- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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Dec. 10

The Chicago Tribune on the World Anti-Doping Agency banning Russia from international competition for four years:

International anti-doping regulators say they’ve had it with Russian cheating and have banned the country from international competition for four years. That includes the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. What does that ban really mean?



Well, imagine the Russian volleyball team wins gold. The team takes the podium. But because of the ban, the athletes aren’t wearing Russian uniforms. Instead, they don whatever drab, understated garb signifies being neutrals from nowhere in particular. No Russian flag goes up the flagpole, no Russian anthem fills the arena.

Back in Moscow, what do you think Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reaction would be? A seething scowl? A fist slam onto his desk? Our guess is a wide, beaming smile and a celebratory swig of the best vodka rubles can buy.

Russians still will have won gold, and for a country bent on a scam-at-any-cost approach to winning, bringing home the gold is all that matters.

In issuing its verdict Monday, the World Anti-Doping Agency said that, even after Russia was exposed as a systematic cheater at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and a long list of other international competitions, Russian officials persisted in their chicanery. They did so most recently by manipulating a database containing test results for Russian athletes.

The agency could have slapped an outright ban on Russia that barred every Russian athlete from Tokyo, Beijing, the World Cup and all other international competitions for four years. Instead, WADA flinched.

Beckie Scott, a Canadian cross-country skier who had her bronze medal swapped for Olympic gold after two Russian skiers were disqualified for doping, told The New York Times many athletes see WADA’s punishment of Russia as “largely superficial. … WADA had the authority and power to impose a much stronger and serious sanction, and they chose not to.”

Athletes around the world who rely only on grit, passion and commitment to strive for Olympic glory have every right to feel let down. So does every kid from Northbrook to Namibia who nurtures dreams of a podium moment. With stronger action against Russia, the international sports community could have sent a message to those kids that cheating is, and will always be, a one-way road to disgrace.

The halfway ban issued by WADA reinforces the cynicism that much of the world increasingly feels about the Olympics. What used to be a celebration of “Faster, Higher, Stronger” has been stained by the taint of greed, power and pharmacology. In the lead-up to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, there was hope that banning the Russian flag and anthem would be the cudgel that scared Russia straight. Clearly that measure wasn’t enough. Why would international sports officials think it would be enough now?

Only one course of action would get the Kremlin to sit up and take notice - an outright ban on Russian athletes competing. The message to governments and athletes everywhere would be simple and blunt: You cheat, you don’t compete. Anything less gives Russia the victory lap it bought with steroids and artifice.

Online: https://www.chicagotribune.com/

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Dec. 9

The Washington Post on President Donald Trump’s reaction to the shooting on a naval base in Pensacola, Florida:

President Trump’s reaction to the murderous rampage in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday by an officer of the Royal Air Force of Saudi Arabia was insensitive and grossly insufficient. Three American servicemen lost their lives and eight were wounded by a Saudi wielding a 9mm Glock 45 pistol in a killing rampage that the FBI says is being investigated as terrorism. What does the president say? He finds it “shocking” and conveys the condolences of “very, very devastated” King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and adds that the kingdom will “help out the families very greatly.”

Not a word from Mr. Trump about the threat of terrorism, or a shred of curiosity about motives and whether the Saudi officer was radicalized and by whom, or a thought about what Saudi Arabia could do to help investigate the shooter, or perhaps a lament that a pilot, a guest of the United States, would carry out such a horrific assault on his hosts, or even a worry about where the 21-year-old officer got the weapon. Mr. Trump quickly pivoted to say there were a lot of countries participating in the aviator training program. He often performs this pivot, a telltale dodge. “There are a lot of killers,” he said once when asked about a leader who dispatches assassins abroad. “I think there is blame on both sides,” he said after Charlottesville.

Mr. Trump has an inexplicable blind spot for Saudi Arabia. He has no trouble insulting in the vilest way people from other Muslim countries. … After a terrorist attack in London, he said on Twitter, “These animals are crazy and must be dealt with through toughness and strength!” But when a Saudi carries out an attack on a U.S. military base, Mr. Trump becomes a spokesman and apologist for the king.

King Salman has assured Mr. Trump, according to an embassy news release, that he has “directed Saudi security services to cooperate with the relevant American agencies to uncover information that will help determine the cause of this horrific attack.” Perhaps Mr. Trump thinks Americans have forgotten that when Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi was dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Mr. Trump and members of his administration vowed, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it, to pursue “a thorough, transparent and timely investigation, including accountability for those responsible for the killing.” This promise remains unfulfilled.

