Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on evidence of potential wrongdoing in President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky:
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, one of President Trump’s most ardent defenders in the Ukraine affair, has said he sees no evidence of wrongdoing in the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Mr. Trump pressed for investigations of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son and the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee, while dangling a White House meeting that Mr. Zelensky wanted. But Mr. Graham did say the other day that “if you could show me that, you know, Trump was actually engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.”
We think we can help the South Carolina Republican. Evidently he has not followed closely the depositions and documents collected by three House committees from present and former senior administration officials. If he had, he would see they contain clear proof that Mr. Trump, acting directly and through his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, repeatedly demanded a pledge from Mr. Zelensky to open those political investigations to obtain an Oval Office invitation. There is evidence that U.S. military aid was dependent on the probes, as well.
The chain of evidence begins with the testimony of two State Department officials about a May 23 meeting they had with Mr. Trump to discuss the newly formed government of Mr. Zelensky. Kurt Volker, the administration’s special envoy to Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, said that the president rejected their appeal to invite Mr. Zelensky to the White House. Instead, said Mr. Volker, Mr. Trump complained that Ukraine was a “corrupt country” that “tried to take me down.”
According to Mr. Sondland, he “directed those of us present .?.?. to talk to Mr. Giuliani .?.?. about his concerns.” Added the ambassador: “It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the president’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani.”
On July 19, Mr. Volker had breakfast with Mr. Giuliani. “He mentioned both the accusations about Vice-President Biden and about interference in the 2016 election,” Mr. Volker told Congress, adding that Mr. Giuliani “stressed that all he wanted to see was for Ukraine to investigate what happened in the past.”
Mr. Volker then worked with a top aide to Mr. Zelensky, Andrey Yermak, to set up the July 25 phone call. The morning it took place, Mr. Volker texted Mr. Yermak to clearly lay out the quid pro quo: “Heard from White House-assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/’get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!” During the call, Mr. Trump requested investigations both of the DNC hack and of Mr. Biden; Mr. Zelensky promised to comply; and Mr. Trump seemed to offer a visit to Washington.
Only it turned out the president and his lawyer were not yet satisfied. Around Aug. 7, according to Mr. Volker, Mr. Giuliani called him and Mr. Sondland. When the two ambassadors raised Mr. Zelensky’s pending White House visit, “Mayor Giuliani then said he believed the Ukrainian president needed to make a statement about fighting corruption, and that he had discussed it with Mr. Yermak,” Mr. Volker testified. The Ukrainians duly produced a draft statement that was “generic” about corruption, Mr. Volker said — only to have it rejected by Mr. Giuliani, who said that “the statement should include specific reference to ‘Burisma’ and ‘2016.’” Burisma was the gas company that Mr. Biden’s son Hunter was associated with.
Mr. Volker said he “edited the draft statement by Mr. Yermak to include these points.” On Aug. 10, he received a text from Mr. Yermak saying: “I think it’s possible to make this declaration and mention all these things. … But it will be logic to do after we receive a confirmation of date.” Again, the trade-off of a White House meeting for a promise to investigate the Bidens and the DNC was explicit. …
The pressure campaign continued into September. On Sept. 8, Mr. Taylor said, Mr. Sondland informed him that after talking to Mr. Trump, he had told Mr. Zelensky that if he “did not ‘clear things up’ in public, we would be at a ‘stalemate.'” Added Mr. Taylor: “I understood a ‘stalemate’ to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance.” …
Mr. Graham and some other Republicans would portray the July 25 phone call as an isolated event in which Mr. Trump did not clearly conclude a quid pro quo with Mr. Zelensky. But the evidence presented to Congress shows that the call was part of a process that extended over three months and included repeated and specific demands for Ukraine to undertake political investigations, including of Mr. Trump’s possible 2020 opponent, lodged by Mr. Trump and by the lawyer he told top aides to work with on the deal.
Mr. Graham is himself a lawyer and former military prosecutor. He surely can recognize this corrupt campaign for what it is. The question is whether he, and other Republicans, have the moral courage to do so.
The Wall Street Journal on a tweet from President Trump saying the effort to impeach him is a “lynching”:
Donald Trump made himself a political celebrity in 2016 by persuading news media to talk about — Donald Trump. He did it mainly by the expedient of saying outrageous things — by trolling, in the parlance of social media — and it worked. It’s still working, though these days as often to his detriment as advantage.
