Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Houston Chronicle on capital punishment as a policy:
Pride in our state's exceptional history and traditions related to the Old West may help explain Texans' clinging to some practices that should be consigned to the state's past. That includes the death penalty, which continues to be carried out more frequently in Texas than anywhere else in America.
In fact, this year Texas reversed course from the national trend it had been following and executed 13 people; which was more than the 12 executions that occurred in the rest of the United States. Seven people were put to death in Texas in both 2016 and 2017.
After nearly 18 years in prison and numerous appeals, Joseph Garcia was executed Dec. 4 at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. Garcia was one of the "Texas Seven" inmates convicted of murder in the Christmas Eve 2000 slaying of a North Texas police officer during their escape attempt.
With 224 inmates currently on death row in Texas, a 25-year low, more executions appear certain to follow Garcia's. Less certain is what those executions will accomplish other than removing those executed from society — a goal that could be achieved just as well and less expensively by life sentences.
The cost leading to an execution, including appeals and incarceration, easily exceeds $1 million; compared with less than $700,000 to keep an inmate in prison for 40 years.
Of course, money isn't the most important reason for Texas to reconsider capital punishment. With DNA testing and other improved evidence collection methods, it is now indisputable that sometimes the wrong person is sentenced to death.
The Innocence Project says at least 162 inmates have been released from death row nationwide because they were wrongly convicted. The reasons range from mistaken eyewitness identification, official misconduct, and false or misleading forensic evidence.
A report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that "approximately one out of every 24 prisoners" on death row nationwide between 1973 and 2004 was wrongly convicted.
Not even one death of an innocent person should be considered acceptable or the collateral damage of an imperfect criminal justice system. That imperfect system becomes even harder to defend when viewed through the lens of race, which shows the color of a defendant's skin can determine whether he or she is sentenced to death.
All seven defendants sentenced to death in Texas this year were people of color. That's no anomaly. In the past five years, more than 70 percent of death sentences in Texas have been imposed on people of color — and in particular, African Americans.
Blacks are less than 13 percent of the Texas population but 43 percent of the state's death row inmates. Hispanics are 38 percent of the state population and 27 percent of those on death row.
The American Bar Association says "the disadvantages faced by low-income defendants" also play a role in who gets the death penalty. Since blacks are disproportionately poor in America, they are more likely to be represented by defense counsel with high caseloads, poor training, and inadequate resources.
A recent study in the Boston College Law Review said the discrepancy in how black defendants are treated in America's courts is glaring. "White defendants are 25 percent more likely than black defendants to have their most serious initial charge dropped or reduced to a less severe charge," the study said.
Prejudice shouldn't be the difference in whether someone is put to death. Neither should a clumsy defense, mishandling of evidence, a mistaken eyewitness, or an overly zealous prosecutor with political ambitions — all of which have been factors in wrongful convictions.
The Supreme Court in 1972 ruled the death penalty as applied was unconstitutional, only to reinstate it in a 1976 ruling establishing what were expected to be better safeguards against arbitrary death sentences. Nonetheless, most states have abandoned the barbaric practice. Thirty-seven states have not had an execution in the past five years, and 31 of those states have not executed anyone in the past 10 years. Texas needs to join them.
Capital punishment is no deterrent to murder. Despite the high-profile serial-killer and mass-murder cases that get the most news coverage, homicides are more likely to result from personal conflicts involving people who know each other and aren't thinking about facing a judge in a court of law. A date with a lethal injection needle isn't on their minds.
No matter how or why a murderer killed someone, he should pay for his crime. Vengeance, however, should play no role in the outcome. Any vengeful satisfaction felt is fleeting. It will never fill the hole left in the hearts of a murder victim's family and friends.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls exiting Syria the right move for the United States:
Much of official Washington, members of Congress, and members of the press who regard themselves as wise heads on foreign policy are in a state of apoplexy over President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. They make two points: The way he did it was wrong, and the decision itself was wrong — the U.S. needs to stay in Syria.
One can certainly argue about any president's means and methods. And this president relies, to an alarming degree, on his own gut instinct over eminent advice and empirical evidence. But in this case Mr. Trump's instinct was right. It is time to get out of Syria.
