Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on a way states can keep elements of the Affordable Care Act system intact:
Republicans have ripped a big hole in Obamacare. But there is a way to avoid chaos in the health-insurance markets on which millions of Americans depend, if states act quickly to undo the damage.
Democrats based Obamacare on a careful trade-off. The government would no longer tolerate insurance companies denying sick people coverage or needed care. But Congress would also mandate that all Americans carry adequate health-care coverage, as long as they could afford it, in order to ensure that people did not sign up for insurance only when they got sick. With both healthy and sick people paying into the insurance pool, medical risk would be spread broadly and everyone's premiums would be reasonable. If, on the other hand, healthy people opted out, premiums would be much higher, risking instability and even an insurance-market "death spiral."
The second course is the one Republicans are now choosing. GOP senators approved a tax bill that would repeal the individual mandate without also repealing the more-popular protections for sick people. Nonpartisan experts project that this would cause premiums to spike 10 percent and result in 13?million fewer people with coverage. Harder to model is how insurers might react; many would no doubt be tempted to quit Obamacare markets that Republicans have tried to sabotage over and over. Some, perhaps many, Americans might end up living in "bare counties" in which no insurer is selling coverage not because Obamacare was failing but because Republicans would not allow it to work.
There is a relatively simple solution, if states are willing to embrace it. They can fill the gap by passing their own individual mandates that apply within their borders, keeping the essential elements of the Obamacare system intact as far as their jurisdiction extends. In fact, states could make Obamacare work better than it had before, applying a larger penalty than the relatively small one that people have so far faced for skipping out on their responsibility to keep themselves covered. This would encourage more young and healthy people to enter the insurance market, thereby restraining premiums and boosting enrollment.
There would be challenges. States would have to move very quickly to reassure insurers before the 2019 enrollment season. New mandates would have to pass through state legislatures, a tough and perhaps lengthy political process. States that do not collect income taxes would have to devise some minimally onerous way to charge penalty payments. Political and ideological opposition means that many Republican-led states are more likely to choose chaos than they are to fix Obamacare. The result would be a further bifurcation of the U.S. health-care system into states that prioritize expanding coverage and those that prioritize attacking Obamacare.
But the bottom line remains: Not everyone must suffer from Congress's irresponsibility. States can fix the problem Republicans are creating. They should do so, now.
The New York Times on capital punishment:
Alva Campbell was supposed to die on Nov. 15. That was the date chosen by the State of Ohio, which had convicted and condemned Mr. Campbell for murdering a teenager, Charles Dials, during a 1997 carjacking in Columbus.
Inside the death chamber that morning, prison officials spent more than an hour searching Mr. Campbell's arms and legs for a vein into which they could inject the lethal drug cocktail. They comforted him as they prepared to kill him, providing the 69-year-old with a wedge pillow to help with breathing problems related to his years of heavy smoking.
After about 80 minutes, they gave up and returned Mr. Campbell to his cell, where he sits awaiting his next date with death, now set for June 5, 2019.
The pathetic scene was a fitting symbol of the state of capital punishment in America in 2017, a vile practice that descends further into macabre farce even as it declines in use. Mr. Campbell would have been the 24th person put to death last year. That's less than a quarter of the 98 executions carried out in 1999.
The number should be zero. As the nation enters 2018, the Supreme Court is considering whether to hear at least one case asking it to strike down the death penalty, once and for all, for violating the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments.
Whether the justices take that or another case, the facts they face will be the same: The death penalty is a savage, racially biased, arbitrary and pointless punishment that becomes rarer and more geographically isolated with every year. In 2017 the total number of people sitting on death rows across America fell for the 17th straight year. In Harris County, Texas, the nation's undisputed leader in state-sanctioned killing, the year passed without a single execution or death sentence the first time that's happened in more than 40 years.
Still, Texas was one of just two states Arkansas is the other responsible for almost half of 2017's executions. And nearly one in three of the nation's 39 new death sentences last year were handed down in three counties: Riverside in California, Clark in Nevada and Maricopa in Arizona.
It would be tempting to conclude from this litany, which is drawn from an annual report by the Death Penalty Information Center, that capital punishment is being reserved for the most horrific crime committed by the most incorrigible offenders. But it would be wrong.
The death penalty is not and has never been about the severity of any given crime. Mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage, childhood abuse or neglect, abysmal lawyers, minimal judicial review, a white victim these factors are far more closely associated with who ends up getting executed. Of the 23 people put to death in 2017, all but three had at least one of these factors, according to the report. Eight were younger than 21 at the time of their crime.
