Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Khaleej Times on President Trump’s recent alleged declassification of information:
This US President can’t keep a secret. That’s an allegation, not a revelation. So what, I’m the president. I can do what I want with the facts, Donald J. Trump retorted in a tweet. The president allegedly shot his mouth off during discussions with the Russians and flaunted his computer like a toy. He shared information with the Kremlin. Moscow was pleased. Putin smiled. Sounds like a warm start to Cold War II. What exactly was the nature of the information, no one knows. Ah, they were decoded for the President’s benefit. Classified made simple. Top secret taken down for the Russians. Intelligence jargon. Mumbo-jumbo. The media doesn’t have proof; the masses remain indifferent. Here’s the script. The president was privy to some important information about Daesh who were allegedly planning some at-tacks on airlines, but gave them to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, says the report. National security has been compromised, threatened. How, no one knows. The FBI and CIA were called in to contain the damage. Anonymous sources, allegations, claims, and counter-claims. The Press versus the President, pouring hate and scorn on the man who defied them to win the presidency.
Now, constitutionally, the president can declassify information. He might have the right, but how much can he share with a foreign power he wants to be chummy with. The Russians won’t mind some info if handed to them on a platter in the White House. What’s the use when Daesh has been hammered in Syria without US help? Then, we don’t really know what he shared. The source was from within the Trump administration. Deeply embedded. The modern version of Deep Throat. Sounds like another Watergate in the making - or Russiagate. They are closer to nailing him, the free corporate Press says. Then, the facts are missing, or they don’t add up. Trump, meanwhile, is defiant as his National Security Adviser denied such a thing ever happened. Was it fake news? We don’t know? Who planted it? Trump, maybe.
The New York Times on companies increasing use of non-compete agreements with employees:
The economy thrives when businesses compete with each other for workers and customers. That is hardly a new idea, but it bears repeating as companies increasingly use noncompete agreements to lock up employees and prevent them from taking better-paying or more fulfilling jobs.
Traditionally, companies asked senior executives, brilliant inventors and other highly paid employees to agree not to work for competitors for a year or two. But in recent years, the practice has become more widespread, and nearly one-fifth of American workers, or about 28 million people, are now subject to such agreements. This group includes people in low-wage jobs at fast-food restaurants, warehouses and hair salons. A recent New York Times article highlighted how enforcement of such agreements by businesses has cost some people their life savings in lengthy legal battles and forced others to take low-skilled jobs because they couldn’t work in their chosen profession. Companies have even tried to force workers who were laid off or fired without cause to abide by noncompete agreements.
Such morally dubious practices harm the economy. Studies show that wages are lower in states that let businesses strictly enforce noncompete agreements. Skilled workers leave states that make it difficult for them to switch jobs, researchers have found, moving to places where they can do so more easily. But moving to another state is not an option for workers who do not have specialized skills.
One state that has benefited by adopting a much more enlightened approach is California. The state’s business and professions code made noncompete agreements generally unenforceable there. Experts say the law has helped make that state a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship. For example, workers in Silicon Valley frequently hop between companies and leave to start their own businesses without fear of being sued by former employers. And many of these businesses find ways to protect valuable intellectual property without noncompete agreements.
Proponents of noncompete agreements might argue that lawmakers don’t need to intervene because these are private contracts between consenting adults. But researchers say many workers are not aware that they are subject to such agreements, which are often buried in documents they sign when hired. Often, people are not told that they will have to sign until they have accepted jobs, at which point they may not be able to walk away. Even workers who recognize the perils might see no choice but to consent because they need a job.
State and federal lawmakers should adopt reforms like those the Obama administration recommended last year. For instance, state legislatures and Congress can make noncompete agreements unenforceable when they are applied to employees who earn less than, say, $56,500 — the median household income in 2015 — or to workers who do not have access to trade secrets. They can make contracts unenforceable when businesses lay off or fire workers without cause. States can also require employers to present noncompete agreements before candidates accept jobs.
The spread of noncompete agreements is one of many ways in which the workplace has been rigged against workers and why household incomes have stagnated in recent decades. Other examples include the use of mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts and concerted efforts by businesses to diminish the role of labor unions. All elected leaders, especially those like President Trump who claim to represent the interests of working people, need to fight such unfair and unjust practices.
The Los Angeles Times on the ‘WannaCry’ malware attack being an indirect public service announcement:
The particularly nasty computer program dubbed “WannaCry” that attacked hospitals, businesses and government agencies around the world this past weekend was like a cybercrime highlight reel, a compilation of by-now familiar elements — conscience-free cybercriminals, an obscure vulnerability in Microsoft Windows, older and ill-maintained corporate computer networks and computer users tricked into opening booby-trapped email attachments — that played out on an epic scale.
