Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on an attempted cover-up of past cheating by Russian athletes in global sporting events:
It has become obvious that Russia’s shameless leaders don’t care what the world thinks of their systematic cheating in sports. Just another anti-Russian slander, declared Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, presumably with a straight face, when confronted with the latest evidence of Russian perfidy, this time of an attempted cover-up of past cheating.
But doesn’t anybody in Russia’s hierarchy care that they have condemned a generation of Russian athletes, who should be gathering laurels as among the world’s best, to a purgatory of suspicion and alienation in the sports world?
How can Mr. Lavrov — to use him as the face of a complicit cabal in the Kremlin and in the Russian sports bureaucracy — stand there and claim, again and again, that Russia is always the victim of foreign machinations in sports and “pretty much everything in every sphere of international life” when the young athletes of his country are being so grievously betrayed by the pervasive, elaborate and pathetically inept cheating of their own leadership?
The latest findings are especially egregious as they deal with what was in effect a second chance for Russia. Following revelations about Russia’s incredible state-sponsored scheme at the 2014 Winter Olympics to swap tainted urine samples for clean ones through a hole in the lab wall, one of the conditions for Russia to return to the world sporting fold was for it to provide unaltered data from its Moscow antidoping lab. That deal was sharply criticized at the time as giving Russia a pass, but the World Anti-Doping Agency insisted that it was the only way to acquire the data.
The data was delivered in January. Amazingly, it had also been doctored, as a committee led by Jonathan Taylor, a British lawyer, found. Worse, the Russians had slipped in concocted evidence designed to incriminate Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Russia’s antidoping lab who blew the whistle about its corrupt practices after he fled to the United States.
The committee’s report has been forwarded to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s board, which meets in Paris on Dec. 9, along with recommendations for what would be in effect a four-year ban on Russia’s participation in global sporting events. Russians with clean records could still compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, but again without their national flag or anthem, as they did at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
These are stern measures, and the least the antidoping agency should do. As of last year, the agency has the power to enforce its rulings on major international sports federations; until last year, individual federations were allowed to take their own measures, and many let Russia get away with barely a slap on the wrist. The International Olympic Committee, which has also been accused in the past of not dealing sternly enough with Russia, issued a statement on Tuesday saying it would support “the toughest sanctions against all those responsible for this manipulation.”
Some athletes and sporting organizations outside Russia will wonder why Russian athletes are still being allowed to participate at all, given their government’s determination to continue flagrant cheating. The Olympic committee president, Thomas Bach, has opposed a blanket ban on the grounds that individual athletes who are clean should not be made to bear the blame for their leadership’s corruption.
That may be fair. But only if the antidoping agency and the Olympic committee make it absolutely clear that they are prepared to deal sternly and effectively with the Russian officials who have perpetrated this fraud and occupy the very pinnacle of the Kremlin. A bill making its way through the United States Congress, the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, proposes fines of up to $1 million and prison sentences of up to 10 years for those involved in doping schemes.
The antidoping agency doesn’t like the bill, fearing that it would give the United States too much extraterritorial power, and has been lobbying against it. The best argument would be to demonstrate that the agency itself can do its job.
The Wall Street Journal on the ethics of recusals at the National Labor Relations Board:
We’ve been telling you about political machinations at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) as an insight into how double standards can rig labor law. So it’s good to see the agency pushing back in a report last week.
NLRB Chairman John Ring initiated a review of the agency’s recusal policies last year after Inspector General David Berry ruled that board member Bill Emanuel should have recused himself from the agency’s Hy-Brand joint-employer decision based on a novel interpretation of ethics rules. This prompted the board to vacate a decision that was a significant blow to unions that want to be able to organize franchises nationwide as a single business.
Democrats in Congress complained that Mr. Emanuel, a Republican, was previously employed by Littler Mendelson, a law firm that had represented a subcontractor in the Browning-Ferris (2015) case that established a new joint-employer standard. Because the Board’s Hy-Brand decision reversed Browning-Ferris, the IG said Mr. Emanuel was obligated to recuse himself. The IG cited an executive order requiring appointees to recuse themselves from a “particular matter involving specific parties” that are “directly or substantially” related to a former employer or client.
