Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Los Angles Times on Rep. Duncan Hunter pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds:
When Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) revealed during a TV interview Monday that after months of proclaiming his innocence, he was now planning to plead guilty Tuesday in federal court to misusing campaign funds for pay for personal expenses, he said he was sorry.
Sort of. He did not say he was sorry for violating the trust of voters in his northeastern San Diego County district over and over again by using hundreds of thousands of dollars of political donations to pay for obviously non-campaign expenses such as family vacations, clothes and romantic outings with women other than his wife. He did not apologize for lying to federal elections officials or for lying to the public after the charges were filed in August 2018. Nor did he say he was sorry for trying to blame everybody but himself, including his wife and young son.
Nope. Hunter expressed remorse for making “mistakes,” saying he would plead guilty to “only one count.”
“I think it’s important that people know that I did make mistakes. I did not properly monitor or account for my campaign money,” Hunter told KUSI.
Unbelievable. Even in his admission Hunter couldn’t take full responsibility for his disgraceful actions. The fact is that the one count he’s pleading guilty to was that he knowingly and willfully tapped his campaign funds over and over and over again to pay for personal expenses for his family and himself.
That’s a pretty big “mistake”: thinking that he could siphon off a quarter of a million dollars in campaign funds to pay for things such as dental work, hotel rooms for a mistress, plane fare for his mother-in-law’s trip to Poland and private-school tuition for his kids — and that no one would notice. And maybe no one would have were it not for the dogged reporting of the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper, work that Hunter has disparagingly referred to as “fake news.”
It was bad enough that Hunter continued to deny the violations and smear the messengers even after his wife, Margaret, pleaded guilty for her part earlier this year (and, notably, did take full responsibility for her actions). But he cynically exploited the already raw political divide in this country in a desperate attempt to deflect attention and blame. Mimicking President Trump, he said the investigation was nothing more than a political “witch hunt” conducted by Hillary Clinton-loving prosecutors. And even while Hunter was lining up scapegoats to blame, his lawyers were going to ridiculous lengths to argue in court that it was perfectly reasonable for him to use campaign funds for romantic encounters with female lobbyists because “mixing business with pleasure” served a political purpose. And they could afford to throw out such outlandish theories because Hunter used his campaign funds to pay attorney fees.
Hunter faces up to five years in prison for his crimes. He hasn’t resigned yet, but is expected to before his sentencing in March.
That’s not soon enough. Hunter should have resigned the minute he admitted violating the public’s trust. If he doesn’t resign from Congress by the end of this week, the House should expel him, as it is entitled to do.
No one who diverts campaign funds into his own pockets should be allowed to remain in public office.
The (South Africa) Star on the cost of data through mobile networks:
Hours after the news that the Competition Commission had ordered two of South Africa’s largest mobile networks to cut the cost of their data bundles by 50%, and long-suffering consumers jumped for joy, the response from one of the networks was like that of a wet blanket.
Vodacom, in response, said it would study the Competition Commission verdict, pointing out differences between the commission’s final report and that of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa on issues which were critical to data prices.
South Africa’s mobile subscribers, at last count 90 million, have long complained over the cost of mobile data, for which they believed they were being fleeced, particularly by the two largest networks, Vodacom and MTN.
This was confirmed by the Competition Commission, which said: “The evidence, including the benchmarking assessments and profitability analyses, confirm that South Africa’s prices are too high.
“When considering prepaid mobile data prices, both existing international comparisons and research conducted by the commission confirm that South Africa performs poorly relative to other countries.”
Having lost a significant chunk of their voice and text revenue to apps like WhatsApp and Viber, South Africa’s mobile networks might feel justified in their data pricing, but we’re consuming more data than we did 10 years ago, and the barriers to accessing the internet should be lowered significantly.
In South Africa, which boasts the unenviable title of having the world’s biggest income inequality gap, being able to access the internet cheaply means being able to access opportunities from government services, and to jobs and educational opportunities that can lift one from poverty.
But mobile networks don’t see it like this; for them mobile subscribers are measured by “average revenue per user”, in which squeezing as much as possible from the existing base is preferred to expanding the size of the cake.
Simply put, accessing data over the internet should not be considered a privilege, but a right for all citizens.
