Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on Guantanamo Bay:
As the Obama administration makes a final push to reduce the number of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, President-elect Donald Trump is vowing to halt transfers, saying that those remaining are "extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield."
Mr. Trump's latest Guantanamo remark, delivered in a tweet on Tuesday, is consistent with his misguided campaign vow to keep the offshore prison open and "load it up with some bad dudes." He seems oblivious to the risks and costs that keeping the prison open, and perhaps expanding it, would entail.
This makes it imperative that the Obama administration spare no effort in its remaining days to release the roughly 18 detainees who are cleared for transfer to a handful of countries that have agreed to take them. That would leave about 40 detainees, down from the 780 men who have been held at the prison, which was created after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Among the detainees who would remain, three were convicted in the military commission system and seven have charges pending before that commission. Twenty-six are deemed too dangerous to release, but the government has no plans to prosecute them; officials have concluded that prosecuting them would be nearly impossible because they have been held for years without trial and several were tortured while in custody. That assessment needs to be revisited. Holding these prisoners at Guantanamo forever is untenable for a nation that claims to adhere to the rule of law, and can only fuel the enmity of extremist groups around the world toward the United States.
Since 2009, Republicans in Congress have done everything possible to thwart President Obama's goal of shutting down Guantanamo. They opposed his plan to prosecute detainees in federal court and have imposed unreasonable rules for the release of inmates whom national security officials have cleared for transfer. They blocked a plan to move the prisoners to a facility in the United States, where holding them would be considerably cheaper. Operating the prison at Guantanamo, Cuba, has cost taxpayers more than $5.6 billion over the years.
Republicans cloaked their opposition behind claims of national security, but it was primarily driven by antipathy toward Mr. Obama. Even with him leaving office, there is little reason to believe that the Republican-led Congress will have any interest in hastening the end of Guantanamo.
This means that challenges in the courts by the prisoners to wartime detention without trial is more important than ever. "Federal courts are going to be the last, best hope for the men at Guantanamo that Obama leaves behind," said J. Wells Dixon, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents Guantanamo detainees. Unfortunately, a 2011 ruling by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit made it significantly harder for Guantanamo detainees to challenge their detention in civilian courts.
The courts ought to take a fresh look at new legal claims in light of how long these men have been held, and the fact that soon, no one in the executive branch will be working toward a sensible resolution.
China Daily on the U.S., China and the Korean Peninsula:
US president-elect Donald Trump has adopted a belligerent tone whenever he talks about China-his equivalent of Pinocchio's nose, perhaps-and his latest bid to tar China with the brush of responsibility for seemingly any and every issue that catches his attention was no exception.
"China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the US in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!" he tweeted on Monday.
Such accusations are deliberately manipulative, and bode ill for ties between the world's top two economies, each being the other's biggest trading partner.
Trade between China and the United States, nearly $560 billion last year, has thrived on mutual benefits as the two economies are complementary to each other. It is not a favor given by one to the other.
And, contrary to what Trump claimed, China has always played an active and responsible role in trying to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
It has worked with the US and other countries to impose UN mandated sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and send a strong and united response to Pyongyang's provocative moves.
Most recently, China, together with the US, voted in favor of a UN resolution in December to tighten sanctions on the DPRK after its fifth nuclear test in September.
Trump also conveniently neglected to mention that the hostile stance of the US and its Asian allies toward the DPRK has only increased the DPRK's fears about its survival. And their aggressive moves, such as the planned deployment of the US' Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in the Republic of Korea and large-scale joint military exercises, have only fueled Pyongyang's desire to accelerate its nuclear weapons program.
Rather than accusing China of not doing enough to help the US with its strategic aims on the Korean Peninsula and reinforcing the DPRK's survival fears, Trump would do better to heed his own words and leverage his image as a maverick to engage in talks with Pyongyang.
