Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Toronto Star on American envy of Canada:
Somewhere in the Canadian psyche is a residual puritanism, a cast of mind H.L. Mencken defined as the haunting fear that somebody somewhere might be happy and doing well.
Even 150 years after Confederation, it remains a national pastime to scan the landscape for tall poppies, ensuring none of us get above ourselves.
We admire success. But too much flamboyance in the achieving of it, any straying from a sort of Sidney Crosby "aw-shucks-another-trophy" in response, elicits a chorus of school-marmish clucking.
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau learned again recently.
Thanks to motley rock'n'rollers Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, the epitome of pop-culture status over the last 45 years has been getting one's picture on "the cover of the Rolling Stone."
In the latest issue, Trudeau made it. Hugely. His image mavens couldn't have written it up better themselves.
The American magazine asked on its cover, "Why can't he be our president?" A headline declared him "The North Star." The photo array made him appear God's gift to fitness, virility and, of course, hair.
The story ended, nodding to the ongoing tempest in the White House, by saying Trudeau's Canada looked like a "beautiful place to ride out an American storm."
Naturally, this being Canada, harrumphing duly ensued, along with mutterings at home that Trudeau get back to work and stop being so darn photogenic and popular with international media.
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt went so far as to say the magazine fluff might jeopardize free-trade talks between the two countries by upsetting the volatile President Donald Trump and Trudeau shouldn't have risked it.
Nonsense. That's the attitude of the enabler, saying the sane world should contort itself so as not to provoke those who would abuse their power.
How quickly we take the favours of fortune and elections for granted. Until recently it was the United States that had the cool, progressive president, while Canada was led by a chap of surpassing gloom and resolute unhipness.
In the last two years, that's reversed, utterly. Canada is led by a feminist in flashy socks. America is presided over by an erratic tweet freak. As the good Dr. Hook sang, "it's all designed to blow our minds . . ."
Raitt and her dour ilk would do well to fret less and enjoy the fleeting moment of American envy of Canada. It won't last.
The PM has a famous lineage to live up to, huge expectations and promises to meet. Reckonings will come.
Meanwhile, let's hope he buys five copies for his mother.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch on a new FDA cigarette regulation:
Where there's smoke, there's not always fire, and the FDA seems to understand that could make all the difference, at least when it comes to people's health. It's dangerous to assume too much when a federal agency announces its long-term plans, but there appears to be a good deal of common sense in the Food and Drug Administration's recent announcements regarding cigarettes, nicotine, and vaping, which the FDA refers to as electronic nicotine delivery systems. Bureaucracies will be bureaucracies.
Still, we find it encouraging to see the FDA clearly state that nicotine, the addictive drug in tobacco, "is delivered through products that represent a continuum of risk and is most harmful when delivered through smoke particles in combustible cigarettes." In other words, there are a number of ways to get your nicotine hit these days, but lighting up clearly causes the most damage to your health. As a result, the FDA is giving some breathing room to e-cigarettes and other devices that take the smoke out of smoking. The agency recognizes that vaping is not a risk-free activity — what is? — but is resisting the curious efforts of some anti-smoking crusaders to kill the vaping business. Cold turkey, anyone?
It seems wise to allow people a chance to get their nicotine without sucking down hot gases from burning leaves. Concerns about vaping as a gateway to nicotine addiction among young people are legitimate and the FDA intends to address them seriously.
Plans to consider limits on the amount of nicotine in old-fashioned "combustible" cigarettes may be worth exploring but we suspect they're a step too far — and could open a pack of unintended consequences. Smokers tend to regulate their own nicotine consumption, by inhaling deeper or by smoking more cigarettes. Studies are decidedly mixed on the benefits, if any, of so-called light cigarettes.
Altria, the Richmond-based tobacco giant, gave a prudently low-key response to the FDA announcement: "We supported FDA regulation because, among other things, it created a framework for communication about reduced harm products. ... The process outlined by the commissioner (Friday) will allow all stakeholders the opportunity to participate in a science and evidence based regulatory framework which is 'transparent, predictable, and sustainable.' " Hard to argue with that.
