Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Los Angeles Times on federal spending:
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued yet another warning Tuesday that the federal government is heading down a dangerous fiscal path, racking up debt at an alarming rate. The CBO projects that deficits will average $1.3 trillion a year over the coming decade, with the economy settling into steady but sluggish growth. That's the most disturbing thing about the report: the expectation that giant deficits will be allowed to continue even when there's no recession driving up spending on federal safety net programs and causing tax revenue to plummet.
It's not inherently bad for the federal government to borrow money; extra spending by the government can help stimulate the economy during a downturn. But sustained and heavy deficit spending can have the opposite effect, raising borrowing costs and slowing GDP growth. The CBO projects that the fastest growing part of the federal budget will be interest payments on the rising debt — spending that delivers no tangible benefit for taxpayers while leaving less money for programs that do.
Rising healthcare costs and an aging population are contributing to the federal budget mess. But the problem has been exacerbated by the large and irresponsible tax cuts Republicans pushed through in 2017. The cuts were sold as a way to trigger a sustained surge in economic growth; instead, GDP bumped up only briefly, held back in part by the tariffs President Trump slapped on a broad array of imports.
We've seen this movie before. Some supposed fiscal conservatives will demand more tax cuts to try to jump-start faster growth (in fact, Trump and House Republicans floated just such an idea before the 2018 election and again last year). Others will blame the problem on federal spending and demand cuts — not to the military and security programs that Trump has vastly expanded, not to the vast tax giveaways and subsidies, but to the safety net programs the administration is already trying to restrain.
Slashing programs such as Medicaid and food stamps to help pay for the GOP tax cuts would be redistributing wealth in the worst way — from the impoverished to the well-to-do. The right answer starts with lawmakers rolling back the tax-cut and spending excesses of the Trump administration. They can then work on a longer-term plan to bring spending and revenue back into line.
The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier of Iowa on the death of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant:
Kobe Bryant was a unicorn — one of those people recognized worldwide by a first name — driven to succeed in sports, business and the arts — until his life shockingly ended Sunday.
Bryant, 41, and his daughter, Gianna ("Gigi"), 13, a budding basketball star, were among nine victims as his leased helicopter crashed in dense fog west of Los Angeles en route from Orange County to a game at his Mamba Academy, 80 miles away.
He was named after a steak served at a Japanese restaurant. His father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, was a National Basketball Association journeyman. His mother's brother, Chubby Cox, played briefly in the NBA.
From age 6, he grew up in Italy while his father played in Europe. He learned Italian. He did a grade-school book report in Latin.
He returned home as a basketball prodigy at Lower Merion High near Philadelphia, escorting pop star Brandy to his prom. He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in the 13th round and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. He then became the youngest ever to play in the NBA.
In 20 years with the Lakers, Bryant scored 33,643 points — fourth all-time after being passed by LeBron James Saturday night. He won five titles, made 18 All-Star teams, won a regular-season MVP award and two in the NBA Finals. He scored 81 points in a game, 40 points or more in nine straight, and 50 or more in four straight.
He was brilliant and divisive. Coach Phil Jackson called him "uncoachable." He feuded with co-star Shaquille O'Neal. After winning three titles together (2001-03), O'Neal was sent packing to Miami, winning a ring in 2006. Bryant teamed with Pau Gasol to win two titles in 2008-09.
After bowing out with a record 60 points in his final game, Bryant embellished his resume in business and the arts. He called on billionaires to improve his financial acumen and the likes of author J.K. Rowling to hone his storytelling.
Bryant Stibel & Co., a venture capital firm, had assets exceeding $2 billion with stakes in sports drink maker BodyArmor; Epic Games, which produces "Fortnite"; Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and Dell. Forbes put his net worth at $680 million in 2016.
"The Mamba Mentality: How I Play," was a best-selling book. His children's series featured Legacy, a tenacious 12-year-old female tennis player in the magical kingdom of Nova: "For Legacy, it's the only thing getting her through the long days taking care of the other kids at the orphanage."
In 2018, he was the first pro athlete to win an Oscar, turning his poem, "Dear Basketball," into an animated short film, which he wrote and narrated.