What’s different this time is that the hackers apparently had considerable help from the U.S. government. They used a stolen tool reportedly developed by the National Security Agency to exploit a hidden weakness in the Windows operating system and spread their ransomware far and wide. The tool was one of many linked to the NSA that were leaked online last year, then finally decrypted in April for use by anyone with the requisite coding skills.
It’s tempting to howl at the NSA for not alerting companies like Microsoft when its researchers find vulnerabilities in their products. The reality, though, is that doing so would reduce the effectiveness of cybertools that have become an integral part of modern efforts by agencies like the NSA to fight terrorism, international criminal organizations and rogue states. What’s needed is a better effort to determine if and when a vulnerability discovered by the feds represents too great a threat to keep it secret from the potential victims. That’s a difficult balance to strike, and the decision shouldn’t be made solely by the executive branch without the input of independent experts and, potentially, lawmakers.
The even more important lesson here is that years, even decades of warnings from security experts simply aren’t getting through to the public. WannaCry should not have reached disastrous proportions — Microsoft released a patch that could close the vulnerability in March, well before the NSA’s tool was decrypted. Yet tens of thousands of computers weren’t updated, allowing the malware the room it needed to spread.
The problem could easily get much, much worse as more routine devices become smart, Internet-connected ones. Evidently we need stronger incentives not just for companies to release more secure products, but also for users to keep them updated and protect their data with encryption and backups. That’s what the lawmakers and federal officials should be focusing on — not on trying to discourage consumers from using encryption on their smartphones, or on building stockpiles of malware based on vulnerabilities they alone have found.
The Seattle Times on gun laws:
Washington has taken another step toward common-sense gun regulations, with the governor signing a new law that requires police be alerted when someone fails a background check.
The law, which takes effect in July, would also require notification of victims when a felon, domestic abuser, stalker or other ineligible people try to buy a gun. This is a big improvement in gun safety, without impinging on the rights of lawful gun owners.
The measure builds on previous gun-law improvements, including expansion of background checks to include private and gun-show sales.
Background checks screen gun buyers to make sure they aren’t fugitives, felons, in the country illegally or subject to a protection order that includes gun restrictions. Until the new law was passed, there was no requirement for follow-up when someone tries to buy a gun illegally.
The bipartisan measure has another smart provision requiring the creation of a statewide notification system so that those who have court-ordered protection orders will automatically be notified if the person they are being protected against tries to buy a gun.
Laws like this one show the possibility of improving gun safety without taking away the rights of those who lawfully own firearms and use them responsibly.
Other reasonable proposals that have yet to get legislative approval include mandating safe gun storage and other ways to decrease the likelihood of guns getting into the hands of children or people who are suicidal.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on President Trump’s alleged meetings with Russians:
The latest self-inflicted crises at the White House confirm the deepest fears about President Trump’s judgment and self-discipline.
As the nation was still digesting news that Trump had divulged highly classified information obtained through an ally to top Russian officials, the New York Times reported Tuesday that the president had suggested that then-FBI Director James Comey end his investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn.
“I hope you can let this go,” Trump said during a meeting the day after Flynn resigned in February, according to a memo the Times said Comey wrote a day after the conversation. That’s not a direct request, but coming from the president it must have felt that way to Comey.
The White House quickly denied the story, just as it did after news broke Monday that Trump had provided classified material to the Russians. After that story emerged, Trump himself went on Twitter to assert his “absolute right” to disclose such information at his Oval Office meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
It is true that the president can declassify information at will. But such an ability carries the presumption that in doing so, the president would exercise the highest levels of judgment, discretion and purpose, carefully weighing possible repercussions and first communicating the plan with the source nation. There is no evidence that Trump went through any of those calculations before blurting out what is known as code word information — intelligence-speak for information so highly classified it is above top secret, and usually limited to the smallest possible pool.
That he did not also blab the actual source or methods by which the information was obtained — as White House officials contend — is of little consequence. Russia has one of the most sophisticated intelligence-gathering systems in the world and could conceivably trace the information back to its source in the field. Trump may have compromised a valuable ally and its agents. He has without question dealt another blow to U.S. credibility and made other nations justifiably wary of sharing what they know. That breakdown endangers not only this nation’s security, but that of other nations as well.
This latest stumble shows a leader once again indulging his vanity, boasting of his “great intel” and clumsily attempting to curry favor with Russia, in the naive thought that doing so would somehow transform a hardened adversary that hacked the U.S. election into an ally. Trump also cited, without elaboration, “humanitarian reasons.” What reasons would be enough to jeopardize the U.S. relationship with its most important ally in the Middle East, Israel, now widely reported to be the source of the information? Israeli officials have been quick to say they still value the U.S. and have no qualms about intelligence-sharing, but that is the diplomatic answer officials have to make when dealing with the world’s dominant superpower. While the White House continues to dispute the story, it also went into full mop-up mode after Trump’s meeting, alerting the CIA and National Security Agency and scrubbing notes from the meeting to remove sensitive details.
