Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
Chicago Tribune on drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman:
El Chapo's murderous Sinaloa drug cartel was based in Mexico, but for years its American nerve center was Chicago. His henchmen from the Little Village neighborhood, twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores, turned the city into a conduit for as much as 1,500 kilos of cocaine and heroin each month that would be distributed throughout the U.S. and Canada. Often, drugs sent to American cities were stashed behind fake walls or in crates of frozen fish or avocados shipped in boxcars and tractor-trailers.
The twins from Chicago were business partners with the notorious drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, but they also were his undoing. They flipped on him, secretly recording him and other cartel members. "Amigo!" Guzman said to one of the Flores brothers in Chicago in a recording of an intercepted phone call. "Here at your service."
Once atop a drug smuggling operation that spanned four continents, Guzman, 61, now faces spending the rest of his life in prison after his conviction Tuesday in a Brooklyn federal courtroom. The 5 1/2-foot kingpin's "bloody reign," said Richard Donoghue, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, "has come to an end, and the myth that he could not be brought to justice has been laid to rest."
A declaration universally welcomed, but particularly in this city. A share of those drug shipments that came through Chicago stayed in Chicago. El Chapo's evil stoked street violence and ruined the lives of countless youths here.
In 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission branded Guzman "Public Enemy No. 1," a designation the commission had used just once before — for Al Capone. His fate sealed, Guzman now can don a different number, the inmate kind, that comes with an orange jumpsuit.
The Baltimore Sun on border security and keeping the government open:
Americans can be excused for not celebrating in the streets Wednesday when word leaked out that President Donald Trump will not be vetoing the border security agreement recently negotiated in Congress, which means that a second shutdown of the federal government appears to have been averted. It simply isn't customary to toast common sense. The avoidance of a crisis that was, in retrospect, so easily avoided isn't something Washington should be any more excited about than we are about our leaders' choice not to start each morning by pouring scalding hot coffee over their heads. Who expects congratulations for that?
But there is an important lesson here. And not just that House Democrats under Speaker Nancy Pelosi are going to have a lot of influence on what happens over the next two years. Or that border security — especially related to Central American refugees daring to seek a decent, safe life beyond their borders — is the most hyper-inflated domestic issue of our time. Rather, it is that President Trump can be corralled into making the correct choices even on an issue where his all-important political base is so emotionally invested. When Democrats in the House and Republican leaders like Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby in the Senate work together, they can, for lack of a better description, fence the president in.
Oh, the border security debate isn't over yet and probably won't be for the remainder of Mr. Trump's time in office. We have little doubt about that. White House advisers have already let it be known that they continue to scheme to find ways President Trump can divert federal dollars into wall funding whether it means stealing from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or picking the pocket of the U.S. Treasury's forfeiture account or perhaps diverting military construction funds. Some but not all of those manipulations may require him to declare a national emergency. And those efforts, should they materialize, will have to be dealt with on their own terms.
But take a moment to appreciate how thoroughly the legislative branch — and most especially GOP leadership — boxed Mr. Trump in. Lawmakers showed no stomach for a second shutdown. They recognized that Speaker Pelosi, in particular, had little incentive to capitulate and that Democrats won their House majority on the strength of their opposition to Mr. Trump's extremist immigration stand. They signed onto a deal that results in less border security funding than the president could have had last year when the Senate approved funds for that purpose. And what did they do when they saw the arrangement would result in no more than 55 miles of new "barrier?" Leadership spoke out in one voice to announce what a great victory their team had achieved.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy described Democrats as having caved on border wall funding. "You have to remember where (Speaker) Pelosi was — she who said no money for a wall," he observed during an appearance earlier this week on CNBC. "That's not the case. The Democrats have now agreed to more than 55 miles of new barrier being built." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly urged Mr. Trump to support the measure, telling reporters on Tuesday that the president got "a pretty good deal." You could practically hear the wheels turning in their heads: "No shutdown, no shutdown, no shutdown."
It's possible, of course, that this moment of sanity will come and go and Washington will return to the Trump approach to governance with its trademark fear-mongering and nationalism, outrageous behavior, tirades and scandals, erratic foreign policy and decision-making by whim. Or, maybe, just maybe, members of Congress will recognize that on issues of importance they can sit down and talk turkey, compromise and come to agreement and then force a reasonable course of action on a president who may recognize that his re-election chances in 2020 are greater the more he's in "executive time" and the less he's caught sticking his foot in his mouth.
That kind of Congress-built wall would be infinitely more useful than any barrier to be built on the Southwest border. Meanwhile, if Mr. Trump is serious about doing something about drug smuggling, he can surely find money to pay for more drug-sniffing dogs instead of bricks and mortar. It was, after all, a tractor-trailer carrying cucumbers that produced the largest-ever seizure of fentanyl by U.S. Customs and Border Protection last month in Arizona. The president would get universal applause for that action as well.
