Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
Orange County Register (Santa Ana, California) on the war in Afghanistan :
If the war in Afghanistan has been anything, it has been a disappointment.
After 17 years of fighting that has seen thousands of deaths and nearly a trillion dollars in expenses, Americans are sick and tired of the interminable conflict.
Fortunately, serious and substantive negotiations are finally closer than ever to bringing the endless war to an end. Though uncomfortable and not without risk, the new framework to cease hostilities deserves the support of both major political parties and the American people.
Many voters will be irritated by the central feature of the agreement: for the first time, the Taliban has been formally included in negotiations, and their interests will be represented in any final agreement. Doubtless, leaving the Taliban in Afghanistan would be a sharp rebuke of the democracy-spreading agenda that dominated the past 20 years. On the other hand, the United States has simply failed to move enough Afghans away from the Taliban, whether by force, money or cultural influence. And the Taliban is now prepared to honor a negotiated settlement that strikes an uneasy but real compromise.
Specifically, both sides have now agreed in principle to ensure that terrorist organizations do not operate out of Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves the country.
That, lest we forget, was the main - some would say only - strategic objective justifying the original invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.
Critics will caution that peace agreements are made to be violated in the minds of fanatics and ideologues, among which the Taliban must be counted.
This is an obvious concern. But using the fear to justify open-ended conflict with unattainable goals is foolish and fruitless. The truth is there is important evidence that this kind of agreement can hold.
Each country with a stake in Afghanistan wants peace, starting with Afghanistan itself. Significantly, this includes China.
The Chinese are very worried about the spread of militant Islam - so much so that they have accepted real reputational damage in the West opening up massive re-education camps and filling then with their millions-strong Muslim Uighur population.
At the same time, Beijing is worried about threats to the safety and stability of its massive international Belt and Road economic plan. Reports now show that China wishes to take as proactive a role as it can in taking Afghan disorder off the global chessboard. It wishes to see peace succeed, the better to stabilize the core area where its economic strategy will live or die.
And while the U.S. and China are often at odds, neither Washington nor Beijing wants the relationship to spiral into outright hostility and open conflict. Afghanistan offers an important way to establish limited but valuable commonality of interest between the two great powers without the U.S. sacrificing any core objectives.
Unfortunately, in Washington, some members of both parties have a selfish interest in portraying peace in Afghanistan as irresponsible or isolationist.
Neither of these claims could be further from the truth. No serious official who supports the peace policy believes the U.S. can or should cut itself off from the world and flourish. None takes a naive view toward the continued threats posed by terrorist groups and their state sponsors.
Peace in Afghanistan is long overdue. Americans will be grateful when it comes, and reward those in Washington who make it happen.
The Telegraph (United Kingdom) on Venezuela:
For an American president who set his face against interfering in other countries to bring about regime change, Donald Trump's actions in Venezuela mark a significant departure. He has withdrawn Washington's recognition of the government of Nicolas Maduro and thrown the weight of the US behind the opposition leader Juan Guaido.
The Left, who revered Mr. Maduro's mentor Hugo Chavez, have predictably denounced this as a US-backed coup. But Mr. Trump is not acting in isolation. Other Latin American countries, bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis triggered by Maduro's mishandling of the economy, want him out. So, too, do many EU countries, including Britain, who have joined Mr. Trump in demanding fresh elections - this time, unlike last, free and fair.
Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, has said if there are no new elections announced by next week, the UK will recognise Mr. Guaido as interim president "to take forward the political process towards democracy." But while it is all well and good to denounce Mr. Maduro for presiding over an economic and humanitarian catastrophe, the Americans and their allies need to be prepared for what might happen next.
Washington wants Latin American countries like Brazil to spearhead a multilateral diplomatic approach to squeeze Mr. Maduro. But the people of Venezuela are being invited to rise up against a government which still controls the security forces, with all the consequences that could entail.
Mr. Trump says he is on the side of democracy and the people of Venezuela. But if Mr. Maduro refuses to step aside, is the president ready to demonstrate that support with more than words?
The Washington Post on Chinese electronics giant Huawei:
Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, has insisted in recent years that it operates within the bounds of local and international laws and norms. When a former employee filed a legal claim alleging that he was directed by Huawei to steal rivals' trade secrets, the firm declared, "Every employee is expected to adhere to applicable laws, regulations and business ethics in the countries where we operate." But a new U.S. federal indictment issued this week alleges this was far from true.
