Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
The Telegraph on the Panama Papers:
Government ministers, and especially the prime minister, do not enjoy the same levels of privacy over their personal income and assets as the rest of us. We know how much they earn; and it is also a requirement of office that they declare any trust funds and relinquish any company directorships or holdings that might compromise them. Above all, as law-makers and legislators they must be seen to abide by the same rules they impose upon everyone else.
So it was never going to be enough for Downing Street to dismiss inquiries about David Cameron's tax arrangements as a "private matter." Contained within the mass leak of data from a Panamanian law firm was information about Mr. Cameron's late father, Ian, who managed an investment fund based in Panama.
The existence of this fund, Blairmore Holdings, has been known for years. It was set up in 1982 and is likely to have helped fund the upbringing of Mr. Cameron and his siblings. When stories first emerged in 2012, there was no suggestion that Mr. Cameron had done anything wrong and nor is there now.
After Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, asked for details of his affairs, the Prime Minister said he has "no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds."
Downing Street also said later that Mrs. Cameron and their children "do not benefit from any offshore funds." However, this merely invited further questions about whether the children might benefit in future from a trust established by their grandfather. Is this a matter of public interest or not?
Arguably, investments made on behalf of the Prime Minister's children or his wife are, and should remain, private. After all, were the money ever brought back "on shore" then tax should be paid. But should it transpire that Mr. Cameron's family stands to avail itself of inheritance tax arrangements denied to others then voters will be understandably aggrieved.
If the prime minister wants this story to end then he needs to be candid to the point of compromising his family's privacy. This is especially true since he has made a great deal of his Government's efforts to expose the clandestine financial holdings of others.
Mr. Cameron is shortly to host a conference intended to open a new front against the sort of secret financial activities exposed by the Panama leak. He will have very little credibility in doing so if he has left the impression that he, too, has something to hide.
The Los Angeles Times on the Cleveland Indians' logo:
We're supposed to be heartened by the Cleveland Indians' announcement that the team will further reduce its use of Chief Wahoo, an offensive racial caricature that serves as its logo. But frankly, it's hard to get excited. Given that the team acknowledges the image is odious to many people, why not just scrap it altogether?
Chief Wahoo is a grinning, red-skinned caricature of a Native American that has adorned the baseball team's uniforms, hats and souvenirs for decades. The name derives from a 1930s comic strip laden with all sorts of stereotypes and derogatory portrayals, though the first Cleveland Indians incarnation of the image arose after World War II.
In recent years, the team has moved toward a more benign logo — a block letter "C'' — yet it still puts the caricature on the players' uniform sleeve. And the team and Major League Baseball sell mementos bearing the image, from shot glasses to watches to purses, profiting from something that they should see as an embarrassment. Team part-owner and chief executive Paul Dolan has said that he has "empathy for those who take issue with" the logo and that the team has "minimized the use of it and we'll continue to do what we think is appropriate." But, he adds, he has "no plans to get rid of Chief Wahoo; it is part of our history and legacy."
At least Dolan recognizes that the logo is problematic, which puts him ahead of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who has refused to rename his football team. But it's silly for Dolan to simultaneously acknowledge the problem and then cling to it for the sake of team history. The team, and the league, should do better, and consign this history to where it belongs: a museum.
The Orange County Register on pensions:
In an interview with the Financial Analysts Journal last year, Nobel laureate economist William F. Sharpe, creator of the Sharpe ratio for risk-adjusted investment performance analysis, said public pensions in the United States are a "disaster" and "a crisis of epic proportions."
"Idiotic accounting drives even worse economic decisions," he contended. "This is the classic case of an organization that borrowed money while issuing purportedly guaranteed payments and then used the money to invest in risky securities. Where have we heard recently that this is not a good thing?"
Sadly, things are even worse for most other developed nations. A Citigroup analysis of 20 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (including the U.S.) found that the nations' $44 trillion in traditional debt nearly tripled to $122 trillion once their $78 trillion in public pension and social security liabilities are factored in.
"It is really a ticking time bomb," Charles Millard, Citi's head of pension relations, told the Wall Street Journal.
"Most of the world still relies too heavily on government pensions through pay-as-you-go social security pensions or public-sector schemes," the report concluded. "This is unsustainable, and a rapid shift to private pension savings is inevitable in our opinion — particularly in Europe."
The implications are stark, as "governments will have to raise taxes or cut government expenditures elsewhere to make room" for increasing pension and social security payments.
Within the U.S., the Citi report singled out Illinois, New Jersey and "many municipalities" in California as having particular difficulty meeting their pension obligations in coming years.
The mounting pension tab will be disruptive everywhere, but will come as a particular shock to Europe, as Greece can already attest. This should serve as a cautionary tale to the U.S. that we should not be so eager to adopt European socialism. It also highlights the danger of growing dependence on government and the rising tax demands of insatiable governments.
The U.S. can still place reasonable limits on benefits, shrink the size — and debts — of government and return to self-sufficiency and control over one's own retirement planning, but time is running short.
The Boston Herald on Guantanamo Bay:
Fresh off his decision to commute the sentences of 61 more drug dealers in federal prison, sending them back to city streets, President Obama will also be responsible for transferring a dozen more Guantanamo Bay prisoners over the next several weeks.