On Tuesday the President guaranteed he’d be topic number one for at least 24 hours by tweeting that the effort to impeach him is a “lynching.” Instantly, and perhaps as he intended, his critics in the media, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere expressed rage and disbelief that Mr. Trump could compare the conduct of his political opponents to the mobs that murdered African-Americans in an earlier, shameful era.
The verb to lynch means to execute without a trial or due process. It doesn’t refer only to extrajudicial killings in the post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow South. Accordingly, it’s occasionally used in a figurative sense in other English-speaking countries. But in the United States the word is electric for its historical context, and you don’t have to indulge in racial hypersensitivities to appreciate why. Clarence Thomas famously used it during his confirmation hearing in 1991 when, as he saw it, a cabal of white liberals sought to destroy his nomination to the Supreme Court by a “high-tech lynching.” Justice Thomas had what we would call political and historical standing.
But no President should use the word in the off-hand and self-indulgent way that Mr. Trump did in his tweet. What’s so galling about this and similar pointless provocations is that, in his quest to remain always and forever in the headlines, Mr. Trump puts his more judicious allies on the political spot. Every Republican in Congress is immediately asked either to ignore him and risk association with his reckless pronouncements, or criticize him and risk his wrath.
Democrats are bent on impeaching Mr. Trump, and if he wants to survive he is going to need allies — especially in Congress. The more he forces Republicans to defend words or actions that don’t deserve defending, the more their resentment will build and the more political trouble he will be in.
The Chicago Tribune on reasons why Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, should come back to Chicago:
The last time we heard Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, was in Chicago was just before her May 2018 wedding to Prince Harry. The former Meghan Markle, a Northwestern grad, was spotted at O’Hare International Airport in a White Sox baseball cap, apparently in town to complete her United Kingdom visa application.
Then, as the world knows, Meghan became royalty. She had a baby, Archie, who is seventh in the line of succession to the throne, right behind his dad. But we can’t say the couple lived happily ever after. They are struggling to cope with attacks by the aggressive British tabloid press and sound as if their castle — actually, Frogmore Cottage in Windsor — is a prison.
Harry is fed up with life in Britain. He fantasizes about moving his family to Africa. Meghan seems despondent. “I have said for a long time to H., it’s not enough to just survive something, that’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive, you’ve got to feel happy,” she said in a new British television documentary, according to the Times of London.
Maybe it is time for a change of scenery. Since Meghan knows Chicago, and this city has been short on royalty since Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey left town, we thought we’d put it out there. Duke and Duchess, come experience some Midwestern hospitality.
To catch you up on the drama: Meghan is an American-born former actress from Los Angeles who studied theatre and international relations in Evanston, graduating from NU (Northwestern University) in 2003. She spent years in Hollywood and might have thought she was as prepared as any outsider to enter the glamorous, gilded world of the British monarchy. After all, celebrity culture is big business on both sides of the pond.
Turns out there’s a reason people left Britain for the colonies centuries ago. The social and political atmosphere in London can be unbearable. Harry complained from the start of his relationship with Meghan that she was being harassed by social media trolls and abused in commentary pieces that smacked of sexism and racism. He sued two tabloids for alleged phone hacking. She sued another for allegedly publishing a private letter to her father. They’ve been attacked for going on vacation by private jet and spending $3 million to refurbish their home. Harry sued and won after a paparazzi agency flew a helicopter over their previous Cotswolds home, taking photos of their living quarters.
The paparazzi incident is a sad clue to the couple’s troubles. Harry acknowledges being haunted by the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, who was killed in a 1997 car accident in Paris as her speeding vehicle was chased by photographers. In a recent statement, Harry said: “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
The British public seems split on the plight of Harry and Meghan. There’s a lot of clucking that members of the monarchy should recognize that extreme wealth and privilege come at the cost of being objects of fascination. But there’s sympathy, too, for a newly married couple who are hurting. She’s an outsider adjusting to life as a symbol in a foreign culture; he’s traumatized by the death of his mom.
The pair plan to take six weeks off from royal duties for “family time” and may head to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. That sounds like a good idea. They should come to Chicago too. Maybe shop for a condo. Sure, Chicago has a vigorous media, but we’re too focused on the city budget crisis and the collapse of the Bears to obsess over one more young family moving to Logan Square or the West Loop.
Meghan and Harry, you are royally invited.
The Toronto Star on the reelection win for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
It may not be the smashing victory they won in 2015, but Justin Trudeau and the Liberals should feel very good that they will have a chance to form another government.
