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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

May 31, 2017 9:58 PM
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The tectonic plates of Europe are shifting, and President Trump is at the heart of this upheaval. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany bluntly made that point on Sunday when she said, “The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are somewhat over,” and the result is that “we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.”

With that line, it became clear that the United States is no longer the reliable partner her country and the rest of Europe have long depended on. Since World War II, the United States led the way in building a new international order rooted in NATO and the European Union as well as a belief in democracy and free markets. Britain, France and Germany were central to that effort, which for 70 years kept the peace and delivered prosperity to millions of people while standing firm against the Soviet threat, helping end the Bosnian War and combating extremism in Afghanistan.

This trans-Atlantic partnership is still vital. But how, and how well, it will function as American leadership recedes is unclear. So far, no one is talking about dissolving NATO; Europe still depends for its security on America’s nuclear and conventional arsenals. But Ms. Merkel’s remarks underscored profound divisions between Europe and the United States that have one clear beneficiary, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who has longed for the alliance, Moscow’s Cold War adversary, to unravel.

Before Mr. Trump attended his first meetings of NATO and the Group of 7 last week, European leaders hoped they could bring him around on critical issues. That now seems like a pipe dream. Mr. Trump doubled-down on his most destructive campaign impulses by hectoring the other members at length for what he called their insufficient levels of military spending, and by refusing to reaffirm NATO’s bedrock mutual defense commitment. He also broke with the allies on other issues. He offered a more conciliatory line on Russia and refused, despite their entreaties, to endorse the Paris agreement on climate change.

When he returned home, Mr. Trump stoked the fires more, complaining in a tweet that Germany pays “far less than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.” His remarks showed no appreciation for how NATO works, how Ms. Merkel is in fact pushing her country to spend more on defense — and, more generally, how comments like this insult a trusted ally.

Europe’s dismay could only have deepened when Congress seemed to cheer Mr. Trump on. Republicans, who once prided themselves as stewards of national security, have shown little concern about the way Mr. Trump treated NATO members or the links between Mr. Trump’s aides and Russia. In a statement, Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gushed over Mr. Trump’s trip to Europe and the Middle East, saying it was “executed to near perfection.”

These new stresses in the alliance come at a bad time. Europe has been battered by the Greek financial crisis; the rise of authoritarianism in Turkey, Hungary and Poland; Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union; and the flow of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin, always eager to expand Russian influence, has exploited every weakness and crisis, along with instigating a few of his own. Russia invaded Ukraine and has interfered in electoral campaigns in the United States, France and Germany. Mr. Putin has meddled in the Baltic States, cultivated far-right-wing allies in Hungary and wooed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on NATO’s eastern flank. He is now courting Italy with a savvy ambassador to Rome and financing for anti-establishment parties.

There are some bright spots. One is that Ms. Merkel seems committed to playing a lead role as the United States pulls back; another is France’s election of President Emmanuel Macron, who has demonstrated a willingness to work in partnership with Ms. Merkel. The two won’t always see eye-to-eye, but Germany needs France and Mr. Macron is a good fit.

Mr. Macron’s first foreign visit was to Berlin. And just days later, he has showed that he is not afraid of taking charge. After greeting Mr. Trump, Mr. Macron acknowledged deliberately keeping their handshake going to make a political point: I’m not your patsy. He made an equally strong point when he met in Versailles with Mr. Putin, who had probably worked to aid his rival, the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Mr. Macron gave Mr. Putin full honors but did not mince words on Russia’s destructive role in the Syrian conflict, in Ukraine and in its dissemination of fake news. The message was one Europe should stick to in the future: No major issue can be resolved without talking to Russia, but differences with Moscow should not be swept under the rug.

For now, it looks as if it is up to Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron to keep the alliance alive and relevant, at least until Mr. Trump wakes up to the need for American leadership or until another, wiser president replaces him.

Roughly 30 percent of North Carolina’s voters are registered Republicans, but the GOP holds 10 of the state’s 13 seats in Congress. How did that happen?

As lawmakers huddled to craft the current boundaries, state Rep. David Lewis suggested the goal should be to stack 10 districts to favor Republicans, leaving three to the Dems, “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats,” according to a transcript of the meeting.

