Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:
South Sudan Silences a Witness to Its Horrors
The New York Times
Not many international reporters brave the bloodshed and chaos of South Sudan to let the world know of the horrors taking place there. That suits the thugs who thrive on violence and chaos just fine: It is often reporting from the scene that helps generate the shock and shame for governments and international organizations to intervene in bloody power struggles that otherwise could drag on without end, destroying endless lives and uprooting countless families.
Sam Mednick is one of the few text journalists who have told the stories of South Sudan. A courageous Canadian freelancer who was The Associated Press's correspondent in South Sudan for nearly three years, she knew the score — before South Sudan, she had reported from the Middle East, Asia, South America, Europe and elsewhere in Africa. Her story in recent weeks had been the unraveling of a peace agreement that was to meld the government and rebels into a power-sharing coalition government. For that, the government silenced her.
"After almost three years of reporting from South Sudan, my press pass was revoked (for 6 months) because I was told that I 'concocted misinformation intended to create panic and fear of unknown,'" she tweeted on Oct. 31. "This is extremely disheartening and yet another troubling sign for #PressFreedom in South Sudan. The timing, two weeks before the warring sides are meant to unite, is uncanny. I'm honoured to have been able to report from parts of the country that don't get a lot of international coverage. And I'm grateful to the South Sudanese people I've met, who have inspired me more than they realize."
The timing would be uncanny if the nation's leaders were presumed to be working for the welfare of their people. It is not surprising for men locked in a struggle for power and loot.
The world's youngest nation, South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 only to descend into its own brutal civil war two years later, fueled by oil riches and ethnic rivalries, between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and to former Vice President Riek Machar. The toll has been terrible — hundreds of thousands have been killed, at least 1.75 million displaced, and atrocities ranging from rape to murder.
The watchdog group the Sentry, co-founded by the actor George Clooney, issued a report in September linking an oil consortium working South Sudan's fields, controlled by Malaysia's Petronas and the China National Petroleum Corporation, to militias on President Kiir's side that are responsible for many of the atrocities.
Last year, the fighting factions agreed to a peace deal, which includes forming an interim coalition government by next Tuesday. But many aspects of the accord, including the integration of the opposing forces into a national army, have yet to be put in place. Mr. Machar has demanded a delay and has warned that he will not return from self-imposed exile unless there is one, raising the risk of a revival of violence.
Reporting the facts of such highly volatile and complex crises is essential if they are ever to be tackled, and if the death and suffering are ever to end. The oil companies and authorities who fan the flames for their own ends need to be exposed, and nongovernmental organizations such as Mr. Clooney's and reporters such as Ms. Mednick should be commended for — and protected in — their efforts to bring the truth of what's happening to the world.
South Sudan's action in silencing Ms. Mednick was indeed uncanny, and unconscionable, and warrants the loudest protest from organizations and governments that deem peace and elemental human rights worth defending.
The impeachment inquiry's path is justified
The formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump is democracy in action.
The American people need to hear what evidence would underlie any article of impeachment the House of Representatives would authorize. They need to know whether Trump risked America's national security by demanding Ukraine publicly announce and then pursue an investigation that could have politically damaged a potential Democratic candidate in return for military aid Ukraine needed to stop Russian aggression.
Specifically, Trump wanted Ukraine to probe Hunter Biden's time on the board of Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company, for which he was paid $50,000 a month, and whether former Vice President Joe Biden had a potential conflict of interest because he was the Obama administration's point man on Ukraine. Trump also believed unsubstantiated allegations that Ukraine tried to help Democrats in 2016.
This impeachment battle is bitterly partisan and, in all likelihood, whatever facts do emerge are unlikely to change many minds. Trump's fiercest Democratic opponents have wanted the president impeached since the day he was elected. The most extreme pro-Trump forces believe every move against him is illegitimate and unjustified, and their views have taken hold in the Republican Party. GOP leaders have stonewalled and delegitimized every attempt to investigate the Ukraine situation, just as they did the Justice Department investigation that found pervasive Russian interference to support Trump in 2016.
The report by special counsel Robert Mueller outlined 10 instances in which Trump seemingly obstructed that investigation, but Mueller said he was unable to state a conclusion on whether Trump should be charged because Justice Department policy holds that a sitting president cannot be charged.
This is a critical time for the nation, and Americans should closely watch what unfolds over the next several months. Unless we agree on a set of facts, there can't even be a rational discussion about what action, if any, should be taken in response to the official findings. That is why it's necessary to debunk, at the start, some of the misinformation and spin that are confusing at best and, at worst, efforts to undermine a warranted inquiry into the president's conduct.
