Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Boston Herald on student loan politics:
The war on "millionaires and billionaires" is back! And at a most politically convenient time for President Obama, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and their party.
Yes, the president this week has pivoted away from irksome foreign policy issues and onto friendly domestic territory, with an issue Democrats see as a winner in the midterm elections — the high cost of student loan debt.
The president yesterday announced plans to expand the number of student borrowers who are allowed to cap their loan repayments at 10 percent of their income (a unilateral move for which the administration could provide no cost estimate) along with other underwhelming steps to ease the burden of student debt.
More significant, the president has endorsed passage of a bill — filed by Warren — that would allow student borrowers to refinance both their government and private student loans at lower rates.
And because there is no issue that this White House can't reduce to a stark choice between good and evil — the evil so often being those who dare to earn a hefty paycheck — well, Obama said members of Congress now face a choice.
"Lower tax bills for millionaires," he said, "or lower student loan bills for the middle class."
Warren's refinancing bill is estimated to cost $58 billion over 10 years, a cost that would be covered by closing those "loopholes" that allow the wealthy to pay rates that may be the same or lower than individuals who earn much less.
And while it's true that student loan debt is burdening the U.S. economy, this plan does nothing to help student borrowers find the jobs they would need to repay the money they borrowed (with knowledge of what it would cost to repay).
And even more to the point, making borrowing that much cheaper will do nothing whatsoever to bring down the high cost of a college education, which is the true driver of student loan debt.
This is nothing more than politics as official policy — the president's shout-out to U.S. Rep. John Tierney, a vulnerable Democrat, at yesterday's White House ceremony was just one of the clues — and it's a misguided policy at that.
The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on new carbon rules:
The Obama administration's new effort to reduce carbon emissions is an important, sensible and necessary step in reducing threat of global warming. It should serve as an example to other polluting nations around the world.
The new policy announced by the Environmental Protection Agency a week ago would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Ultimately, the reduction in carbon emissions would be the equivalent of removing two-thirds of the nation's cars from the roads.
Coal-burning power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the nation. They account for about one-third of all U.S. greenhouse emissions.
But the proposed EPA policy would not cap those emissions overnight. Instead, the policy has built-in flexibility to allow states to devise their own plans for phasing in reductions over the next 15 years.
States will be permitted to meet the new standards in a variety of ways. They can require power plants to improve their capacity to capture carbon emissions. They can promote renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. And they can set up in-state, cap-and-trade agreements in which low-emission plants can sell credits to pollute to higher-emission plants.
Critics of the plan - including many who still refuse to accept that climate change even exists - have been quick to condemn it. They have labeled it a job-killer and a "war on coal."
But the economic harm is likely to be far less than they claim. Power companies already have factored in the cost of phasing out obsolete coal plants and developing cleaner energy sources, including the use of plentiful natural gas to run new plants.
Plus, it's hard to put a price on better health for millions of Americans.
The EPA's plan is a crucial first step in moving from a fossil-fuel based economy to one more reliant on clean, renewable energy. It's not only something the American people should accept; it's what they should demand.
Miami Herald on bringing Sgt. Bowe Bergdhal home:
The emerging picture of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was exchanged for five prisoners held at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo, indicates he's no hero, no all-American G.I. Joe, and might even be a deserter.
But what no one disputes is that he was an American soldier held by the enemy, and that alone justifies the U.S. effort to bring him home.
That is what the armed forces do. It's part of unwritten but fundamental code of solidarity in the uniformed services. No one is left behind, and no one should seek, or offer, apologies for bringing soldiers home.
The circumstances of this particular case make the prisoner exchange contentious. The initial sense of relief and joy over his return quickly vanished when it was disclosed that PFC Bergdahl — he was promoted to sergeant during his five-year absence, as per military protocol — apparently walked away from his post in Afghanistan voluntarily.
That is a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, if it turns out to be true.
Before rushing to judgment, however, the murky details of the Bergdahl incident must be investigated.
Already, several early claims, such as the allegation that he went in search of the Taliban forces that turned into his captors, have been debunked or questioned.
In failing to inform Congress about their release beforehand, the Obama administration ignored the law, an action the president's advisers have sought to justify by claiming that the Taliban had threatened to kill Sgt. Bergdahl if it became public.
This, too, should be part of any post-exchange investigation, providing it doesn't turn into a political circus. Republicans in Congress have been so eager to turn any perceived weakness or misstep by the administration into a scandal that it's hard to take them seriously when they once again cry wolf.
