Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The China Daily on President Donald Trump's first speech at the United Nations General Assembly:
United States President Donald Trump, in his maiden speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19, was less forthcoming in his praise for the world body than his predecessor Barack Obama, indicating the US under his administration will pursue an all-for-itself approach that runs counter to the cooperative spirit of the world's foremost multilateral platform.
Trump was right that nations cannot remain bystanders given the common threats and challenges the world faces today, but cooperation cannot be shared self-interest, since for his administration that means a shared commitment to what is in the short-term interests of the US, rather than what is in the best long-term interests of all countries.
The pressing challenges the world faces today are not as the US misperceives threats to its hegemony, but rather poverty, epidemics, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and climate change.
What is needed is improved global governance, and the UN should be strengthened so that it can better fulfill its intended role in leading global efforts to address regional and international crises. Finger-pointing such as that indulged in by Trump will not help either of these processes and will only allow crises to ferment dangerously for an even longer time.
Trump called "rogue nations" the "scourge of our planet" and called on the UN to further isolate the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. But today's dangerous deadlock has been the result of Pyongyang's and Washington's persistent pursuit of their own interests in disregard of other countries' efforts to persuade the two antagonists to talk. His threat to "totally destroy" the DPRK if need be will, therefore, likely worsen the already volatile situation.
More needs to be done to improve the working style of the UN so that it can emerge from the shackles of bureaucracy and low efficiency, and better live up to its role as the defender of world peace and stability and the coordinator of nation-to-nation relations.
And in this time of "immense promise and great peril", Trump would have been better reflecting on how the US can more constructively engage with other countries, not just those that are willing to follow its lead. After all, since taking office in January, Trump has only exacerbated the confusion and uncertainty worldwide with his steady stream of contradictory tweets.
And he has withdrawn, or sought to pull out of, multilateral deals his country has signed before. From the Paris climate accord to the Iranian nuclear deal, Trump has demonstrated he is totally unconcerned about the US being good to its word.
Trump should accept that with great power comes great responsibility, and that as the world's sole superpower, the US has the responsibility to work with the rest of the world for the common good. History will show whether it is up to the task.
The New York Times on the Environmental Protection Agency and the coal industry:
The Trump administration is unflinching in its misbegotten campaign to protect the coal industry from what has become an obvious and inevitable decline. Eight months in, the administration has already killed, or is in the process of killing, rules that would prevent the dumping of coal mining wastes in streams, impose a temporary moratorium on new mine leases in the West, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants — one of President Barack Obama's most important efforts to resist climate change. All of this to prop up an industry whose workers would be best served not by false promises of new mining jobs, but by aggressive programs to retrain them for a changing economy.
The latest ritualistic bow from Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency who has presented himself as an industry savior, was to order last week a two-year postponement of the Obama administration's tighter controls on lead, mercury, arsenic and other coal plant wastes that threaten human health. Delaying the rule's effective date to November 2020, Mr. Pruitt said, merely "resets the clock."
What it does, rather, is to try to twist the clock back to the day when coal was essentially a monopoly fuel, a day that practical-minded utility executives know is long gone. In fact, these executives are busily shutting down coal-fired plants in favor of more affordable energy sources like natural gas and wind and solar power.
"We're not going to build any more coal plants; that's not going to happen," Chris Beam, head of Appalachian Power, West Virginia's largest utility, bluntly told the state last April, despite President Trump's phantasmagorical campaign promise to resurrect lost jobs for coal miners. No less candid, Lynn Good, the head of Duke Energy, America's largest utility, defended the closing of 12 coal plants across five years, with more to come, in order to cut the company's coal-fired energy output by a third: "Our strategy will continue to be to drive carbon out of our business."
In February, one of the nation's biggest coal-fired plants, the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, set plans to shut down by the end of 2019 — more than two decades earlier than expected — in order to turn to alternatives, cut consumer prices and shed the notoriety of being the third-worst carbon polluter in the nation, according to the ratings of the (pre-Trump) E.P.A.
