Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on the deadly attack at a Christmas market in Berlin:
The populist right has wasted no time waiting for facts to emerge about the identity of the attacker in Berlin or a motive to slam Chancellor Angela Merkel for her humane asylum policy and to push its xenophobic agenda. This dangerous — if predictable — reaction plays directly into the hands of the Islamic State, which would like nothing better than to start a war between Christians and Muslims in Europe.
Shortly after the attack on Monday, Marcus Pretzell, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, viciously tweeted, "These are Merkel's dead!" On Tuesday, Geert Wilders, the leader of the Netherlands' Party for Freedom, tweeted an image of Ms. Merkel spattered with blood; Nigel Farage, of Britain's U.K. Independence Party, tweeted that such events "will be the Merkel legacy"; and Marine Le Pen, the French nationalist, issued a statement on the "Islamist" attack in Berlin and called for reinforcing Europe's national borders there.
More may soon be known about the person who drove a truck into a Christmas market near Berlin's Memorial Church, killing 12 people and injuring at least 48. A Pakistani immigrant detained after the attack was freed Tuesday, and the assailant, still unidentified, remains at large.
As the police asked the public to stay vigilant, Ms. Merkel, who said "we must assume" the attack was an act of terrorism, appealed to Germans not to let terrorism steal their way of life: "We do not want to live with the fear of evil paralyzing us." Still, Christmas markets in Berlin remained closed on Tuesday. London's Metropolitan Police assured that it had "detailed plans for protecting public events," and France's interior minister, Bruno Le Roux, said that after the attack, "security for Christmas markets was immediately reinforced." Heightened fears across Europe are understandable; the attack resembled one on Bastille Day in Nice, where a truck was used to slaughter more than 80 people.
The Berlin attack risks igniting in Germany an already charged debate on refugees. "It would be particularly difficult for all of us to bear if it is confirmed that this deed was carried out by a person who sought protection and asylum in Germany," Ms. Merkel said. Running for re-election next year, she is politically vulnerable, with mounting opposition to her government's asylum policy. Last New Year's Eve, assaults on women in Cologne by mobs of North African and Arab men set off outrage. In July, a 17-year-old Afghan refugee attacked passengers on a German train and a 27-year-old Syrian asylum seeker blew himself up in southern Germany, wounding 15 others, compounding public fears.
President-elect Donald Trump also jumped in on Monday, lumping the Berlin attack with the assassination on the same day of Russia's ambassador to Turkey and an attack within hours at an Islamic prayer center in Zurich, tweeting, "The civilized world must change thinking!" That is the wrong response. The motivations for the attacks appear completely different. In Zurich, the assailant, a Swiss citizen of Ghanaian descent, opened fire on worshipers, wounding three, and was later found dead not far away.
Protecting the public and foiling terrorism in Germany and across Europe will require far greater cooperation on intelligence and policing among neighboring nations. That work will become even more urgent as the Islamic State, facing defeat in Syria and Iraq, trains its sights on Europe with new vengeance. But as governments expand counterterrorism efforts, as they should, they must also avoid tarring the vast majority of Muslims in Europe, whether recent asylum seekers or longtime residents, who are law-abiding people as vulnerable to terrorism as anyone else, and are now themselves the target of hate crimes.
With each new attack, whether on a Christmas market or a mosque, the challenge to Europe to defend tolerance, inclusion, equality and reason grows more daunting. If Europe is to survive as a beacon of democratic hope in a world rent by violent divisions, it must not cede those values now.
The Los Angeles Times on death sentences in the U.S.:
A San Bernardino County judge is expected to follow a jury's recommendation next week and sentence Gilbert Sanchez to death for the 2001 rape and murder of Sylvia Galindo, a 30-year-old Fontana bakery worker. That sentence will set, incongruously enough, a welcome national milestone. His would be the 30th death sentence imposed in the U.S. in 2016, the lowest annual total since the Supreme Court revived the death penalty more than 40 years ago.