China Daily on a Middle East conference:
The two-day Middle East conference that started in Poland's capital Warsaw on Wednesday proclaims it will help promote peace and stability in the region. But it is sailing against the wind if it wants to yield any substantial result. There will likely be "all thunder and no rain" — as the Chinese saying goes — given the deep divisions between the United States and its European allies on such key issues as the Iran nuclear deal, as well as the diverse agendas being pursued by the participating countries.
The foreign ministers and senior officials from 60 countries are attending the conference. But the absence of Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, and the foreign ministers of key European powers such as Germany and France suggests Europe is not going to fall in line behind the US on the Middle East, especially after Washington last year unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — the EU still wants to save the deal — and its decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, which Europe considers too hasty.
And the fact that Iran was not even invited, and its ally Russia declined to attend, suggests the meeting will be more like a trial by default against Iran — Washington has already accused Tehran of destabilizing the region and supporting terrorism, and vowed to change its "behavior" — rather than a platform for relevant parities to come together and find a solution to the problem they face through consultations and negotiations.
Tehran has already dubbed the conference an "anti-Iran circus" and has firmly protested at Poland hosting the event.
But even though Poland is lobbying the US for a permanent US base on its territory as part of its efforts to strengthen the Polish-US alliance against Russia, and thus wants to keep in Washington's good books, it has sought to emphasize that Iran is not the sole focus of the conference.
And though the US may want the focus to be on Iran, other participants also appear to have different priorities. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, for instance, said he primarily wants to use the event to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
The attendees will also be keen to hear the US plans for promoting peace between Palestinians and Israelis, which is also on the agenda, although the controversial decision by the White House to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year has basically made it impossible for the US to continue playing its role as a peace intermediary.
The Palestinian government — which has called the Warsaw meeting an "American conspiracy" — has refused talks with the US until it implements a more balanced policy.
The quest for peace in the Middle East shall never cease, but unfortunately the Warsaw meeting despite its claim to be in pursuit of that purpose is unlikely to serve that end.
The Washington Post on the scandals entangling Virginia's governor and his lieutenant:
Neither Gov. Ralph Northam nor Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, each embroiled in scandal, gives any indication they are considering leaving office despite the broad consensus of Virginia's political establishment that they do so. That doesn't absolve the two Democrats of the obligation to address unanswered questions. To the contrary, the need is all the more urgent given that they have shaken the trust of even many ardent supporters.
For Mr. Northam, who spun heads by denying he'd appeared in a racist yearbook photograph less than 24 hours after admitting it, the questions mainly concern his credibility. How does he intend to repair it?
In the days after the damning photo surfaced, and following the disastrous news conference in which he made a hash of trying to explain it, the governor's aides let it be known that he planned to hire a private investigator to get to the bottom of the image's provenance. Fine, but there has been no further word from Mr. Northam on that — although he did hire a D.C. crisis-management agency. Eastern Virginia Medical School, in whose 1984 yearbook the photo appeared, has undertaken its own inquiry, led by a former Virginia attorney general, Richard Cullen.
But it is primarily the governor's responsibility to explain. If neither of the figures in the photo is the governor, how and why did it land on his medical school yearbook page? There has been no adequate account of that, nor of why Mr. Northam's nickname as an undergraduate at Virginia Military Institute was "Coonman." Who coined that appellation, and why?
The questions for Mr. Fairfax arise in part from his intemperate responses to accusations by two women that he sexually assaulted them. He has referred to the accusations as a "smear" and called them a "coordinated" conspiracy against him, while dismissing as "demonstrably false" the allegation by the second accuser, Meredith Watson, that he raped her while both were undergraduates at Duke University in 2000.
Mr. Fairfax, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor, understands the meaning of words. So on what does he base his assertion that the accusations against him are "coordinated"? And if the rape allegation is "demonstrably" untrue, as he said, in what way can he demonstrate it? And if he really believes the two women have invented spurious stories to "smear" him, why does he think they would do that?
Mr. Fairfax has also said his encounters with both Ms. Watson and another woman, Vanessa Tyson, now a college professor, were "consensual." As Post columnist Karen Tumulty has asked, how did he draw that conclusion?
Mr. Northam and Mr. Fairfax may believe they can weather the storm by holding tight and uttering platitudes about reconciliation and respect. The reality is that there are factual issues to be addressed. Both men had better address them, if they can. If they do not or cannot, their remaining terms in office, nearly three years, will be irreparably impaired.
USA Today on critiques of President Donald Trump by people who've worked with or for him:
President Donald Trump likes to say that he hires only the best people and that his White House operates like a well-oiled machine.
But a steady stream of insider accounts flowing out of the West Wing suggests there's more madness than method to the president and his administration.