Lewis didn’t bother to disguise the naked partisanship that guided mapmakers’ hands, and no wonder. Across the country, brazen gerrymandering has flourished as federal courts shrugged off legal challenges from voters who were cheated by such lopsided maps.

In 2011, a panel of federal judges called Illinois’ newly drawn map “a blatant political move to increase the number of Democratic congressional seats” — and upheld it anyway.

That masterful gerrymander prompted Politico to declare that House Speaker Michael Madigan, the state’s top Democrat, had “punched his ticket to the partisan hall of fame.” It flipped the balance of the state’s congressional delegation from 11 Republicans and eight Democrats in 2011 to 12 Democrats and six Republicans in 2013. (Illinois lost one seat because of declining population.)

Courts have acknowledged that extreme partisan mapmaking isn’t consistent with democratic principles — one man, one vote, remember? — but they’ve also recognized that redistricting is inherently political. The majority party can always be counted on to manipulate the maps in its favor. When does it cross the line?

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to make that call, saying it’s up to the aggrieved party to propose a constitutional standard that can be applied. The justices have never rejected a map for being too partisan. They will soon have another chance to do so.

On Monday, the justices threw out North Carolina’s map — not because it cheated Democrats, but because it cheated African-Americans. A 1995 ruling declared it unconstitutional to sort voters into districts based on race without a compelling reason, such as to promote minority representation under the federal Voting Rights Act. Since then, several maps have failed that test.

Lewis, whom we’ve come to think of as North Carolina’s Mike Madigan, had argued that the GOP’s map was acceptable because it’s a partisan gerrymander, not a racial one. True, the Republicans had secured their advantage by concentrating blacks into two districts, but mapmakers said they based the decisions on voting history, not skin color. The Supreme Court didn’t buy it.

The tactic, known as “packing,” minimizes the impact of the targeted voters by containing them in as few districts as possible. The opposite is “cracking” — scattering them into many districts, so their votes never add up enough to make a difference.

Both are employed ruthlessly for partisan advantage. And this fall, they could provide the Supreme Court with the metric it has been asking for to gauge how badly a map is rigged to favor one party.

The justices have agreed to consider whether Wisconsin’s State Assembly map violates the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause because it was drawn to neutralize the votes of Democrats, depriving them of representation.

The standard proffered by a bipartisan group of voting advocates is a straightforward mathematical calculation. It tallies the number of votes that are “wasted,” or assigned to a district in which they could not affect the outcome of an election. A handful of Democrats carved into a Republican stronghold, for example, or the redundant Republicans crowded into a district where half as many would have constituted a majority.

A map drawn without bias would “waste” about the same number of Republican and Democratic votes. The difference, or the “efficiency gap,” is a measure of partisan imbalance. The larger the gap, the harder it would be for mapmakers to convince a court that the lines weren’t drawn to disenfranchise the opposing party.

That makes sense to us. It made sense to the panel of federal judges whose decision is now before the Supreme Court. We hope the justices are impressed as well.

The current maps were based on population shifts as measured by the 2010 U.S. census — and here we are, still arguing about them in 2017. The Wisconsin case is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to take a stand against partisan election rigging, before the 2020 census rolls around.

The suffering city of Portland, Ore., could use a break from ugly rhetoric and political extremism, from the kind of angry activism that too often begets violence. The community is in shock.

Last Friday, an abusive man began screaming racial and religious insults at two young women, one of whom was wearing a Muslim headscarf, aboard a commuter train. When three male passengers tried to intervene, the aggressor pulled a knife, killing two of the men and injuring a third.

The alleged killer shows zero regret. During his arraignment Tuesday on nine criminal charges, including two counts of murder, Jeremy Joseph Christian bellowed nonsense, calling himself a “patriot” and ranting about “death to enemies of America.” Police documents show that shortly after his arrest, Christian bragged about the stabbings and expressed his hope that all three victims would die.

It’s perhaps understandable, then, that Mayor Ted Wheeler is dismayed at plans for two public “alt-right” rallies to take place over the next two weekends: a Sunday “Trump Free Speech” gathering and a June 10 anti-Muslim-themed “March Against Sharia.” Christian had attended a similarly themed “free speech” event last month.

Wheeler has asked that organizers voluntarily cancel their plans, which is reasonable. And he has demanded that the events be banned, which is not.

