- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Dec. 23

News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, on Obama and rising economy:

The recovery from the Great Recession appears to be getting stronger on the eve of Christmas. Alas, politics has dampened the enthusiasm of some Scrooges, President Obama’s critics, who can’t take “yes” for an answer.

As one liberal commentator noted, if this were the second year of a Mitt Romney presidency instead of the sixth year under President Obama, there would be parades in the streets and praise for the president from some of Obama’s perennial critics.

But the facts are the facts. And they’re mostly good.

In November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated, there were 321,000 jobs created, an astounding number. Unemployment is down. The gross domestic product grew at 5 percent, on an annual pace, in the third quarter of this year, the biggest advance since the third quarter of 2003. Consumer and business spending are up.

And as Americans take off on their holiday travels, they’ll see lower gas prices.

And by the way: When the president was formulating the Affordable Care Act, Republicans predicted catastrophic consequences for the economy, with a federal deficit certain to explode. The deficit is down.

The Dow hits 18,000

Now millions of Americans have health insurance through federal exchanges. Should the coverage continue to increase, medical costs are likely to go down because fewer people will depend on free care through emergency rooms, which drives up the costs to the insured.

Christmas Eve finds the nation’s economy in a growing and optimistic mode. This week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 18,000 for the first time.

Those presidential critics, some of whom want to run for president based on Obama’s “failures,” are scrambling for some way to cast the recovery in a bad light.

When the recession hit, the product of a reckless Wall Street and a combination of tax cuts and deregulation and, yes, bad mortgage loans, Washington moved toward bailouts and stimulus. Some conservatives argued, in an echo of the opponents to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, that the economy would recuperate on its own. Don’t interfere with the free markets, they said. That would be socialism.

But President Obama moved ahead. The auto industry was saved, taxpayers got their money back and hundreds of thousands of jobs were preserved.

More to do

To be sure, the “recovery” hasn’t been that for millions of Americans, who saw their jobs go away during the long, painful downturn. Many have begun to find jobs, but the majority of those jobs pay less, and benefits have diminished compared with what they had before the recession began. And those on the bottom rungs of the ladder are still there, hampered by a lack of education and skills.

There remain, however, some things that government can do to help. With this recovery, it can invest in putting people back to work through infrastructure projects such as bridge building and road improvements and other public works projects. It can bolster as well its investment, along with the private sector, in training and education. Let this rising economic tide lift all boats, not just the yachts of the wealthy.

Helping the unemployed and the underemployed find good jobs, after all, isn’t some government “giveaway,” any more than it was in Roosevelt’s time. Work is hope. Hope is a determination to improve one’s self and the future of one’s family, which has tremendous long-term benefits for the nation’s economy.

A time like this, a time of improving fortunes, is the best for making these investments and thus ensuring dividends for America in the future.




Dec. 22

Charlotte Observer on abortion:

Abortion-rights supporters were relieved this month when state health officials proposed reasonable new regulations for clinics performing the procedure. But a public meeting on the proposals last week should remind us that the fight over abortion rules isn’t over yet.

The rules changes are required by a 2013 law that made it harder for women across the state to get abortions, in part by restricting federal and local insurance coverage for them. The law also mandated that the state Department of Health and Human Services draw up the new rules to replace the 20-year old regulations surrounding abortions and abortion clinics.

Abortion opponents hoped - and pro-choice advocates feared - that the state might go the route of other states that have drawn up regulations so restrictive that they drastically reduced the number of abortion providers.

North Carolina’s proposed rules don’t do that - at least not yet.

The proposed new regulations would make abortions safer by requiring improved post-operative care, a 24-hour telephone hotline, a defibrillator at each clinic and annual inspections, rather than one every three to five years.

The rules also require written agreements with nearby hospitals for emergencies - or proof that the clinic tried to obtain those agreements. That’s important, because hospitals in other states could effectively shut down a clinic by declining such agreements.

The rules were drawn up in consultation with health care professionals, including a representative of Planned Parenthood. On Friday, doctors and pro-choice advocates spoke in favor of the regulations.

A handful of speakers, however, were critical. That included North Carolina Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald, who said the rules don’t go far enough in protecting women. Specifically, Fitzgerald wants stiffer certification requirements and no exceptions for clinics that don’t obtain transfer agreements with hospitals.

Of course, that’s how other states have been able to shut down clinics, and given that Fitzgerald has called abortion “a despicable scourge,” we suspect she’d be unsatisfied with any rules that don’t do the same.

She and other abortion opponents are surely not finished fighting. DHHS will take public comments on the proposed rules until January, when the regulations will be sent to the state Rules Review Commission. The legislature also will likely get another say.

A hint on how that discussion might go: In 2013, N.C. Rep. Paul Stam told a television reporter that one reason for the abortion legislation was to limit access to abortions as much as they could.

Gov. Pat McCrory says the abortion law is about protecting women, not restricting abortions. The proposed regulations - without the law’s insurance restrictions - would have accomplished just that. The administration shouldn’t cave any further.




Dec. 21

News & Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on Sen. Richard Burr:

Sen. Richard Burr plans to run for re-election in 2016 and knows the price has gone up. “Anybody in my position who says they don’t have to raise $20 million is crazy,” he said in a News & Record interview Wednesday.

But that’s not what keeps him up at night. “I probably lose more sleep over Iran because they’ve got their hands on everything.”

In January, when the Senate shifts to Republican control, Burr will become chairman of its Intelligence Committee.

In just 10 years, the Winston-Salem resident has risen to 31st in seniority, thanks to high turnover in the last two elections. His intelligence chair puts him in the big leagues of national security and anti-terrorism strategy.

“Of all the bad things that can happen, a nuclear Iran trumps everything,” he said, adding that it’s “happening in a hurry.”

Obama administration diplomacy has failed, Burr said, leaving possible military action as a last resort for stopping Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. “It’s the only credible thing we have anymore,” he said. It would not involve U.S. ground troops: “Clearly it would be someone else with our help,” he said.

It’s hard to imagine the U.S. - with troops still engaged in Afghanistan, more “advisers” returning to Iraq and an air campaign underway in Iraq and Syria - would initiate a war with Iran, no matter whose troops were employed. Burr warns that other countries in the region would scramble for their own nuclear weapons to counter Iran, justifying a potential limited war, but that’s a reason to press harder for a diplomatic solution.

Burr also challenged the conclusions of the torture report recently released by Intelligence Committee Democrats. He said he was upset about interrogation methods and doesn’t think they’ll be used again - but won’t rule it out - yet believes they were effective on many occasions.

Information obtained helped detect and stop terrorist threats in the U.S. and Europe and track down Osama bin Laden, he said - “no question in my mind on that.” Eliminating every technique described in the report - Burr mentioned sleep deprivation as one he doesn’t think is torture - means “we might as well not pick up people.”

Burr knows these are difficult subjects, but he believes the American people support the work U.S. intelligence and security agencies are doing to defend the country. As chairman, he will “attempt to hold open hearings that are educational for the American people about our intelligence community.” He also wants to redesign the committee’s approach to provide “oversight functions in real time,” calling directors to testify every six weeks.

Burr said he’s been to “black sites” - overseas locations where captured terrorists are held. He’s had feces thrown on him by a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. He’s been fully briefed all along about National Security Administration activities, which he defends as legal, necessary and limited.

“These are extraordinary times,” Burr said. They are. He should press intelligence and security agencies to defend our country, but in ways that are consistent with American values.



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