Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Chicago Sun-Times on President Obama's farewell address:
On Jan. 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address, threw out a challenge to a generation of young Americans: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
Seven months later, on Aug. 4, 1961, Barack Obama was born, and he grew up with that call to action. Kennedy's words were in the air, including in Hawaii and Kansas and Chicago. They were taught in school. They helped to fuel civil rights marches and anti-war parades. They inspired millions of young Americans, including a future president, to rise above narrow self interest.
On Tuesday, President Obama paid Kennedy's gift forward. In a speech in Chicago, the president called another generation of Americans to public service, and he called on every citizen to recommit to the American ideal.
"Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift, but it is really just a piece of parchment; it has no power on its own. We the people give it power," Obama said. "When something needs fixing, then mess up your shoes and do some organizing.. Grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself."
Kennedy, whatever else history has had to say about him, stirred a generation to care a little more, and it will be terrific if we can look back one day and say Obama did the same, for all else that history might have to say about him. Our hard-biting times could stand more of that.
That was the flip side of Obama's speech, that we live in perilous times — not because of foreign terrorists, but because of deep social and economic divisions.
The Founding Fathers, he said, understood that a successful democracy "does require a basic sense of solidarity, the idea that for all our outward differences we are all in this together, that we rise or fall as one."
But that sense of solidarity, the notion that we are all equally Americans, he said, is threatened by the increasing coarseness of our politics, by a splintered media that makes it easy to avoid having our assumptions challenged, by a rejection of science and reason and by an unwillingness to concede that an opponent might, shockingly, be making a fair point.
"Ask not what your country can do for you," Kennedy said. "Ask what you can do for your country."
That's one way of saying it.
"This is the great gift our Founders gave us," Obama said. "The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil and imagination - and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good."
Not quite so catchy, but that works, too.
The New York Times on Sen. Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing:
Jeff Sessions, the senator from Alabama who was once considered too racist to be a federal judge and is now President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, managed to skate through most of the first day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee with smooth talk and a conveniently faulty memory.
When asked, for instance, whether grabbing a woman's genitals without her consent constituted sexual assault, he agreed that it did — apparently forgetting that he had said the opposite only three months ago, after a leaked tape revealed Mr. Trump privately bragging about that behavior.
Mr. Sessions said he would be independent and would stand up to his boss. A few times on Tuesday, he seemed to suggest he did not agree with policy positions Mr. Trump had staked out during the campaign, conceding that waterboarding is "absolutely improper and illegal" and declining to support a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States. That anyone hoping to be the nation's top law enforcement officer would hold those positions should, of course, go without saying, but Mr. Trump has set a pretty low bar.
Mr. Sessions also said he would recuse himself from any further investigation of Hillary Clinton over her private email server or the dealings of the Clinton Foundation while she led the State Department. His strong criticisms of the F.B.I.'s handling of those matters during the campaign, he admitted, could lead people to question his objectivity.
During the hearing, Republicans were ready with lavish praise and defenses of his character against charges of racism, while Democrats rarely offered more than tepid and predictable criticisms. Meanwhile, outraged protesters repeatedly interrupted the hearing with denunciations of Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump before being dragged out by Capitol police officers.
A large dose of outrage is certainly called for, given the damage four years of a Sessions-led Justice Department would likely inflict on the hard-won yet fragile advances made for civil rights, racial and gender equality and humane justice. The prospect is particularly stark coming after President Obama's Justice Department, which has aggressively defended and expanded civil rights for people and groups who were previously unprotected.
Mr. Sessions did nothing on Tuesday to dispel the understandable fears that he would stall if not reverse much of that progress. His defense against charges of racism that caused the Senate to reject him for a federal judgeship in 1986 was largely to say it hurt his feelings to be called racist, but his two decades in the Senate provide little hope that he has changed.