Huawei, which makes smartphones as well as gear for connectivity, including the forthcoming super-fast 5G networks, has been largely barred from business in the United States for some time, partly over suspicions that it could build "back doors" into its equipment for spying or network mischief. Leading Chinese companies are often closely intertwined with, and required to be subservient to, the state. So far, tangible evidence of hardware meddling has not been made public, if it exists. However, concerns voiced in recent years about Huawei's behavior now look prescient. According to the indictment, Huawei's approach resembles that of the Chinese state: It is unbound by a rules-based, law-governed international order, and it is determined to succeed by using theft and duplicity.
In one case described in the indictment unveiled Monday by the Justice Department, Huawei headquarters in China instructed its employees in the United States to steal the design of a mobile-phone-testing robot developed by T-Mobile. This was a valuable piece of intellectual property that Huawei wanted for its own robot. Huawei engineers were repeatedly encouraged to carry out theft, and, the indictment says, on May 29, 2013, a Huawei engineer visiting T-Mobile slipped a robot arm into his bag and walked out of the laboratory. Overnight, he photographed the device and took critical measurements before returning it the next day, apologizing that it was taken by "mistake." Later, Huawei responded to T-Mobile about the incident with gross deception, saying the thefts were "a moment of indiscretion" and did not reflect company policy when, in fact, the data had been sent to headquarters. Huawei even created a bonus program for workers who stole information from competitors.
This corporate deception is also behind the separate indictment of Huawei and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, the founder's daughter, for bank and wire fraud. The indictment charges that Huawei misled the U.S. government and banks about business that violated Western sanctions against Iran. The legal proceedings against Ms. Meng, who is being held under house arrest in Canada pending an extradition request by the United States, should not be politicized in the current Sino-American trade dispute. If the charges in the indictments are true, then it is clear Huawei intentionally snubbed its nose at international norms and laws, which in turn means it could pose a potentially large national security risk to the West.
Doubts about Huawei are now being heard elsewhere, including in Australia, Poland, Britain and Germany. The next generation of connectivity - 5G networks - is far too important to put in the hands of a company that may work by lies and cover-ups.
USA Today on the Midwest polar blast and climate change:
With frigid Arctic weather descending on tens of millions of Americans, states have declared emergencies, mail carriers are staying inside, and there's a risk of frostbite for exposed skin in Chicago in as little as five minutes.
Little wonder that global warming is the last thing on people's minds and that from some sectors - most notably (and predictably) the president of the United States - a familiar mocking of climate science has resumed. "What the hell is going on with Global Wa(r)ming?" Donald Trump tweeted Monday. "Please come back fast, we need you!"
Trump's tweet might have been meant mainly as a tongue-in-cheek way of making liberal heads explode, but the fact is global warming hasn't gone anywhere.
Much as one day of falling stocks doesn't portend a recession, 48 hours of record-setting cold doesn't negate decades of accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That buildup, created by the burning of fossil fuels since the dawn of the industrial age, is leading to a steady rise in average global temperatures.
"Winter storms don't prove that global warming isn't happening," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tweeted Tuesday.
The past four years were the planet's warmest since modern record-keeping began in 1850. And oceans are heating up even faster.
What is tragically lost on the president and others is that weather (short-term changes in the atmosphere) and climate (average weather over time) are two different things. And a crucial hallmark of man-made climate disruption, scientists agree, is that it can multiply and intensify extreme weather events.
So even as a zone of frigid air known as the polar vortex slips south into the United States this week, Australia endures record heat that has touched off devastating fires on the island of Tasmania.
Extra heat in the oceans and atmosphere can cause hurricanes to grow more intense and raise the frequency of both flooding rains and droughts. The Camp Fire that all but destroyed Paradise, California, last year was the world's costliest natural disaster of 2018. Wildfires raking the state led California's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., to file for bankruptcy this week.
It's too early to say whether this week's Arctic outbreak had anything to do with climate change, but there's emerging science that it can trigger extreme temperature shifts. Years of record-keeping show that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet, as heat-reflecting ice is replaced with heat-absorbing open ocean waters, intensifying this cycle.
One result, according to recent studies, could be changes in the jet stream that otherwise holds the polar vortex over the Arctic, allowing lobes of frigid cold to descend farther south, as happened this week.
The feel of Arctic air against the skin is real and scary. But equally undeniable is the growing accumulation of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. It has risen from 280 parts per million in the late 1800s to 410 parts per million last year.
This frigid outbreak (to be followed by a rapid weekend warmup) isn't a refutation of global warming; it's a harbinger of weather extremes to come.
The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, on building safer roads:
The number of pedestrians killed in the United States over the past decade or so - 49,340 between 2008 and 2017 - is about seven times higher than the number of Americans killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.
South Carolina lost more than 1,100 pedestrians on the state's roads over the same time period, making it the 10th deadliest state for fatal crashes.