The 2016 ebb point is not just a little bit lower than previous years, but down 39% from the 49 death sentences issued last year, and down 90% from the peak of 315 two decades ago, according to an annual report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center. The reasons for the decline are not crystal clear, but one factor is the general nationwide decrease in homicides, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
What's probably more significant, though, is that prosecutors are seeking death sentences less often, which could signal a crucial change in attitudes among those who hold significant power in determining who gets executed and who does not. Juries make that decision in nearly all states (Alabama is an outlier), but not unless they are asked to by the prosecutor filing the case. In fact, the Death Penalty Information Center report found that only 27 counties nationwide sentenced someone to death this year. The leader, unfortunately, was Los Angeles County, where four of the state's eight death sentences — also the highest in the nation, reflecting the state's most-populous status — were handed down. Alameda, Kern, Orange, Riverside counties issued one each; Sanchez will be the state's ninth (and San Bernardino's only one) this year.
And the landscape for capital punishment is changing. As national surveys have found a general decrease in public support for capital punishment in recent years, four high-profile, pro-death-penalty district attorneys in Florida, Texas and Alabama lost recent reelection bids in campaigns that centered on criminal justice reforms, including the death penalty. Executions themselves are also down, though that has less to do with mercy in the criminal justice system than with states having trouble buying lethal-injection drugs — pharmaceutical companies won't sell their products for use in executions — and with legal holds placed by courts or governors grappling with questions about the constitutionality of execution methods.
The year wasn't all good news for death penalty abolitionists, however. Despite the broad national trend away from popular support for capital punishment, voters here in California rejected a ballot initiative last month that would have banned it. Instead, they approved a competing initiative that will speed up the appeals process in ways that will likely violate the constitutional rights of the accused, increase the chances of an innocent person being executed and usurp the authority of the state court system. (The state Supreme Court put the measure on hold Tuesday while it considers a legal challenge.) Elsewhere, voters in Nebraska overturned a state law banning the death penalty, and Oklahoma voters preemptively adopted a constitutional amendment recognizing capital punishment.
So where does that leave the fight to end the death penalty? In an odd, but somewhat optimistic, place. Several federal judges have in recent years questioned the constitutionality of the way California and other states conduct the death penalty. And in recent dissents, Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer has called for his colleagues to reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty itself. Whether the justices will strike it down once and for all is the big question, especially with the empty Scalia seat still waiting to be filled.
But there is always hope that even a conservative legal mind will recognize that the mood of the country is shifting away from executions. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in a 1958 decision that the 8th Amendment's definition of cruel and unusual punishment "must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." We hope the court infers from the steady decline in death sentences that American society is maturing, and leaving capital punishment behind.
The Telegraph on Brexit and immigration:
When the Prime Minister appeared before MPs, there was something unedifying about Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, pressing Theresa May to put a number on European migration after Brexit. It is Mrs Cooper's job to probe these issues, but it would have been gracious of her to admit that the very reason for discussing European migration was that the Labour government she served opened Britain's borders to unlimited numbers of people from eastern EU states.
In reply, Mrs May largely maintained her habit of giving few details about her plans, but she did make an important statement of principle: there will be no numerical target for European migration after Brexit. This was derided by Remain-minded MPs who still fail to understand why Britain voted to leave the EU.
Brexit is not about cutting immigration or making foreigners unwelcome. It is about making sure that the rules governing their entry are made by politicians directly answerable to the British people. "When people voted they wanted us to be able to take control of our laws," Mrs May said, demonstrating that however vague she sometimes appears on the details of Brexit, she has a very precise understanding of its purpose.
She is right to eschew targets, as her experience with the misjudged promise to reduce overall net immigration to "tens of thousands" shows. Much as the regrettable attempt to fix aid spending has warped Whitehall and fuelled public anger, the "tens of thousands" target, missed by wide margins, has skewed entry rules and left voters cynical. Better to decide what skills the economy needs, then admit them under a regime made and explained by ministers - and properly fund the public services affected by the new arrivals.
It will take time for the post-EU immigration regime to take shape, but Mrs May has set the right direction. If any reminder was needed about why Britain was correct to regain control of its borders, look to Germany. Whether this week's horror in Berlin was caused by someone admitted under Angela Merkel's open-door policy, Germany has already suffered fatal terrorism facilitated by the EU's failure to control its borders, external and internal.
