Editorial Roundup: US

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Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


Jan. 15

The Los Angeles Times on the International Olympic Committee banning athletes from making political statements such as kneeling or wearing political messages:

Among the many inspiring displays at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington is a statue of U.S. Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos thrusting their clenched fists into the air as they received their gold and bronze medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. It was a defining moment of the era — two African American athletes representing the U.S. at the pinnacle of global athletics silently telling the world they were one with the struggle for racial equality.

But under a new rule adopted last week by the International Olympic Committee, such displays would be banned at this summer’s Games in Tokyo. It’s an absurd decision.

The IOC said the rule reflects its longstanding desire to insulate the international sports competition from controversy, and to not let political expressions steal the spotlight from “athletes’ performance, sport and the international unity and harmony that the Olympic movement seeks to advance.” So it will not allow “political messaging, including signs or armbands” nor “gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling.” Athletes will be able to raise issues in interviews with reporters and on social media, but not on the field or in the Olympic Village, nor during any Olympic ceremonies.

Yet an international competition between nations is inherently political, a reality the IOC has itself embraced upon occasion. Two years ago, it let North Korea co-host the 2018 Games with South Korea in part to display how sports can bridge political divisions. Asked afterward whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s interest in the Olympics was little more than a charm offensive, IOC chief Thomas Bach said: “If this charm offensive leads to peace talks, I welcome every charm offensive.” In 1984 the IOC banned South Africa — and rightly so — because the white minority government refused to renounce apartheid. And in 2015, the IOC agreed to recognize a team of refugee athletes — they competed in the 2016 Rio Games and will again this summer in Tokyo — to draw attention to the global refugee crisis. So maybe the concern about politics and controversy depends on who is protesting: the institution, or the athletes.

Granted, the Olympic Games have aspired to transcend politics, but in reality they never have been able to do so. And they shouldn’t. Teams march into the opening ceremonies under national flags and receive medals as national anthems are played. During the Cold War, the medal race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was a closely followed competition in and of itself, a harmless proxy of national pride. In fact, the 1980 U.S. “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet hockey team resonates through time — it’s been memorialized at least twice on film — because of the political environment in which it occurred.

Nor can the IOC wall itself off from the world. Politics has forced its way into the Games, as well, most darkly with the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes by a Palestinian terrorist group. And then there are the boycotts. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, more than 60 countries stayed away from the 1980 Games in Moscow; four years later, the Soviet Union retaliated by leading an Eastern Bloc boycott of the Games in Los Angeles. Also, individual performances by athletes have long been perceived through symbolic lenses. Jesse Owens, a black American winning gold in prewar Nazi Germany, comes to mind. And we already mentioned the U.S. men’s hockey team.

The effort to stifle athletes who wish to make symbolic gestures runs counter to Western notions of freedom of expression. As it is, two U.S. athletes were put on 12 months’ probation in August after taking a knee and raising a fist at the Pan American Games in Peru. They didn’t mount a raucous demonstration, they didn’t interfere with the proceedings, they didn’t create an outlandish spectacle. They issued a silent protest, but that apparently was too loud for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

The IOC ought to rethink the ban on free expression. A clenched fist or a kneeling athlete will do little to disrupt the spectacle of the Olympics, and there is nothing to be gained by punishing athletes who use a few seconds in an international forum to draw attention to issues they feel deeply about. Of course that inevitably means allowing athletes to take public positions we and others disagree with. But if Olympics are to stand as an international symbol of harmony and peace, the IOC probably shouldn’t echo the oppressive tactics of silencing protest practiced by authoritarian regimes.

Online: https://www.latimes.com/


Jan. 14

The Wall Street Journal on ethical concerns regarding whether Apple and other tech companies should freely allow law enforcement to access citizen data:

The advance of digital technology is creating new ethical challenges across society, and here we go again in the battle between law enforcement and the privacy of encrypted cell phones in a democracy.

Attorney General William Barr demanded Monday (Jan. 13) that Apple help the U.S. government unlock two iPhones in its terror investigation of the Saudi air cadet who last month killed three sailors at a Navy training base in Pensacola, Florida. “This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence,” Mr. Barr said.

The AG’s implication is that Apple is withholding information critical to a government terror investigation. But then the FBI also boasted on Monday that it has been able to obtain many leads from other sources including social media, interviews and 42 terabytes of digital media. That includes a social media post by the shooter on 9/11 last year that “the countdown has started.”

Apple says it responded within hours to the FBI’s first request for data on Dec. 6, the day of the attack. It says it responded to six subsequent requests by providing information stored on its cloud servers, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts. The company says it didn't learn until Jan. 6 of a second iPhone associated with the probe, and two days after that it received a subpoena.

