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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


May 15

The New York Times on recent abortion bans:

All eyes were on Alabama on Tuesday as the State Senate debated, and then passed, what could become the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Under the legislation, which Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has not yet said whether she will sign, women in Alabama would be forced to carry unwanted or nonviable pregnancies to term in nearly all circumstances, including when a pregnancy results from rape or incest. Doctors who perform the procedure would face felony charges and up to 99 years in prison — which is more prison time than convicted rapists have faced in the state.

Showing just how far to the right the anti-abortion movement has pushed the "center" of the abortion debate, it was the bill's rape and incest exceptions, since removed, that dominated the conversation in the Alabama Senate. It seemed forgone that the state would ban abortions for a vast majority of the women there. Lawmakers supporting abortion rights were left arguing to preserve the rape and incest exceptions.

There is a strategy behind this bill's remarkable cruelty, and its supporters have not been subtle about it. The bill's sponsor in the Alabama House, Terri Collins, said that the legislation was designed to produce a legal case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. When asked the purpose of the bill on Tuesday, Clyde Chambliss, the Senate sponsor of the legislation, said, "So that we can go directly to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe v. Wade." (Highlighting the ignorance behind so much anti-abortion legislation, Mr. Chambliss also seemed to argue repeatedly on Tuesday that women in Alabama would still be able to get abortions — but only before they knew they were pregnant.)

Anti-abortion lawmakers did not used to be so overt about their intentions to upend Roe. But now they have every reason to be open about their motives, with a Supreme Court that seems clearly tilted in their favor.

That's why 2019 has been so relentless for supporters of reproductive rights. Just about every week there has been a new, extreme anti-abortion bill on the table. Georgia's governor last week signed legislation to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — which might as well be a full ban. Lawmakers in Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi passed similar laws in the preceding weeks.

It's important to note that all of these laws, including Alabama's, will be delayed in the courts for some time — until Roe v. Wade is overturned, assuming it ever is. Clinics in states with new anti-abortion laws have reported a surge in calls from women who are unsure whether they can still come in for their appointments. They can. Though far too many women in the United States can't afford or otherwise don't have access to abortion — and already couldn't before this year — the procedure is legal in America today.

The states with these new laws each have a community of reproductive-rights advocates who've seen the writing on the wall and have been preparing for the worst. Among them are the Kentucky Health Justice Network; Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, which works in states including Mississippi and Alabama; the Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama; NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio; and Women Have Options, also in Ohio. The web companion to "Handbook for a Post-Roe America," the timely new book by Robin Marty, contains up-to-date information about groups working in all parts of the country.

Beyond donations, those looking to support abortion access can look into becoming a clinic escort — someone who walks women into a clinic, helping shield them from the anti-abortion protesters who often shout epithets at or try to mislead or confuse patients. While Alabama and Georgia are understandably dominating headlines, clinics all over the country — including in blue states — need you, too. Contact your local clinic directly to ask about how you can help or sign up to be a Planned Parenthood volunteer ...

There will also be more and more political debate over abortion pills in this country, and it's important to educate yourself about this discussion. Women who can't make it to an abortion clinic are increasingly acquiring these drugs, often a safe option, on their own. That trend is sure to continue as abortion access gets rolled back across the country. ...

Don't overlook your local elections. As important as it is to have national leaders who support reproductive rights, the battle over abortion access is still largely a state issue for now. The makeup of your City Council can also matter a great deal — decisions about zoning and even noise ordinances can make the difference between a clinic staying open or being forced to shutter.

Finally, continue to talk about this issue — with friends and family and fellow members of your community. Don't let abortion rights fade from consciousness as these extreme laws become America's new normal.



May 14

The Chicago Tribune on Iran's relations with the U.S. and Europe:

It's been a year since President Donald Trump made good on a campaign pledge to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The administration's strategy: Turn the screws on Tehran with sanctions to compel Iranian leaders to work on a broader agreement that also tackles Iran's pursuit of ballistic missiles and support of terrorism.

Since then, Europe has tried to keep the old deal alive, crafting workarounds to get past U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Iranian oil. That bid largely failed.

Now Tehran says it has exhausted its patience with the Europeans.

Iran has given European leaders 60 days to resume commitments laid out in the original nuclear pact, or Iran will stop adhering to the deal's call for an end to uranium enrichment.