Every House member across the Republican political spectrum, from moderates like Peter King to uber-conservative Trump loyalists like Lee Zeldin, voted against the impeachment inquiry. And these Republicans are nearly unanimous in justifying their stands with misleading or downright dishonest talking points:
There was no basis for the investigation in the first place:
A reconstructed summary of a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky links the investigations Trump wanted to the money and meeting Zelensky needed. House investigators have heard testimony from respected State Department and national security officials that they were alarmed by the call and felt that Trump was withholding foreign aid that Congress had authorized so he could advance his personal campaign needs.
It is normal for presidents to bypass the State Department and use personal emissaries to negotiate with foreign governments:
King said that's what he did for Bill Clinton during the Irish peace process, and that's what Trump was trying to do with his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in Ukraine. Presidents sometimes create alternate diplomatic channels, but that's supposed to be in pursuit of U.S. policy goals. It's not normal for a president to create such a channel to demand that a foreign government boost a president's electoral chances as a condition for receiving $391 million in aid that Congress allocated to protect U.S. national interests.
The impeachment investigation thus far has violated due process:
There has been a preliminary investigation, with witnesses testifying under oath and Republican committee members and their staffs fully involved. This information-gathering process must take place behind closed doors so witnesses do not coordinate their stories.
In this next step, GOP House members and Trump's attorneys will have ample opportunity to defend his actions, obtain documents and question witnesses.
This is the same process that has been used to investigate both a Republican and a Democratic president in the past, as well as federal judges.
The process has predetermined the president's guilt:
The process has just begun. Most witnesses who testified privately will likely do so publicly. Are there Democrats and Republicans whose minds are made up? Absolutely. But Trump and Republicans protecting him are pursuing a cynical strategy. They've gone from saying nothing happened to saying the process for finding out what happened is flawed. They are increasingly arguing that even if Trump did exactly what he's accused of, he cannot be impeached for it because it's not a crime, even though a crime is not necessary for impeachment.
Now, Trump and House Republicans are moving toward the argument that the president has unlimited executive privilege and that no member of his administration can testify about what happened.
That's wrong. All witnesses and documents must be made available, except for those few instances when communications between the president and his staff must be privileged.
The nation must undergo this process because its questions must be answered. They must be answered regardless of whether they lead to articles of impeachment or Trump's expulsion from office. The nation has a right to know what its president does and how its government operates, if only to determine which laws and rules must be changed so a president can't manipulate foreign policy for his or her personal benefit.
In the end, members of the House will gauge the sentiment of the American people to determine whether the case against Trump is strong enough to refer to the Senate for a trial. That sentiment, and the decisions of House members, should not be based on party or politics or personalities or petty grievances.
The facts must guide the process, and for that to happen, the facts must be revealed.
De Blasio's sick school consistency: soft on bad teachers, misbehaving kids
New York Post
Credit Mayor Bill de Blasio with consistency: He may be getting fewer bad teachers fired, but he's also suspending fewer disruptive students, too.
As Susan Edelman reported in the Sunday Post, the city Department of Education is now getting rid of far fewer incompetent or misbehaving tenured teachers.
This past fiscal year (2018-19) only 6 percent of the teachers charged got the ax, compared to 13 percent in 2012-13, the last full Bloomberg year. This, when the DOE is bringing far fewer cases — down 47 percent, from 443 in 2012-13 to 227 last year.
Most accused teachers get hit with fines, suspensions and/or reprimands — and returned to classrooms. Some of those accused of abusing students instead wind up in the Absent Teacher Reserve, where they continue to draw pay and accumulate seniority.
That's why the city has paid Aryeh Eller more than $1.7 million over the course of his 20-year "rubber room" stint. Since he had allegedly committed sexual harassment of female students, the DOE won't risk putting him back in a classroom (nor should it), but protections in the union contract, including an absurdly accused-friendly discipline process, keep him "employed."
A union's job includes standing up for its worst members, but the city plainly lets the United Federation of Teachers get away with too much here. And de Blasio and his chancellors, Carmen Fariña and Richard Carranza, plainly have had no interest in changing that.
On NY1 Monday night, the mayor claimed the city is instead persuading bad teachers to move on. But, tellingly, he also bragged about the drop-in school suspensions — down 40 percent over his six years.
Host Errol Louis was sympathetic, suggesting the old logic was "That will teach you, get out of the school." But that ignores the fact that out-of-control students rob classmates of their education.
Teacher or student, school wrongdoers face less enforcement and fewer penalties; wishful thinking.
The Cartelization of Mexico
Wall Street Journal
The slaughter Monday of three Mormon women and six children, all American citizens who were longtime residents of Mexico, brings home a cruel reality of America's neighbor to the south. Drug gangs control huge swathes of the country, and the government in Mexico City is too often overwhelmed by the criminal firepower and money.
