Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Chicago Tribune on the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
Think of a president of the United States as the world’s most powerful fanboy — or, someday, fangirl.
Whom does he idolize above all others? Here’s a clue: Who gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom? That’s the highest civilian honor that the nation can bestow. The medal — the closest thing to an American knighthood — is awarded by the president for a major contribution to American security or national interests, “cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” or, no pressure here, world peace.
This year, the White House’s chief hoops fan anointed the world’s greatest basketball player, Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls.
“There is a reason you call someone ‘the Michael Jordan of’ — Michael Jordan of neurosurgery or the Michael Jordan of rabbis or the Michael Jordan of outrigger canoeing — and they know what you’re talking about,” President Barack Obama said at Tuesday’s ceremony. “Because Michael Jordan is the Michael Jordan of greatness. He is the definition of somebody so good at what they do that everybody recognizes them. That’s pretty rare.” No argument here; we marveled as Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships.
Obama has awarded more of these medals — 114 — than any of his predecessors, according to a group of academics writing in a Washington Post op-ed. Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan tied for second with 86; President Richard Nixon was the stingiest with 27.
Even for the rich and accomplished, earning a Medal of Freedom is a singular achievement. Bob Dylan, famous now for declining to attend the Nobel ceremony in Sweden to accept his 2016 Peace Prize, showed up at the White House for his medal in 2012. “I have to say that I am a really big fan,” Obama gushed as he introduced Dylan. “I remember, you know, in college listening to Bob Dylan, and my world opening up because he captured something about this country that was so vital.”
Not all winners are household names. For instance: Tom Little, an optometrist murdered by the Taliban while on a humanitarian mission to Afghanistan, received a medal posthumously in 2010.
In 2009, the medal cast a klieg light on Dr. Janet Davison Rowley, a University of Chicago geneticist hailed as the first scientist to identify a chromosomal abnormality as the cause of leukemia and other cancers, which led to the development of life-saving therapies. “When I tried to tell my family, I couldn’t help crying,” Rowley said in a statement. “I was overwhelmed for 24 hours.”
At the ceremony Tuesday, even the spotlight-accustomed Jordan teared up.
President Harry Truman started the Medal of Freedom in 1945 to honor wartime service. President John F. Kennedy replaced it with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for peacetime achievement in 1963. Kennedy was assassinated before his selected award winners — among them writers E.B. White and Thornton Wilder — could be honored. That duty fell to his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The list of medal winners is a who’s who of luminaries (not all American citizens) who dreamed great dreams, broke barriers, saved lives and inspired and entertained millions. That includes everyone from B.B. King (President George W. Bush, 2006) to Elie Wiesel (George H.W. Bush, 1992); Toni Morrison (Obama, 2012) to Milton Friedman (Ronald Reagan, 1988); John Glenn (Obama, 2012) to Jonas Salk, (Jimmy Carter, 1977). There’s nary a clunker in the bunch (prominent exception in retrospect: President George W. Bush’s selection of comedian Bill Cosby in 2002.)
What we like about this medal is that you can only get it by impressing the president, who isn’t easily impressed by celebrities who babble on Twitter or Facebook or by people whose sole focus in life is swelling their bank accounts. (Or, at least, he shouldn’t be.)
Yes, investor Warren Buffett got a 2010 medal from Obama, not merely for his legendary stock market savvy but for leading The Giving Pledge, which encourages wealthy Americans to chip in at least half of their net worth to philanthropy. Bill and Melinda Gates, too, made the cut recently for their foundation’s work to improve education and health globally.
Obama set a high bar. Now he passes the baton to President-elect Donald Trump, whose selections will reveal much about the newest presidential fanboy. Choose wisely, Mr. Trump. History watches — and judges.
The New York Times on a deadly train derailment in India:
Passengers bound for the city of Patna, in India’s Bihar State, were shaken from sleep early Sunday morning when their train began shuddering. Then came “a loud sound like an earthquake” as 14 outdated cars derailed. More than 140 people were killed, and more than 200 were injured. It was the worst rail accident in India since 2010, and it should not have happened.