Yet the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences denied him membership because of a 2003 incident at a Colorado resort when he was accused of raping a 19-year-old employee. His legal team and social media vilified her as a gold digger, although her family was wealthy.
Bryant eventually apologized, claiming he thought it was a consensual act. She dropped criminal charges. A civil suit was settled for a rumored $2.5 million.
Jackson wrote the allegations didn't surprise him: "Kobe can be consumed with surprising anger, which he's displayed toward me and his teammates."
Then Bryant transformed himself.
On the court, he adopted the Black Mamba persona, after an assassin in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies. "I read up on the animal and said, 'Wow, this is pretty awesome,'" Bryant said. "This is a perfect description of how I would want my game to be."
Off the court, he saw himself as the angry Hulk changing into mild-mannered David Banner, devoted to his wife, Vanessa, and daughters, Natalia, 16, Gianna, 13, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.
In retirement, he didn't attend many Lakers games, saying, "I have a life and I have my routine at home. It's not that I don't want to go, but I'd rather be giving B.B. a shower and sing Barney songs to her. I played 20 years and I missed those moments before."
As YouTube videos attest, Gigi (aka "Mambacita"), a prodigy with UConn aspirations, emulated dad on the court. "It's a trip to see her move and some of the expressions she makes," Bryant said. "It's a trip how genetics work."
Other lives lost Sunday also were filled with promise or achievement: Gigi's teammate Alyssa Altobelli and parents, Keri and John, a legendary junior college baseball coach with five state titles and more than 700 wins; teammate Payton Chester and her mother, Sarah; Christina Mauser, an assistant coach and mother of three. Pilot Ara Zobayan had ferried Bryant constantly above the traffic-congested L.A. area.
So many people tragically taken before their time, including one constantly evolving unicorn destined for the basketball Hall of Fame this year with so many other gifts waiting to be unwrapped.
The Japan News on actions taken by Japan to the stop the spread of the coronavirus:
Infections with a new type of pneumonia have been spreading from China to the world. Chinese authorities have said that the new coronavirus' ability to spread is getting stronger. In Japan, too, it is necessary to strengthen relevant measures, on the assumption that the number of infected patients will increase.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made clear a policy of naming the pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus as a "designated infectious disease" under the Infectious Diseases Law. This designation under the law will allow authorities to take such measures as the compulsory hospitalization of infected patients. The move is being taken in anticipation of the spread of infected patients, without waiting for a declaration by the World Health Organization that the spread of the new virus is a public health emergency of international interest.
The number of patients infected with the new type of coronavirus has topped 2,800 in mainland China alone, with the death toll rising to more than 80. Cases of infection have spread to more than 10 countries and regions in addition to mainland China.
In terms of the number of infected patients, the latest infections have been spreading on a larger scale than when Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) broke out in 2012. The situation is getting more serious.
In Wuhan in China's Hubei Province — a city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak — outbound transport services have been shut down, virtually sealing off the city. The daily life of Japanese people living there has been hindered, and there is growing unease.
The Japanese government is working to send privately chartered flights to bring back the Japanese still in Wuhan who want to return to Japan. Other countries, including the United States and South Korea, are also considering sending chartered flights there, so these measures are deemed appropriate from the viewpoint of protecting citizens.
The Chinese government has started banning group tours with overseas destinations. This is aimed at preventing a large number of Chinese people from going abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday period, thus stemming the infection from spreading further.
This move taken by China can be considered to indicate a sense of alarm over the spread of infections, which is faster than it initially expected. The Chinese government should take such positions as quickly disclosing information about infected patients and the virus to other countries and seeking cooperation from them.
In Japan, infected patients, including a Chinese tourist, have been discovered almost on a daily basis. The number of Chinese holidaymakers who visited Japan totaled about 9.6 million last year.
Hotels and other accommodations should vigorously provide guests who are in poor physical condition with health care information. Hospitals, for their part, should make arrangements to be ready to accept foreign patients.
Whether infections may spread from human-to-human contact within Japan will be watched carefully in the days ahead. The possibility also remains that the virus may mutate and become stronger, or the fatality rate may rise.
Early symptoms of the new type of pneumonia may include those similar to a common cold, such as fever and diarrhea. There have also been cases in which elderly people and people with chronic illnesses have become seriously ill, so attentive care is vital.