The DPRK regards a nuclear deterrent as crucial to ensure its survival, the only way to change that belief and secure stability on the peninsula is for the incoming Trump administration to alter the US' approach and help find a peaceful and permanent solution through the Six-Party Talks.
The Wall Street Journal on Congress' ethics reform controversy:
The 115th Congress flopped into Washington on Tuesday with House Republicans proposing and then dropping marginal changes to an internal ethics office. The reversal is an unforced political error, but the GOP is right that the investigative body has the power to destroy reputations without due process.
By the way, Paul Ryan was re-elected Speaker Tuesday with one GOP defection, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi lost four Democrats. But that news was dwarfed as the House considered rules for the new Congress, and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte offered an amendment to restructure the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The office is composed of political grandees, often former Members, and it has no prosecutorial power. But it conducts investigations into Members or staffers and makes recommendations to the House Ethics Committee. The proposal limited what information can be released to the public and barred the committee from having a press secretary. Also banned: anonymous tips.
Mr. Ryan and other House leaders opposed the rule as badly timed. But the rank and file adopted the idea Monday night anyway, only to dump it on Tuesday after denunciations from the Democratic-media complex. The left rounded up callers to deluge Republican switchboards for "gutting" the outfit. Donald Trump couldn't resist piling on with a pair of tweets: "With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority."
The reality is that the office is at best redundant and perhaps worse. Democrats created the office in 2008 to deflect attention from a crush of corruption scandals, including charges against at least three Members. The left is pitching the place as an essential institution of self-government, but the Senate manages to function without a similar office.
As it is, the ethics office is a roving investigator that can publish reports with details that may not be accurate and can damage a reputation with little or no proof of guilt. Evidence of wrongdoing in travel, campaign finances and other matters can be handled by the House Ethics Committee, and if necessary law-enforcement agencies. Both are politically accountable, unlike the independent office.
Anonymous complaints are especially insidious, as subjects of an investigation may not know who is accusing them_and the accuser may never have to press his case. Nixing the communications director is also worthy: A press secretary is nothing but a designated leaker. The office is a great tool for government "watchdog" groups that are progressives posing as transparency enthusiasts, which renders the proceedings even less fair.
The burning question in the media has been whether Mr. Trump or public outcry deserve credit for the GOP's about-face. In any case, House Republicans will pay a political price for trying, then failing, to rush through ethics changes_after running on draining the D.C. swamp. By caving so precipitously at the first sign of opposition, they've also invited more such pressure campaigns.
The upshot is an embarrassing start for a new GOP Congress that is supposed to be stalwart for pursuing conservative reform no matter the opposition. Progressives are elated that their Trump "resistance" project notched a victory and will continue the fact-free outrage campaigns. If you think the political pressure is intense on ethics rules, wait until the left completes its nationwide talent search for the person most harmed by the GOP's health-care proposals. Mr. Trump will also figure he can rout any opposition with a tweet, not that he's known for restraint.
The shame is that a review of the ethics office is overdue, much as due-process rights have suffered under the Obama Administration_from college campus show trials to bankrupting legal companies. Maybe Congress can restore its own due-process guarantees after it does something for everyone else's.
The Chicago Tribune on Chicago's crime epidemic:
"In the six days we were in Chicago, 55 people were shot, 16 were killed. We were struck by just how routine it all felt. The dead and wounded were removed with grim efficiency — right down to the hazmat crews that cleaned away the blood. Murder seemed almost normal."
Those words from "60 Minutes" correspondent Bill Whitaker in a piece, "Crisis in Chicago," that aired Sunday might startle those unfamiliar with the depths of Chicago's crime epidemic. Bloodshed, the new normal. But to a city emotionally inoculated by a steady exposure to street violence, Whitaker's words were not particularly provocative. The show aired. Most of us resumed our "normal" lives.
