Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Los Angeles Times on passports of sex offenders:
After rousing themselves from the 30-plus-year bad trip that was the war on drugs -- or rather, the war on drug users -- many Americans in and out of elected office looked around for someone else to persecute. Someone, somewhere, must be so depraved and hateful that liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans could join in common cause to vilify them.
They appear to have found their target: sex offenders. The current case in point is a congressional proposal to alert the nations of the world that particular U.S. citizens who have committed sex offenses against minors are planning to visit. Passports would be specially marked so that other countries could turn travelers away at the border because of old crimes for which they have already served their time in the U.S.
This vindictive bill has been wisely rejected numerous times in the past, but now it's heading to President Obama's desk. He should veto it.
Sex offenses against minors are particularly horrendous crimes. But when offenders have completed their sentences and periods of supervision, there is no more reason to continue hounding and harassing them than convicted murderers or drug traffickers, who don't bear scarlet letters on their passports.
But wait, some supporters argue, people who commit sex crimes against children are a special case. As soon as they've done it once, they'll want more, posing imminent danger to any underage person anywhere. Their front doors should be marked to warn trick-or-treaters. They should be banned from park benches.
This blatantly false argument thrives on ignorance. There are indeed mentally disordered sex offenders whose conditions make them extremely high risks to commit more crimes of the same variety. Some may target minors. But that is far different from saying that anyone convicted of a sex offense against a minor falls into that very narrow category. Corrections officials in California report that most sexual crimes committed by adults against minors occur among family members, and that the rate of recidivism is fairly low.
Sex offenders, sex traffickers, sexual predators -- these terms are now routinely conflated by some of the same people who now apologize for waging the war on drugs and who favor efforts to "ban the box," which would eliminate questions about convictions on employment applications. They would be wise to put down their torches and pitchforks, put on their thinking caps, and remember the value of punishment that fits the crime and allows perpetrators who no longer pose a threat to move on when their debt to society has been paid.
The Chicago Sun-Times on Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio's stances on immigration:
You'd never know it from their sound bites during debates and on the campaign trail for the Republican presidential nomination, but less than three years ago Cuban American Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio supported the legalization of millions of undocumented immigrants.
Cruz has denied it. Rubio, meanwhile, distances himself from legalization and a path to citizenship that was outlined in a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill he co-authored with seven other U.S. senators in 2013. They no doubt worry their past support for common-sense reform could be a death sentence to their presidential aspirations at a time when national front-runner Donald Trump has turned the primary season upside down.
Lessons learned from Republican Mitt Romney's failed presidential bid in 2012 -- when he alienated Latinos during the primaries -- are being ignored as Cruz and Rubio try to compete with Trump for the title of most conservative on immigration. All three continue to yank the Republican Party further and further from mainstream America. That's bad for the GOP and bad for the nation.
In 2013, Cruz favored legalizing undocumented immigrants without offering a path to citizenship. He proposed an amendment to Rubio's bill for just that reason. Yet, weeks ago he said he never supported legalization. Pushed for clarification in later weeks, he said his amendment was proposed in an attempt to kill the legislation.
In Thursday's Fox News debate, Cruz was reminded of what he actually said when moderator Megyn Kelly asked him to watch a video clip. "I don't want immigration reform to fail," Cruz said in 2013. "I want immigration reform to pass. I believe if this amendment were to pass, the chances of this bill passing into law would increase dramatically.
"I believe if the amendments I introduced were adopted, that the bill would pass. And my effort in introducing them was to find a solution that reflected common ground and that fixed the problem."
That's the Ted Cruz that advocates for immigration reform who worked with him during George W. Bush's presidency remember. "My criticism is that Cruz can say, 'Things have changed and I've changed my position.' But don't sit here and flat out lie that you've never been for legalization when the facts are very clear," Robert De Posada, former director of Hispanic affairs for the Republican National Committee, told the Daily Beast.
Rubio, on the other hand, should be proud that he helped to craft an immigration bill heavy on compromise in 2013. The Senate passed the bill; it was never called in the Republican-controlled House. Since then Rubio has backpedaled from it.
Like other members of his party, Rubio is not sure where he should be on immigration. During his 2010 campaign for Senate, he told voters he did not support citizenship for undocumented immigrants or their legalization. During the debate Fox News aired some of his comments from that campaign, in which he equated citizenship to amnesty.
