Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
The Associated Press
Nov. 15, 2017
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on AT&T's proposed purchase of Time Warner:
President Trump's disdain for CNN is no secret. He has repeatedly called it "fake news," and he tweeted a video of himself attacking a CNN stand-in. Now, reports suggest the Justice Department may be pushing CNN's owner Time Warner to sell the network as a condition of a corporate merger. The acquisition may pose legitimate antitrust concerns — but Mr. Trump's behavior raises the specter of political retaliation, which in turn increases the need for transparency in the antitrust decision-making process.
AT&T's proposed purchase of Time Warner would place the telecommunications company in control of a portion of the entertainment it delivers, following in the footsteps of Comcast's acquisition of NBC. Despite criticism that the deal would hand too much power to a single corporation, AT&T's prospects seemed decent in recent months. The Federal Communications Commission allowed the proposal to move forward without lengthy review. Makan Delrahim, the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, stated before taking office that the merger likely fell within the law.
But Mr. Delrahim appears to have changed his mind. The Financial Times and the New York Times each report multiple versions of a tense meeting between representatives of AT&T and the Justice Department. By some accounts, government lawyers informed AT&T that it would need to divest CNN's parent company, Turner Broadcasting, or AT&T's satellite broadcaster DirecTV. It's not clear to what extent the government was concerned about CNN specifically or Turner Broadcasting as a whole: "It's all about CNN," one anonymous source told the Financial Times. Other sources say that AT&T offered to sell CNN but was told by the Justice Department that this wouldn't be enough to quell antitrust concerns. Meanwhile, AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson denies that the company ever suggested spinning off the network or that "the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN."
Yet it's hard to forget Mr. Trump's harsh words for CNN or the opposition to the merger he voiced on the campaign trail, declaring: "Deals like this destroy democracy." In July, the New York Times reported that "White House advisers have discussed (the merger as) a potential point of leverage" over CNN.
To be sure, no reports have shown any evidence of White House interference with the Justice Department's antitrust division. Mr. Trump said on Sunday that he "didn't make (the) decision" to request CNN's sale, pointing to Mr. Delrahim instead. It may be that Mr. Delrahim altered his view on the merger after heeding the good-faith assessment of apolitical Justice Department attorneys. But it is an unavoidable fact that the president's behavior has cast a cloud of doubt over the work of these honorable civil servants.
The Senate subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights should exercise its oversight responsibility and convene a hearing on the matter. If the White House exerted improper influence over the Justice Department in the interest of punishing a political enemy, the public has a right to know. If suspicions are unfounded, then a hearing will work to dispel them. The White House has put itself in a position where the nation may reasonably presume bad faith. If it wants trust, it must now earn it.
The New York Times on the House Judiciary Committee hearing where Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned:
The House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, at which Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced more than five hours of questions, was supposed to be about oversight of the Justice Department.
The committee's Republicans appeared to have missed that memo. Instead, they toggled between sweet-talking Mr. Sessions — "This is so great to have you here today," ''I sure appreciate your service" — and demanding that he appoint a special prosecutor to investigate a raft of allegations, most half-baked if not entirely raw, against Hillary Clinton, her campaign for president and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
From the supposedly crooked deal that Mrs. Clinton engineered to sell off America's uranium to the Russians, to the Clinton-Democratic National Committee-F.B.I. conspiracy behind the dossier on Donald Trump, to the tarmac meeting in 2016 between Mr. Clinton and President Barack Obama's attorney general, Loretta Lynch — no Republican talking point was left unspoken.
It's not surprising that, after 10 months of the chaotic, scandal-strewn Trump presidency and a steady flow of revelations about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, Republicans in Congress are desperate to talk about something, anything, else. What better way to distract from the investigation of the current special counsel, Robert Mueller, than to call for a criminal investigation of the president's defeated opponent?