This would mean that no executive appointee could participate in a decision that might implicate a client of a former employer. Most Trump Administration appointees would have to recuse themselves from decisions for one reason or another. It turns out the IG was wrong, as we argued at the time.
NLRB staff reviewed how the board and other independent agencies have handled recusal and found there is no standard practice. During the Obama Administration, Republican Philip Miscimarra recused himself from an independent-contracting case involving FedEx, though Democrats Craig Becker and Kent Hirozawa participated in cases involving a former employer or its client.
Federal law prohibits executive agency appointees from “participation in a particular matter that will have a direct and predictable effect” upon their own financial interest or those of a family member. But in other cases, the NLRB report notes, government ethics rules direct appointees to consider whether their “impartiality would be questioned.”
At most agencies, ethics officers work with appointees to resolve potential conflicts, but the appointee makes the decision on recusal. The Securities and Exchange Commission has adopted a regulation specifically referring recusal motions to individual commissioners.
Federal judges also decide whether they are too conflicted to hear cases. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from cases in which she represented the Obama Administration as Solicitor General. But judges don’t usually recuse from cases merely because they previously worked for a law firm representing a client with an interest in an issue before them.
The report concludes that the President may intervene if a board member violates an ethics pledge, and parties in cases may cite conflicts if they appeal decisions in federal court. But Trump appointees shouldn’t hold themselves to a standard that Democrats haven’t followed and won’t in the future.
(London) Evening Standard on a decision to withdraw Uber’s operating license in London:
Remember Christmas parties before Uber? The squalid and unsafe scramble for minicabs home. The cost of late-night taxis.
Well, this year you can add to that the misery of a month-long rail strike on trains out of Waterloo which means some routes will stop running by 10pm.
News (Monday) that Transport for London has decided to withdraw Uber’s operating licence will shock a generation of Londoners who can barely recall what life in the city was like before you could summon a car with a click on a screen.
It will stun Uber’s 45,000 drivers, too. What’s going on?
The answer is that TfL is playing tough. It’s decided (Monday) morning that Uber is not a fit and proper company to hold an operating licence.
It has found that its app isn’t secure and that Uber’s systems have allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photos to accounts that were not theirs, which means, it says, that on at least 14,000 trips people were not insured and the driver was not the one people they thought they had booked.
As a result, argues TfL, it had no choice but to say no to Uber.
The company says the decision is “extraordinary and wrong”. It will appeal, which means the service will keep running as Christmas approaches.
Ubers aren’t about to vanish from the streets. It has been here before and survived: and Uber says that it has “fundamentally changed our business over the last two years and are setting the standard on safety”.
TfL concedes that’s true: its action, it argues, is a very clear shot across the bows rather than a fatal aim intended to take out the service for good.
Let’s hope that’s right. London needs to be a city that welcomes innovation and new technology, not one that drives it away.
Yes, Uber needs competitors — and TfL says it has authorised them. And yes, Uber needs to protect its passengers.
If safety can be guaranteed, London needs this service to stay on the road.
The Baltimore Sun on the involvement of the governor of Maryland in paroling three juveniles who were given life sentences:
We applaud Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to honor the recommendations of the Maryland Parole Commission and allow the release of three men sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed as minors.
It’s in line with actions by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2012 retroactively outlawed mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders. And it fits the governor’s stated goal of trying to “bring balance to Maryland’s criminal justice system” by, among other things, “offering individuals who have paid their debt to society a second chance to live productive lives.” In furtherance of this, Mr. Hogan last year issued an executive order requiring that holders of his office consider additional factors in determining whether to grant parole for a juvenile offender, including the person’s age at the time the crime was committed, the “lesser culpability of juvenile offenders as compared to adult offenders,” and the degree to which the individual has matured and demonstrated rehabilitation since the crime.
So, last week’s announcement that three men, ages 42 to 54, who’ve already served a collective 88 years in prison for first-degree murder and other crimes they committed as juveniles will be, or have been, released on parole is not a surprise. Still, it’s been almost a quarter century since this last occurred — since William Donald Schaefer held the governor’s post — and Mr. Hogan deserves praise for having the common sense to take action where his largely Democratic predecessors haven’t.
