Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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July 31

The Washington Post expresses weariness at the prospect of more tax cuts for the rich:

Just when it seemed there was no possible way to reduce taxes on wealthy Americans any further, President Trump's economic team has reminded us that nothing is impossible as long as you really, really want to achieve it. The Trump team is considering a proposal, long advocated by Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, to impose the capital-gains tax only on the inflation-adjusted profit from a sale of assets, rather than the full amount as at present. And they might decree this large tax cut for investors by regulation, without an act of Congress. "If it can't get done through a legislation process, we will look at what tools at Treasury we have to do it on our own and we'll consider that," Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, told the New York Times.

There are two questions here: substantive and procedural. On the latter, it's doubtful the president really does have the power to change the base upon which taxes are levied simply by reinterpreting the internal revenue laws. Or so the Justice Department officially opined during the George H.W. Bush administration. Because this administration cannot be counted on to respect such niceties, it's best also to consider the substantive merits of the idea — which are dubious, too.

We don't necessarily object, in principle, to indexing capital gains to inflation. During a period of high and persistent inflation, it might be both unfair to investors and bad for the economy to tax, say, stock profits, as if the dollars you sold the stock for were worth the same as the dollars you bought it with. (Ordinary income-tax brackets, after all, are indexed to inflation so as to protect wage earners.) This was a problem in the 1970s when inflation was in the double digits and the maximum rate on long-term capital gains was nearly 40 percent.

Today, though, inflation has been running at 2?percent or below for about a decade, and the maximum capital-gains rate is 23.8 percent. The unfairness to investors, and the distortion to the economy, from failing to levy the tax on only the inflation-adjusted value of the gain are relatively small. Compared with the government's need for revenue, they are truly trivial. In other words, it may be that current law permits the government to collect a bit more from the wealthy than it could under ideal inflation-proofed conditions — and that's just fine.

The United States has higher priorities at the moment, or ought to, than inflation-proofing the capital gains that a tiny, privileged percentage of its population must report to the Internal Revenue Service. Those priorities include not further exacerbating already high levels of economic inequality. And they include fiscal responsibility: Researchers at the president's alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, suggest that the proposed change would cost $102 billion over 10 years. A little more than two weeks ago, on July 13, the White House updated its budget projections to show an increase in the 10-year deficit, already swollen by tax cuts, of $926 billion. As part of their "consideration," Mr. Trump's advisers should reread that budget report.

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

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July 30

Los Angeles Times on California's perpetual fire season:

The devastating Carr fire in Northern California continues to ravage the countryside, nearing — if not already surpassing — 100,000 acres, destroying at least 874 buildings and, even more tragically, killing six people with an additional seven people unaccounted for. To the southeast, two men — one a firefighter and the other a bulldozer operator — died fighting the 57,000-acre Ferguson fire near Yosemite National Park. There were 15 other fires raging elsewhere in California, including two fresh fires forcing evacuations in Mendocino and Lake counties. And it's not just California that's burning. As of Monday morning, at least 90 large fires were reported nationwide, all in the West except for a blaze in Florida.

Such fires are nothing new in this part of the country. But the fire season this year has begun much earlier than usual, and while scientists warn that specific weather conditions cannot be tied directly to climate change, these are just the sorts of impacts we have been warned to expect from a warming planet.

In fact, prolonged drought is a major factor in the current fires. Years of drought, broken by a rainy 2016-2017 winter followed by an unusually dry winter last year, have left the countryside covered with dead or dormant plants. In the mountains, drought damage has been augmented by bark beetle infestations that have left more than 100 million trees dead on their roots in California alone. All of that organic material is kindling and fuel for an errant spark or a bolt of lightning. And if heavy rains come in the aftermath of a fire, the charred landscape becomes the setting for deadly mudslides like those that flowed through Montecito earlier this year.

The loss of life has been heartbreaking. Three of the Carr fire victims were 70-year-old Melody Bledsoe and two great-grandchildren who perished near Redding as a wall of flames sped through their neighborhood. In the Sierra Nevada, 33-year-old Brian Hughes, a "hotshot" firefighter, died when he was struck by a falling tree as he and colleagues raced to set a backfire to stanch the Ferguson fire. Firefighters found another unidentified body Sunday in the ashes of a different home near Redding, and it seems likely that more remains will be found elsewhere in the days to come.

Few areas of the state are immune from wildfires, and no Californian can shake the sense as we watch the smoke and rising death counts that there but for the grace of the prevailing winds go I. We know what we're supposed to do: Maintain brush-free areas around homes in fire-prone areas, have an escape plan laid out, resist the urge for heroics and flee when authorities say so. But as the world continues to burn fossil fuels for energy, and climate change becomes more pronounced, we have to recognize that this isn't nature just doing its thing. We have through our actions endangered ourselves, a reality we must recognize and rectify as quickly and forcefully as possible.

