Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Japan News on United Nations reform and the U.S. and Japan's contributions to its budget:
The United Nations faces a mountain of pressing issues it should tackle, including North Korea's nuclear development program, terrorism perpetrated by extremist groups, conflicts and poverty. The U.N. will not be able to effectively deal with these issues if it continues to operate as a bureaucratic organization.
The 72nd session of the U.N. General Assembly has started. One of the session's main themes will be U.N. reforms to boost the organization's transparency and more efficiently use its budget, which is accrued from contributions paid by each nation.
In his opening remarks, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who assumed the post in January, emphasized his desire to improve the international body's structure, saying, "The United Nations must do even more to adapt and deliver . (and) to strengthen our organization to . produce better results."
A major focus of this session will be the approach taken by U.S. President Donald Trump in his maiden appearance at the General Assembly.
A high-level meeting on U.N. reforms will be held Monday. A political statement calling for reforms that create a "more efficient organization" and expressing support for Guterres' efforts is expected to be announced.
Trump has championed an "America first" policy and cast a stern eye toward international institutions. Each member nation's share of the U.N. regular budget is determined based on their economic strength and ability to pay. Trump has expressed displeasure that the United States contributes the maximum rate of 22 percent of the budget, a figure he described as "unfair."
The U.N. regular budget has doubled in the past 20 years. Wasteful expenditures must be cut by reviewing unnecessary departments and operations. It also is necessary to cancel out any room for U.N. agencies such as UNESCO to be exploited for political purposes on historical and other issues by fortifying their neutrality.
Push for UNSC expansion
It will not be easy to eradicate long-established common practices and internal resistance in pushing ahead with organizational reforms. It seems that Guterres aims to implement reforms also by using the pressure being applied by the United States and other nations as leverage.
The budget for U.N. peacekeeping operations in fiscal 2017 (July 2017 to June 2018) has already been slashed by 14 percent from the previous fiscal year. The efforts of the United States, the largest contributor to this budget, to cooperate with Japan, the third-largest contributor, in strongly calling for more efficiency have been successful.
Japan is the second-largest contributor to the overall U.N. budget after the United States. Japan's 9.7 percent share means the nation pays about 27 billion annually. It is vital the nation actively participates in running the United Nations and pushes for greater streamlining.
Reforming the U.N. Security Council is also an important issue. Japan has directly played a part as a nonpermanent member of the council in actions such as promoting resolutions for imposing sanctions on North Korea, but the nation's term on the council will expire at the end of this year. Japan must tenaciously continue moves to expand the Security Council so the nation can secure a permanent seat at the table.
Leaders from around the world, including Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will lay out their nations' diplomatic and security policies in addresses at the annual general debate that opens on Tuesday. Leaders also will hold bilateral meetings. Given the growing tension over North Korea-related issues, it will be important to confirm at every occasion that the sanctions slapped on Pyongyang will be strictly enforced.
The New York Times on Congressional majority leaders looking to eliminate a tool the minority party has to influence a president's picks for federal courts:
Now that Republicans control both the White House and Congress, top party officials, including Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, are itching to eliminate the last remaining tool the minority party has to influence a president's picks for the federal courts — the so-called blue slip.
This longtime but informal Senate practice allows a senator to block the nomination of a judge from his or her home state by refusing to sign off on a blue-colored form. The idea was to give senators, who are presumed to be more familiar with the lawyers and judges in their own states, a meaningful say in the choosing of those judges. It also works as an incentive for moderation in staffing the federal judiciary, which, as the only unelected branch of government, depends on the public trust for its legitimacy.
But with Democratic senators now refusing to agree to hearings for two of President Trump's nominees to the federal appeals courts, Mr. McConnell told The Times that the blue slip "ought to simply be a notification of how you're going to vote, not the opportunity to blackball."
What a difference a few years make.
Back in 2009, Mr. McConnell and the entire Republican Senate caucus — then in the minority — implored President Barack Obama to honor all blue slips. The appointment of federal judges is a "shared constitutional responsibility," the Republicans said, warning Mr. Obama that "if we are not consulted on, and approve of, a nominee from our states," the senators intended to prevent that nominee from getting a hearing. They expected the blue-slip policy "to be observed, even-handedly and regardless of party affiliation."
Lucky for them, it was. Senator Patrick Leahy, the veteran Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time, applied the policy without exception, meaning that a single withheld blue slip would torpedo a judicial nomination.
