Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Wall Street Journal on the nomination of Georgia Congressman Tom Price as the Health and Human Services secretary:
The belief among Democrats that a Republican could never win another presidential election was apparently so firm that they're still in a state of shock. They're even more stunned that Donald Trump has dared to name an ObamaCare critic as his health-care point man_which makes for an instructive moment.
Tom Price, a six-term Georgia Congressman and mild-mannered orthopedic surgeon, is an unlikely villain. But liberals are already saying the Health and Human Services nominee will shred the social contract, leave poor people and cancer patients panhandling for care, and jail women for their reproductive decisions. Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood claims that Mr. Price "poses a grave threat to women's health in this country." Earth to the abortion lobby: Declining to mandate and federally subsidize birth control coverage is not the same as "banning" it.
Meanwhile, the American Medical Association is facing an internal and social-media revolt over an anodyne statement that called Mr. Price "a leader in the development of health policies to advance patient choice and market-based solutions as well as reduce excessive regulatory burdens." Supposedly this was a betrayal of doctors and patients, or something, but the big health-care societies always cater to power. They do so because so much of medicine is decided by government.
Mr. Price's nomination is a refreshing signal that such state control isn't an inevitability or necessity, starting with replacing ObamaCare. Most liberals are getting the bends coming up from their false triumphalism. They've spent years claiming the center-right vision for health care isn't worth serious study while mocking Republicans for supposedly futile repeal votes. Maybe Republicans meant what they said.
You'd think that the people who designed and enforced a failed program might show more humility, or at least stop lecturing others. Even Hillary Clinton's staff recognized the law is imploding. In a private Nov. 23, 2015 memo published by WikiLeaks, Chris Jennings, a former Obama aide who joined the campaign, wrote that the law's performance is "at best, disconcerting" and identified other "troubling" signs.
One of them is that only about eight million people have paid the tax penalty for violating the individual mandate to buy insurance, and another 12 million have received regulatory exemptions. In other words, more people who were supposed to benefit from ObamaCare have opted out than have enrolled.
Now Democrats are assailing Mr. Price for proposing alternatives to the mess they created. The Republican, who took over the House Budget Committee from Paul Ryan, is a thoughtful and well-informed problem solver. Unlike many of his colleagues, Mr. Price hasn't dodged details and specifics. He proposed an alternative to ObamaCare during the 2009-10 debate and in the years since he's put flesh on the bones, including with legislative language.
Mr. Price's Empowering Patients First Act relies on fixed-value tax credits to stabilize the insurance markets outside of employer-sponsored coverage. The switch to a defined contribution from a defined-benefit model is based on the transition to 401(k)s from pensions.
The American Medical Association is also right about Mr. Price's opposition to central health-care planning. ObamaCare says the HHS Secretary "shall" write more than 1,800 regulations, and HHS has put out tens of thousands of pages of rule-makings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that employment among "medical and health services managers" has increased by 31.5% since 2011. These are administrative workers who don't treat patients but merely ensure compliance with federal and state mandates, and they help explain why U.S. health care is so expensive.
On that score, Mr. Trump also excelled by making Seema Verma his director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, with its trillion-dollar budget. She's an architect of the Health Indiana Plan under former Governor Mitch Daniels and then Mike Pence that makes Medicaid more like private insurance and encourages beneficiaries to contribute to their own care. Ms. Verma even got a waiver from the Obama HHS, which in general has tried to suppress state innovation.
Republicans will have challenges as they attempt to transcend their own divisions and take responsibility for health-care policy for the first time in a decade. But sending Mr. Price over to HHS is one of Mr. Trump's better personnel decisions.
The Telegraph, UK, on Parliament and Brexit:
Technically, the votes in the House of Commons over a Labour motion on Brexit are symbolic, their results having no concrete effect on the law or Government policy. But as so often in politics, symbols matter, since they show the electorate something about the people who wield power in their name.
Labour MPs believed they had been rather clever in tabling a motion calling for the Government to publish a "plan" for Brexit, attempting to exploit unease on the Conservative benches about the Prime Minister's approach of not giving away precise details about her plans before entering exit negotiations with the EU.