He focused largely on the law-and-order themes of the Trump campaign — emphasizing the need to combat a rising crime rate and show greater respect to police officers. He showed little interest in standing up for the rights of the most vulnerable Americans: say, poor and minority voters disenfranchised by strict and unnecessary voter-ID laws (he has been a strong proponent of those laws). He grudgingly acknowledged a woman's constitutionally protected right to an abortion, but he stood by his belief that Roe v. Wade was "one of the worst, colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time."
Back in 1986, Senate Democrats were unflinching in their rebuke of Mr. Sessions. Senator Howard Metzenbaum said "we have a nominee here with marginal qualifications who lacks judicial temperament, as well as a commitment to fairness and equality." Senator Ted Kennedy called him "a throwback to a shameful era which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past." Thirty years later, the Republicans are intent on giving Jeff Sessions an alarming amount of power to shape America's future.
The State of Columbia, South Carolina on Clemson's college football national championship:
This was the perfect week for Clemson University to win its second national championship in football.
While much of the world focused on the ongoing trial of convicted killer Dylann Roof in Charleston, the Tigers showed that the face of South Carolina isn't an evil young man from Columbia. Rather, our state is a collection of people from all walks of life, most of whom are committed to doing things the right way and working together to achieve greatness.
A benefit of sports is to unite people who seemingly have little in common. On Monday night, in Tampa and in Clemson, and in every big and small town in South Carolina, Clemson fans — and even people who don't normally pull for the Tigers — gathered to cheer on the team. Young and old, black and white, backers of Donald Trump and supporters of Hillary Clinton cheered together.
All that mattered was their devotion to orange. While it was just a game, and while a championship doesn't eliminate life's challenges, their unity was another indicator that we in South Carolina have more in common than some others think.
Of course, not all South Carolinians were united behind Clemson. Many USC fans bonded in their support of the University of ABC — Anybody But Clemson. But Clemson and USC fans also have more in common than even they think. Most important are the values they share that help make South Carolinians great.
Clemson's team displayed all the ingredients of greatness. Not surprisingly, the team's recognized stars showed why they one day will play in the National Football League. Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett made spectacular catches. Quarterback Deshaun Watson started slow, rebounded, and kept his cool after Alabama retook the lead with just more than two minutes left in the game.
But the star on this night was a 5-foot-11, 180-pound former walk-on who most likely won't be a first-round NFL draft pick. For the second year in a row, Hunter Renfrow was a claw in the side of Alabama's best-in-the-nation defense.
Called a "sniper" by one teammate, Mr. Renfrow caught 10 passes for 92 yards. His final catch will be remembered by Clemson fans for generations, snagged in the end zone with just one second left to give Clemson the title.
Mr. Renfrow was not offered a single scholarship from a major college football team after he graduated from Socastee High School. So he tried out for Clemson, a process known as walking on. He's now a legend.
Even the Gamecock-Tiger divide can't diminish his accomplishments. Former USC football player Patrick Fish tweeted this after the game: "I'll never be a Clemson fan, but I am a huge Hunter Renfrow fan! Gotta respect that guy! Congrats to the Tigers."
USC women's basketball coach Dawn Staley also congratulated the Tigers on Twitter, and singled out Mr. Watson: "Incredible game. Incredible win. Incredible performance by @DeshaunWatson4!"
She acknowledged the views of many Gamecock fans, but added, "it's credit deserved."
Indeed it is.
This week, there was a lot about the face of South Carolina that was hard to look at. But there was also a lot that was inspirational.
This week, the face of South Carolina included a highly talented, much celebrated quarterback who is roundly respected for his greatness as a player, as a leader, and as a role model. (Yes, he's originally from Georgia, but we say he's a South Carolinian now).
The face included Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who steadily built a national champion by recruiting great players and teaching them to play college football better than anyone else.
The face included a relatively small receiver from Myrtle Beach who through persistence and hard work pursued his dream of playing major college football. Now, his story and his catch will be a key part of Clemson and college football lore.
So congratulations — and thanks — to Clemson. Congratulations for winning its second national championship. Thanks for showing the nation the real South Carolina.
The SunSentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Puerto Rico's economic crisis:
Puerto Rico should shed its status as a U.S. territory, either by becoming the 51st state or by establishing full independence. But that is a "some day" goal. Puerto Rico's more immediate goal must be to shed its status as an economic disaster.
Puerto Rico's new governor, Ricardo Rossello, was elected last November on a statehood platform. As soon as he was sworn in on Jan. 2, Rossello promised a referendum asking Puerto Ricans if they prefer statehood or independence. He also announced plans to let voters pick two senators and five representatives, who would be dispatched to Washington to demand seats in Congress. (Hint: If voters choose Democrats, don't bother.)
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Congress, Jennifer Gonzalez, filed a bill that would pave the way for statehood by 2025.
The notion that statehood is the silver bullet to end Puerto Rico's long economic nightmare is a fantasy useful primarily for political advantage inside Puerto Rico. There is virtually no chance that a Republican Congress and president would welcome a debt-ridden, dysfunctional Puerto Rico into the union. Puerto Rico can't become a state unless Congress agrees.
And, despite Rossello's victory, it is not clear that Puerto Ricans want statehood. A 2012 referendum on the topic seemed to give statehood the nod, but the ballot was so complicated — and political tactics that included boycotts so confusing — that the outcome is in dispute. Hence the need for a new referendum.
What's really needed, of course, is a program to reform Puerto Rico's economy. Republicans such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — who won Puerto Rico's GOP primary during the presidential campaign — blame the island's crisis on bloated government, high taxes and out-of-control spending.
There are elements of truth in that diagnosis; Puerto Rico's governments have promised lavish pensions to public employees with no sustainable plan to pay for them. Retirees are in panic now as pensions face cuts. On the other hand, when Puerto Rico reduced government hiring to curb pension costs, the effect was to reduce employee contributions to the retiree fund, exacerbating the shortfall.
The island's complicated plight could make Puerto Rico — for good or for ill — a kind of guinea pig for stock Republican economic theory. After all, many in the GOP's conservative fiscal wing believe America is spending itself into the kind of crisis Puerto Rico already faces.
Rubio, who is on the congressional task force trying to rescue Puerto Rico's economy, recently introduced a bill that provides a taste of the kind of approach that might be in store. The "Economic Mobility for Productive Livelihoods and Expanding Opportunity Act" would cut the minimum wage in Puerto Rico to $5 an hour but also provide a subsidy of up to $2.50 an hour for workers who don't make at least $10 an hour.
If it worked, the measure would increase the number of people with jobs and actually increase take-home pay.
Would it work? That isn't at all clear. What is clear is that something must be done. Puerto Rico is staggering under roughly $70 billion in debt and unemployment is in the double digits. About half of the island's 3.5 million residents live below the poverty line.
There have been suggestions that Puerto Rico be allowed to declare bankruptcy and default on its debts. While that approach might seem to hit wealthy investors the hardest — and Republicans in Congress generally have opposed it — the issue is not perfectly straightforward. Ordinary investors also have invested in the bonds and would take a hit.
Puerto Rico's economic crisis has spurred an exodus to the United States. Thousands have come to Central Florida. The jobs created under Gov. Rick Scott's watch might not be that great, but they are better than no jobs at all.
Statehood? Independence? Continued territorial status? Those are big issues, and certainly Puerto Rico needs to settle them. Eventually. But in the current economic crisis, statehood is a distraction.
The Wall Street Journal on former Attorney General Eric Holder being hired on retainer as California's outside counsel:
Donald Trump hasn't even taken the oath of office, but Progressive California Nation is already massing the troops against him. Hollywood is led by Meryl Streep, and the California legislature is bringing on the mercenaries at the Covington & Burling law firm.
Last week California's progressive lawmakers announced that they've put former Attorney General Eric Holder, now a Covington & Burling partner, on retainer as the state's outside counsel. "This is potentially the legal fight of a generation, and with Eric Holder we've added a world-class lawyer," said Senate majority leader Kevin de León.
