Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Baltimore Sun on President Donald Trump’s remarks on a psychology professor who has accused his Supreme Court nominee of sexually assaulting her at a party:
Dear Sens. Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski,
There was a time — fleeting as it was — when it seemed President Donald Trump would give the proper respect and deference due to Christine Blasey Ford, the 51-year-old psychology professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party when she was 15. Last week after her testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Trump called her “very compelling” and a “very credible witness.”…
Mr. Trump’s civility did not last, of course. He eventually got around to speculating about how she, or her parents, would surely have reported the incident to police decades ago had it really happened — ignoring the reality of such trauma and how rarely it comes to light. But the president hit rock bottom Tuesday when, speaking before a political rally in Mississippi, he savagely mocked Ms. Ford. “‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ ‘Upstairs? Downstairs? Where was it?’ ‘I don’t know,'” Mr. Trump said in his shameful attempt to imitate her testimony. “‘But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.'”
What followed this public sadism? Cheering. Laughter. Applause. One of Ms. Ford’s attorneys, Michael R. Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, called the performance a “vicious, vile and soulless attack.”…
We write to you, senators, because you know — as all Americans must know — that you hold the future of the Kavanaugh nomination in your hands. It’s clear most senators have already made their choices in this matter following the customary lines of Washington’s tribal politics. Senator Flake, in particular, demonstrated that while he may be inclined toward consenting on the nominee, he can recognize that something seriously wrong is happening right now on Capitol Hill. His choice to force a further FBI inquiry into Mr. Kavanaugh’s background was at least a step toward making things right. But it’s proving to be an inadequate one.
One week was always a tough deadline to expect the FBI to do a meaningful investigation but what’s come out so far — of its limited scope and rigor (interviewing as few as four individuals, according to some accounts) — suggest the effort is more a fig leaf than an attempt to gain insight. Meanwhile, there’s the matter of Mr. Kavanaugh’s own testimony before the committee, his sharply partisan tone that seemed inappropriate to a first-year District Court judge let alone a Supreme Court justice. Senator Flake recently admitted he was troubled by the “tone” of Mr. Kavanaugh’s remarks. How often does a nominee talk about “revenge for the Clintons” or other perceived partisan slights as Mr. Kavanaugh did last week? And then there’s the matter of how often the nominee evaded questions about, or outright misrepresented, his heavy drinking to the Senate committee and the prospect that his memory of events in 1982 is hazy at best.
Don’t let this train leave the station, senators, not if you care about decency, about the integrity of the court, about what this episode is telling victims of sexual abuse. …
The Toronto Star on the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have done as well as anyone could reasonably expect in negotiating a new economic deal with the United States and Mexico.
Canada (and Mexico as well) were always going to be playing defense in these talks, given the overwhelming size of the U.S. economy and the willingness of the Trump administration to use every kind of threat and bully tactic.
In the end, for Canada, it came down to making a few acceptable concessions in order to keep the most important aspects of NAFTA in place and win guarantees in key areas, including autos and culture.
Most important, it avoids the truly troubling prospect of Canada being left on the sidelines as Washington and Mexico City made a deal of their own.
We’ve dodged that bullet and, make no mistake, it was a big one. It would have been an enormous political blow to the Trudeau government and — much more important — a real danger to a Canadian economy that for better or worse has been shaped for decades around easy access to the world’s biggest and most dynamic market.
That being said, the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, falls short of the “win-win-win” deal that was promoted during the 13 months of trade talks.
For one thing, it’s notable that the words “free trade” appear nowhere in the new name. The very phrase has become synonymous with “lost jobs” in rust belt states that saw factory jobs migrate to Mexico under NAFTA. This is frankly about managed trade and political branding. Count that as a big win for Trump.
Canada did make a real concession in opening our dairy industry a bit more to U.S. producers. But the howls from the industry are way out of proportion to the real impact: it still amounts to giving the Americans access to only 3.6 per cent of the Canadian market.
