Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on Christmas as Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral
There will be no Christmas at Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, the headlines read, the first such lapse in two centuries.
In ordinary terms, that was not really news. Yawning holes in the roof still open the Gothic nave to winter rain eight months after the great fire, and not even workers are allowed in the middle because of the damaged roof beams precariously dangling above. The head of the task force charged with repairing the cathedral has promised that a religious service will be held on April 16, 2024, a day after the fifth anniversary of the blaze, which would fulfill a pledge by President Emmanuel Macron to repair Notre-Dame within five years. But that’s optimistic — debates still swirl over how to rebuild the roof and spire that burned and collapsed.
But there will be Christmas for the faithful of Notre-Dame. The clergymen of the cathedral have been using the nearby church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, a landmark only a couple of centuries younger than Notre-Dame that once ministered to the royalty of the nearby Louvre Palace, and all the services of Christmas are being celebrated there. A liturgical platform resembling Notre-Dame’s has been constructed there, and the cathedral’s great 14th-century “Virgin of Paris” sculpture, untouched by the inferno, has been temporarily placed in Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.
Still, even if there is no surprise, and no gap in religious observance, it is terribly sad for anyone who has ever been to Paris in winter to think that this year — and next year, and the year after that and for God knows how many more years — there will be no children gazing spellbound at the large, detailed crèche, no candles flickering at midnight to the thunder of the great organ for the “Messe de la Nuit,” no sea of awe-struck tourists looking forward to recounting how they celebrated Christmas at one of Europe’s most familiar and wonderful landmarks.
It is a reminder of how great an emptiness the fire left in the heart of Paris and far beyond. Notre-Dame is more than a church, more than a masterpiece of medieval architecture, more even than a symbol of one of the great cities of the world. Like many of the earth’s great cultural landmarks, it has a life of its own; it is a living character in art, literature, music and legend, and a place where a tired passer-by can drop in for some rest and quiet thought. It carries a message that every visitor can interpret in his or her own way.
There is nothing symbolic or spiritual, however, about the turbulent aftermath of the fire that broke out among the oak rafters of the roof on April 15. To this day it remains unclear how the fire started or why the response was slow, and there is still a risk of further collapse. The 460 tons of lead that were engulfed in flames created a major health threat in central Paris. And though more than $1 billion has been raised or pledged, controversy rages over how to restore the roof. Proposals range from a faithful reproduction of the old roof and spire to a glass roof, a “spire” of light and even a rooftop swimming pool.
The debate has divided the two houses of Parliament, with the lower house opting to consider all options and the Senate insisting on a straight reconstruction. The chief architect, Philippe Villeneuve, has insisted on keeping to the original but has been told to “shut his mouth” by Jean-Louis Georgelin, a retired general tapped by President Macron to head the project.
But then Paris has always been a battleground of past and present. The haunting beauty of the city is in part a product of a program of urban renewal in the 19th century led by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III, which included wholesale razing of old neighborhoods to create the now-beloved boulevards, parks and delicate facades. The Eiffel Tower, the premier icon of France, was initially spurned by artists and intellectuals when it was raised for the 1889 World’s Fair. Another Parisian landmark, the glass-and-metal pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre designed by I.M. Pei, likewise came under withering criticism when it was first proposed.
The Japan News on Japan and China building a stable relationship:
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. It is vital to build mutual trust between the two leaders and seek to promote stable relations.
Referring to Xi’s planned visit to Japan next spring, the prime minister emphasized he wants to make preparations for the visit to “build a relationship that is suitable for a new era for Japan and China.” Xi responded, saying he hopes to raise bilateral ties to a “new level.”
Xi’s visit to Japan as a state guest will be the first of its kind by a Chinese president since Hu Jintao in 2008. His visit has major significance, as it will set a future course for the bilateral relationship
Objections have been raised by some members of the Liberal Democratic Party about the decision to invite Xi as a state guest. This is because criticism persists as to China’s self-righteous response to human rights and security issues.
It is important to hold sincere discussions on unresolved problems on the occasion of Xi’s visit. Doing so will serve as a basis for building stable bilateral relations in the long run.
During the talks, the prime minister said he is very concerned about the turmoil in Hong Kong, and urged all people involved to exercise restraint in responding to the situation.
In Hong Kong, clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and police have continued, with the Chinese government exerting greater pressure on the territory. Japan should continue urging China to calmly deal with the situation.
