Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
Houston Chronicle on President George H.W. Bush:
In June 1948, after the College World Series and graduation day at Yale, young George H.W. Bush packed up his cranberry-red Studebaker (a graduation gift from his father) and headed the car’s distinctive nose in a southwesterly direction. The little car got him to Odessa and to a shotgun duplex, where two prostitutes lived on the other side of the wall. “Kind of humble,” Bush called it. While the young war hero from Connecticut scrambled to gain a foothold in the West Texas oil patch, the rented dwelling would be home for himself and his wife Barbara and their little boy George.
The young New England patricians had come to a strange new world. “First, it was flat, perfectly flat, like no land they had ever seen,” Richard Ben Cramer wrote in his classic “What It Takes: The Way to the White House.” ”No brooks, streams, rivers. No native trees — no trees. It was bright, and hot like they’d never felt heat, and gritty everywhere with dust.”
That little Studebaker — a restored version of the car is on permanent display at the Bush Library in College Station — was the Bushes’ chariot to a new life. It carried them to an adventure, an opportunity to create lives for themselves far away from received wisdom, hoary tradition and family expectations.
Texas — first Odessa-Midland, and then Houston — offered a young family that opportunity. It was in the tradition of an opportunity held out slightly more than a century earlier to Stephen F. Austin’s Old Three Hundred and to newcomers eager to start afresh in a swampy, sultry settlement beside a mosquito-ridden bayou. It was the same sort of opportunity that lured to the Lone Star State countless young war veterans eager, like the Bushes, to begin building homes, families and careers. The place was open, unformed and rich with promise.
“When I wanted to learn the ways of the world, I didn’t go to the Kennedy School,” Bush told delegates to the 1988 Texas state GOP convention. “I came to Texas, in 1948.”
Flash forward nearly 45 years beyond the Bushes’ West Texas adventure. “They won’t come back to Houston,” people were saying as George and Barbara Bush prepared to vacate the White House after years of living in Washington. “They’ll go back East.”
But they didn’t go back East. Houston was home. They not only came home, but they made themselves an integral part of this community. They continued serving, as they had their whole lives. The Houston Literacy Foundation bears Barbara’s name. George was an invaluable resource for a city expanding its economic horizon toward China. And they were always a common sight behind home plate at Astros games.
Now they are both gone, but as exemplars for their fellow Houstonians and their fellow Texans, George and Barbara Bush still serve.
The nation will discuss and debate the Bush presidency. Books will explore its achievements and its failures. That’s not only right and proper, but useful in a nation that presumes to govern itself.
Just as useful are Bush memorials in our midst. A great international airport, a statue near the Arts District, a dynamic literacy program — perhaps a little red Studebaker, circa 1947 — are reminders that we too have opportunities to serve, wherever we happen to be, whatever our status in life. Our fellow Texan, the good and decent man we lost a few days ago, has shown us the way.
The New York Times on the special counsel’s Russia investigation recommending no prison time for President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, citing his cooperation:
It is almost a truism in criminal investigations that those who flip early and help prosecutors build their case against higher-ranking figures are shown greater leniency than those who try to gut it out.
Michael Flynn, who served briefly as President Trump’s national security adviser, is Exhibit A in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
If other players, such as Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos, have worked only grudgingly with the special counsel, and some, like Roger Stone, are still holding out, we now know, thanks to a sentencing recommendation that the office filed late on Tuesday in federal court, that Mr. Flynn provided “substantial assistance” to federal investigators working to unravel the Russia mystery.
Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty to a single count of lying to the F.B.I. last December and has been cooperating with investigators ever since. Perhaps he is motivated by a hope for leniency, perhaps by fidelity to the institutions he spent much of his lifetime serving. One day we may know.
Mr. Flynn’s assistance must give pause to the president, who has complained that “flipping” to testify against others should be illegal and has denigrated the work of law enforcement agencies. Just this week Mr. Trump praised Mr. Stone for having the “guts” not to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. The president has said little about Mr. Flynn since he left his employ.
The words “substantial assistance” are a legal term of art and carry significant weight in sentencing decisions. Mr. Flynn, who resigned as national security adviser in February 2017 after serving only 24 days in the job, sat for 19 interviews with Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors, assisting in several investigations, including the special counsel’s inquiry. (The details of those investigations are not provided in the sentencing memorandum.) For Mr. Flynn, this means that it is now “appropriate and warranted,” in the special counsel’s view, that he receive a light sentence — perhaps no jail time at all.
Since Mr. Mueller began obtaining indictments and convictions for a constellation of figures associated with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign — as well as Russian actors trying to influence it — this is the first time that the special counsel’s office has offered glowing praise for one of its targets and credited the value of cooperating early and often.
Mr. Flynn should take comfort in that, but that’s not to say his misdeeds were minor. As lawyers for Mr. Mueller’s office noted in their sentencing submission, Mr. Flynn’s crime was “serious.” On several occasions during a fateful interview at the White House just days into the new administration, the former national security adviser lied to F.B.I. agents about his contacts during the transition with the former Russian ambassador. Mr. Flynn and the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, discussed ways to undercut Obama administration policy in the Middle East and toward Russia. We do not yet know whether Mr. Flynn, a former Army lieutenant general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, did this on his own initiative or on orders from Mr. Trump or someone close to him.