While an investigation has yet to confirm the cause of the derailment, an Indian railways spokesman, Ved Prakash, said he suspected a “rail fracture.” Fractures can result from temperature extremes and are made worse by stress from overuse or overloaded trains. More trains have been added to meet growing demand, and many are overloaded. The train that derailed was no exception: There were about 1,200 ticketed passengers and around 500 people without tickets.
India’s railways transport 23 million people a day over more than 70,000 miles of track. But the system has been neglected for years. In 2014, there were more than 27,000 train-related deaths in India. In 2012, a committee appointed to review the safety of the rail network cited “a grim picture of inadequate performance largely due to poor infrastructure and resources.” It recommended a slew of urgent measures, including upgrading track, repairing bridges, eliminating level crossings and replacing old coaches with safer ones that better protect passengers in case of an accident.
These remedies came with a hefty price tag: The committee said it would cost some $14 billion over five years to put the railways on safer footing. Still, it advised that the work should proceed “in a time-bound manner with required resources mobilized.” This was never done.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Sunday that he was “anguished beyond words on the loss of lives.” His government pledged compensation to the victims and their families.
But the bottom line is that Mr. Modi’s government has failed to deliver on its 2014 campaign promise to “invest in long-required overhaul of stressed infrastructure,” focusing instead on constructing new lines, adding amenities like e-ticketing and free Wi-Fi, and investing in a showpiece bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
Responding to the latest derailment, a former railways minister, Dinesh Trivedi, stated what should now be evident to Mr. Modi: “Time has come for the government to focus more on operations of railways rather than cosmetics.”
The Khaleej Times on the oil industry:
The oil industry has been suffering its deepest downturn in over two decades and needs a shot at revival. It is, therefore, imperative that the next meeting of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) in Vienna on November 30 reaches a deal to limit supply as was proposed in September. Oil is trading at near $50 level in anticipation of an agreement. A cut of 4 to 4.5 per cent for all members would work best and bring the current output down by 1.2 million barrels per day. This will be good to prop up the oil price to above $50 in the coming months. However, the success of such an agreement hinges on Iran and Iraq, who are currently not showing any inclination of slowing down production to regain their market shares which fell due to economic sanctions and conflict respectively. Iran, which was recently freed from sanctions after the nuclear deal with the West, is seeking exceptions, and so is Iraq.
Persistent low oil prices haven’t helped bolster the economic engines of the world. On the contrary, low oil prices have complicated the conduct of monetary policies and also fuelled unanchored inflation expectations. As per analysts estimates, oil prices at current levels could also create disturbances in corporate and sovereign defaults, and feed into jittery financial markets. The possibility of such negative feedback loops makes demand support by the global community all the more urgent. Opec’s proposals of limiting the group’s output to a collective 32.5 million to 33 million barrels a day is a good start. However, despite the jawboning there hasn’t been a consensus yet. Opec has also sought Russian support to stabilise the oil market but the Kremlin, on its part favours a freeze at current levels rather than a cut in production. It is in everyone’s interest to come to an agreement and address the oversupply in the global market as oil prices languish at more than 50 per cent below their mid-2014 levels. In the absence of any pact, the current glut will increase to about 70,000 bpd in the first three months of next year, which will not bode well for any stakeholder and the world economy.
The Washington Post on Donald Trump and the possible investigation into Hillary Clinton:
The nation ought to be relieved that President-elect Donald Trump has decided not to press his campaign pledge to criminally investigate rival Hillary Clinton for her handling of email while secretary of state and for the activities of the Clinton Foundation. A drawn-out probe, fueled by Mr. Trump from the White House, would invariably become a political circus, take on the overtones of vendetta and deepen the wounds of the election. It would represent a continuation of the reckless “lock her up” chants by Mr. Trump’s campaign crowds, a mantra that suggested a Trump administration would run roughshod over the rule of law.