Forgive us, however, if the tribute is tepid.
The men Mr. Hogan allowed to be paroled — two by direct approval, and a third by declining to deny parole — amount to less than 1% of those currently in Maryland correctional facilities serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were under 18. And the action was a long time coming. It’s been more than three years since the ACLU of Maryland filed a federal class action suit against Mr. Hogan on behalf of a different set of juvenile lifers, claiming the state’s parole process denies them “meaningful opportunity for release” in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. That case is still pending in the courts.
And, as we’ve said numerous times, we’d prefer Mr. Hogan weren’t required to take any action at all. Maryland is one of only three states in the country, alongside Oklahoma and California, that requires the governor’s input in parole decisions, unnecessarily politicizing the process. In 47 other states — many far less progressive than Maryland — the parole commission is trusted to review and assess an inmate’s suitability for release on its own. That’s how it should be here, as well. The state legislature has for several years sought and failed to pass bills removing the governor from the process. A similar measure is under consideration for the legislative session starting in January, and we urge its passage.
This issue is particularly pressing as applied to juvenile offenders. Recent research shows that brain maturity isn’t reached until the mid-20s and that young people are more likely to: act impulsively, fall prey to peer pressure, neglect to account for the consequences of their actions, and take greater risks than adults. This makes them both more likely to be involved in criminal activity — and less culpable for it. Simply put, it’s more difficult for an adolescent to make good decisions in bad situations. That’s the reason we generally handle their cases separately from adults.
This of course doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it does help explain it — and make the case for eventual rehabilitation. Take the disturbing case of Dawnta Harris, who ran over a Baltimore County police officer with a stolen Jeep after the officer confronted him while investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle in a neighborhood that had been hit by a string of burglaries. He was 16 at the time he rashly chose to take this woman’s life, rather than face consequences for the burglaries in which he and three others were involved. And now, he’s serving a life sentence, perhaps deservedly so in an eye for an eye kind of world. But given his youth at the time, we’d like to think there’s a possibility for rehabilitation and societal contribution one day, despite the unlikelihood of that occurring in the state prison system.
Under Mr. Hogan’s Democratic predecessors, Govs. Martin O’Malley and Parris N. Glendening, there wasn’t even a hope. Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., had a better record on such issues than either Democrat while in office, though Mr. Glendening appears to have come around last year. At an appearance, he gave what The Sun characterized at the time as a “full-throated endorsement” of legislation to remove governors from the parole process, despite his “tough on crime” stance while in office.
It appears governors, too, can be rehabilitated.
The Washington Post on President Donald Trump’s intervention in the case of a Navy Seal convicted of posing for a trophy photo with a corpse of a fighter in Iraq:
“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!” With that contemptuous tweet on Thursday (Nov. 21), President Trump extended his subversion of the justice and discipline that are so foundational to the nation’s armed forces. His interventions in this case and that of two other service members undercut military leadership and dishonor the men and women who serve their country while upholding — not abandoning — its values.
Against the advice of top Pentagon officials, Mr. Trump this month pardoned Navy Seal Chief Petty Officer Gallagher, convicted by a military court of posing for a trophy photo with a corpse of a fighter in Iraq; Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, convicted in 2013 of two counts of second-degree murder after ordering his soldiers to fire into a group of unarmed Afghans; and Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, awaiting trial on charges he murdered an Afghan man. It was the first time a president had pardoned a service member for war crimes, and it prompted fierce backlash from veterans and legal experts who said it will erode the system of military justice and hurt U.S. credibility abroad.
Mr. Trump’s response was to add fuel to the fire, issuing Thursday’s tweet challenging plans by Navy commanders to strip Chief Gallagher of his Trident pin, a badge of honor, and expel him from the SEALs. This elite force has been shaken by a series of scandals in recent years, prompting Navy officials to take a tougher stance on ethical issues. Restoring to service someone who was turned in by members of his unit who wouldn’t tolerate his behavior sends precisely the wrong message. The damage was compounding on Sunday (Nov. 24) with news that Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer was being forced out. The commander in chief’s corrupting influence is ever widening.
