Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
China Daily on the United States Navy in Asian waters:
The US Navy, which likes to claim its presence can help safeguard “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea, is proving to be an increasing hindrance to ships sailing in Asian waters.
Early on Monday, the guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with an oil and chemical tanker in waters east of the Strait of Malacca, causing significant damage to the hull that resulted in flooding to nearby compartments. Four sailors were airlifted to hospital and 10 are missing, according to a statement released by the navy.
No members of the crew on the tanker were injured, but the vessel sustained damage near the bow.
The latest incident occurred just two months after the USS Fitzgerald and a Philippine container ship collided in waters off Japan, killing seven US sailors.
It may be hard for people to understand why US warships are unable to avoid other vessels since they are equipped with the world’s most sophisticated radar and electronic tracking systems, and aided by crew members on constant watch.
But investigations into the cause of the USS Fitzgerald collision shed some light on the way US warships tend to sail without observing maritime traffic rules and the sloppiness of their crews. According to the Philippine container ship’s captain, it signaled with flashing lights after the Fitzgerald “suddenly” appeared on a course to cross its path. Yet the US warship did not respond or take evasive action.
The US Navy concluded the collision was the result of “poor seamanship and flaws in keeping watch” on the part of the warship, which led to its captain and two other senior officers being removed from their posts and administrative actions being taken against members of the watch teams.
The investigations into the latest collision will take time to reach their conclusions, but there is no denying the fact that the increased activities by US warships in Asia-Pacific since Washington initiated its rebalancing to the region are making them a growing risk to commercial shipping; this is the third collision involving a US naval vessel in the region so far this year. And a US guided missile cruiser ran aground off the coast of Japan.
While the US Navy is becoming a dangerous obstacle in Asian waters, China has been making joint efforts with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to draw up a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea and it has boosted navigational safety by constructing five lighthouses on its islands.
Anyone should be able to tell who is to blame for militarizing the waters and posing a threat to navigation.
The New York Times on President Donald Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan:
If there is a compelling case to be made for deepening the United States military involvement in Afghanistan, where the 16-year-old war has already lasted longer than any other in American history, President Trump did not make it in his speech Monday night.
Rather than the comprehensive strategy that is called for, his plan amounted to a jumble of ideas that lacked detail and coherence and were often contradictory. Having spent years criticizing America’s involvement in Afghanistan, he now appears inclined toward an open-ended commitment, but with no real ways to measure success and no hint of a timetable for withdrawal.
New troops will be required, he suggested, but he did not say how many (there are 8,400 there now). Nor did he explain, much less guarantee, how a few thousand more troops could succeed when the more than 100,000 troops deployed during the Obama administration did not.
The president said that his “original instinct was to pull out” — which would have been consistent with his steady criticism as a private citizen of America’s commitment — but that he had been persuaded by the generals who dominate his national security team that a “hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda.” That, he said, would be unacceptable.
With this speech, Mr. Trump has taken ownership of the war, which until now he has essentially fobbed off on the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, told two months ago by Mr. Trump that he could deploy another roughly 4,000 troops to Afghanistan, sensibly declined to do that, at least until the president announced his strategy. Now Mr. Trump has set forth a plan, although it’s hard to dignify as strategy an address in which he said, “We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.” He seems not to understand that presidents owe it to voters to be transparent.
What we are left with is a set of intentions, which are what? Nothing less than “victory,” he said, because “in the end, we will win.” But what constitutes victory, and will Americans fight on foreign soil until every terrorist is dead? “Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge,” he proclaimed, which seemed a million miles away from his earlier doubts about foreign entanglements. (There was no mention of collateral civilian casualties, which have recently gone up and angered local populations.)
The accounting so far shows that American forces have degraded Al Qaeda. But the Taliban is an indigenous group, and during Barack Obama’s presidency top generals and officials agreed that the Taliban could not be defeated militarily, and must be brought into a political reconciliation process. Mr. Trump gave short shrift to that approach, saying that a successful military effort was a necessary precondition to political reconciliation.
At the end of his presidency, Mr. Obama began withdrawing troops on a fixed timetable, then stopped the pullout at 8,400 troops because the Afghans wanted the Americans around to train their own forces during a Taliban resurgence. The prospect of a deadline was supposed to pressure the Afghans to get serious about corruption and political infighting. Mr. Trump argued that deadlines allowed the Taliban to wait it out and that he would judge the success of the mission according to “conditions on the ground.” So much for engaging the Taliban in talks, or the government in Kabul in reform.
Any successful strategy must consider the regional context and, to some extent, Mr. Trump did that. He took a tough tone on Pakistan, which has long played a double game, taking billions of dollars in aid from Washington while giving safe haven to the Taliban and other militants; the president hinted that some aid could be withheld. Mr. Trump might have further angered Pakistan by urging India to provide more economic aid to Afghanistan; Pakistan is already unsettled by India’s $1 billion investment in Afghanistan and will be unhappier still if that is increased.