It would also fly in the face of the conclusion already drawn by FBI Director James B. Comey after a thorough investigation of Ms. Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. Mr. Comey said that no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case against Ms. Clinton based on the available evidence.
With the presidential campaign ended, Mr. Trump seems to have concluded that the legal pursuit of Ms. Clinton or former president Bill Clinton would be a legal and political loser. “It would be very, very divisive for the country,” he told the New York Times on Tuesday. “My inclination,” he said, “would be, for whatever power I have on the matter, is to say let’s go forward. This has been looked at for so long, ad nauseam.”
But even in his welcome rethinking, it was not clear that Mr. Trump understands the principle of justice insulated from political control. His statement contained only a glimmer of recognition that, as president, it should not be for him to decide whether criminal prosecutions are undertaken. The law enforcement system and the U.S. attorneys who investigate and prosecute federal crimes are supposed to be independent, free from interference by the White House or anyone else. The president’s role is to appoint an attorney general and set broad political priorities.
In the case of Ms. Clinton’s emails, Mr. Comey has already made a determination; Mr. Trump’s statement suggested he will not, improperly, seek to reverse it once in office. Separately, there may be ongoing investigations into the Clinton Foundation. If so, they should be left to the professionals at the FBI and career prosecutors at the Justice Department.
In his career as a brassy and pugilistic tycoon, Mr. Trump often gave the impression he saw the law as just another tool for advancing his personal interests or retaliating against his foes. Once he sits in the Oval Office, he must behave — and think — differently. His apparent decision not to pursue Ms. Clinton is a step in the right direction. But given his past behavior and campaign statements, it remains incumbent on Mr. Trump to show that he fully accepts the U.S. constitutional mandate of impartial justice and a political system ruled by law.
Los Angeles Times on the Trans-Pacific Partnership:
At a weekend economic summit in Peru, leaders of Pacific Rim nations in Asia and the Americas made clear their support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership — with or without the United States. But some also said they may throw in with a competing approach to free trade: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a trading bloc being assembled by the People’s Republic of China. Their statements underscore the geopolitical risks that the United States will take if it does not embrace the deal it helped negotiate with 11 other Pacific nations.
The TPP was always going to be a tough sell in Congress, as a growing number of Republicans have joined most Democrats in questioning the value of free-trade deals. But the pact became radioactive during the presidential campaign, as leading candidates from both major parties denounced it as a threat to American jobs and sovereignty. President-elect Donald J. Trump said Monday that he would issue a notice of intent to withdraw the United States from as-yet unratified TPP on his first day in office, and later seek bilateral trade deals with some of its participants.
The concerns about lost jobs and decreased U.S. flexibility are valid, yet the right answer isn’t to pretend that globalization isn’t happening. It’s to push global competition in a direction that works for this country as well as its trading partners, while doing more to help American workers adapt to the new reality. That process starts with deals such as the TPP, which requires other nations to live by labor, environmental and intellectual-property regulations more like ours.
The free-trade pact China is pushing, though, doesn’t include such standards, and its adoption would encourage a multinational race to the bottom for wage and hour laws, emissions limits and other rules for commerce, making it even harder for U.S. workers to compete. But there may be a way forward for Trump, despite his oft-stated opposition to the pact as a “bad deal.” Leaders of several TPP nations have indicated a willingness to tweak the TPP — the kind of renegotiation he has said he wants, although the changes ultimately may just be cosmetic. Rather than simply withdrawing from the pact, he should accept that invitation.
The Toronto Star on Turkey and authoritarianism:
Authoritarianism is on the march in many parts of the world. In Turkey, hailed only a few years ago as the great hope for a forward-looking Muslim democracy, the government is rushing ever faster toward paranoia and one-man rule.
The latest sign is a new clampdown on what remains of the country’s once-flourishing free press. In the past few weeks Turkish authorities have shut down 15 Kurdish news outlets and scores of other news organizations. They’ve imprisoned 120 journalists and arrested most of the senior staff of the country’s sole remaining independent daily, Cumhuriyet (Republic). Turkey is now the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, edging out China, according to an authoritative survey.