This is odd. Typically states hire outside counsel for help with specific cases, but the legislature is paying Mr. Holder $25,000 a month for three months under the initial contract, apparently for 40 hours a month and the privilege of his attention if something comes up.
There's no current case, and it's hard to see how the legislature's interests would be implicated soon over a state law. The California executive branch might want to defend San Francisco and other "sanctuary cities" on immigration if the Trump Administration cuts off funds, but that's a constitutional question.
The state attorney general's office already has a budget of more than $833 million. Why can't the state hire Mr. Holder out of that AG account when there's an actual legal issue to litigate? One answer may be that there's grandstanding going on, as politicians compete to see who can be the most anti-Trump.
The other issue concerns Covington & Burling and political double standards. The white-shoe firm based in Washington represents corporate clients around the world. The firm is making a major political statement putting itself on retainer to fight the Trump Administration even before it takes office. Covington & Burling's partners must figure they won't get blowback from their other clients.
The same wasn't true for former Solicitor General Paul Clement, who in 2011 was told by his law firm, King and Spalding, that he couldn't represent the House of Representatives in its litigation over the Defense of Marriage Act. The House wanted legal help because the Obama Administration refused to defend the law passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton.
Mr. Clement acted honorably by resigning from King and Spalding, forming his own firm, and continuing to represent his client. We trust no one in corporate America, much less Covington & Burling's partners, will object to the firm's anti-Trump litigation.
We're all for states defending their constitutional rights against the feds, though we wish liberals would accord the same respect to Scott Pruitt. Mr. Trump has nominated the Oklahoma Attorney General to run the Environmental Protection Agency, and he's the target of progressives for successfully suing to block the federal Clean Power Plan. It's nice to see liberals discovering the glories of federalism.
The Telegraph, UK, on Jeremy Corbyn and immigration:
Even by his own embarrassingly low standards, Jeremy Corbyn had a shambolic day. The Labour leader, his aides had suggested, intended to give a speech changing his party's position on European immigration. Mr Corbyn, long an advocate of uncontrolled migration and open borders, was prepared to accept political reality (and the wishes of many former Labour voters) by saying that he was no longer committed to unrestricted freedom of movement inherent in EU membership.
To most, this would appear uncontroversial. After all, Britain has voted to leave the EU, meaning British participation in EU immigration policies must surely end too. Yet Mr Corbyn's ideological commitment to open borders is such that he felt compelled to distance himself from the policy his own office had announced on his behalf.
Deepening the farce, when he finally delivered his much-anticipated speech, its text was altered to imply that Labour had never considered the change in policy that his aides had promised. It has long been clear that Mr Corbyn is not up to the task of running a government, but he has now confirmed he cannot even manage the rudimentary tasks of political life either.
Not content with clinging to an immigration policy that puts him at odds with the British public, Mr Corbyn also reminded voters about his commitment to a ruinous policy of capping salaries.
This is part of the Labour leader's tale of Britain as an unequal and unfair country, where the rich prosper and the poor suffer. That story is a tissue of falsehoods, as official figures have proved again: income inequality in Britain has fallen to its lowest in more than 30 years. And while most households have now seen their incomes exceed to the levels they were at before the financial crisis began in 2007, those in the highest income band are still worse off.
This, of course, has been the stated intention of successive governments for some time now. Over-eager to rebut claims that the Tories are the party of the heartless rich, David Cameron and George Osborne repeatedly targeted top earners with new taxes, in order to tell voters that they had ensured the richest were paying more tax than ever before.
Theresa May has been happy to continue in a similar rhetorical vein, worshipping at the altar of economic equality erected by the likes of Mr Corbyn. Downing Street's response to the Labour leader's talk of a maximum income was mild, even half-hearted : there was no defence of those who earn the biggest incomes and the benefits their industry brings to the whole economy.
Mr Corbyn is an incompetent ideologue who is utterly wrong on immigration and the economy, and that gives Theresa May a great opportunity to be bolder on both issues. She should take it, soon.