Editorials from around New York

November 29, 2018

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:


The Post-Star on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Nov. 25

We are the United States of America.

It used to stand for something. We were the land of the free, home of the brave and the one country where morality was paramount.

We thought we were the good guys.

We thought we were the shining beacon to the world.

That has been diminished.

More than a month ago, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who had a residence in Virginia, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Almost immediately, Khashoggi was accosted.

“Release my arm! What do you think you are doing?” Khashoggi says early in a recording from inside the consulate.

According to information provided by Turkish security personnel and published by USA Today, Khashoggi argues for about seven minutes before being taken to another room where there is more arguing and the sounds of what appears to be a fight, followed by a beating and torture.

“Traitor! You will be brought to account!” a man says on the tape before it goes quiet.

More than an hour later, another man’s voice says, “It is spooky to wear the clothes of a man whom we killed 20 minutes ago.”

The CIA concluded with “high confidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the killing.

Khashoggi’s crime? Let us show you in his words from a Sept. 18 column in The Washington Post.

“When I speak of the fear, intimidation, arrests and public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to speak their minds, and then I tell you that I’m from Saudi Arabia, are you surprised?

“With young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power, he promised an embrace of social and economic reform. He spoke of making our country more open and tolerant and promised that he would address the things that hold back our progress, such as the ban on women driving.

“But all I see now is the recent wave of arrests. Last week, about 30 people were reportedly rounded up by authorities, ahead of the crown prince’s ascension to the throne. Some of the arrested are good friends of mine, and the effort represents the public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to express opinions contrary to those of my country’s leadership.”

Those opinions got him killed.

For wanting to make his country a better place to live.

His body was cut up into small pieces for standing up to the repressive government of his homeland.

We should be outraged.

We should be incensed.

This was a cold-blooded murder to silence a voice of opposition.

But on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he would do nothing. He said that business comes before morality. He put a price on United States morality by arguing that Saudi Arabia’s business dealings with our country could not be disturbed, because they would cost our country hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Except, that was a lie too.

A fact check by the Associated Press found that Saudi Arabia had committed to $14.5 billion in military purchases, not the $450 billion the president claimed.

A look at trade showed that the United States exported only $16 billion in goods to Saudi Arabia last year.

And while sanctions against Saudi Arabia might cost the United States thousands of jobs, it was not the half-million the president claimed.

Saudi Arabia can be held accountable in the death of Jamal Khashoggi by enacting any number of measures, including suspending arms sales, ending military support in Yemen, pushing for the crown prince to relinquish power, demanding it take steps to improve its human-rights record and ceasing high-level diplomatic contact.

A ban from one of the president’s luxury hotels would at least be something.

But we need to do something. We need to fight for the ideals that make our country unique, and a shining example to the rest of the world. One of those is press freedom.

Even if we took all those actions, it would not make up for this heinous crime.

This was the work of animals who live in a regime controlled by leaders with no soul.

And now we Americans are complicit.

We need our leaders — Sen. Schumer, Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Stefanik — to immediately condemn the president’s partnership with murderers and the lack of action.

We need to make our voices heard and reverse course.

This is the United States of America.

That used to stand for something.

Online: https://bit.ly/2QwHwcZ


The Post-Standard on the Trump administration’s relationship with the press.

Nov. 23

President Donald Trump’s war with the media reached a new low last week when the White House revoked the credential of CNN reporter Jim Acosta after a testy exchange at a news conference. CNN sued and won a temporary reprieve.

Late Monday, before the court could rule on the First Amendment implications of the Acosta ban, the White House backed down, saying it would restore the CNN reporter’s credential. But it also will impose rules on how reporters can ask questions to the president: one question per reporter, no follow-ups unless at the discretion of the president or the press secretary, and the reporter must “yield the floor” by giving up the microphone. Breaking these rules “may result in suspension or revocation of a journalist’s hard pass.”

That as much as guarantees we’ll be right back here someday. It is a perilous road.

Muzzling the press is chapter one in the authoritarian ruler’s playbook. By the Founders’ design, the president of the United States is not a king or dictator. He doesn’t control the media, or get to decide which reporters are assigned to cover him.

A free press isn’t free if the government imposes rules on what reporters can ask and how they must ask it. That violates the First Amendment. Period.

Banning reporters from asking follow-up questions or challenging the president’s statements, under threat of taking away their access to the White House, hobbles the watchdog function of the media. White House reporters will be looking over their shoulders, calibrating the consequences, every time they ask tough questions. Meanwhile, the president will be able to dodge accountability and lie to the American people with even more impunity.