That's not all that's happening. Tehran is suspected of being behind an attack on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates over the weekend, As of Tuesday, there was no proof of Iranian responsibility for the ship attacks, nor were there reports of casualties. Intelligence reports also suggest Iran has been building up proxy forces ahead a possible attack on American forces in the Middle East.

In response, the Pentagon has drawn up contingency plans to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran ever launched an attack on U.S. forces or sped up efforts to develop nuclear weapons, The New York Times reported. Trump denied the report, but said if he were to deploy troops, he'd send "a hell of a lot more troops than that."

Our translation: Neither a leaked Pentagon deployment strategy nor some presidential tough talk means the United States anticipates a military confrontation. What it does mean is the U.S. considers Iran to be untrustworthy, which is why the 2015 nuclear deal is insufficient.

Wadding up that old deal marked the first step toward a better one. Now it's up to the Europeans to get on board as U.S. partners with Iran Deal 2.0.

An important indicator, one we hope the Europeans noticed, emerged from Iran last weekend when President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged the economic pain that American sanctions have inflicted. Rouhani likened it to the misery Iran felt during its war with Iraq in the 1980s. Good to know, President Rouhani. Thanks for sharing. "We are in a difficult situation today, but at the same time, I am not disappointed," Rouhani said. "I believe that we can overcome these conditions, provided we are together and join hands."

Iranian oil exports have dropped from 2.5 million barrels a day to below a million barrels. As a result, Iran's economy has taken a $10 billion hit.

In recent weeks, the Trump administration has doubled down on pressuring Tehran, declaring Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and slapping sanctions on the country's copper, steel, aluminum and iron industries.

Getting the Iranians back to the table for talks is a goal that should be shared by the U.K., France and Germany — the main European guarantors of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The U.S. isn't cowed by Tehran's saber rattling, and neither should Europe. Rouhani and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, know their country's economy has been waylaid by the sanctions.

But a new deal won't happen without Europe's cooperation. European leaders have been behaving as if Iran has boxed them into a corner. The opposite is true: Harsher sanctions have shown Iranian leaders where their economy is headed if they don't acquiesce — and negotiate.



May 13

The Wall Street Journal on the stock market and U.S.-China trade:

President Trump often cites the stock market as proof of his economic-policy success, so let's hope he was watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Monday. The Dow fell 2.38%, and the Nasdaq and Russell 2000 fell even more, on the escalating tariff dispute between the U.S. and China.

Stocks are volatile, but there's no denying that markets are rising or falling these days in substantial part on the prospects of a U.S.-China trade deal. They fell Friday morning after Mr. Trump raised tariffs to 25% on $200 billion in Chinese exports to the U.S., then rose later that day on word that bilateral talks had been "constructive." Equities fell again Monday when China retaliated with tariffs up to 25% on $60 billion of U.S. goods.

The Dow is now nearly 1300 points lower than it was in January 2018 when Mr. Trump began his tariff offensive — despite the best 12 months for economic growth since 2005 and healthy corporate profits. The stock market isn't the only measure of economic health, and it can send false signals, but in this case the clear market message is that tariffs will subtract from economic growth.

Regarding China, Americans have been giving Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt that his tariff strategy is intended as leverage to negotiate a better, fairer trading regime. But Mr. Trump seems to sincerely believe that tariffs are a free lunch. "The unexpectedly good first quarter 3.2% GDP was greatly helped by Tariffs from China. Some people just don't get it!" Mr. Trump tweeted Monday.

But tariffs are taxes that raise the price of Chinese goods for U.S. consumers and producers. They also raise the price of domestic goods that compete with Chinese imports because U.S. producers tend to raise their prices with the competition. This is what happened after Mr. Trump raised tariffs on washing machines, as we wrote on May 1.

Mr. Trump may be pointing to the one-percentage point added to GDP in the first quarter due to an increase in net exports (exports less imports) as imports fell. But this came after a surge of imports in the second half of 2018 due to faster U.S. growth and as companies tried to get out ahead of Mr. Trump's potential imposition of higher tariffs. Jobs in U.S. manufacturing, which relies on export markets, surged in 2017 and 2018 but that growth has slowed in recent months as tariff uncertainty has increased.