Not mentioned were Russia, China and Iran, all of which have an interest in Afghanistan and should be enlisted to help promote regional stability. Mr. Trump insisted he would bring diplomatic, economic and military levers to bear on Afghanistan, but his words ring hollow given how he has decimated the State Department with spending cuts and by leaving unfilled important positions, including, remarkably, that of ambassador to Afghanistan.
A case can surely be made for maintaining American troops at current levels to keep the government from being overrun by the Taliban and to offset Pakistan, Iran and Russia as they seek to enlarge their influence. But as to the future? Mr. Trump and his administration need to provide many more answers.
The Washington Post on the White House’s secrecy:
President Trump’s White House appears to be even less transparent than it seemed a few months ago. According to a new lawsuit from the advocacy group Public Citizen, the Trump administration is refusing to release information on even a subset of visitors to the White House grounds. This is likely illegal and certainly wrong.
Public Citizen says it has asked repeatedly that the Secret Service turn over records on who has visited four executive agencies on the White House grounds, including the Office of Management and Budget, which crunches numbers for the president on a wide range of policies, and the Council on Environmental Quality, another important policy department.
But, according to Public Citizen’s attorney, the Trump administration rebuffed the organization’s requests, citing legal and logistical barriers. Among them: It would be difficult to sort out who visited which agency and, therefore, which records need to be released and which do not. Here’s a solution: Go back to releasing all visitor logs, except when doing so would endanger national security.
Public Citizen’s suit comes on the heels of another, broader complaint from a separate collection of advocacy groups, charging that all White House visitor records should be, as a matter of course, public, including records on visits to Mar-a-Lago and other places where Mr. Trump routinely sets up shop. This was more or less the approach the Obama administration took, after facing similar lawsuits. The Trump administration nevertheless said in April that an open policy would present “grave national security risks and privacy concerns.” At that time, the White House said the Trump administration would, when asked, still release visitor records relating to agencies not technically under the executive office of the president, agencies that are almost certainly subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Now, in turning down Public Citizen’s requests, the administration appears to be defying even that policy.
Public Citizen argues that more transparency would reveal that Trump administration staffers are taking a lot of meetings with industry groups. This would not be surprising. Even so, knowing exactly whose counsel the president’s staff is taking would nevertheless advance public understanding of its leaders and how those leaders are making policy.
Reasonable public scrutiny, meanwhile, can have a beneficial effect on how staffers behave, particularly when higher-ups are not watching. Former Obama administration officials say that the previous visitor records policy discouraged staff from taking meetings and cultivating associations they probably should not have. Concerns about harm to national security did not bear out.
It should not fall on the courts to enforce basic transparency from the public’s elected leaders. But with this administration, the judiciary may have an essential role to play.
The Wall Street Journal on IRS accountability:
The Obama Justice Department dismissed the IRS political targeting scandal as no big deal, and the Trump Administration hasn’t been any better. At least the judiciary is still trying to hold someone to account for this government abuse.
In a little noticed decision last week, federal Judge Reggie Walton ordered the IRS to answer a series of questions by Oct. 16. Notably, the tax agency must finally explain the specific reasons for the specific delays in approving each of dozens of conservative nonprofit applications_delays that stifled free speech during a midterm and presidential election. Judge Walton is also requiring the IRS to name the specific individuals that it holds responsible for the targeting.
These are basic questions of political accountability, even if the IRS has stonewalled since 2013. President Obama continued to spin that the targeting was the result of some “boneheaded” IRS line officers in Cincinnati who didn’t understand tax law. Yet Congressional investigations have uncovered clear evidence that the targeting was ordered and directed out of Washington.
Former director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner was at the center of that Washington effort, but the IRS allowed her to retire with benefits. She invoked the Fifth Amendment before Congress. One of her principal deputies, Holly Paz, has submitted to a deposition in separate litigation, but the judge has sealed her testimony after she claimed she faced threats. The Acting Commissioner of the IRS at the time, Stephen Miller, stepped down in the wake of the scandal, but as far as anyone outside the IRS knows, no other IRS employee has been held to account. Even if the culprits were “rogue employees,” as the IRS claims, the public deserves to know what happened.
Judge Walton’s ruling means that “the IRS must finally acknowledge its wrongdoing (and the reasons for it) in the context of a judicial proceeding in which the agency may be held legally accountable for its misconduct,” Carly Gammill told Powerlineblog.com. Ms. Gammill is an attorney at the American Center for Law & Justice who represents tea-party groups in the litigation.
The Trump Administration also has a duty to provide some answers. The Justice Department and IRS have continued to resist the lawsuits as doggedly as they did in the Obama era. Attorney General Jeff Sessions can change that by ordering government attorneys to quickly and fully comply with Judge Walton’s orders. Seven years is too long to wait for answers over abuses of the government’s taxing power.
The Chicago Tribune on the American Civil Liberties Union’s representation of ‘Unite the Right’:
When white supremacists wanted to hold a “Unite the Right” rally at the site of a Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, the Virginia city insisted they gather in a different park. So the neo-Nazis got help from an organization widely vilified on the far right: the American Civil Liberties Union. It sued the city, and a federal judge ruled in its favor. The hateful assembly occurred where it was originally planned.
