Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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July 14

The New York Times on extending unemployment benefits in the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic:

Unemployment benefits provide people who lose jobs with a little help for a little while. The money is not really enough to live on, by design: People are supposed to find a new job.

During an economic crisis, however, people can’t find jobs. They need money to live on.

Congress recognized this reality in March when it responded to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic by increasing unemployment benefits. But the expansion expires at the end of this month, even as the pandemic continues to rage. Congress, after dragging its feet for months, has all but run out of time to prevent a lapse in the distribution of extra aid.

The nation’s elected representatives need to act immediately to extend emergency benefits, and to authorize the extra aid to continue for the duration of the crisis.

Because crises are both inevitable and unpredictable — and because the federal government is slow to react whenever a crisis begins to unfold — the government also needs a set of rules that automatically switches the unemployment benefits program from normal mode to crisis mode, and back again, based on the evolution of economic conditions.

The need for more unemployment benefits is just part of a broader set of measures Congress must take to shore up the economy. State and local governments urgently need help, including funding for schools. So do businesses that the pandemic has shuttered, and health care providers it has overwhelmed.

But those who have lost jobs are singularly vulnerable — especially because pandemic job losses have been concentrated among low-wage workers with little money in the bank.

The program created in March has two main components. First, Congress expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits to include self-employed workers, gig workers and others who were previously ineligible. Americans deserve to have that adjustment made permanent: It moves the safety net of unemployment benefits more squarely beneath the modern work force. As of the end of June, more than 14 million American workers had qualified for benefits under the expansion out of a total of 33 million workers drawing unemployment benefits.

The second component of the rescue package gave unemployed workers a $600 weekly payment from the federal government on top of their standard unemployment check, which averages $373 a week, although the amount varies widely by state. The average recipient is thus getting nearly $1,000 a week. People also can collect the benefits for up to 39 weeks, up from as little as 13 weeks before the crisis.

Federal aid, including the expansion of unemployment benefits, has helped to stabilize the finances, and thus the lives, of millions of American households and the communities of which they are a part. It’s not as good as a job: Among other things, millions of people have lost their health insurance. But even as the pandemic has pushed unemployment to the highest levels since the Great Depression, research suggests the aid is preventing any meaningful increase in the share of families living in poverty.

These are individual benefits with societal impact. Workers on federal aid can afford to make rent payments, easing the pressure on landlords. They can afford to shop at local stores, supporting hard-pressed small businesses.

When Congress slapped a July expiration date on the program, there was reason to hope that the United States might have brought the pandemic under control by now. Other nations have done so. But the United States has failed to control the spread of the virus, and fear continues to curtail economic activity. The need for continued aid is undeniable.

The House of Representatives passed a bill in May that would extend the aid program through January, but few economic analysts expect the economy to recover by then — particularly as the first wave of the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly across the Sun Belt. While any arbitrary deadline risks another battle over reauthorization, a January deadline would be particularly fraught. After the Republican Party lost control of the White House in 2009, during the last economic crisis, congressional Republicans decided it was politically expedient to oppose federal spending that was needed to revive the economy. Democrats would be wise to take the lesson.

The size of the $600 bonus is also a subject of controversy. The figure was chosen because lawmakers wanted to provide workers with the money they would have earned, but the antediluvian conditions in many state unemployment offices made it impossible to tailor benefits. Instead, Congress picked a figure that would make the average worker whole.

The White House, and some congressional Republicans, are upset that some workers are getting more money than they earned in their former jobs. They argue this could discourage workers from seeking new jobs.

This is not an immediate problem: At the moment, the United States is suffering a lack of jobs, not a lack of willing workers. Moreover, there is a ready solution: a plan to reduce the payments as the economy recovers.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, introduced legislation early this month to continue the emergency aid on a state-by-state basis until the jobless rates in each state recede. Expanded eligibility would last until unemployment dropped to 5.5 percent. Expanded benefits would drop by $100 when the rate fell below 11 percent, and by another $100 each time the rate dropped by another percentage point, ending when the rate hit 6 percent.

Congress can avoid the need for similarly ad hoc policymaking during future crises by providing funding for states to fix the problems that have impeded the distribution of benefits — and by adopting rules to automatically expand and contract supplemental benefits.

Claudia Sahm, then a Federal Reserve economist, wrote in a paper published last year that the movement of the unemployment rate could be used as a reliable indicator. She found that since the 1970s, when a three-month average of the unemployment rate rose half a percentage point above the lowest rate during the previous year, the economy was in a recession.