The ultimate economic cost of tariffs is hard to measure precisely because it extends beyond the tariff rate to the impact of uncertainty on trade and investment decisions. But there's not an economist we know — White House adviser Peter Navarro doesn't count — who thinks that tariffs are a net economic benefit.

Don Rissmiller of Strategas Research Partners estimates a hit to GDP this year of "about -0.1% point for every 2 months we go along with the higher China tariff rates, or roughly -0.5% for a year. A little more than half of this is through reduced confidence & lower investment." That estimate sounds as good as any, unless the trade war gets worse.

Mr. Trump may feel this is a price worth paying if it drives a deal that opens China's market up to fairer rules of trade and investment. But the economic payoff is the deal, not the tariffs that are a deadweight economic loss.



May 13

The Washington Post on online extremist content and the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand:

The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has said she does not think anyone would argue that the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre should have been able to livestream mass murder. Maybe that question elicits something close to unanimity — but in trying to make the Internet safer, she will find few other points of consensus. And for good reason.

Ms. Ardern is meeting in France this week with President Emmanuel Macron to finalize the "Christchurch Call," a pact that asks companies and countries to confront violent and extremist content online. The end is a noble one: ridding the Web of terrorist content that puts people both on and off social media sites at risk. But what are the means? The era of an unregulated Internet is ending, but a regulated one will necessarily sacrifice some freedom of speech for safety. The question surrounds the terms of the trade.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft have said they plan to sign the nonbinding pledge, and several nations, including Britain and Canada, have also signaled support. The companies will reportedly promise to audit their algorithms, share data and enforce their existing terms of service; the countries will promise to craft laws that ban objectionable content. Ms. Ardern has stressed that she hopes to skirt the hate speech debate by focusing on violent and terrorist material alone. But figuring out what counts as violent material is itself part of that broader debate, and countries are forging ahead with legal regimens that will affect everyone who uses the Internet — not only mass murderers.

Britain has put forth a proposal threatening companies with unprecedented fines for failing to take "harmful" content off their platforms, but much of that content is not illegal in the country. Australia has imposed criminal penalties on firms that do not "expeditiously" remove "abhorrent violent material," which could lead to companies proactively screening every post according to an overly restrictive algorithm. France has the more flexible idea of appointing a regulator to verify that companies have effective systems in place to remove illegal hate speech, but inviting a single government appointee to declare what should stay and what should go could still be chilling.

It's easy to say murder should not be streamed live on the world's biggest social media platforms, but it's much harder to stop that without also stopping some of what has made the Internet invaluable. Harsh speech regulation not only offers cover to autocrats seeking not to protect citizens but to repress them: It creates a less free environment even in democracies trying to do the right thing. The Christchurch Call asks the world to acknowledge there is a problem. It is just as important to acknowledge there are no simple solutions. Countries may have reason to clamp down on an unrestrained Internet, but they should also be thoughtful, honest — and cautious — about what they are giving up.



May 13

The San Francisco Chronicle on the police raid of a journalist's home:

Bryan Carmody says several San Francisco police officers tried to break into his Outer Richmond home with a sledgehammer, detained him in handcuffs for hours, and seized computers, notes and more from his residence and office. Barring some suspicion that Carmody committed an offense other than journalism, the police might as well have taken their sledgehammer to the United States Constitution.

The officers appear to be trying to determine who leaked a sensitive police report on Public Defender Jeff Adachi's death to Carmody, a freelancer who sold the story to local television stations. Carmody told The Chronicle that officers had asked him for his source two weeks earlier and that he had declined to cooperate, which is precisely the sort of refusal that shield laws in California and other states are designed to facilitate. Journalists must be able to keep their sources confidential to conduct the unfettered reporting on government that the First Amendment protects.

The excessive police tactics Carmody described — in an account that authorities have not contradicted — put President Trump's anti-press "enemy of the people" rhetoric into action right here in the putative headquarters of the resistance. Police should return the freelancer's property and seek it in court if they believe they have a legitimate case.

California's shield law, which voters enshrined in the state Constitution in 1980, protects journalists from being held in contempt for refusing a subpoena to provide their sources, notes or any other unpublished material obtained in the course of news-gathering. State law also prohibits search warrants from being issued for material protected by the shield law.