The first duty of a state is its people's security; that means proper immigration control. Thankfully, Britain will soon have that again.
The News and Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina on the end of Gov. Pat McCrory's term:
It was the Last Roundup for Pat McCrory, a governor with a blank slate of a record who was ignored and disrespected even by his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly for his four years in office. But the governor had one final chance to redeem his pride and demonstrate strength and statesmanship.
In signing two bills that outrageously take away appointive powers and other authority that resides in the governor's office, McCrory rolled over. And in the process, the more he kept trying to explain himself, the worse he looked.
The bills, courtesy of the GOP leaders in the General Assembly, shift some appointive power away from the governor's office, and require that Gov.-elect Roy Cooper's Cabinet appointees be approved by the Senate. The state superintendent of public instruction, now to be 33-year-old Republican Mark Johnson, will have new powers over public education. And Cooper will have fewer than one-third the patronage appointments McCrory had.
This disgraceful overreach by GOP lawmakers is for one reason: Cooper is a Democrat, and he is a strong leader who upended McCrory's re-election in a year when Republicans got the presidency and voters returned U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, whose record is lackluster, to Congress for a third term. McCrory was the sore thumb among Republicans, and legislative leaders fear Cooper's political skills. So with the excuse that Democrats once took powers from Republican leaders — true, but not on this scale — they proceeded to walk all over the separation of powers principle of democratic government.
Ironically, of course, this governor once got help from former Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican, and former Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, to defend the powers of the governor. McCrory successfully battled legislative leaders over the constitutionality of lawmakers' creation of some independent commissions. Both Martin and Hunt agreed the maneuvers were illegal.
Even as he signed off on the bills curbing Cooper's rightful authority, McCrory seemed to want it both ways. He said, for example, that he thought the provisions to make Cooper's Cabinet go through the Senate was "wrong and short-sighted." He said the issue needed to be resolved by the legislature and the governor-elect, as if that would be remotely possible. And then he signed the bills anyway.
The governor, as if to show his strength, also tried to take credit for stopping Republican lawmakers from "packing" the state Supreme Court with two additional judges to counter the Democratic majority that will exist after the swearing in of Mike Morgan to replace Republican Bob Edmunds. There are two problems with the governor's claim: the head of the state Republican Party ridiculed the media for reporting the possible move to pack the court because the issue was non-existent, and GOP leaders themselves put down the story. McCrory just gave them up and proved that there was indeed talk of such a move.
McCrory could have vetoed the bills, whereupon he would have been overridden. But at least he would have made a stand for the separation of powers to protect the authority of his successors. But once again and for a final time, the governor failed a test of leadership.
The Boston Herald on the electoral college:
Rather like those much touted recounts (which ended up giving more votes to Donald Trump), the liberal-left effort to overthrow the November election has ended with a whimper, not a bang.
So can we all take a breath and go back to our holiday shopping now?
Of course, there was the occasional "faithless elector" — like the guy in Maine who voted for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton, but then sometimes "movements" just don't turn out the way you think they will. And there was the elector from Texas who announced his decision to not vote for Trump in a New York Times op-ed.
What the effort to recruit Trump voters to stray from the fold did point out is a whole lot of unmitigated ugliness — not to mention hypocrisy — on the left.
Now we're thinking death threats and harassing emails and phone calls might not be the best way to win friends or influence Republican electors who might not thrilled with the vote they felt duty-bound to cast yesterday.
Pennsylvania's 20 electors got a police escort to the capital in Harrisburg. Michigan's electors also reported an inordinate number of threats.
Michael Banerian, a 22-year-old college student, told the Detroit News, "You have people saying 'you're a hateful bigot, I hope you die,'?" he told the Detroit News. The paper verified several death threats, including one in which the writer vowed to "put a bullet" in Banerian's mouth.
Sure, there were a lot of electors out there whose first choice would not have been Donald Trump, but at the end of the day, they showed respect for the process, for the Constitution and for the stability of the republic.
Meanwhile the left is becoming truly unhinged — which is hardly a productive way to expend energy and refocus the Democratic Party.
And by the way, did anyone tell these geniuses that throwing the election to the House would actually have the same result — a Trump presidency — just with more angst?