Committee Republicans asked the Justice Department to appoint another special counsel back in July, and appeared frustrated that it hasn't happened yet. "It sure looks like a major political party was working with the federal government" to gin up a dossier and get the F.B.I. to "spy on Americans associated with President Trump's campaign," Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio said. "Doesn't that warrant naming a second special counsel?"
To his credit, Mr. Sessions did not take the bait. "'Looks like' is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel," he said. But, in a letter on Monday, his department told the committee that it was weighing such a move.
Whether or not the department appoints a special counsel, the pressure to do so is clear, from both Republicans in Congress and Mr. Trump, who has threatened Mr. Sessions's job if he fails to prosecute Mrs. Clinton. That's what's so alarming: the push for the Justice Department to undertake a politically motivated investigation of a president's political opponent, and purely as revenge for an actual investigation already underway.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sessions spent most of Tuesday's hearing as he has all the others he's sat through this year — by not recalling things that one would think most people would. At his confirmation hearing in January, he testified that he'd had no contact with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign. Turns out he met at least twice with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Last month, Mr. Sessions appeared before the Senate again and was asked if any Trump campaign surrogates had had communications with the Russians. "I did not, and I'm not aware of anyone else that did, and I don't believe it happened," he said. Wrong again: Mr. Sessions spoke with at least two members of the Trump campaign, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, about arranging a trip to Russia to meet government officials there.
The conversation with Mr. Papadopoulos was during a March 2016 meeting of the campaign's foreign-policy committee, according to Mr. Papadopoulos's guilty plea last month for lying to the F.B.I. about his Russia connections.
On Tuesday, Mr. Sessions said he "had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports." His explanation for his poor memory was that he couldn't be expected to remember every detail from 2016, since the campaign "was a form of chaos every day, from Day 1." No argument there.
When Democrats pressed Mr. Sessions on his chronic unreliability, he defended his honor. "My answers have not changed. I've always told the truth," he said. He's right — if you redefine the words "changed," ''always" and "truth."
As Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington said to Mr. Sessions on Tuesday, "With all due respect, it's difficult to take your assurances under oath."
Here's a related question going forward: What else are you forgetting, Mr. Attorney General?
Los Angeles Times on congressional Republicans proposing a special, lower tax bracket for "pass-through" businesses:
At President Trump's insistence, congressional Republicans are proposing something unprecedented: a special, lower tax bracket for partnerships, contractors and other "pass-through" businesses. And they're doing so with only the vaguest of ideas how the proposal will affect the country's most famous pass-through business owner: Donald Trump.
That's because Trump has disclosed his holdings but not his tax returns. Although we know he has a stake in hundreds of pass-through businesses through the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, we don't know how those businesses are organized for tax purposes, or what techniques the companies might be using to minimize their taxes — and Trump's. So it's impossible to tell exactly how much more or less in taxes he'd have to pay under the plans being proposed in Congress.
Actually, we know enough to say that he wouldn't have to pay more. Trump declared that he'd be a "big loser" under the measure — that is, before he called on lawmakers to cut the top individual tax rate from 39.5% to 35%. But that's almost certainly false. Congress' own analysis of the tax bill's effects shows that it would deliver the biggest benefits to those on the penthouse floor of the U.S. economy.
But creating a lower top rate for pass-through businesses could provide an even bigger boost to Trump than the bill's other perks for the wealthy, such as the elimination of the alternative minimum tax. The pass-through provision would slash the taxes he pays on at least a portion, and potentially most, of his income to 25%.
Houston Chronicle on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn stalling a vote on a Trump nominee over hurricane recovery funds:
Everyone knows the Bible story of Noah and his ark. Ancient Sumerians had a similar saga with the Epic of Gilgamesh.
In humanity's great tales, floods have a way of summoning the greatest among us.
Here in Houston, the flood of 1935 delivered the leadership of Congressman Albert Thomas, who spent 30 years in Washington promoting everything from funding flood control and the Houston Ship Channel to building the Johnson Space Center.