It’s all part of the broad crackdown that followed the failed coup attempt in July against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. More than 100,000 soldiers, police, teachers, judges, civil servants and others have been detained, arrested or jailed in a sweeping purge that goes far beyond any reasonable reaction to the botched coup.
The result is a country rapidly tossing aside the robust democratic culture it had developed painfully over many decades, marked by periodic episodes of military rule. Turkey was flourishing on all fronts — economic, political and cultural. It was setting an example for the entire Middle East.
Now, Erdogan is using a popular backlash against the coup plotters to crack down on enemies of all types, real and imagined. Some may indeed be linked to the mysterious exiled Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of inspiring the coup attempt. Most are simply critics of the president, or seen as insufficiently loyal, and have now been silenced.
Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for Cumhuriyet, writes that the story of Turkey “is fast becoming a heartbreaking saga of a budding Muslim democracy tossing out a historic chance at progress.”
Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel prize-winning Turkish writer, puts it even more strongly. He wrote in September that “freedom of thought no longer exists. We are distancing ourselves at high speed from a state of law and heading towards a regime of terror.”
Turkey, though still a NATO member, has also turned away from the West. Once an eager applicant for membership in the European Union, it’s now cozying up to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and cooperating with Moscow in Syria. And it has lashed out against the United States, furious that Washington won’t extradite Gulen from his retreat in Pennsylvania.
The U.S. once put pressure on Erdogan to restrain his authoritarian tendencies. A Trump administration won’t give a fig about that. And it may well be quite prepared to see Turkey emerge as a member of the club of newly confident authoritarians, contemptuous of “decadent democracies” in the manner of past dictators.
In that sense, Turkey’s sad slide away from freedom is not just a tragedy for that country. It’s a warning that democracy is fragile and can be quickly undermined if a society loses the will to fight for it. And it’s an ominous harbinger of the new and more sinister world emerging in the age of Trump.
The Wall Street Journal on the Trump Organization:
One reason 60 million voters elected Donald Trump is because he promised to change Washington’s culture of self-dealing, and if he wants to succeed he’s going to have to make a sacrifice and lead by example. Mr. Trump has so far indicated that he will keep his business empire but turn over management to his children, and therein lies political danger.
Mr. Trump has for decades run the Trump Organization and during the campaign said if he won the Presidency he’d turn over the keys to Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka, all of whom are now serving on the Trump transition. A company spokesperson says the family business is “in the process of vetting various structures” and that the ultimate arrangement “will comply with all applicable rules and regulations.”
Some of Mr. Trump’s lawyers have called the plan a “blind trust,” which past Presidents have used to protect their assets from the appearance of conflicts-of-interest. But that set-up typically involves liquid assets like bonds and stocks, not buildings or a branding empire. Mr. Trump will know how any given decision will affect, say, the old post office property in Washington, D.C. that he’s leasing from the federal government (another conflict). By law blind trusts are overseen by an independent manager, not family members.
The President is exempt from federal conflict-of-interest laws, but Mr. Trump’s plan is already hitting political turbulence. Earlier this week Ivanka Trump’s jewelry company took heat for promoting a $10,800 diamond bangle that Ms. Trump donned during a family interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” The company chalked up the incident to an overeager marketing executive, but this is only the beginning of such media catcalls. By the way, Ms. Trump is married to Jared Kushner, who could be a useful adviser in the White House.
Mr. Trump’s best option is to liquidate his stake in the company. Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, ethics lawyers for George W. Bush and President Obama, respectively, have laid out a plan, which involves a leveraged buyout or an initial public offering.
Mr. Trump could put the cash proceeds in a true blind trust. The Trump children can keep the assets in their name, and he can transfer more to them as long as he pays a hefty gift tax. Finally, Mr. Trump should stipulate that he and his children will have no communication about family business matters.
