Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Toronto Star on the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty:
Mark Aug. 2, 2019, in your calendar.
That's the day the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, one of the most consequential arms control agreements ever signed, is set to expire.
The countdown to its demise began earlier this month when, after months of baiting each other, the United States and Russia both announced they would abandon the treaty.
That mustn't be allowed to happen. Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin must end the brinkmanship that brought them to this precipice and open up talks to resolve their differences.
More than a single treaty is at stake. The death of the INF could mark the beginning of the end to decades of arms control diplomacy that resulted in more than a dozen agreements that have, so far, prevented a nuclear Armageddon.
In recent years worries about nuclear weapons have focused on other countries developing nukes, rogue states like North Korea, or even terrorists getting hold of a bomb. But the U.S. and Russia, the original nuclear powers, still control 90 per cent of all these weapons. If they give up on arms control, who knows where that might end?
The INF is a key part of those efforts to pull back from the brink. Signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, it eliminated almost 2,700 nuclear-capable missiles. And it banned both nations from stationing short- and intermediate-range land-based missiles (those with a range of 500 to 5,500 km) in Europe. It was a big step in ending the Cold War.
So why are we standing on this ledge? The short answer is that Russia has been violating the treaty for years. It's been stockpiling Novator 9M729 cruise missiles, which are banned by the treaty, since 2017.
That's an unacceptable breach of the agreement but it should lead to negotiations, sanctions and political pressure — not pulling out of the treaty entirely.
The fact is the world will be a more dangerous place without the INF agreement. Indeed, the threatened demise of the pact was one of the factors that led experts with The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, who evaluate the nuclear threat to the planet, to declare that the situation now is "as worrisome as the most dangerous times of the Cold War."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch on former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe:
Former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe says Justice Department officials discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to suspend President Donald Trump's power early in his presidency. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a key Trump defender, has vowed to investigate, calling it an attempted "administrative coup."
That's a reckless allegation. The 25th Amendment is there to address presidential instability, something strongly suggested by Trump's behavior during his two years in office. The latest example came Sunday, when Trump opined on Twitter that there should be some kind of federal response to a "Saturday Night Live" skit he didn't like.
If Graham wants to investigate these alleged 25th Amendment discussions, great — as long as those hearings also look at the mounting evidence that Trump may, in fact, be mentally unstable.
In May 2017, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over the agency's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election (as Trump himself admitted on national television afterward). As McCabe said on "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Comey's firing made FBI officials consider for the first time whether the president might be compromised in some way.
McCabe says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein raised the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment, under which the vice president and Cabinet can suspend a president's authority if he is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office" due to physical or mental incapacitation.
Rosenstein, McCabe said, "was definitely very concerned about the president, about his capacity." As well he should have been. But the discussions apparently never went past the spit-balling stage.
McCabe was fired in March, hours before he was to retire with pension, ostensibly over a disputed allegation that he lied about press leaks. The move to deny McCabe his pension spotlighted Trump's well-known vindictiveness, but also makes it fair to examine McCabe's motives now in telling this story. As does the fact that he's currently marketing a book.
But none of that negates Trump's multiple, glaring signs of instability, including: his Twitter rants — like Sunday's "SNL" diatribe — against even the mildest criticism from any source; his disjointed speeches, like last week's Rose Garden labyrinth of immigration paranoia; his seeming inability to understand that the Russian government is not a source from which he should accept intelligence information that contradicts what U.S. intelligence professionals tell him.
For more than two years, Trump has appeared to be America's most prodigious presidential liar. But what if the truth is that this president has literally lost the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy? It's something to consider next time Trump gamely insists that construction of his border wall is well underway when, in fact, it isn't.
So by all means, Graham should bring on the hearings — provided they address not just whether the 25th Amendment discussions happened but whether they were, perhaps, justified.
Chicago Tribune on the killing of five people at a manufacturing firm:
Aurora investigators determined immediately after Friday's killings of five people at a manufacturing firm that the shooter had worked there for 15 years. They soon learned he had caused the carnage with a handgun purchased from a local dealer in 2014. What's now under question, as five families grieve and wounded police officers recuperate, is why the killer still had a gun he shouldn't have possessed.
