be the ultimate sign of victory?
Anything less would practically guarantee Afghanistan's return to a robust terrorist haven within a decade.
Recall that it took less than five years for the Taliban to fill the vacuum left by the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. A complete withdrawal by U.S. and NATO forces would create a similar opportunity for extremists to exploit.
What a dreadful end to a war that cost 2,200 American lives and $750 billion.
That's why the United States isn't cutting out of Afghanistan, just cutting back.
The task of stabilizing the country - part of Enduring Freedom's transition to Operation Resolute Support - may prove to be every bit as difficult as the decade long struggle to root out terrorists and push back insurgents.
About 11,000 U.S. forces and 2,000 NATO personnel will remain in the country to advise Afghan forces, a substantial amount but far fewer than 140,000 troops in country at the operation's peak in 2010.
The Status of Forces Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States gives the Afghan army the option to enlist the help of coalition forces when needed, so combat and counterterrorism missions are still on the table for American troops when times get tough.
President Obama, who vowed to end America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, told U.S. troops stationed at the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, over the weekend that their service had given Afghanistan a chance "to rebuild its own country.
"We are safer," Obama said. "It's not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again."
Really? That's a lofty promise, and one that's profoundly difficult to fulfill.
If America truly is going to finish the job in Afghanistan, it will involve helping Afghanistan undertake the herculean task of healing its many, many wounds.
Wall Street Journal on investing in the ObamaFund:
Hey, kids. Uncle Sam has a new investment offer for you. Even if you have several decades of productive work ahead_and thus a long investing time horizon_the White House wants you to consider a retirement plan that will invest in nothing but U.S. government debt.
Any financial professional who advised a young investor to avoid stocks and corporate bonds_and everything else except Treasury bonds_would be sued for malpractice. But asset allocation is merely one of the problems with the new "myRA" fund rolling out from the Treasury this month.
A form of Roth Individual Retirement Account that allows people to save after-tax dollars and watch them grow tax-free until retirement, the new myRA offers a single investment option. It's a private version of the G Fund that is available to federal workers and has lately been delivering annual returns of about 2 percent on its portfolio of Treasury securities.
Intended for those who haven't started saving for retirement, don't have a retirement plan at work, and make less than $129,000 per year ($191,000 for married couples filing jointly), the myRA requires no minimum investment to open an account and promises no fees for investors.
Readers will recall President Obama's announcement of this program in January's State of the Union address. Obama said that he would direct the Treasury to create this new retirement plan, which was puzzling because such plans are normally created by law, not presidential order.
Congressional staff was as puzzled as anyone and wondered how the White House would justify the creation of this new savings vehicle. Or perhaps Team Obama would seek new authority from Congress? Well, Treasury is now offering these accounts and has hired Texas-based Comerica to manage them with a partner, Fidelity National Information Services. But the executive branch received no new authority from Congress this year to launch the program.
Treasury is funding the program out of the budget for its Bureau of the Fiscal Service. The assertion here is that existing law allows this part of the Treasury to hire financial agents as part of its mission to efficiently finance the federal government.
But that's a reach, because far from delivering efficiencies for the taxpayer, this program is designed to subsidize the investors. Not that a low-yielding Treasury securities fund is the right move for these first-time investors. But this is a deal they cannot find in the marketplace because it would be unprofitable for any company to offer it, given that the investor pays no fees and can contribute as little as he wishes in regular payroll deductions. Taxpayers are covering the costs, though their elected representatives in Congress never voted to create the program. So far Treasury also hasn't told us the fees it is paying Comerica.
The subsidies in myRAs are likely to be small at first, but the history of government programs is that they expand over time. And if such a subsidy scheme can be enacted administratively, does anyone think this will be the last time such power is exercised?
New investors should be encouraged to consider ways to build wealth beyond simply lending money to the feds. And if politicians want taxpayers to support another retirement program, they should do so through law, not White House whim.
Kansas City Star on racial healing:
Long-simmering tensions over policing and race relations boiled over on Aug. 9 when a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri.
Crowds gathered, rage erupted and the nation was drawn into an emotional examination of the way its police and criminal justice system treat people of color.