Cornered by the moderators, Rubio switched his focus to the Islamic State and border security. He and other candidates fail to mention that the undocumented population has dipped every year since 2008, according to the Center for Migration Studies. As for border security, Rubio's bill had allocated billions for it.
Finally, Rubio came around to say he would not deport 12 million undocumented immigrants (the Center for Migration Studies says the number fell to below 11 million in 2014). "We will see what the American people are willing to support," he said of legalization and a path to citizenship.
What you haven't heard from Trump, Cruz and Rubio is that most of America -- 72 percent, according to the most recent survey by the Pew Research Center -- believes that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to remain in this country legally as long as they meet other requirements.
You can bet that if Rubio or Cruz (or Trump) win the nomination, they'll point out that percentage to get conservatives to soften their hard line on immigration and to win over moderates.
Romney tried that in 2012. After aligning himself with Arizona's tough immigration policies during the primary season, Romney tried to come back to middle America for the general election.
How did that turn out?
The New York Times on the Zika virus:
The World Health Organization and its director general, Dr. Margaret Chan, were right to declare the Zika virus an international public health emergency, even if its suspected link to severe birth defects has not been proved. The mosquito-borne disease is a serious threat: It is usually so mild as to be undetectable in adults, yet as it has exploded across South and Central America it has been followed by a surge in babies born with underdeveloped heads, a condition called microcephaly.
The emergency designation will galvanize coordinated international monitoring and action of the sort that was tragically missing in the first months of the Ebola pandemic. The W.H.O.'s decision, however, could reduce travel to affected countries, which would be an economic burden. Brazil, where Zika made its first major appearance in the Western Hemisphere last May, is especially fearful that visitors will stay away from the Olympic Games in August. It cannot let that prevent it from being completely transparent about this serious threat and the steps it is taking to protect people.
In Latin America, where many nations outlaw abortion, some governments have advised that pregnancies be delayed, which can create only greater anxiety for women who have sadly limited control over such decisions.
All of this adds urgency to the work of medical researchers investigating any possible link between microcephaly and Zika infection, for which there is no cure. And it puts a heavy responsibility on the W.H.O. and institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pan American Health Organization to give clear and realistic guidance on how to avoid infection. The C.D.C. has issued a list of countries pregnant women should try to avoid visiting and has advised travelers on how to protect against mosquito bites.
Fighting Zika will not be easy. Like Ebola, it is nurtured by heat, humidity and poverty, conditions that can be intensified by globalization and global warming. Unlike Ebola, Zika is primarily spread by a mosquito, the Aedes aegypti, which is rampant in hot climates. The risk of a major outbreak in the United States is low because of effective mosquito-control programs and air-conditioning.
A vaccine or an effective treatment is still a long way off. Immediate responses, like increasing access to birth control and abortion, face stiff legal and cultural resistance in the affected region. That leaves mosquito control as the most effective weapon available now. One method being tried in Brazil is to release Aedes mosquitoes that are genetically modified to produce self-destroying offspring.
These and other measures should gain momentum now that Zika has been declared an emergency. That is essential not only to protect women and their babies, but also for improving the global response to other obscure germs waiting their turn in some hot, humid place.
The Wall Street Journal on South Korea's labor market:
South Korea ranks 121 out of 140 countries in labor-market flexibility, according to the World Economic Forum. As in Japan, South Korean workers expect lifetime employment, annual pay hikes and seniority-based promotion when they join a company.
So it's progress that Seoul's Labor Ministry adopted guidelines last week making it easier for companies to fire poor performers and revise employment rules. Employers heretofore couldn't fire subpar workers for anything short of a disciplinary violation. The guidelines also free companies from securing majority approval from employees before amending employment rules, as long as the revision is "reasonable" according to various standards.
Officials also want to accelerate the adoption of a wage peak system that allows reduced wages to workers nearing retirement. Seoul hopes the system will lessen payroll costs as the retirement age rises to 60 this year, and encourage the hiring of younger workers.
President Park Geun-hye has made labor reform a priority to reinvigorate the economy. GDP growth has dipped to 2.6%, its slowest in three years. Youth joblessness is at a 16-year high, and Korean exports are growing more slowly than at any time since the financial crisis.
