Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
Richmond Times-Dispatch on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam:
Despite threats, pleas, and entreaties from senators and citizens, Democrats and Republicans, former governors and most of the General Assembly, Ralph Northam remains Virginia's chief executive — at least the last time we checked. And it appears, according to the law, that might not change anytime soon.
The University of Virginia's Larry Sabato, a relentlessly reliable source when it comes to the commonwealth's politics, has opined that in Virginia "you can't force a Governor to resign if he doesn't want to." Since Northam's actions took place decades before he became governor, Sabato added, the impeachment criteria in the state constitution "don't seem to apply" and a provision for removing a disabled governor "certainly doesn't."
So the decision whether to stay or go appears to rest primarily in the hands of Ralph Northam. The Times-Dispatch Editorial Page called for his resignation after he apologized Friday night for appearing in a photograph in which he wore either blackface or KKK robes. We also noted his troubling remarks about late-term abortion late last week.
The governor's rambling, disjointed press conference on Saturday — in which he retracted the admission that he was in the offensive photo, but admitted to appearing in blackface on another occasion in 1984 — did nothing to reverse our belief that he has lost the ability to effectively serve the commonwealth. The public calls for him to step down from Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner — both former governors — along with those from Reps. Bobby Scott and Donald McEachin, reinforce our conviction.
It is time for Northam to resume his life in the private sector. Every moment he continues to cling to power diminishes his reputation, credibility, and otherwise impressive record of service to country and commonwealth. His attempts to save his career suggest a growing sense of desperation. He is wrong, for instance, when he implies that many Virginians in 1984 did not understand how appalling it is to dress in blackface. Most of his contemporaries know — and knew — better. He should have too.
We bear no animus toward the governor. But for the good of his state, he must return his high office to the people. He has lost their confidence.
The New York Times on Venezuela:
The tense standoff in Venezuela between Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido has morphed into something far larger than a contest for power between a failed leader still supported by parts of the army and die-hard leftists, and a young legislator propelled to the front by popular demonstrations. In part because of the Trump administration's all-in support for regime change, the crisis has become a dangerous global power struggle. That's the last thing Venezuelans need.
There is no question that President Maduro must go, the sooner the better. Heir to the socialist rule of Hugo Chávez, he has led his oil-rich country into utter ruin. Its currency is useless, basic foods and medicines have disappeared and more than three million people have fled, fomenting refugee crises in Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador. The only solution is an interim government under Mr. Guaido, who as the head of the National Assembly has a legitimate claim to the presidency under the Venezuelan Constitution. It would lead to new presidential elections and a flood of emergency aid.
Pope Francis said Tuesday that he was willing to help mediate an end to the conflict if both sides agreed. He said he had received a plea from Mr. Maduro to help start a new dialogue.
"There needs to be the will of both parts," Francis said. He suggested beginning with small concessions from both sides, working toward a more formal negotiation.
In hopes of a peaceful resolution, many democratic governments have thrown their support behind Mr. Guaido. Twelve Latin American countries, the Organization of American States, Canada and more than a dozen members of the European Union have so far crowded into Mr. Guaido's corner alongside the United States, recognizing him as the interim president. Mr. Maduro's primary backers are Russia, China, Iran, Cuba and Turkey.
These are not entirely alliances of the like-minded. As in any geopolitical struggle, disparate interests are at play, and many include a suspicion or fear of President Trump's motives and potential means. For the hard-core conservatives in the Trump administration, Mr. Maduro is the failed standard-bearer of the scourge of socialism in Latin America and the beachhead for Russian, Cuban and Chinese influence. Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to rule out a military option.
The prospect of a proxy war that could spill over Venezuela's borders horrifies most Latin American leaders, as well as Canada and the Europeans. The Lima Group, which brings together Canada and a number of Latin American countries with the aim of finding a nonviolent solution to the Venezuelan crisis, held an emergency meeting in Ottawa on Monday at which it unequivocally rejected any foreign military intervention. "This is a process led by the people of Venezuela in their very brave quest to return their country themselves to democracy in accordance with their own constitution," declared the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, in a statement echoed by most Latin American and European supporters of Mr. Guaido.
In Mr. Maduro's camp, the motives are also mixed. China has huge loans out to Venezuela but has kept a low profile in the struggle, perhaps in the hope of cultivating a relationship with Mr. Guaido, should he prevail. Turkey's increasingly authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has long embraced Mr. Maduro as a comrade against Western, and especially American, hegemony. Russia has been his strongest supporter, channeling billions in aid and arms to Mr. Maduro, and has been most vocal in warning the United States to stay clear.
It is very much in American and Western interests to free Venezuela from such unholy alliances through negotiations between supporters of Mr. Guaido and Mr. Maduro. But the goal must be to do so in order to give the long-suffering Venezuelans a chance to freely choose their government and start the arduous task of rebuilding their economy, not to score a victory in an ideological struggle.
The Japan News on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty:
How can an uncontrolled arms race between the United States and Russia, with China joining in, be avoided? An environment must be created in which these nuclear powers can break through the current situation of rivalry with their hard-line stances and discuss arms control level-headedly.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump notified Russia that the United States will leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, on the grounds that Russia has been violating it. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also announced Russia's withdrawal from the pact. The treaty will become null and void six months after the notification.