Ms. Sahm, now the director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, has proposed using this “Sahm rule” as a trigger to initiate aid programs such as supplemental unemployment benefits. The emergency aid would then continue until the unemployment rate fell back to that threshold. In the current crisis, emergency aid would continue until the unemployment rate, now 11.1 percent, receded to 5.3 percent.

That would be a smarter way to provide workers with necessary and timely aid.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/

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July 14

The Wall Street Journal on the backlash against a professor at Princeton University:

When a Princeton classics professor wrote an article for the Quillette website taking issue with recent faculty demands over race, a storm of criticism descended. This was an opening for President Christopher Eisgruber and other university leaders to remind people that Princeton is a place where speech and debate are cherished. Instead, Princeton is demonstrating how a lack of leadership enables the cancel culture.

The professor is Joshua Katz, and his offending piece was headlined “A Declaration of Independence by a Princeton Professor.” Mr. Katz took issue with a petition sent to President Eisgruber signed by more than 350 faculty members. The faculty letter began with the statement “Anti-Blackness is foundational to America” and included demands ranging from an extra semester of sabbatical for faculty of color to removing the statue of John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and former Princeton president who owned slaves.

Mr. Katz’s capital offense was his description of the university’s Black Justice League as a “local terrorist organization.” This hyperbole has given critics an excuse to denounce Mr. Katz without addressing his argument. His own department accuses him of using language that has long been used to “incite racial and specifically anti-Black violence.”

In a statement to the Daily Princetonian, President Eisgruber piled on: “While free speech permits students and faculty to make arguments that are bold, provocative, or even offensive, we all have an obligation to exercise that right responsibly. Joshua Katz has failed to do so, and I object personally and strongly to his false description of a Princeton student group as a ‘local terrorist organization.’”

But Mr. Katz was not saying the Black Justice League is al Qaeda or the IRA. The rest of that sentence defined what he meant, calling it a group “that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands.”

As for Mr. Eisgruber, in 2016 Princeton rejected demands to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from a Princeton residential college and its School of Public and International Affairs. Wilson’s racism was not in doubt then or now. Mr. Eisgruber said Princeton had “rightly” concluded the best path to diversity “is not by tearing down names from the past but rather being more honest about our history.” But this June students again demanded that Wilson’s name be purged. A week later the board decided — on Mr. Eisgruber’s recommendation — to excise the former U.S. President.

Mr. Katz has tenure, but the cancel culture doesn’t need to get him fired to succeed. It succeeds by making him an outcast in his own university, and intimidating into silence others on campus who might agree.

This is happening across America and is especially disappointing at Princeton. The university has welcomed more conservative and independent voices than some of its peers, and under President Eisgruber it was one of only two Ivy League schools to sign the University of Chicago principles upholding free and open inquiry. It’s a shame to see Mr. Eisgruber wilt under pressure now, when liberal values of speech and tolerance most need defending.

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

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July 14

The Washington Post on President Donald Trump’s quest to reopen schools in August amid the coronavirus pandemic:

“WHAT DO you tell parents, who look at this, who look at Arizona where a schoolteacher recently died teaching summer school; parents who are worried about the safety of their children in public schools?” That was the question posed Monday to President Trump about teacher Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd, who died after contracting covid-19. And — to no great surprise — it went unanswered.

No expressions of sympathy for the family. No discussion of steps being taken. No assurances about safeguards being put in place. Mr. Trump instead just doubled down on his insistence that schools reopen in the fall. “The schools should be opened. Schools should be opened. You’re losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed,” he said.

We happen to agree with the president about the importance of getting children back into the classroom. Too much learning already has been lost, and continued time away from school robs children of the educational and social tools they will need to succeed in life.

Those who are vulnerable because of income or special needs are especially at risk. And there can be no true economic recovery until children are back in school and parents can go back to work.

Unlike the president, though, we don’t think it is sufficient, let alone effective, to make believe the virus isn’t a problem while bullying and threatening states and local school districts to open their doors in August. Mr. Trump and his remarkably unhelpful education secretary, Betsy DeVos, threaten to withhold federal funds from schools that don’t return to in-person instruction while failing to offer any guidance or even endorse school safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is pretty much the opposite of what schools need: careful planning, thoughtful precautions and additional resources to manage risks. But thoughtfulness is anathema to this administration. In fact, its heedless approach to the pandemic, elevating politics over public health expertise, has led to an epidemic so out of control in many states that any thought of reopening schools has become irresponsible.