The headlines, the panel discussions, the news conferences, the out-of-town media diagnosing Chicago's disease ... we've all been there, seen that. This city and its leaders have spent years scampering in the hamster wheel. Police statistics reveal few measurable results. Chicago closed out 2016 with 762 homicides, more than New York City and Los Angeles combined and the worst homicide spike here in nearly two decades. And 2017 brought more slayings; two 16-year-old boys were shot and killed Tuesday in East Garfield Park.
Those not directly touched by violence are affected by daily exposure to it. Some people go numb. Others get temporarily outraged. Neither response seems to help.
Yet many Chicagoans want to do something. They can't rely on government to fix this. They can't put a police officer on every corner. They can't reverse a culture of violence. They can't force parents to be good ones.
But if your eyes are reading these words and your heart is aching and your mind is exasperated by the cycle of brute force in this city, there is something you can do. You can volunteer. No, it's not a corny suggestion. It's an urgent call for all of us to take ownership of Chicago's plague.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday announced the expansion of mentorship programs through the city's Department of Family and Support Services to bolster the connection between the city and the nonprofit agencies in the trenches. Twelve existing providers will be able to reach, hopefully, an additional 660 at-risk youths beginning this month.
But the city alone cannot spend its way toward dramatically improved crime statistics. That's where you come in. Mentor a child or a high school student from a low-opportunity neighborhood. You don't need a fancy degree. All you need is a willingness to listen, to care, to be reliable.
For the average person looking for a mentoring opportunity, Emanuel recommends Mentor Illinois at www.ilmentoring.org, a clearinghouse for rank-and-file citizens who want to give back. We'll tell you straightaway — finding the right volunteer opportunity is not easy. Making a match is often the greatest challenge for the most successful and proven nonprofits. You will need to do some research.
"Of 100 people who make an inquiry, only seven become a volunteer. Ninety-three percent decide not to pursue the opportunity," says Art Mollenhauer, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago, an organization with a track record and the resources to guide willing volunteers through the process.
Mollenhauer understands the hesitation. "The (homicide statistics) are so overwhelming and so intimidating psychologically for all of us to take," he says. "It's a barrier. People want to know, can they actually do something about it?"
Yes. You can. If the latest newspaper headline or anti-violence march or "60 Minutes" episode didn't serve as your wake-up call, perhaps reading this will. Inquire about volunteer opportunities. Ask questions. Talk to your neighbors and friends. Maybe form a little team. But don't be part of the 93 percent who won't follow through.
We all have an ownership stake in lifting Chicago. Imagine the impact if we all did.
The Telegraph, UK, on Prime Minister Theresa May:
Here is a tale of two New Year messages. Angela Merkel, who faces a tough re-election bid in 2017, talked in hers about the troubles facing Europe. Brexit, she said, had inflicted a deep wound upon the Continent. Theresa May, by contrast, was full of optimism. If 2016 was the year that Britain voted for change, she said, "this is the year we start to make it happen".
We agree: the big question is "how"? We have absolutely no doubt that the British people made the right decision about the biggest question they faced in decades. Britain voted for self-government in the EU referendum. It rejected so-called expert advice and embraced an alliance between ambition and common sense. And in the months that have followed, the news has almost entirely been bright. For instance, at least 35,000 new jobs have been pledged by global companies since June — in defiance of negative predictions.
Mrs May speaks now of bringing the country back together. We understand why. Most prime ministers want to be unifiers: it is rare for anyone to run for office pledging to tear the world apart. One Nation Conservatism has a noble history of reaching across class or regional divides to make an argument rooted in individual liberty and patriotism. Philosophically, this appears to be the tradition in which Mrs May most comfortably fits.
But choices have to be made. We understand that Mrs May cannot spell out her negotiating position on Brexit before she has begun talks — but she could make a clearer case for the kind of Britain that will result. To say that it will work for all is, again, something that every leader says. What will the detail be?
