Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
The Associated Press
Jan. 25, 2017
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina on the confirmation of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations:
So now they are Ambassador Nikki Haley and Gov. Henry McMaster. Congratulations are due both, particularly Mrs. Haley, who dispelled doubts about her ability to handle the Cabinet-level position by her straightforward testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Her nomination as ambassador to the United Nations received the committee's endorsement, and the overwhelming confirmation by the full Senate.
As Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said Tuesday, "What Governor Haley lacks in foreign policy and international affairs experience, she makes up for in capability, intelligence, and a track record of building coalitions in South Carolina."
Indeed, despite her lack of diplomatic experience, Mrs. Haley brings a lot to her new job. There's a reason for her meteoric political rise that began just 11 years ago as a junior Republican legislator who wasn't afraid to take on the legislative power brokers over a simple matter of ensuring that lawmakers' votes were on the record.
It was a test of transparency and accountability, and Mrs. Haley ultimately won out and the Legislature made the change. In taking on the issue, she demonstrated her mettle to the voters who elected her in the ensuing race for governor.
In that office, she demonstrated the same strength of character as she followed through on her campaign promises of economic development and fiscal accountability.
During her six years as governor, she wasn't afraid to tangle with the Legislature if warranted. And she was able to use her considerable powers of persuasion in the successful effort to bring down the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.
Ambassador Haley's straightforward approach and her toughness will serve her well at the United Nations, where a strong voice for America's interests is essential.
As Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said Tuesday, Mrs. Haley's "amazing leadership during very trying times in South Carolina" have prepared her for the challenges she will face at the U.N. "She is the type of visionary leader that will help turn the diplomatic tide of the past years," he said.
Later Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster took over as South Carolina's 117th governor, being sworn in according to the constitutional rules of succession. Mr. McMaster, a former two-term attorney general, has a commendable record of public service: fighting political corruption, environmental crimes, animal cruelty and prosecuting domestic abuse.
In 2012-13, he served as co-chairman of a committee named by Gov. Haley to address the need for ethics reform, and in that role helped produce a comprehensive plan that was far better than what the Legislature finally approved.
And who will replace Mr. McMaster? Certainly not Sen. Hugh Leatherman, who decided to quit his position as S.C. Senate president pro tempore shortly before the U.S. Senate vote on Mrs. Haley.
The longtime Florence Republican was in line for the lieutenant governor's office, when he resigned as Senate president, saying he had no interest in statewide office.
Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, is expected to be elected president pro tempore, and soon move up as lieutenant governor.
The next nominees for governor will be able to select their running mates for the first time ever under a constitutional change approved by the voters in 2012.
Sen. Leatherman is expected to seek re-election as Senate president after Mr. Bryant moves up. The Senate should take the opportunity to deny Mr. Leatherman the position considering his unwillingness to assume the lieutenant governor's position as the state constitution instructs. Mr. Leatherman already serves in a variety of legislative positions that make him, at 85, the most powerful politician in the state.
South Carolina has produced exemplary leaders in Ambassador Nikki Haley and Gov. Henry McMaster. And there should be no shortage of able senators to choose from as the next Senate president.
The New York Times on President Donald Trump's tax returns:
One of the features on the White House website that didn't vanish when President Trump took the oath of office on Friday is the "We the People" page, which allows ordinary Americans to petition their government to address an issue of importance to them. The Obama White House, which created the feature, responded to petitions that received at least 100,000 signatures within 30 days.
It should come as no surprise that that threshold was easily reached over the weekend after someone created a petition calling on Mr. Trump to release his tax returns. "The unprecedented economic conflicts of this administration need to be visible to the American people, including any pertinent documentation which can reveal the foreign influences and financial interests which may put Donald Trump in conflict with the emoluments clause of the Constitution," the petitioner, identified as A.D., wrote. The emoluments clause bars the president from receiving gifts and payments from foreign governments. The petition had garnered more than 310,000 signatures by late Tuesday afternoon.
The administration dismisses these pleas for honesty, arguing that only journalists care about Mr. Trump's tax returns and conflicts of interest — a claim that a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll disproved. It found that 74 percent of Americans, including 53 percent of Republicans, believe that Mr. Trump's tax returns should be made public.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Mr. Trump and his chief obfuscator, told ABC News on Sunday that "he's not going to release his tax returns," adding that the election showed that "people didn't care." On Monday, she pulled back a tad, tweeting that "POTUS is under audit and will not release until that is completed." Of course, even that comment is a ruse. The Internal Revenue Service has made clear that being under audit wouldn't preclude Mr. Trump from making his returns public.