More troubling still are the wrongful convictions. In 2017, four more people who had been sentenced to death were exonerated, for a total of 160 since 1973 a time during which 1,465 people were executed. In many of the exonerations, prosecutors won convictions and sentences despite questionable or nonexistent evidence, pervasive misconduct or a pattern of racial bias. A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences extrapolated from known cases of wrongful convictions to estimate that at least 4 percent of all death-row inmates are wrongfully convicted. Against this backdrop, it would take an enormous leap of faith to believe that no innocent person has ever been executed.
This (Times) page has long opposed the death penalty, and would continue to even if the penalty's application were completely free of bias and error. That is an unattainable goal, as should be obvious by now. Perhaps this explains why Americans, whose support for capital punishment climbed as high as 80 percent in 1994, have increasingly lost their appetite for state-sanctioned killing. Support is down to around 55 percent, its lowest level in 45 years.
The rest of the developed world agreed to reject this cruel and pointless practice long ago. How can it be ended here, for good?
Leaving it up to individual states is not the solution. It's true that 19 states and the District of Columbia have already banned capital punishment, four have suspended it and eight others haven't executed anyone in more than a decade. Some particularly awful state policies have also been eliminated in the past couple of years, like a Florida law that permitted non-unanimous juries to impose death sentences, and an Alabama rule empowering judges to override a jury's vote for life, even a unanimous one, and impose death.
And yet at the same time, states have passed laws intended to speed up the capital appeals process, despite the growing evidence of legal errors and prosecutorial misconduct that can be hidden for years or longer. Other states have gone to great lengths to hide their lethal-injection protocols from public scrutiny, even as executions with untested drugs have gone awry and pharmaceutical companies have objected to the use of their products to kill people.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that the death penalty would eventually end with a whimper. "The incidence of capital punishment has gone down, down, down so that now, I think, there are only three states that actually administer the death penalty," Justice Ginsburg said at a law school event. "We may see an end to capital punishment by attrition as there are fewer and fewer executions."
That's a dispiriting take. The death penalty holdouts may be few and far between, but they are fiercely committed, and they won't stop killing people unless they're forced to. Relying on the vague idea of attrition absolves the court of its responsibility to be the ultimate arbiter and guardian of the Constitution and specifically of the Eighth Amendment. The court has already relied on that provision to ban the execution of juvenile offenders, the intellectually disabled and those convicted of crimes against people other than murder.
There's no reason not to take the final step. The justices have all the information they need right now to bring America in line with most of the rest of the world and end the death penalty for good.
The Boston Herald on a more than $200 million cut to the United Nations:
There was less there than meets the eye, to that widely ballyhooed $285 million cut to the United Nations budget that followed on the heels of U.S. threats to exact financial revenge on the organization, following its condemnation of President Trump declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called what was characterized as a "negotiated" budget cut historic, adding, "We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked."
Well, just to put this in perspective, the entire two-year operating budget for the U.N. (2018 and 2019) was set at $5.396 billion of which the U.S. is expected to pay 22 percent (the U.S. is assessed about 28 percent of U.N. peacekeeping operations). So yes perhaps any cut in the bloated bureaucracy that is the U.N. is helpful. But this one its good timing aside is hardly worth the press release it was printed on.
Of course if it were merely the start of a re-evaluation of the U.S. contribution and more importantly of the U.S. exercising its influence over the bloated and often corrupt agencies of the world organization then it might be an important development.
For example, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton (2005-2006) suggested in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that, "The U.S. should reject this international taxation regime and move instead to voluntary contributions. This means paying only for what the (member) country wants and expecting to get what it pays for."
Topping his list and ours as well of U.N. agencies unworthy of funding would be the U.N. Human Rights Council a virtual parody of its name. Existing members include such paragons of virtue in the human rights field as Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba and Venezuela. Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo will be joining their ranks in January.
Los Angeles Times on President Donald Trump and protests in Iran:
It's entirely appropriate for President Trump to offer support for peaceful protesters in Iran and to demand that the government there respond with restraint. Despite claims by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that they were instigated by foreign "enemies," the protests that erupted in that country last week seem to be home-grown and motivated by dissatisfaction with high prices, unemployment and a corrupt ruling elite.
Some protesters may also have objected, as Trump claimed in one of his tweets, to the fact that their wealth "is being stolen and squandered on terrorism."