Lower data prices will help to ensure that our democracy remains vibrant.
The Houston Chronicle on the United States' declining fertility and life expectancy rates:
Americans are having fewer babies and dying younger. That grim reality should be part of the conversation as this country tries to get past the wall of political intransigence that has prevented it from constructing a saner immigration policy and better health care system.
It’s time to tear down indiscriminate legal barriers that deny entry to industrious immigrants who could fill jobs and contribute to this country’s well-being. More immigrants in the workforce and paying taxes could help prevent the Social Security and Medicare funding crisis predicted to result as the number of workers contributing to those programs continues to decline.
That’s particularly important given the report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the nation’s fertility rate fell for the fourth straight year in 2018; to 59.1 births for every 1,000 women of childbearing age. There were about 3.8 million babies born in America last year, but that’s down 2% since 2017 and 15% since 2007.
The most significant decline occurred among teenage women, which is good news. Their birth rate fell 7.4% last year and has declined 70% since 1991. Conversely, birth rates rose last year for women in their late 30s (up 1% to 52.6 births per 1,000 women) and in their early 40s (up 2% to 11.8 births per 1,000).
Women are waiting longer to have children for a variety of reasons. The median age for a woman’s first marriage has risen from age 21 in 1970 to 28 last year; and from 23 to 30 for men during that same span. The economy and work policies also play roles.
“It’s hard to have children because of a lack of affordable child care and not-very-generous policies for parental leave, especially in comparison to many European countries,” said Melanie Brasher, a University of Rhode Island demographer.
At the other end of the spectrum, life expectancy in this country has declined for three straight years, according to a new report by the Journal of the American Medical Association — dropping to 78.6 years old in 2017. The three-year dip has reversed a trend that saw life expectancy grow from 69.9 years old in 1959 to 78.9 years old in 2014, though it’s part of a long-time slide in which life expectancy in other wealthy nations outpaced that in America.
Suicide, drug overdoses, and a bevy of illnesses related to poor nutrition and lack of exercise — including obesity, hypertension and diabetes — were factors in the life expectancy decline. But so were factors like the lack of universal access to health care, the authors concluded. Like immigration, America’s health care system is in desperate need of improvements, too.
Long before the impeachment inquiry began, Congress and President Trump appeared incapable of forging agreement on either issue. Now that each day in Washington seems to begin and end with the words Ukraine, Biden, and no quid pro quo, the odds are low for anything of substance being done until after the 2020 election — and even that will depend on who wins.
America needs someone truly capable of bridging the partisan divide before we’re all dead and gone.
The San Francisco Chronicle on Kamala Harris dropping out of the presidential campaign:
Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign, which began in a burst of possibility like none other in this election cycle, ended abruptly for the most prosaic of reasons. It “simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue,” she announced Tuesday.
Of course, in American politics, money magnetizes to bandwagons, and the wheels of the Harris campaign have been spinning in place for many weeks.
This campaign had its moments, and none was more full of anticipation than her announcement rally that drew more than 20,000 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Oakland. She owned the moment of the first Democratic debate in June when she brazenly challenged former Vice President Joe Biden over his 1970s opposition to school busing as a means of forcing desegregation. “I was that girl,” she pointedly noted about how desegregating Berkeley schools opened opportunity for her. Biden, the front-runner, was flummoxed.
But it did not last.
What went wrong for the candidate who had such electrifying early moments? As much as anything, the moments were not matched by articulation of a clear agenda or sustained rationale for her candidacy. She initially embraced Medicare for All and the abolition of private health insurance — the Holy Grail for the Democrats’ progressive wing — then peeled back her support, citing her conversations with voters who wanted to keep their plans.
She seemed to struggle with whether to highlight her work as a prosecutor for San Francisco and the state of California, which included decisions that created discomfort on the left. She was caught flat-footed in a July debate when Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, launched into a factually dubious but withering attack on the California senator’s work as state attorney general.
In a November debate, Harris oddly trained her harshest lines against Gabbard instead of any of the four in the top tier.
If there was a path for Harris, it was toward the center, where South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar gravitated — with some success — as doubts about 77-year-old Biden’s viability refused to fade. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders had locked up the left with their unalloyed progressivism.