Yet, the Trump campaign used that excuse over and over, and now Mr. Trump has carried it into the White House. White House officials are probably hoping that the longer they stonewall, the more likely that public demands on this matter will be pushed aside as torrents of controversial policies and statements from Mr. Trump dominate the news cycle. Even so, voters and members of Congress who care about ethics in the nation's highest office should not let up.
Releasing the returns would provide important insight into Mr. Trump's finances and businesses. They would reveal if he is as wealthy as he claims to be, what his effective income tax rate is (he said during the campaign that not paying taxes meant he was smart) and how much he gives to charity. The documents would also identify the sources of his income and debt, helping to answer questions about his links to businessmen, banks and governments in places like Russia and the Middle East, and putting a spotlight on potential conflicts of interest.
Presidential candidates have voluntarily disclosed their tax returns since the Watergate scandal ushered in an era of greater transparency. Mr. Trump, whose checkered past as a businessman includes a string of bankruptcies and a $25 million settlement compensating students who said they had been defrauded by Trump University, has chosen to buck this trend, perhaps because he has something to hide.
Congress can force his hand by supporting a bill that Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Chris Murphy of Connecticut introduced this month. It would require the current and all future presidents to release their tax returns. State lawmakers could also head off this problem in the future by forcing presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns to get on the ballot. There is one such bill pending in New York.
Mr. Trump's refusal to release his returns was deeply suspicious during the campaign, and it's indefensible now that he's in power. The only logical conclusion is that the candidate who pledged to clean up Washington is hiding damaging information about his past.
The Wall Street Journal on reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines:
President Trump is making short work of campaign promises, and on Tuesday he signed executive orders reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The resurrection is good news for the economy, but one question is whether he'll sink the projects with his protectionist impulses.
Mr. Trump signed an executive order inviting TransCanada to apply again for a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which the Obama Administration rejected to indulge the anti-carbon obsessions of Democratic campaign donors. Another Trump directive aims to expedite the Dakota Access pipeline, which is 90% finished but was halted by President Obama amid protests. A federal judge ruled that the government had met its legal obligations, but the Obama Administration suspended work anyway.
Such carve outs for progressive constituencies are one reason voters rejected Democrats in November, and the pipelines promise broader prosperity. Keystone is predicted to spin off 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs, many of them to be filled by union workers, and add $3 billion to GDP. The pipeline could move 830,000 barrels a day along the route from Alberta to Nebraska; up to 100,000 would come from North Dakota, where a glut of crude has to travel by rail to reach refineries built to process it. The efficiencies will ripple across the oil and gas industry.
The Keystone order directs the State Department to make a recommendation within 60 days for a prompt approval, though environmental groups will file lawsuits in every eligible jurisdiction. The objections are specious: President Obama's State Department concluded on several occasions that Keystone would have no meaningful effect on climate or emissions. Moving oil by pipeline emits less carbon and is safer than trains.
As for Dakota Access, you may have noticed the months-long media rally around Standing Rock Sioux protests. The tribe claims the pipeline will harm its land and water, but this is fake news: Dakota Access does not run beneath the reservation. The route, which was altered 140 times in North Dakota to protect cultural resources, cuts along private land where other pipelines run. The tribe lost in federal court but has vowed to fight President Trump's order.
One danger here is President Trump's campaign promise to "renegotiate some of the terms" that included bromides about how "we'll build our own pipes, like we used to in the old days." He floated royalty payments during the campaign, and a separate order on Tuesday directed the Commerce Department to develop a plan to use U.S. steel and iron in all new pipelines. TransCanada has said in past months that it's "fully committed" to Keystone XL, but the company may not be eager for another politician to direct its investment decisions.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Mr. Trump is looking to ensure taxpayers the best possible deal. Reminder: Taxpayers pay nothing. The State Department estimated that when Keystone is finished and pumping oil, local governments will collect more than $55 million a year in property taxes. About 70% of the resulting refined products from Keystone would stay in the U.S., which will push down gas prices as another benefit, according to a study from IHS. That already sounds like a good deal.