Whatever an investigation turns up, it does not alter the basic facts of Bergdahl's detention, nor the fact that bringing a captured soldier back to his family was the correct decision.
Could President Obama have handled it better, perhaps without the big Rose Garden announcement? Yes.
Did he make the right call? Absolutely.
Sacramento (California) Bee on Brazil and the World Cup:
When the first World Cup 2014 match kicks off Thursday in Sao Paulo, Brazil, an estimated 1 billion people around the world will be watching. Billions more are expected to tune in for rest of the matches in new or refurbished stadiums in Rio de Janeiro and other cities around the country on which the government spent more than the equivalent of U.S. $11 billion.
That's an astonishing amount of money, even for a growing economic power like Brazil. And for many in this South American country with a long love affair with fútbol, not to mention more than its share of World Cup victories, it's just too much.
The ballooning cost of the infrastructure that will be hardly used by Brazilians has become the ignition point for a seething discontent throughout the country over corruption and lack of spending on public services. The protests began about a year ago and in the last few days have been reaching a new pitch with anti-government demonstrations, strikes and poverty activists taking their message to social media.
Brazilian officials reasoned that the stadiums can be used for the 2016 Olympic Games planned for this country, despite the data from the site of the last World Cup in South Africa that say all the hoped-for economic benefits didn't materialize. They can also point to the jobs the project brings in, plus the economic boost from an influx of millions of tourist from around the world paying for hotel, transportation, food, fun and souvenirs.
The economy is improving in Brazil, at least, according to World Bank data, and poverty rates have dropped significantly in recent years, from 24 percent in 2007 to 17 percent in 2012.
But tell that to the vast majority who feel the economic boom is leaving them behind and only widening the gap between rich and poor, according to a Pew Global survey released last week.
It's a message that is resonating across the globe.
It's worth noting that no one is bashing soccer itself. This is Brazil, after all, home of the greatest player ever, Pelé. The animosity is for the power structure, and offers an opportunity for fans around the world to chew over this bigger question while watching their team try to score: Who really wins when big sporting events come to town?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on troubled Haiti:
The troubled half-island of Haiti has a new problem to complicate its national life, this time over scheduling elections in the face of wrangling politicians.
Haiti, population 11 million, seems almost always to be in some kind of trouble. It also has been able, with some success, to attract international aid to help it climb out of the holes it seems to find itself in. The most recent catastrophe was the 2010 earthquake, which killed an estimated 316,000, and left its capital, Port-au-Prince, with many of its buildings ruined, and an estimated 1.5 million Haitians without housing.
The international response to the disaster included many promises of relief. Some $9 billion was pledged. Some has been delivered; some has not. Recovery and reconstruction based on the relief has -- as is normal for Haiti -- presented a mixed picture. Some work has been accomplished. There has been a glitch caused by a cholera epidemic. Some of the Haitians claim that United Nations forces were responsible for introducing the disease to Haiti. That issue is still under dispute.
The current problem, holding up recovery and eventual economic development is of a different sort. The current president, Michel J. Martelly, elected in 2011, is far overdue in setting parliamentary elections. Haiti's constitution forbids him a second consecutive term and the country's parliament is not ready to play ball with him on amending the constitution. That's one snarl.
Another snarl is that two former presidents, both of whom showed themselves to be scoundrels in office, Jean-Claude Duvalier, "Baby Doc," and Jean- Bernard Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, were allowed to return to Haiti in recent years.
Both would also just love to be back in office, the true catbird seat in terms of opportunity to steal, and are agitating to prevent the electoral process to function until they are properly positioned to re-install themselves in the provisional presidential palace. (The actual one remains in ruins.)
In the meantime, international aid donors are holding back on promised funds for reconstruction and development, arguing, probably correctly, that the political situation in the country is too unsettled for them to be able to provide aid with any assurance that it will be used honestly and well. It's hard to see what exactly any outside party can do about the current situation in Haiti, but to the degree that the United States, the largest single aid donor, can influence events there, the first thing that should be done is push Mr. Martelly and the Haitian legislature hard to set elections according to a firm schedule.
The people of Haiti deserve help and their politicians shouldn't be allowed to block it.
