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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

November 6, 2019

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Nov. 5

The Los Angeles Times on the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement:

The world is, without a doubt and without a credible opposing argument, heading pell-mell toward environmental disaster because of humanity’s continuing reliance on burning fossil fuels to create energy. Among the leading culprits is the U.S., which has burned coal, oil and other fossil fuels en route to developing the wealthiest economy in global history.

But instead of working with the rest of the world to try to undo the damage, President Trump is now making good on his campaign pledge to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris agreement, the effort by 195 nations to join together and try to do something about our warming climate. He submitted formal notice to the United Nations Monday to start the yearlong process of withdrawing from the pact, though in truth, his polices have been actively undercutting it all along.

Of all the dangerous, ignorant and insupportable decisions by this administration, pulling out of the Paris agreement stands tallest. In that single act, the president is making it all the more difficult for the world to curtail emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases that are already melting glaciers and polar ice, raising the levels of the seas, fueling larger and stronger hurricanes and other devastating storms, exacerbating — paradoxically — both droughts and floods and making areas of the earth uninhabitable for human life.

None of this is of concern to the president, who disregards the clear and overwhelming scientific consensus, the conclusions of analysts across government agencies — including the Pentagon, which lists climate change as a national security threat — and basic common sense in his dangerous quest to make the U.S. the world’s dominant source of oil and natural gas. Even members of the oil industry have come around to recognizing the perils of their endeavors, but not Trump.

The challenge for the nation, and for the world, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as sharply and as quickly as possible, and even that will not be enough to avoid the effects of climate change. The Paris agreement set a global century-end target of keeping temperatures from rising by 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, with a preferred goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius. We’re already about 1 degree above pre-industrial levels, with most of that increase coming in the last 35 years.

We must do more. We must do better. The Paris agreement, as insufficient as it is, stands as a crucial step by world leaders to try to save us from ourselves. The Obama administration was the main driver behind the Paris agreement, and the U.S. must be a global leader in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Trump, instead, seeks to lead the nation in the opposite direction by expanding oil and gas production, ratcheting back fuel standards for motor vehicles and ignoring both the moral and economic imperatives of combating global warming. Even if he is defeated in 2020, this decision will cost the world valuable time we can’t afford to lose.

Online: https://www.latimes.com/

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Nov. 5

The Washington Post on a reduction in the number Iraqis who worked alongside U.S. troops during the war who are granted resettlement in the United States:

Iraqis who worked alongside U.S. troops during the war provided “essential mission support,” according to former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general who fought in that conflict. Iraqis served as interpreters, translators and guides. They “risked their own lives and their families’ lives,” Mattis said in a letter made public last year by Politico. “We owe them support for their commitment.”

We do. But President Trump is turning his back on Iraqis waiting for the United States to keep its promise of possible resettlement. The number of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis who make it through the severe vetting process to resettlement in the United States has been reduced to a trickle of just a few hundred a year. Now the president has authorized the lowest refugee ceiling in the history of the program, 18,000 total for the current fiscal year, which will make it that much harder for the Iraqis to win visas. This is a sickening coda to the war and a terrible signal that the United States will not keep its commitments.

A special immigrant visa program for the Iraqi interpreters, translators and others was closed to new applications five years ago, and those remaining — an estimated 110,000 — must apply through the Direct Access Program, a part of the refugee admissions process. In the refugee ceiling, the president set aside 4,000 spots for these Iraqis. But the number actually admitted is expected to be far less. The strict security checks can stretch on for years and sharply limit the number who get visas. According to the New York Times, interviews have been slowed since the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Irbil ordered all nonessential employees out of Iraq for security reasons in May. As a result, teams of U.S. officers go to Iraq on temporary “circuit rides,” and this also restricts the flow.

These interpreters and support staff did not abandon the U.S. troops during the war. One of them told the International Refugee Assistance Project last year that he had served side by side with U.S. troops in 2003 and 2004. “They became my brothers: they relied on me and I relied on them,” he said.

He should not be abandoned. This is a question of duty, honor and commitment — values so often celebrated by politicians but, in this case, cruelly forsaken.

Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

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Nov. 4

The New York Times on recent unrest in Haiti:

Life has never been easy in Haiti, and that may be why the current nightmare there is not getting more attention. For about seven weeks now, a struggle between President Jovenel Moïse and the opposition has fed a storm of violent demonstrations, burning tires, looting and arson, all but shutting down transportation, schools, gas stations and medical services and leaving at least 30 dead.

The ostensible goal of the demonstrations is the ouster of Mr. Moïse, a businessman who came to power in 2017 after a two-round election plagued by accusations of fraud and a meager turnout. Before that, he had been involved in a scandal over whether he received funds for road repairs that never took place, allegations he denies. He refuses to step down, and few Haitians have put forward any ideas on who or what should come next, or how Haiti can pull itself out of its tailspin.

