Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
Chicago Tribune on how Sears could have avoided bankruptcy:
The most impressive statement to make about Sears as it seeks bankruptcy court protection is also the most damning: Sears was the Amazon of its time.
Impressive because Sears really was that influential long ago. Damning because the company’s decline wasn’t preordained. Sears could have maintained pre-eminence and, in the digital era, elbowed out Amazon and other retailers. Some companies do preserve and build on success through reinvention. Look at McDonald’s, to choose another great Chicago-area company that has survived challenges and remains the iconic name in its industry. There was no law that said the biggest hamburger chain of the 20th century should still be competitive in 2018. McDonald’s kept up with changing consumer demands. Sears instead became a victim as its customers found other retailers who would better meet their needs.
Early Monday morning, Hoffman Estates-based Sears filed for bankruptcy protection. The company’s future now likely rests with outsiders, including its creditors and a federal judge.
The dominance Sears squandered is breathtaking to consider. Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck founded the company in 1893 — a remarkable 125 years ago — to sell watches by mail. As recently as the 1960s, Sears was known as the “colossus” and “paragon” of American retailing. By 1972, 2 of every 3 Americans shopped at Sears in any three-month period, and more than half of households had a Sears credit card, according to “The Big Store,” an engaging 1987 biography of the company by Donald R. Katz. The Sears Tower rose in downtown Chicago as “a lasting monument to the invincibility and boundlessness and extreme profitability of a company that now accounted for fully 1 percent of the Gross National Product,” Katz wrote.
Parallels to Amazon are uncanny: Almost 2 out of 3 U.S. adults purchased something via Amazon in a three-month period in 2017, according to market researcher Packaged Facts. Amazon’s $177 billion in revenue last year is in the neighborhood of 1 percent of GNP. And like the announcement that Sears would erect the world’s tallest building in Chicago, Amazon soon will make a dramatic pronouncement in real estate terms about its own boundlessness when it chooses a location for a second headquarters. Wouldn’t it be fitting if Amazon chose Chicago?
The question of what befell Sears isn’t hard to answer. It was internal attitude as much as external forces. Katz’s book explored the hubris and insularity of a behemoth that couldn’t imagine being usurped, and thus didn’t anticipate the rise of mall competition or discounters or, eventually, the internet. “Sears doesn’t have competition save ourselves,” one company executive quoted in “The Big Store” said in 1975. “Sears is number one, two, three and four.”
The company survived the turbulence of that era, then slowly lost relevance. Sears could have morphed into another Walmart or Target or Amazon — that is, it could have kept Chicago the Goliath of retailing cities — yet missed every opportunity. The last decade was one long slide downward. Now its existence is on the line.
The most impressive statement about the company may now be its epitaph: Once and long ago, Sears was a mighty retailer.
The Toronto Star on marijuana legalization in Canada:
Pop a champagne cork. Or spark up a joint.
As of Wednesday smoking cannabis is legal in Canada. And despite the many difficult issues that will come along with this historic move, that’s something to celebrate.
Criminalizing pot-smoking was a costly and dangerous mistake that gave an estimated 500,000 Canadians criminal records while lining the pockets of criminal enterprises to the tune of about $6.2 billion a year.
That said, today marks the beginning, not the end, of a long process that raises a lot more questions to which there are so far no clear answers. Among them:
How will it affect the workplace? Employers are struggling with what type of guidelines should be set to prevent workers from coming to work stoned.
When is it safe to drive? There’s a lot of confusion here. One in six Canadians think that it’s safe to drive three hours after smoking or ingesting pot, but a study released this week by McGill University found younger drivers are more at risk of crashing a vehicle for up to five hours after they consume cannabis. And even that study didn’t measure participants after five hours, so no one really knows where the safe driving point is.
Where can I buy cannabis? Ironically, it may be more difficult to access pot in Ontario now than before legalization. That’s because illegal pot shops are closing down so they can qualify for provincial licences and legal outlets won’t open until April 1. Until then weed can only be bought online through the Ontario Cannabis Store. (That means if you’re smoking weed in Ontario today — before it could possibly have been delivered from the cannabis store — it’s a legal act with an illegally sourced product.)
Where can I smoke pot? In Ontario, generally in public places where you can legally smoke tobacco. Even that can be confusing; smoking is legal in parks, but not near playgrounds. It could get more complicated if municipalities enact legislation, as they can under the provincial law, to ban marijuana from certain areas such as — yes — parks.
Does legalization mean pot possession convictions disappear? Not right away, but federal officials said Tuesday it will soon become easier for those convicted of simple possession to obtain a pardon
The New York Times on the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi:
If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Riyadh to read the Riot Act to Saudi rulers over the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, he hid it well behind cheery smiles and professions of amity. But then outrage has been conspicuously absent from the Trump administration in the two weeks since Mr. Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen again.