The king’s promises of cooperation might be more credible if he would direct his intelligence service, and the crown prince to whom it reports, to pay more attention to cases of radicalization and less to what seem to be the prince’s top priorities: silencing peaceful dissent, torturing women who campaigned for the right to drive, surveilling the relatives of the murdered Khashoggi. Mr. Trump might ask the king to make public who really ordered that murder and to free the writers and activists the regime has thrown into prison. That is, if Mr. Trump could see beyond his blind spot.

Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

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Dec. 9

The Wall Street Journal on the the report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz:

The press corps is portraying Monday’s report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz as absolution for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but don’t believe it. The report relates a trail of terrible judgment and violations of process that should shock Americans who thought better of their premier law-enforcement agency.

Readers can look at the detailed executive summary and decide for themselves. But our own initial reading confirms the worst of what we feared about the bureau when it was run by James Comey. The FBI corrupted the secret court process for obtaining warrants to spy on former Trump aide Carter Page. And it did so by supplying the court with false information produced by Christopher Steele, an agent of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

How can anyone, most of all civil libertarians, pass this off as no big deal? The absolution is supposedly that Mr. Horowitz concludes that the FBI decision to open a counter-intelligence probe against the Trump campaign in July 2016 “was sufficient to predicate the investigation” under current FBI rules.

Yet Mr. Horowitz also notes that these rules amount to a “low threshold for predication.” John Durham, the U.S. Attorney investigating these matters for Attorney General William Barr, said Monday he disagrees with Mr. Horowitz’s conclusions on predication, albeit without elaboration for now.

Mr. Horowitz confirms what the FBI had already leaked to friendly reporters, which is that the bureau’s alarm in July 2016 was triggered by a conversation that former Trump aide George Papadopoulos had with Australian Alexander Downer. But we learn for the first time that the FBI immediately ramped up its counter-intelligence probe to include four Trump campaign officials: Messrs. Page and Papadopoulos, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn.

The bureau quickly moved to a full-scale investigation it called Crossfire Hurricane. The FBI’s justification, as related to Mr. Horowitz, is that the risk of Russian disruption of the 2016 election was too great to ignore.

Yet the bureau never told anyone in the Trump campaign, or even Donald Trump, whom or what it was investigating so he could reduce the danger or distance himself from those advisers. The FBI was investigating the campaign but wouldn’t tell the candidate who would soon be elected.

The FBI abuses escalated when it was presented with the now infamous Steele dossier. Mr. Steele was hired by Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS, the oppo-research outfit hired by a law firm for the Clinton campaign. Mr. Horowitz confirms that the FBI then used the Steele dossier to trigger its application to the FISA court to spy on Mr. Page.

“We determined that the Crossfire Hurricane team’s receipt of Steele’s election reporting on September 19, 2016 played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and Department’s decision to seek the FISA order,” Mr. Horowitz says. This confirms what Rep. Devin Nunes and House Republicans first disclosed in February 2018, which was denied by Rep. Adam Schiff and sneered at by the press at the time.

Mr. Horowitz also finds that the FBI told the FISA court that Mr. Steele was credible without having tried to confirm the details or verify his sources. Mr. Horowitz found no fewer than seven key “errors or omissions” in the FBI’s original FISA application, and 10 more in the three subsequent applications. The latter were especially egregious because they ignored information that the FBI’s own Crossfire Hurricane team had later gathered that cast doubt on the Steele claims.

The omissions include the stunner that Mr. Page had been working as an “operational contact” for what Mr. Horowitz calls another U.S. agency from 2008-2013. Mr. Page has said this is the CIA, which Mr. Horowitz doesn’t confirm, though he does say that Mr. Page was reporting on his Russian contacts, which the agency deemed credible.

In other words, the FBI was using Mr. Page’s Russian contacts as evidence against him to the FISA court even as the other agency considered his reports on those Russians to be helpful to the U.S. Mr. Horowitz says the FBI never disclosed this information to the FISA judges.

“Much of that information was inconsistent with, or undercut, the assertions contained in the FISA applications that were used to support probable cause and, in some instances, resulted in inaccurate information being included in the (FISA) applications,” the report says. This is the Inspector General’s bland way of saying that the FBI deceived four FISA judges.

Democrats and the press are making much of Mr. Horowitz’s conclusion that he “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation” influenced FBI decisions. But his report does show that political bias was conveyed to the FISA court from the Clinton campaign via the Steele dossier through the FBI.

It was conveyed by Bruce Ohr, a senior Justice Department official whose wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS. Mr. Horowitz may not have found a memo with the words “let’s get Trump,” but his evidence shows that getting Mr. Trump was the goal of Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS. Mr. Ohr met 13 times with the FBI to discuss the Steele findings.