Ms. Park brokered a landmark agreement with business leaders and one of two major labor unions in September, offering a revision in five labor laws. But the bills have been stalled since December after the opposition party refused to vote ahead of April's legislative elections.
Ms. Park's implementation of the new guidelines shows her determination to press ahead. The guidelines aren't legally binding but will be used by ministry officials to supervise labor and management relations. The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, which backed out of Ms. Park's negotiations, says the new guidelines violate labor laws. But the guidelines will remain effective until a court rules on the labor challenge, which could take years.
Contrast this to rival Japan, where workers waste time in "boredom" rooms because they can't be fired. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised labor reform but abandoned a bill on merit pay to pass a controversial national security law. Seoul has already surpassed Tokyo in embracing free trade. Agreements with the European Union and the U.S. have been in effect since 2012, adding an estimated $48 billion in annual Korean exports.
Korea's unions are still loud but their political clout is waning. Union membership is down by about half from its peak in 1989 due to the increase in nonregular and small-firm employees. Ms. Park's conservative Saenuri Party is expected to maintain its legislative majority in April's elections, so union influence is likely to decline farther.
More flexible labor policies would raise productivity and wages at home, as well as make Korean goods more competitive in global markets. It's in the best interest of workers if labor leaders return to the negotiating table with Ms. Park.
The Seattle Times on campaign ads:
Television watchers need to brace themselves for the worst this election season.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are likely to be poured into political ads narrated by ominous voices and designed to influence voters' ballot choices.
Some commercials, paid for by campaigns, will conclude with candidates saying they approve the message. Viewers should be extra skeptical of any ads brought to them by independent political action committees with benign sounding names like Priorities USA Action, Believe Again, Unintimidated PAC and Right to Rise USA.
Such names reveal nothing about who the true sponsors of the advertisements really are. The Federal Communications Commission, which seems to turn a blind eye, should require more transparency and has the authority to do so:
. Section 315 of the Communications Act requires broadcast stations to identify sponsors of political ads in files available for public viewing. Not every station is complying, according to extensive research by civic watchdog groups, such as the Sunlight Foundation, the Campaign Legal Center and Common Cause.
. Section 317 requires advertisers and broadcasters to disclose to viewers and listeners the "true identity" of the person, group or entity paying for a political ad.
Many don't, and the FCC has failed to enforce this rule.
Last week, 168 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter urging FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to quickly require that broadcasters reveal the names of political-ad sponsors on the air.
According to OpenSecrets.org, conservative groups by far dominate this type of campaign advertising.
Democracy is weakened when influence over the public airwaves is controlled by dark-money groups, whether on the right or the left, which have the power to raise and spend unlimited funds.
Citizens have a right to know when and why mega-rich individuals, such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the industrialist Koch brothers, pour their wealth into advocacy.
That's why the FCC must do more as a regulator to restore trust in American democracy by ensuring campaign commercials are more transparent.
The Khaleej Times on refugee influx in Jordan:
Jordan is at the crossroads as it copes with the refugee exodus and simmering tensions in the region. King Abdullah has rightly said that the Hashemite Kingdom is now at a 'boiling point' as 635,000 Syrian refugees are on its soil. "Sooner or later, I think, the dam is going to burst," he warned policy-makers ahead of a donor conference on Syria in London.
This is in addition to the Palestinian diaspora, which for long has been a burden on its resources. The Gulf War also saw Iraqis spilling into Jordan, and many of them have not returned home.
The world community should focus its attention towards the woes that Amman faces as pressure mounts on its social services, economy and demography. Jordan could soon have more foreigners than citizens on its soil. Militant organizations pose a threat and misuse the country's porous international borders. Government statistics say that 25 per cent of the state budget is spent in helping refugees.
Amman is in need of hard cash to fund aid operations and settlement schemes for Syrians in distress. Its earlier SOS messages to the world body to finance similar humanitarian projects had fallen on deaf ears. Its economic crunch and security concerns should be taken seriously.
Jordan is an important partner in anti-terrorism operations and, of late, had been training Libyan rebels and other security personnel from a host of regional countries. Which is why the Hashemite kingdom should be supported ito tackle the flood of refugees. If Jordan decides to limit its humanitarian response, it could lead to further unrest in the region.