Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Decatur (Alabama) Daily on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and marijuana:
The U.S. is in the middle of an opioid epidemic.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2014 to 2015, overdose-related deaths from one opioid alone, heroin, increased by 20.6 percent, with nearly 13,000 people dying in 2015.
Meanwhile, there remain no known marijuana overdose deaths, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and studies have found states that have legalized marijuana have seen a decrease in opioid-related deaths.
So, of course, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided to ramp up the fight against — legal marijuana.
On Thursday, Sessions rescinded the Obama administration's relatively hands-off policy toward states that have legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. Federal prosecutors where marijuana is legal under state law will now be free to decide for themselves how aggressively to enforce federal laws.
The Justice Department doesn't have the resources to truly crack down on marijuana in states where they have no state and local support. But it doesn't necessarily need them.
The main effect of Sessions' action is to cause uncertainty, which will disrupt the newly burgeoning legal pot markets in states like Colorado and California.
The prospect of an aggressive federal prosecutor swooping in isn't just a threat to marijuana businesses, but also anyone who does business with them, such as financial institutions or landlords.
Not coincidentally, Sessions also opposes reforming civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government to seize the property of the accused even before they're convicted of a crime — and makes it difficult and sometimes impossible even for those found not guilty to get their property back. A landlord renting to a marijuana-related business might well have his rental property seized by the feds, should a federal attorney emboldened by Sessions' renewed anti-marijuana crusade be inclined to press the issue.
Disrupting marijuana businesses is exactly what Sessions intends. He may lack the resources to carry on a full-scale drug war without state and local cooperation, but he can create chaos.
Why would Sessions do this? He is proudly stuck in the past and claims marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than drugs like heroin.
"I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that's only slightly less awful," Sessions told law enforcement officials in a speech last year.
Senators in both parties spoke out last week against Sessions' action. A bill in the U.S. Senate, S.1689, the Marijuana Justice Act, would end marijuana prohibition at the federal level and turn it over to the states.
Sessions may embrace federalism only when it suits his fancy, but the Senate should embrace it here and leave the war on marijuana up to the states that still choose to wage it, and not force it upon those that don't.
The Japan News on treatment of North Korea amid inter-Korean talks:
North Korea's dangerous stance of wielding "nuclear forces" remains unchanged. South Korea should maintain pressure on Pyongyang without disrupting cooperation with Japan and the United States.
In his New Year's address, Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, declared the operational deployment of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). He said decisively the "nuclear button" is on his desk, and that the entire United States is within the range of a nuclear strike by his country.
Kim has also instructed mass production and swift deployment of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, "the reliability of which have already been proved to the full."
Many observers believe that North Korea's ICBMs are technically incomplete. However, after repeated tests of its intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan, the improvement of missile capabilities has been confirmed. Provocative remarks that would raise military tensions are simply unacceptable.
In response, U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that his nuclear button is "a much bigger & more powerful one." This response lacks the dignity befitting a leader of a superpower.
In a message to South Korea, Kim has expressed his readiness to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics to be held in February. He has also restored a hotline between the two Koreas' authorities and agreed to hold high-level inter-Korean talks on Tuesday.
Such moves are apparently aimed at weakening the international noose on North Korea by engaging the South to estrange Seoul from the United States.
In the New Year's address, Kim cited significantly "improving the people's standard of living" as a task. The regime is undoubtedly facing difficulties. Behind this situation is the fact that economic sanctions against Pyongyang have steadily taken effect. The people's living circumstances have been squeezed by gas price increases and other resulting effects.
In response to North Korea's nuclear tests and ballistic missile firings, the U.N. Security Council has strengthened trade restrictions such as on refined oil products. Efforts also must be increased for the surveillance and detection of smuggling.
South Korean President Moon Jae In has welcomed the North's positive attitude toward its participation in the Pyeongchang Games, saying that Pyongyang has "agreed to our proposal to make the Olympics an opportunity for peace." It seems to be an inflated view typical for Moon, who consistently takes a conciliatory attitude toward North Korea.