But Trump and other American politicians need to be careful not to issue calls for regime change, however veiled, that the United States is unable and unwilling to back up with military action. The president came close to making such a promise in a tweet on New Year's Day that began with "Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration" and ended with the exclamation "TIME FOR CHANGE!" In a similar vein, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said: "We should support the Iranian people who are willing to risk their lives."
Such language offers Iranian dissidents false hope, just as former President George H.W. Bush raised the hopes of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds in 1991 when, near the end of the first Gulf War, he said that the Iraqi people could "take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside." When those Iraqis rose up against Saddam, U.S. forces didn't come to their aid. Trump's words also make it easy for the Iranian regime to dismiss their protests as American-inspired. That doesn't mean U.S. politicians can't sympathize with the concerns of young, disaffected people in Iran or that the U.S. can't penalize Iran when it believes that country has misbehaved. The U.S. already has imposed sanctions on Iran for its support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and for its testing of ballistic missiles potentially capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Finally, Trump must resist the temptation to seize on the protests in Iran as an excuse for further undermining the nuclear agreement. In October, Trump declined to certify to Congress that staying in the nuclear deal was in America's interest even though the International Atomic Energy Agency repeatedly has said that Iran has complied with the agreement. But he didn't say that he would reimpose the sanctions that were lifted in connection with the deal or demand that Congress do so.
At the same time, Trump warned that the agreement would be "terminated" if Congress didn't take action to improve on the agreement action that hasn't been forthcoming, raising the possibility that he might reimpose sanctions this year, effectively ending the agreement.
Might the protests in Iran and the government's response to them give Trump another reason for taking that extreme step? (In one of his tweets, the president mentioned "all of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave (Iran).") That truly would be an irresponsible reaction. The nuclear agreement wasn't a favor to Iran; in restraining its nuclear program, it contributed to the security of the whole world. That was true before the protests and it's still true.
The Oxford (Mississippi) Eagle on two Southeastern Conference teams competing in college football's national championship:
Nobody can doubt the power of the Southeastern Conference in football now.
The league had moments this past season when it did not look like America's powerhouse football conference. LSU lost at home to Troy. Ole Miss lost to Cal. Alabama looked beatable late in the season. Florida struggled throughout the year.
But, in the end, two SEC teams will battle for the College Football National Championship on Jan. 8.
Georgia and Alabama were the league's best all season but they didn't get to meet in the SEC Championship because Auburn had beaten the Crimson Tide to win the Western Division.
Alabama's selection into the National Championship playoffs was a close call. Many didn't think they belonged. But the Crimson Tide revealed in a semifinal matchup with Clemson that they are legitimate title contenders.
Now, it's Alabama vs. Georgia for the National Championship in the most fitting of locations. This year's championship is being held in Atlanta, a Southern location for a Southern slugfest.
Alabama is an early favorite in part because the Crimson Tide makes playing in this annual affair a habit. We'll see. Georgia will have a slight home field advantage since the game is in the state.
Regardless, one thing we know. The SEC will rule college football once again this season when it's over.
The Telegraph of London on politics surrounding next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea:
Great sporting events are political. Much as athletes, footballers, swimmers and the rest would like to think that international tournaments are merely an opportunity for them to demonstrate their prowess, they can also be used for purposes of diplomacy or realpolitik. The 1936 Berlin Olympics were a shop-window for Nazi Germany. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were boycotted by the Americans in protest at the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Soviets duly kept their team and those of their eastern European satellites away from Los Angeles in 1984.
Such events can also build bridges. Late last year, the stand-off between the two Koreas over Kim Jong-un's nuclear programme seemed to bring the peninsula close to war, and the tensions have not disappeared. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, warned last night that Pyongyang could be preparing for another missile test and reiterated that the United States would not accept a nuclear North. Yet the fact that the Winter Olympics is taking place in South Korea next month has opened a window to a possible rapprochement. Kim's regime said it is willing to hold talks with officials in Seoul about participating in the Games.
Talks are due to be held next week, both to discuss the North sending a delegation and a general de-escalation of tension. South Korea's president sees the Pyeongchang Games as a "ground-breaking chance to improve South-North relations and establish peace". His optimism may be misplaced, with the North attaching unacceptable conditions or continuing with its provocations regardless. Yet if the Games can help to reduce the risk of a conflict, then the investment in new ski slopes will have been worth it.