Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Seattle Times on birth control coverage in the Affordable Care Act:
The Affordable Care Act requires health-insurance plans to provide women free access to birth-control benefits and contraceptives. Good public policy, but one element is still a work in progress.
For the third time in a little over a year, the Obama administration has modified language in the act to protect religious organizations that object to providing contraception coverage.
On Feb. 1, the administration announced that churches and other religious organizations would not have to provide or pay for coverage of contraceptive services. The revision also covers nonprofit religious organizations — such as universities, charities and hospitals — with religious objections.
Instead the coverage would be offered free via insurance carriers.
The argument is their costs would be held neutral because of lower overall health costs without paying for maternity expenses.
The new language offers specific exemptions for churches, religious groups and religious affiliations that provide social services.
The debate has no end in sight, because others want an exemption for secular employers who have private religious objections. The Obama administration drew a reasonable line. ...
The Affordable Care Act will help millions of Americans gain access to health care. Contraceptive services are a basic part of the package.
The Post and Courier of Charleston on full-body scanners:
The Federal Aviation Administration, carrying out a mandate from Congress, has ordered the removal from airports of full-body scanners that allow security officers to electronically undress airline customers. They will be replaced with machines that show only a dummy human outline and any hidden weapons.
This is a big gain for air travel privacy.
But the same privacy concerns that made the removed scanners controversial will follow them if they are used, as planned, in other government security operations.
The 250 machines in question are among those that use "backscatter" X-rays to see through clothing. Most of the other 550 FAA body scanners use a radio frequency technology called millimeter-wave and are equipped with privacy software that uses a generic body image. These newer machines require fewer operators, take up less floor space and complete scans in less time.
But there is always some drawback, it seems. The millimeter-wave machines have been found, in tests conducted in Europe and Australia, to have very high "false-positive" rates. At least one in four travelers were stopped for body searches.
So don't expect the change in scanner technology to speed the flow through airport security.
Backscatter machines are controversial not only because they can produce a near perfect nude body image that is invasive of travelers' privacy but because, in the view of some critics, they expose travelers to dangerous levels of ionized X-rays. ...
Members of the public who must pass through these machines at their new locations will inevitably face the same privacy concerns as airline travelers.
The Daily News Journal, Murfreesboro, Tenn., on immigration reform:
We are relieved to see Washington finally taking the issue of immigration reform seriously.
Immigration has come up repeatedly in campaign speeches, only to be conveniently forgotten as elected officials concentrated on unemployment instead, apparently lacking the ability to do more than one thing at a time. ...
President Barack Obama promised immigration reform in his inauguration speech, and a group of senators, instead of going to their parties' separate corners for a divisive fight, did the right thing.
The bipartisan group, comprised of four Democrats and four Republicans, came up with a plan that allows people illegally living in the country to apply for legal status.
According to the five-page draft of the proposal, after passing a background check, paying back taxes, learning English and civics and establishing a work record, immigrants here illegally would be placed in the back of the line of people who have applied to come to the United States.
While some elected officials have said they don't want immigrants in the country illegally to get a free ride to citizenship, the so-called "Gang of Eight" in the Senate says their proposal's "purpose is meant to ensure that no one who has violated America's immigration laws will receive preferential treatment as they relate to those individuals who have complied with the law."
As a matter of national security, their plan will allow authorities to know who's in the country, and it should improve the economy by bringing all those workers onto the tax rolls.
We agree with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who said: "We have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawn, serve our food, clean our homes and even watch our children while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great."
And that's just shameful. ...
The Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, Ill., on mental illness treatment to prevent crime:
Following the school shootings in December, the nation's gun laws seemed the obvious place to look to prevent future attacks in schools, malls, theaters and workplaces. But another key theme that emerged — and deserves a great deal of attention as well — is the question of how to help the mentally ill.
That it takes a mass shooting for us to consider in depth the needs of the mentally ill is a tragedy in itself. Perhaps this topic is uncomfortable to us because mental health is such an imprecise science; human beings are vastly more complicated than a metal barrel with a trigger. Or maybe it's the specter of the growing costs to treat the mentally ill. Help for them is not something we can throw more money at because there isn't more money to throw. ...
Of course, only a small proportion of gun violence comes at the hands of those with a mental illness, and it may not seem fair to point fingers at people who in reality are more likely to become victims of crime than perpetrators. Still, the shocking impact of these attacks in our minds and hearts leave us searching for any solution, and many see dealing with mental illness as the basis for prevention.
What should be done? While lawmakers weigh funding issues, an important piece of any solution must be education and awareness at all levels. Until the public has a better understanding of the signs and best treatment of mental illness — and erases the stigma attached to it — progress will lag.
As for prevention of future tragedies or mass shootings, we can do a better job of learning the signs in someone at risk of committing an act of violence. If we turn our backs, we all will suffer. The loss of 28 lives in Connecticut has rekindled the debate about mental illness. We must not let the conversation stop.
Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Penn., on the hypocrisy of gun control talk:
Grown-ups sure are funny people. Funny ha ha, no. Just weird. They say things like they mean it and then they do something just the opposite.