It must be a Britain that encourages free trade at a time when its benefits have been called into doubt, not least by the incoming president of the United States. Critics might ask how Leavers can be genuine free traders while simultaneously arguing for leaving the EU — an observation that misunderstands the nature of the EU. It is not a free-trade zone so much as a sclerotic protection bloc. Outside of it, Britain will be free to negotiate, with relative speed, profitable new deals with the rest of the world.
There is good news on that score, too. Mrs May and her Brexit team have been lining up constructive relations with Australasia, the Gulf states, Canada, South Korea, India and, crucially, America. In an era of rising nationalism and economic protectionism, Britain should be making the case for spreading wealth and democracy through capitalism.
That goes for at home as well as abroad. Jeremy Corbyn's New Year message has implied that he accepts Brexit — a position he has yet to sell to his back benches — but wants it to trigger a return to Seventies-style socialism. That means more spending, higher taxes and union activism. Mrs May might be tempted, as part of her pitch to working-class voters in the coming Copeland by-election, to move with him to the Left. She should do the opposite.
Take the issue of union power. There is a strike taking place this holiday weekend on Southern rail, and it is due to resume on January 9. It amounts to economic vandalism: it is militant action that will damage Britain's growth, not Brexit. The unions are fighting automation and trying to send a message to the Government that they, not employers, call the shots. The Government should reply with resolve: passengers will not be held to ransom by dinosaurs. If that necessitates legislation to curb the right to strike on critical infrastructure, then so be it.
And while Mrs May is absolutely right to suggest that Brexit will define the next 12 months, we sincerely hope this means that difficult choices about other matters will not be avoided. Those who care passionately about freedom of speech, for instance, want to see an end to the invidious Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.
And those who want a vastly improved NHS will not benefit from fine rhetoric about national unity. It means little to anyone wanting to see their GP, apparently waiting an average of 13 days, or those joining a long queue at A&E or someone unable to get into hospital at all due to bed blocking. One of the biggest future crises facing Britain is its shortage of social care.
The British people have made very difficult decisions before — the Brexit vote being the starkest example. It proved that they are willing to embrace the future and all the challenges that come with it. If Mrs May is direct and courageous, she will find that the British people respond positively to the case for change.
In that spirit, we wish our readers a very happy New Year — and a prosperous, peaceful 2017.
The Los Angeles Times on what Exxon knew about global warming decades ago:
Scientists at the giant multinational energy company then known as Exxon were aware as early as the 1970s that burning products made from oil would contribute to global warming and, eventually, raise sea levels and alter climates.
Investigative reports published in 2015 by The Times and Inside Climate News found that the company made internal calculations about how such changes would affect its business — recognizing, for instance, that the polar ice caps were shrinking and that the company's operations in the Arctic could change dramatically as a result. But even as it privately schemed about how to handle the risks and benefits of climate change, the oil giant publicly argued that the science it knew to be right was actually murky. For years, Exxon financed projects aimed at undermining the growing scientific consensus about global warming, and continued to sell stock to investors without acknowledging either the dangers to the world of burning fossil fuels — or the threats that rising and more volatile seas posed to the company's own offshore drilling operations and coastal installations, among other climate change-related business risks.
The gap between what Exxon officials knew to be true and what they said publicly suggests both hypocrisy and a lack of concern about the fate of the planet. But whether the company violated securities law in the process is another question. That is the subject of investigations by several state attorneys general, led by those in New York and Massachusetts, who have subpoenaed hundreds of thousands of pages of documents. California has its own inquiry underway, though Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris has offered no details and her department officially has no comment "on a potential or ongoing investigation." Separately, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission is also reviewing actions by Exxon Mobil, as the corporation has been known since a 1999 merger.
Exxon Mobil has responded to the state subpoenas, but it also is trying to persuade a federal judge in Texas to close down the Massachusetts investigation, accusing the state of trampling its 1st Amendment rights. Whether a federal judge in Texas would have authority to interfere in an ongoing state investigation in Massachusetts is the subject of yet more legal wrangling.