After that fiasco, Mr. Flynn found himself in further legal jeopardy when he hid from the Justice Department the true extent of his lobbying work for Turkey, for which he acted as a foreign agent during the campaign and in support of which he wrote an op-ed published on Election Day 2016. That Mr. Mueller didn’t charge Mr. Flynn for this violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act was part of the sentencing deal — and a reason Mr. Flynn may have felt compelled to tell the special counsel everything he knows.
And what he knows, apparently, is quite a lot, as Mr. Mueller’s filing to the judge who will be sentencing Mr. Flynn indicates, with heavy redactions detailing nonpublic aspects of the Russia investigation plus a continuing criminal probe that seems unrelated to the larger inquiry. We won’t know until we know, but it is undeniable that Mr. Flynn was useful to the special counsel.
And lest we forget: Mr. Flynn himself is the reason there is a special counsel. Had it not been for Mr. Trump’s desire to interfere with the F.B.I.’s pursuit of the man who led chants of “lock her up” at the Republican National Convention — and the subsequent firing of James Comey over his refusal to let go of the broader counterintelligence investigation — Mr. Mueller would not have been appointed. Mr. Flynn always played a central role in this sprawling saga, and his own Russia connections never ceased to be problematic. His coming sentencing after a year of valuable cooperation with prosecutors brings us a step closer to learning why Mr. Trump was so invested in him.
The Orange County (California) Register on the Senate voting to move forward on a resolution curtailing U.S. backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen:
For too long, Congress has abdicated its constitutional obligations with respect to war powers.
On Nov. 28, the Senate took an important step toward reasserting this authority by voting 63 to 37 in favor of moving ahead on a resolution directing the removal of US armed forces from hostilities in Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.
The resolution, introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, indicates an overdue willingness on the part of senators across the political spectrum to finally debate American involvement in a conflict that the United States has long been involved in.
Under the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the United States has aided a coalition of nations led by Saudi Arabia as they’ve intervened in a brutal civil war which has ravaged Yemen.
Since 2015, the United States has provided logistical and intelligence support, including mid-air refueling of coalition jets. This has continued despite numerous reports of atrocities by the coalition, including the Oct. 8, 2016 bombing of a funeral in Sana’a which killed upward of 155 people. More recently, an American-made bomb was used by the Saudi-led coalition in the bombing of a school bus on Aug. 9 which killed 40 children.
All of this has gone on without so much as a vote from Congress as to whether the United States actually needs to be involved in the conflict.
In March, the Senate actually voted 55 to 44 to table the resolution it voted to advance last week. To their credit, both Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Dianne Feinstein voted against tabling the resolution in March and recently voted to advance the resolution.
For their part, the White House has opposed efforts to scale back unchecked war-making. On Nov. 28, the Trump administration issued a statement threatening to veto S.J. Res. 54, arguing “the joint resolution would.negatively impact the ability of the United States to prevent the spread of violent extremist organizations” like al-Qaida.
No one should fall for such a hollow excuse. If America is going to be involved in a conflict, the case should be made, debates and voted up or down in Congress. That’s what the Constitution demands.
The Japan News on the dominance of IT companies:
IT companies of the United States and elsewhere quickly become enormous by taking advantage of their massive amounts of digital data. It is a matter of course that a sense of wariness also grows.
To prevent the ill effects of their market dominance from spreading, the government needs to quickly implement effective regulations.
A governmental panel of experts tasked with considering regulations on IT giants — known as digital platform operators — heard opinions from Google Inc. and Apple Inc., both of the United States. Facebook, Inc. only submitted an opinion paper, and Amazon.com, Inc. did not attend the interview.
Google and others expressed their concerns that technological innovation could be impeded if excessive restrictions are placed on them. When the panel pointed out that the IT market is in a state of oligopoly, they reportedly refuted that by saying they are exposed to competition.
The panel will compile a final report shortly. The panel is expected to call on the government to make it obligatory for these digital platform operators to disclose such important information as the terms of the contracts with their trading partners.
The European Union is moving forward with the drafting of regulations to be imposed on IT giants. Japan’s government should work out the details of its regulations by using as a reference the regulations being drawn up by the EU.
Digital platform operators have produced innovative technologies, but as they bolstered their market dominance, there have been increasing cases of their buying out newly growing enterprises.
As things stand now, this could result in market competition being restricted, making it likely that the young buds of new technologies and services will be nipped.
Don’t limit innovation
The Japan Association of Corporate Executives has compiled an opinion paper saying “digital platform operators are on the threshold of entering a cycle of reproducing and restrengthening their overwhelming competitive advantage,” thus supporting the regulations. This is reasonable thinking.
It can be deemed an appropriate judgment for the government to impose certain restrictions on IT giants while taking care not to impede the private sector’s originality and ingenuity.