As the ideological lines became drawn more vividly, Harris was stuck in a vacuum of vacillation. The infighting within her campaign, an issue from the start, eventually became the subject of national political stories all but certain to further chill any chance of fund-raising that would be critical to a revived surge.
Thus arises the question: Was it worth it?
Anyone who has followed the junior senator’s career from here San Francisco days knows she is studied, introspective and resilient. She will learn from this campaign. In many moments, it brought out her wit and a warmth with audiences that had formerly been a source of reluctance for a politician who guards her private life. She clearly has risen in national prominence, which will benefit her work on Capitol Hill — and her future prospects.
She is likely to be on the short list for running mate no matter which Democrat ends up with the nomination. She also could be in line to become the next U.S. attorney general, or a top leadership post if the Democrats were to regain control of the Senate.
Opportunity may yet come for Kamala Harris in 2020.
The New York Times on Louisiana Senator John Kennedy falsely saying Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election:
President Trump and his defenders simply won’t stop playing into Russia’s hands by promoting the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine hacked the 2016 election in an effort to sabotage his candidacy.
On Sunday, Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, was on “Meet the Press” spreading this disinformation. “I think both Russia and Ukraine interfered,” he said. Russia may have been more aggressive and sophisticated, he allowed, but “that does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton.”
There is no evidence that the former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko conspired with the Clinton campaign. American intelligence agencies unanimously agree that Russia perpetrated the hacking.
Mr. Kennedy went even further a week earlier, when he suggested on “Fox News Sunday” that, in fact, Ukraine had hacked the Democratic computer server, obtaining emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “I don’t know, nor do you, nor do any of us,” he told the host, Chris Wallace. (The next day he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo: “I was wrong. It was Russia who tried to hack the computer. I’ve seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it.” It is unclear what changed his mind. Again.)
Mr. Kennedy is not alone in his historical denialism. Despite reports this week that the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee had checked out the allegations against Ukraine and found no evidence worth pursuing, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the committee’s chairman, told reporters on Monday that he didn’t “think there’s any question that elected officials in Ukraine” favored Ms. Clinton, and he equated that preference with Russia’s systematic interference in the race. “It was called meddling when it was just Russia had a preference on who would win,” Mr. Burr said, neatly ignoring that the Justice Department has brought two indictments against numerous Russians for hacking the Democratic computers and engaging in a pervasive social media campaign to elect Mr. Trump.
Somewhere, President Vladimir Putin of Russia must be smiling.
Much of the House Intelligence Committee’s report on Tuesday about its impeachment inquiry involved the president’s demands that releasing military aid to Ukraine be conditioned on its announcing investigations into Joe Biden and his son. But of all the efforts to defend Mr. Trump, legitimizing his efforts to have Ukraine investigate the 2016 election may be the most egregious, since it helps Moscow deflect blame for its assault on American democracy.
In her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 21, Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert at the National Security Council, chided lawmakers for spreading a “fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Senators received classified briefings from intelligence officials this fall detailing Moscow’s multiyear effort to spin that tale and pin its malfeasance on Ukraine.
Mr. Trump’s first homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, was one of multiple staffers to assure the president that the allegations about Ukraine were unfounded.
On Tuesday (Dec. 3), an under secretary of state, David Hale, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that none of the allegations of Ukrainian interference were true.
But if anything, support among Republican legislators for the conspiracy theory continues to grow.
Time and again during the impeachment hearings, House Republicans sought to distract from, or even justify, Mr. Trump’s attempt to strong-arm Ukraine by floating the specter of Ukrainian saboteurs. Representative Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, called for the panel to refocus its investigation on the former Soviet republic.
The day after Dr. Hill’s testimony, Mr. Trump regaled “Fox & Friends” with wild assertions that the F.B.I. never properly examined the hacked server because it had been handed over to a shadowy Ukrainian company called CrowdStrike.
Among the flaws in his claim: CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm that the Democratic National Committee hired to respond to the hacking, is based in California and owned by Americans. One server hacked by the Russians is actually still in the D.N.C. offices in Washington.
This whole fantasm haunts Washington in tandem with Attorney General William Barr’s aggressive efforts to discredit the F.B.I. investigation of Russian ties to the 2016 Trump campaign. The Justice Department’s inspector general has reportedly concluded that the basis of that investigation was legitimate and that claims of deep-state manipulation were nonsense, leaving Mr. Barr fuming.