At present, the percentage of those who die from the new type of pneumonia is not as high as those recorded in cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or MERS. A level-headed response should be made, based on accurate information.
The Wall Street Journal on Virginia and labor laws:
Democrats in Virginia aren't wasting time with their first statehouse majority in 26 years — by repealing the state's 70-year-old right-to-work law that has helped the commonwealth thrive.
Twenty-seven states including Virginia have right-to-work laws that give workers a choice of whether to belong to a union. According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, the rate of job growth was two times higher in right-to-work states between 2008 and 2018 than in states where workers can be compelled to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment.
This disparity is the result of a confluence of pro-growth policies including low taxes, but employers often cite right-to-work laws when deciding where to locate a new plant. Foreign automakers built factories in southern states largely because their right-to-work laws make it more difficult to conscript workers into unions.
Right to work has also made Northern Virginia more attractive to businesses compared to Maryland's Washington, D.C., suburbs. Northern Virginia last year accounted for 70% of new jobs in the D.C. metro area. Only 4% of Virginia workers belong to unions compared to 11.3% in Maryland. The share of construction workers who are unionized is five times higher in Maryland than Virginia.
Progressives elected in last year's statehouse sweep now hope to reward their labor supporters. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw is driving legislation that would allow unions to require non-members to pay "fair share fees" to defray their costs for collective bargaining, organization and other "representation" activities.
The Supreme Court's Janus decision (2018) forbids governments from requiring public workers to pay such union fees but said nothing about private workers. Under the Virginia bill, workers could be required to subsidize unions regardless of whether they join. This would repeal right-to-work in all but name.
Playing coy, Gov. Ralph Northam recently told a group of businesses that "I don't want to do anything that would threaten our AAA bond rating or our status as the number one state for businesses ... such as repealing (Virginia's) right-to-work law." Don't expect a veto.
Meantime, Democrats in the U.S. House are moving legislation to prohibit right-to-work laws nationwide. Liberals can't abide laws in prosperous and growing states that make Illinois and New York look bad.
The New York Times on John Bolton being a witness at impeachment trial of President Donald Trump:
It's just possible that common sense and reality have a shot at prying open the doors to the Senate chamber after all. After Republican senators claimed that it was perfectly reasonable to put a United States president on trial without hearing from any witnesses, a few of them are showing signs of recognizing that the truth matters. Or, at least, that the American people believe it does.
What's changed? Shocking but not surprising revelations from John Bolton's book manuscript, which The New York Times reported over the weekend, have made impossible to ignore what everyone has known for months: President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine to benefit himself politically, and against the strenuous objections of his top aides and both parties in Congress.
On Monday morning, Mitt Romney, of Utah, said, "I think it's increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton."
It's refreshing to hear those words. And yet the fact that such a statement is noteworthy at all tells you how far from responsible governance Republicans have strayed. They hold 53 seats in the Senate, and yet the nation is waiting on just four — four! — to do the right thing and agree to call Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser, and other key witnesses to testify in Mr. Trump's impeachment trial.
A far more representative attitude in the Republican caucus was expressed by Roy Blunt, of Missouri, who said on Monday, "Unless there's a witness that's going to change the outcome, I can't imagine why we'd want to stretch this out for weeks and months." With this tautology Senator Blunt gives away the game: All witness testimony to date — all presented as part of the House impeachment proceedings — has only strengthened the case against Mr. Trump, but Republicans will not vote to convict him under any circumstances. By definition, then, no witness in the Senate could possibly change the outcome.
The reporting on Mr. Bolton's manuscript, which is scheduled for publication in March, has scrambled that strategy. Mr. Bolton's foreign-policy disagreements with Mr. Trump have been public knowledge for months. Last fall, Fiona Hill, a Russia expert and former Bolton aide, testified in the House that Mr. Bolton was alarmed by Mr. Trump's aid-for-investigations scheme, which Mr. Bolton characterized as a "drug deal."