After four difficult years they managed to persuade enough voters to keep them in power. Given everything, it’s an impressive achievement that keeps Canada on a positive course for the future.
At the time of writing we don’t have full results. But it’s clear the Liberals will fall short of a majority mandate and have to govern with the support of other parties.
Their opponents will claim that the Liberals have been humbled, and there will be some truth in that.
But it’s also true that it is very difficult to win an outright majority in our multi-party system, in which five parties gathered substantial support. Given their stumbles over the past four years, it’s remarkable that the Liberals managed to win as convincingly as they did.
It’s also true that giving the Liberals a second chance is the best outcome for the country, especially given the alternative.
Last week we made clear our view that, overall, Trudeau and the Liberals were the best choice for voters. Despite their failings over the past four years they got it right on the big issues — making sure prosperity is more widely shared, defending Canada’s interests, and fighting climate change.
Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, in contrast, offered a menu of spending cuts and effectively nothing on the environment at a time when voters in most parts of the country were clearly demanding action on the climate front. A Conservative victory would have been a big step backward.
But the people have now had their say, and in the end that’s all that matters. In their collective wisdom they have decided to give their trust to the Liberals one more time, but yanked on their leash by forcing them to seek support elsewhere.
Now it will be up to all the parties to make a minority Parliament work. It’s been done many times before, and we know well that minority governments can be both productive and relatively stable.
Both Liberal and Conservative prime ministers have demonstrated that they can work. Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre, famously lost his majority in 1972 and governed successfully for two years with the support of the NDP. More recently, Stephen Harper managed to govern for five years with two minority mandates.
Minorities, in fact, have become common-place. They’re certainly nothing to fear.
It will be up to the Liberals to seek support from other parties, like the New Democrats, to maintain progress on their priorities. Prime Minister Trudeau will have to learn some new political skills — of negotiation, deal-making and careful listening. There will be less room for error and less time for personal indulgence.
For the Conservatives, this is a humbling result. Trudeau and the Liberals made more than their share of mistakes over the past four years, especially in the long and messy SNC-Lavalin affair. The prime minister’s personal shortcomings were also on full display in his dress-up tour of India and his brownface/blackface episodes.
Yet Scheer and the Conservatives could not offer a convincing alternative to the Liberals. They didn’t manage to grow beyond their base support and in the end they failed to seal the deal with the growing number of Canadians who had doubts about Trudeau & Co. In short, they blew it.
For the New Democrats and Jagmeet Singh, it’s a very mixed bag. Despite Singh’s much-praised campaign performance, the reality is they lost a substantial number of seats. On the other hand, the NDP may hold the balance of power in the new Commons. …
The new government must move quickly on many fronts. In particular, it should pay special attention to the emerging fissures in Canada’s national unity. …
Just as concerning is the overwhelming support in Alberta and much of the West for the Conservatives and the outright hostility to the Trudeau Liberals.
Back in 1972, the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau were similarly almost shut out of the region. That fueled so-called western alienation and there’s a very real danger that such feelings will now re-emerge with a vengeance under a government led by his son.
It would be a tragic mistake for any federal government to turn its back on the West. The Liberals, who may have to seek support from the anti-pipeline NDP to keep power, will run the danger of falling into that trap.
The new government must avoid alienating a region that has never been more important to the future of the country. That would have tragic long-term consequences.
The Orange County Register on California’s attempt to require political candidates to disclose their income tax returns in order to appear on the primary election ballot:
There was never a good reason for California to try punishing President Trump by requiring candidates to disclose their income tax returns in order to appear on the primary election ballot. But life in our virtual one-party state meant that a state law was passed anyway to do exactly that. Fortunately, a judge struck it down.
Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, is bent on saving the law. So is Gov. Gavin Newsom, who informed a federal court of his intention to file an appeal. Both men should cut it out and focus on the state’s more important business.
Senate Bill 27, introduced by Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, was similar to a bill vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017.
“While I recognize the political attractiveness — even the merits — of getting President Trump’s tax returns, I worry about the political perils of individual states seeking to regulate presidential elections in this manner,” noted Brown in his veto message, which also raised questions about the constitutionality of the proposal and the risk of a slippery slope should the bill become law.
But that didn’t stop the Legislature and Newsom from going ahead with it anyway this time around. The bill was signed in July.
As expected, the law was challenged and a judge quickly recognized the follies of the law.