At the heart of the crisis is a broad despair that the existing political and economic system has not overcome the rampant corruption, spiraling inflation, food and drinking water scarcities, lawlessness and endless other indignities that have steadily worsened the lives of people in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. The country has had at least 10 presidents since its first democratic election in 1990; only three have completed five-year terms.

Compounding the misery is a sense that nobody cares. During the Cold War, the United States tacitly supported the dictatorships of François Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude Duvalier because of their anti-Communist stance, and in the 1990s Washington first propped up and then helped force out the first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

After a horrific earthquake in 2010, in which more than 200,000 people lost their lives and tens of thousands of buildings were destroyed, many countries and organizations responded with generous aid and teams of rescue and medical workers. A United Nations peacekeeping mission set up in 2004 provided a modicum of stability, but it was also blamed for bringing cholera to Haiti, and dozens of its peacekeepers were involved in sexual abuse scandals. The last of the United Nations peacekeepers recently departed, contributing to the current lawlessness.

In the present crisis, protesters have accused the United States of standing by Mr. Moïse, who curried favor with the Trump administration by turning against Haiti’s former patron in Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, the leftist president the administration is trying to oust. In fact, the American “support” has consisted solely of limp calls for “dialogue.” Haiti has been on the receiving end of Donald Trump’s ill will, which has been focused in migrants and the movement of drugs, most notably when he said in 2018, among other crude things: “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”

It is clear from the current meltdown that Haiti needs more than another election or a “dialogue” among elected leaders to tinker with malfunctioning institutions. Some followers of the crisis have argued for a concerted effort by the international community to restart a functioning system. Some Haitians believe that the future requires the convening of a council of elected officials and civil and business leaders to stop the continuing deterioration of the rule of law.

What is clear is that something has to change, and the country needs outside help. The question is where to begin. The Trump administration is not in the business of helping poor countries unless there is some sort of reciprocal deal. The current spasm of destructive demonstrations does not seem capable of bringing real change.

Yet it is demonstrably in the interest of the United States and the rest of the Western Hemisphere to help their poorest neighbor get back on its feet. There must be enough expertise and imagination available in Haiti and among international and nongovernmental organizations to formulate a plan and to help form a coalition government, and there must be long-term international assistance to get them going.

The first step is to recognize that Haiti, a nation of 11 million just over 800 miles south of Florida, is in dire straits and getting worse by the day. And to care.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/

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Nov. 4

The Wall Street Journal on how wealth taxes fared in Europe, as two Democratic presidential candidates propose similar tax plans for the United States:

Bernie Sanders often points to Europe as his economic model, but there’s one lesson from the Continent that he and Elizabeth Warren want to ignore. Europe has tried and mostly rejected the wealth taxes that the two presidential candidates are now promising for America.

Senator Warren’s plan sets an annual 2% tax on assets above $50 million, and the rate rises to 6% for billionaires. Bernie Sanders wants to tax joint filers’ wealth between $32 million and $10 billion at rates of 1% to 8%. His advisers brag that this could wipe out half a billionaire’s wealth in 15 years. The candidates say these taxes will deliver “justice” and revenue to finance their vast new spending plans. That’s also what Europe’s socialists said only to find it didn’t work:

— Sweden. The Nordic country had a wealth tax for most of the 20th century, though its revenue never accounted for more than 0.4% of gross domestic product in the postwar era. One reason is that the levy treated different assets differently. This distorted investment as the wealthy took on debt to buy tax-free assets. If the U.S. farm lobby convinced President Warren to remove farmland as a taxable asset, say, prepare for a property bubble.

The relatively small Swedish tax still was enough of a burden to drive out some of the country’s brightest citizens. IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad famously left Sweden for Switzerland in the 1970s over onerous taxation. In 2007 the government repealed its 1.5% tax on personal wealth over $200,000.

— Germany. Berlin imposed levies of 0.5% and 0.7% on personal and corporate wealth in 1978. The rate rose to 1% in 1995, but the Federal Constitutional Court struck down the wealth tax that year, and it was effectively abolished by 1997. America’s Founders banned “direct taxes” not apportioned by state population. Ms. Warren argues her law isn’t a direct tax, but courts would get their say. ...

— France. In 1982 Socialist President François Mitterrand imposed a wealth tax with a top rate of 1.5% on assets above $1.5 million at the time. The tax was eliminated then reimposed several years later. In 2013 another Socialist President, François Hollande, tried to hit the wealthy even harder.

The results? Some 70,000 millionaires have left France since 2000, according to the South African research group New World Wealth. In 2017 French President Emmanuel Macron, a former economic adviser to Mr. Hollande, scrapped the scheme in favor of a property tax. ...

— Austria. One difficulty of imposing a wealth tax is figuring out how much someone is worth. Valuing securities, homes or private jets is at least relatively objective. What about modern art, race horses or closely held companies? When Austria abolished its decades-old wealth tax in 1994, officials cited the administrative burden of calculating the exact levy.