Apple continues to cooperate, but what it won’t do is create special software to break into an iPhone so the FBI can obtain information stored on the device. Nor will it devise a “backdoor” for law enforcement. Mr. Barr says this refusal means that Apple and other American tech companies are subordinating national security to commercial interests by refusing to assist law enforcement.

Apple is no doubt looking out for its commercial interests, and privacy is one of its selling points. But its encryption and security protections also have significant social and public benefits. Encryption has become more important as individuals store and transmit more personal information on their phones—including bank accounts and health records—amid increasing cyber-espionage.

Criminals communicate over encrypted platforms, but encryption protects all users including business executives, journalists, politicians, and dissenters in non-democratic societies. Any special key that Apple created for the U.S. government to unlock iPhones would also be exploitable by bad actors.

If American tech companies offer backdoors for U.S. law enforcement, criminals would surely switch to foreign providers. This would make it harder to obtain data stored on cloud servers. Apple says it has responded to more than 127,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies over the past seven years. We doubt Huawei would be as cooperative.

Apple’s security features also make its phones more attractive to foreign customers. Requiring Apple to build vulnerabilities into its phones would make it less competitive and aid Chinese competitors like Huawei and ZTE, which the Justice Department has charged with violating U.S. sanctions.

In any case the FBI has apparently found a work-around to unlock encrypted phones. Four years ago the Obama Justice Department sought a court order to force Apple to unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernardino terrorists. A private company eventually helped the government break in. The FBI has since paid more than $1 million to a private company to extract data from encrypted phones.

The Israeli forensics firm Cellebrite last year trumpeted a new product that would allow it to unlock and extract data from all Apple and high-end Android devices. Competition among forensic firms is making it cheaper and easier to unlock phones. The National Security Agency last year expressed concern that encryption may not be strong enough to withstand advances in quantum computing. Politicians also keep howling that tech companies don’t do enough to protect user privacy.

Mr. Barr’s job includes protecting Americans from terror attacks and criminal networks, and we sympathize with his concern that encryption could slow an investigation when minutes matter. But the answer is for Congress to work with him to forge a compromise that balances private and government interests. That’s what happened in 2018 when Congress created a process for law enforcement to obtain data stored on servers overseas.

In the meantime, Apple doesn’t deserve to be treated like a public enemy.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/


Jan. 14

The New York Times on how the Senate is handling the impeachment trial:

It would be nice to have faith that, as the Senate prepares to receive the articles of impeachment against President Trump and gears up for its role in this rare and momentous process, it will do the right thing. Confronted with a mountain of evidence that an American president abused his power by shaking down a vulnerable country for his own personal gain — and then stonewalled a congressional investigation into his behavior — senators should spare no effort in conducting a fair and thorough trial, complete with witnesses and documentary evidence.

Alas, in 2020, the Senate is led by Mitch McConnell, who has demonstrated time and again that he is more concerned with covering for Mr. Trump than protecting the integrity of the office Mr. Trump holds, the security of the nation he leads or the Constitution he swore to defend.

With few exceptions, Mr. McConnell has enjoyed the lock-step support of his caucus. So it has been notable to hear over the past few days a hint of dissension within the ranks, as a handful of Republican senators, including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, have indicated that they oppose a straight-up dismissal of the charges against the president.

“I think we should hear the case. We have a constitutional duty to do that,” Mr. Alexander said.

This is a low bar to clear: The House of Representatives marshaled extensive and damning testimony against Mr. Trump, despite his best efforts to keep it from coming out. The debate now should be how to get the fullest possible account of the Ukraine scandal, not whether you need more than one hand to count the number of Republicans who are willing to take up the case at all.

Some senators who have expressed an openness to hearing from witnesses have suggested a “one for one” deal, where any witness called by Democrats — say, the former national security adviser John Bolton — would be balanced out by one called by Republicans — say, Hunter Biden. Of course, these two witnesses are not the same. Mr. Bolton claims to have direct and pertinent information about the president’s actions and motivations in withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine; Mr. Biden is a side player being dragged in by the president and his allies to muddy the case against Mr. Trump.

Mr. McConnell, meanwhile, has yet to show that he takes any part of this process seriously. He has already announced that he will work hand-in-glove with the Trump administration as it defends the president and that he will blithely violate the oath of impartiality he is required to take. On Tuesday, Mr. McConnell mocked the House Democrats’ calls for more witnesses to testify, saying they can’t claim that the case against Mr. Trump is so strong as to be impeachable, and yet “also so weak that the Senate needs to go fishing.”

As the majority leader surely knows, this is like saying a criminal suspect might as well walk free because he intimidated the leading witness into silence. Mr. Trump was impeached, in part, precisely because he muzzled top administration officials like Mr. Bolton, who has since said he is willing to testify if subpoenaed by the Senate.

There is still time for Republicans — even if only four of them — to treat this trial with the gravity it deserves.

