Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Dallas Morning News on how Houston needs assistance after providing help during Hurricane Katrina:
Twelve years ago this week, the city of Houston responded with heroic life-saving actions to the near drowning of New Orleans. This as-big-as-Texas effort earned Houston this newspaper’s Texan of the Year designation for 2005.
In the days after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29 of that year, more than 1,800 residents died and millions were left homeless.
For the sake of those traumatized survivors, Houston met the challenge with the largest shelter operation in the nation’s history. More than 150,000 of the approximately 250,000 evacuees would eventually make Harris County their permanent home.
Perhaps Houston’s director of building services in 2005, Issa Dadoush, said it best as evacuees stumbled off buses and into the mega-shelter created within the Astrodome: “These are Americans. They’re our neighbors. If not Houston, who else?”
Not only did Houston provide emergency aid to the survivors, the city got them into permanent quarters as quickly as possible so they could resume some semblance of a normal life. School assignments for the children and job placements for the adults.
To get the work done right, “we” became far more than government. The extraordinary effort depended on churches, companies, nonprofits and tens of thousands of ordinary people waiting for that first convoy of fearful survivors who had huddled for days in the New Orleans Superdome.
In response, Houston became the heart of Texas. From those who served the first hot meals to those who made return trips to New Orleans to pluck even more survivors from nursing homes and deserted streets.
Now it’s the rescuer in need of rescue: Houston, its suburbs and the many smaller southeast Texas towns and surrounding counties lay devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
While the catastrophic causes are different, the similarity between images out of hurricanes Harvey and Katrina are chilling. With southeast Texas rainfall measured in feet, not inches, and a grim landscape of homes seeming to sink into a quicksand of floodwaters, it’s no small miracle that the death toll thus far is small.
When Houston opened its arms to Katrina’s victims, its leaders noted that the county, local cities and other key agencies and corporations had worked together for years to brace for catastrophe. That planning is proving to be no less vital now that it’s Houston that’s at risk of drowning.
Any sense of normalcy in southeast Texas is months, if not years, away as a hurricane that first blew through the small coastal tourist town of Rockport has grown into a multi-billion-dollar state disaster.
What’s most immediately needed is a few of our state’s trademark August days: hot, dry and sunny.
But no rain totals will drown out the resilience, resourcefulness and good old Texas neighborliness that earned Houston the 2005 Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year designation.
As former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said when his city welcomed the Katrina survivors: “We will rebuild, one life at a time.”
As Houston begins that task again, this time on behalf of its own residents, our thoughts and prayers remain with our big-city neighbor to the south.
The Washington Post on President Donald Trump scaling back national monuments:
The minute President Trump entered the Oval Office, President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy was in danger. The clean air and water regulations and the land protections he established, all without Congress’s assent, were as fragile as some of the precious habitat they were meant to protect.
Yet Thursday brought indication that Mr. Trump may unravel the environmental achievements of more than one president. The Post reported that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent recommendations to the White House that include scaling back some of the most prominent national monuments created in the past three decades. Unsurprisingly, Bears Ears National Monument, which Mr. Obama created at the end of his presidency, is top on the list for downsizing. But also on the chopping block is the nearby — and utterly spectacular — Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which President Bill Clinton established in 1996. Some monuments that are not set to shrink could nevertheless lose some protection. More fishing could be permitted in sensitive marine monuments, for example.
The details are secret, which is a problem in itself. What is clear enough is that an extensive tour of southern Utah and consultation with local tribes, who pushed for preservation, did not impart on Mr.?Zinke the proper awe for the natural wonders he is now endangering. In June the secretary issued an initial report on Bears Ears that did not suggest restraint in rolling back the national monument.
Narrowly interpreting the law under which national monuments have been established, Mr. Zinke indicated that only isolated “rock art, dwellings, ceremonial sites, granaries” in Bears Ears deserve national monument protection, arguing that it was appropriate only to “identify and separate the areas that have significant objects.” This is not how presidents have used the law since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, who set aside more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon. Presidents for decades have preserved spectacular, irreplaceable and integrated natural landscapes, not just one butte or cliff dwelling at a time.
When we asked the Interior Department for more information, a spokeswoman pointed to sections of Mr. Zinke’s report that called for Congress to establish other sorts of protections for the land he would withdraw from Bears Ears, perhaps declaring some of it a national recreation area. If Congress wants to move Bears Ears’ boundaries or establish different levels of protection on the land, it can do so. The president should not withdraw protections before that happens. The same goes for Grand Staircase, a breathtaking area of the country that was saved the indignity of having a coal mine drilled into it only because of Mr. Clinton’s actions 20 years ago.