The women and children were attacked by gunmen as they traveled in SUVs in the northern state of Sonora in broad daylight. Mexican officials said Tuesday that it could have been a case of mistaken identity. But according to survivors who hid in a nearby woods, one of the women was shot outside her vehicle with her hands up. It seems more likely that the murders were a warning from drug cartels to everyone in the region, and especially to Mexican officials, that the gangs are in charge.
The details of the murders are shocking, but the truth is that such mayhem is an everyday occurrence in Mexico. A Council on Foreign Relations paper, updated on Oct. 22, reports that murders are soaring in the country, often linked to the drug cartels. Homicides reached a new high of 36,000 in 2018 and this year murders have averaged 90 a day.
The border states of Sonora and Chihuahua are crucial to the cartels because of their access to the U.S. and the giant American market for illegal drugs. Killings of police in Sonora have doubled this year to about 20, according to the Mexico City consulting firm Empra.
The gangs are ruthless and will murder anyone who interferes, along with their families. Last month some 35 Mexican police and national guard troops were forced to release the drug lord Ovidio Guzmán after they were surrounded and out-gunned by cartel forces. Ovidio is the son of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, who is now in an American prison.
"The hard truth is that Mexico is dangerously close to being a failed state," Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse said Tuesday and, despite the country's economic advances in recent decades, he's not far off about the security failures. Especially along drug trafficking routes, cartels essentially are the state.
The mayhem has increased under Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office last year promising to end the anti-cartel campaign prosecuted by his two immediate predecessors. He called the war on drugs a failure and vowed to "begin a peace process with organized crime organizations and adopt models of transitional justice that guarantee the rights of victims." This is leftist mumbo-jumbo for surrender, and the cartels have taken the message and gone on the offensive.
Americans should also acknowledge the role their drug habit plays in fueling this wanton violence. The Council on Foreign Relations report says that Americans spent almost $150 billion in 2016 on cocaine, heroine, meth and marijuana, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl are compounding the problem. Most of this comes across the Mexican border, and the money from the drug sales allows the cartels to bribe law enforcement in both countries.
We are a long way from Nancy Reagan's campaign of "just say no" against drugs. Now elite and entertainment culture sends a message that drug use is a victim-less habit, even glamorous. There's more social stigma in the U.S. against cigarettes than against cocaine or marijuana. Young people get the message, and rising drug demand feeds the cartels.
Drug enforcement against the supply of drugs amid such demand is a losing battle, but that doesn't mean the cartels can be allowed to destabilize a government next door or control territory like a drug caliphate. The most basic duty of government is to protect its citizens from lawlessness, which means not allowing the massacre of women and children on a highway on their way to the airport.
President Trump offered help to Mexico in a tweet on Tuesday, though Mr. López Obrador replied that "I think we don't need intervention." The truth is that the U.S. already supplies intelligence and security aid to Mexico, and police cooperation is extensive.
But if Mexico can't control its territory, the U.S. will have to do more to protect Americans in both countries from the cartels. The Drug Enforcement Administration should be able to find out the identities and locations of those who ordered or carried out Monday's murders, and ensuring their demise would be a signal that U.S. justice has a long reach. A U.S. military operation can't be ruled out.
The New Leader For ISIS Will Have No Place To Hide
It is doubtful that ISIS — the Islamic State terrorist organization — was without a leader for more than a few hours after its former head, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, died by his own hand rather than be captured in a raid by U.S. forces in Syria. ISIS already had a succession plan in place before al-Baghdadi died.
Even had such a plan not existed, evil organizations such as ISIS are filled with members more than willing to take leadership roles.
And, in the unlikely event that ISIS as an organized entity were to disappear, there are scores of other Islamic extremist groups ready to leap into the headlines. Al-Qaida, for one, remains a major threat.
It has been pointed out that the U.S. campaign against Islamic terrorism and regimes that sponsor it is the longest conflict in our history. Some young men and women entering the military this year had not been born when the conflict was launched by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
It is appropriate for Americans to rethink our strategy in that conflict. Being bogged down in unwinnable wars such as that in Afghanistan accomplishes little to deter Islamic terrorists.
But in some form, the campaign simply must continue. Terrorists groups such as ISIS cannot be defeated as long as they can find sick minds — including some right here in the United States — eager to shed blood.
There is some reason for hope, however. It was demonstrated in the U.S. raid that resulted in al-Baghdadi's death. As President Donald Trump emphasized in revealing the raid, it was conducted with the full support of Russia, Turkey and Syria, and with help from our Kurdish allies. It has not escaped their leaders that Islamic terrorism is a threat to all of us.
And that solidarity should not escape the notice of Islamic terrorists. Al-Baghdadi's successor may have a few days to enjoy his new power. Then the realization should sink in that he, too, has become a target with no safe place to hide.