According to authorities, the man who fatally shot five employees of Henry Pratt Co. and wounded several officers Friday was a convicted felon. Gary Martin served time in prison in Mississippi in the 1990s for aggravated assault. Yet about a decade later, he was issued an Illinois firearm owner's identification card and purchased a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber handgun.
Not everyone is allowed to have a FOID. A felony conviction is a disqualifier. Martin wasn't flagged until after his purchase, when he sought a concealed carry license. It appears that during the background check process, which included fingerprinting, his criminal record popped up. What happened next? Frustratingly, not enough. Martin's FOID was revoked, but he kept his firearm — later using it to cause a bloodbath in Aurora.
There are gun laws on the books designed to keep weapons away from dangerous people. Then there is enforcement. In this instance, there was a deadly lapse. Martin should never have received a FOID. Once that error was discovered, Illinois State Police apparently would have notified Martin by letter that he was not legally eligible to own a gun. Obviously, he either never got notification or ignored it. And no one took his gun away.
"Some disgruntled person walked in and had access to a firearm that he shouldn't have had access to," Aurora police Chief Kristen Ziman said Saturday. Did anyone from law enforcement try to track down Martin and confiscate his weapon? That's one of many "unanswered questions," Ziman said.
Police will continue their investigation, but there should be more work ahead for other officials, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state Attorney General Kwame Raoul. There needs to be a thorough, fast accounting of how Martin received a FOID. Also an explanation of why his gun wasn't taken from him and — after authorities learned of his felony record — whether he refused to relinquish the weapon.
It appears that Illinois law — or follow-through — is weak. Mark Jones, a senior policy adviser for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence and a former federal law enforcement agent, told the Tribune over the weekend that state police typically don't act beyond sending a letter when someone is found to have a gun he or she shouldn't have. "They're not funded to do anything more than that," Jones said.
There's the starting point for Illinois after Aurora: an intensive examination of gun laws and enforcement practices to try to prevent another shooting of this type. Regulations and enforcement rules need to be tightened to give police the authority and resources to track down people who may possess weapons they no longer are allowed to have.
There may be other mismatches between statutes and enforcement. Last year, Illinois undertook a re-evaluation after a mass shooting in Tennessee allegedly carried out by Travis Reinking, a troubled native of Morton, Ill. Illinois lawmakers passed a "red flag" law that allows police or family members to seek a court order to confiscate guns from those who are deemed "an immediate and present danger" to themselves or others.
After Aurora, as the families of Russell Beyer, Vicente Juarez, Clayton Parks, Josh Pinkard and Trevor Wehner mourn, state lawmakers and the law enforcement community should coalesce around a goal that ought to unify gun rights and gun control advocates: No gun owner should be stripped of a FOID card but able to keep a firearm.
USA Today on vaccination exemptions amid ongoing measles outbreaks:
Measles outbreaks continue to lacerate communities from coast to coast, and there's absolutely no reason for it. The latest involve dozens of new cases in New York and in Clark County, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland.
These shouldn't be happening. The highly contagious disease — which can lead to pneumonia and, in uncommon cases, to encephalitis or even death — was all but eradicated in 2000.
But many parents, embracing scientifically debunked fears about vaccination health risks, have declined the inoculation of their children with the doses for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
It surely doesn't help when public figures who should know better spread uninformed views. Darla Shine, wife of White House Communications Director Bill Shine, tweeted last week that childhood diseases "keep you healthy & fight cancer" and that "sadly," her children had received the MMR.
Actually, her kids are safer because they've had the vaccine.
The core issue is that too many states make it too easy for parents to avoid having their children immunized. While all 50 require vaccinations, 17 states allow parents to opt out for personal reasons.
Even if their offspring get and survive the illness, they selfishly place at serious risk other children who can't be vaccinated because of legitimate medical concerns such as a compromised immune system. Those children are protected only when virtually everyone else in the community is immunized, breaking the chain of infection.