Some of those pushing to reopen these lands see them as just another place to graze or mine. They are wrong. These places are unique. Grand Staircase’s jutting rock formations tell a geologic story over hundreds of miles. Bears Ears’ rust-red landscape is replete with streams, buttes, natural arches and Native American artifacts. Landscapes of this scale and spectacle are unique and irreplaceable. The nation owes it to future generations to preserve them.
The London Evening Standard on North Korea’s nuclear threat:
None of North Korea’s neighbors want to see the collapse of its repressive regime, whatever they say in public. That’s the dirty secret behind all the diplomacy surrounding the current crisis. The last thing China wants is a unified, pro-western Korean nation on its doorstep — with US troops stationed on the other side of the Yalu River on its border. That’s a prospect Mao Zedong went to war to prevent
67 years ago, when China was far weaker than it is today.
They would never dare say it but Japan too is wary of a strong, united Korea, given the long history of distrust and destruction between the two.
Even the South Koreans baulk at the idea of spending vast sums bringing their impoverished cousins into the 21st century. It’s only the poor North Koreans themselves, half of whom live in extreme poverty, and all of whom exist in a climate of fear and servitude, who would benefit from the fall of the socialist dictatorship founded by Kim Il Sung in the 1940s.
That is why the world is so frustrated by the unpredictable and potentially genocidal behavior of his grandson Kim Jong-un.
If the tyrant was happy to stay behind his barbed-wire borders and only threaten his own people, the world would leave him alone.
But his ballistic missile launches and nuclear bomb tests, and the development of the technology to put the two together in an intercontinental weapon that could hit the west coast of the U.S., makes that impossible.
Portrayed as the wild-eyed aggressor, Kim Jong Un is really acting defensively. Like his father and grandfather before him, he sees the acquisition of this 70-year-old technology as the key to his survival and that of his family’s empire — noting the fate of Colonel Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein when they failed to develop deliverable nuclear weapons.
The key to solving the crisis is to persuade him that far from securing his regime this will bring about his downfall. That won’t be easy, but is possible. The deal with Iran to pause its weapons program is the model. That would enable the rest of world to leave North Korea alone, and avoid the question of what would happen if it no longer existed.
The Houston Chronicle writes an open letter to President Donald Trump, highlighting the city’s economic contributions and asking for funding:
Dear President Donald Trump,
While we write this letter, the trees are still bending in near gale-force winds and floodwaters are rushing out of bayous into our homes and neighborhoods. But you should know that the bayous are what attracted the Allen Brothers — two ambitious developers from New York, not unlike yourself — to found Houston in the first place.
In the 19th century, the bayous were a byway for cotton traders. But now they converge at the Houston Ship Channel, the core of our national oil and gas industry.
Hurricane Harvey made first landfall near Corpus Christi, and Houston is still enduring the worst of this ongoing disaster, so it is only appropriate that you’re visiting our sister city to the south today for your speech. We’re glad you’re there, and they need your help, too.
But before you leave, Mr. President, and move on to your next speech in Missouri, please take some time to learn about Houston. Schedule a helicopter tour or a flyover in Air Force One so that you can grasp the full range of destruction that has beset our neighborhoods, businesses and, importantly, refineries. The sheer scale of our city, and its role in the international energy economy, can only be seen from a bird’s-eye view.
Houston is no flyover country. We’re the energy capital of the world and responsible for a quarter of U.S. petroleum refining and more than half of all jet fuel. In fact, you have an expert on the topic in your cabinet — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil.
We’re the Fort Knox of oil and gas, and you risk losing untold wealth if the federal government doesn’t muster the resources necessary to help our city repair, rebuild and ensure resilience against the next inevitable storm.
Our city has been pushed to the brink, and the crisis still isn’t over. Homes continue to fill with floodwaters, and thousands seek shelter from a storm of biblical proportions. The number of deaths continues to inch higher, and countless families are finding themselves homeless, their neighborhoods lost to the rising waters.
While millions hunker down, other fellow Houstonians are putting their bodies and souls to the ultimate test.
Think of the doctors and nurses working without rest, the sheriff’s deputies and rescue workers venturing into neighborhoods overwhelmed by waist-high waters, the volunteers who bring comfort to shelters and weekend warriors whose kayaks became a lifeline for stranded families.
As hours without rest turn to days without sleep, these heroes find within themselves a drive — a compassion — that they never knew existed.
Mr. President, these men and women are the soul of our sprawling and diverse Houston. When you speak this morning in Corpus Christi, you have the opportunity to help empower their last reserves of energy so they can endure until the final raindrop falls and the bayous return to their banks.
