New York Times
One of the tests a New York City mayor faces at the very beginning of his administration is how to look comfortable while sitting outside in freezing weather during an hourlong inauguration on Jan. 1. Mayor Michael Bloomberg surmounted that challenge yesterday, in a ceremony that had its own kind of warmth, despite the participants' blue lips and frozen fingers.
Standing before a huge American flag that covered City Hall, Mr. Bloomberg told New Yorkers what they already knew -- that the coming year will be a tough one in which everyone will have to make sacrifices and set aside traditional differences. He was short on specifics, except for a call to give the mayor control of the school system, and a delicate suggestion that he was not nearly as enthusiastic as Rudolph Giuliani had been about spending money on new professional baseball stadiums. The city, he said, should have the world's best cultural and sports facilities "when we can afford them." ...
Like Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Bloomberg will have to be a fighter. But the enemy he has been given is, for once, not an internal one. Mr. (Ed) Koch had to take on wasteful New York fiscal practices. Mr. (David) Dinkins was supposed to fight New York bigotry, and Mr. Giuliani promised to defeat New York criminals. The new mayor has to lead New York in a struggle to take back the city from an assault by terrorists. We are all on the same side, and the country is on our side. That gives him an enormous advantage, at least in the beginning.
The theme of most New York City inaugurations is the unwilling transfer of power, as the new mayor generally attempts to define how he will do the job differently than the people who came before. Mr. Bloomberg's job was a little more delicate -- to assure people he will carry on the great achievements of the Giuliani administration without succumbing to its weaknesses. All in all, he handled his assignment well.
Los Angeles Times
Junichiro Koizumi, Japan's prime minister, was a firebrand on the campaign trail, promising a radical overhaul of the creaky Japanese economic system. But lately he's been backtracking. Koizumi is letting the yen plunge in value -- at around 132 to the dollar it has lost more than at any other time since 1971 -- and is talking about using public funds to prop up the banking system. Both developments are bad for Japan, its neighbors and the United States.
Permitting the yen to depreciate has been Japan's tried-and-true formula for avoiding reform. A lower yen means that Japanese exports become cheaper and imports more expensive. This allows Japan to sell more goods abroad while avoiding opening up its closed system to the U.S. and others. The result is that the banking and industrial cartels that run Japan are not challenged by market forces from abroad. But the economic situation has deteriorated so much that it's unlikely that a fall in the yen would be enough to revive the economy. Instead, it could drag down China and South Korea. Their currencies will lose value and their economies will suffer as it becomes more difficult for them to export to Japan. China has already demanded that Tokyo ''take responsibility'' and move to stabilize Asian economies. As difficult as it may be to imagine, the Japanese economy, which has been mired in recession, is getting even worse. The most recent industrial production figures showed a 13.1 percent drop, the biggest since 1975. Retail sales are down 2.7 percent, and orders for construction projects fell 6.9 percent over the past year.
Cleaning house is the first step to reviving the economy. Banks have to admit to the bad loans they made to industry, and obsolete and redundant businesses need to be shut down. Despite all the bad news, lethargy rules.
It would take great boldness and stamina to overcome the inertia and entrenched interests in the bureaucracy and the Liberal Democratic Party, which don't want any change. Functionaries cling to a discredited system that allows them to control the economy and dole out patronage.
Koizumi looks increasingly ineffectual. Washington needs to at least reiterate that there is no substitute for real reform.
While the search for Osama bin Laden grinds on, it's time to take stock of how his al Qaida cohorts and their supporters are being rounded up. In the past few days, the number of suspected al Qaida members in U.S. custody has doubled. Some will soon be moved to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the first military tribunals may be convened to consider their criminal liability related to the Sept. 11 attacks.
But there are many other al Qaida members and supporters who must be accounted for, and some of them are clearly citizens of Saudi Arabia. For months, the Saudi government has been whining about the negative coverage it has received in the Western media, but it has not taken any actions to remedy the situations that brought about this coverage. One of the most obvious tasks left undone is to round up, and at least investigate, those Saudis named on the now-famous videotape of bin Laden's mid-November meeting with an unidentified "sheik" somewhere in Kandahar, Afghanistan. In that conversation, both bin Laden and the sheik speak of a number of apparent allies, all in Saudi Arabia. ...