Two detainees in this current group are expected to be shipped to an unnamed African country this weekend, Fox News reported. The only thing holding up the transfer of the others right now is a provision that Congress must be notified of the transfer — something that is still in process.
Obama has vowed to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before he leaves office — the cost of that promise and those transfers even in American lives be damned.
"We know for a fact that roughly 30 percent of those who have been released have re-entered the fight, and usually at a very high level, because it's a badge of honor to have been an inmate at Guantanamo Bay," U.S. Sen. John McCain said this week.
Last month Paul Lewis, the Defense Department's envoy on matters related to the prison, told Congress, "Unfortunately, there have been Americans that have died because of Gitmo detainees."
The Pentagon later attempted to walk that back, but has acknowledged that at least 12 former detainees have returned to the battlefield.
The Obama administration has transferred 144 detainees to other countries, leaving 91 at the prison, including 35 "cleared" for transfer.
But in order for the president to keep his campaign pledge, that would mean the transfer of those not "cleared" — in other words, the worst of the worst — to American prisons. The Pentagon has proposed sending them to prisons in Colorado, Kansas or South Carolina.
"This is about closing a chapter in our history," Obama has said.
Well, good luck with that. It seems the current batch of Islamic terrorists isn't really as ready to close that chapter as the president is.
The New York Times on wind power:
If the United States is going to get serious about cutting carbon emissions from oil and gas, it will have to find ways to scale up its use of renewable energy. Converting wind and solar power into electricity is, in some ways, the easy part. The bigger challenge is developing the infrastructure to transmit that electricity across the country.
In the case of wind, most of that power is generated far from the urban centers that would use it. Transmission would require a new nationwide system of power lines reaching from the windiest parts of the country. Such a system could also allow power suppliers the flexibility to shift supply depending on variations in weather.
But some residents in those areas don't want power lines crossing their property. One project, called the Grain Belt Express and intended to run from Kansas to Illinois, is on hold after being voted down by the Missouri Public Service Commission. There was considerable opposition from landowners, who worried the lines would be unsightly or interfere with farming. Some area residents also objected to the idea of companies building on Missourians' land in order to sell power elsewhere.
Transmission lines are generally safe, but they would change the appearance of open space in the West and the Midwest. In some cases, lines can be placed underground. But underground lines are far more expensive to construct and maintain than aboveground lines, and lower costs would translate into lower electricity rates for consumers. Lower rates could also speed the nation's transition from gas-powered cars to hybrid and electric vehicles, further reducing emissions.
Clean Line Energy Partners, the company behind the Grain Belt Express, plans to submit a new application to the Missouri Public Service Commission later this year. The company recently won approval from the Department of Energy for transmission lines stretching from Oklahoma to Tennessee. Clean Line will pay landowners the full market value for easements of land it builds on, plus an annual payment for each structure it builds on their property.
To bring landowners on board, companies will have to pay good prices and be sensitive to local concerns, involving communities early in the planning process. But the country won't be able to make a swift transition to renewable energy if landowners and local regulators stand in the way.
The Washington Post on $15-per-hour minimum wages:
Governors of the nation's most and fourth-most populous states, California and New York, respectively, have signed a$15-per-hour minimum wage into law. In the District, a judge has just ruled that proponents can try to get a $15 minimum on the ballot in November; Mayor Muriel E. Bowser supports accomplishing the $15 goal legislatively. What the success of the $15 minimum wage movement shows, in part, is that politics abhors a vacuum. In the absence of action by the Republican-controlled Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, states and cities encompassing about 65 percent of the U.S. population have decided to enact higher minimums, though usually less than $15. Maybe the GOP should have taken President Obama up on his request for a $9 minimum when he offered it back in his 2013 State of the Union address.
Another lesson, however, is that, when it comes to public policy, popular and wise are not necessarily the same. Stuck on $7.25 per hour since 2009, the federal minimum is due for an increase, especially in light of stagnant wages and income inequality. The magnitude of that increase, however, is a matter for caution, given the widely varying labor-market conditions across the country and the likelihood that sharp mandatory wage hikes would reduce the supply of jobs. Also, the minimum wage is not an especially well-targeted way to help the working poor, because — unlike the earned-income tax credit wage subsidy — it benefits many workers who are not poor, not supporting families, or both.
Moderate minimum wage increases in the past have not produced disastrous short-term employment consequences, at least not sharp enough to outweigh the perceived benefits of protecting workers from a race to the bottom of the labor market. Yet $15 per hour would represent a quantum leap in the U.S. minimum wage, from its present level of about 35 percent of the median full-time hourly wage to nearly 75 percent of it, based on our reading of figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. No other industrialized country's statutory minimum wage even comes close.
Even phased in over a few years, $15 would represent a major departure, about which existing economic research offers little solid guidance. This might be why Alan B. Krueger, the minimum-wage expert who formerly headed Mr. Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, has written: "A minimum wage set as high as $12 an hour will do more good than harm for low-wage workers, but a $15-an-hour national minimum wage would put us in uncharted waters, and risk undesirable and unintended consequences." The obvious risks — borne disproportionately by the very-low-income workers whom minimums are meant to help — are apparent even to advocates of the $15 minimum, as the many loopholes and caveats built into the California and New York increases implicitly demonstrate.
The minimum wage should go up, but sustainably. Setting the minimum at a particular historical benchmark, such as a percentage of the poverty line for a family, or a share of the median wage, would help focus the debate, and anchor it.