Part of the responsibility falls on state and local officials, who must deal with the rising cost of fire prevention and suppression. State lawmakers recently began hammering out a more balanced approach to assigning liability when power lines cause a fire. Under current law, homeowners can collect from utilities even if the utilities were not negligent. With the state's fiery future, that's likely to lead to financial ruin for the power companies. Local planners and developers can also do more to consider wildfire risks as they make land-use decisions, and we need to adopt policies that make it easier to develop urban areas at higher levels of density.

But such moves only help address the impacts of the wildfires and mudslides. To get at the root of the problem we must more radically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for energy and transportation. The Trump administration's "burn, burn, burn" approach to fossil fuel is no help on that front. The evidence of the horrible impacts is right before the nation's eyes, yet the administration is looking at ways it can undo California's efforts to reduce carbon emissions from motor vehicles.

At the moment, there is mourning to be done over the lives lost in the current conflagrations, and there are fires to be contained as well as damage to be assessed and dealt with. But we also must not lose sight of the fact that we can mitigate some of the dangers we face in the future by acting now. We just need the political will to do so.

Online: http://www.latimes.com/

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July 31

Houston Chronicle puts immigration in the context of the declining birth rate in the U.S.:

Women in America are having so few babies that the birth rate has hit an historic low, and that does not bode well for the nation's future. Fewer babies now means fewer adults later to work, pay taxes, and make sure the country's future remains bright.

The latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there were 3,853,472 births in the United States last year — the lowest number in 30 years. The nation's general fertility rate was 60.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, which represented a 3 percent drop from 2016.

Those numbers would be even worse were it not for America's immigrant population. A study by the Pew Research Center shows 23 percent of all births in the United States in 2014 were to foreign-born mothers. About 275,000 of those babies were born to unauthorized immigrant parents, which was about a third of all births to foreign-born mothers that year.

Unauthorized immigrant women birthing babies on American shores may raise eyebrows among today's throwbacks to the anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party of the 1850s. But today's rabid nativists are just as misguided. Immigrants, unauthorized or otherwise, helped build this country when it was young and are needed now to keep it strong.

The assertion that immigrants are a drain on the economy is false, according an analysis by the Wharton School of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. "Although immigrants increase the supply of labor, they also spend their wages on homes, food, TVs, and other goods and services and expand domestic economic demand," said the analysis.

"Immigrants, whether high- or low-skilled, legal or illegal, are unlikely to replace native-born workers or reduce their wages over the long-term," the Wharton researchers said. "Indeed, the experience of the last few decades suggests that immigration may actually have significant long-term benefits for the native-born, pushing them into higher-paying occupations."

Look no further than Arizona for a lesson in how anti-immigrant policies can contribute to America's baby gloom. Between 2007 and last year, the Grand Canyon State saw an overall 20 percent drop in births, from 103,000 to 81,000. A major factor in the decline, according to Arizona State University researcher Tom Rex, was a crackdown on immigrants entering the state illegally to find work.

Wider use of birth control and women waiting longer to have babies play significant roles in the U.S. birth rate's decline. Welcoming more immigrants would help reverse that trend, but it takes smart political leadership to acknowledge that simple truth, which these days is sadly lacking.

Online: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/

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July 31

Miami Herald on Temporary Protected Status for Nicaraguans amid political crisis in Nicaragua:

Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an unwavering champion of the repressed in Latin America, drafted a resolution that condemns the deadly government-fueled violence against the people of Nicaragua. It calls for sanctions against those linked to President Daniel Ortega's government. Last week, the House of Representatives was smart enough to approve it. Sen. Marco Rubio presented a similar resolution in the Senate.

But Ros-Lehtinen pointed out another problem aggravated by the crisis in that country.

Last November, the Trump administration eliminated the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted to Nicaraguans in 1998, when Hurricane Mitch devastated the isthmus.

Nicaraguans living in South Florida and the rest of the United States with that special protection now have until January 2019 to apply for some type of legal residency. If it isn't granted, they will have to return to Nicaragua.

There are more than 5,000 immigrants who would be going back to a country shaken by violence and facing an uncertain future — with severely diminished economic growth and a government facing strong opposition and numerous accusations of repression.

"If we are going to say that the situation in Nicaragua is terrible, why then are we going to deport so many Nicaraguans when we are saying that the country is in political chaos?" asked Ros-Lehtinen. She's right.

With almost 300 people killed, Nicaraguans have suffered the worst political crisis since the rebellion that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

Back then, Ortega was one of the leaders of the Sandinista movement, the popular struggle that brought down the Somoza dynasty.

Today, ironically, many of Ortega's opponents accuse him of emulating the dictator and inflicting the same kind of repression.

The stability that Nicaraguans enjoyed after Ortega returned to power and made a pact with private enterprise has disappeared.

The president swears that he has the crisis under control. He doesn't. Protests continue, the malaise remains and no one can ensure that violent civil disturbances won't break out at any moment.

Nicaragua's economy experienced healthy growth before the protests began in April. But it came at the cost of freedoms. Opponents have paralyzed the country, barricading streets and highways.