The Chicago Tribune on confiscated toys to be distributed to Venezuelan children:
Venezuela's nadir keeps finding a new low. The country's currency, the bolivar, has lost so much of its value that storekeepers have started weighing bolivar notes instead of counting them. Everyday living is all about lines — long, desperate lines for food, medical supplies, toilet paper and a host of other staples that have been scarce for months or years. Increasingly, Venezuelans are giving up and fleeing — by plane, on foot, or even on perilous boat rides that conjure up bygone images of Cubans escaping Castro.
Now, as Venezuela nears the holidays, President Nicolas Maduro thinks he has found the right salve for all this misery. Toys. Some 3.8 million of them.
Maduro's government has seized the toys from a distributor he claims hoarded them in a scheme to claim a shortage and foist higher prices on an unsuspecting public. A couple of company executives have been arrested. And now, Maduro, riding in on a white horse . wait, make that a sleigh pulled by reindeer . will oversee the distribution of 3.8 million toys to Venezuelan girls and boys. "Our boys and girls are sacred," an official with the country's consumer protection agency said on Twitter. "We will not let them be robbed of Christmas.
Never mind that starving Venezuelan families would rather see bread, meat, flour, cooking oil and medicine come down their chimneys this Christmas. The confiscation smacks of grandstanding by a socialist regime that has wrecked the economy and is now looking for scapegoats — and an image makeover.
But if Maduro thinks the ploy will convince Venezuelans he's less Grinch and more Kris Kringle, he's probably going to be disappointed. What he's doing is seizing private property so that he can boost his standing with Venezuelans. Hard to imagine Venezuelans will fall for it, especially when they're seething about another head-scratching idea he recently inflicted on the public.
Maduro, a Hugo Chavez lackey who rose to power with Chavez's death in 2013, declared earlier this month that Venezuela's largest bank note, the 100-bolivar note, would cease as legal tender. The government said hyperinflation rendered worthless that denomination, which equals roughly two cents on unofficial exchange rates widely used in the country. But money that would serve as a replacement — 500-, 1,000- and 20,000-bolivar notes — hasn't been made available to the public yet.
When Maduro gave Venezuelans 72 hours to turn in their 100-bolivar notes, they jammed into banks across the country to deposit the 100-bolivar bills into their accounts as credit. More than a third of them don't have bank accounts and are stuck trying to exchange the soon-to-be-expired money for 10-bolivar notes, which are still in circulation. In the midst of protests and looting sparked by the cash shortage, Maduro has extended the deadline for phasing out the 100-bolivar notes to Jan. 2. In the meantime, with Christmas around the corner, Venezuela is cash-starved. Hardly the holiday spirit, President Maduro.
Venezuela's best hope is a referendum that would oust Maduro from power. The opposition, which controls parliament, was on its way to gathering the necessary signatures to force a referendum, but the Maduro-controlled elections commission suspended the collection of signatures.
If Maduro can delay the recall vote a few more weeks, his government could survive. The country's next regular presidential election is in 2018. If a recall vote led to his ouster before mid-January 2017, an election would be held to fill the position. If he were recalled after that deadline, the current vice president — a Maduro loyalist — would complete the term.
But Maduro and his team have made a mess of a country that once lapped up the benefits of its oil riches. Violence and bloodshed are spreading in the streets, and bound to get worse.
Maduro can begin putting his country on a path toward recovery with a gift Venezuelans would welcome — his acquiescence to a recall referendum, and ultimately, the voice and will of his people.
The Knoxville News Sentinel on Dolly Parton's telethon to support Tennessee wildfire victims:
Dolly Parton demonstrated once again last week how much she loves the people of Sevier County, the rugged mountain community where she grew up. Her telethon, "Smoky Mountains Rise: A Benefit for the My People Fund," has raised nearly $9 million and counting for those who lost their homes in last month's wildfires.
The My People Fund, started by Parton, The Dollywood Foundation and Sevier County businesses, has pledged to give $1,000 a month for six months to each family who lost their primary residence in the blaze, which killed 14 people and scorched 17,000 acres in the tourist community. More than 1,300 families are known to have lost their homes.