Meanwhile on the livefeed for "The Resistance," Senate Democrats are proposing a trillion dollars in direct federal spending on public works_and no doubt hoping to persuade President Trump to go along and divide the GOP. But Republicans in Congress should not agree to a dollar of new such spending without more streamlining in permitting.
Private investment projects like Keystone and Dakota Access are the superior route to creating jobs and boosting incomes, which President Trump has long said is his first priority. Mr. Trump's best move would be to ditch his floated Keystone conditions and enjoy taking credit for the resulting economic growth. He could even attend the next ground-breaking ceremony.
China Daily on the U.S. withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement:
For Asian businesspeople who were expecting greater access to the US market, perhaps the best advice for the time being may be to heed the suggestion of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin to beat the day of grief: "Merry days will come, believe."
On Monday, US President Donald Trump formally withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which was submitted for US congressional approval last year by the Barack Obama administration.
US officials once touted the TPP as the best and largest multilateral trade deal ever, even although it was to a great extent a political device aimed at curtailing China's influence in the Asia-Pacific.
Now that protectionism is on the rise in the US, Asian nations can no longer expect to develop their economy by providing ever increasing exports to the US markets. It is time for Asian economies to start relying more on regional and neighborly ties.
A much more accommodative reality, as China realized a few years ago, hence its proposal of the connective and cooperative Belt and Road Initiative, is that Asian nations focus on forging stronger economic ties among themselves.
The ongoing urbanization of Asian nations means the middle class in the region is growing rapidly. Their demand has already become an important part of the global market. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for instance, is the European Union's third largest trading partner after the US and China.
Negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a multilateral economic arrangement by ASEAN and its six free-trade agreement partners - Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea — have been taking place, and no nation has shown an interest in backpedaling.
Thus the US' withdrawal from the TPP may prompt the RCEP partners to speed up the process, so they can reach an agreement as soon as possible.
The Los Angeles Times on Obama and capital punishment:
In his final days in office, President Obama brought the number of federal prison sentences he has commuted to 1,715, the most acts of such clemency by a president in modern history. While recipients such as former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who had been serving a 35-year sentence for leaking government secrets, drew the spotlight, Obama also last week converted two convicted murderers' death sentences to life in prison, acts of mercy that were long overdue — and that the president should have granted to all 62 people on federal death row.
The vast majority of the nation's 2,900 pending death sentences have been handed down by juries in state courts, in a system that has been shown time and again to be inconsistent, untrustworthy and disproportionately stacked against people of color. But federal criminal and military codes also allow capital punishment for a long menu of crimes, almost all of which involve murder committed under federal jurisdiction — from blowing up an airplane to assassinating a federal official to killing in connection with a civil rights violation.
Sadly, the federal death penalty system is subject to many of the same shortcomings as the state systems. As lawyers for Donald Fell, facing a federal murder charge in Vermont, wrote last year, "the notion that the problem of wrongful capital convictions and sentences is confined to the state systems and that the federal capital punishment system is somehow immune from such problems is just plain wrong."
In a subsequent ruling on Fell's argument, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford detailed the too-familiar argument: that chance has more to do with who gets executed than justice does. "It remains very hard for any of us to tolerate a legal regime which orders that one person should live and another should die based upon a selection process which is demonstrably flawed at the level of jury decision-making," Crawford wrote. But he added that he was powerless to rule that the system is unconstitutional since "institutional authority to change this body of law is reserved to the Supreme Court," whose decisions have supported the constitutionality of capital punishment.
Despite pro-death-penalty victories last fall in ballot initiatives in California, Oklahoma and Nebraska, support for capital punishment nationwide is fading. Voters in November also ousted district attorneys in five death-penalty-heavy counties in Texas, Alabama and Florida. And last week in Georgia, the state that has executed more people in the last year than any other, a group called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty launched an effort to get the state's voters to reconsider a system that is more expensive than life in prison, and in which the innocent have too often been convicted.
The two condemned killers whose death sentences Obama commuted (without explanation) to life in prison were convicted in two separate systems. Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz was sentenced in federal court despite being intellectually disabled (which his lawyer didn't explore at trial), and his sentence was harsher than the prison terms meted out to two of his fellow defendants — even though Ortiz wasn't in the room when the drug-related murder was committed in Kansas City. The other commutation went to Dwight J. Loving, an Army private at Fort Hood, who was sentenced to death by a military court after being convicted of killing two cab drivers in 1988. His lawyers have argued that the military death penalty system is also marred by racism — nine of the 11 death sentences handed down since 1984 went to minorities. All of the victims were white. And Loving's jury was all male, with only one nonwhite member.