One must start with why we got in. We deployed land forces in Syria to neutralize ISIS and, let's be honest, topple a bloody regime there. We have largely succeeded at the first goal and failed abysmally at the second.
So, why would we stay on at this point?
Although the political establishment, left and right, Democratic and Republican, and most of the top military leaders say this is not the time to withdraw, none, none, can tell us when the right time to withdraw is.
There is no right time. Look at Afghanistan.
And, of greater significance, no one can explain the current strategic advantage of U.S. ground troops in Syria. They are not stabilizing the country and they are not leading us to a negotiated peace, which is the only possible way to end the war. The war is at a stalemate and no one can win it militarily.
The rationale for staying is that, without a continuing U.S military presence, ISIS will reconstitute itself, Assad will dig in and the Russians will gain an advantage. All of this is possible, if not probable with U.S. troops on the ground.
Why not negotiate with the Russians and Assad? Evil though their regimes may be, they are an inherent part of the equation, and dealing with evil regimes (Saudi Arabia and China are examples) is the task of U.S. diplomacy.
Outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis is fond of saying that the military is only the first line of defense. It makes way for diplomacy. We have done, militarily, what we can do in Syria.
ISIS will surely rise again, in all kinds of places. We are not without options — intelligence, special forces, air power — when that happens. They are the same options we would have if we kept troops in Syria.
While national interest (and there is little pure national interest in Syria) should not be the only calculus of U.S. foreign policy, American military involvement has not advanced the cause of human rights in Syria. To the contrary, arguably.
Our initial involvement in Syria, by the Obama administration, was naive and ignored history. We not only underestimated Assad and the complexity of the situation, but we ignored our own past failures. We said we would bring freedom and democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, as we said, two generations ago, we would bring them to Vietnam. We failed because we did not understand those places or what it would take to accomplish those ends. Only in Japan, after World War II, did we succeed in establishing a new political order and culture of liberty. That had to do not only with the particulars of that society and the preface of total military victory, but a willingness by Japan to tolerate prolonged occupation and governance, and a willingness by the U.S. to sustain it.
Donald Trump ran for president on a promise to end U.S. military adventurism, world policing and nation-building. He meant it. Many Americans who did not agree with Mr. Trump on much else agreed with that. Mr. Trump made this pledge part of his "America First" foreign policy. And whatever else one might think of the president or that policy, he holds fast to the unique notion that the promises he makes as a candidate, he must keep.
Finally, there is the not insignificant matter of the U.S. Constitution. It says that a president must have a declaration of war from the Congress to go to war. But Presidents Bush (II) and Obama ignored this basic norm, which is not only a primary constitutional one, but a sound political one. (Congress passed resolutions approving action in Afghanistan and Iraq, but this fell short of the constitutional standard for a declaration of war).
If we are to send our young people into harm's way and ask them to risk their lives for us, the case for war must be made and won with the American people. That was not done for Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, just as the Vietnam-era presidents did not do it. Mr. Trump felt that no good case could now be made for a young American to die in Syria. This time his gut was right.
The Washington Post on the treatment of asylum seekers:
In testimony to Congress on Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spoke at length, and repeatedly, about the threats to which Central American migrants are subjected when they traverse Mexico on their way to seeking asylum in the United States. That was directly after she announced that asylum seekers who do reach the United States will now be returned immediately to Mexico, where they will await their scheduled court appearances — a process that currently takes more than three years.
Ms. Nielsen failed to explain why the migrants, whom she described as constantly beset by rapists, traffickers and other predators in Mexico, would fare better if forcibly returned to Mexico than they were while in transit there.
That's the dangerous paradox, and the hypocrisy, at the heart of the Trump administration's apparently unilateral move to compel Mexico to serve as a waiting room for tens of thousands of asylum seekers, most of whom now come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Facing vicious criminal gangs and scant economic opportunity, they flee those countries in search of better lives in the United States.
It is true that the surge in family groups seeking asylum has overwhelmed the U.S. system, including shelters bursting at the seams and immigration courts where the backlog is approaching 1 million cases. The administration is correct to be concerned by what President Trump calls "catch-and-release" — the practice of permitting asylum seekers to remain in the country, often for years, while awaiting court hearings that many migrants will skip. That is a form of dysfunction, and one that may encourage Central Americans to attempt the dangerous journey.