Sevier County's most famous native swiftly went into action, putting the show together in a matter of days. The telethon aired last Tuesday on a host of networks, including GAC, AXS-TV and RFD-TV, and featured more than 20 live and pre-taped performances from stars ranging from Cyndi Lauper and Don McLean to Parton, Kenny Rogers, Chris Young, Chris Stapleton and Reba McEntire.
Celebrities opened their wallets, too. Dierks Bentley and Paul Simon each called in and pledged $100,000, and Young was on hand with members of the Country Music Association to present a $250,000 joint check from Kenny Chesney and the trade organization.
"I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the people who have donated from all over the country and to my friends who donated their time, their talent, and money for My People," Parton said in a statement. "The response has been so overwhelming that we haven't been able to count all of the donations yet; right now, in total, we have raised about $9 million for the folks who lost everything in Sevier County."
The telethon has been broadcast multiple times, so the final tally will be higher.
The proceeds will help families whose lives have been devastated by the wildfires. Donations of clothing, food and other items can only go so far, and it will take months for the displaced to return to some semblance of normalcy.
Many of those who lost their homes work or own businesses in Gatlinburg. The town lost many businesses, but the core of the commercial district escaped destruction.
While the tourism mecca has reopened to the public, it has not drawn the crowds that typically come for the Christmas season. The city had to cancel its popular Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade, and merchants and visitors alike have noted the falloff in business.
Dolly's voice is incomparable, and few can sing like Reba or Kenny. Not many East Tennesseans have the means to write a six-figure check. However, those who want to help can make the trek to Gatlinburg for a day or two of Christmas shopping. By patronizing the shops, restaurants and hotels in Sevier County, people can give tangible support to the area's residents and workers.
Dolly is singing the lead, but the rest of us can sing backup. The resulting harmony can help the recovery of a community that has lost so much.
The Los Angeles Times on Uber testing driverless cars in California:
Uber is at it again. The company, famous (or notorious, depending on your point of view) for flouting regulations as it built its disruptive, multi-billion-dollar business, rolled out a fleet of autonomous cars in San Francisco this week despite an explicit warning from the Department of Motor Vehicles that testing on public roads was illegal without a permit.
Never mind that 20 of Uber's competitors in the race to develop autonomous cars have followed the California DMV's rules and gotten testing permits. Never mind that new federal guidelines for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles anticipate that car companies will get a state's permission before testing driverless technology on its public roads. Never mind that Uber's executives were told by DMV officials before the launch that the company would need a permit to operate its autonomous vehicles.
Instead, Uber — in typical Uber fashion — found an apparent loophole in California's rules and chose to drive its driverless vehicles right through it. The regulations say a permit is required if the vehicle can drive itself "without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person." Defending the decision to forgo a permit, an Uber executive wrote in a blog post that "it's still early days and the company's cars are not yet ready to drive without a person monitoring them."
Of course they aren't, but that's not the point. No autonomous vehicle, including those covered by testing permits, can be driven in the state without a human monitor. The state requires that an operator sit behind the wheel during testing, ready to take control at any time. Why? Because the technology is unproven, and state regulators don't believe it's ready for uncontrolled operation on public streets — which is why California created, with industry input, a permitting process.
DMV officials didn't buy Uber's argument, nor should they have. Less than a day into Uber's new venture, the DMV threatened legal action if the company didn't halt testing. But Uber has refused to back down, insisting again on Friday that the "driverless" Ubers it has touted do not need permits because they are not really driverless, but rather vehicles equipped with advanced driver-assist technologies.
Uber built its business by challenging regulators and entrenched assumptions about how best to assure public safety. It successfully evaded the strict local rules that the taxi industry faces on fares, licenses and driver background checks by arguing that smartphone-summoned rides were different from taxis and should be regulated under new state standards. It has also avoided a variety of mandates on employers by classifying its drivers as independent contractors, not employees.
But c'mon, Uber — play by the rules this time. The DMV's regulations are designed to prevent companies from using public streets as laboratories for risky experiments. The permit requirement for self-driving cars is no loophole to be exploited. This is about ensuring that an important, potentially transformative technology is rolled out in a safe and transparent fashion.