Weigh that against ending the threat of big tariffs against Canadian-made cars exported to the United States, and a ceiling on Canadian auto exports that is well above what Canada currently sends south of the border. That’s a huge win for Canadian industry, and in particular for Ontario. No wonder the auto workers’ union is thrilled.
Canada also bent on extending patent protections for pharmaceuticals, raising the prospect of higher drug prices. And most disappointingly, U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum stay in place. They should have been removed as part of the deal.
Still, there are other gains for Canada in this accord. For one thing, Canadian workers stand to benefit from a major concession by Mexico, increasing guarantees for higher-wage workers in the auto industry. This was aimed at helping U.S. workers, but Canadians will win as well.
The threatened “sunset clause” won’t be in the new USMCA, thanks also to Mexico’s negotiators. Canada will keep important exemptions for cultural industries. And, key to reaching the deal, the new accord will include dispute settlement mechanisms that Canada had insisted on and the Americans wanted to dump. That was a red line that Canada had to maintain, and it did.
For those inclined to criticize the new deal from the left, including the federal NDP, it should be noted that it drops a couple of NAFTA provisions they found particularly objectionable.
Chapter 11, which allowed corporations to sue governments, is no more. And the so-called “proportionality rule,” which required Canada to maintain its proportion of energy exports to the U.S., is also gone. That will make it easier to diversify Canada’s markets.
Realistically, Canada was never going to make big gains in these negotiations and simply walking away was a fantasy.
The real question is whether another government could have done significantly better under the circumstances. At this point, the answer to that must be no.
The New York Times on its reporting that President Donald Trump received millions of dollars from his father over decades:
“I built what I built myself.”
This boast has long been at the core of the mythology of Donald Trump, Self-Made Billionaire. As the oft-told story goes, young Mr. Trump accepted a modest $1 million loan from his father, Fred, a moderately successful real estate developer from Queens, and — through smarts, hard work and sheer force of will — parlayed that loan into a multibillion-dollar global empire.
It’s a classic American tale of ambition and self-determination. Not Horatio Alger, exactly, but appealing, and impressive, nonetheless.
Except that, like so much of what Mr. Trump has been selling the American public in recent years, this origin story was a sham — a version of reality so elaborately embellished that it qualifies as fan fiction more than biography. Also, as we’ve come to expect from Mr. Trump, the creation of this myth involved a big dose of ethically sketchy, possibly even illegal activity.
As an in-depth investigation by The Times has revealed, Mr. Trump is only self-made if you don’t count the massive financial rewards he received from his father’s business beginning as a toddler. (By age 3, little Donald was reportedly pulling in an annual income of what today would be $200,000 a year.) These benefits included not only the usual perks of hailing from a rich, well-connected family — the connections, the access to credit, the built-in safety net. For the Trumps, it also involved direct cash gifts and tens of millions in “loans” that never charged interest or had to be repaid. Fred Trump even purchased several properties and business ventures, putting ownership either fully or partly in the names of his children, who reaped the profits.
As Donald Trump emerged as the favorite son, Fred made special deals and arrangements to increase Donald’s fortunes in particular. The Times found that, before Donald had turned 30, he had received close to $9 million from his father. Over the longer haul, he received upward of what, in today’s dollars, would be $413 million.
Along the way, it seems that certain liberties were taken with tax laws. The Times found that concocting elaborate schemes to avoid paying taxes on their father’s estate, including greatly understating the value of the family business, became an important pastime for Fred’s children, with Donald taking an active role in the effort. According to tax experts, the activities in question show a pattern of deception, a deliberate muddying of the financial waters. Asked for comment on The Times’s findings, a lawyer for the president provided a written statement denying any wrongdoing and asserting that, in fact, Mr. Trump had little to do with the dizzying transactions involving his family’s wealth.
