Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on international reaction to Facebook’s plan to encrypt all of its messaging services:
Facebook wants to pivot to privacy, but there’s a new obstacle in its path: Attorney General William P. Barr.
Mr. Barr and other law enforcement officials in the United States, Britain and Australia are asking the technology company to scrap its much-touted plan to make all of its messaging services end-to-end encrypted by default, BuzzFeed reported last week. The move is likely the first salvo in a broader fight against programs that put users’ communications out of government’s reach - a trend that Mr. Barr this summer called “unacceptable” and “exceptionally dangerous.”
But leaving consumers’ information unprotected is dangerous, too. The officials say in their letter that they support a “means for lawful access,” otherwise known as a “backdoor” for authorities to enter when they come knocking with a warrant. The problem is, a door for U.S. authorities could be a door for everyone else. And everyone else wants in.
Services such as WhatsApp operate with a universal code, which means the moment the United States is offered a security workaround, the leaders of countries far less free will start asking for similar treatment. Egypt, the New York Times recently reported, has been conducting sophisticated cyberattacks on its opposition politicians and civil society. Devices can be altered for individual markets, but that doesn’t mean building intentional vulnerabilities is wise. Last week, Microsoft revealed that the Iranian government had attempted to breach email accounts belonging to a U.S. presidential campaign. Create a “golden key” for the good guys here, and hackers might find ways to unlock whatever they wish.
Mr. Barr’s concerns are legitimate. Criminals take advantage of these systems to conduct their business in the dark, and some of that business, such as child exploitation imagery, is repugnant. There is a tradeoff between security and safety. But the tradeoff need not be absolute. Even with encryption, there are ways to gather evidence, and there could be areas for compromise beyond the debate over a backdoor.
Solutions might vary depending on the abuse being targeted, and each possibility comes with narrower tradeoffs of its own. Forwarding limits could stop disinformation from going viral; filtering tools could conceivably allow users to reject flagged material from being sent to them or prevent some material from being sent altogether. Some believe the way forward for criminal investigations is to permit court-compelled device unlocking for suspects in custody; others believe lawful hacking is the answer. But preventing end-to-end encryption entirely would be a mistake.
Chicago Sun-Times on toxic spills in one of the Great Lakes that have polluted drinking water:
You might think that when a company has a long record of polluting our drinking water, including a recent chemical spill that killed thousands of fish in Lake Michigan, state and federal officials would spring into action.
You might think the U.S. EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management would have begun investigating long ago, methodically and aggressively, to understand why the polluting goes on and on, and taken every step to put an end to it.
You might think they would do their jobs.
But they have not.
Both government agencies have been pretty much missing in action, prompting two environmental groups on Friday to file a 60-day notice of a lawsuit in the hope of convincing the federal government and Indiana that it’s not a good thing to allow dangerously toxic chemicals to flow into the lake.
Such a lawsuit is permitted by the federal Clean Water Act when the government fails to act.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Hoosier Environmental Council report that the Burns Harbor steel mill in northwest Indiana, owned by ArcelorMittal, has broken clean-water laws more than 100 times since 2015. That includes an Aug. 11 toxic spill of concentrated cyanide and ammonia into a ditch that drains into the Little Calumet River, which in turn flows into Lake Michigan.
The ELPC says the “total cyanide load” discharged from one outfall at the mill was 548% higher than the legal limit on Aug. 12, 795% higher on Aug. 13, 557% higher on Aug 14 and 419% higher on Aug. 15. The amount of ammonia discharged into the environment also far exceeded the legal limit.
Yet the supposed environmental sheriffs here - the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management - have made an art of foot-dragging. They repeatedly have sent a message that cracking down on polluters is simply not a priority for them, particularly on the federal level by the Trump administration.
After the most recent spill, local officials in Portage, Indiana, complained that the public was not warned for several days, at which point the sight of thousands of dead fish floating around a nearby marina made it clear something bad had happened.
Boaters complained about the stench of the dead fish. Local fishermen were warned not to eat their catch. The toxic spill was so severe that officials closed nearby beaches, including in the Indiana Dunes National Park, and shut off a drinking water intake.
The EPA and IDEM have said they will file inspection reports about the Aug. 11 spill, but neither agency has taken formal enforcement action over any of the steel mill spills over the past four years, according to records obtained by The Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Hoosier Environmental Council.
Part of the problem is that budget cuts have hacked away at IDEM’s staffing levels year after year. And scientists at the U.S. EPA’s regional office have complained for more than two years that the Trump administration’s antipathy toward environmental regulations has made it harder for them to be effective. The bosses don’t back them up.
When government environmental watchdogs are not watching, any company has a motivation to handle toxic waste in the cheapest way possible, which can mean cutting corners in ways that add to environmental pollution.
Last May, ArcelorMittal was fined more than $5 million for clean-air violations that date back years, but nothing was done about the clean-water violations.
The company says the Aug. 11 spill at its Burns Harbor facility occurred because of a loss of power at a pump station, and that workers did not realize wastewater with ammonia and cyanide would get into the lake.