While environmental rules have played some role in the closing of coal-fired plants, the main driver is cheaper and abundant natural gas. Coal's use in power generation has been declining since 2007, and by 2016 coal-fired plants produced only 30 percent of the nation's total generation, compared with 50 percent in 2003.
The trend will continue; in 2017 and 2018, at least 46 coal-fired units will close at 25 electricity plants in 16 states, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. In its outlook for 2017, the institute skewered Mr. Trump's campaign vows, saying, "Promises to create more coal jobs will not be kept — indeed the industry will continue to cut payrolls."
About 60,000 coal industry jobs have been lost since 2011, and three of the four major mining companies have gone bankrupt, according to a new study by Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. Even so, Mr. Trump remains obstinate in his "war on coal" statements and steadfast to his bloated campaign promises to laid-off miners, despite expert opinion, expressed in the study, that lifting vital environmental controls "will not materially improve" the coal industry's prospects.
It is shocking that an administration led and staffed by supposedly shrewd business executives deliberately overlooks the blossoming of profitable and cleaner energy products simply because of Mr. Trump's hollow showmanship before his campaign base.
Until now, the E.P.A. and the environmental safeguards Congress has ordered it to enforce have been crucial to the development of new technologies. To have Mr. Pruitt sully that history with false promises to a fading industry is irresponsible.
Correction: September 19, 2017
An earlier version of this editorial misstated findings of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Its report said at least 46 coal-fired units would close at 25 electricity plants in 16 states in 2017 and 2018, not over the next five years.
The Los Angeles Times on Confederate statues in the Capitol:
The American Civil War sputtered to its brutal finish more than 150 years ago, with the United States battered but still united. Yet in some ways we're still fighting it, or at least fighting over how we remember it. The latest front: Statues in the U.S. Capitol building provided by the states — two from each — that include some men who led or fought in the rebellion on behalf of Southern slavery. That visitors from other countries, and children from our own, can find in such an exalted place monuments to the president, vice president and commanding general of the would-be Confederate States of America is more than simply embarrassing. It's a subtle but significant repudiation of what America stands for.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are right to want to do something about it. Their Confederate Monument Removal Act, submitted to Congress this month, would bar statues of people who played a role in the rebellion — from the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, to judges in its courts and foot soldiers in the rebel army — from the National Statuary Hall and other public areas in the building. That seems reasonable. People who actively sought to disunite the United States shouldn't be feted with a statue in the very chambers of the government they rebelled against.
But here are a couple of additional points that need to be made: Although the bill would bar certain villains — rebel soldiers — it would allow others from American history who are accused of reprehensible acts to remain. Father Junipero Serra, for instance, is one of California's two picks, yet he is detested by many for establishing the Catholic mission system that enslaved and brutalized Native Americans as Spain colonized California. (Ronald Reagan is California's other statue.) Why ban Southern Confederate soldiers while honoring someone accused of the genocide of Native Americans? This page has previously called on California to voluntarily remove the Serra statue; that should happen now.
Furthermore, strict laws and rules about who can be represented in the Capitol won't solve the continuing battles over history; indeed, the Booker-Lee bill will probably, in some ways, keep them going. What we really need is for modern American society to evolve to a point at which, 150 years after we nearly tore ourselves apart, we can all agree to move beyond this debate, which is so rooted in race and racism, ancient rivalries and starkly different views of a mutual past.
Slowly, that seems to be happening. Look at all the states and cities that have chosen to take down their Confederate battle flags or, like New Orleans and Baltimore, have removed Confederate statues from public spaces. Yes, there has been pushback both from those who embrace the white supremacy ideology on which the Confederacy was based and from those who hold misinformed views of what those statues really represent. (No, the war was not on behalf of a bucolic and benign "Old South.") But progress has been made.