The meeting itself was an oddity. The U.S. has imposed sanctions against Russia for its illegal invasion of Ukraine and forced annexation of Crimea. American intelligence agencies are uniform in their conclusion that Russians hacked the U.S. election. The list of Russian aggressions is long and growing. Trump’s response? Invite the Russians into the Oval Office, grinning and shaking hands and offering up choice bits of intel. If that’s not chilling enough, there is the distinct possibility the Russians may have a complete transcript of what Trump said, since their state-owned news agency, Tass, was allowed to remain in the room when U.S. news media was barred.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., a former Marine intelligence officer, has called for the White House to provide Congress with an unaltered transcript of the meeting. We agree. There is no reason for members of congressional intelligence committees to know less than the Russians.
It’s also imperative that Congress get to the bottom of the new allegations of attempted meddling with Comey, which could turn out to be definitive evidence that Trump tried to influence the Justice Department and FBI investigation into links between his associates and Russia.
The Arizona Republic on how the GOP should hold President Trump accountable:
The deeper we get into the Trump presidency, the more serious the questions grow.
When he was candidate Trump acting in reckless and erratic ways, the future of the Republican Party was in the balance. Would he take it down with him?
Today the stakes are much higher. How Donald Trump acts and behaves in the Oval Office will have serious consequences for the United States.
Lately his conduct has brought a torrent of accusations that in themselves and their unrelenting fierceness can be destabilizing.
Did the president obstruct justice? Did he commit a crime? We don’t know the answers, but the allegations are powerful and credible.
Only GOP can get these answers
Several months into Trump’s first term, the administration seems incapable of controlling the narrative, of moving beyond the kind of scandal that shadowed Trump throughout the election.
We are going to need answers quickly about this president and his capacity to function.
And the Republicans must lead.
We don’t have divided government in America. Republicans hold both Congress and the White House, the major levers of power. And they shoulder the responsibility to act on the nation’s behalf.
Republicans in Congress can no longer view Trump simply as an imperfect tool to achieve their agenda. They have to see with their own eyes there’s a cannon loose in the White House and he’s gashing the timber.
The unanswered questions about this president are not about partisan politics. They are about serious threats to this country’s stability and its international standing.
McCain and Flake must do more
Can the president be trusted with America’s secrets? Can our friends and allies trust this administration with critical intelligence that could save American lives?
Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake have pushed back against Trump during the election and early days of this administration. McCain has called for a special investigation of the Trump-Russia connection.
They must do more. They and other Republicans must speak more loudly and demand more answers.
Loose cannons don’t need slack. They need cinching up. And Trump and his handlers are demonstrating by the day they’re out of control.
There have been moments when the administration seemed on the verge of discipline, but they have been short lived. And once again we are immersed in scandal.
The questions come at the speed of social media.
The answers come as obfuscations, dodges and denials.
We deserve answers and information.
Trump’s (latest) outrageous behavior
Consider the surreal situation:
We have a president who boastfully releases sensitive intelligence to Russia — an action so reckless it should stand Mitch McConnell’s hair on end.
We have a president whose reasons for firing the FBI director are like shifting sand dunes - the inconsistencies should have Paul Ryan pounding the podium.
We have a president who fires Director James Comey with a letter in which Trump thanks the him for previous assurances he wasn’t investigating Trump.
And then we have the latest outrage: An accusation that the president asked the former FBI director to “let go” an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who subsequently resigned because he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations Flynn had with the Russian ambassador.
“He’s a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Trump allegedly told Comey, according to the memo read to a New York Times reporter over the phone.
Was this an obstruction of justice?
In plain English: That looks eerily close to obstruction of justice, although the White House denies it happened that way.
Comey continued the investigation, but Comey documented conversations, according to the Times.
What else did Comey document? That is one of many questions a Republican Congress needs to ask the former FBI director in full view of cameras and reporters.
Trump fired Comey as the director intensified his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Among the conflicting accounts of why Comey was sacked, Trump called “this Russia thing” a “made-up story.”
The “Russia thing” is not made up. U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia worked to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. It represents a substantial threat to our electoral system.
What we still need to know
Congress needs to hear from Comey.
We need to know if this president engaged in criminal conduct in addition to his irresponsible behavior.
We need to know the full extent of Trump’s connection with Russia.
We also need to know whether it is safe for this president to have access to classified documents.
Republicans in Congress stand as America’s check against what increasingly looks like an unbalanced president. They need to become the guide rails that keep him from walking us off the ledge.
It’s time to stop pretending. This is not just fodder for late-night comics. This is about America’s future.