Helping the public battle nicotine addiction is a worthy objective. But encouraging innovation about safer ways to satisfy the urge seems more promising than prohibitions on the amounts of nicotine allowed in traditional coffin nails. For now, the FDA appears to be steering a sensible course on cigarette regulation.
The New York Times on whose message to believe on Russia:
Far from the chaos and cacophony of Washington's unending debate over Russia policy, Vice President Mike Pence has been delivering a remarkably consistent message on a trip to Eastern Europe this week — praising old alliances and reaffirming America's commitment to defend democratic nations against those countries that would undermine them. Too bad these sentiments aren't as eagerly embraced and celebrated by the man he works for back in the White House.
On Tuesday, Mr. Pence commended Georgia for its democratic development since the collapse of the Soviet Union, pointedly noted that Russian tanks are still deployed in South Ossetia nine years after Moscow invaded the region, and promised: "We are with you. We stand with you."
A day earlier in Tallinn, he told the leaders of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, all NATO members, that the United States "stands firmly behind" the alliance's Article 5 mutual defense pledge and "rejects any attempt to use force, threats, intimidation or malign influence in the Baltic States or against any of our treaty allies."
Mr. Pence left no doubt why he regarded a united NATO as "more necessary today than at any point since the collapse of communism" a quarter century ago. "No threat looms larger in the Baltic States than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east," he said, blaming Russia for continuing to "redraw international borders by force, undermine the democracies of sovereign nations and divide the free nations of Europe one against another."
The vice president's blunt analysis of the problem and robust alliance commitments reflect fairly traditional American thinking on Russia. In the face of increased Russian aggression, and worsening tensions between Moscow and Washington, his trip, as well as earlier visits to Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe by the secretaries of defense and state, is an important signal to allies and partners living in Russia's shadow.
Like Mr. Pence, most administration security officials view Russia as a leading adversary. Adding to their concerns are Russian plans to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest moves yet in the military buildup launched by President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Pence repeatedly told his listeners that he was speaking for President Trump as well as for himself. But saying that doesn't make it so. Mr. Trump continues to undermine such reassurances by word and deed, the result being an incoherent policy that is bound to be read as weakness or uncertainty by Mr. Putin, as well as allies, and will not serve American interests. In Poland recently, Mr. Trump reaffirmed adherence to the mutual defense obligations enshrined in Article 5 of the NATO agreement. But can he be trusted on that score given that the words came only grudgingly, under pressure, after months of anti-NATO diatribes?
Mr. Pence told the Georgians that the United States stands by a 2008 NATO statement that their country would one day be a NATO member. But here, too, there are doubts about the strength of Washington's commitment and whether Mr. Trump would risk further undermining his relations with Mr. Putin by following through on the promise.
Suspicions about Mr. Trump's views on Russia began with his admiring comments about Mr. Putin and only grew when American intelligence agencies found that Moscow had hacked the 2016 campaign. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has not so far responded to Mr. Putin's sweeping order on Friday that the United States shrink its embassy and consulate staff by 755 people, to 455, as well as Moscow's announcement that it was seizing two American diplomatic properties.
The tweeter in chief's failure to criticize Mr. Putin on this matter has raised obvious questions, as has his delay in signing legislation passed by Congress last week imposing tough but necessary economic sanctions on Russia for meddling in the election; the impending sanctions precipitated Mr. Putin's expulsions.
Mr. Trump came to office wanting to improve relations with Russia, a reasonable goal with such an important country. And even though Mr. Putin's interference in the election and other destabilizing behavior, including the annexation of Crimea, have narrowed the room for cooperation, it is in the interest of both sides to try. But to have any real hope of managing this complex and delicate relationship, Mr. Trump will have to put together a firm, consistent and credible approach that can persuade Mr. Putin, the allies and Americans that he knows what he is doing and that his team is on the same page.
Los Angeles Times on the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline through the Appalachian Mountains:
The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline would carve a 150-foot-wide swath through the Appalachian Mountains, including a several-mile stretch tracking and then crossing the Appalachian Trail — the revered 2,168-mile hiking route that extends from Georgia to Maine.