In the manuscript, detailed descriptions of which were leaked to The Times, he recounts nearly a dozen instances in which he and other top administration officials pleaded with Mr. Trump to release the aid, to no avail. He describes Mr. Trump's fixation on conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, and about the supposed corruption of Marie Yovanovitch, the American ambassador to Ukraine. He says that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted privately to him that he knew there was nothing to the theories regarding Ms. Yovanovitch, whom Mr. Trump fired last spring.
Mr. Bolton, a hard-line conservative with decades of service in Republican administrations, is no anti-Trump zealot, which makes his allegations against the president that much more devastating. And his decision to tell these stories publicly nearly certainly waives any claims of executive privilege Mr. Trump might try to assert over their communications.
Let's not forget the newly revealed evidence that came to light on Saturday, in the form of a tape recording released by the lawyer for Lev Parnas, who had worked for Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, in the Ukraine scheme. Mr. Trump has denied even knowing Mr. Parnas, but on the tape the two men can be heard in conversation at a dinner in April 2018. "Get rid of her," Mr. Trump said of Ms. Yovanovitch. "Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it."
In a late-night tweet, Mr. Trump angrily denied Mr. Bolton's allegations. "I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens," Mr. Trump wrote.
You know what would be a good way to figure out who's telling the truth? Subpoena Mr. Bolton to testify under oath.
This isn't a close call. A majority of Americans of all political stripes want to hear from Mr. Bolton, at the least. They believe, as do congressional Democrats, that you can't vote on whether to remove a president from office without getting the fullest possible account of his alleged offenses.
But Senate Republicans have so far refused to hear from any witnesses or to demand any documents, following the lead of Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who has never hesitated to undermine the country's institutions if he thinks doing so will help his party. Mr. McConnell and nearly all in his caucus seem to imagine that if they block their eyes and ears and let their mouths run, the turbulence of impeachment will eventually pass.
This is a risky strategy. One reason good lawyers insist on deposing witnesses and subpoenaing documentary evidence is to avoid any unwelcome surprises at trial. Mr. Bolton has now provided the latest of those surprises. It is surely not the last.
The most galling part is that Republicans have already admitted how bad the president's behavior was. Back in September, Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican and one of Mr. Trump's staunchest defenders, said: "What would've been wrong is if the president had suggested to the Ukrainian government that if you don't do what I want you to do regarding the Bidens, we're not going to give you the aid. That was the accusation; that did not remotely happen."
Except that it did, as Mr. Bolton is apparently willing to say under oath. Republicans don't want him to do that because they don't want Americans to exercise the simple good judgment that Mr. Graham once did.
The Washington Times on the suspension of Felicia Sonmez, a journalist from the Washington Post:
Felicia Sonmez, a journalist at Washington's other newspaper, was one of the few who weighed in after Bryant's death with a discordant note. As news of the helicopter crash broke, she tweeted a link to a Daily Beast article recounting the details of a 2003 sex assault charge that was brought against the then-Laker. (The case was eventually dropped and Bryant paid an undisclosed settlement.)
Was Ms. Sonmez's tweet in bad taste? Perhaps. The basketball star's body had probably not even been removed from the hillside where the helicopter crashed when she issued it.
What it was not, it would seem, was cause for professional punishment. Yet that's exactly what Ms. Sonmez's employer, The Washington Post, subjected her to. Tracy Grant, the newspaper's managing editor, told the Daily Mail on Sunday that "National political reporter Felicia Sonmez was placed on administrative leave while The Post reviews whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated The Post newsroom's social media policy."
So, to recap: A Washington Post journalist was suspended for the "crime" of tweeting a link to a factual article about a famous celebrity who had died recently. Since when has sharing credible news stories about important subjects been something that journalists aren't supposed to do?
The Chicago Tribune on remembering Auschwitz:
"Why did Auschwitz happen? Why? I don't have an answer to that. How, I know."
— Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor
Fay Waldman survived Auschwitz. She survived because Josef Mengele, the depraved Nazi doctor, decided on her arrival at the concentration camp that she shouldn't die. "I will never forget his lifting his black-leather gloved hand and pointing which way we should go, to the labor camp or to the death camp," Waldman said at a Chicago-area Holocaust remembrance in 1985. "I was healthy and went to the labor camp while the rest of my family went the other way."