We all know what happened next. Fighting broke out between protesters and counter-protesters, and a woman was killed after being run over by a car driven by an alleged white nationalist.
The backlash against the ACLU was immediate. Waldo Jaquith resigned from the board of directors of the organization’s Virginia chapter, declaring: “What’s legal and what’s right are sometimes different. I won’t be a fig leaf for Nazis.” K-Sue Park, a fellow at the UCLA School of Law who has done volunteer work for the ACLU, wrote in The New York Times, “By insisting on a narrow reading of the First Amendment, the organization provides free legal support to hate-based causes.”
But anyone who was surprised that the ACLU would represent such extremists has not been paying attention. The organization endured a storm of criticism and canceled memberships in 1977, after it sued to force the Chicago suburb of Skokie to allow neo-Nazis to march. It has gone to court to defend the right of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church to protest at military funerals. It sued the Washington, D.C., transit system on behalf of alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous because the system banned ads for his new book.
The ACLU defends the rights of ideological outliers because it believes, correctly, that the Constitution protects free expression no matter how repellent that speech may be. America doesn’t need a First Amendment to ensure the freedom of popular speakers to voice their opinions because those don’t get suppressed. We need the amendment to ensure the freedom of speakers whose views are despised by people who dominate agencies of government.
Without the First Amendment, the white supremacists might have been out of luck in Charlottesville. But in many parts of the country, in the absence of constitutional protection, organizations devoted to racial justice or abortion rights might be suppressed.
Liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald noted the myopia at work. “Most levers of state power are now controlled by the Republican Party, while many Democrats have also advocated the criminalization of left-wing views,” he wrote in The Intercept, addressing those on the left. “Why would you trust those officials to suppress free speech in ways that you find just and noble, rather than oppressive?”
By protecting freedom of expression on the right, the ACLU bolsters it for everyone — including the “anti-fascist” groups that often show up to demonstrate against right-wing speakers.
The First Amendment, of course, does not protect violence or threats of violence. Cities are entitled to set reasonable rules to safeguard public safety. The permit for last Saturday’s “free speech” rally in Boston, for example, prohibited backpacks, sticks, cans, glass containers and any “other item that could be used as a weapon.”
Local officials are also obligated to deploy police to keep opponents separated and head off dangerous clashes. Any speaker who tries to incite immediate violence can be arrested.
Allowing open debate, however, is essential to a free and democratic society, even when it includes noxious speakers. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
Thanks to the Constitution, the white supremacists who showed up in Charlottesville and Boston had their say. But in doing so, they only stimulated a national debate that they are bound to lose.
The Seattle Times on marijuana and Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
U .S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an old school drug warrior, so it came as no surprise that his Department of Justice recently sent Washington and other states with legalized marijuana letters with a fusillade of bullet points on the dangers of legal weed.
What is surprising, however, is how misleading and cherry-picked his data was. Sessions wrongly portrayed Washington’s marijuana experiment as a circus, with exploding marijuana-extraction labs and stoned teens weaving across the roadway.
The experiment is a work in progress, but Sessions’ letter to Gov. Jay Inslee warrants a rebuttal — and not just because of bad data.
It missed the fundamental point made by voters in Washington and Colorado in the historic 2012 election. It has subsequently been made in California, Oregon, Alaska, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine.
Legalization is spreading because it is a rational response to the failed policy of prohibition. Arresting and incarcerating marijuana users and growers doesn’t make them go away; it drives them underground. Prohibition had a vastly disproportionate impact on black men. Maintaining the ban was a drain on law-enforcement resources; a legalized, regulated market creates a tax source to pay for treatment and teen-prevention campaigns.
Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in a letter to Sessions this week, rebutted his litany of problems, which included Washington-grown marijuana being found in 43 other states, an increase in stoned drivers and 17 marijuana labs exploding in 2014 alone.
As Inslee and Ferguson accurately note, that data was gathered before Washington’s first licensed and regulated marijuana store opened in 2015. Sessions’ data, in fact, comes from the prohibition era he apparently favors.
Since Washington began fully regulating marijuana, state inspectors have cracked down on state stores that sold to minors. They’ve required licensed growers track every ounce of legal weed.
And since those state-licensed stores opened, the annual state Healthy Youth Survey of Washington students found the number of current underage users is actually down among younger students, and virtually flat for high school seniors. All groups say it has become slightly harder to get.
That’s not to say legalization is without challenges, including the normalization of underage pot use. The answer is prevention education, which is paid for with some of the $730 million in state marijuana taxes and fees projected for the next two years.
In his letter, Sessions rattled the sword of prohibition, but did not say the feds were coming to end the legalization experiment. And for good reason. The feds don’t have the resources to take on a majority of the country.
Nearly one in five Americans now live in a state with legal recreational marijuana. Three out of five live in states with legal medical marijuana access. The numbers are growing. The prohibition era is done, whether Sessions wants to admit it or not.
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