The most recent entries are two books that just hit best-seller lists, one by former White House aide Cliff Sims, the other by ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a onetime Trump adviser.
Sims dishes about Oval Office back-stabbing in his explicitly titled "Team of Vipers." Christie's "Let Me Finish" laments Trump's choice of "amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons ... hustled into jobs they were never suited for."
The authors join a pantheon of disgruntled leakers or tattling ex-staffers telling tales of incompetence at the highest executive levels. Last week, someone handed Axios three months of Trump's daily schedule, revealing in mortifying detail how the president spends more than half of his workday in "executive time" activities such as watching TV, tweeting and making calls.
The consistent and growing evidence of internal dysfunction is growing increasingly difficult to ignore or explain away. Remember, these accounts aren't coming from Democrats or anti-Trump pundits. They're from people who have worked inside the administration and seen White House operations up close and personal:
- A senior Trump administration official, writing an anonymous column in The New York Times, characterized the president as "impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective," with decisions that are "half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless."
- Journalist Bob Woodward, in his best-selling book "Fear," diagnosed a White House suffering a "nervous breakdown," with aides stealing papers off Trump's desk to deter bad policy. Former Chief of Staff John Kelly was quoted as saying: "We're in Crazytown."
- "Fire and Fury" by writer Michael Wolff and "Unhinged" by Omarosa Manigault Newman, the ex-White House aide and former television reality star, questioned the president's mental well-being.
Sprinkled throughout these tell-all tomes are unflattering assessments of the president by some of his top-drawer executives. Ex-Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to Woodward, said Trump comprehends like a "fifth- or sixth-grader." And former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has never denied multiple reports that he labeled Trump a "moron."
Trump and his supporters have questioned the credibility of some writers, or dismissed their accounts as sour grapes. But you have to wonder how so many aides who were hailed as brilliant choices on their way into the administration suddenly became incompetent hacks on their way out.
With more books in the pipeline, the Trump campaign is eager to try to enforce nondisclosure agreements signed by ex-staffers. What doesn't the White House want the public to know?
People who've served inside the Trump administration keep trying to warn the world that something is terribly awry. Americans ignore them at their peril.
Tampa Bay Times on a year since 17 people were killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida:
Florida has been forever changed by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. In the 12 months since 17 people were killed by a troubled former student firing a semi-automatic assault rifle, there have been modest new gun controls, enhanced security at schools and an increase in civic activism by young people. The challenge on the one-year anniversary of the shooting is to remain focused on meaningful changes to make our schools and communities safer — and for Floridians of all ages to remain involved in the discussion.
To their credit, then-Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature reacted with remarkable speed following the shooting. Within three weeks, a new law raised the age to buy all guns from 18 to 21, applied the three-day waiting period for buying handguns to rifles and outlawed bump stocks that have been used in other mass shootings and enable guns to fire more rapidly. Florida became one of a handful of states to establish a red flag law that enables law enforcement to seek a court order to take guns away from people who are a threat to themselves or others. Schools are being hardened, and at least one armed guard is required now at every school.
Yet there is much more to be done. A state commission chaired by Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri recommends increasing spending on mental health, requiring "hard corners" in every classroom where students and teachers cannot be seen by shooters in hallways or outside and locked door policies. Many of the commission's prudent proposals, including a review of campus hardening efforts and standardized school security assessments, are included in legislation passed Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee. In the meantime, many school districts have to step up their efforts to comply with the requirement that every school have behavioral threat assessment teams to identify students showing concerning behavior.
If the Florida Legislature was less beholden to the National Rifle Association, it would take more aggressive measures. It would expand the red flag law to empower family members, not just law enforcement officers, to ask a judge to take firearms away from someone who is a danger to themselves or others. It would close the so-called gun show loophole so every gun sale would require a background check. It would ban semi-automatic weapons like those used at Stoneman Douglas and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Of course, that is not likely to happen in Tallahassee until voters send more gun-control advocates to the Legislature.
What really shouldn't happen is allowing some classroom teachers to carry guns, no matter how well they are screened or how much training they receive. The commission chaired by Gualtieri supports that change, and so do Gov. Ron DeSantis and key Republican legislators. Gualtieri, who changed his thinking during the commission's study, suggests at least one teacher could have shot and stopped the Stoneman Douglas shooter if he had been armed. But the commission also documented a series of systemic failures. The school district mishandled Nikolas Cruz's issues over a long period. Campus monitors at Stoneman Douglas failed to sound the alarm when Cruz walked on campus carrying a rifle bag. And armed police officers failed to immediately enter the building after Cruz started shooting. More guns in schools is not the answer.
Ultimately, school safety is about money. The Florida Legislature should continue to invest in mental health services, better communications systems within schools and hardening campuses. If there is a compelling need for more armed security, the state should provide school districts with enough money to hire more police officers or licensed security guards with law enforcement backgrounds.