The Government has responded with a ruse of its own. Mrs May will set out her thinking on Brexit in Parliament in due course, as she was no doubt always intending to. More immediately, she will ask MPs to support an amendment confirming that the House of Commons will respect the view of the British people expressed in the EU referendum and call on ministers to start the Article 50 process of exit by the end of March.
How could any MP reasonably refuse to vote for that amendment? The referendum result was entirely clear: the British people, in a democratic vote, expressed their desire for Britain to leave the European Union. The Government, in turn, has said that it will act on that instruction by invoking Article 50.
Seen in that context, the contents of the Government amendment are such an uncontroversial statement of the obvious that one might expect the Commons to accept it unanimously. Yet in the curious, twisted world of post-referendum politics, there are indeed questions about whether politicians elected by and answerable to the British people will actually do something that those people have clearly told them to do.
Labour shabbily seeks to use parliamentary chicanery to delay, dilute and even derail Brexit: laughably a party led by business-hating Marxists says it wants assurances on access to the EU's single market before it will endorse Article 50. That claim reveals Labour's Brexit stance as deceitful opportunism.
The Lib Dems are a little more honest, making no secret of their desire to deny the electorate what it voted for with a commitment to the failed ideology of European integration that is neither liberal nor democratic.
Most Conservative MPs voted to remain, but most have sensibly accepted the referendum result and, like Mrs May, are committed to making the best of Brexit. A few, including several former ministers, persist in trying to make trouble for the woman who sacked them.
Such attitudes among MPs have helped sustain a fundamental division in British politics between Parliament and the people.
For many years, large numbers of people in the country had deep reservations about the EU and its development. Yet those reservations were generally ignored by a political class that generally embraced the EU and in some cases believed it right to impose on Britain policies the electorate was simply too stupid to accept or appreciate. The result of that arrogance was spelt out clearly at the referendum.
It is to David Cameron's credit that he held that referendum and finally gave the people their say on Europe, and it is to Mrs May's credit that she is working so hard to enact their decision.
The vote today gives MPs a chance to show that they too acknowledge the primacy of the people on Europe. Those who refuse to back the amendment will be making a public declaration of contempt for the voters.
For those intent on resisting Brexit, much hope hangs on the case before the Supreme Court, which could rule that ministers must pass legislation in Parliament before invoking Article 50.
Whether the Government amendment passes will have no direct bearing on that case, but if it is indeed endorsed by the Commons, the judges might want to take account of it. A vote for the amendment would make it harder to argue, as some Remainers do, that Parliament is "silent" on what should follow from the referendum.
As we have said before, the court ruling cannot change the basic facts of Brexit: the people voted for it and it will happen. All that remains to be established is how many misguided Remainers in parliament try to stand in the way. Such MPs are entitled to their views, but they must also expect to be challenged to justify those views, and to account for them.
With this move to call the bluff of Brexit's parliamentary saboteurs, Mrs May has shown her quality, demonstrating just the boldness many of her friends have been asking for. And when the votes are counted, we will see how many MPs are willing to reveal their true colours by refusing to declare, clearly and openly, that they will accept the choice of the electorate on Europe. They should know that the people they work for will be watching, and will judge them accordingly.
The New York Times on protecting Australia's Great Barrier Reef:
Coral reefs are among the most remarkable achievements of nature, structures built in shallow water over long periods of time out of the skeletons of tiny polyps. Magnificent in their bright colors, they cover less than 0.2 percent of the oceans and yet are second only to rain forests in the biodiversity they support, including a quarter of all marine life. And they're in deep trouble.
The problem is that reefs can live in only a fairly narrow temperature range, and climate change, when combined with other natural phenomena, can starve the coral polyps to death. That's what has now happened, according to data released last week by Australian scientists: El Niño — a periodic heating of the Pacific Ocean — combined with global warming to cause mass bleaching throughout the 1,400-mile Great Barrier Reef, which extends off Australia's northeast coast.