Assuming that explanation is true, it does not explain the many previous toxic spills. That kind of lax industrial management also is far less likely when there’s a real government watchdog on duty.
Seven million people get their drinking water from Lake Michigan. The U.S. EPA and the state of Indiana owe every one of them a thorough investigation and an end to this nonsense.
The New York Times on a tweet that created controversy between the National Basketball Association and China:
“Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted that message on Friday (Oct. 4). It’s a sentiment that should command broad support in the United States, and throughout the free world.
But the reaction from China, which does not number free expression among its cherished values, was swift and painful for the N.B.A. The shoe company Li Ning and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank ended sponsorship deals with the Rockets; Chinese broadcasters said they would not show Rockets games; the Chinese Basketball Association - led by the former Rockets star Yao Ming - suspended ties with the team.
“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” said Adam Silver, the league’s commissioner.
Mr. Silver went on to add that he supported Mr. Morey, but “what I am supporting is his freedom of political expression in this situation.”
The billionaires who control the lucrative basketball league, however, nearly tripped over themselves in their haste to abjure Mr. Morey’s remarks. The N.B.A., like many large American businesses, is besotted by the opportunity to make money in China’s expanding market. And the league once again made clear it is willing to obey China’s rules to preserve that chance.
The owner of the Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, raced for the traditional refuge of international capitalists - the insistence that business can be segregated from political considerations. “We’re here to play basketball and not to offend anybody,” Mr. Fertitta told ESPN.
But it should be perfectly clear that playing basketball in China is political.
Last year, the N.B.A. staged a game in South Africa for the explicit purpose of celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela. When the N.B.A. goes to China, that’s a statement, too.
It means that the N.B.A. has weighed China’s human rights abuses against China’s potential as a source of revenue, and it has decided that it can live with state policies like the detention of hundreds of thousands of Chinese Muslims in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.
The owner of the Brooklyn Nets, the Chinese billionaire Joe Tsai, took the opportunity to publish an open letter scolding Americans for talking about the affairs of other nations. He also mischaracterized the Hong Kong protests as a “separatist movement.”
Mr. Tsai’s suggestion that people should avoid “third rail” issues may well be good manners when visiting a foreign country, but Mr. Morey posted his tweet while visiting Japan - and on a website that is not accessible to the general public in mainland China.
The face of the Rockets, the point guard James Harden, issued a public apology on Monday.
“We apologize,” he said.
For what, exactly, remained unclear.
Do the N.B.A.’s owners appreciate that their wealth is a product of the freedoms they enjoy in this country? Does Mr. Harden, the owner of a famous beard, know that Muslims in Xinjiang are not allowed to grow beards like his?
The N.B.A. has an undoubted right to set rules for its work force, but it cannot simultaneously claim to champion free expression - the value of which consists entirely in the right to say what others don’t want to hear.
American executives and policymakers initially reconciled themselves to following China’s rules by arguing that China’s turn toward capitalism, and its exposure to the United States, would gradually lead toward democracy and a greater respect for human rights. They argued, in effect, that silence was the most productive form of criticism.
It should now be clear that silence is merely complicity, no more or less.
It is the moral price the N.B.A. and other businesses are paying for making money in China.
The Khaleej Times on protests of the government in Iraq:
Widespread poverty, unemployment, and corruption have crippled life in Iraq and is forcing its young population to pour their anger onto the streets to demand what should be their basic right in the first place. When communication with government fails, protests become the preferred vehicles to seek attention of leaders. The protesters, majorly from the Shia population, feel they have been left behind while other sects have benefitted more from Iraq’s improving economic condition. They are calling for reforms. These young Iraqis are frustrated with pervasive corruption that has corroded every institution in the country. They are infuriated over the lack of employment opportunities which are arguably the only means to improve living conditions. They are vexed at the lack of basic amenities such as uninterrupted electricity. It’s not too much to ask for. Come to think of it, why should an oil-rich country suffer poverty at this scale anyway? Iraq is among the top producers of oil. It’s the second biggest in OPEC, and yet the Adel Abdul Mahdi government hasn’t been able to steer the country to a better future. Yes, Iraq was ravaged by war but collective efforts by international community have put the country back on its feet.
Despite foreign aid, the government has so far failed to turn its military victory over Daesh into social gains. Almost 60 percent of the population of 40 million is aged under 24. With education and opportunities to remain gainfully employed, the youth can help rebuild Iraq in a more constructive manner. Yet, they are on the streets escalating the protests into the worst civil unrest since 2017. Shutting down the Internet and imposing a curfew might help now, but it would not resolve the issue. True, there is no magic formula to solve the country’s problems immediately, like Mahdi noted in his speech late on Thursday (Oct. 3). But there can be ways to improve the conditions of people, and the government would do well to explore and discuss them rather than just highlight the obvious. The Mahdi government should ensure sectarian divide in Iraq doesn’t erode the gains made thus far.
The Miami Herald on the policy that could deport Haitians from the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian:
The Bahamas, for decades, has made clear that its Haitian residents, especially the undocumented, are not welcome. They are unfairly stigmatized, ostracized and bad-mouthed. But this is the worst time for the country to resume its iron-clad immigration policy of deporting Haitians who have been living in the Bahamas illegally.