The passions stirred on many fronts remain high as the year draws to a close.
Decisions by grand juries not to indict the officer who shot Brown or a New York City police officer whose choke-hold tactic resulted in the death of another black man, Eric Garner, gave rise to enduring protests across the nation. And the appalling murders of two New York City police officers have kindled recriminations against the protesters and politicians who have sympathized with them.
The St. Louis area remains particularly tense. Angry crowds gathered this week when a police officer in Berkeley, Missouri, fatally shot an 18-year-old black man. Emotions abated somewhat when a surveillance camera appeared to show that the teenager had pointed a gun at the officer.
Cool heads and empathy will be needed in 2015 as communities and the nation continue to wrangle with these issues.
Contentions by black Americans that they are subject to more aggressive policing and less protection from the criminal justice system than white Americans are valid and must lead to reforms.
But the many hardworking police officers who protect communities in a fair and courageous manner deserve respect and protection, too.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James this week appropriately touched on both sides of this divide, saying, "I support protests but I definitely support our local police, too." Police Chief Darryl Forté, who like James is African-American, has encouraged lawful protests in the city, including positive communication with and treatment of marchers. That helps explain the lack of violence or much illegal behavior so far in Kansas City.
The events and issues that have come to be summed up as "Ferguson" will resonate particularly loudly in Missouri.
Gov. Jay Nixon has been heavily criticized by fellow Democrats, Republicans, blacks and whites for moving too slowly and ineffectually to quell violent outbreaks following Brown's death, and for failing to prevent more destruction after the grand jury's decision in the case was announced.
Nixon's actions and sometimes-bumbling demeanor frustrated African-Americans, who are seeking a coherent voice to address their concerns about racial profiling, indiscriminate ticketing for minor offenses and failing schools. He fared no better with Missourians who viewed much of what went on in Ferguson as a breakdown of law and order. The governor has a lot of fence-mending ahead of him.
He did make some positive moves, including appointment of the "Ferguson Commission," which must do the hard work of listening to people's concerns and offering meaningful solutions.
Soon, the Missouri General Assembly will consider a number of bills that have been filed in the wake of Ferguson. They include proposals for clearer parameters for police use of deadly force, requiring special prosecutors for all police shootings and universal use of body cameras by police. These should be handled without emotion and with an eye toward unintended consequences.
A number of officials, including state auditor Tom Schweich and Attorney General Chris Koster, are working on the problem of police departments aggressively handing out traffic tickets to raise money for municipalities. This practice, rampant in and around Ferguson, is unfair and poisonous for relationships between police and citizens.
Nationally, President Barack Obama should use the events of 2014 to push for substantive progress in race relations in America. His actions so far have been appropriate. Obama correctly called for calm after the grand jury decisions in Brown's and Garner's deaths and following the murders of New York police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has opened civil rights investigations in Ferguson and elsewhere. Those should be handled properly and lead to constructive actions.
The new focus on policing and race relations was conceived in tragedy and continues to claim lives. It is imperative in 2015 to turn the terrible losses into some lasting good.
This is the second of a five-part series on major issues that will ignore the calendar year's end and demand attention again in 2015.
Boston Herald on colleges:
The U.S. Department of Education's own comments on its draft of a document to establish a federal government rating system for colleges succinctly state the problems — in our view insuperable — with the whole enterprise.
"Many of the factors that contribute to a high quality postsecondary education are intangible," not measured by numerical data, or by available data. "Among these are learning outcomes," which "vary widely across programs and institutions and are communicated in many different ways."
President Obama instructed the department to develop a system that would recognize colleges that excel at enrolling students from all backgrounds, focus on maintaining affordability and succeed in helping all students graduate within a reasonable amount of time. The department plans to consider two-year and four-year institutions separately, sorting each group into the high-performing, the low-performing and those in the middle.
Among the criteria on which the department seeks public comment are three on family income or socioeconomic status, two on cost of attendance, employment and earnings of graduates, graduate school attendance and loan repayment rates.
Under any system of numerical ratings institutions may try to make the numbers look favorable. Graduation rates too low? Ease up on grading standards. (There's been enough of that already.)
Without details, the department said it was "considering accounting for differences in institutional characteristics such as degree and program mix and selectivity."