There is even time for President Trump to behave like, well, a president. Each of the last two presidents to face impeachment proceedings — Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon — complied with congressional subpoenas, if grudgingly. The question must be asked again: If Mr. Trump is so confident that he did nothing wrong, why does he refuse to let these officials testify or turn over key documents? And if Mr. McConnell is so confident that his party’s leader will be vindicated, why fight so hard to prevent the full truth from coming out?

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/


Jan. 14

The (Lakeland) Ledger on whether NCAA athletes should be paid:

Now that the NCAA has crowned the college football champion a few things will happen.

First, fans will be treated to rampant speculation about which underclassmen will enter the NFL draft. Secondly, many fans and sports journalists will redirect their attention toward basketball, specifically of the men’s variety, as we draw closer to March Madness. That, too, also will generate buzz as to which talented non-seniors will declare for the NBA draft.

In addition, we will probably see a renewal of the debate over whether college athletes should be paid, as Florida lawmakers are now discussing.

California ratcheted that up in late October by passing a law permitting college athletes to be paid beginning in 2023. The NCAA’s Board of Governors followed suit. The panel voted unanimously to authorize directors of the NCAA’s three sports divisions to craft rules so that athletes could, as CNBC reported, “profit off of their name, image and likeness.”

That income most likely would come through advertising, including for using likenesses of athletes in video games.

Last month Saint Leo University in neighboring Pasco County polled 1,000 people on this issue and found: 45.5% believe athletes should be able to profit, while 32.1% disagreed, saying scholarships sufficed. The rest were unsure or didn’t know enough about the issue.

Support for payments was strongest — topping 55% in each category —among minorities, people under 35 and Democrats.

Count us among the naysayers.

The NCAA and its member colleges bank tremendous amounts of money because of these young athletes. And that pays dividends in other, less publicized ways. For instance, that revenue allows colleges to fund scholarships for gifted, impoverished students who are not athletes, giving them the opportunity to pursue the dream of higher education.

And we understand the arguments that many others aside from the athletes themselves profit from their abilities, and that they are also college kids who want to do the same things as their peers, but are restricted from earning money because of NCAA rules.

But problems will arise. First, a popular, telegenic player like LSU’s Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow could already earn big bucks rivaling some pros with endorsements. But what about, as the late, legendary sportscaster Keith Jackson referred to them, the “big uglies” on the line who block for Burrow? Or LSU’s third-string quarterback? Or athletes in other sports? They’d be allowed to “profit.” But who would pay them?

Then, there is the practical argument: that these players receive a free education that, in theory, is supposed to serve them outside of sports, and for the rest of their lives. In that case, they are being “paid” tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.

Yet to us the main point is that this will open the door to further hypocrisy, on the NCAA’s part, that many of these athletes are students first. We already know that blue-chip recruits who head to top basketball factories to major in “one and done” — meaning the college game is a brief, one-season stop en route to the NBA. College football is not far behind — with more players seeking the draft as soon as they become eligible before their senior year.

The solution that allows these players to make dough and for colleges to quit pretending they are in school for an education is right in front of us.

On Jan. 14 at the RP Funding Center, the Lakeland Magic lost to the Delaware Blue Coats, an affiliate of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, in an NBA G League contest.

The G League is the NBA’s minor leagues: a proving ground where basketball players make money — base salary of at least $35,000 a year — while honing their skills in pursuit of the dream of one day playing against, or perhaps with, the likes of LeBron James, Steph Curry or Giannis Antetokounmpo in front of thousands in an actual NBA arena.

Sure, LeBron, for example, will make more money playing 10 minutes in his next game than most G League players will make for this season. But the G League is an honest living. As is playing for the Lakeland Flying Tigers for Major League Baseball prospects and the Orlando Solar Bears for hockey hopefuls.

The NFL — and other sports — should join them and create minor leagues where post-high school players who want to be paid can make money as they play against people their own level of physical maturity and skills as they prep for the pros.

Unfortunately, the NCAA won’t force the pros into a position to do it. It will continue the mirage of the “scholar-athlete” until, as will inevitably occur, the first big pay-for-play scandal blows up in its face.

Online: https://www.theledger.com/


Jan. 10

The Miami Herald on the 10th anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti:

Ten years after a catastrophic earthquake, Haiti is still the poorest nation in the Americas. It still has a government perceived as one of the world’s most corrupt, and it still suffers chronic political instability. Haiti’s 500-year legacy of slavery, colonialism, military occupation and dictatorship couldn’t be erased in a decade but so much more progress could have been made. The international community, including the United States, promised to help after the earthquake, and it didn’t deliver.

The earthquake that shook Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, killed 316,000 people, injured 1.5 million and left more than 10 percent of the nation’s population homeless. An already-weak country was knocked flat on its back.