Bleaching occurs when warm waters prompt the coral polyps to reject the algae that live on them and provide them with nutrients — and their bright colors. When water temperatures drop in time, the algae return and the reef revives. But if temperatures stay high too long, as they did this year, the corals start to die off.
The data was released just before the Australian government issued a report to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco, which has proclaimed the Great Barrier Reef a World Heritage Site. The report was meant to reassure Unesco that the risks to the reef were being well managed under a 35-year plan Australia produced last year outlining measures to limit sediment, chemical runoff and other threats.
The report was not wholly reassuring. For one thing, it ignored the Queensland state government's decision to permit development of the enormous (and enormously controversial) Carmichael coal mine about 200 miles from the reef. Environmentalists have furiously opposed the mine for various reasons, but chiefly for the enormous quantities of carbon dioxide pollution it would produce.
In the final reckoning, it is these and other human-caused emissions that pose the greatest danger to reefs everywhere. Of these, the Great Barrier Reef is among the most spectacular. It is hard to understand how Australia can claim "good progress" on protecting it even as it proceeds with a project that poses so clear and imminent a threat.
The East Bay Times, Walnut Creek, California, on the deadly fire at Oakland, California warehouse:
The Bay Area suffers from a severe housing shortage. But that can't be an excuse for the deaths of at least 36 people in the infamous Ghost Ship warehouse fire — or for winking at other dangerous living conditions in the name of art.
As the search goes on for human remains in Oakland, a narrative grows among some in the arts community that this horrific tragedy was inevitable — and that any attempt to crack down on illegal dwellings will only put more people on the streets.
We already have too many homeless. But tolerating places like the Ghost Ship, with its exposed wiring, propane heaters, wire-covered windows, makeshift stairway and inadequate egress, is no answer.
This was a disaster waiting to happen, and it happened in a matter of minutes Friday night. There is no excuse for it. The Ghost Ship should have been shut down by the city, as should anyplace else like it before more people die.
Think of the young children who lived in the Ghost Ship. The underground music fans, some as young as 17, who turned out for the party Friday night. The firefighters who fought the blaze, knowing people were dying inside, and now sift through the ashes.
District Attorney Nancy O'Malley's criminal investigation is a first step toward accountability. The probe should include the owner of the property, the mastermind tenant who created Ghost Ship, the concert organizers and promoters, the city inspectors who had been warned, and the elected leaders who knew but didn't speak out.
Some should go to jail. Some should lose their jobs. Some will face civil liability, for whatever cold comfort it can bring survivors.
Even the artists who lived there bear responsibility. They describe horrific electrical hookups and other fires-in-waiting. Yes, reporting those conditions likely would have cost them their homes, but it might have prevented the city's deadliest fire.
Property owners gripe about building codes and permit costs. Maybe some are excessive. But the Ghost Ship is precisely the worst nightmare that building standards and concert venue requirements are supposed to prevent. The rules are the reason we have fewer massive casualty fires than a century ago.
This tragedy should give leaders of the underground concert scene pause. Setting up paid events isn't some hide-and-seek game. Profiting from bringing people to places like this is appalling.
Oakland has an exciting arts scene, and the Bay Area benefits from the arts. Boosters tend to romanticize places like the Ghost Ship as part of a Bohemian vibe. But artists need safe places to live and work. As cities and counties grapple with the affordable housing shortage, this needs to be part of the mix.
There's nothing romantic about sifting through the ashes.
The Chicago Tribune on Donald Trump and diplomacy:
As a nation, we're slowly getting used to President-elect Donald Trump's shock-and-awe style of communication. He made clear during the campaign that he has no patience for political correctness — he thinks it's the language of wimps and do-nothings. Exaggeration-for-effect is more the Trumpian way.
That's effective in friendly venues like an Ohio town hall meeting, we suppose. But in the ramp-up to his presidency Trump has begun giving the rest of the world a peek at his tell-it-like-it-is leadership, and the result is a marvel mixed with hints of danger. He has until his Jan. 20 inauguration to find a global voice that is both authentic and responsible.