It is also necessary to explore a process for resolving bilateral problems that remain unsettled.
Contrary to this, China is stepping up activities in waters around the Senkaku Islands. It has also repeatedly entered Japan’s territorial waters.
In the talks, the prime minister had every reason to urge China to restrain its provocative conduct, saying, “There will be no truly improving the Japan-China relationship without stability in the East China Sea.”
China has continued to restrict Japanese food imports. There have been a succession of cases in which Japanese nationals have been detained in China. The prime minister called on Xi to deal with these issues constructively. He should continue tenaciously urging Beijing to take action on these matters.
The two leaders agreed to expand exchanges among young people from both nations while also promoting bilateral cooperation in fields of tourism and sports. It is important to further promote mutual understanding in that endeavor.
The leaders exchanged opinions about the North Korean situation, confirming that it is important to fully implement the resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on the North.
One sanction stipulated in the resolutions, that is, returning overseas North Korean workers to their own country, has reached a deadline. It is indispensable for China, which has accepted a large number of such workers, to abide by the sanction. The international community must unite in continuing to exert pressure on North Korea, thereby getting that country to abandon its nuclear program.
A summit meeting of Japan, China and South Korea will be held in Chengdu, China, for the first time in 19 months. There are many problems common to the three nations, such as environmental issues and the aging of their populations. It is hoped that each nation adjacent to the other will bring its own expertise and promote working-level cooperation.
The Wall Street Journal on the Senate holding an impeachment trial:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to withhold the House articles of impeachment from the Senate, further trivializing a serious constitutional power and process. Senate Republicans seem content to play along while ridiculing her gambit, but they should take their own duties more seriously and hold a trial.
One emerging dodge seems to be that President Trump isn’t formally impeached until the articles are transmitted to the Senate. This is absurd. The House voted on two articles and passed them with a majority. The House broadcast this fact to the country along with more-in-sorrow-than-anger claims that they are doing their solemn constitutional duty.
There’s nothing in the Constitution that says impeachment requires a formal transmittal of the articles to the Senate, whether by sedan chair or overnight FedEx, or that the House must appoint impeachment managers. The parchment merely says the House has sole power over impeachment and the Senate the sole power to try an impeachment. The act of impeachment is the vote.
The Founders also defined impeachment as consisting of two parts — the House vote followed by a Senate trial. They are two stages of the same process. The Founders gave the first impeachment step to the House knowing it would often be governed by populist and partisan passions.
They gave the Senate control over the trial as a check on the House. They knew the Senate, with its two Members per state, would represent the different interests of varied states. And with staggered elections every six years, two thirds of the Senate wouldn’t face immediate re-election after a trial and vote.
This means the current Senate has a responsibility to fulfill its part of the Constitution’s impeachment duty as a check on the partisan excesses of the Pelosi House. This isn’t merely to give Mr. Trump a chance to defend himself and be acquitted of the House charges. The more important obligation is to the separation of powers and to the Senate itself.
By making a fuss of withholding the articles until she hears the Senate’s specific plans for a trial, Mrs. Pelosi is trying to dictate to the Senate how to hold a trial. But the Constitution reserves this power for the Senate. If she never sends the articles and there is no trial, she will have effectively trampled on executive power and Senate prerogatives by maligning a President without the chance for acquittal at trial.
She will be turning impeachment into the equivalent of a censure resolution wrapped in the claim of impeachment. This sets an awful precedent, making impeachment more likely because a President is unlikely to be removed, but also less potent if a President does deserve to be removed from office for real abuses. If impeachment without trial becomes common, genuinely dangerous Presidents will cite that history as a partisan shield.
Current Senate rules say a trial isn’t triggered until the House appoints impeachment managers who deliver the articles to the Senate. But those rules were written when Senators never anticipated the House would treat impeachment in such a cavalier fashion. The constitutional lawyer and our contributor David Rivkin argues that in this context the Senate rules violate the constitutional duty to hold a trial. If Democrats refuse to cooperate by providing the two-thirds necessary to change the rules, Republicans should vote to change the rules with a simple majority.
Mr. McConnell could tell Mrs. Pelosi to nominate managers by a certain date or he will appoint lawyers to make the case for the House. Or he could announce the start of the trial by a certain date, and proceed without the House managers if they fail to show up. The President’s lawyers could make their case, and then the Senate could vote.