In a drama that has played out this week on Twitter, Wheeler called on the U.S. government to revoke or refuse use permits for a federally owned downtown plaza near Portland City Hall where the alt-right events are scheduled.

A spokesman for the mayor said Tuesday that the intent is to prevent violence, not to shut down free speech.

But, intended or not, a shutdown of free speech would be the result. The mayor does not have the authority to stop these events, even if his motivations are valid.

Dallas witnessed a public-assembly quandary of its own last summer: After the devastating ambush murders of five police officers by a lone gunman during a downtown “Black Lives Matter” protest, Police Chief David Brown asked organizers to relocate other protest marches scheduled downtown in the following weeks.

But the protesters followed through on their plans, and a small march was held without incident.

Brown asked; the marchers said no. Likewise, Wheeler can ask. He may have good reason to ask. But he cannot ban the events.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been uncompromising in its view of the situation. In a statement addressing Wheeler’s comments, the ACLU of Oregon said: “The government cannot revoke or deny a permit based on the viewpoint of the demonstrators. Period.”

Yes, nerves are frayed in Portland. The community is weary — and wary — of overheated rhetoric.

But court rulings are clear. Free speech, obnoxious and offensive as it can be and too often is, is protected as an inviolable and fundamental right.

“If we allow the government to shut down speech for some, we will all pay the price down the line,” the ACLU’s statement said.

Yes, we will. Free speech is not, as Wheeler mistakenly believes, beside the point. It is the point, and it must be safeguarded.

This is one campaign promise that President Trump should have let slide. According to news reports, Trump is on the verge of announcing that yes, he will withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement among nearly 200 nations. If that comes to pass, the move will just make it more difficult for the world to counter the worst effects of the global warming that’s already underway. The more level-headed and reality-based members of Trump’s inner circle need to redouble their efforts now to turn their boss around.

Granted, it won’t be much of a surprise if Trump reneges on the accord. As a candidate, he assailed the non-binding pact as a “bad deal” for the U.S. Nevertheless, White House aides had said before Trump left for his recent nine-day foreign trip that he was keeping an open mind. That fueled hope that Trump might recognize the folly in rejecting the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists that human activity is dangerously increasing global temperatures.

If the latest reports are true, though, he must not have listened to what every other leader at the G-7 summit in Sicily was saying. The withdrawal would also send a troubling signal that the nationalists on his team have won out over the realists, which means the administration is becoming more inwardly focused as the world is growing more globally connected.

Trump already has been pursuing policies aimed at expanding U.S. production of fossil fuels to achieve what he called “American energy dominance,” rather than mere “energy independence.” He proposed slashing the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 31% (the enforcement section alone would be cut by 40, appointed climate skeptic Scott Pruitt to dismantle — er, run — the agency, and has taken steps to end President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a framework for compelling states to effect significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. These steps will make it harder to meet the commitment Obama made in Paris to reduce U.S. carbon output 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Trump also wants deep cuts in climate-change research, and would slash the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 69% — a move that critics say would hamstring government investment in renewable energy research.

How Trump intends to ride fossil fuel production into dominance of an energy sector increasingly shifting to renewables is perplexing. Oil companies themselves are planning for the day when global oil consumption begins to ebb and becomes supplanted by less-harmful natural gas — an already profitable portion of their overall business. But they’re also expanding their portfolios to include renewable energy sources. It’s telling that CEOs of Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and BP all urged Trump to keep the U.S. in the accord. New ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods recently wrote that “we’re encouraged that the pledges made at last year’s Paris Accord create an effective framework for all countries to address rising emissions; in fact, our company forecasts carbon reductions consistent with the results of the Paris accord commitments.”

But Trump thinks he knows better than the scientists or the energy sector. He has no expertise in either, and has exhibited little curiosity about the interconnections between carbon emissions and global temperatures. Remember, his business background is in real estate, television shows and branded products. He has no science background, yet hubristically clings to his disbelief that human activity is pressing global temperatures higher — he infamously has referred to climate change as a hoax concocted by the Chinese to undercut U.S. manufacturing.

The irony here is that by backing out of the Paris agreement, Trump would cede international climate leadership and most of the benefits of a transitioning energy sector to the Chinese, which, along with India, is making surprisingly strong gains in reducing emissions. It’s remarkable that a president who has put so much emphasis on creating jobs is so willing to let other nations reap the financial gains from leading the world to a better, cleaner energy future.