Mr. Pompeo first went to see King Salman and thanked him for his commitment to a “thorough, transparent and timely investigation,” according to a State Department spokeswoman. He then went on to see the real power behind the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and here President Trump joined in by phone. Mr. Trump on Twitter appeared to take at face value the prince’s claim that he knew nothing of what happened in the consulate and his promise of a “full and complete investigation.”
“Answers will be forthcoming shortly,” the president promised. Later he said that blaming the Saudi leadership was another case of “guilty until proven innocent.” We’ll see.
So far, the only investigations have been those carried out by the Turks. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Tuesday that investigators who searched the consulate were looking into “toxic materials, and those materials being removed by painting them over.”
The Saudis have reportedly been searching for a cover story for the disappearance of the gadfly Saudi journalist, who had been living in self-imposed exile in the United States and writing columns for The Washington Post. Denial is no longer an option — Turkey appears to have pretty solid evidence that Mr. Khashoggi was killed by thugs flown in from Saudi Arabia — so the word in Washington is that the Saudis will try to claim an attempted kidnapping or interrogation gone bad.
On Monday, when Turkey had already leaked considerable evidence of a hit, Mr. Trump was behaving like a royal apologist. “Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen,'” he wrote on Twitter. A bit later he told reporters, “The denial was very, very strong,” adding: “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”
Actually, he probably does, if American spy agencies are doing their job. But evidence of big-time malfeasance has not prevented Mr. Trump from admiring the likes of Vladimir Putin of Russia, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt or Kim Jong-un of North Korea (“we fell in love”).
Some of Mr. Trump’s more serious Republican supporters have taken a far less forgiving stance toward Saudi Arabia and its heir apparent. “This M.B.S. figure to me is toxic,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, who is normally a close ally of the president, using the crown prince’s nickname. “This guy has got to go.”
There’s no question that Saudi Arabia is an important American ally in the Middle East and that the relationship cannot be casually severed. Yet the White House should have been first to suspend participation in a major investment conference in Riyadh next week until the Saudis provided a credible account of Mr. Khashoggi’s fate, rather than leaving it to American media organizations and business executives to take the lead in pulling out.
If Saudi Arabia is allowed to get away with some lame story about the apparent murder of Mr. Khashoggi, the world’s growing gang of autocrats will feel even less constraint. There are plenty of measures at Mr. Trump’s disposal that would send the right message, from personal sanctions against those behind the Khashoggi operation to a suspension of arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia. Mr. Trump’s aides, members of Congress and allied leaders need to insist that he take the lead in demanding that Saudi Arabia acknowledge what really happened, and why it’s terribly wrong.
Los Angeles Times on the federal government proposing to force drugmakers to disclose prices for prescriptions in their TV commercials:
The Trump administration on Monday unveiled its latest proposal for reining in the cost of pharmaceuticals: requiring television advertisements for prescription drugs to display the price tag of the medication being promoted. For the 10 drugs seen most often on TV, the administration says, those list prices range from $535 to a whopping $11,000 per month or per course of treatment.
Like the administration’s other efforts to address this issue, the mandate is a small response to an enormous problem. The United States spends more per capita on prescription drugs — roughly half a trillion dollars a year — than any other country, and that spending has been increasing far faster than inflation, wages or the U.S. economy. The assumption behind the proposal is that forcing a pharmaceutical company to reveal the list price of the fabulous new cure it is touting will somehow shame it into keeping the price down.
Good luck with that. Although a handful of drug makers have reduced or canceled price increases this year in response to President Trump’s criticism, most have not. According to the Associated Press, prices went up on 4,412 brand-name drugs in the first seven months of 2018, and down on 46.
Some critics also argue that it would violate the free speech protections of the 1st Amendment to force drug companies to disclose their list prices. And drug makers note correctly that very few people actually pay list prices.
The proposal would reveal little about how much those drugs ultimately sell for, or how much people with insurance will pay for them — directly (through deductibles and co-pays) and indirectly (through premiums).
To its credit, the administration has been actively trying to slow the rise of drug costs through an array of often down-in-the-weeds reforms. And in sharp contrast to what it has done on Obamacare, the administration’s efforts to boost competition, alter incentives and increase transparency have generally helped consumers. But drug makers are unusually well insulated from the market forces the administration is trying to marshal — they have patents that guarantee them temporary monopolies, products that are vital and even life-saving, and customers whose bills are often paid by insurers. It will take much more dramatic changes to make a meaningful difference in drug prices.