There are many voices saying that the contracts these digital platform operators have inked with their trading partners are unfair. According to a survey taken by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, 86 percent of the business operators dealing with IT giants said they have been put at a disadvantage due to the IT giants’ unilateral alterations of their agreements and the like.
In Germany, the Federal Cartel Office has launched an investigation into Amazon. The agency said there is a suspicion that Amazon is hurting retailers in that country trying to sell products through its website.
Even when these digital platform operators assert they are conducting fair dealing, their claims lack persuasiveness. The panel members also voiced criticism that “it is problematic in that the present state of affairs cannot be inspected.”
There are also not a few consumers who feel uneasy about such personal information as their purchase records and the history of their past online searches being collected and made use of.
How should such privacy-related data be protected? The government should consider mapping out relevant rules.
The Washington Post on a close North Carolina congressional race that still hasn’t been settled almost a month after Election Day, amid an investigation into alleged absentee ballot fraud:
North Carolina Republican Mark Harris narrowly beat Democrat Dan McCready in the state’s 9th Congressional District. Or so it appeared in the days following last month’s midterm election. Now no one can be sure the vote was honest.
Voter fraud rarely happens in the United States. When it does, it almost always comes in the form of mail-in ballot fraud. Fraudsters can pressure absentee voters to fill out their ballots in a particular way or to hand them over to be filled in by someone else. Unsealed ballots can be changed. Sealed ballots can be trashed, if they come from people who seem likely to vote for the opposition. Play enough of these dirty tricks, and one can change the outcome of a narrow election.
Like, say, the one in North Carolina’s 9th, in which Mr. Harris purportedly beat Mr. McCready by 905 votes out of 283,317 cast. Voters complained that mysterious people were coming to their homes asking to collect absentee ballots. One woman said she signed and then handed over an unsealed and mostly blank ballot. The state received absentee ballots in suspiciously large batches. Before Election Day, state officials had already been concerned about unusual absentee ballot requests, including reports that people were telling voters they needed to re-register and submit absentee ballot paperwork.
Experts examining the count have discovered irregularities. In North Carolina’s Bladen County, Mr. Harris claimed 61 percent of the mail-in vote — though only 19 percent of absentee ballots in the county were requested by registered Republicans. Huge numbers of requested absentee ballots were not returned, suggesting that someone collected and tossed them. Though it is too soon to make any sure conclusions, there was more than enough evidence for the North Carolina State Board of Elections to refuse to certify the district’s vote totals. Investigators are examining Mr. Harris’s slim victory in his primary race, as well.
Yet Republicans are calling on the board of elections to certify the general election count.
Republicans have spent the past decade crying wolf over voter fraud as a pretext for imposing needlessly complicated ID requirements. These laws tend to discourage Democratic-leaning voters. Yet if there is any threat to the integrity of the franchise, it is absentee ballot fraud — which GOP voter-ID laws cannot deter. And the face of this phenomenon in 2018 might well turn out to be a Republican candidate.
States authentically worried about fraud should spend less time hassling voters for IDs and more on monitoring absentee ballots. Elections officials must assess ballot counts for telling irregularities such as those found in North Carolina’s 9th. And they should audit witness signatures on absentee ballot envelopes to determine whether a suspiciously small number of people signed off on a large number of ballots — or whether the names are even real.
Meantime, North Carolina’s elections board should continue to refuse to certify the Harris-McCready race until it is clearer whether there are enough suspicious votes — or non-votes — to have swayed the outcome. The fairest solution may be a new election.
The Wall Street Journal on Donald Trump’s warning to French President Emmanuel Macron:
‘There is no Plan B because there is no Planet B,” Emmanuel Macron lectured Donald Trump — in English — when the American President withdrew from the Paris climate agreement last year. Well, apparently there is a Plan B after all. Mr. Macron stopped his fuel-tax increase after concluding that marginal carbon reductions aren’t worth kneecapping an economy and sacrificing his political career. Mr. Trump could have warned him.
The French President views stopping climate change as a grand legacy project, and he had hoped to use higher fuel taxes to discourage driving for the sake of slashing carbon emissions. It didn’t matter to him that French emissions already are very low on a per capita basis and further cuts to transport emissions would be extremely difficult to achieve. But this matters a great deal to lower-income rural voters whose use of cars for daily life and business was about to become much more expensive.
Those voters produced the yellow-vest movement — named for the safety gear they wear — that in turn has created a political crisis for Mr. Macron. What began as a few hundred thousand protesters scattered around the country became more than a million last weekend, including inexcusable rioting mobs in Paris.
Mr. Macron’s tax backtrack, which his government says is only for six months, might induce the protesters to return home. But the movement grew so large and garnered so much public sympathy that his entire economic-reform agenda is now in jeopardy. The fuel tax was not part of his election campaign.
Mr. Trump tried to warn the French leader, albeit indirectly. “No responsible leader can put the workers — and the people — of their country at this debilitating and tremendous disadvantage,” he said of the costs of the Paris climate deal when he announced America’s withdrawal last year. The point is that the public seems to understand better than progressive elites that the consequences of climate change, whatever they turn out to be, will be easier to confront the more prosperous the world is.
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