Now we wait for a modern leader to rise out of Harvey's waters. Who would have thought it would be U.S. Sen. John Cornyn?
Neither firebrand nor maverick, Cornyn has always been more of a steady hand and company man — a loyal member of the Republican Party. But, even while he serves as the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, Cornyn has bravely decided to buck his party and put a hold on a key Trump administration appointee, Russell Vought. It's all part of a legislative gambit to grab Washington by the lapels and force the administration to deliver on promised hurricane recovery funds.
You would think Cornyn could find universal support. Instead he's endured attacks from powerful right-wing interest groups.
Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans has lambasted Cornyn on Twitter for "taking a conservative hostage until he gets cash for Texas."
Noah Wall, vice president of advocacy at tea party group FreedomWorks, has said that, "Sen. John Cornyn is putting his earmarks before the fiscally conservative Trump nominee."
Those so-called earmarks represent Houston's birthright. It was federal dollars that helped build our reservoirs and flood infrastructure and allowed Houston to grow into a 20th-century boomtown without fear of another 1935 flood. We will again need similar support to protect our city from the next Memorial Day flood, Tax Day flood or Hurricane Harvey.
Congress has approved billions in FEMA dollars and emergency relief and tax breaks in the wake of Harvey, but Houston needs more. A third reservoir can't be built from home buy-outs. Tax cuts won't pay for coastal storm-surge protection. Bayou infrastructure projects aren't funded by small business loans.
That's why Gov. Greg Abbott has proposed a $61 billion package to prepare Texas for the next big flood — "future-proof," he calls it. The Trump administration has promised to promote a new Harvey bill sometime soon. Cornyn shouldn't drop his hold unless the proposal includes every last cent that Abbott has requested.
Ask Sullivan or Wall, however, and they'll say that filling some obscure position in the Office of Management and Budget takes precedence over protecting the fourth largest city in the United States. Your mucked home, your ruined car, your child's school, the entire city of Houston represents nothing more than an inconvenient expenditure. Perhaps Sullivan would have a different attitude if he had to rely on the East Houston Regional Medical Center, forced to close after Harvey, for his health care. Maybe Wall would understand the need for hurricane recovery if he joined in prayer alongside the congregants at Beth Yeshurun or United Orthodox Synagogue, who have seen their holiest chambers ruined by overflowing bayous.
No. Lobbyists worship at the altar of power, and Houston's future must be sacrificed for the sake of their political agenda.
In mid-September, while Harvey's floodwaters still sat in Addicks and Barker reservoirs, Sullivan interviewed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in a sprawling, half-hour conversation that touched on everything from tax reform to wind turbine construction codes. More than 20 minutes passed before bringing up Harvey. Once the topic was broached, however, Cruz told Sullivan that everyone in Washington had agreed to fund a robust rebuilding effort.
"Whatever Texas needs to come through the storm," Cruz said. "We're going to get."
Cornyn doesn't seem too confident in that promise. Cruz has a responsibility to stand side-by-side with his colleague and demand that Congress deliver for Texas. For the past five years, our state's junior senator has fought to end Obamacare, shut down the Export-Import bank and burn every bridge in the Senate in his quest for the presidency. Cruz has a year left in his term to prove that he's willing to harness a similar passion for hurricane recovery.
Epochal floods may have summoned the greatest, but they also served as a harbinger of demise. Zeus closed the Bronze Age with a deluge. Waters halted the time of giants in Beowolf.
The 1900 Hurricane cut short Galveston's reign as the Queen City of the Gulf.
Will Harvey serve as Houston's moment for heroes, or the beginning of the end?
Only Congress can answer that question.
The Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News on sexual misconduct allegations against U.S. Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore:
For the good of Alabama and his party, Roy Moore should immediately remove himself as the Republican candidate in the special U.S. Senate election.