The question is which form of deterrence is workable, humane and legal. Family separation, which the administration tried to disastrous effect last spring, failed on all three counts. A more recent gambit, slow-walking processing at legal border points of entry, has had little or no deterrent effect. For now, courts have blocked the administration's attempts to narrow the criteria for asylum claims; and, on Friday, the Supreme Court quashed the administration's attempt to require that asylum seekers cross only at official border points of entry.
It's unclear whether the new "remain in Mexico" policy will dissuade migrants from making the northward trek, if U.S. courts even allow it to stand. (Forcing asylum seekers to wait in a third country may not be legal.) It also remains to be seen whether Washington's new stance results in unintended consequences — for instance, a surge in illegal entry by migrants who may despair at the prospect, and perils, of drawn-out waits in Mexico.
What is clear is that the United States is not absolved of responsibility for migrants legitimately seeking asylum simply because they are compelled to wait elsewhere. If asylum seekers are preyed on, exploited and harmed after having been returned to Mexico, U.S. officials will not be able to shrug off their moral responsibility. The United States is bound by law and international obligations to welcome and vet migrants fleeing persecution, and to grant asylum to those who meet specific criteria. That obligation cannot be abrogated by an announcement.
The Deseret News provides takeaways from the recently released 2018 version of the Human Freedom Index:
Freedom comes and goes in waves, but each wave crests higher and each trough sinks a bit less than the previous one. That's the analysis of Fraser Institute fellow Fred McMahon, and it provides a hopeful note to the awful news that freedom seems to be on the wane worldwide.
We hope this ever-rising analysis is true. Regardless, however, the current trend ought to set off alarm bells.
The 2018 version of the Human Freedom Index, published jointly by the Cato Institute, Canada's Fraser Institute and Germany's Liberales Institute, was released earlier this month. It shows that despite world history being filled with evidence of the awful things that accompany it, despotism is on the rise. Authoritarian leaders, promising enticing visions of law and order, efficient government and a return to some imagined past glory, seem to be popping up all over.
Russia, Hungary, Turkey, Greece, Argentina and Egypt have seen notable declines. The countries at the top and bottom of the list are no surprise. New Zealand and Switzerland are the world's freest. Venezuela and Syria bring up the rear. But the United States comes in a troubling 17th — although that represents a step up from previous surveys.
The report is important because it measures freedom, or the lack of coercive constraint, by 79 different indicators. One of its large subcategories is religious freedom, which has become an acute concern worldwide.
Other recent surveys have monitored the decline in religious freedom. Last summer, the Pew Research Center published its ninth annual study on restrictions on worship in 198 countries, concluding that high levels of government-imposed anti-religious activity are on the rise. Using 2016 data (the most recent available), the study said 42 percent of the countries had high or very high levels of overall restrictions, whether from government or private actions, a dramatic rise from only 29 percent in 2007.
The Human Freedom Index puts it this way:
"The exercise of religion can be both a supremely private matter involving a person's strongest beliefs and a social affair practiced in an organized way among larger groups. Restrictions on that fundamental freedom have been the source of some of the bloodiest and most drawn-out conflicts throughout history, and they continue to animate discord in numerous countries today."
While each of the study's metrics is important, religious freedom goes to the heart of human conscience. It is a basic and fundamental tenet of human dignity and liberty. Its suppression ought to be a warning sign, like the proverbial canary struggling to breathe in a coal mine, that trouble lies ahead.
We appreciate McMahon's optimistic view of the future, while noting that the tone of his insightful preface to the index is predominantly gloomy. He attributes the idea of freedom's steadily rising waves to philosopher Samuel Huntington. Newly freed people often have unreal expectations of how quickly prosperity will follow. This makes them vulnerable to politicians who claim to have a better way. When those promises fail, as they have recently in Venezuela and elsewhere, people desire a return to freedom with more realistic expectations.
"Freedom," McMahon wrote, "requires hard work and does not create overnight miracles."
As the index indicates, that hard work never ends. Even when supposedly won, freedom requires constant vigilance from generation to generation.