Some cling to the argument that if we take down our Confederate statues today, we'll have to take down statues of our slave-owning Founding Fathers tomorrow. But are all sins equally disqualifying? Doesn't society have the maturity to tell the difference? Maybe one day we will figure out how to venerate Thomas Jefferson, who put the words "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, while deploring the hypocrisy of making a life partner out of his slave and slaves out of his children.
We also need to guard against a wave of iconoclasm that will result in different factions sweeping away different statues of different Americans depending on who is in power and what is in fashion at the time, all without arriving at a more mature and sophisticated grasp of our culture's dual nature of liberators and enslavers, freedom-lovers and foreign invaders, protectors and genocidal killers.
These are battles over symbols, but symbols matter. When statues and memorials represent, to many, the exaltation of racism and slavery, they have no place in our public spaces. Whether or not the Booker-Lee bill is approved, the leaders — and the people — of all 50 states should look closely and decide whether the statues they have sent to Statuary Hall present to the world the face they want it to see.
The Chicago Tribune on Congress' role in wars:
Back in April, President Donald Trump ordered a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian military airfield, punishing the regime for a chemical weapons attack. Bashar Assad has no friends on Capitol Hill, but some lawmakers, from both parties, objected to Trump's decision to carry out an act of war without congressional consent.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., spoke for this group when he said, "The administration is also going to have to set out the legal justification for tonight's action and any future military operations against the Assad regime as part of its consultations with Congress."
Turns out the administration didn't have to do any such thing. The pushback came to naught. The administration used military force as it saw fit, and Congress stood by, twiddling its thumbs, much as it has done for years under Presidents Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., pushed legislation to repeal a 2001 measure and force Congress to authorize future wars, beginning in six months. Reed and 60 others voted to kill it. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., saw grave dangers in "repealing such a vital law before we have something to replace it with."
Congress could banish that fear by approving a new AUMF, or Authorization for Use of Military Force, before retiring the old one. But it has shown no interest in taking such responsibility.
After the 9/11 attacks, it was different. A surprised nation, aware of what had happened but not of all its origins or implications, sought to respond urgently — in part to thwart any still-unfolding plot. So Congress approved the AUMF granting the president the right "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons."
The language was intended to confer broad latitude to fight al-Qaida, the Taliban and those who had partnered with them. It served as the basis for invading Afghanistan, and Congress passed a similar bill for the Iraq War.
But the 2001 measure has been converted into an all-access badge. President Obama relied on it for his attacks on the Islamic State — which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks because the group didn't exist then. A report last year by the Congressional Research Service found the AUMF had been the basis for 37 military actions in 14 countries.
And guess what? Congress has been a profile in passivity. Obama even asked it to approve a new AUMF in 2015, saying it was unwise to "continue to grant presidents unbound powers" — powers he nonetheless continued to use after Congress declined his request.
Presidents may say they are entitled to use military force whenever they think it's in the national interest, with or without such authorization. The framers would disagree. They assigned the power to declare war to Congress.
But there has been no declaration of war since World War II. Presidents routinely send our men and women into harm's way without asking Congress to agree.
The arrangement works for most members because it insulates them from the consequences of military action. If it goes well, they can cheer. If it goes badly, they can heap blame on the president.
That's an unhealthy approach. The value of congressional votes is that they force a serious debate on matters fraught with danger. They compel the president to make a case that commands popular support. They offer some assurance that if the going gets tough, the public will be prepared for the sacrifices needed to prevail.
Instead, Americans find their government using force in a host of places without much public knowledge or concern. Congress said in effect that the less it has to bother with such matters, the better.
Paul noted that he was merely advocating a decision "on whether or not we should be at war" — one of the most momentous decisions a government can make. "It should be a simple vote," he said. "It is like pulling teeth."
Wrong. Pulling teeth is not impossible. Getting Congress to take responsibility for our wars seems to be.