Everyone can understand the impulse to polish one’s background in order to make a good impression. For Mr. Trump, whose entire life has been about branding and selling a certain type of gaudy glamour, this image-polishing has been all the more vital to his success. And he has pursued it with a shameless, at times giddy, abandon.
With this glimpse into the inner workings of the Trump family finances, some of the grimier, ethically suspect aspects of Mr. Trump’s mythmaking begin to emerge — and with them, many questions about all that we still do not know about the man and his business empire. Seeing as how that empire and his role in building it are so central to who Mr. Trump claims to be — the defining feature of his heroic narrative — the American public has a right to some answers. For starters, now would be an excellent time for Mr. Trump to hand over those tax returns on which he has thus far kept a death grip.
In his 1987 memoir “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump famously offered his take on the origins of his success: “I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”
But increasingly, Mr. Trump’s willingness to bend the truth — and the rules — in the service of his myth looks less like innocent exaggeration than malicious deception, with a dollop of corruption tossed in for good measure. It’s not the golden, glittering success story he has been peddling. It’s shaping up to be something far darker.
Chicago Sun-Times on the U.S. Justice Department suing California over its net neutrality laws:
Trying to protect an open internet state by state, rather than by federal law, is a daunting and unwieldy goal.
Unfortunately, it’s also entirely necessary, given that the Trump administration and Congress are more than happy to let internet providers restrict what we — the American people — can see and access online.
Just on Sunday, the U.S, Justice Department sued to stop California from requiring “net neutrality,” the concept of protecting full and equal access to the internet. It’s a sad day — and a threat to our democracy — when the federal government goes to bat for those who would squelch the free flow of information.
Why is this a big worry? President Donald Trump and his administration have been all about attacking independent news sources and trying to reshape the media into a lapdog that supports all the president’s policies. As much as the internet has been abused by bogus web and social media sites, an independent internet is an important part of maintaining an informed citizenry.
Getting rid of net neutrality also means you might pay more for such things as streaming movies from particular sites. You might also suddenly find you can’t go into competition with an established web-based company with your own web-based start-up because you don’t have the deep pockets to pay for fast internet speeds.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission pulled back Obama-era rules to protect internet access. Several states, including Washington, Oregon and Vermont, have enacted some protections in response. But a bill California Gov. Jerry Brown signed on Sunday gives that state the nation’s toughest laws protecting internet freedom.
Average Americans have come to assume that the internet is a level playing field where they can go wherever they want. But the big internet service providers see an opportunity to make huge profits by speeding up connection speeds for companies willing to pay a premium while slowing down speeds for those who don’t pay.
That would put corporate entities in the position of deciding who gets information at what speed. Many valued voices on the internet could be throttled out of existence.
… Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and 22 other state attorneys general earlier this year filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn to FCC decision. Arguments in the lawsuit have been scheduled for February.
At the time of the filing, Madigan said the repeal of net neutrality would allow internet service providers to block or slow access to some content and charge consumers to access certain sites.
Telecommunication companies say they dread the thought of having to contend with a patchwork of internet access laws from state to state. No doubt. But the solution is not the wholesale dispensing with net neutrality. Rather, the companies should be leading the charge for a free and open internet.
Net neutrality is one of many issues in which states suddenly find themselves having to take an activist stance on national policies so as to protect their residents. States also are stepping up on immigration, LGBTQ and environmental issues. They have been forced to do so by an administration and Congress that are failing to meet the needs and heed the wishes of average Americans.
Los Angeles Times on the Trump administration’s immigration policies:
Stoking fears of changing demographics and hinting at the decline of white America, the Trump administration has adopted a severe, xenophobic immigration policy. After trying to bar Muslims from the country, after insulting Mexicans, after cutting back the number of refugees admitted, after separating children from their parents, the latest outrage is that the government has moved nearly 2,000 of the estimated 13,000 “unaccompanied minors” it has in custody to a barren tent city in the remote border town of Turnillo, about 30 miles southeast of El Paso.