While a dozen European states had wealth taxes in 1990, the number has fallen to three today. Nationally Spain taxes fortunes above €700,000 at 0.2%, rising to 2.5% at roughly €10.7 million. Rates can vary among Spain’s regions, but does anyone think of Madrid as an economic model? Switzerland’s wealth tax hits the middle class, starting in the low six figures inside most of the country’s 26 cantons. Norway taxes wealth starting at about $170,000 at 0.85%, but the country’s oil reserves have let it get away with bad economic decisions for decades.

Despite the obvious flaws, the wealth tax stays alive in the socialist mind because it is the ultimate populist envy tax. Donald Trump popped off in support of a wealth tax when weighing a 2000 presidential bid, no doubt without much thought.

The best argument against a wealth tax is moral. It is a confiscatory tax on the assets from work, thrift and investment that have already been taxed at least once as individual or corporate income, and perhaps again as a capital gain or death tax. The European experience shows that it also fails in practice. The question is how much economic damage comes first.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/

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Nov. 4

The Baltimore Sun on reaction from the governor of Maryland over a flag made for police officers:

Recently, a father and son duo in Montgomery County presented a “thin blue line” flag made out of wood to their local police station in recognition of National First Responders Day. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they simply wanted to do something nice for police and to respectfully recognize that officers risk their lives each day to protect the rest of us from harm. It’s not uncommon to find such flags in police stations across the country. But the image of a flag with a thin blue line — a metaphor for how police man the front line for keeping social order — has also been associated with white nationalists and, by extension, been used to justify police violence against black residents. Such was the case in Charlottesville, Va., when the flag was used (no doubt much to the consternation of police) by white supremacists.

Last Friday, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich cautioned police not to put the flag on display at the station in Germantown. It was a prudent choice, and the whole thing might have just ended with that, but, alas, it didn’t. The union representing police, Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, issued a statement angrily condemning the decision as an “act of outright disrespect.” And it might have ended with that as well (police unions and elected leaders do a certain amount of fussing at each other routinely), except Gov. Larry Hogan felt an obligation to weigh in as well. On Sunday, he tweeted that the county executive’s decision was “outrageous and unconscionable,” and the kerfuffle made Fox News commentariat, which seldom misses a chance to exploit white-black, police-civilian conflicts. Can President Donald Trump be far behind?

These have been challenging times for police and the communities they serve. It doesn’t require the allegations surrounding Freddie Gray’s death here in Baltimore (or, in some cases, acts of police brutality or misconduct against minorities captured on video) to recognize a tension exists between the men and women who serve and protect, and the local residents who fear unfair, heavy-handed discriminatory treatment. Smart police leaders are aware of this and work diligently to mend those fences and restore trust. And then there are those who stick their heads in the sand and refuse to recognize these legitimate concerns.

Is a U.S. flag with a blue line in the middle really all that big a deal? It shouldn’t be. Is the Blue Lives Matter movement inherently problematic because its very name signals that it was a reaction to Black Lives Matter and that police lives are therefore valued more than black lives? The argument can be made. So why can’t we just set those things aside and work toward a better relationship between police and minorities? The best choice is to focus on the real stuff, not the metaphors. County Executive Elrich had the right idea: Let’s support police by not trying to sabotage their relationships with folks who already have reason to distrust them.

Online: https://www.baltimoresun.com/

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Nov. 1

The Mail & Guardian on a lawsuit from Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, against the Israeli software development company NSO:

A little over a year ago, the Canadian non-profit Citizen Lab released a damning report into the activities of NSO, an Israeli software development company. NSO makes a programme called Pegasus, which it sells to governments. This programme is a powerful surveillance tool, allowing governments to spy on smartphones that have been infected with the Pegasus spyware.

Citizen Lab’s research discovered infected devices have been traced to 45 countries, including some of the world’s worst human rights violators, such as Saudi Arabia.

Infected devices were also discovered in South Africa. The alleged purpose of the programme is to prevent criminal activity, but many of the devices belonged to journalists and human rights defenders.

This week, Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, announced that it would be suing NSO over what it describes as violations of United States law, as well as WhatsApp’s terms of service (NSO denies any wrongdoing).

“This should serve as a wake-up call for technology companies, governments and all internet users. Tools that enable surveillance into our private lives are being abused, and the proliferation of this technology into the hands of irresponsible companies and governments puts us all at risk,” said Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp.

Facebook and WhatsApp (which Facebook owns) may appear to be unlikely privacy campaigners, given Facebook’s record of harvesting and selling user data. But what is at stake now is whether governments should be allowed to spy on their citizens with impunity. The answer must be a definitive no.

Software that allows governments access to the electronic communications of its citizens is a gross violation of the right to privacy, and fundamentally compromises the ability of journalists and human rights defenders to hold authorities to account. Any challenge to the likes of NSO and Pegasus can only be good for democracy — even if it comes from an unlikely source.

Online: https://mg.co.za/