The treaty, which the United States and Russia signed in 1987, stipulates that ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers must be totally abolished. Thanks to the treaty, the situation of the United States and Russia confronting each other in Europe with their nuclear missiles has been eliminated, and the confidence-building measures taken through verification work created the trend toward ending the Cold War.
The lapse of a treaty that played a historic role will be a heavy blow to the arms reduction system. The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which limits long-range nuclear forces and the like, will also expire in 2021. Talks on extending this treaty will inevitably be adversely affected.
The United States and Russia must not leave the current situation to take its own course but instead must make their fullest diplomatic efforts to keep the INF treaty from becoming invalid.
What the United States regards as problematic is Russia's new ground-launched cruise missile. Since the era of the previous U.S. administration under President Barack Obama, the United States has stressed its view that Russia has been violating the treaty and has demanded that Moscow eliminate the missiles.
Russia obstinately denies having violated the treaty. Such a stance of abdicating the duties of arms reduction as a nuclear state cannot be overlooked. It is understandable that the United States is beefing up its deterrence so as to protect itself and its allies.
The problem is that the recent U.S. notification of the treaty withdrawal came while Trump, even after he announced a policy of leaving the INF treaty last October, has not presented any concrete strategy toward Russia.
Also, because of the scandal of Russian conspiracy allegations surrounding the Trump administration, there is little likelihood for summit talks between Trump and Putin to be held now. How will Trump obtain a toehold for improving bilateral relations with Russia, which are said to be at their worst since the end of the Cold War?
Meanwhile, China, unfettered by the INF treaty, has been building up its medium-range missile capabilities. It is important for the United States and Russia to steadfastly maintain the existing framework, and also for China to be brought into the arms reduction efforts. The U.S. administration must deepen its cooperation with its allies and work out its strategies toward Russia and China.
Such an international race in missile buildup, which might reprise the one seen during the Cold War era, would drastically change the global security environment. Should such a rivalry play out in Asia, Japan would be seriously affected. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must beef up his approaches to both the United States and Russia.
During negotiations to draw up the INF treaty in the 1980s, the idea of permitting the Soviet Union to field its medium-range missiles in the Far East was also discussed. Then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone expressed to then U.S. President Ronald Reagan his concerns over that idea, leading to the realization of the missiles' total abolition. This can be a helpful example.
Boston Herald on the New England Patriots:
Another Tuesday, another rolling rally in downtown Boston. We are blessed in this city — everyone knows it.
... It is one of the rare occasions when so many people from all corners converge to celebrate something positive. Democrats, Republicans, independents, it doesn't matter. ... They're all thrown into the melting pot that is Patriots Nation.
This time next year we will be into election season, and, as a people, we will once again be divided and subdivided by our politics, ideologies and tribal assignments.
The same people high-fiving, hugging and toasting each other Tuesday will be torching each other on social media or face-to-face at political events. ...
It is too bad, too. We could take from the world champion Patriots a lesson or two in how to comport ourselves.
The Patriots employ the mantra, "Do your job." It is nice and simple. Just concentrate on your tasks, your life and embark on doing it the best you possibly can day in and day out.
To Julian Edelman that might mean running a sharp route or adjusting to a situation on the field. For us that could mean being better as parents or in the workplace despite all of the obstacles and challenges that are thrown at us.
After the slog that was Sunday's Super Bowl, the two teams that had spent hours brutalizing each other embraced and congratulated one another. A 300-pound man is hugged by an opponent he pancaked 10 minutes ago. It's mutual respect.
Monday morning Bill Belichick spoke to the press and talked about the traits that made Edelman so good. Edelman "epitomizes the work ethic, toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness, determination, will and extraordinary ability to perform under pressure," the coach said.
Imagine we worked on all of those things in our own lives. ...
We are not improving ourselves when we expend time and brain power trying to find ways to make fun of Donald Trump's hair or Elizabeth Warren's ancestry. Every minute we devote to getting outraged at a video of a young congresswoman dancing on a rooftop in college or of high school kids wearing MAGA hats is a wasted minute.
South Florida Sun Sentinel on the Electoral College:
When it seemed Mitt Romney might win the popular vote in 2012 but lose the Electoral College, Donald Trump called the system "a disaster for a democracy."
He was right about that. The election four years later confirmed it.
He is the fifth president to have won only on account of an archaic mechanism designed by elites who didn't believe the American people were sufficiently intelligent to choose their chief executive.
George Washington was scarcely back at Mount Vernon before the electors became mere functionaries for a mechanism stacked against the popular vote. It was designed in part to protect slavery.
Public confidence, the lifeblood of a democracy, is drained whenever a loser snatches victory from the person who earned it.
The Colorado Senate recently took a big step toward bringing presidential selection out of the 18th century into the 21st. It voted to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, binding Colorado's electors to vote for the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide. If the House approves, as it has before, Colorado would join 11 other pledged states and the District of Columbia, putting the Compact only 89 electoral votes shy of 270, the magic number to put it into effect.