As to the ruling, Eastern District of California Judge Morrison England, Jr. put the matter clearly: “the Act’s provisions likely violate the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”
England further noted that deciding “whether a tax return disclosure requirement is good policy or makes political sense” is not a matter for a court.
It is not a matter for a legislature either. Applying nakedly political tests to candidates creates a “troubling minefield” for citizens seeking public office.
Even though he expressed understanding and empathy for “the motivations” behind the law, England properly shut down this latest instance of activist Sacramento lawmaking that reaches into the smallest and most fundamental details of political life for one-off reasons.
Yet Padilla has gone so far as to claim that the now-invalidated law is “fundamental to preserving and protecting American democracy” — a claim with no connection to reality and limitless in its potential application — and wants to appeal the ruling.
Opening the door to political tests for qualification for candidacy would, contrary to Padilla’s poetic license, fundamentally threaten and suppress the democratic process.
Each year would bring struggles over which qualifications would apply to which positions, and which would be repealed in time for the latest vote.
Padilla and Newsom likely know this well, and are simply working every level they have at their considerable disposal to harass and harry Trump before Election Day. While cynical, this would at least be a clever piece of political strategizing.
But it still makes a dangerous mockery of our legal and political system. Their appeal should be dropped.
Californians, regardless of their political inclinations or opinion of President Trump or even the wisdom of him releasing his tax returns, should see this hollow political stunt for what it is.
California has enough real problems to deal with. This sideshow is an unnecessary waste of time.
The Miami Herald on a Facebook policy on misleading ads:
Facebook long has had a policy on misleading ads. In the words of company Product Management Director Rob Leathern, “Misleading or deceptive ads have no place on Facebook.”
Apparently that simple, declarative statement needed a huge asterisk, as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden found when he tried to get Facebook to pull a misleading ad run by the Trump campaign. The policy doesn’t apply to political ads.
The ad Biden wanted pulled — part of President Donald Trump’s shady efforts to embroil Biden in a controversy over the former vice-president’s son’s work with a Ukrainian gas company — clearly falls into that category. Both Factcheck.org and PolitiFact found the ad deceptive.
But Facebook decided that it will treat ads from politicians as “newsworthy content” — letting them stand regardless of how misleading they are because the public interest supposedly outweighs the harm of the disinformation. Facebook figures every reader who sees a political advertisement will have the time and inclination to verify every claim in it is true.
The reality, of course, is that such individually obsessive review is impossible. That’s why we have journalists and other factcheckers.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg doubled down last week in a Georgetown University address, claiming that the social network stands for “free expression.” He echoed comments he had made after a controversial series of secretive meetings with conservatives by saying, “The long journey towards greater progress requires confronting ideas that challenge us.”
Challenging ideas that engender intelligent discourse are great. Deliberate falsehoods, not so much. Zuckerberg’s answer seems like nothing more than a ginned-up justification for Facebook to rake in millions of dollars by delivering misinformation that erodes informed democratic debate.
At Georgetown, Zuckerberg spoke high-mindedly about how Facebook has handed people the “power to express themselves at scale,” creating a “new force in the world.” But he did not acknowledge how that force was abused to communicate a misinformation campaign designed by a foreign power to interfere in the 2016 election. Did he learn nothing?
Creating a forum for free speech is a noble goal, but that forum needn’t and shouldn’t also be a place for deliberate misinformation and undermining the very democracy Zuckerberg claims to want to uphold. Political speech needs heightened protection, but not when it contains outright lies.
It’s hard to miss the double standard. When black users comment on social justice, too often their words wind up branded as hate speech and are deleted. Meanwhile, hateful diatribes against blacks, Muslims and other minorities remain untouched.
Then there are Zuckerberg’s secretive meetings with Tucker Carlson, Hugh Hewitt and other conservative commentators without any apparent corresponding meetings with liberals.
It all paints a strange picture. It’s almost as if Zuckerberg fears that the talk about Facebook’s assumed liberal bias might convince Trump’s politically compromised Department of Justice to bring some sort of anti-trust action against the company. So he’s doing all sorts of conservative outreach, including doing Trump a favour and refusing to take down a clearly false ad, to allay such fears.
Or maybe Zuckerberg is acting on his belief that Elizabeth Warren is an existential threat to Facebook and is using his enormous power to tilt the field in Trump’s favour.
Whatever the reason, if users can’t trust Facebook to do even the least bit of content moderation when it comes to political ads, there just might be something valid in the #DeleteFacebook trend.
The Associated Press