Republican senators exploited their blue slips with abandon, and with little or no explanation. One senator blocked a nominee because she had once said the Constitution did not protect an individual right to bear arms — an accurate description of the uncertainty about the law at the time. Other senators blocked nominees they had previously approved for other courts, or even recommended to the White House themselves. In all, 18 of Mr. Obama's judicial nominees were scuttled, including six to the Courts of Appeals. That's not counting dozens more vacancies that languished for years without a nominee because senators made it clear they would object to anyone.
This abuse of blue slips led many, including this page, to call for an end to the practice, but Mr. Leahy continued it — as did Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, who became chairman of the Judiciary Committee after Republicans won the Senate in 2014. President Trump now has 144 vacancies to fill on the federal bench, many as a direct result of Republican intransigence during the Obama era. So it's particularly rich, if not surprising, for Republicans to urge its demise.
What led them to this? In short, the same behavior that they had engaged in with impunity. This month, Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, refused to return his blue slip for David Stras, a well-respected but very conservative justice on the state's Supreme Court whom Mr. Trump nominated to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Last week, Oregon's two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, opposed another of Mr. Trump's appeals court picks, Ryan Bounds.
Unlike their Republican counterparts, however, these Democrats provided a clear explanation for their opposition: The White House, they said, made no meaningful effort to consult with them before making nominations. Mr. Wyden and Mr. Merkley said Mr. Trump had completely bypassed Oregon's well-established bipartisan selection committee.
These are fair complaints. The Constitution gives the president the power to choose federal judges, but only with the "advice and consent" of the Senate. In an earlier era of relative comity and good faith, the blue-slip tradition may have helped to ensure that advice was considered. But in this toxic, hyperpartisan age, there's no simple way to force a president to listen.
And that is not a minor matter. Any president, not least one who lost the popular vote by almost three million votes, should take account of the wishes and concerns of senators of the opposing party. Mr. Obama made concessions to Republican senators in states like Oklahoma and Utah, and he tried for years to negotiate with others, often to no avail. In contrast, Mr. Trump, not even eight months into his presidency, has farmed out the selection of judges to conservative advocacy groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, which have spent decades plotting for a right-wing takeover of the federal courts.
The push toward ever-more extreme judges will only further politicize the third branch. Still, the blue slip is no longer the answer. As we argued in 2014, senators who oppose a nominee can state their objections on the Senate floor and try to persuade their colleagues — something Mitch McConnell was too cowardly to do in 2016, when he refused to allow even a hearing for Merrick Garland, Mr. Obama's pick for the Supreme Court vacancy.
For the next few years, at least, Democrats will have to grit their teeth and watch as hard-right judges begin to restock the federal bench. But Republicans who are gloating right now over their near-total control of Washington might remember one of the more painful realities of politics: No majority lasts forever.
Los Angeles Times on the bipartisan discussion between Congressional minority leaders and President Donald Trump over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program:
For a few interesting hours, it looked as though the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress had found a path forward for resolving the conundrum of the so-called Dreamers, immigrants who have lived in the U.S. without legal permission since they were children.
After dinner at the White House on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced they had the outline of a deal with President Trump in which the protections that had been promised under President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — and then rescinded by Trump — would be reestablished and enshrined into law. As part of the deal, the Democrats would support enhanced border security measures, and the showdown over Trump's border wall would be pushed off to some future date.
But the bipartisan moment didn't last long. The White House quickly responded that there had been a discussion, but that no deal had been reached; leading Republicans condemned the idea. Then on Thursday morning Trump seemed to back still farther away when he told reporters that "if there's not a wall, we're doing nothing." He also said that he was not contemplating a path to citizenship for the Dreamers, just temporary protection from deportation. By Thursday afternoon, Trump was talking about maybe a DACA deal first if the Democrats promised not to block the wall later.
It would be outrageous, frankly, if they can't reach an agreement. Trump's decision earlier this month to withdraw the DACA protections promised to some 800,000 people — most of whom came to this country as a result of decisions made by their parents — was cruel and unnecessary. But if the protections could be restored to them by Congress as a matter of law (rather than merely presidential executive action), the Dreamers would be in even better shape than they were under Obama. The flurry of "deal-no deal" reports raises some tentative hope that there still might be a resolution.
The original Dream Act that was introduced in Congress year after year would have provided a path to legal status and ultimately to citizenship. But it never passed. That led Obama to create the DACA program in 2012 to provide the Dreamers with some stability and permission to work until Congress could fix the problem.
Trump, though, rode anti-immigrant fervor to the White House; among other things, he promised to deport DACA participants. He softened his stance for a while, telling the Dreamers he was "gonna deal with DACA with heart." But then he announced this month that the program would be phased out in March 2017 unless Congress acted to give the Dreamers legal status. So the Dreamers are once again — or still — twisting in the wind.