Even if you buy the “no bias” line, all of this had major political consequences. Fusion GPS used its media contacts to spread word of the Steele dossier’s accusations, and news of the FBI’s use of that dossier became a media hook to suggest the accusations were credible. This became another part of the false Russia collusion narrative played up by the press and the likes of former CIA director John Brennan.

Mr. Horowitz says Crossfire Hurricane investigators never verified any of the Steele dossier allegations against Mr. Page. Even a year after the first FISA warrant, in September 2017, the report says the FBI had only “corroborated limited information in the Steele election reporting.” Robert Mueller later spent two years looking for proof of collusion and found nothing, while the Trump Presidency was besieged.

The Horowitz report should not be the end of this tawdry tale. Whether or not there are prosecutions, Messrs. Barr and Durham should release the entire FISA record to the public. The GOP Senate also needs to call the FISA judges to tell their story under oath.

The FISA process was established in the 1970s as a check on FBI abuse, though we and others warned that it would hurt accountability instead. So it has played out in this case. The U.S. doesn’t need a process that uses Article III judges as political cover to justify abusive wiretaps on innocent Americans, much less on presidential campaigns.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/

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Dec. 9

The Evening Standard of London on the upcoming U.K. election:

London counts at this election. Obvious? After all, it’s the country’s largest city by far, it powers the economy and it pays a lot of the taxes which support public services in the rest of the country.

Both the Conservative and Labour leaders are standing in London constituencies - which means the next Prime Minister is almost certain to come from here.

But in the 2016 referendum London’s backing for remain was trumped by England’s vote to leave. After the 2017 election saw the losses of seats like Kensington and Twickenham, it was the DUP from Northern Ireland which kept the Conservatives in office, even though they won fewer votes than Londoners cast in Croydon alone.

And in the current contest a lot of talk has been about the risk of Labour losing once-safe seats in the north of England - which is why the Prime Minister is storming around them today.

But it’s the London battles which could turn out to matter.

A key one involves the Lib Dems. Remember what was supposed to happen?

They were going to get their break in the capital, bursting through in pro-EU Tory strongholds such as the Cities of London and Westminster, Chelsea and Fulham, Putney, and Wimbledon.

They brought in big-name candidates, some of them MPs who had moved from other parties, and hoped to win seats from third place. Now that looks like hubris.

Some might fall - as we report today, Lib Dem chances look stronger in Finchley and Golders Green, where the former Labour MP Luciana Berger seems to be closing the gap.

But the party’s able London candidates have been let down by a clunker of a campaign from Jo Swinson, who is catching up with Jeremy Corbyn fast in the race to be the least popular main party leader.

This morning’s interview (Dec. 9) on the Today programme was an example of why: she started by ditching the only policy for which they are known (cancelling Brexit without a referendum), then spent the rest of her precious airtime arguing that there is no such thing as “biological sex”.

No wonder they are screwed.

What about the Conservatives in London? Well, don’t rule out that unexpected thing in a pro-EU London: a Tory advance.

Our poll last week showed Labour ahead in the capital, but by a lot less than it was in 2017, which gives the Conservative party hopes of picking up seats.

But they might lose them, too.

Veteran Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith, for instance, is at risk in Chingford and Woodford Green. How can you tell? By the way Boris Johnson turned up to campaign for him on Sunday afternoon.

Normally, he wouldn’t need to go anywhere near. More proof that London’s election matters.

Online: https://www.standard.co.uk/

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Dec. 7

The Los Angles Times on impeaching President Donald Trump:

The House of Representatives’ inquiry into President Trump’s actions on Ukraine is not yet complete, but the evidence produced over the last two months is more than sufficient to persuade us that he should be impeached. Witness after witness testified that the president held up desperately needed, congressionally approved aid to Ukraine to extort a personal political favor for himself. In so doing, Trump flagrantly abused the power of his office.

The Times’ editorial board was a reluctant convert to the impeachment cause. We worried that impeaching Trump on essentially a party-line vote would be divisive. It is also highly likely that Trump would be - will be - acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate, and that, rightly or wrongly, he would point to that in his reelection campaign as exoneration.

But those concerns must yield to the overwhelming evidence that Trump perverted U.S. foreign policy for his own political gain. That sort of misconduct is outrageous and corrosive of democracy. It can’t be ignored by the House, and it merits a full trial by the Senate on whether to remove him from office.

The story began with release of a reconstructed transcript of the notorious July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden (a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in 2020) and to shore up a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked Democratic Party emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. The document vindicated the unnamed whistleblower who’d asserted that multiple officials had reported that Trump “sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the president’s 2020 reelection bid.”