Take guns. Lately all kinds of grown-ups have been talking about putting guns in schools and saying that we need to make sure there are officers in schools to protect kids from the bad guys. Some grown-ups even think the teacher should have a gun right in the classroom, just in case something happens, so they'll be ready. You never know, you know?
But then these same grown-ups turn around and get all mad because a little kid was talking about a gun. Not a real gun. Just a toy! That's right. This little girl, she was in kindergarten, she was 5 years old and went to some school in Mount Carmel, Penn.. She told another girl that she was going to "shoot" her with her Hello Kitty pink bubble gun machine. The grown-ups got all mad. They even kicked her out of school for 10 days. Like she was doing something really, really wrong. Then they changed their minds — about punishing her, anyway — and let her come back after two days.
It's just plain weird. Kids naturally do things they see grown-ups doing. ... Really little kids sometimes act big right in front of their parents, because they don't know yet that just because they are so little they're not supposed to even try these things. Yet.
But this gun. It was a pink bubble gun, for Pete's sake! She didn't even have it with her. She was just talking big, talking — well, kind of talking like the grown-ups, about how everybody can have a gun and use it and how we need guns in school and everything. ...
The Advertiser-Tribune, Tiffin, Ohio, on cheating athletes:
The only person to win the Tour de France seven times in a row admits to taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Baseball Hall of Fame voters — facing a ballot including one player who has admitted taking steroids plus three others whose qualifications are clouded by allegations of using banned substances — opt not to have a Class of 2013.
Four athletes performing at the Winter X Games ... were hospitalized following mishaps during competition or practice. At least two remain in the hospital, one in critical condition.
There is a distinction between athletes who violate rules against use of banned substance and those who flirt with breaking the law of gravity. Yet all have one thing in common — they risk their health in order to compete.
But that distinction is important. Competitors in many sports face the possibility of injury. From motorsports to mountaineering, those risks are accepted by participants and minimized as much as possible.
Those who violate rules against performance-enhancing drugs and blood doping not only cheat their fellow competitors, they cheat their spectators, also.
Loveland (Colo.) Daily Reporter-Herald on why the Boy Scouts need to be inclusive:
The Boy Scouts of America exists to develop character, citizenship and personal fitness in its members.
In its effort to support this mission, the BSA has set nationwide, exclusive standards for members and leaders. But now it is rethinking one of those restrictions. The organization — which turns 113 this year — is scheduled to consider ending its longstanding policy against the admission of homosexuals to the ranks of its membership and leadership.
As it weighs this decision, BSA leadership should keep in mind a couple of questions: Will this policy change compromise its mission? When a Scout promises to do his duty to God and country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to remain physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight, do sexual inclinations hinder that promise?
Specifically, the BSA will consider allowing the organizations that charter troops — such as service clubs and churches — to decide for themselves the guidelines for accepting members and selecting leaders.
We applaud the idea, not because the BSA is caving to social pressure but because this policy change would allow the organization to reach boys and men who have not felt welcome, while not forcing sponsoring organizations to compromise their beliefs. ...
Boys and men who desire to be a part of that organization, to conform to those standards and to do their "duty to God and country" should not be turned away.
The New York Times on unbalanced U.S. political support for Israel:
One dispiriting lesson from Chuck Hagel's nomination for defense secretary is the extent to which the political space for discussing Israel forthrightly is shrinking. Republicans focused on Israel more than anything during his confirmation hearing, but they weren't seeking to understand his views. All they cared about was bullying him into a rigid position on Israel policy. Enforcing that kind of orthodoxy is not in either America's or Israel's interest. ...
Hagel, a former Republican senator, has repeatedly declared support for Israel and cited 12 years of pro-Israel votes in the Senate. But that didn't matter to his opponents, who attacked him as insufficiently pro-Israel and refused to accept any deviation on any vote. Hagel was even forced to defend past expressions of concern for Palestinian victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ...
The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests. J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group that was formed as a counterpoint to conservative groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has argued for vibrant debate and said "criticism of Israeli policy does not threaten the health of the state of Israel." In fact, it is essential.
Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on U.S. gun control:
An immigration debate is raging and a budget crisis looms in Congress, but the conservative activists gathered outside the New Hampshire Capitol had just one thing on their minds: Guns.
"The Second Amendment is there to protect us from losing the rest of them," said Adam Brisebois, 34, of Hudson, who cradled his 3-year-old daughter on his right shoulder and a rifle on the left. "If we don't fight, we'll lose our rights."
The rally, organized by leaders of the conservative tea party movement, drew nearly 500 people, many of them waving signs and carrying loaded weapons, to the state capital. Conservative leaders elsewhere report a wave of similar protests as grass-roots activists from Florida to Colorado seize on a new rallying cry for a tea party movement, which is trying to recover from a painful 2012 election season. ...
Many protesters are hunters, but say access to hunting is not their prime concern — just as a sign hanging behind the podium at the New Hampshire rally said: "The right to keep arms is not about deer hunting. It is about defending the republic from tyranny." ...