The Washington Post on children being shot:
Carter Hill, age 4, was strapped in his car seat and being driven down the highway when he was shot in the head in a road rage incident on Aug. 6. What is just as horrifying is that Carter was one of at least 10 children who was shot in the United States that day. Daily gun violence that maims and kills children is par for the course in this country, and that is the most terrible thing of all.
The struggle to save Carter's life and the cost of his near-fatal injuries were detailed by The Post's John Woodrow Cox in the latest installment of a searing series that examines the impact of violence on children. Shot just before midnight in a car driven by his mother, the boy was among the last victims of a stretch of gun violence that day that included a 2-year-old who fatally shot himself in Missouri after he got hold of a gun, a 16-year-old girl killed in Virginia by a bullet meant for someone else and a 14-year-old boy shot to death as he stood on his porch in Chicago.
Analysis by The Post of the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that on average, 23 children were shot each day in the United States in 2015. Of the approximately 8,400 shootings, 1,458 were fatal, a death toll that exceeds the entire number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan this decade. The Post's analysis is in keeping with previous studies, including a report published in June in Pediatrics, that have established gun-related deaths as the third-leading cause of death overall among Americans ages 1 to 17.
The impact of gun violence on children — including the trauma to children who survive or witness it — represents a crisis, a serious public-health problem that demands attention. That, as one emergency-room doctor observed, "people just don't want to talk about it" is due in large measure to a national gun lobby that has used its clout to shut down debate and close off consideration of basic and sensible protections that enjoy widespread support. Instead of enacting legislation to require safe storage of firearms — a move that would save countless lives lost to teen suicides and accidental shootings by toddlers — members of Congress who are compliant to the National Rifle Association push unrestricted sales of silencers because of the supposed health crisis to the hearing of hunters.
The surgeon who successfully operated on Carter has treated at least 30 children struck by gunfire in his career. His first night as a neurosurgery intern in 2011 saw the case of a 17-year-old who had been shot "clean through" the back of the head. "There's nothing we can do," the doctor recalls telling the boy's mother. Congress doesn't have that excuse.
The Dallas Morning News on government agencies suing private citizens over public record requests:
Here's an alarming new threat to the public's right to know: More and more government agencies around the country are suing private citizens who request access to public information, in order to keep them from seeing the records.
There's no better protection to our democracy than our ability to hold the people we elect to public office accountable for how they're spending our tax dollars and conducting our business. These are our records, after all, and these agencies are stomping on citizens' right to keep track of what government is doing.
Most state open records laws allow requesters to sue agencies if they're denied records, in order to force the information's release. The Associated Press reports that a growing number of school districts, municipalities and agencies are turning the tables, suing requesters and asking judges to rule that the information doesn't need to be turned over, citing privacy or sensitivity concerns. What's more, even if the agencies are ultimately ordered to turn over the records, they typically will not have to pay the other side's legal bills.
Freedom-of-information advocates see it for exactly what it is: a new way for governments to hide records, delay disclosure and intimidate critics.
What are these agencies trying to hide? Plenty, it turns out. Examples include data on student performance in Oregon, records on employees accused of sexual assault on a college campus in Kentucky, and information on how many school employees are being paid to stay home in Louisiana.
These agencies are sending a disturbing message: that these records are none of the public's business. This is nothing more than an attempt to dissuade citizens from making requests for information.
Texas, once known as a national leader in transparency, has been moving in the wrong direction in recent years. Though the Texas Public Information Act prohibits governmental entities from suing citizens who request records, there's a big gray area for nonprofits that receive government money or property and claim they are not government entities.
And there were setbacks in Austin on repairing damaging rulings that cut off public access to contracts. More and more cities and school districts are denying access.
We're glad to see there's an effort underway to have lawmakers study the Texas Public Information Act before the 2019 session and make recommendations on how it can be improved.
We urge our leaders here and throughout the country to remember that open government is the linchpin to assuring trust, that officials are representing our best interests. Transparency matters. The taxpayers who elect these officials deserve not to be kept in the dark.