Khaleej Times, Dubai, on the tax dodgers:
In the latest attempt elevating the long-standing issue, a United Nations report has called for a fight against cross-border tax evasion — as in the kind of "smart" accounting that has let high-profile multinationals such as Apple, Google and Starbucks save billions in taxes for years.
A US Senate committee last year put several executives under the spotlight, seeking accountability, and they mostly responded by saying they were simple playing by the rules put in front of them. Consequently, organizations such as the OECD have worked on aligning the world's tax regulations to close loopholes. This, however, is proving to be a gargantuan task.
"Profits should be taxed where they are earned," the UN said last week in a report on the key economic issues and developments for 2014. "Further progress is needed to fight cross-border tax evasion and tax avoidance. Efforts are needed for international tax cooperation." For campaigners, however, increasingly the solution is to have the public hold these corporations accountable by decrying the accounting tactics: only when tax dodging becomes a public relations problem will they make any effort, they say.
Recently, a UN-sponsored group estimated that Africa was losing $50 billion a year from illicit capital outflows, including tax avoidance by multi-nationals — an amount twice as high as the total foreign aid the continent receives a year. A global poverty report by Action Aid, a UK non-profit, echoed the findings, noting it was the world's weakest economies being deprived of tax revenue.
For the whole of the developing world, Christian Aid estimates the loss in revenue at $160 billion, while The Economist says $20 trillion in funds is parked in tax havens. "Essentially, what this means is that the poor are subsidizing the rich. That's the heart of the injustice," a spokesman for global non-profit Tax Justice Network told the Sydney Morning Herald. Previous inquiries have found egregious examples of companies exploiting international tax loopholes, such as Google funneling 80 per cent of its global pre-tax profits from international subsidiaries to Bermuda in 2011, which has no corporate tax rate. That year, the company reported an effective tax rate of about 19 per cent instead of the statutory 39 percent in the US, while records in the UK showed its tax bill worked out to about 1.5 per cent of revenue. In Australia, Google paid just $74,000 in taxes.
Despite criticism from many quarters, executive chairman Eric Schmidt said during an interview in 2012 about the company's tax payments: "I am very proud of the structure that we set up." Small, honest businesses pay far higher taxes than global corporations armed with lawyers and clever accountants. The unfairness is plain enough. It is up to individuals to realize they can be the key influencers on this issue.
The Australian on Australian prime minister with President Obama:
No meeting is more important for an Australian prime minister abroad than with the US president.
This week, Tony Abbott will be in Washington for talks with US President Barack Obama, military and intelligence chiefs, key economic policymakers and congressional leaders. He will also travel to Canada and meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper for formal talks. The focus of Abbott's discussions will be national security and defense, economic co-operation and opportunities to boost two-way trade and investment, and the forthcoming G20 summit of global economic leaders. Abbott's overseas trip continues after a successful visit to France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, honoring the more than 3000 Australian troops who supported the historic Normandy landings, and talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande.
Before heading to Europe, Abbott visited Australia's nearest neighbor, Indonesia, for talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Declaring Indonesia and Australia to be "good friends", the President described the bilateral meeting with Abbott as "very productive" and "very constructive". While there are issues that arise from time to time, he made it clear the underlying strength of the relationship was such that difficult matters could be progressed with mutual respect. Despite the bleatings from some commentators and Abbott's political opponents that the government's tough border protection policies, including the turn-back of people-smuggling boats and the disclosure of allegations of telephone intercepts of Indonesian political figures, had caused great damage to the relationship, the joint statement issued by the two leaders made it clear the relationship was strong. Strengthening and developing economic, military, political and cultural ties is a priority for both nations.
It is regrettable that while Abbott is abroad advancing Australia's national and international interests, he has been deliberately undermined by the Labor opposition at home. Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek showed she had nothing constructive to contribute ahead of the trip and instead decided to play politics with international policy. Plibersek, who has demonstrated nothing but surface-level knowledge of her portfolio and is yet to make a notable contribution to any policy debate, labelled Abbott a "Nigel no-friends" on the back of ill-informed newspaper commentary suggesting meetings with key economic leaders had been cancelled. Plibersek said Abbott was at risk of embarrassing Australia on the global stage. In reality, Abbott is expected to meet with a range of senior economic policy figures, in addition to Obama, including Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The only person who should be embarrassed is Labor's novice foreign policy spokeswoman, and deputy leader, Plibersek.
A focus on growth, investment and jobs is what matters, not ill-informed political attacks that undermine these efforts.