Ronald Reagan once joked that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
That isn’t a joke you hear during a storm.
Now, more than ever, we need help from the government. We need to know that our politicians in Washington, D.C., are working just as hard as our first responders.
You’ve never hesitated before to use the power of your bully pulpit to rally for your cause, nor were you ever one to mince words when promising to fight for the coal miners of West Virginia or steelworkers of Pennsylvania — now you can harness that passion to fight for Houston.
Even for a man prone to hyperbole — we all have our rhetorical tics — it is hard to overstate the massive scale of the ongoing disaster.
A nation is waiting to hear an impassioned plea on behalf of the charities that will help our families in need, like the Houston Food Bank, the Texas Diaper Bank, and the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which Mayor Sylvester Turner established as a central clearinghouse.
You’ve already told reporters that we can expect rapid action on relief funding, and Democrats and Republicans alike will no doubt agree that an unprecedented storm like Harvey will require a major effort. Calls to offset this emergency spending with cuts elsewhere must be cast aside. Deficits are a debate for another day, and bluster about shutting down the government must end.
Now we have to help a great American city, an economic engine, get back on its feet.
But it can’t end with relief and rebuilding. Houston also needs the resources to harden ourselves against the next inevitable storm.
This means funding for new flood infrastructure — Mike Talbott, former executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District, estimated the cost at $26 billion.
Coastal storm surge protection also has to be part of any plan. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a major backer of your presidential campaign, knows all about that.
Our city still lives in the shadows of great politicians like U.S. Reps. Tom Ball and Albert Thomas, who built the flood and bayou infrastructure that transformed Houston from a swampy town into a 20th century energy metropolis. We’re still waiting for a politician with the strength and dedication to build the sustainable cityscape that brings us into the 21st century — and that includes an honest recognition of global warming. We have no doubt that you can be that man if you choose to be.
Mr. President, our worry is that this attention from the White House will recede along with the floodwaters. Several of your tweets during the storm — promoting a friend’s book? — left us concerned that you’re easily distracted from the task at hand. And all too many of your speeches have revealed a startling gap between what appears on the teleprompter and what lies in your heart. Last week we saw a tempered address on Afghanistan erased by a hateful tirade in Phoenix. How long until reassuring rhetoric from Corpus Christi gives way to a less inspiring tone?
“We will get through this. We will come out stronger. And believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before. The rebuilding will begin, and in the end, it will be something very special,” you told reporters on Monday.
If we truly want to come back stronger than ever, then the federal government has to step up with funding and leadership, and the buck stops with one man: President Donald J. Trump.
The Orange County Register on household debt levels:
The United States’ lengthy economic recovery and low unemployment rate seem to be promising signs, but cracks in the foundation reveal some concerns for the future.
While the official unemployment rate has hit a 16-year low, at 4.3 percent, the “U-6” underemployment rate, which includes those who would like to work full-time, but have been forced to take part-time jobs, remains stubbornly high at 8.6 percent.
In addition, Americans continue to be plagued by stagnant wages, the rising cost of living, ever-higher taxes (especially here in California), and mounting debt. In fact, household debt has reached a new record, surpassing the levels achieved during the Great Recession, according to the latest Federal Reserve Bank of New York quarterly report. Total household debt now stands at $12.8 trillion, up $552 billion from a year ago, with significant increases in student loan and auto loan debt.
The news is not quite as dire as it appears at first blush, however, since the figures do not account for population and economic growth since the recession.
“Total debt was 67 percent of the nominal gross domestic product in the second quarter, down from as high as 87 percent in 2009,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Then again, we are well into a rather long, albeit mild, recovery — not in the depths of a severe recession. We would much rather be in a position of greater financial strength before the next economic downturn inevitably hits.
Since the recession, student loan debt, which now tops $1.3 trillion, has been second only to mortgage debt (currently $8.7 trillion). Auto loan debt ($1.2 trillion) has also surpassed credit card debt ($1 trillion) during this time, though credit card debt has set a new record as well, surpassing the previous mark from April 2008. Moreover, the portion of credit card balances delinquent after 30 days jumped to 6.2 percent from 5.1 percent during the same period last year.
“This record should serve as a wake-up call to Americans to focus on their credit card debt,” CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz told MarketWatch. “Even if you feel your debt is manageable right now, know that you could be one unexpected emergency away from real trouble.”
This is a particular concern, given that 78 percent of U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck, up from 75 percent last year, according to a recent CareerBuilder study. That includes nearly 10 percent of those earning at least $100,000 a year.