On Friday, Trump accepted a telephone call from Taiwan's president, ostensibly to congratulate him on his election victory. But there was a lot more to it than nicety. Taking the call was viewed as a precedent and a provocation directed at China because Taiwan and China are estranged and the United States officially recognizes only the government in Beijing.
Treating Taiwan like just another nation threatens to upend decades of delicate diplomacy, a fact Trump seemed to acknowledge when he confirmed on Twitter that he received the call: "The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!"
Nothing in that tweet would appear controversial to the American public. But the U.S. is extremely careful to distinguish between its official relationship with China and unofficial relationship with Taiwan. There appears to be no record of an American president or president-elect speaking to a Taiwanese president since the U.S. switched in 1979 from recognizing Taiwan to recognizing Beijing as the government of China. Referring in public to Taiwan's "president" was an extra poke in the eye to Beijing, which "lodged solemn representations" with Washington over the call — that's diplomatic-speak for venting mighty anger.
Trump showed similar cheek in a call with Pakistan's prime minister. He expressed giddy optimism about relations (Pakistan is a "fantastic" country full of "fantastic" people), though the U.S. has big problems with Pakistan's behavior, notably spotty cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
Goodness, what's next? Mr. President-elect, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is on line 2.
From Trump's perspective, there is shrewdness to the showmanship. Supporters love it when he talks like Frank Sinatra singing "My Way." He won their hearts promising a tough, common-sense approach. These phone calls send the message that he'll be as different as possible from President Barack Obama, whom detractors lambasted for appearing equivocal or appeasing in the face of adversaries.
Trump also has a pet peeve about America seeming too deliberate and predictable in its actions. Why announce negotiating positions, he wondered during the campaign? Why spell out military strategy in advance? Better to keep the world guessing about American intentions because that's the secret to negotiating good deals. He likely figures putting Beijing off balance adds to U.S. bargaining power over issues such as trade or freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
The risk with that approach comes with the stakes. If Pakistan's government thinks Trump is in its corner, that could affect how Pakistani leaders manage tense relations with India. Which, in turn, could cause the Indians to react in unforeseen ways that ratchet up tension. The same is true, writ larger, for China: Diplomatic gamesmanship over Taiwan could have real-world military consequences, because China has threatened to invade Taiwan if it ever officially declares independence.
Yes, government officials worldwide can focus too much on the pieties of diplomacy: "What savory canapes at the French ambassador's reception!"
But the larger point of diplomacy is to manage relationships in ways that promote cooperation and paper over differences to mitigate the chances of conflict. Diplomacy is a game best played with quiet nuance by deep thinkers. That's why the Washington experts dropped their monocles in the soup when they heard Trump had spoken with Taiwan's president. Messing with the carefully tended status quo can have repercussions. Cautious behavior may look timid, but it also can prevent surprises — and startling, even menacing, reactions.
Trump is still not president. He hasn't named a secretary of state. Once in office, he may lead the country in new directions on global issues. That will be his prerogative.
Once inaugurated, Trump's in command. He either embraces the art of diplomacy, or the country buckles up for a bumpy ride.
China Daily on President-elect Donald Trump's phone call with Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen:
Friday's phone call between Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen and US President-elect Donald Trump, which broke the nearly four decades of US diplomatic practice, came as a striking move but it does not bear the same importance as it seems to be.
For Trump, it exposed nothing but his and his transition team's inexperience in dealing with foreign affairs. If he could make the unusual action due to lack of proper understanding of Sino-US relations and cross-Straits ties he will have to recognize the significance of prudently and appropriately addressing these sensitive issues after being inaugurated.
As US president, Trump undoubtedly shoulders responsibility to safeguard the interests of his country, which includes a healthy relationship with China. To do that, he cannot afford to damage the one-China policy, which has been maintained by every US administration since 1979 to serve as the political foundation for bilateral ties.