To its credit, the White House Correspondents Association won’t go along with the new rules. “For as long as there have been White House press conferences, White House reporters have asked follow-up questions. We fully expect this tradition will continue,” it said it a statement.

Instead of micromanaging the press, the president should try managing his own behavior. Stop the ad hominem attacks on reporters. Stop picking fights to score points with “the base.” Stop telling lies. Behave with the decorum you want to see in the media. Yes, reporters ought to be courteous. But it’s also our job to challenge authority, to be persistent, to ask impertinent questions and to not take “no” for an answer.

Going forward, if the president or his spokesperson dodges one reporter’s question, the next reporter called on should ask the same question until it is answered. If that results in “suspension or revocation” of a journalist’s credential, so be it. Let the president shadow box in an empty briefing room.

In a democracy, the relationship between the president and the press is supposed to be antagonistic. John Adams threw his critics in jail under the Alien and Sedition Acts. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made one disfavored reporter wear a dunce hat. Richard Nixon kept an “enemies list” that included several journalists. Barack Obama’s administration earned the label “least transparent ever.”

Trump’s contempt for the media isn’t new, but it’s reached a dangerous new phase. The free flow of ideas is the lifeblood of democracy. Citizens should be alarmed at any attempt to restrict it.

It’s sad that so many Trump supporters believe the press should bow before the president; the Founding Fathers would be aghast. The decades-long concentration of power and the recent cult of personality in the Executive Branch can only be truly checked by the other co-equal branches of government, Congress and the Judiciary. In our country, under our Constitution, the press should not be required to submit to such authoritarian subjugation.

Online: https://bit.ly/2RjPS4x


The New York Daily News on the implications of editing the human genome.

Nov. 29

It is a grave ethical misstep for a scientist to manipulate the genetic code of human embryos, as Chinese researcher He Jiankui claims to have done, he says, to make them resistant to infection by the HIV virus.

Not only because the technology is untested, and editing one piece of human DNA may well have unanticipated effects in another part of the genome.

Not only because these techniques, if perfected, can be exploited to enable the privileged few to rig their heredity, amplifying advantages that wealth already delivers and allowing mothers and fathers to tinker with everything from a child’s eye color to his or her likelihood of suffering from clinical depression.

Especially chilling about the profound risks of rigging biological source code is that once edits are made, they get carried from parent to child and grandchild and great-grandchild, modifying humanity in ways that are essentially undetectable and can never be undone.

Far be it from us, as technology advances, to rule out the possibility of ever allowing human DNA to be tweaked in vitro. If we have the means to forever extinguish congenital diseases that cause excruciating pain and early death, would we really leave such a tool on the table?

But such power must be used in the rarest of circumstances, under the strictest controls, only after vetting all hazards to individual humans and humanity at large have been.

Today, He Jiankui is rightly being treated as neither an innovator nor a lifesaver, but as an outlaw.

Online: https://nydn.us/2DRvgg8


Newsday on addressing climate change.

Nov. 27

Most Long Islanders didn’t need another report on the devastating impacts of climate change. We know what’s going on. We’ve seen it firsthand. We’ve seen beaches disappearing. And more frequent flooding of our streets and yards at high tide. And more intense rainfall. And lobsters vanishing from our waters.

Even given that, the analysis released Friday by the Trump administration was eye-opening, the grimmest assessment yet of the impacts of unabated climate change. It’s not a matter of whether to believe the evidence. It’s time to understand its implications and act — to slow the march of climate change and mitigate its inevitable effects.

The latest National Climate Assessment, written by 13 federal agencies with input from more than 300 climate scientists, detailed a raft of climate change impacts in, for example, the Northeast. Like more than 30 days per year of high tide flooding in many Northeast cities by 2050. Like 650 more premature deaths per year from extreme heat by 2050, when the average annual temperature in the region is expected to be 4 degrees warmer than recent averages. Like a projected probable sea level rise of 2 to 4.5 feet by 2100, with some parts of the shoreline eroding inland at 3.3 feet per year. Like more pine beetles and more mosquitoes carrying Lyme disease and West Nile virus, fish stocks declining, and air quality worsening, with up to 300 more ozone-related deaths a year by 2050.

The national outlook is no better: By 2100, climate change could shrink the economy by 10 percent and force 13 million Americans, many in our region, to move from their homes because of rising seas. That’s disruption on a massive scale.

It isn’t just a future problem. The New York Renews environmental coalition says climate change already costs New York more than $10 billion per year.

No use waiting for President Donald Trump to wake up and smell the consequences. There is plenty that can and must be done now. In the absence of federal government action — more accurately, in the face of federal actions that would make climate change worse — state and local governments can lead. Some states, New York and California prominent among them, have done just that with ambitious plans to convert part or all of their electric supply to renewable energy sources. New York should turn its aspirational goal to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030 into law.