The threat to the bucolic nature of that trail (even though it already crosses roadways about every four miles) has drawn a national spotlight to the project, one of a half-dozen pending or approved natural gas pipelines running from Appalachian shale fields to outlets along the East Coast and in the Midwest. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which recently issued a final environmental impact statement for the Mountain Valley project, needs to ensure that the pipeline, if it goes forward, will be minimally invasive to such beautiful terrain, and have as little impact on the Appalachian Trail as possible.
But the bigger question is when and whether such pipelines are necessary, and whether FERC, which must approve all interstate gas pipelines, is up to the task of deciding.
Critics argue that the commission is too cozy with the pipeline industry and too quick with the approval stamp (which is especially galling for landowners who then lose property to pipelines through eminent domain). They say it does not adequately weigh public input and fails to take a broad view of the state of the natural gas supply, as well as its impact on the environment.
In a controversial statement filed as he left FERC earlier this year, former commissioner Norman C. Bay (an Obama appointee) argued that while FERC has been approving pipelines to ship gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it "has never conducted a comprehensive study of the environmental consequences of increased production from that region" in determining the environmental impacts of the pipelines themselves. Such a narrow focus fails, for instance, to account for the amount of methane incidentally released into the atmosphere, which has an exponentially higher short-term impact on global warming than carbon dioxide.
What's more, just because a pipeline's builders can show they have buyers for the gas does not mean the pipeline is necessary; nor does the short-term demand justify infrastructure investment with half-century shelf life.
FERC officials say they listen to all sides, and note that the commission lacks the authority to regulate how gas is produced or captured — just how it reaches its market.
To be sure, natural gas is a better alternative to higher-polluting coal in generating electricity or heating homes (which it long ago supplanted), but gas is still a fossil fuel and the world should be focused on weaning itself as much and as fast as it can to limit the worst effects of global warming.
There are several reform proposals floating around to make FERC more effective. One, introduced by two Virginia Democrats in the Senate and by a West Virginia Republican in the House, would tackle several issues, including requiring more public hearings in more locations along a planned pipeline route. Another proposal is to change the framework for how FERC measures need, requiring it to consider the aggregate impact of pipelines, rather than just taking each application as it comes.
FERC needs a review of what its mission is and whether that mission is being achieved. It seems foolish to weigh the merits of pipeline proposals individually, and without accounting for the entire environmental impact of moving gas to market. In an era of global warming, it's also foolish to expand infrastructure that will serve to hasten climate change, rather than combat it.
Given the "drill, sell, burn" mindset in the White House and Congress, meaningful reform will be hard to achieve — the prevailing philosophy favors less government involvement and the undoing of even efficient regulatory regimens. Still, the effort needs to be made for the sake of the environment's sake, for consumers who could well wind up shouldering the costs of overdeveloped and unnecessary infrastructure, and for investors who would be on the hook if that expensive infrastructure becomes obsolete as the world moves away from burning fossil fuels.
Chicago Tribune on North Korea recently launching a missile that's apparently capable of hitting the U.S. mainland:
North Korea recently launched a missile that appears to be capable of hitting targets in the U.S. mainland, including Chicago. Pyongyang says that Washington should regard the launch as a "grave warning."
No argument there.
This sobering development comes years earlier than many experts had predicted. The upshot: The U.S. policy of "strategic patience" — waiting for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to come to his senses and the bargaining table — is officially over.
President Donald Trump needs a far more muscular policy than his predecessor's, pronto. What will that be?
So far, there's been talk of shooting down North Korean test missiles as a warning. But that could provoke Pyongyang to rain massive conventional retaliation on Seoul. Bad sequence.
There's been smarter talk of amping up the U.S. cyber campaign to send the North Korean missile program into a tailspin, much as the U.S. did against Iran's nascent nuclear program. But we hope that effort is already happening.
And the U.S. also is moving to impose economic sanctions against Chinese banks and businesses for trading with North Korea. Let's hope there is much more of that to come.
What hasn't worked yet: haranguing China, Pyongyang's major trading partner and ally, to do more to rein in the outlaw Kim regime. As President Trump rightly tweeted about China, "they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk."