After botched executions in Ohio and Oklahoma in 2014, Obama ordered a Justice Department review of capital punishment, a report that wasn't completed by the end of his presidency Friday. We hope the incoming attorney general sees that the report is finished and released. But we also hope that the shifting national attitude toward capital punishment continues and that evolving standards of decency will compel the Supreme Court to finally reach the only just conclusion: that the death penalty, at both the state and federal levels, is an abomination, immoral at its core, and irredeemably flawed as an instrument of justice.
The Telegraph, United Kingdom, on the UK's relationship with Donald Trump:
One of the first things Donald Trump did as president was to return a bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office. It is merely a symbol but, for British observers at least, a hopeful one. Love him or loathe him, Mr Trump is now the most powerful man in the world — and the UK has to work with him. If he offers the hand of friendship, we would be fools not to accept it.
Barack Obama tried to re-orientate US foreign policy away from Europe and towards Asia and Latin America. He partly blamed his European allies for the chaos in Libya; his secretary of state partly blamed Britain for delaying action in Syria. The UK confounded Mr Obama by voting for Brexit. He ended up regarding himself as far closer to Berlin than London — and that was regrettable.
The Special Relationship is not written in stone, but it is important and can be a force for good. For instance, Britain and America share vital intelligence and are arguably the bedrock of the Nato alliance. We are significant trade partners. And we share a bond in our values, in our historic commitment to democratic capitalism.
Today, there is scepticism about Mr Trump's commitment to that philosophy. In his inaugural speech he talked about putting "America first" and has threatened other nations with import tariffs. His goal, which is understandable given his working-class constituency of support, is to turn America back into an exporting nation. But hurting the economies of his allies only to trigger price inflation at home would be a terrible mistake, and the UK has to make the case against nationalist rhetoric. Likewise, Mr Trump's frustration with Nato countries that won't meet the aspiration of spending 2 per cent of their GDP on defence is understandable. Britain has broken its back to reach that figure; this newspaper has long argued that it is critical that the West puts its money where its mouth is. But threatening that America will not come to the aid of countries that fail to reach a precise spending goal is reckless. It is indeed only a goal, not a condition of Nato membership or of mutual defence.
The fact that Mr Trump says controversial things without apparent consideration of the authority of his office is one reason why his inauguration has spread panic. Yesterday's demonstrations in Washington and across the world were a testament to those concerns and people have a right to express their opinion. But Theresa May has to act in the best interests of her nation and strike a deal that works for Britain, strengthens the Atlantic alliance and ameliorates some of the new President's troubling qualities.
Mrs May has found the right tone. Asked about Mr Trump's comments on women, she has said that she dislikes them and pointed out that he has apologised. She is expected to fly to Washington this week to meet him face-to-face — and has promised to be "very frank" about the importance of Nato and of building unity within Europe over security issues. If the two nations can work together to reform and strengthen the Western alliance, that is all to the good. If in the process Mrs May can help convince Mr Trump that Vladimir Putin is a serious threat to global security then that, too, would be a step in the right direction.
Mrs May can also strengthen the trade links between the two countries. There is the potential for opening up the banking industries, as well as the ongoing dream of an Atlantic free trade deal, which would counter some of the protectionist talk that Mr Trump indulges in. He admires Brexit, seeing it as the British counterpart to his own revolution, and admires Britain in general, being half-Scottish. Ironically, Brexit, which many said separated the UK from Europe, gives Britain a chance to act as a bridge between the US and Europe — for we are now in the best position to make the case for the continued defence of Europe in the court of Washington.
One myth of the Special Relationship is of Britain playing Greece to America's Rome — playing the role of older, wiser friend who guides the empire towards doing the right thing. Acknowledging that Britain is no longer a superpower, we can nevertheless make the case for its re-emergence as a model nation that is admired and emulated by others. As we restore our democracy and forge new trading relationships with the rest of the world, we can encourage America, in addition, to liberalise rather than retreat.
What would Churchill have made of these remarkable events? He would not have approved of the isolationist flavour of America First but, likewise, he probably would have argued against tearing up the precious, necessary Atlantic alliance on the basis of personal disapproval of the President. Mr Trump is in charge now. The UK has to find some way of making him work to our benefit.