As one of his Tweet posts shows, Trump knows the fact that "I should not accept a congratulatory call" although the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment. Whether in his position as a businessman or US president, Trump should also know that amount of money doesn't mean he can sacrifice US ties with China, the US' largest trade partner with a bilateral trade volume of $558 billion in 2015, as well as the biggest holder of US treasury bonds of $1.19 trillion.
For Tsai, the phone call, a "petty gambit" as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called it, will bring nothing substantial but illusionary pride. If she managed to divert public outcry from her bad performance, she will not succeed. Tsai has to face the cold reality of a sagging approval rate and economic woes on the island after the media craze over the incident vanishes.
It would be a mistake if Tsai and her administration over-interpret the meaning of the phone call and believe it can induce a change in the US long-standing one-China policy. Actually, after the news of the phone call broke out, Ned Price, the White House National Security Council spokesman, assured on Friday evening that Washington remains firmly committed to the one China policy, which has been in place despite ups and downs in Sino-US ties. Given the strongest economic and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries at present, there is no reason for the Trump administration to break away from it.
Tsai should know the US' fundamental interest lies in peaceful and stable cross-Straits ties rather than the pro-independence push of her Democratic Progressive Party. If she continues to stir tensions in cross-Straits relations, any attempt to win US support will be doomed, as demonstrated by her DPP predecessor Chen Shui-bian between 2000 and 2008, no matter how many tricks she may try.
The Los Angeles Times on AT&T Wireless and net neutrality:
AT&T Wireless recently offered its customers a compelling freebie: If they subscribe to DirecTV, the satellite TV service that AT&T acquired in 2015, or DirecTV's new slimmed-down online offering, they can watch an unlimited amount of TV on their mobile devices without using up any of their monthly data allotment. That seems like a great deal for consumers, at least in the short run. But the Federal Communications Commission worries that AT&T is tilting the online playing field in a way that violates federal net neutrality rules. And it's right to be concerned.
The rules flatly prohibit broadband Internet service providers such as AT&T and Comcast from blocking or slowing down content and services on their networks, and from prioritizing delivery of content for a fee. To further assure a level playing field, they also include a "general conduct standard" ordering broadband providers not to "unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage" Internet content, service or app providers or their customers
Critics say AT&T is using data charges and caps to tilt the playing field and violate the general conduct standard. Under its "sponsored data" program, a website or service — such as DirecTV's online TV service, called DirecTV Now — can pay AT&T to cover the data charges that AT&T's customers incur when streaming the site's content. Presumably, that makes those sites or services videos more attractive to consumers than competing outlets that don't pay for sponsored data, particularly for consumers worried about using up monthly data allotments that aren't large enough for mobile bingeing. The tilt seems especially pronounced in favor of DirecTV, because the sponsored data fees it incurs are not hurting the corporate bottom line — the money simply moves from one AT&T pocket to another.
That's why the FCC challenged AT&T's sponsored data program in a letter sent earlier this month. (It started a similar informal inquiry into Verizon's new sponsored-data program on Thursday.) The data charges that DirecTV's competitors would have to pay in cash to AT&T could be so high, it could be impossible for them to compete with DirecTV's $35-a-month online offering, warned Jon Wilkins, chief of the FCC's wireless bureau.
Yet the issue is not black and white. What AT&T is doing with DirecTV is good for competition both in mobile phone service and cable TV, offering consumers new features and a new mobile alternative to their local cable operator. And there is precedent for how AT&T is handling DirecTV's streams: Back in the day of tightly regulated Bell telephone companies, the FCC allowed subsidiaries of those local monopolies to offer services through the parent company's network as long they did so on the same terms offered to everyone else. That's what AT&T is doing now, albeit without the price caps and cost accounting of yore. In addition, the money generated by the sponsored data program can help pay for network upgrades and extra capacity, although the program creates a perverse incentive in the opposite direction: It generates money only when there are restrictive data caps and a threat of congestion.