Even worse, in 2016 scientists found that a deadly measles neurological complication, which lies dormant in children for years, is more common than previously thought, arising in 1 out of 609 cases where unvaccinated babies contract the disease.
Recent outbreaks underscore the risks of allowing nonmedical exemptions.
Forty-seven states let parents opt out for religious reasons. Among them is New York, where there have been more than 70 cases of measles in New York City since October, including cases among unvaccinated children within an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. In Rockland County, there have been 135 cases since September.
The state of Washington allows both religious and personal exemptions. The result is that only 78 percent of children ages 6 to 18 in Clark County have received the necessary two doses of MMR. Almost all of the 62 confirmed cases of measles in that county this year involved no prior immunization.
Three states — California, Mississippi and West Virginia — allow vaccination exemptions strictly for medical reasons. Not coincidentally, their two-dose MMR rates for kindergartners are 96.9 percent, 99.4 percent and 98.4 percent, respectively.
The outbreak in Washington has prompted legislators to consider a measure sponsored by a Clark County Republican state representative that would deny MMR exemptions based on personal beliefs.
For all the sense this makes, hard-core opposition remains fierce. Even as children fell ill, hundreds of naysayers arrived at the Washington statehouse to voice opposition. When California passed an even stricter law in 2015, the sponsor — state Sen. Richard Pan — received death threats.
Despite the blowback, government requirements are the right things to do, along with public education campaigns. Exemptions to state-mandated vaccinations should be granted only for narrowly prescribed medical or religious reasons. The health of children is too important to put at risk.
Miami Herald on President Donald Trump's speech in Florida about Venezuela:
While facing sharp criticism nationwide, including lawsuits from 16 states, for declaring a national emergency over money to build a border wall, President Trump, of course, spent Presidents Day in friendly territory:
He came to Miami-Dade and a packed Florida International University arena to show support for Venezuelans, but also Cubans and Nicarguans who support his administration's efforts to apply more political pressure to end the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro and throw support to Juan Guaido as the South American country's interim leader.
Trump found a warm reception in the city of refugees from dictatorships and political unrest — and rightly so. Trump deserves credit for being the only president since Ronald Reagan to take a hard stand against dictators in Latin America, a region often forgotten by administrations.
But more important, Trump may have given the thousands gathered a preview of his 2020 reelection campaign battle cry. Going after undocumented immigrants, as he touted as a 2016 campaign promise, is a perennial rant for the the president. So he's now targeting old-school socialism and communism.
"America will never be a socialist country," Trump preached to the choir highlighting the troubles that have plagued Venezuela since it went down that road under late leader Hugo Chávez.
Such statements hark back to America's past glories, much like Trump's State of the Union address where he made numerous mentions of World War II. But Monday, in the context of Venezuela, Trump spoke directly to Maduro and his military.
The Trump administration is hoping to step up international pressure on the dictator, who's blocking at the Colombia border millions of dollars in humanitarian aid from entering his country. Sen Marco Rubio, who has taken a leadership role in the Venezuelan effort, and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart flew to the Colombia-Venezuela border over the weekend to attract international attention to the blockaded food and medicine. Maduro is being given until Saturday to allow the goods in. The unspoken plan is that if the aid gets in, the Venezuelan people, who are experiencing tremendous shortages, may welcome it enough to turn on Maduro.
The Venezuelan military must now turn its back on Maduro and allow aid to enter Venezuela, the president, senator and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis all said.
"You must not block this humanitarian aid," Trump said. "We seek a peaceful transition of power. But all options are open. If you choose this path, you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You'll lose everything."
Such talk attracted opposing demonstrators to FIU who demanded that the United States keep out of Venezuela and opposed any U.S. military action there.
And the Editorial Board is in agreement with them. U.S. military action is just the wrong, and deadly, action to take when Venezuelans themselves already are taking matters into their own hands — Guaido's takeover being the biggest first step. The U.S.' unending thirst for oil must not supersede Venezuelans' desire to do for themselves. Trump, so far, has deftly navigated our involvement in Venezuela. He can continue to do so without the threat, or folly, of military intrusion.