Those are among the many sobering statistics from a recent report by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition, which rightly calls on local, state and national leaders to make safer roads a priority.
Perhaps even more troubling than the number of deaths, however, is the primary reason why our streets are so dangerous: We build them that way.
Over the 10-year study period, pedestrian deaths jumped by more than 35 percent while motorist deaths actually dropped by about 6 percent. And those shifts happened even as the nation drove slightly more and walked almost exactly the same amount.
In other words, our focus on building roads designed almost entirely for cars seems to be making things marginally safer for drivers, which is a good thing. But that slight improvement has come at great cost for pedestrians.
It doesn't have to be an either/or proposition.
A big part of the problem is the way we measure the success of a road, which has a lot to do with a metric called "level of service." Roads are given a letter grade based on traffic flow at peak hours. Congested roads fail, free-flowing roads get good grades.
But as the study correctly notes, "Minimizing vehicle delay as the number one goal often produces the roads that are the most dangerous by design."
High traffic speeds are, not surprisingly, very closely correlated with pedestrian risk. The likelihood of a crash being fatal increases dramatically when cars are traveling faster than about 30 mph.
And the focus on moving traffic quickly isn't just for pedestrians.
An incredible 340,000 American drivers lost their lives behind the wheel between 2008 and 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's about one person every 15 minutes.
Focusing on level of service also doesn't necessarily mean taxpayers are getting the most bang for their buck. Some roads with good grades are wastefully overbuilt, for example. Other streets with failing grades run through popular, desirable and highly productive neighborhoods.
As the study notes, Congress has a prime opportunity to make safer streets a priority as part of ongoing federal transportation funding efforts and a potential bipartisan push for infrastructure improvements. State and local governments need to be part of the solution as well.
The top priority ought to be rethinking basic street design.
"Rather than designing roads that encourage speeding and then relying upon enforcement, states and cities should design roads to encourage safer, slower driving speeds in the first place," suggests the study.
We can also fix problematic roads by testing out a variety of traffic calming measures, many of which are relatively cheap and easy to implement - and easy to undo if they cause more problems than they solve.
Charleston Gazette of West Virginia on overdose deaths:
The scale of the opioid crisis is undeniable. More than 70,000 Americans died in 2017 because of drug overdoses.
The narrative of the problem is well-established, too. Overzealous drug companies seeking profits pushed an obscene amount of pills into rural areas while some doctors played fast and loose with their own ethical obligations and regulatory agencies didn't do their job. Pill mills sprouted up, then, eventually, were stamped out. Addicts turned to heroin and fentanyl after they couldn't find or afford pills.
It's a tidy story that, overall, paints a somewhat accurate portrait of the problem. Like any broad narrative, though, there are untidy details that fall through the cracks.
There are many unintended victims of the opioid crisis, but one group often overlooked includes those who took the medicine as prescribed, because they actually needed it and still do.
There is a man from Logan County who writes into the Gazette-Mail frequently, and occasionally calls. He's a disabled coal miner, whose torso and legs were crushed in an industrial accident nearly 30 years ago. As he has aged and his body has deteriorated, new pain pills like oxycodone and hydrocodone that hit the market in the late 1990s were what he needed to stay functional.
Some of the doctors he used to see have been shut down because they were engaging in illegal activity. Others stopped prescribing opioids, as state and federal regulations tightened and the drugs themselves developed a stigma.
This man ... has had to deal with a stigma of his own. He says most of the people he talks to, from personnel in a doctor's office to government officials he looks to for help, view him as an addict looking to obtain pills for an illegitimate purpose. Most everyone has blown him off, he says, and he's trying to start a federal court action to take on state law just to get the medications he needs to relieve the agony he suffers. He's, more than once, offered to come into the newsroom to show an editor or reporter his physical condition, even though the trip would be a great hardship for him ...
Unfortunately, prescription painkillers, although prescribed at a much-reduced rate these days, are still killing people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 people die every day from an overdose of a prescription opioid. Of the 70,000 who died in opioid overdoses in 2017, more than 17,000 were from prescription pills, the highest amount over any other drug ...
Pill mills are, for the most part, gone. Heroin and fentanyl are now viewed as the major culprits in overdose deaths. But the first problem was never completely solved. The pills are still there, they're still causing deaths, and the medical community still struggles with how to get those medications to people who actually need them in an appropriate dose and keep them away from addicts ...
There are still going to be people who need these prescription opioids, though. That also means there will still be people who try to obtain them for illegitimate use. But the system shouldn't be punishing those who need the medications by dismissing them as addicts. Both groups need to be viewed compassionately as the state, as laid out by Gov. Jim Justice, oversees coordination of services to get everyone the help they need...