Legislatures have the power to do this. It's the practical alternative to eliminating the Electoral College by constitutional amendment, an uphill climb requiring a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and ratification by 38 states. The smallest states, which have excess weight in the Electoral College, would block it. The Compact, on the other hand, needs no approval from Congress and the participation of only a few more states.
Florida should be one of them. Our 29 electors would give the vitally important reform a significant boost. But the only proposal before the Legislature, SB 552 by Sen. Kevin J. Rader, D-Boca Raton, goes in the wrong direction. It would award one elector to the winner in each congressional district with two electors going to the statewide popular vote winner.
Maine and Nebraska do this now. If every state did, Barack Obama would have lost the presidency to Mitt Romney in 2012 despite a 5 million vote lead nationwide.
In 2008, Republicans considered trying to impose districting on deep-blue California through its easily manipulated initiative system. That would have made it difficult for any Democrat to win the presidency in the foreseeable future.
Voting by districts has an inherent Republican bias, owing to the fact that Democrats tend to concentrate in urban areas, while Republican voters are distributed more evenly throughout the country. That's without gerrymandering in the mix. Moving to choose electors by district would encourage even more of it. Presidential races would be predetermined like most seats in the House of Representatives. Last year's blue wave was an exception.
It may be a challenge to persuade Republican politicians to endorse reform. They have won every electoral dysfunction since the birth of their party. But that isn't guaranteed. A shift of just 60,000 votes in Ohio would have elected John Kerry in 2004 despite President George W. Bush having more votes nationwide.
It isn't difficult to imagine a future election, if not next year, in which a moderate Republican almost wins California and New York and has a popular majority but loses the electoral vote.
What's wrong with the present system goes deeper than party. That's true also of voting by districts, which is not a fair or reliable substitute for the national popular vote.
Another major liability is that the present system treats most voters — those living everywhere but in 10 or so "battleground" states — as unworthy of attention. There is no incentive for a Republican to troll for votes in California or New York, or for a Democrat to appeal to Texas. In 2016, thirty-eight states saw practically no campaign activity. It took place almost entirely in the 12 "battleground" states. Fewer voters went to the polls where their votes were taken for granted.
Voting by districts would do little to change that because so few of them are competitive. The Interstate Compact, on the other hand, is designed to compel candidates to appeal for votes everywhere. It puts the whole nation into play.
The Washington Post on President Donald Trump's State of the Union address:
Having been forced to delay his State of the Union address by a government shutdown that he precipitated, President Trump seemed as though he might never yield the podium once he got his chance Tuesday night. In a speech that reflected endurance if not eloquence, Mr. Trump offered a thin sheen of "unity" over large helpings of the same old polarizing demagoguery.
"We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions," Mr. Trump declared. If those were truly his goals, he would have committed not to declare a phony state of emergency in order to build his wall against congressional wishes. He would not have recycled at great length his inflammatory and false portrayal of a "tremendous onslaught" of illegal immigrants. He would not have slandered the governor of Virginia as having pledged to "execute" newborn babies, and he would not have made the absurd and nervous-sounding claim that "ridiculous partisan investigations" threaten national prosperity and security.
Mr. Trump fairly saluted the one substantial bipartisan accomplishment of his presidency, passage of criminal-justice reform. He also mentioned areas of possible future bipartisan agreement, such as investing in the country's roads, rails and airports and lowering prescription drug prices. Yet even in these areas there will be no progress without serious, nitty-gritty legislating and compromise. Wide partisan gaps exist on questions such as how to fund an infrastructure package. Mr. Trump's inconsistent negotiating style, ignorance of detail, short attention span and maximalist demands make such compromise more difficult. If there is going to be bipartisan accomplishment in this Congress — and, with Democrats now controlling the House, any accomplishment will have to be bipartisan — lawmakers will have to take the lead.
In fact, Tuesday's speech underscored the need for lawmakers to reclaim Congress's prerogative on trade, foreign policy and other key issues from an impetuous, drifting president. Mr. Trump on Tuesday termed "calamitous" the decades of trade policies that in fact have helped produce the quality of life Americans enjoy while spreading prosperity around the globe. His unfounded claims included his insistence that the North American Free Trade Agreement was a "catastrophe," that the United States would be in a "major war" with North Korea had he not been elected and that Venezuela's collapse shows why Americans should reject "new calls to adopt socialism in our country."
Lawmakers should insist on more oversight of the president's use of national security as pretext to raise trade barriers. They should reaffirm U.S. support for democratic values and human rights, stand up to the encroachments of authoritarian states, defend traditional alliances, and resist a premature withdrawal from the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Congress also could try to make progress on the nation's greatest challenges, which Mr. Trump neglected in his speech as in his governing. He made no mention of climate change, even as the planet's prospects grow ever more alarming. He said nothing about rising wealth inequality, which his tax reform exacerbated. Nor did he discuss the country's rapidly rising debt, which Mr. Trump also has worsened.
If the health of the union is to improve over the coming year, Congress will have to take the initiative.