Then a parade of current and former government officials who testified before the House Intelligence Committee established that Trump’s call was part of a larger effort to condition a White House meeting with Zelensky and the release of the aid on an announcement by Zelensky that he would initiate the specific investigations desired by Trump.

As constitutional experts testified before the Judiciary Committee, the framers of the Constitution had just such self-dealing in mind when they wrote the impeachment clause.

In announcing her support for articles of impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said that Congress must act because Trump “has engaged in abuse of power undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.” Reasonable people can disagree over whether arming Ukraine in its conflict with Russia serves U.S. foreign policy interests, and it is also true, as the GOP has repeatedly argued, that - in the wake of the whistleblower’s complaint and pressure by Congress - the security assistance for Ukraine was eventually released.

But none of that exonerates Trump of abusing his office, apparently to obtain a benefit for himself. And if the president was willing in this case to subvert U.S. foreign policy for personal and political gain, why wouldn’t he feel emboldened to do it again? The president, after all, continues to maintain that his call with Zelensky was “perfect.”

Any articles of impeachment approved by the House will act as the political equivalent of an indictment, setting forth specific instances of misconduct; the Senate would then convene a trial to decide whether Trump should be expelled from the presidency. It’s obvious that at least one article should cite Trump’s improper approaches to Ukraine, whether they are described as “bribery” (an offense specifically mentioned in the Constitution’s impeachment clause) or abuse of power. A separate article would be warranted for his outrageous efforts to obstruct Congress by keeping information from the impeachment inquiry.

Finally, we continue to believe that the House should consider an article of impeachment addressing the actions Trump took to thwart or hobble special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. Mueller did not conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, but neither did he exonerate the president. Atty. Gen. William Barr and then-Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein subsequently concluded that the evidence developed by Mueller was “not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” But in deciding whether Trump’s attempted interference amounted to an impeachable offense, Congress could well come to a different conclusion. And the allegation that Trump obstructed justice in the Mueller investigation involves the same sort of disrespect for legal norms as his defiant actions toward Congress’ inquiry into the Ukraine matter.

Trump’s defenders argue that the evidence against him on Ukraine is incomplete and thus inconclusive. They’re correct that some potentially important witnesses - including acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who reportedly put the hold on the Ukrainian aid, and former national security advisor John Bolton, who reportedly objected to the efforts to persuade Ukraine to conduct the investigations - haven’t testified. But that is because Trump has objected to such testimony. Delaying impeachment because of no-show witnesses would reward Trump’s obstructionism.

Besides, as the president himself tweeted on Thursday: “If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our country can get back to business.”

Holding the president accountable for gross abuse of power is the business of Congress. The House should get on with that business by writing articles of impeachment that make it clear to the Senate - and the American people - why the extraordinary remedy of impeachment is necessary. And Republicans who complain that the process is partisan could easily rectify that situation by abandoning their lockstep loyalty to Trump and looking at the facts.

Online: https://www.latimes.com/

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Dec. 6

The Miami Herald on the shootout involving police and thieves who hijacked a UPS truck:

A police pursuit of two suspected Coral Gables jewelry store robbers ended in shocking violence on Thursday (Dec. 5) on live TV: four dead; a jewelry store employee wounded.

The dead included a hostage and an innocent bystander - people you never want to see die in a police operation.

For anyone watching on television as the afternoon rush hour chase of the hijacked UPS truck and its driver stretched from Miami-Dade to Broward County, the culmination was surreal and jarring - a sudden gunbattle between the suspects and police, surrounded by drivers trapped at a traffic light at Miramar Parkway and Flamingo Road. Officers from various departments jumped out of their cruisers and closed in on the big brown truck as motorists trapped at the light tried to get out of harm’s way. But for the grace of God, there go any of us.

The most tragic scene happened next. The UPS driver, who found himself in the middle of a barrage of bullets, tried to jump out of the truck, only to be fatally wounded, as we watched live.

To their credit, South Florida television stations quickly pulled back or cut the feed to spare the audience of such front seat to violence. But we sadly watched a young man fight for his life, and fail.

It was heartbreaking. For a brief time, our communal thought was hopeful: “Did the UPS driver make it?”

The bullets kept coming, more than 100 rounds, killing an unsuspecting motorist and also the two armed robbers. Nearly 20 officers from different departments opened fire.

Now many more questions must be answered by the FBI. Could the hostage and the innocent bystander have been better protected? Whose bullets killed the victims? Should officers have approached the truck knowing the suspects were armed and firing?

Clearly, the blame lies with the brazen and reckless thieves who sparked this tragedy - just as a deeply disturbed young man was to blame for the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland.

But, as with Parkland, such a tragic loss of life warrants a careful examination of what went wrong, and how we can do better.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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