The country has suffered a severe blow as many jobs have been lost and tourism, which had increased significantly, is now almost nil. Who wants to visit a country where there is political strife? In fact, many Nicaraguans are leaving their country, fleeing into Costa Rica.

"We believe it would be irresponsible for the United States to send these individuals back to Nicaragua to face violence, chaos and oppression," a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Trump. We agree with them — Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart, Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Democrats Albio Sires, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Adam Schiff and Norma Torres all signed the letter.

We hope their message is heard in the White House — and taken seriously. TPS protection for Nicaraguans should stay in place for now.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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Aug. 1

Boston Herald says Trump should be allowed to play to his strengths, which include conversation:

If there's one thing we know about Donald Trump, it's that he's a people person. On Monday he said he'd "certainly meet" with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani if the Iranian leader was interested.

With that meeting, we will have run out of "Axis of Evil" heads of state with whom President Trump can press the flesh.

The president declared that he'd meet with the Iranian "anytime they want to."

"I'll meet with anybody," he said. "There's nothing wrong with meeting."

For his willingness to enter into a confab with just about anybody, President Trump has taken fire from critics from both sides of the aisle. Indeed, Barack Obama was lambasted by Hillary Clinton for suggesting that he'd negotiate with Iran without conditions.

President Trump does not care for the established political protocol in such matters and will do what he will do.

It is fair to assess that Trump the businessman built his success on establishing good relationships. To build a skyscraper in New York City, he would have had to negotiate with city officials, organized labor, vendors, interest groups and any number of factions in order to move the project forward.

Trump's style is not that of a statesman because he is not a statesman. The people elected Donald Trump, so why not let him be Donald Trump.

He is the president, and if he wants to talk with foreign leaders we should let him. There is little risk. Trump is anomalous and his term will always be treated as such. Chances are, the next man or woman to be elected president will be a standard-issue politician and they can do things the old way if the Trump way doesn't work out.

If he wants to talk to people, let him talk to people.

Online: http://www.bostonherald.com/

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July 31

The Toronto Star says U.S. President Donald Trump is undermining the free press:

It's a big world and U.S. President Donald Trump has been particularly attentive to global affairs of late.

There was his love-fest with the Russian president in Helsinki. And then he launched an all-caps Twitter attack on Iran. And, most recently, he applauded Italy's new populist government for its hard line on immigration. Before that, the European Union was labelled a "foe" and Canada a threat to "national security."

He even saw cause to go after the "very aggressive" folks of Montenegro, suggesting they could drag NATO into World War III.

And still, the president found time for one of his favourite enemies: the press.

"Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news," Trump told an audience in Kansas City, Mo., last week. Then, as the audience booed the attending press corps, he added with an Orwellian twist: "Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what's happening."

It was a chilling performance, even from a man who has called journalists "the enemy of the people."

It's hard to believe, sometimes, that he's the purported leader of the free world and lives in a nation that enshrines freedom of the press in its constitution.

Trump's anti-press rhetoric, as the publisher of one of his favourite targets, the New York Times, says, is "not just divisive but increasingly dangerous."

"I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence," A.G. Sulzberger said, of a meeting with Trump over the issue.

He's not wrong.

And the most immediate danger seems to be abroad where journalists routinely put their lives on the line to report on regimes with little tradition of democracy or a free press.

Trump's attacks on the press gives even more licence to those regimes to crack down on media, whose scrutiny they simply don't like. It threatens burgeoning free speech rights and undermines faith in the media's efforts to expose those governments' shortcomings.

Indeed, a report published in the Index on Censorship earlier this year found more than 20 political leaders worldwide, from both authoritarian and democratic regimes, had used the term "fake news" to discredit journalism they did not like. Malaysia even passed a law imposing prison sentences of up to six years on people found to be spreading "fake news," and it is feared the law could be used against journalists and publishers.

"The fake news mantra has been weaponized against the entire news media industry," Tim Franklin, the senior associate dean at the Medill School of Journalism, has warned. "He's normalizing that narrative against the media internationally."

Trump's habit of bypassing the media — so he can present his actions in any self-aggrandizing light he chooses to, without comment, context or criticism — is also being copied.

Abroad and closer to home.

Last spring, for example, Ontario Premier Doug Ford took steps to replace real media — by ending the tradition of having a media bus follow his to cover election campaign rallies and question him on proposed policies — with his own Ford Nation Live.

In TV news-style videos on Facebook, Ford had a PC apparatchik pretend to be a reporter while he pretended to present himself for media scrutiny.

It's a channel that Ford has continued with in government. And now opposition parties are raising questions about whether this partisan production is being produced on the taxpayers' dime, no less.

This propaganda path is one that Trump started last summer with his "real news" channel.

When the media's ability to fairly criticize and hold governments accountable comes into question, so too does the ability of the public to have an informed debate about the issues.

Trump's acts to undermine a free press affect us all, and we all must stand guard against them.

Online: https://www.thestar.com/