What's especially frustrating is that Uber is blatantly ignoring one of the easiest, least controversial regulations facing autonomous vehicles. To get a testing permit, companies have to pay a $150 application fee, show proof of insurance and commit to submitting public reports detailing any crashes the vehicles have or instances when the human operator has to take control from the autonomous system. This is exactly the kind of information that regulators, the public and carmakers need in order to make informed decisions about the evolution and advancement of this technology.
Within Uber's rebellion is a threat to California: The company has suggested it can easily take its innovation (and the jobs associated with it) elsewhere. Uber began testing its driverless service in Pittsburgh this fall with essentially no regulation and little oversight from city or state officials. The company said there are other "pro-technology" cities and states that are willing to open their roads for testing and deployment without the rules and requirements that could slow the development of driverless cars.
But Uber is setting up a false choice for cities and states. They can and should be pro-technology and pro-safety. If Uber doesn't like the California DMV's rules — which, admittedly, are a work in progress — it doesn't have to test its cars here. But it can't have it both ways. If it wants to gather data about its experimental cars on California's streets, it should get a permit. Then it can address any objections it may have with the DMV while it works out the kinks in its technology.
The Montreal Gazette on Syrian refugees in Canada:
Canada has rolled out the welcome mat for more than 35,000 Syrian refugees over the last two years — 25,000 of whom arrived between November of 2015 and February 2016.
This "national project," as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it, has marshalled government resources and mobilized private citizens to help some of the millions displaced by Syria's cruel civil war.
Of the Syrians who have been welcomed so far, more than 18,000 are government-assisted refugees, while over 13,000 are privately sponsored by faith groups, community organizations or citizens, and 3,500 are a combination of government and private responsibility. Some 20,000 applications to come to Canada are still pending.
But one year into this monumental undertaking, it is clear that much hard work lies ahead.
A committee led by Senator Jim Munson has issued a report mapping out the challenges, both financial and logistical, that must urgently be addressed for the national project to be successful over the longer term.
For instance a large number of refugees will soon be heading into "Month 13", when their federal assistance or private support expires. Since most of the newcomers do not yet have jobs, many of these families will have to transition to provincial welfare rolls in the next month or so, which in many cases means a reduction of benefits.
Of utmost importance is language acquisition, which is the key to employment, education and full participation in Canadian life. More than 60 per cent of the refugees who arrived spoke neither English or French. But more needs to be done to ensure timely access to government-funded language classes, offered by either the federal government or some provinces. Better access needs to be provided in rural areas.
To ensure both parents are able to take advantage of the training, daycare services should be made available in tandem with the language courses. This would also give very young refugees an early start learning English or French.
Many Syrians who have come to Canada have had difficulty finding work. Some of the reasons for this include insufficient language ability, lack of recognition of their skills and foreign credentials, or a lack of training for the jobs available. More must be done concerning apprenticeship programs, mentorships, resources for retraining and a process to vet international accreditations to ensure the refugees can eventually support themselves.
Many refugees are struggling to make ends meet. Quicker processing of applications for child benefits and other assistance would help alleviate this difficulty.
Aggravating the dire financial straits of many refugee families is the fact their "transportation loans," issued by the government to cover their travel costs, are starting to come due and rack up interest. The Senate committee recommends forgiveness of the loans, or at the very least not charging interest.
The trauma of the violence in Syria has taken a toll on many refugees' mental health. The full extent is not yet known. Efforts must be made to ensure the refugees get the psychological help they need to cope.
Many refugees are enduring the heartbreak of being separated from family members who are still in the conflict zone or scattered around the globe. More consideration should be given to expediting applications that would allow families to reunite.
Canadians are enormously invested in resettling and integrating Syrian refugees. It is a point of pride for big-hearted Canadians. It is an expression of our fundamental values of openness and humanity. It has earned us praise the world over for our generosity as the United Nations holds Canada up as a model for others to follow.
But much is at stake. The success or failure of these efforts will have profound implications both for the Syrian refugees themselves and Canadian society as a whole. Canada must not lose its resolve in supporting those who are already here, even as new refugees begin to arrive
Canada must roll up its sleeves and continue the hard work it has started.