The Boston Herald advocates for Tucker Carlson and dissenting voices amid boycott effort:
The progressive mob is on the march, again. Its goal is almost always to shut down conflicting speech by decrying any dissenter as a racist or misogynist or other form of hater. When they've got a media type in the crosshairs, the preferred method used to silence the person they deem offensive is to intimidate advertisers.
Now, it's Tucker Carlson. On his Dec. 13 show, Carlson discussed the migrant caravan that had arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, and the immigration crisis at large. He said that there's pressure from "our leaders" to accept immigrants "even if it makes our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided." Monday he continued the theme, saying that in the Southwest, "thanks to illegal immigration, huge swaths of the region are covered with garbage and waste that degrade the soil and kill wildlife."
On several recent shows, Carlson has interviewed Genaro Lopez, an elected official.
In Tijuana, Lopez lamented the fact that members of the caravan were "trashing the street." During a Dec. 3 broadcast, Lopez told Carlson that "there's a lot of trash" and later explained that trash, along with home break-ins, drug possession and public drunkenness had caused local schools to be closed.
Immediately though, progressive groups called for Carlson to be blacklisted for using the word "dirtier." They hassled Carlson's advertisers and some have dropped the show as a result.
Carlson did not call migrants "dirty." We should not ascribe to him nefarious motives based on our own knee-jerk oversensitivity.
We should condemn bullying, blacklisting and boycotts pushed by activist groups. It will harm people on all sides of the political spectrum if this continues and only speech deemed risk-free by advertisers will see the light of day. The result will be less debate and discussion. Debate is healthy and we need more of it, now more than ever.
The Japan News raises concerns about U.S. President Donald Trump's policy without the guidance of resigning Secretary of Defense James Mattis:
There will be a loss of a presence that has continued to put the brakes on nearsighted decisions by U.S. President Donald Trump while attaching importance to relations with allies. There are inevitable concerns about a possible increase in the turmoil surrounding the U.S. administration's security policy.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has announced he will step down at the end of next February. In a letter to Trump, Mattis said, "You have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects," showing there were differences in opinion between the two over U.S. diplomatic and security policies.
The immediate reason for his announced resignation was a conflict over U.S. policy toward Syria.
On Wednesday, Trump announced the completion of a campaign to wipe out the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group, saying U.S. forces stationed in Syria would be withdrawn. Mattis is said to have urged Trump to change his mind, but the defense secretary's view was not accepted.
Mattis' decision to resign seems to indicate that he recognized the unbridgeable rift in their opinions and the limits of his influence as the Trump administration's emergency brake.
In Syria, ISIL has been nearly defeated in an offensive carried out by the U.S. and Kurdish forces, but remnants of the group are still scattered around. There are concerns that they could exploit the gap created by a withdrawal of U.S. forces and attempt to revive their group.
There is no doubt that Russia and Iran, both of which back the administration of Syrian President Bashar Assad, will expand their influence on Syria by taking advantage of a U.S withdrawal.
Avoid repeat of past mistake
The situation is preceded by the circumstances in which the United States hastily withdrew its forces from Iraq during the days of former President Barack Obama's administration, thereby resulting in the emergence of the ISIL group — after which U.S. forces were sent back to that nation. If Trump places priority on appealing to his supporters without closely examining the Syrian situation, he could repeat the same mistake.
Trump is also said to be considering a large-scale cutback in U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan, where there have been continued terrorist attacks by Taliban forces, which used to control the country.
The problem is that Trump only regards the stationing of U.S. soldiers overseas as a burden, and does not understand the role of such a U.S. presence in stabilizing the situation in each region and defending his own country and its allies.
There is also no overlooking Trump's approach of unilaterally making decisions about such important issues as the pullout of U.S. soldiers while making no close coordination with relevant government offices, U.S. allies and the nations concerned.
John Kelly, Trump's White House chief of staff, is also set to resign at the end of the month. As a retired U.S. Marine Corps general, Kelly, like Mattis, has continued to advocate that the U.S.-led alliance is underpinning international order.
There are concerns that getting rid of all high-ranking officials who give Trump candid advice will further reinforce a system in which he makes decisions without consulting others, thereby making his "America First" policy even more acute.
Even one false step in the handling of diplomatic and security policies could lead to such a grave consequence as a military clash or war. Trump must recognize his responsibility as supreme commander and facilitate a setup for devising and promoting a solid strategy.