In September, after Hurricane Dorian brought utter devastation to Grand Bahama Island and Abaco Island, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis declared that deportations would be suspended, a justified respite. Last week, though, he announced they would resume.
Obviously, the trauma of being deported before the hurricane to a dysfunctional Haiti - rocked by corruption, protests, an ineffectual government, a flummoxed president, food scarcity, rampant unemployment and even tent cities still inhabited almost a decade after the 2010 earthquake - pales in comparison to barely surviving Dorian’s deadly ferocity and then being kicked out of the country, perhaps still unsure if relatives are dead in the debris or alive somewhere.
Michelle Karshan, who runs a disaster-recovery program for children in Haiti, told the Editorial Board, “There’s been no national budget for (two) years, there’s a huge movement for the president to step down, hospitals and schools are not open and there are upwards of (30,000) internally displaced people since the earthquake.
“It’s an impossibility to resettle people into Haiti now.”
Deportations, no doubt, will resume. However, it is particularly cruel to do so at this time. This is the same argument that the Editorial Board has made in recommending that the United States continue to extend Temporary Protected Status to Haitians who fled here after the 2010 earthquake.
Of course, they are here legally, able to work and put down roots, however tentative. But Haiti is in no shape to receive those in the United States, either. And because they send remittances to relatives back home, ejecting them also cuts a financial lifeline.
Haitian Bahamians, likewise, contribute to the economy. Why can’t even the undocumented continue to do so, participating in efforts to rebuild the islands, earning money while doing so?
The Bahamas is a sovereign nation with the right to legislate its immigration policies as it sees fit. But the government’s restrictions on Haitian residents’ ability to return to communities such as the Mudd and Sandbanks by banning any rebuilding, after they’ve been sequestered in shelters, sounds like a land grab, an attempt to get rid of a population that was never welcome in the first place.
As with any immigrant population, Haitian Bahamians have settled there for decades, creating families. Some have children who became citizens, some have offspring who are stateless because they failed to apply for citizenship between the ages of 18 and 19, as the law allows.
Moreover, it’s foolhardy to demand that they present documents that prove they are legally able to live in the Bahamas when so many homes and their contents were completely destroyed.
Minnis should show the same compassion he did immediately after the storm and not be swayed by politics. If he does not relent, we urge the members of CARICOM, an organization of Caribbean nations, to speak up on Haitians’ behalf. The organization rightly protested when the Dominican Republic sought to withdraw citizenship from Haitians there.
The organization, while respecting the Bahamas’ autonomy, should speak up now. The Bahamas is a CARICOM member. So is Haiti. That should count for something, especially during this humanitarian crisis.
The Orange County Register on the executive power past and aspiring U.S. presidents:
For too long, the power of the executive branch has long exceeded the narrow set of powers and expectations set out by the U.S. Constitution.
Unfortunately, there is little sign of this changing, with President Trump and the Democratic candidates alike perpetually seeking to push the limits of executive authority.
Just because someone is elected president doesn’t mean they can do whatever they’d like. And even for those who claim a “mandate,” any purported mandate must be constrained by the limits of the constitution.
While presidents have a tendency to take on an almost cultish devotion among their strongest supporters, Americans ought to see the dangerous path of infusing a single individual with so much power.
Though there is still plenty of information to sort through, there is legitimate cause for concern about President Trump’s apparent order to hold up congressionally approved aid to Ukraine ahead of a call with Ukraine’s then newly-elected president Volodymyr Zelensky.
It raises, among other things, red flags over the president breaching the separation of powers with regards to Congress’ power of the purse.
But in addressing another sort of abuse of power, these pages have called out other instances of President Trump overextending the reach the executive branch ought to have.
This includes tariffs initiated officially under dubious national security grounds. It also includes his perpetuation of American involvement in conflicts without congressional authorization, particularly U.S.-support for Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen. And it includes his efforts to sidestep Congress by declaring a national security at the southern border after Congress refused to fund a border wall.
Whatever the merits of any of these ideas, there’s supposed to be a process for implementing and pursuing such policies.
Unfortunately, in sidestepping Congress and expanding the power of the executive branch, President Trump has merely followed those who came before him.
And to make matters worse, those vying to succeed him aren’t much better on that front.
Democratic presidential candidates have been more than happy to run with the idea that they can abuse executive authority, particularly by way of executive orders, to get what want without having to go through Congress.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, for instance, has promised that if Congress doesn’t agree to gun control policies to her liking, she’ll simply issue executive orders to impose gun control policies.
Joe Biden’s website touts the former vice president’s promise to “sign a series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track” with respect to climate change.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, meanwhile, has vowed to “do everything I can by executive order,” on guns, while also wanting to use that power to raise the pay of women of color.
It’s unfortunate that the American power have allowed presidents and aspiring presidents to get such an outsized view of their powers. It is likewise unfortunate that Congress has been allowed to do little more than allow things to run on autopilot, with only rare efforts to check presidential powers.
One thing is for certain: the founders would not recognize the federal government of today as what they envisioned and planned for.