To be clear, plenty of Ukrainians openly opposed Mr. Trump’s candidacy for fear he was too supportive of Mr. Putin. Mr. Trump’s public acceptance of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea prompted particular concern. So did ties between Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, and pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Serhiy Leshchenko, an anti-corruption crusader and former member of Ukraine’s Parliament, worked to publicize secret payments Mr. Manafort received for his work in Ukraine, which eventually led to Mr. Manafort’s resignation from the campaign.
But beginning in 2017, if not before, the Kremlin went to work spinning such episodes into an elaborate conspiracy theory aimed at framing Ukraine. These conspiracies were then funneled — or, more accurately, laundered — through Russian and Ukrainian intermediaries, such as oligarchs and businessmen, and fed to American politicians and journalists.
In Mr. Trump, Mr. Putin found the perfect dupe to promote even the most crackpot of theories. Mr. Trump’s ego has long chafed at the idea that Russia meddled on his behalf, believing it to undercut his electoral achievement. Plus, accepting that Mr. Putin orchestrated such an effort would complicate Mr. Trump’s cozy relationship with him. From the president’s perspective, far better to believe there is a secret D.N.C. server hidden in some rich Ukrainian businessman’s basement.
The dissemination of such folderol is a triple win for Mr. Putin. It distracts from the Kremlin’s past — and continuing — work to undermine American elections even as it erodes political support in the United States for Ukraine’s fight against Russian domination. More broadly, the dueling Ukraine narratives are fomenting division and confusion among the American public, an enduring goal of Mr. Putin’s.
The Russian president is clearly delighted by the success of his disinformation crusade. “Thank God no one is accusing us anymore of interfering in the U.S. elections,” he said at an economic conference in Moscow last month. “Now they’re accusing Ukraine. We’ll let them deal with that themselves.”
That should make it clear whose interest Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans are serving.
The Wall Street Journal on Nancy Pelosi going to the United Nations climate change conference:
President Trump didn’t jet off to Madrid for this week’s United Nations climateklatsch, but Nancy Pelosi brought a congressional delegation — and a message. “By coming here,” she proclaimed at a news conference, “we want to say to everyone: We’re still in. The United States is still in.”
A month ago the Trump Administration gave the U.N. its formal notice to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Now Mrs. Pelosi is saying that ... we’ll always have Paris? The House Speaker is third in the presidential line of succession. Mrs. Pelosi would have to impeach and remove both Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence before she got the power to commit — or recommit — the U.S. to international agreements.
As a reminder, the Paris deal from the start was impotent, little more than a pep rally for bien-pensants. Countries submitted voluntary pledges to cut emissions, but without having any realistic plans in place to get there. Not that it mattered, since the accord included no enforcement mechanism.
China, which pumps out more CO2 than the U.S. and European Union combined, agreed that its emissions would peak in 2030. Even that target now is in doubt, as Beijing expands coal-fired electricity. Today China has 148 gigawatts of coal power generation “either under active construction or under suspension and likely to be revived,” according to a report last month from the nonprofit Global Energy Monitor. That is “nearly equal to the existing coal power capacity of the European Union (150 GW).”
The U.S. is moving away from coal, thanks to inexpensive natural gas from shale. CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels for electricity peaked in 2007, per data from the Environmental Protection Agency. By 2017, the latest year in the EPA’s data, emissions had dropped about 28% and were 5% lower than in 1990. Overall U.S. emissions of CO2 fell about 14% in a decade, yet the leading Democratic presidential contenders want to ban shale drilling for natural gas.
The problem that Mrs. Pelosi and Democrats have on climate is with American voters. They can’t persuade enough of them that the cost of the solutions they’re proposing — carbon taxes, regulations that would eliminate fossil fuels, a huge expansion of government — would do all that much to change global temperatures. Even in a progressive paradise like Washington State, Democrats can’t get a carbon tax passed. The last referendum failed 57% to 43%. The time before that it was 59% to 41%.
Mrs. Pelosi’s Madrid sojourn was another empty climate gesture — not counting the carbon footprint of flying to get there.