Nevertheless, AT&T's approach remains problematic. The Internet shouldn't have gatekeepers, even ones that treat competing companies fairly. And the sponsored data charges look like gatekeeping. Prior to the launch of that program, all the traffic entering AT&T's network was on equal footing, whether it was sent from a Hollywood studio or an amateur filmmaker on YouTube. With sponsored data, a clear advantage goes to content from companies that can afford to pay the freight. That's why it isn't sufficient just to require ISPs to impose the same conditions on all content and services — they shouldn't be allowed to grant any kind of advantage (or disadvantage) to legal content as it travels across their networks.
There are plenty of ways for AT&T to use its mobile-phone and pay-TV services to promote competition that do not involve acting as a gatekeeper for online content. For example, it could take a page from T-Mobile's playbook and simply waive the data charges for any video streamed in a compact, mobile-friendly format.
The FCC's strictures may not last long in the Trump administration; the president-elect's transition team includes three vocal opponents of net neutrality regulation. The two Republicans on the commission also oppose the rules strongly — as do Republicans in Congress — because they consider them unnecessary to protect competition online, and because innovation on the Internet has thrived in the absence of government involvement.
But President-elect Trump was critical during the campaign of consolidation in the media industry, and what AT&T is doing with DirecTV illustrates the good and bad implications of such deals. At the very least, the FCC has to assure that AT&T's sponsored data fees won't pose a hurdle to new companies seeking to compete with DirecTV online. Otherwise, AT&T will be blazing a trail that's likely to be followed not just by AT&T in its proposed acquisition of Time Warner — a major source of movies and TV programs — but also by the rest of the wireless industry, to the detriment of smaller and more innovative content and service companies online.
The Washington Post on the Dakota Access Pipline:
The Obama administration announced Sunday that it is denying an easement needed to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would run crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The project is mostly built on private land but requires approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to cross federally regulated waters, including Lake Oahe, a section of the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe , which governs a reservation near the lake, objects that the project threatens its water and violates sacred land. The protest camp the tribe created has swelled with activists from across the country, who have clashed with local authorities. So, with the harsh Dakota winter descending on the camp, the Army Corps said Sunday it would examine new routes in consultation with tribal leaders.
It is hard not to have sympathy for the tribe. Driven off their territory and cordoned into a small reservation, the Standing Rock and other Native American communities were victims of grave injustice as white Americans moved relentlessly west in pursuit of land and fortune. The area outside the reservation still holds historical and cultural significance, which deserves careful consideration.
Yet that is exactly what the Standing Rock Sioux already received, to the degree the federal government could provide it. A September court ruling denied its request for an injunction against the project, in part because, according to U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg, the federal government exceeded legal requirements that it consider potential archeological damage and seek input from Native American leaders when considering permits for pipeline water crossings. In fact, the court documented the great lengths to which the Army Corps went to engage with the Standing Rock Sioux and adjust the routing when concerns were aired.
The tribe demanded more, including that the Army Corps scrutinize the pipeline route from beginning to end — even though the agency does not have jurisdiction over the private land on which most of it will run. Mr. Boasberg noted that the tribe made this request for administrative overreach based on little serious evidence of impending harm. "Standing Rock needs to offer more than vague assertions that some places in the Midwest around some bodies of water may contain some sacred sites that could be affected," the judge wrote.
For its part, the Army Corps insists it faithfully followed the law but that it made a "policy decision" to seek "a more robust consideration of alternatives and additional public information," according to a spokeswoman. Yet it is not as though the originally proposed route, which at places carefully snaked around sensitive sites, was arbitrary. In fact, it would parallel an existing gas pipeline tunneling below Lake Oahe. If this new process uncovers a Goldilocks route that everyone can support, great. But, as with any infrastructure project, it is unlikely there is a magic solution that satisfies every preference. Politicizing the permitting process, moreover, is unlikely to make it fairer.
The Dakota Access affair is the second major instance of pipeline activism in recent years. It and Keystone XL became highly visible symbols of much larger fights about the environment and tribal rights. But no matter how big the issues activists attached to them, these pipelines, at their core, are nothing more than routine infrastructure projects, thousands of which underpin the U.S. economy. The approval or denial of one or two will do little to cure global oil addiction or right generations of harm to tribal groups.