Moon had repeatedly called for inter-Korean talks since taking office, but Pyongyang ignored the calls. His desire to realize the North's participation in the Games and tout it as his administration's achievement in a domestic political appeal is discernible.
Moon and Trump have agreed that their countries will not conduct joint military exercises during the Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics. Further concessions could send the wrong signal to North Korea. Seoul should strongly urge Pyongyang to stop military provocations during the upcoming inter-Korean talks.
The United States intends to draw North Korea into talks toward the relinquishment of its nuclear and missile development by putting maximum pressure on the country. It is vital that the inter-Korean talks will be held in a way conducive to such a strategy.
The Boston Herald on immigration:
It's easy to have sympathy for some 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants who now face possible deportation, and yet still acknowledge that the events that allowed them their special refugee status were in 2001.
El Salvador remains a crime-ridden, dysfunctional country that is perpetually unable to provide a stable environment for its people. In that, it is hardly alone on this planet. But when earthquakes hit in 2001, the U.S. granted special status to many who were able to flee, allowing them to basically "cut the line" of our immigration system.
As recently as September 2016, the Obama administration certified that El Salvador was still unable to accept such a large group of returning citizens.
And late last week their nation's president implored Homeland Security Secretary to allow more time for Congress to come up with a fix that would allow his citizens to stay here.
The sad fact is that many people in El Salvador are dependent on the cash flow from relatives living in the U.S. — hence the plea from their own president.
Immigrants from Haiti, Nicaragua and South Sudan, who came in under the same kind of disaster relief program, have already been put on notice that their special status will end over the next 18 months or so. Honduras, which has some 50,000 emigres here, is likely next on Nielsen's list.
It has been a poorly kept secret under at least three presidents that the special program (adopted by Congress in 1990) is yet another end run around a real immigration fix. A humanitarian carve-out here, a temporary program there and Congress has saved itself the difficult job of coming up with actual legislation that would provide a long-term solution and set policy.
Many of those caught up in the current controversy would likely qualify to remain under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, if only Congress would come up with a permanent fix for that.
America needs its immigrants just as much as they need a safe haven from the countries they have left. The legal limbo of temporary programs isn't fair to them or to the nation they have adopted.
The Orange County (California) Register on welfare reform:
Following the critical passage of tax reform, congressional Republicans and President Trump might now turn their attention to reforming at least some of the nation's vast, too often ineffective social safety net.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared an "unconditional war on poverty in America." Since then, the United States has spent $23 trillion on anti-poverty programs, including nearly $1 trillion annually in recent years. Adjusted for inflation, according to the Heritage Foundation, this spending, which doesn't include programs such as Social Security or Medicare, amounts to "three times the cost of all military wars in U.S. history since the American Revolution."
Yet, despite this spending, we are far from eradicating poverty. After years of hovering around 15 percent following the Great Recession, the national poverty rate in 2016 reported by the Census was 12.7 percent. When accounting for factors like the price of housing, the national poverty rate under the Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure rises to 14.7 percent, while in places like California it surpasses 20 percent.
More than $23 trillion and over half a century later, these are not the sort of results anyone who values a social safety net should be contented with. Before continuing down this road of pouring vast sums of money on programs that aren't necessarily producing results, there ought to be greater study of federal anti-poverty programs, their efficiency and effectiveness.
One problem, as Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute recently noted in National Review, is that our current welfare system "is a bureaucratic nightmare." With more than 100 different programs with distinct requirements, management and oversight, "the system increasingly provides payments not to the poor themselves, but to an industry of landlords, doctors, grocers and others who serve the poor."
Given the often complicated set of rules around the numerous programs, welfare beneficiaries sometimes find themselves losing out more in benefits than they'd gain from working, among the many incentive problems that traps many from being able to move forward with their lives.
These are among the many issues that the White House and Congress can and should seek solutions to. Of course, with many rural Republican voters reliant on public assistance, even Republican members of Congress can be vulnerable to political backlash if they go too far in curtailing welfare spending.