The 10th anniversary of Haiti’s great disaster is an occasion for deep regret for what could have happened over these years. Haiti’s tragedy brought opportunity. For once, Haiti was a focus of sustained international attention. Governments and aid organizations pledged to devote substantial resources to Haitian recovery, reconstruction and development. The earthquake held a silver-lining promise of setting Haiti on a new path.

The opportunity has not been lost altogether, but neither has it been fully grasped, as The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles reports in a series prepared in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Charles describes the streets of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, as no longer choked with rubble. But she also tells of tens of thousands living in shantytowns built of tarps and tin. The post-quake decade has not alleviated Haiti’s deep poverty or reduced its vulnerability to epidemics and disasters.

The international community bears a large share of responsibility for the dimmed promise of Haitian recovery. An investigation led by Dr. Paul Farmer, former special adviser to the United Nations secretary general, found that less than two-thirds of the billions of dollars worth of aid pledged to Haiti during the first two years after the earthquake had actually been disbursed.

A lack of follow-through is not the only problem. Farmer’s report, “Lessons From Haiti,” also found that what aid did arrive wasn’t invested well. Other countries and aid organizations have gone to Haiti with their own personnel and contractors – and then they leave without having created sustainable local reconstruction expertise and infrastructure.

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which was chaired by former President Bill Clinton and backed by the United States, was supposed to oversee reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake, but it was an abject failure. On the anniversary, Clinton is having to answer tough questions about the failed promise of the reconstruction — and he should.

Haiti’s political instability — seven governments and four presidents in 10 years — has complicated and slowed reconstruction work, too. But Haiti will remain unstable until it recovers more fully. The global community, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, must resolve to keep its 2010 commitments, and preserve the hopes for a new beginning that were kindled by the earthquake.

President Donald Trump must also drop his administration’s efforts to end Temporary Protected Status for the 46,000 Haitians currently enrolled, and many of whom arrived in the United States after the earthquake. The conditions that caused Haitians to flee their country persist 10 years later. Many of these people have established lives and families in the United States. Forcing them to return would be cruel and disruptive.

So many promises were made to Haiti. It’s not too late to deliver on them.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/


Jan. 10

The Toronto Star on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex Prince Harry and Meghan Markle possibly moving to Canada:

Typical millennials. It’s all about them, isn’t it? You can almost hear the Queen and Prince Charles grinding their teeth about the shock decision by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to pursue a new and as-yet-undefined semi-detached status from the royal family.

Their loss, though, looks to be our gain. Harry and Meghan say they plan to “step back” as senior members of The Firm (as Prince Philip famously labelled the royal enterprise) and split their time between the United Kingdom and North America.

They didn’t actually specify Canada, but that seems almost a foregone conclusion. Harry, after all, says he still wants to play a role in the Commonwealth, so that’s a big point in our favour. You can’t really do “Commonwealth” in New York or L.A. And Meghan lived in the lovely Seaton Village neighbourhood of Toronto while starring in “Suits.”

Not only that, but the Duke and Duchess spent the holidays with their baby son Archie at a secluded estate in the Victoria suburb of North Saanich, another lovely spot, and reports are she’s back there now. It all adds up.

So come on over, Harry and Meghan. We’d love to have you.

Elements of the British press, which effectively hounded the Sussexes out of Britain, are griping about Harry and Meghan supposedly shirking their royal duty.

Royal life, they argue, is all about service. Service cushioned by vast wealth and unsurpassed privilege, certainly, but service nonetheless. When things get rough, goes this line, the royals just buckle down and get on with it. Binge-watch The Crown on Netflix if the point isn’t clear.

What rubbish. The Crown is great entertainment, but it also makes crystal clear the human cost inflicted on the minor royals by being trapped in supporting roles in the monarchical drama. Witness the pathetic spectacle of Princess Margaret, the useless “spare” drowning her sorrows in gin. And the current tribulations of the wretched Prince Andrew.

Harry and Meghan: congratulations for refusing to accept that as your inevitable fate. Well done for breaking the mould and declaring your independence, sort of.

Sure, you might have given the Queen and Prince Charles a heads-up before announcing it all on Instagram. That would have been polite. But in the overall scheme of things, it’s a detail. The important thing is you’ve taken the first big step away from The Firm.

There’s so much to work out. What exactly does “step back” mean? How are the Duke and Duchess going to become financially independent while retaining a measure of royal dignity? What about security? And where in the end are they going to live?

It’s just got to be Canada. At this point our hopes are up. This country has so many wonderful things to offer. But, let’s face it, we’re a bit short in the glamour department. A bit of the Sussexes, even part time, could be just what we need.

We don’t want to seem too eager. But it’s hard. Postmedia rushed out to take a poll on the matter, and found that 60 per cent of Canadians would already like to see Prince Harry take the place of Julie Payette as governor-general. Younger Canadians, aged 18-34, are even more supportive.

Online: https://www.thestar.com/

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