We hope the president and leaders of both parties in Congress can find a way to make this work. Fairness demands it, as do most of the American people. The Dreamers deserve not just protection from deportation, but a path to true citizenship. These are people, after all, who often have spent little time in the country where they were born, speak only English and have been brought up as Americans. To qualify for DACA protections, they had to be in school or have graduated or to have been in the military.
Trump should set aside his insistence on his silly wall — which even many of his fellow Republicans dismiss as unnecessary and excessively costly — and put the well-being of the Dreamers ahead of his ill-advised campaign promises.
Chicago Tribune on a recent speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about college campus sexual assault allegations:
For much of this decade, Americans have debated how college administrators should handle allegations of campus sexual assaults. How to balance the rights of the victim and the accused. How to punish perpetrators and deter predators. How to make campuses safer.
The Obama administration urged colleges in a notorious 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter to get tougher on sexual assault allegations or possibly forfeit millions in federal funding. The 19-page guideline reminded officials they should use a low burden of proof, "preponderance of evidence," when weighing an accused student's guilt or innocence. It also prompted the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to open many more inquiries into colleges for their allegedly slipshod handling of sexual violence allegations.
But the crackdown also generated an intense backlash among accused students and their families, who claimed their rights were trampled by inept campus judicial systems too heavily tilted in favor of alleged victims.
Now Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signaled that the Trump administration soon will send the "Dear Colleague" letter to the shredder. "Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach," DeVos said in a recent speech. "With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today."
She added: "It's no wonder so many call these proceedings 'kangaroo courts.' "
So how will DeVos change federal policy? Unclear. She says she's still soliciting ideas. In her speech, however, DeVos mentioned several proposals from lawyers' groups that would raise evidence standards or set up independent panels to handle complaints, possibly on a regional basis.
We have a better idea, Secretary DeVos: Don't create an elaborate new system. Let the criminal justice system in place — local prosecutors and police — handle these cases. That's what they're equipped to do in ways that college tribunals and well-intentioned administrators are not.
Law enforcement authorities have plenty of experience because sexual assault is not, regrettably, an isolated crime or one limited to colleges. It is alarmingly widespread, on campus and off. More than 20 percent of female undergrads at various colleges said they were victims of sexual assault and misconduct, according to a 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities. Yet young women who skip college have an even higher chance of being sexually assaulted than their college peers, according to federal figures released in 2014.
Why shove aside college administrators, faculty members and security forces in these cases? Because they lack the expertise and the resources of local authorities to investigate allegations, to process evidence, to interview witnesses and ferret out the truth. For years, college authorities have mishandled campus sexual assault cases. One reason: Some college officials are more concerned about their schools' reputations (and, possibly, their jobs) than with helping police and prosecutors aggressively pursue allegations. Law enforcement authorities can approach a heater case without fretting over a university's reputation or ranking.
Campus administrators also are ill-prepared to parse ambiguities and difficult judgments that can make these cases challenging. Prosecutions often pivot on he-said she-said accounts of whether sexual contact was consensual. Alcohol or drugs often are involved. Some victims decline to pursue charges. But civil authorities are accustomed to navigating those treacherous waters; college administrators aren't.
"Washington has burdened schools with increasingly elaborate and confusing guidelines that even lawyers find difficult to understand and navigate," DeVos says. "Where does that leave institutions, which are forced to be judge and jury? Where does that leave parents? Where does that leave students?"
That's the right question. Washington has a vital role here: Smaller. The next Dear Colleague letter doesn't need to be 19 pages. It can be a brisk paragraph. It should instruct campus officials to get out of the way of cops and prosecutors. Hand over these sensitive cases to the professionals. Let them do their jobs.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch on protests after former police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith:
The understandable sense of outrage over Friday's not-guilty verdict in the Jason Stockley trial culminated in a frenzy of nighttime violence that defies logic. Particularly confusing was the decision of protesters to attack Mayor Lyda Krewson's home and a public library branch.
The St. Louis Police Department handled Friday's mostly peaceful daytime protests deftly, in sharp contrast to the harsh military-style responses the 2014 police-shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. This time, protesters got ample room to march, yell and vent their anger over former Officer Jason Stockley's acquittal for the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith.
When bricks and water bottles were hurled, officers employed pepper spray and made arrests.
Anticipating that protesters would take to the highways, police blocked ramps at strategic locations while generally avoiding overt confrontation. Where police correctly drew the line was when the protests turned violent.
Some protesters have said they plan to attack symbols of commerce and inflict discomfort on the comfortable. Even if they rationalize property destruction as legitimate protest, why attack the mayor's house?