That suggests the warrants police served on Carmody's home and office last week should not have existed. Although the warrants were approved by judges on grounds that have not been made public, District Attorney George Gascón said police did not run the search requests by his office before going to court.

They could have used the legal advice. As Society of Professional Journalists President J. Alex Tarquinio rightly noted of the raid, "One expects this level of disregard for the value of press freedom in an autocratic country without the First Amendment. In this country, journalists have the right to gather and report on information."

Adachi, 59, who died in February of what an autopsy attributed to cocaine, alcohol and heart disease, was an outspoken public defender, the only elected one in the state, and a prominent antagonist of the police. So when details of his last hours that seemed calculated to posthumously smear him emerged thanks to an apparent police leak, the department took a beating from Adachi's allies on the Board of Supervisors and beyond.

A police statement on the raid alluded to that outcry, saying the "citizens and leaders of the city ... demanded a complete and thorough investigation into this leak." Mayor London Breed likewise defended the police, saying, "Something was done that should not have been done, and we are definitely trying to get to the bottom of it."

The police have the right and presumably the investigative skills to root out the malicious gossips within their ranks, but they have no right to storm the homes and offices of journalists when they run out of leads. Whether the journalism at hand is the finest example of the craft — or whether the reporter is paid by the story or by a powerful institution that employs him — is irrelevant. Such an assault on a journalist should be regarded as an intolerable assault on journalism itself.



May 13

The Star of Toronto on Canada and a new United Nations extinction report:

Our planet is on life support.

That's the dire message from a landmark United Nations report this past week that found one million species of plants and animals — out of a total of eight million — are at risk of extinction as the result of human actions.

It's a message the world dare not ignore.

At stake is not just the survival of other species. The UN report, the most thorough health checkup on biodiversity ever conducted by leading scientists, makes clear that the future of our own species is at stake as well.

Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, put it like this: "We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide."

In other words, we must save the plants and animals by protecting their habitats — if only for our own self-preservation.

One way to do that would be for the world to meet the targets set under the 2010 UN Convention on Biodiversity to protect 17% of land area and 10% of oceans by 2020.

That's not a unreasonable goal, considering that last week's report found natural ecosystems have already been diminished by half. But it is a politically difficult one.

The fact is that in order to protect lands and waters governments must ban virtually all economic activity within them, a responsibility Canada's previous Conservative government ducked.

As a result, until recently this country was a laggard compared to other G7 countries in meeting the goals set out by the UN.

Happily, the Trudeau government has taken important steps to change that, though it still has a ways to go.

Last month, for example, the government set aside 11,580 square kilometers of the Laurentian Channel, a key migratory pathway for whales and other endangered species between Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland, as Canada's newest and biggest marine protected area, or MPA.

At the same time, Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson released new rules that will ban oil and gas activities, mining, ocean dumping and bottom trawling in all 13 of the country's MPAs.

Predictably, there was political push-back. The premiers of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland argued that designating the Laurentian Channel as an MPA will hinder economic activity off their coasts.

But if studies of the world's oceans show anything, it's that protecting marine habitat isn't a threat to economic activity in coast areas; it's vital to making sure it can continue in the future.

MPAs help to connect important feeding, mating and calving grounds for vulnerable species. And in turn, those ecosystems generate essential revenue for island and coastal communities through sustainable fisheries and tourism.

They also protected species that otherwise would be at serious risk. The Laurentian Channel, for example, is home to 20 species of whales and dolphins, as well as northern wolffish, soft corals called sea-pens, sea turtles and more.

At the same time, corals, sponges and other creatures will be protected by a ban on the destructive practice of bottom trawling. Ships drag weighted nets along the ocean floor, destroying coral forests and sea beds and sweeping up hundreds of kinds of unwanted fish, called "bycatch," which are then discarded.

The new marine protected areas move Canada close to meeting the UN goal for protecting ocean areas by 2020. But on land, this country still falls short.

Canada has now designated 11.8% of its land area as "protected," significantly short of the 17% goal it has pledged to reach by next year.

The Trudeau government has done a lot in this area, setting aside new protected areas in the Northwest Territories and as close as the Rouge National Urban Park on the outskirts of Toronto. But it should up its efforts and set an example for the rest of the world. Last week's sobering report on threatened species gives it added urgency.