At the same time, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the oil-friendly chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, has demanded documents from the ongoing state investigations, including from Harris' office — a troubling attempt by Congress to interfere in state-level criminal investigations. Smith's committee also has sought documents from independent environmental groups that, using the campaign against the tobacco industry as a blueprint, are acting in concert to try to hold the oil industry responsible for climate change damages it knew its products were causing.
While New York and Massachusetts have been open about their investigation of Exxon (the Virgin Islands recently abandoned a similar effort, citing lack of resources), California has been quiet. Harris is not long for her job in Sacramento — she will replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate next week. Gov. Jerry Brown has nominated Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) to succeed Harris, pending confirmation by the Legislature. Assuming that happens, Becerra should put the Exxon investigation near the top of his "to do" list.
If investigations by California and other states find no grounds to pursue charges, so be it. It's clear in any case that Exxon Mobil's behavior was at best devious and cynical. The oil giant was at the vanguard of understanding the perils inherent in burning fossil fuels, and could have been a leader in moving the world toward safer and more sustainable energy sources.
Exxon Mobil's calculated manipulations cost the world an opportunity to attack global warming earlier than it did. If Exxon Mobil — and other oil companies — had acted more in the common interest rather than focusing on profit, the world might not be struggling today to ratchet back emissions and avoid catastrophic changes.
With President-elect Donald J. Trump's nomination of Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson as secretary of State, the company's climate change-denying disinformation campaign demands as full and fast a public accounting as is possible.
The Denver Post on President Barack Obama's decision to eject 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S.:
President Barack Obama's decision to punish Russia for orchestrating a hacking campaign meant to influence the 2016 election is a welcome move, and one that should be supported by good patriots everywhere.
The world's largest democracy should not let such a breach go unanswered. The strength of our country and the very cause for which we stand would be threatened should foreign governments disrupt our ability to conduct fair and secure elections. Given that U.S. intelligence agencies also fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to have his hackers meddle with democratic elections in Europe, there is extra good reason to act publicly in this way.
Obama's administration is ejecting 35 Russian diplomats from San Francisco and Washington that it suspects are spies. It is blocking access to seaside compounds Russian diplomats enjoy in New York and Maryland (and may use to avoid detection from U.S. spies). And the administration also is imposing economic sanctions on Russian intelligence services and operatives and promising further action.
In retrospect, such moves should have come sooner, back in the days they might have had the desirable effect of preventing our long-time adversary from making a mess of our election cycle and creating the worry that the results of that meddling tipped the scales in the favor of President-elect Donald Trump. But any suggestion that it is too late to act miss the point. Our nation must signal strongly that we won't accept this kind of behavior in the future.
No, the punishments listed so far don't amount to much more than a public rebuke, so we hope going forward the U.S. continues to find ways to make Putin pay for his inexcusable interference.
We admit that such hopefulness, however, appears to be the stuff of make-believe. So far Trump and his team seem bent on continuing to act like the Russians are our friends and our intelligence agents are nothing but political hacks engaged in smears against his victory.
Not long after the blustery billionaire talked incomprehensibly about life in the "age of computer," his aide Kellyanne Conway argued that Obama's actions weren't the stuff of a responsible president, but a political stunt meant to "box in" the next administration.
Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani called the punishments petty, too little too late, and said that the president-elect shouldn't trust anything coming from the U.S. intelligence agencies while Obama remained in office.
Thankfully, congressional Republican leaders remain dedicated to investigating the Russian hacks and even broadening sanctions and punishments going forward.
And Trump himself said he would at least attend a meeting with U.S. intelligence officials next week.
Critics can howl at Obama on the sanctions if they want. And certainly we could argue that Obama has been too soft on Russia for its harsh backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad, so why take such umbrage at this bloodless incursion into our electoral process?
But America must protect its democratic principles and its ability to maintain them. So no, Mr. Trump. It's not time for our country to "move on" from this insult.
It's time to hold accountable those who seek to harm us.