“Living paycheck to paycheck is the new way of life for U.S. workers,” CareerBuilder spokesman Mike Erwin told CBS News. “It’s not just one salary range. It’s pretty much across the board, and it’s trending in the wrong direction.”
Moreover, just 46 percent said their debt was manageable, and 56 percent felt that they would always be in debt.
And, as a separate MarketWatch article noted, millennials are even resorting to financing to pay for discretionary purchases like luxury sheets, Peloton exercise bikes, fancy blenders, guitars and music festival tickets.
The housing industry is certainly not out of the woods, either. A Federal Housing Finance Agency stress test of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac found that the government-sponsored enterprises, which were completely taken over by the federal government during the last recession, could require up to a $100 billion taxpayer bailout in the event of another such “severely adverse scenario.”
So while the economic skies may appear clear in the immediate vicinity, storm clouds are starting to loom. Americans should watch their pocketbooks and do what they can to plan accordingly. Our governments should likewise plan their budgets appropriately, and refrain from adding to citizens’ already substantial burdens.
The Chicago Tribune on the stalled Chinese-led purchase of the Chicago Stock Exchange:
Did you know that a Chinese company owns Armour hot dogs? As China’s economy grows, investors there have climbed the food chain to acquire valuable American brands such as AMC Theatres, New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel and Smithfield Foods, parent of Armour, which was founded in Chicago in 1867.
Currently on the shopping list for China is the Chicago Stock Exchange. An investment group led by Chongqing Casin Enterprise Group struck a deal last year to buy CHX Holdings, the Chicago exchange’s parent, for $20 million. The deal is trapped in U.S. regulatory limbo and needs to be approved.
There is nothing frightening about the prospect of a Chinese-led group buying the Chicago Stock Exchange, despite the nervousness being expressed by some officials in Washington. Foreign investment contributes to the U.S. economy, just as it benefits the acquiring country. Foreign money is a vote of confidence. Often it means U.S. job creation: Global investors sink their money into American companies because they see growth potential. The purchase of the Chicago Stock Exchange, a tiny player in the U.S. financial markets, would help that Chicago-based business expand.
Certainly, deals involving China require special scrutiny because the communist government is a geopolitical competitor and, in some respects, an adversary of the United States. So after Chongqing Casin sealed its purchase agreement, regulators and other officials in Washington went to work. One powerful government entity, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which investigates deals on national security grounds, approved the Chinese-led acquisition of CHX last December.
In early August, the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is responsible for investor protection, also signed off on the purchase. That wasn’t the last word, however. In a rare move, SEC commissioners put final approval on hold, pending further review. The SEC gave no reason for that action, but some members of Congress are clear about their unease: They don’t trust the Chinese government. They suspect Beijing will find a way to use this deal to play games with the U.S. financial markets. To cheat investors? Plot economic terrorism? Suspicions run deep. “When you take into account the risk of cyber-market manipulation and the gamut of concerns we have with China . you certainly have to be wary of this acquisition,” Rep. Robert Pittenger, a North Carolina Republican, told The Wall Street Journal.
There are legitimate reasons to scrutinize foreign acquisitions. But remember, that’s why CFIUS vetted the deal. The committee, which includes representatives from the Treasury Department, Defense Department and other agencies, is no rubber-stamp operation. It has blocked other transactions, but found no reason to prevent this one. Neither did the SEC staff investigation, which signaled that proper oversight will be in place to protect against trading mischief. We think that’s correct: Financial markets are heavily regulated. They also are self-policed by sophisticated investors who won’t tolerate weak controls. If the Chicago Stock Exchange is vulnerable to manipulation, customers will go elsewhere.
So back to the point of this acquisition: to reinvigorate a storied Chicago institution. The 135-year-old exchange needs capital to grow. Chongqing Casin, which has interests in real estate and other businesses, would lead a group buying 49.5 percent of CHX. American investors would take the rest. CHX Chief Executive John Kerin told the SEC that none of the Chinese buyers are controlled by their government.
The new owners would invest up to $23 million in CHX. Their strategy calls for the Chicago Stock Exchange to focus on listing emerging growth companies from China and the U.S. That’s exciting because as China grows, more companies there will want to sell shares to American investors. With its Chinese connection, CHX will have the advantage. And when Chinese firms list on the Chicago Stock Exchange, they may set up offices here and hire Chicago professionals to help manage their businesses. Globalization in action.
More Chinese money is coming to the U.S. More can come to Chicago, as soon as the SEC approves the acquisition of the Chicago Stock Exchange. Commissioners, sign off on this deal.