But the goal shouldn't be to cut for the sake of cutting. While President Trump has lamented that "people are taking advantage of the system," most people receiving benefits from America' social safety net actually are in need. Ensuring our social safety net is effective and encourages able-bodied people to work and support themselves as soon and as much as they can is something that should be able to yield bipartisan support.
Ultimately, of course, the best way to combat poverty is to ensure America's economy continues to grow and jobs remain accessible to as many Americans as possible. Tax reform and Trump's halt on excessive new regulations are important steps toward that. But the White House and Congress shouldn't be content with that. Other areas are ripe for improvement as well, like occupational licensing reform to remove artificial barriers to work.
Former President Barack Obama said during his 2015 State of the Union address that "When what you're doing doesn't work for 50 years, it's time to try something new." He was talking about the embargo with Cuba, but what is true of relations with Cuba is true of the way we deliver aid to the neediest among us as well. It's time to get serious about welfare reform.
USA TODAY on the federal government's response to the opioid epidemic:
With people across the country dying at the rate of 53 a day from overdoses of fentanyl and similar compounds — now the leading killers in the opioid epidemic — efforts to stop this scourge ought to come from every corner of the federal government.
But even as President Donald Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency, some agencies have failed to act as if it is one.
Just last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama administration policy on marijuana, signaling that the Justice Department may prosecute people selling or using the drug. Regardless of your views on marijuana, deploying limited federal resources to prosecute pot cases amid a raging opioid epidemic is like telling firefighters to inspect smoke detector batteries in one home while the house next door is engulfed in flames.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service could be doing more to intercept packages of illicit fentanyl coming from abroad. The Postal Service has moved at a lethargic pace to get much needed advance data from foreign countries that could cut exports of fentanyl, which is often mixed with or sold in place of heroin, to lethal effect.
For reasons that are unclear, the State Department, Justice Department and the president have had only limited success in getting China, the main source for fentanyl entering the United States, to assist in choking off the supply.
Sessions applauded the Chinese last week for restricting two chemical ingredients for fentanyl, an important move. But the Chinese government has failed to arrest two Chinese nationals, indicted by the U.S. last October as large distributors of fentanyl to Americans. Indictments aren't worth much if the criminals remain at large.
Much of the fentanyl, which can be ordered on the Internet, comes into this country from China and Mexico often in small packages via private shippers and the U.S. mail. Customs and Border Protection officers, looking to intercept illegal shipments, now have to go through bags and bins of parcels manually, a daunting task.
The Postal Service could more easily spot fentanyl if it had some basic data — who and where the package is coming from and the recipient's name and address — in advance. That would "aid in targeting shipments," a top Customs official told a Senate hearing last May.
Although a federal law has required private shippers to provide advance electronic data since 2002, the Postal Service's participation was left up to the postmaster general and leaders of another Cabinet department. More than 15 years later, the Postal Service still doesn't demand this advance data from all countries.
Since 2016, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and a bipartisan coalition that has grown to 29 senators and 252 House members have pushed a commonsense measure to require that all countries provide this electronic data.
The president's commission on opioids supports it, too.
The Postal Service's response? In testimony prepared for the Senate hearing, a top official said that it "agrees with the goal" of the measure, but that requiring all nations to provide this data immediately is "impractical" and could cost as much as $4.8 billion over 10 years.
Why not start with maximum tracking of mail from China and any other countries that appear to be significant sources of synthetic opioids?
Nor has the U.S. given foreign countries a hard deadline to provide this potentially life-saving information. The best the Postal Service could offer was that it's "seeing substantial data" from China. It would not answer our questions about what percentage of Chinese mail comes with advance data.
"How many more Americans have to die before our government gets its act together . to keep this poison out of our communities?" Portman asked officials at the hearing.
Deaths from drug overdoses have now far outstripped the toll from car crashes or guns, once the leading causes of accidental deaths.
In fact, for two years in a row, skyrocketing deaths from drug overdoses have dragged down how long Americans are expected to live.