Krewson was only elected mayor in April and had nothing to do with the trial or the way police and prosecutors handled the too-long investigation into Smith's death. Her first act in office was to oust Police Chief Sam Dotson.
On Friday, she stated that she was "appalled by what happened" to Smith and was "sobered by the outcome" of Stockley's trial. She clearly shared protesters' incredulity over the verdict, as did other politicians.
Krewson has suffered more than her share of "discomfort." She entered public service as an alderman after the 1995 shooting death of her husband during an attempted carjacking outside their home. Krewson and her children were present. In what twisted sense does attacking her home serve as retribution for Stockley's acquittal?
Equally absurd is the attack on a Central West End library branch, where windows were broken and the interior trashed. What's the message here, that books and knowledge are bad? Attacking a public library only underscores the ignorance of the vandals themselves.
No one should rest comfortably after hearing the verdict and knowing the multiple ways that Stockley violated police procedures in his hot pursuit of Smith, a suspected drug dealer who was fleeing arrest.
Stockley got his day in court, but he denied Smith the same right by appearing, in the eyes of many, to serve as judge, jury and executioner at the scene of the shooting. Stockley's recorded statement of an intent to kill Smith seconds before doing so was one of many disturbing elements in this case.
No matter how much property is destroyed, neither Stockley's actions nor the verdict can be undone. Inflicting more injustice will never get protesters the justice they seek.
Tampa Bay Times on U.S. tax reform:
President Donald Trump is in a big rush for Congress to approve big tax cuts, and he is using the damage left by Hurricane Irma to argue his case. One has nothing to do with the other, except for their negative impact on middle-class Floridians. The nation needs tax reform, but not tax cuts for the wealthy that would sacrifice popular tax deductions and raise the federal deficit.
Before he traveled to Florida to survey the damage last week, Trump tweeted: "With Irma and Harvey devastation, Tax Cuts and Tax Reform is needed more than ever. Go Congress, go!" No, Congress, slow down. Tax cuts are not going to lessen the financial impact of the hurricanes, and there often is an economic stimulus after major storms as communities recover. Real tax reform takes time to refine and build consensus, and the last thing this nation needs is unfunded tax cuts like those enacted under President George W. Bush.
Trump promises the largest tax cut in history and met privately last week with key Republicans and Democrats, but details aren't expected to be released until later this month. The president wants to cut the top federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, although congressional negotiators are aiming for roughly a 20 percent rate. Republicans point out the U.S. corporate tax rate is the highest in the world, but in fact most companies pay a far lower rate, and after deductions and credits the highest effective tax rate is just over 19 percent.
Dramatically cutting corporate tax rates would not bring back the factories to the Midwest as the president promised. It would not create the millions of new jobs he talks about or increase economic growth by the wild numbers he tosses around. In fact, nonpartisan studies consistently suggest most of the benefits of corporate tax cuts go to company owners or investors, not to hire more workers or raise wages.
Similarly, Trump's rhetoric is at odds with the math regarding his proposed reduction of seven individual tax brackets to three tax brackets of 10, 25 and 35 percent. The president said on his trip to Florida last week that he wants to cut taxes for the middle class and that "the wealthy Americans are not my priority." Yet the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center estimates 40 percent of the benefits would go to the top 1 percent of households, which make more than $732,000 a year. Income inequality already is a major issue in this country, and the outlines of the president's rough plan would make that worse.
Trump also is pushing an old Republican favorite: eliminating the estate tax. Republicans love to call the estate tax "the death tax," but the idea that family farms and small businesses are being routinely lost because of the estate tax is a myth. Congress' Joint Committee of Taxation says far less than 1 percent of all Americans pay any estate tax, and nearly all of them are among the wealthiest 5 percent. This is another tax break for the wealthy, not the middle class.
Predictably, negotiators for Congress and the Trump administration are struggling to find ways to pay for tax cuts that the Tax Policy Center estimates could cut federal revenue by up to $7.8 trillion over the next decade. Trump's notion that economic growth will pay for most of it is fantasy, and Democrats are not going to sacrifice popular tax deductions such as those for mortgage interest and charitable donations to help pay for tax cuts for the rich. While some deficit spending could be justified for initiatives that would stimulate the economy, such as a substantial investment in infrastructure, there is no reason to add to the deficit for tax cuts to fulfill a campaign promise.
This nation could use real tax reform that makes the complicated federal tax code fairer and simpler without raising the deficit. But unless there is a sudden epiphany in Washington, what Trump and congressional leaders are pursuing is not tax reform. It's just another tax cut for the wealthy that the nation cannot afford.