Cut to America's recent display of military prowess: Two supersonic B-1 bombers streaked over the Korean peninsula as part of a joint exercise with Japan and South Korea. U.S. forces also demonstrated the effectiveness of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD), which detected, tracked and intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile launched from Alaska.
All this posturing is directed not only at Kim Jong Un, but also the leaders of China and their "What, us worry?" attitude.
The last thing China wants is U.S. supersonic bombers roaring close to its borders.
The last thing China wants is a potent demonstration of how the U.S. can knock down missiles before they reach the American mainland.
The last thing China wants is Japan and South Korea seriously mulling whether they should go nuclear to defend themselves. Both countries are believed to be capable of jump-starting a nuclear program on short notice. At the moment, however, both countries rely on U.S. nuclear deterrence for their security. The big question: Can North Korea be deterred, just as the Soviet Union and China were? In other words, do the North Koreans believe that the U.S. will retaliate, possibly with nukes, if North Korea attacks Japan or Seoul? The greater the doubt, the greater the risk that North Korea will make a first strike.
All of this is unsettling and happening in China's neighborhood. And as any businessman will tell you, rising tensions and threats of war aren't good for business.
China has a choice. It can help defuse the situation by choking off its energy trade with North Korea. It can make Kim Jong Un and his elites go without their favorite cognac and fancy cars. China can yank hard on the North's economic lifeline and help inform average North Korean citizens that they could live far better lives without the Kim regime and its brand of leader-take-all communism. Just look south.
Beijing, the choice is yours. Every North Korean missile launch brings confrontation closer.
The Washington Post on Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin repeatedly calling upon Congress to pass an increase in the statutory debt limit:
THERE SEEM to be two kinds of Republicans: those who think that the full faith and credit of the United States can be the subject of political experimentation, and sensible ones.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin fits in the latter category. He has repeatedly called upon Congress, controlled by the GOP, to pass an increase in the statutory debt limit, with no policy strings attached, so that the United States government may continue borrowing past the current, already expired ceiling of $20 trillion — and pay all of its obligations on time. The stability of the financial system, domestic and international, depends on preserving the "risk-free" status of U.S. debt, earned over centuries. A failure to raise the debt limit would imperil this status, causing a "serious problem," as Mr. Mnuchin has put it with considerable understatement.
Lawmakers have so far declined to follow his advice, however, thus violating Mr. Mnuchin's recommendation, made six weeks ago, to take care of business before the August recess, which for the House began July 29. Mr. Mnuchin can continue to pay the federal government's obligations by means of "extraordinary measures" through about mid-October, but he says the drop-dead date for legislative action is Sept. 29 — giving Congress just 12 working days after it returns from August recess.
Mr. Mnuchin is getting no help from Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, who hails from the wing of the GOP that believes in playing political games with this issue. On Sunday, Mr. Mulvaney answered "yes" when CNN's Jake Tapper asked if the White House policy was to insist Congress not vote on any other legislation, including the debt ceiling, before trying once again to repeal Obamacare. This appeared to reopen a rift with Mr. Mnuchin that first appeared in the spring, when Mr. Mulvaney spoke of making a debt-limit extension contingent on spending cuts — only to be publicly contradicted by Mr. Mnuchin, apparently with President Trump's authorization.
Now, who knows? Certainly Mr. Mnuchin's delicate talks with Republican and Democratic senators on a possible debt-limit deal haven't gone anywhere, and probably won't as long as neither side in the Senate knows exactly where the White House stands. "The Trump administration believes it's important to raise the debt ceiling as soon as possible," said Sarah Huckabee Sanders at her daily news briefing Tuesday — fine as far as it goes, but not quite an endorsement of unconditional debt-limit extension, which is Mr. Mnuchin's position and the only responsible one.
Mr. Trump's chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, got his new job with instructions to impose order on the chaos that reigns at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We can't think of a better place to start than by bringing everyone in the administration into line, starting with the man at the top, behind Mr. Mnuchin's position on the debt ceiling. The hour is getting late, and the stakes are immense.