The alternatives are fraught, perhaps even for the Trump Organization’s bottom line: Thanks to a Clinton Administration precedent, Presidents can face litigation in private matters_so the company will become a supermagnet for lawsuits. Rudy Giuliani lamented on television that divestment would put the Trump children “out of work,” but reorganizing the company may be better for business than unending scrutiny from the press. Progressive groups will soon be out of power and they are already shouting that the Trump family wants to profit from the Presidency.
The political damage to a new Administration could be extensive. If Mr. Trump doesn’t liquidate, he will be accused of a pecuniary motive any time he takes a policy position. For example, the House and Senate are eager to consider tax reform_and one sticking point will be the treatment of real estate, which will be of great interest to the Trump family business. Ditto for repealing the Dodd-Frank financial law, interest rates and so much more.
The conflicts span the globe, including a loan from the Bank of China and likely dealings with sovereign-wealth funds. Along the way Mr. Trump could expose himself to charges, however unfair, that he is violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits public officials from accepting gifts or payment from foreign governments.
Mixing money and politics could undermine his pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington. If a backlash allows Democrats to retake the House in 2018, Mr. Trump and his business colleagues would field subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee. Ranking minority member Elijah Cummings this week expressed his enthusiasm for such a project, and answering daily questions about this can’t be how Mr. Trump wants to spend his political capital.
There is no question that a Trump business sale would be painful and perhaps costly. We also dislike the double standard of ethics rules that put special burdens on business folks who want to enter politics, even as public-interest lawyers can move in and out of government without a peep of protest. Unlike liberals, Republicans like to work in the private economy.
But this is the modern world of Washington. And remember that Hillary Clinton lost in part because the public didn’t want a President who mixed politics and personal gain at the State Department and Clinton Foundation. Millions of Americans have put their trust in Mr. Trump to succeed as President and improve their lives, not treat this as a four-year hiatus from his business. The presidential stakes are too high for Mr. Trump to let his family business become a daily political target.
China Daily on China, the U.S. and the Trans-Pacific Partnership:
In spite of the White House’s continuous insistence on there being “a strong case to make with regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement”, chances are it will not get approved in the remainder of US President Barack Obama’s term.
However, it might be too early to announce the demise of the TPP. Despite US President-elect Donald Trump’s repeated pledge to scrap it on the campaign trail, who knows what he will do when he enters office.
Of course, Beijing is understandably relieved that the exclusive, economically inefficient, politically antagonizing TPP is looking ever less likely to materialize by the day. After all, the trade grouping has been essentially driven by the US’ strategic considerations and meant to counter China’s economic influence in the Asia-Pacific.
But the US should rest assured the sky will not come tumbling down even if the TPP does get killed at the hands of the next president. Instead of lamenting, its proponents should congratulate themselves on dodging a bullet, as the pact is inopportune. Because, what actual benefits will the TPP bring to the US as a country and its workers, whom the deal is claimed to serve, should it go ahead and pit Beijing and Washington more firmly against each other? Very few, if any.
The anticipated setback offers a precious opportunity for decision-makers in both Beijing and Washington to reevaluate the state of affairs, and recalibrate their respective approaches.
China and the US are not allies, and are not likely to be in the foreseeable future given their dramatic differences. But that does not mean they cannot be partners.
Beijing has been persistent in pursuing peaceful co-existence with the US. Its enthusiastic proposal of and insistence on a “new type of major-country relationship” between the two countries deserves something better than the TPP.
In their first conversation on the phone on Monday, Beijing time, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump exchanged wishes for better ties and promises of cooperation, which is hopefully propitious for the upcoming Trump era.
The incoming administration should realize that the more open, inclusive Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will turn out to be a far more efficient vehicle for advancing US interests. Washington may want to take advantage of the nascent, evolving platform and become involved from the rule-making stage.
US influence in the Asia-Pacific will not abate if the Trump administration chooses to engage with the region constructively.
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