According to the New York Times, the children were awakened, put onto buses with snacks and backpacks and shipped off to the internment camp in the dead of night, supposedly because they would be less likely to try to escape in the dark. At their new “emergency shelter,” they will be without access to schooling or to lawyers.
It cannot possibly be morally permissible to cram 2,000 children into a tent city in West Texas while they await hearings on whether they should be allowed to stay in the country. Or to target for arrest family and friends who are willing to take in some of the children. Or, for that matter, to arrest families seeking asylum, jailing the parents on misdemeanor illegal border-crossing charges and removing their children from them.
Yet this is where we are as a country. Sure, many people have protested the administration’s draconian steps, and immigration advocates have fought some of the moves in court. But Trump just bulls ahead with little meaningful pushback from Congress, which has for far too long shirked its responsibility to fix the unworkable immigration system. And the prognosis for a break in the current stasis is bad so long as an anti-immigration hard-liner runs the White House, and Congress remains in the control of right-wing Republicans who persistently work against the nation’s best interests.
The U.S. should have an immigration system that balances its economic needs with its right to control its border and with reasonable ideas of fairness, justice and generosity. We should reopen our arms to refugees who deserve resettlement, after proper vetting, instead of slamming the border gates shut. We need to continue to focus, in part, on reunifying families. We should offer a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants leading productive, lawful lives, beginning with the so-called Dreamers, people who live here illegally after being brought here as children — decisions they had little to do with. It’s unfair and self-defeating for the government to deport them — especially after they have been raised as Americans and educated by American taxpayers — to nations where they are strangers. The U.S. needs enforcement at the border to ensure an orderly immigration process in which rational decisions are made about who may come in and out — but Americans also need to acknowledge that our economic strength as a nation is based on immigration.
Houston Chronicle on James Allison of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center winning the Nobel Prize in medicine:
Jim Allison lost his mother, a brother, two uncles and a cousin to cancer, but he says he never set out to find a cure for the disease. Like many great scientists, he was driven by “the selfish desire to be the first person on the planet to know something,” as he explained to Houston Chronicle medical writer Todd Ackerman.
In the 1990s, Allison’s development of an antibody that frees the body’s immune system to attack tumors revived the moribund field of immunotherapy, now taking its place alongside surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as a key weapon in treating cancer.
Allison, the MD Anderson Cancer Center’s director of immunology, was honored on Monday with the Nobel Prize in Medicine. He shared the award with Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University in Japan, who conducted similar research.
The Nobel announcement, which follows the prestigious Lasker Award and other recognition showered on Allison’s work, is a proud moment for the harmonica-playing scientist, for MD Anderson and for Houston. And it’s a reminder that even amid the turmoil and drama that often roils major medical institutions, the men and women toiling behind the scenes in labs deserve our support — including the support of public funding — even when the practical benefits of their work aren’t immediately apparent.
“Everyone thought I was crazy,” Allison says, when his research with mice challenged conventional wisdom regarding the function of a newly identified protein. While other scientists believed the protein stimulated the immune system, Allison’s work indicated it had the opposite effect — it was a brake, not a gas pedal.
Even as Allison’s work advanced — he figured out how to unlock the brake — it wasn’t clear whether or when it would lead to effective treatments. Twenty years later, immunotherapy drugs are extending the lives of patients with lung, breast and other deadly cancers.
The accolades for Allison’s work over the past few years have coincided with controversy and turmoil in the institution that employs him. After five years as MD Anderson’s president, Dr. Ron DePinho resigned in March 2017 amid a revolt by faculty members who said they felt pressure to produce more revenue through higher patient loads. The world-renowned cancer center started in 2017 with an operating deficit of nearly $170 million. It laid off hundreds of employees.
Leadership issues and financial problems ebb and flow, but the work of scientists like Jim Allison will endure. Its legacy will be the lengthened and improved lives of countless cancer patients, and the inspiration that trickles down to future generations of researchers driven, like Allison, by a pure thirst for knowledge.
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