Mr. Trump has taken his cues, as The Post’s Dan Lamothe and Josh Dawsey detailed, not from information provided by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper or other senior officials, but rather from Fox News and other right-wing media. The legal team for Chief Gallagher, according to The Post’s David Ignatius, included two friends of the president who are also former partners of his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. The message: Why worry about chain of command, discipline and obedience when what matters is having the right connections?
Most offensive is what Mr. Trump’s actions say about his view of the military. “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!,” he tweeted in October when he announced he would review these cases. Perhaps Mr. Trump has watched too many bad war movies, but if he were to consult with his military leaders or talk to the many fine men and women in uniform, they would tell him they are trained to engage in combat while following the laws of war and upholding the country’s ideals.
The Los Angeles Times on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recycling action plan:
The breakdown in global recycling markets and the growing public alarm over plastic waste in the ocean has prompted appropriately consequential action across the globe.
Canada, Peru and Kenya are planning to ban all disposable plastic packaging in the next two years. Britain and the European Union have adopted comprehensive plastic reduction strategies that target the most ubiquitous plastic sources, such as straws and plates, and force plastic manufacturers to pay for cleanup costs. Other countries are looking at similar initiatives.
In the United States, which produces 267.8 million tons of trash each year, the plan is to just do recycling a little bit better.
That at least is the message coming from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which this month released a recycling action plan that barely mentions the most problematic source of trash, disposable plastic. Instead, the plan focuses on four main areas for action: increasing public education about the benefits and methods of properly disposing empty water bottles and milk jugs, encouraging cities to do a better job of collecting and sorting recyclable trash, developing more effective ways of measuring recycling efforts, and finding and developing new markets for recycled products.
Those are not bad ideas, of course. It’s worthwhile to encourage the development of domestic recycling plants, given that the international market has collapsed. Certainly the message to consumers about what’s recyclable — and what’s not — could be clearer. The items that are collected curbside, for example, vary from city to city, and people are justifiably confused and end up tossing anything that seems potentially recyclable into their recycling bins. Mixing recyclable material with non-recyclable material is considered contamination, and high contamination rates prompted the largest buyer of U.S. recycled material, China, to stop accepting most plastic and paper waste as of 2018.
But these aren’t long-term fixes to the recycling crisis. They’re just strategies to hide the effects of an unsustainable consumer culture for a little bit longer while letting the industries that produce and employ single-use packaging off the hook. This was predictable; the working group for the recycling plan was dominated by representatives from business and industry groups such as the American Chemistry Council, Dow Chemical Co. and ExxonMobil (plastic is a petroleum product). It’s not in the best interest of plastic manufacturers to make less of their product or to have to cover the cleanup costs.
We can do better than this woefully inadequate federal plan of action, and we should.
The first thing is to accept that the U.S., like other countries, has a trash problem that is only getting worse, and that the biggest culprit is the single-use plastic packaging on food and other consumer goods. That waste is difficult and often impossible to recycle. Decades ago, recycling seemed like a good solution for disposable items like plastic bottles, cardboard boxes and aluminum cans, and one that environmentalists, industry and the public could support. But the amount of plastics produced has swamped our best efforts to recycle them.
The EPA’s own numbers tell that story. Data on national recycling rates, also released this month, show that a declining percentage of single-use plastic waste is getting recycled in the United States; the rate was only 13% in 2017 (or 8.4% if you include all types of plastic). By comparison, 66% of paper used in the U.S. and 27% of glass was recycled in 2017. This was the sad state of plastic recycling even before China stopped accepting most of our plastic recyclables. When the 2019 statistics come out, the rate is likely to be significantly lower.
The second step is recognizing that the federal government is not coming to the rescue anytime soon. Although there are some legislative efforts aimed at reducing disposable plastic, they aren’t likely to go anywhere until there’s a president and Congress ready to admit the U.S. has a plastic production problem and committed to tackling it.
Meanwhile, it will be up to forward-thinking states like California to take action to reduce plastic trash and provide the leadership on this issue that the federal government will not.