Trump’s position also flies in the face of public sentiment — 71% of Americans believe the science, and 59% say that protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs. The frustrating part of this is that even Obama’s goals were insufficient if the world is to avoid the worst repercussions of global warming. The polar ice sheets are already shrinking, glaciers are melting, ocean levels are rising, storms have intensified, and droughts and downpours have become stronger and more erratic as species become stressed and trees that once thrived in places like the Sierra Nevada die by the millions. The world needs to go in one direction, and Trump wants to point the United States the wrong way. Strong science-influenced and clear-eyed leadership — both nationally and internationally — are required if we’re to keep the worst of it from happening. And in Trump, we don’t have that.

The proposed federal-education budget for the next fiscal year flouts the values of our nation and also appears to threaten Washington state’s education budget.

Just the numbers tell a surprising story: Program cuts totaling $9 billion from the Education Department’s $68 billion budget and $1.4 billion for school choice, including new money for states that embrace vouchers. Families could use the vouchers to offset tuition at private schools.

The budget proposal would eliminate more than 20 education programs that benefit children from low-income families and those with disabilities. The proposed cuts include an after-school program that serves mostly low-income students, would take money away from career and technical education, cut Special Olympics education programs and a number of other programs. Many of these make up a small part of Washington’s education budget.

But the real danger in the Trump administration’s education budget is that it shows where President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would like tax dollars increasingly to go in the future — toward private schools, including religious institutions. The Washington state Constitution specifically prohibits state dollars going to religious schools, so Washington could not benefit from this program even if the citizens thought it was a good idea, which it is not.

When testifying before Congress last week, DeVos was asked if she would stop federal money from being spent at a private school that discriminates against LGBT students. She said states would determine the rules about how school vouchers would be used.

“This isn’t about parents making choices, this is about the use of federal dollars,” Rep. Katherine M. Clark, D-Massachusetts, said as a preamble to asking about vouchers.

Clark is correct. Federal dollars should not and cannot be used to discriminate.

Just like the rest of the first Trump administration budget, the education-budget proposal is likely dead before the debate is finished. Congress will set the national budget and therefore the education priorities. The new education secretary is asking lawmakers to give her the flexibility to use federal dollars in an innovative way, just like Congress gave the previous education secretaries latitude to experiment with some money.

Germany feels the US administration under President Donald Trump ‘chatters too much’ and Russia is the beneficiary of his loose talk. How can you share intelligence with an unreliable partner across the Atlantic if it falls into Russian hands? Russian President Vladimir Putin would only be too happy to use it against members of the EU and the bloc itself, European leaders fear. It’s a known fact that Trump’s personal ties with German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been frosty at best. They got off to a wrong start during Merkel’s visit to Washington early this year. A grumpy Trump even refused to shake the chancellor’s hand after their cold meeting. Trump’s maintained that European countries must pay their fair share for Nato’s upkeep. The US alone cannot foot expenses and provide security cover to the continent is his argument.

Putin, meanwhile, appears to be enjoying this split in the Western military alliance that was set up as a counter to communist expansion after World War II. For Russia, this could be payback for the West’s role in the break up of the USSR, East Germany and other East European states. Germany united and Soviet satellites became independent states. Political ramifications began soon after Soviet troops pulled out from Afghanistan. The US-backed Mujahideen made the Soviet military machine eat humble pie in the late seventies and early eighties. Putin’s grand plan is now taking shape with a wobbly Nato making it easier for his European foray. Without US support, the alliance lacks strategic firepower to take on Russia that is still gloating over its conquest of Crimea. The US under Barack Obama was solidly behind Nato in 2014, yet did nothing militarily to intervene. Under Trump, Nato has become weaker; the EU as an economic bloc will soon be weakened without Britain. Germany, however, has been a standout country in these times of geopolitical and social upheaval. Europe’s largest economy has been ably led by Merkel who is giving the bloc new direction. Trump, on the other hand, is fuelling suspicions by going soft on Moscow. His rants against Germany, trade and Nato put Russian interests first. In this scenario, Merkel has shown wisdom by seeking new trade partners and military allies. The US under Trump has a lot of explaining to do. Twitter tirades by the president are only making matters worse. What he needs is a lesson in history.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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