This carries some political risk, but faced with such a choice Mrs. Pelosi is likely to appoint House managers in the end. Political risks also exist if Mr. McConnell continues with his current posture of refusing to hold a trial if Mrs. Pelosi doesn’t appoint managers. She and the Democrats will claim from here to November that Republicans were afraid to hold a trial because they know Mr. Trump is guilty.
For Senate Republicans, their constitutional duty here is also the best politics. Don’t join Nancy Pelosi in defining impeachment down. Honor the Constitution by holding a trial.
The Orange County Register on military spending:
Amid the theatrics of impeachment and opposition to impeachment, both parties took the time over the past two weeks to do what they always do: spend more, grow government, keep perpetual wars on autopilot and infringe on liberty.
Over the past two decades, the United States has spent or obligated trillions of American taxpayer dollars on a foreign policy costly both in terms of dollars but more importantly lives.
Most Americans, including most veterans, recognize that the costs have not been worth what we’ve gotten in return.
With the nearly $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act, Congress had the opportunity to scale back the many conflicts the United States is involved in, or at least put hard limits on existing or future conflicts.
Unfortunately, what was approved by the House and Senate did nothing of the sort.
A proposal to end the unauthorized U.S. support for the brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen was removed from the NDAA amid White House pressure.
Proposals to require Congress to finally reexamine the outdated 2001 and 2002 military force authorizations which have served as little more than blank checks to the executive branch to wage limitless war were refused by the Senate.
Likewise a proposal to make clear that any American war with Iran would require congressional authorization was also prevented from making it to the final NDAA.
On top of it all, the NDAA marked yet another unjustified ballooning of military spending. Over the past six years, so-called defense spending has grown by $120 billion.
On Dec. 11, the House overwhelmingly approved the NDAA, 377-48, despite the many problems with it.
“Voted no on the NDAA, which allows indefinite detention of Americans without charge/trial, reauthorizes intelligence agencies without reforms to protect Americans’ rights, violates the original budget caps, and makes no reforms to rein in unsustainable spending,” noted Rep. Justin Amash, I-Michigan on Twitter.
But, alas, the bipartisan consensus produced yet another big-spending defense bill that pleased the president.
“Wow! All of our priorities have made it into the final NDAA: Pay Raise for our Troops, Rebuilding our Military, Paid Parental Leave, Border Security, and Space Force!” Trump tweeted. “Congress don’t delay this anymore! I will sign this historic defense legislation immediately!”
Setting aside the merits of any particular provision the president cited, it’s worth remembering that, at this point, both Congress and the president have completely dropped the pretense of caring remotely about fiscal responsibility.
One-trillion dollar a year budget deficits are apparently not enough, and spending more on military matters than the next several nations combined doesn’t demand actual oversight.
The Senate followed the House this past week, with a vote of 86-8. Sen. Dianne Feinstein voted in favor, while Sen. Kamala Harris didn’t vote.
“The dirty little secret in Washington is that there’s actually too much compromise,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, one of the few senators to vote against the NDAA. “We’re going to have paid leave for everybody, but we’re going to borrow the money from China.”
Unfortunately, despite the facade of tremendous partisan polarization, when it comes to many of the biggest problems at hand, both parties are all too willing to continue indebting the nation while looking the other way as unnecessary wars drag on.
The Washington Post on conservative states welcoming refugees:
Few places in the United States need fresh blood more than North Dakota, whose infinitesimal unemployment rate — it has more than three jobs available for every in-state applicant — reflects the state’s oil boom. That didn’t stop local officials in Burleigh County, which includes the state capital of Bismarck, from calling for a ban on refugee resettlements.
North Dakota, which is nearly 90% white, is among the least diverse states, so it might be tempting to conclude that most of Burleigh’s 95,000 residents want to keep it that way. In fact, angry opposition killed the proposal to ban refugees in the county, where just a couple dozen resettlements are expected in the coming year — not exactly an overwhelming burden.
That may surprise President Trump, who, pandering to his nativist base, issued an executive order this fall allowing states and localities to veto refugee resettlements. He did so having already slashed the ceiling on refugee admissions in the current fiscal year to 18,000, a 40-year low.
