US Press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. America the Overcommitted (New York Times)

To succeed in foreign policy, says Jeremy Suri, America must set three clear priorities and pull back everywhere else.

2. The Wire: Why it still matters (Boston Globe)

The issues and concerns raised on the show have grown ever more timely as we descend into a new decade, writes Carlo Rotella.

3. Rabbit-Hole Economics (New York Times)

Tuesday's Republican debate opened the door on a fantasy world where nothing looks or behaves the way it does in real life, writes Paul Krugman.

4. Dollar coin? It's time (Los Angeles Times)

A coin would last longer than a bill, saving the government money, argues this editorial. It continues: But why stop there? Let's retire the penny and the nickel as well.

5. Prison isn't best option for nonviolent youths (Chicago Sun Times)

Research consistently shows that locking up nonviolent juvenile offenders fails to reform them, costs too much and makes us no safer. This editorial says it's time to get smarter.

6. New battle cry: We're 53 percent (St. Petersburg Times)

According to Annie Lowrey, this new campaign, a conservative answer to Occupy Wall Street, has some verve.

7. Ending hypocrisy of terrorist designation (Washington Times)

Gen. Hugh Shelton argues the U.S. government's practice of listing "foreign terrorist organizations" (FTOs) has become an increasingly dangerous and hollow political exercise, rather than a sober assessment of the real threats to America.

8. Health care aside, death panels alive and well (San Francisco Chronicle)

The notion of a White House bothering to request the statutory authority to execute troublesome Americans is just so ... 2009, writes David Sirota.

9. Raising up Hermain Cain (Washington Post)

Enjoy the GOP flavor of the week, while he lasts, says Eugene Robinson.

10. Happy birthday, Mr. Despot (New York Daily News)

This editorial concedes that celebrities occasionally use their star power to help good causes, such as disaster relief. But it continues: or they can help a murderous dictator celebrate his birthday -- for the right amount of cash.

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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left