There are reasons to be patient with Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabist Muslim sect, which preaches fundamentalism, is a significant force with which the regime must contend. But the Saudis must understand that our patience is not endless, and that they -- like the rest of the world -- will ultimately be held to be with us or against us. Mr. Bush should be turning the heat up each day the Saudis continue to do nothing.
Raleigh News Observer
The United States and its allies undertook to root out terrorists in Afghanistan and to topple that country's brutal Taliban regime as a matter of self-defense. But at the same time, that effort has made it possible to accelerate an international campaign to head off the dire threat of famine that had endangered Afghans by the millions after years of war and drought. Even if the drive to capture or kill Osama bin Laden has yet to succeed, it looks as though the humanitarian side of the U.S.-led anti-terrorist initiative is bearing precious fruit.
American and international relief officials say that Afghanistan now is safe for agencies to transport thousands of tons of wheat to the hungry. This development comes in the nick of time, before the Afghan winter descends in full force. In the prior three months, the U.N.'s World Food Program had delivered just 75,000 tons of wheat to the country. In December alone, the figure jumped to 90,000 tons.
The routing of the Taliban and the entry of coalition and peacekeeper troops have even opened areas that had been terrorized by local bandits. And the Bush administration's successful diplomatic effort has made it possible for food to be shipped from five neighboring nations.
All is not totally well. Aid still hasn't reached some isolated communities, so air drops will have to continue. Relief officials also caution that while wheat deliveries will fend off starvation, wheat alone doesn't constitute a balanced diet.
The cheerful fact, though, is that roads opened for wheat shipments are just as usable for providing beans, corn and cooking oil to hungry Afghans. A variety of foodstuffs has been requested. And the hand of an old enemy has been stayed.
Russia, exhibiting all the problems and stresses associated with a long-anemic economy, has a foreign debt in excess of $143 billion.
Its economic weakness and huge debt burden ($14 billion to be paid next year) hamper Russia's involvement in programs designed to reduce arms and stop the spread of knowledge about weapons of mass destruction to less advanced countries around the globe that pose a threat to America.
Senate legislation by Republican Dick Lugar of Indiana and Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware gives President Bush authority to cancel Russia's $3.8 billion debt to the United States in return for Russia's commitment to spend more on arms reduction and nonproliferation. Simply put, it offers the possibility of swapping debt for arms.
As such the measure gives President Bush another tool to use in encouraging the Russians to engage in more successful efforts to keep their weapons knowledge to themselves and their scientists under control.
Ideally, other lending nations, such as Germany, will join the initiative to swap debt for Russian arms reduction.
Writing off debt in return for a safer, less armed world would be the best return possible.
In the city where the Taliban launched their movement back in 1994, they are now being exposed for what they really are. Or, were.
Well known are tales of the Taliban's brutality, discrimination, oppression and intolerance.
Add hypocrisy to this loathsome list.
A reporter for Cox News Service spoke with people in the Afghan city of Kandahar, which was the base of the Taliban. The reporter unearthed stories of a double standard employed by the Taliban's leadership that served to undermine support for the movement among many residents in its stronghold.
Music was banned, but the police who arrested non-Taliban Afghans for having music at their weddings looked the other way for Taliban members.
Opium production was banned as being against Islam, but the real reason was so that the Taliban could fetch a higher price for the opium they sold.
Thieves lost their hands, but Taliban members looted the offices of the United Nations as they fled, taking even televisions and VCRs, though watching television and movies was banned.
Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader who supposedly had lived a simple life, told the people they shouldn't take the government's money, but he owned a huge house and a dozen SUVs that he couldn't have paid for himself.
Some Afghans say Omar killed many, including getting rid of a woman's husband so he could marry her himself. Omar has four wives.
One doctor in Kandahar said of Omar, "He was not a good person. He destroyed our country. For us, he said Islam is this way. But to the Taliban he said: 'If you want something, do it.' ''
The Taliban leadership was on a power trip of horrific proportions. Its aims were not to glorify God. Its aims were selfish. Many of its practices were ghastly enough.
Because it did not practice what it preached, its legacy is all the more repulsive.
(Compiled by United Press International.)