President Ronald Reagan cited the United States’ embrace of refugees as evidence the nation cherished freedom. Mr. Trump has called them a “Trojan horse,” a stealthy conveyance for internal attacks on an unsuspecting nation — despite the fact that few terrorist incidents here have involved refugees, who are legal immigrants heavily vetted by U.S. officials before their arrival.
The heartening news is that in many places, including conservative strongholds, Mr. Reagan’s view of refugees has more appeal than Mr. Trump’s. That includes Nebraska and Tennessee, where Republican governors say they will welcome refugees. In Utah, the Republican governor, Gary R. Herbert, as well as Republican congressmen and local officials, have a clear message concerning refugees: Bring ’em on. “We empathize deeply with individuals and groups who have been forced from their home and we love giving them a new home and a new life,” said Mr. Herbert, who called the tens of thousands of refugees already settled in Utah “productive employees and responsible citizens.”
In Colorado, a state whose congressional delegation is almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, Gov. Jared Polis (D) says the state will gladly accept refugees turned away by other states or local jurisdictions. Their loss, he noted, would be Colorado’s gain.
Just four years ago, following a wave of terrorist attacks in Europe, 31 governors, all but one of them Republicans, said they opposed resettling Syrian refugees in their states. Now, the political ground may be shifting. No governor has yet publicly accepted Mr. Trump’s invitation to bar the door to refugees. Whether some do in coming months may be a barometer of the president’s success in turning the United States into a fearful, trembling nation, wary of newcomers — in effect, the opposite of the principles on which America was founded.
The Los Angeles Times on the federal budget including funds for gun safety research:
Buried in the 2020 federal budget bills Congress approved this week is $25 million for gun safety research to be divided between the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The inclusion is less notable for the amount — $25 million is a drop in the bucket when it comes to research funding — than for the fact that Congress budgeted the money at all, ending more than two decades during which it mostly declined to spend research money on this crucial public health issue.
The funding drought began with the 1996 Dickey Amendment, named for its sponsor, former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), that barred use of federal money for research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” That year, Congress also cut $2.6 million from the CDC’s research budget, sending a message to federal agencies to stay away from gun research. It was a clear win for the National Rifle Assn., and a loss for the then-growing body of scholars who viewed gun violence research as a way to prevent injuries — much like the underlying research work that goes into automotive safety regulations — rather than as fuel for gun control.
It’s hard to measure what has been lost in the intervening years, but researchers argue that much work needs to be done on understanding individual and social risk factors that can lead to gun violence, examining how exposure to gun violence affects people over time and whether there is a link between that and future acts of violence, what measures are effective at reducing gun violence and what correlations exist between gun injury rates and such factors as open-carry laws, gun thefts and firearm training.
“The epidemic of gun violence is a public health emergency,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat whose district includes Newton, Conn., site of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 20 children and six adults. “The funding for evidence-based research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health will help us better understand the correlation between domestic violence and gun violence, how Americans can more safely store guns, and how we can intervene to reduce suicide by firearms.”
We hope it does that, and more. Despite the absence of federal funding, research has been growing in recent years into the causes and impacts of gun violence, funded by private donations and innovative programs such as the Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis, which the state Legislature created in 2016 with $5 million in state funding over five years. Six East Coast states last year announced a joint Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium to share data and policy ideas. But such efforts only help fill a significant gap. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. found that about as many people die in the U.S. each year from gun violence as from sepsis, which arises from infections, yet gun violence research drew less than 1% of the funds and generated only 4% of published studies compared to sepsis research.
It’s true that gun deaths occur at much lower rates than they did a quarter-century ago, as overall violence has decreased in the U.S. Yet mass shootings are up, and overall gun violence in this country far outpaces the rates among other developed nations. It is in our public health interest to better understand what leads to gun violence, and to try to craft policies and programs to reduce it. The NRA and its acolytes tend to view any knowledge as a threat to Americans’ ability to own arsenals, which is as preposterous as the notion that the federal government will — or even could — rid the nation of privately owned firearms.
The government can help lead the way in figuring out how to make this a safer nation, and we hope the new funding is just a start. It is crucial to understanding the cause of, and reducing the incidence of, the one-on-one violence that dominates our gun violence problem, but also mass shootings and gun suicides, which account for about half of gun deaths each year. Knowledge, as they say, is power, and as a nation we need to learn a lot more about this dark aspect of the national psyche.