All levels of government should strengthen their infrastructure to withstand the increased precipitation and flooding to come. Places like New York — with aging power, transportation, drainage and sewer systems — are particularly vulnerable. Better building codes would enable smarter decisions about where to build. The report itself — written by career federal scientists whose politically appointed superiors are seeking regulatory rollbacks that would exacerbate the problem — will be potent ammunition in court fights against those rollbacks.

The rest of us should do our part, too — by using less air conditioning, line-drying some of our clothes, taking public transit, riding bicycles, buying local products including food, installing programmable thermostats.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2ztlu0Y


The New York Times on relations between Russia and Ukraine.

Nov. 26

Russia’s attack on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea was a violation of international law and a dangerous escalation of the undeclared war the Kremlin has waged for more than four years against Ukraine in Crimea, in the breakaway provinces of eastern Ukraine, and now at sea.

The Kremlin can shout all it wants about a provocation, about an attempt by the Ukrainian president to create a political diversion or about anything else, but none of that changes the fact that Russia had no legal justification for firing on three Ukrainian boats and seizing them.

The vessels, two small armored boats and a tugboat, were headed for the Kerch Strait, which separates Crimea from Russia and is the only entrance to the Sea of Azov, where much of Ukraine’s coastline lies. Russia claimed they had crossed into Russian waters, but that is based on its illegal claim to Crimea, which it seized in 2014.

Ukraine and most every other state in the world still regard Crimea and its coastal waters as Ukrainian territory. And under a treaty ratified by Ukraine and Russia in 2004 — a now hard-to-imagine time when they could still refer to each other as “historically brotherly nations” — the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait were defined as shared territorial waters. That treaty, signed by President Vladimir Putin of Russia, is still in force.

Yet ever since Mr. Putin opened a new bridge over the Kerch Strait in May, Russia has moved steadily to impose its control over the strait and the Azov Sea. The Kremlin has moved several gunboats into the shallow sea and has begun stopping and inspecting cargo vessels headed for the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk, creating long delays and causing large losses to shipping companies and the ports.

Whatever reasons Ukraine might have had for sending three boats toward the strait, it was within its rights. Russia’s reaction — to ram the tugboat after an expletive-rich chase caught on video; to open fire on the boats and seize them, wounding several sailors and taking 23 captive; to scramble fighter jets and block passage under the Crimea Bridge with a freighter — was dangerous, arrogant, illegal aggression.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, declared at a Security Council meeting that Russia’s actions were an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory.” NATO, the European Union and European leaders all joined in denouncing Russia. The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, said Secretary of State Pompeo told him that Ukraine could expect “full assistance, including military assistance” to protect Ukrainian sovereignty.

In this chorus of condemnation, however, President Trump’s voice was muted, though Ambassador Haley indicated she was speaking also for him. “We do not like what’s happening either way,” Mr. Trump said on his way to a political rally in Mississippi. “We don’t like what’s happening, and hopefully it’ll get straightened out.” He added: “I know Europe is not, they are not thrilled. They’re working on it, too. We’re all working on it together.”

The clash at sea had the unfortunate consequences of further muddling Ukraine’s already messy politics. Hours after the ships were seized, Mr. Poroshenko called a meeting of his security chiefs and declared martial law in southern and eastern provinces, which the Ukrainian Parliament approved, limited to 30 days. The prospect of martial law had raised considerable concerns, since it gives the government greater powers while restricting public gatherings, the media, free movement and other civil liberties.

By limiting the period to one month, Mr. Poroshenko lifted the greatest worry, that he would postpone national elections in March, which he is almost certain to lose. But the notion of imposing controls on selective regions was more likely to exacerbate regional frictions while not doing much for Ukrainian defenses. It’s important that Mr. Poroshenko and his Western supporters ensure that the clampdown is not used to harass citizens who speak Russian and who are clustered in the affected regions, or give the impression that he is using the crisis for political advantage. Political turmoil is not a victory that Russia should be allowed to claim.

Above all, Russia cannot be allowed to get away with this continued bullying of Ukraine. By steadily tightening its hold on Crimea, it is gambling that the West will not have the stomach or stamina to impose ever more punishment or provide more military support for Ukraine. But a direct attack on Ukrainian ships cannot go unpunished. Strong condemnations will not do.

The United States and its Western allies can impose stronger economic sanctions, bar their ships from entering Russian ports in the Black or Azov Seas or increase military support for Ukraine.

These actions all carry risk, but so does doing nothing.

Online: https://nyti.ms/2FMSlU2


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