Boston Herald on Sen. Elizabeth Warren releasing a DNA test providing some evidence of a Native American in her lineage:
With the controversy of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claims to be part Native American still swirling through the political atmosphere, it is important that we hear the voices of actual Native Americans.
They’re not too thrilled. Native American groups say they’re tired of being a “political football” in the back and forth over Warren’s heritage claims.
“It’s problematic in the sense that the general American imagination has this fascination with native people, but overlooks what’s been done to them,” Raquel Halsey, the head of the North American Indian Center of Boston, told the Herald. “They think they’re honoring native people, but the real way to do that would be focusing on the issues that face native people,” like land rights, treaties, economic development and education, she said.
According to Kim TallBear, a Canadian researcher on Native Americans, Warren’s DNA drop comes “despite her historical record of refusing to meet with Cherokee Nation community members who challenge her claims.”
Elizabeth Warren should meet with those Cherokee Nation members and have a robust discussion about their needs and challenges.
Monday night Warren tweeted, “At the end of the day, I trust the people of Massachusetts to look at the facts about who I am and how I’ve lived my life and make their own judgment about me.”
But who she is is still in question. An overture to the Native American community would give her a fresh slate with which to build a legacy and serve to clearly define her.
According to 2015 statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, “The rate of drug-related deaths among American Indian and Alaska Native people has almost quadrupled since 1999, according to the Indian Health Service. It’s now double the rate in the U.S. as a whole. Oklahoma — home to the 120,000 citizens of Cherokee Nation — leads the country in prescription painkiller abuse.”
As a whole, the total U.S. jobless rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives was 8.9 percent in 2016. That is compared to 4.9 percent for the U.S. as a whole, according to a Bureau Of Labor Statistics report.
The Indian Health Service, which falls under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that “American Indians and Alaska Natives born today have a life expectancy that is 5.5 years less than the U.S. all races population (73.0 years to 78.5 years, respectively).”
Sen. Warren, Native Americans need help. You are a powerhouse in Washington. You have an obligation to use your talents to improve their lives. Since you resurrected the DNA issue for political gain, the opportunity for a good faith gesture presents itself: Senator, we call on you to draw upon your own personal wealth and make a substantial contribution to the cause of Native Americans.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch on what happens to immigrant children who were separated from their parents and forced into foster-care settings mandated by the U.S. government:
A disturbing Associated Press report shines a light on what happens to immigrant children separated from their parents and forced into foster-care settings mandated by the U.S. government. In a small number of cases, foster-care networks have yanked permanent custody of young children from their natural parents to serve the adoption wishes of American families.
These horrendous separation policies predated the Trump administration. The fact that Democratic and Republican administrations were responsible for such atrocities means both parties are responsible for fixing it. The Trump administration has, however, made the problem worse by escalating the family-separation policy while coldly telling parents that permanently losing their children might be the price for entering this country illegally.
Perhaps worse is that pious, pro-family, pro-life groups like Bethany Christian Services have become enablers for policies that are anything but Christian and pro-family. Separating children from their parents, then putting them up for adoption, destroys lives and leaves indelible psychological scars.
A 3,900-word Associated Press investigative story tells the nightmare of Araceli Ramos Bonilla, a Salvadoran mother who was abused, threatened and badly beaten by the father of her then-toddler daughter, Alexa. Ramos decided to flee with Alexa to the United States in 2015. They were separated by authorities after being arrested in Texas.
Ramos was deported. Alexa was handed over to Bethany Christian Services, which enthusiastically answered the government’s call for foster-care help. Sarah Zuidema, a former Bethany supervisor, told the AP: “They just felt that if these kids could know Jesus, everything would be OK.”
Enormous constitutional questions arise when the government seizes children and hands them over to groups seeking to indoctrinate them religiously. Ramos was assumed to be some kind of heathen. She said she was forced to sign away custody of her child before being deported back to El Salvador. Her persistent pleas for help from U.S. authorities went nowhere.
The Department of Homeland Security played dumb about the case, telling the AP it was unaware of “anyone contacting embassy or consulate in a foreign country to be reunified with a child. This is unsurprising given the fact that these parents made a knowing decision to leave their child in a foreign country.”
Ramos wasn’t alone. In Missouri, another case involved a baby separated from a Guatemalan mother arrested in an immigration raid. A seven-year legal battle ensued, and the mother lost permanent custody to the child’s adoptive U.S. family. In Nebraska, the AP reported, another Guatemalan mother prevailed and got her kids back, but only after an expensive, five-year court battle.
Yes, illegal immigration is an offense under the law. But it has never been, and never should be, an offense punishable by such Dickensian measures. These are tactics that made Argentina’s dictatorship so abhorrent. Has the U.S. government stooped to that level?
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