An Associated Press-GfK poll found last month that 58 percent of Americans felt the gun laws in the United States should be stricter. Among Republicans, 53 percent want the nation's gun laws to stay as they are, while 2 in 3 women favor stricter gun laws, as do 60 percent of independents.
The fate of new gun legislation in Congress is uncertain at best. And as tea party activists clamor against any changes, the powerful gun lobby is echoing their argument. ...
The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, on exporting F-35 stealth fighter parts:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet plans to allow exports of Japanese-made parts for Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 stealth fighter jet, which will be the Self-Defense Forces' next mainstay combat plane.
The plan has raised many important questions. What kind of parts will be allowed to be exported? Isn't there the possibility that parts manufactured in Japan and sold to the United States or some other countries will be used in international conflicts? Does the government intend to permit exports of completed F-35s as well as parts after some of the jets are assembled in Japan? The Abe administration, however, has yet to offer any clear answers to these and other vital questions.
The F-35 fighter jet is designed to avoid being detected by radar. But the role Japan plays in the development and production of the aircraft must not be invisible to the public. The decision on this key security issue should not be made in haste through closed-door talks between Japan and the United States. ...
For decades, Japan had maintained a self-imposed ban on exports of weaponry in line with its three principles on arms exports. The previous government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda eased the restrictions on arms exports and made it easier for Japan to participate in joint development and production of weapons. But the governments have said that, even under the eased restrictions, they will stick to the accepted policy of avoiding such participation when it could contribute to exacerbating international conflicts.
This promise, however, will not be so easy to honor because the United States has often waged wars, and Israel, which has a history of getting embroiled in conflicts with its neighbors, plans to purchase the F-35. ...
Moreover, there is a reality that Japanese-made parts for civilian products are already used in various weapons of many countries. ...
Clearly, Japan needs an open and fundamental policy debate on arms exports. It is vital to start discussing all these and other relevant issues from scratch.
The Telegraph, London, on the discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III:
The forensic dramas that have become so popular on our TV screens in recent years have whetted the public's appetite for this particularly morbid line in detective work, but the discovery of the skeleton of Richard III beneath a Leicester car park trumps any work of fiction. It ranks as one of the most dramatic archaeological discoveries of modern times.
A story that began more than five centuries ago with Richard's death at the Battle of Bosworth Field has been concluded with the use of the most advanced techniques. The University of Leicester, whose coup this is, used archaeology, genealogical research, carbon dating and DNA-matching to conclude that the huddled skeleton with a twisted spine and severe head injuries is, beyond reasonable doubt, that of the last monarch of the House of York. One of the great mysteries of our history — the fate of Richard's corpse — has been resolved.
This extraordinary work of historical detection would not have been possible a decade ago, because DNA technology was not well enough advanced. Nor would it have been possible in the years ahead, because the direct bloodline traced by Leicester's researchers is going to die out. A monarch who has become a by-word for regal villainy — largely because of the effectiveness of the Tudor propaganda machine, aided and abetted by William Shakespeare — will now be re-interred. Leicester Cathedral has been chosen for his final resting place, though some may think that York Minster would be more appropriate. Wherever he is laid to rest, the last English monarch to die in battle, who was "killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies" in the words of one chronicler, deserves the fullest pomp and ceremony. We will never again have a chance to entomb a sovereign five centuries after his death.
Ottawa Citizen, Ontario, on Egypt:
As Egypt descended into violence recently you can't help but ask: What happened to the revolution? Surely the young men and women who toppled Hosni Mubarak's dictatorial regime didn't intend to replace him with the authoritarian regime of Mohammed Morsi.
The Egyptian army was deployed after rioting broke out in various Egyptian cities. Dozens have died in the violence. Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has warned that the confrontation between Islamists and the more liberal-minded, secular-oriented protesters "could lead to the collapse of the state."
All this squeezes Morsi into a tight corner, of course. He has to suppress the riots, appease his own supporters and, at the extreme, avoid a civil war. Yet, Morsi can be faulted for having fostered the conditions that engender violence. He and his Muslim Brotherhood backers rammed through a pro-Islamist constitution with little regard for Egypt's large secularized population, or much concern for women's rights and religious minorities. Morsi's recent attempt to give himself greater powers also did not go down well with many Egyptians.
Perhaps even more crucially, Morsi's regime has done little to improve the economic prospects of Egypt's young — 45 million are under 30 years old. Rising food prices and high unemployment were the dry tinder that sparked the Arab Spring. Yet, two years later, unemployment among those between 19 and 24 hovers at 41 per cent, while, according to one report, 86 per cent of Egyptian households don't have enough income to cover monthly food and shelter costs. An explosion was almost inevitable. ...
After decades of near-totalitarian rule, Egypt's civil society is much weakened. Unfortunately, the Morsi regime appears bent on weakening it more.
How might the West respond? Tough-mindedly, using money as leverage. ... The West should grant loans only on condition that Morsi abandon the Islamist agenda... The West should not prop up another would-be theocratic dictatorship.