There's the rub. Harvard, MIT, Holy Cross, Hampshire, Salem State, Smith, the Boston Museum School, the Berklee College of Music and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy are hugely different. The handful of colleges like Harvard that can admit students without regard to need will present further important differences from those that can't.
All things considered, the department must devote more thought to the task before it.
Orange County Register, Santa Ana, California, on the rise of the "boardroom liberal":
As President Obama has embraced the epithet "emperor" as an ironic "badge of honor," Democrats are beginning to realize that an imperious mentality has been in their midst for years. In a talked-about new article at the New Republic, Noam Scheiber proclaimed a new kind of Democrat, the "boardroom liberal," with Obama's in-house guru, Valerie Jarrett, personifying the role.
Dutifully progressive on social matters, the boardroom liberal, nonetheless, is as much a creature of corporate culture as of the counterculture. In fact, Scheiber suggests, as the two have merged in the boardroom and the bureaucracy, a new kind of governing logic has emerged. Patronage is used by privileged operators to elicit big money and big favors, growing the influence and power of the elite while checking off politically correct policy boxes along the way.
Old-school, big-time corporate bosses were once reviled as "imperial CEOs." But today, as Suzanne McGee argued in the Guardian, all-powerful boardroom liberals have shed the stigma by mastering the optics of proper caring. Corporate America is now dominated by the kind of perpetually teamworked and sensitivity-trained character found across our deeply liberal government bureaucracies. It's no surprise that today's elite put on a near-perfect performance of left-leaning cultural values. In the postmodern world they live in, the amount of money and lip service they pay to those values makes it impossible for anyone to judge whether they "truly" believe.
Furthermore, according to McGee, "the reason boardroom liberals need to exist at all is the fact that the social safety net that once existed has collapsed, and while some of that can probably be traced to waste and mismanagement, another giant chunk is simply due to lack of resources."
As evidence, she points to the current level of tax revenue. Yet, she then points out how big business and big government both squander even the vastest of resources. In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million for Newark's public schools - "only to see most of that money vanish, as if into a sinkhole. The gift wasn't terribly well thought-out, critics have said, and suffered most from its top-down nature and the lack of inclusion from the local community."
These same criticisms go triple for a government-planned economy.
Khaleej Times, Dubai, on U.S. dealing with Russia:
After having offered an olive branch to Iran and Cuba, his biggest strategic challenge is how to bring back Vladimir Putin on congenial terms. That, however, is not going to happen anytime soon. The simple reason is that the Russian czar seems to be exhibiting brinkmanship, as he has pushed his country on a warpath with the West. The annexation of Crimea and a proactive role in supporting the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine have made him controversial enough to avoid rubbing shoulders with his Western counterparts. The hasty exit from Brisbane wherein he refused to face the world leaders for reasons best known to him exhibits the unease that has set in.
Now the US president, in an interview with National Public Radio, claimed that Putin's adventurism has cost him his country's economy. Obama said that the collapse of the rouble and the plunge that the economy has taken are evident of the fact that the Russian roulette didn't work. Though Obama's thrust was on making a point that he didn't fall back in dealing with a resurgent leadership in Kremlin, that argument hasn't helped in streamlining relations with Russia.
A plethora of sanctions that the US and the European Union have slapped are inadvertently hurting the Western economies, and the fall of oil prices and the widening of budget deficits of even prosperous countries is a case in point. Putin has already made it clear that he could somehow steer out of the rouble crisis, but it would be too hard for the West to put their houses in order if another recession sets in. This war of nerves between the West and Russia calls for a leadership dialogue, wherein the purpose shouldn't be to castigate or belittle Russia, but to find a way out of the stalemate.
The crisis in Ukraine is one aspect of the entire discord, and at the same time there are other issues that should also come under the scanner, namely the restlessness of the states that sit on the borders with Europe and Russia, the refusal of EU membership to Turkey and last but not the least stalled progress on the missile defense shield and disarmament between Washington and Moscow. The setback that the global economy has seen in recent weeks warrants an immediate action to stop the new Cold War so that synergies are spent on development and investment rather than a new phase of militarization and warfare.