According to several national polls over the past two years, 49% of Americans, an astounding number, said they know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers. Yet according to the same polls, more than half said it is a major problem but not an emergency.
Perhaps that's because the deaths don't occur as mass tragedies but in an unending stream of individual casualties in cities, towns and rural communities across the country.
Galvanizing the public would be helpful. More important is galvanizing the federal government into emergency mode to deal with an elusive mass killer, fentanyl, that is claiming the lives of more than two people every hour.
The New York Times on unrest in Iran and how it reflects on the 2015 nuclear deal:
For ordinary Iranians, the great promise of the 2015 nuclear deal was economic revival. International sanctions would be lifted, foreign investment would flow and the standard of living, crippled by years of ostracism by the United States and its partners, would rise, allowing Iran to once again flourish.
That hasn't happened, or at least not the way Iranians expected, thus producing conditions that helped make the recent protests — the most serious since 2009 — possible. Over two weeks, thousands of Iranians in more than 80 cities took to the streets to denounce high unemployment, inflation, corruption and the government's habit of spending money on foreign wars while cutting programs at home.
As the unrest unfolded, President Trump blamed the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under President Barack Obama because it required the United States to put millions of dollars back into the hands of a repressive government — money that belonged to Iran but was frozen after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and returned when Iran curbed its nuclear program.
It's more plausible that by raising expectations for a better life, the deal opened Iranians' eyes and made them less tolerant when the government fell short.
The deal has had a beneficial effect. The economy grew by 7 percent in 2016 and was expected to do so again in 2017, a far cry from the 9 percent shrinkage in the two years before March 2014, when modest sanctions relief took effect. Oil production is nearly at pre-sanctions levels, foreign companies are making new energy investments and Boeing has received orders for commercial aircraft.
Nevertheless, growth and investment aren't doing enough to meet the needs of a population mainly too young to remember the Islamic Revolution.
While low oil prices are a big factor in Iran's failure to rebound, so are corruption, mismanagement, a weak banking system, a failure to curb money laundering, a flawed rule of law and a record of human rights abuses, including arrests of American-Iranian businessmen, that make foreign companies reluctant to do business there. The hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and various religious institutions, which control much of the economy, are major impediments to reform.
Now that some 22 people have been killed and at least 1,000 detained, the anti-government protests may be petering out without a clear indication of whether they will have a lasting impact. They certainly aren't the end of the struggle among Iranian hard-liners, determined to maintain rigid Islamic laws that dictate how people should live; moderates like President Hassan Rouhani, who advocate social liberalization and engagement with the West; and now, assuming the protesters stay engaged, an angry working class.
On Monday, Mr. Rouhani came to the protesters' defense, saying they objected not just to a weak economy but also to widespread corruption and the clerical government's strict policies on personal conduct and freedoms. "One cannot force one's lifestyle on the future generations," he said in remarks reported by the semiofficial ISNA news agency.
All this reveals a real struggle for Iran's soul that requires an approach more sophisticated than Mr. Trump's, which would exploit the turmoil to justify reneging on the nuclear deal. That would free Iran to resume nuclear activities and enable new sanctions that would shift Iranian rage from Tehran to Washington. Some American officials and analysts want to go further and overthrow Iran's government.
But Iran's future is for the Iranians to determine. The United States needs to be humble about what it doesn't know and cautious about more direct involvement in the country's politics. America has a troubled history with Iran, including overthrowing the country's democratically elected leader in 1953. Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Vietnam are haunting reminders of America's failures at trying to orchestrate political and social change abroad.
The question is not whether but how to help Iranians who favor nonviolent change. The United States, with its Western allies, should, of course, advocate the right of Iranians to seek peaceful political change, condemn the arrests of peaceful protesters and the violence against them, and urge internet companies to make it harder for Iran's leaders to block social media apps like Telegram that are so crucial to organizing and public debate. If he cares about the Iranian people, as he claims, Mr. Trump will also lift the ban on Iranians traveling to America.
But the president should also be aware that foolish moves by his administration could empower the most regressive forces and set back reforms that could bring Iran fully into the community of nations.