THE VICTIMS OF NAZI HATE
The terror at Auschwitz was both systematic and indiscriminate. The Germans murdered 1.1 million people at the extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Most of the victims were Jewish. They were gassed, shot or beaten to death. Thousands of inmates survived, though barely, as slave laborers. Some worked in mines or rock quarries. Some sorted the confiscated possessions of others prisoners to be shipped back to Germany. One small group, surely the unluckiest of survivors, was assigned to the Sonderkommando, the unit ordered to move corpses from the gas chambers to the ovens.
There were children at Auschwitz too. Among the murdered and brutalized were sets of twins who became the subject of Mengele's sadistic medical experiments. Most were killed afterward so their bodies could be dissected. One pair was sewn together as if to create a conjoined set. They died of gangrene. Eva Kor remembered being tied down and stuck with a needle. "They wanted to know how much blood a person can lose and still live," she said years later.
On Jan. 27, 1945, the madness ended. With Germany in retreat, Soviet soldiers liberated the Auschwitz complex. "We saw emaciated, tortured, impoverished people," Ivan Martynushkin, then a 21-year-old lieutenant, told CNN in 2010. "We could tell from their eyes that they were happy to be saved from this hell." The Soviet troops found approximately 7,000 inmates. The Nazis had fled, taking 60,000 prisoners with them. Those who could not keep up were shot.
DECADES LATER, WE REMEMBER
Fay Waldman of Lincolnwood died in 2015. Eva Kor of Terre Haute, Indiana, died last summer. Soon all the survivors of the German extermination camps will be gone, no longer bearing witness. Their testimonies will live on, though, via museums like the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, documentaries like "Shoah," books and archives. As long as those stories are shared, the lessons of the Holocaust won't be forgotten. This is what makes anniversaries crucial to commemorate: They're opportunities — excuses, if you will — to remember. The year 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi death complex, and the end to World War II. It's a year filled with reflections.
On the 40th anniversary in 1985, ABC News anchor Peter Jennings visited Auschwitz with Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and Auschwitz survivor, to consider the horror of Nazi genocide. Jennings asked a logical question: How could the Jews of Europe have become victims in their own countries? How did they not recognize the German intention to exterminate the Jews? Why did they seemingly submit so easily? Wiesel had taken up this same question in his acclaimed memoir "Night," in which Moishe the Beadle returned home to warn villagers after he survived a far-off Nazi massacre. No one believed him. His tale was too fantastical. The Jews put trust in a society that reviled them. Many Jews did flee before the war, but many did not.
Weisel told Jennings that the Nazi's Final Solution was too well-conceived to fail:
"We came from one world into another," Wiesel said. "The killers killed and the victims died and the sky was blue and bread was bread. It worked. The Germans managed to create, beside creation, another creation. Beside human society another society, a parallel society, and that society was efficient. There were those who lit the fire, those who threw the children in the fire and it worked day after day and we had the feeling that it would never end."
THE ACHING QUESTION: 'WHY?'
Toward the end of his life, Wiesel spent hours in conversation with the Tribune's Howard Reich for Reich's book, "The Art of Inventing Hope: Intimate Conversations with Elie Wiesel." Wiesel suggested that the Holocaust existed as a paradox: something too terrible to happen that also happened. An inconceivable reality. "Wiesel himself had said many times to me that the scale of this genocide could not be absorbed by the human psyche," Reich wrote. To put it another way, citing Wiesel: The "How" of the Holocaust is far easier to grasp than the "Why."
Peter Hayes, a Northwestern University professor emeritus, in his book "Why? Explaining the Holocaust," wrote that Nazi Germany existed in a feedback loop of hate. The regime of Adolf Hitler created "an ideological echo chamber in which leaders constantly harped on the threat the Jews supposedly constituted and the need for Germans to defend themselves against it." Again, that better explains how the Holocaust happened than why.
Why Auschwitz? Because the Nazis decided. They identified a religious minority group who were contributors to European society yet outsiders, and declared them to be enemies — vermin to be eradicated because decimating a scapegoat can be advantageous. Six million European Jews died.
Why Auschwitz? There is no logical explanation, so there cannot be a satisfying answer. But the more we reflect on the Holocaust — the more we ask "Why?" — the closer we may come to understanding hate and recognizing inhumanity. Then maybe one day we can eradicate it.