Even if the allegations that Moore had sexual contact with underage girls some 40 years ago are nothing more than trumped-up charges fueled by dirty politics, he should put the interests of the state ahead of his own and step aside. Even if he thinks himself a victim and his accusers as evil, Moore should end this today.
Things are not going to get better between now and the election, not for Moore, not for the state's Republican Party and absolutely not for Alabama.
If you think economic development and job creation are already an uphill battle in Alabama, just wait and see what happens if Moore should win the election. The national and international news will be wall-to-wall as national Republican leaders side with Democrats to fight against seating the evangelical Moore in the Senate. George Wallace and Bull Connor did lasting damage to this state's economy when they fought against the civil rights movement. If Moore doesn't want his home state to face that kind of backlash again, he should step aside. At this point, he is as politically toxic as one could possibly be in an age when there apparently is little shame left on either side of the political aisle.
It never should have gotten this far. If then-Gov. Robert Bentley had not appointed Luther Strange, the man whose job it was to investigate the embattled governor for illegal activity, to the vacant Senate seat shortly before Bentley resigned in disgrace, we might not be here. Voters saw through that ruse, and enough voted for Moore to give him the GOP nomination. Had another, more appropriate person taken that seat temporarily, Moore might not have found his way into being the party's nominee.
As it is, in this heavily Republican state, voters will choose between a progressive Democrat and a religious firebrand who is accused of being a sexual predator. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, there are far too many voters in this state who would choose to defend Moore against these charges before considering casting a vote for a Democrat.
With a fifth woman coming forward Monday to claim Moore assaulted her when she was 16, the attention on this election could not possibly be more embarrassing for the Republican Party. Already, a host of national GOP leaders have called on Moore to step aside. That chorus is certainly going to grow louder, and it should. Those who qualified their call for him to step aside "if the allegations are proven to be true" are going to fall to the minority. The allegations and Moore's weak response to them have already made that qualification an afterthought.
Moore's initial denial of the first round of accusations fell flat. Now, the accusations are increasing. If he cares more about Alabama than his political career, he should drop out. If he doesn't, he definitely doesn't deserve our vote.
Khaleej Times on Zimbabwe's military taking President Robert Mugabe into custody:
The gloom in Zimbabwe is spreading as the country slides deeper into political and economic chaos. News that the military has eased out veteran President Robert Mugabe to take over the reins of power and control the streets came as a shock on Wednesday. What the army will do next remains anybody's guess. Mugabe ruled the country with guile for four decades and the results have been disappointing for a majority of the population still steeped in poverty. Power was centered in the presidency and cronyism and corruption was rife. The opposition was swept aside and foes went missing. Far from being a statesman, Robert Mugabe was a strongman who merely used elections as a ruse to cling to power. He was corrupted by it, and at 93 finds himself a victim of his excesses. Egged on by his wife, who harbors dreams of taking over after him, Mugabe even sidelined most of his political allies. One after the other figures of the liberation struggle have been thrown out of the party with speed and ruthlessness. Earlier this month, vice-president and presumed successor Emmerson Mnangagwa was sacked. In October, Mugabe replaced his pragmatic finance minister Patrick Chinamasa with a loyalist.
In his tryst with power which captivated him, scarce little was done for the masses. The country's economy is in shambles with high rates of joblessness and inflation. Zimbabwe doesn't even have a functioning currency in circulation. The ruling party's tentacles are spread in every sector. Nothing was left untouched as sycophancy was the mode of governance. Now that the military is in charge, there is a growing fear about the future of the country. How worse can it get? Will the army uphold democratic norms and hold free and fair elections? There were rumors that the president wanted to keep it in the family and his spouse Grace was set to replace him. That is unlikely to happen as the Mugabes are under house arrest. The country is rich in resources, has a literate population, and a strong diaspora in the UK and South Africa who want to return to rebuild it. Democracy without the Mugabes would be in Zimbabwe's interests. All eyes are now on the military.