It is rich to see the administration point to the experience of other countries that have managed to reopen schools as examples to follow when those countries embraced the kind of careful steps and precautions — lockdowns, masks, extensive testing — that Mr. Trump constantly belittles. The federal abdication of any kind of leadership leaves it up to state and local officials to, using Ms. DeVos’s words, “figure things out.”

Some, such as the Los Angeles and San Diego school districts, have opted to start the upcoming school year with full distance learning, while others, including New York City, have plans for in-school learning for part of the week. Many districts are still struggling with what to do. Most say they need more money. The only thing clear at this point is that children will pay a price far higher than it had to be.

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

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July 14

The Los Angeles Times on the U.S. federal government rescinding a rule that would have required international students to transfer or leave the country if their schools held classes entirely online:

From the Trump administration perspective, suddenly forcing international students out of the country must have looked like three wins in one. It would have ejected mostly non-European immigrants, advanced the administration’s new demand that schools reopen their campuses despite the threat posed by COVID-19, and financially and academically harmed universities, which Trump views as bastions of liberal indoctrination.

Not to mention striking a blow against science, and especially against the nation’s leadership in scientific research, which has come about largely because of its globally admired university programs in engineering and laboratory science.

At least the odious preliminary directive was withdrawn Tuesday, though we don’t know how new students and those whose visas are ending will be affected.

The original version would have required the international students to leave the country unless they attended in-person classes this fall. It would have given universities that are planning to offer only online courses until Wednesday to come up with in-person lesson plans for their international students. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia sued and the plan’s chances were looking iffy in court Tuesday.

Still, this ridiculous attempt shouldn’t be forgotten by the American public. It was a harmful and punitive measure for no purpose other than to be harmful and punitive, and it would have injured the nation’s economy as well as the noble purposes of higher education.

About a million international students, more than half of them from China or India, pursue their studies in the United States. They make up at least three-fourths of the graduate students in computer science and industrial, petroleum and electrical engineering, and large numbers in laboratory sciences. This country is literally richer for their presence.

The United States is at the forefront in many of the sciences because of its outstanding STEM graduate programs. Silicon Valley wasn’t just an accident that sprang up in Santa Clara County; it came about because of the presence of Stanford and UC Berkeley. The biomedical industry in the San Diego area grew from the programs at UC San Diego. And these students are a major reason those programs remain robust.

Many students return home after graduation, but many others have taken on important roles in those science, technology, engineering and math industries and in research programs in this country. While they’re here as grad students, they contribute $45 billion a year to the economy, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The situation on COVID-19 is changing by the week, and in many cases not for the better. Like K-12 public schools, universities are trying to figure out a plan as the pandemic’s realities continually shift. They want to open but they can’t change the laws of safety and science simply because Trump and the reality of COVID-19 remain strangers.

Had the students dropped out of their programs, our universities would have been drained of teaching assistants, graduate students and the full-pay tuition that most international students contribute.

It’s true that there long has been an issue with foreigners using bogus claims of college studies to immigrate while they took courses at sham schools. But the administration knew perfectly well that the students it targeted are here legitimately, contributing to our higher education system, to our economy and in many cases, to our global leadership in science and technology.

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

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July 13

The Star Tribune on President Donald Trump commuting the prison sentence of his longtime political confidant Roger Stone:

Roger Stone has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back. But it’s the current president, Donald Trump, who had Stone’s back when on Friday he granted a commutation of the 40-month sentence his friend was facing for lying during the Russian investigation.

In doing so Trump turned his back on the justice system and, ultimately, the American people by shamelessly shielding Stone, a felon convicted of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress, and for intimidating a witness.

Even Attorney General William Barr, who often wrongly acts more like Trump’s personal attorney rather than the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, called Stone’s prosecution “righteous” and the final sentence “fair” (after working to reduce the length of it, that is).

Other, more principled Republicans were blunt about what can only be seen as a presidential protection racket. “Unprecedented, historic corruption: An American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted on Saturday.

That description wasn’t far from what Stone said himself on Friday. “(Trump) knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him,” Stone told journalist Howard Fineman. “It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.”

Another resolute Republican, Robert Mueller, who hearkens back to an era when “law and order” was a governing guidepost, not a Nixon or Trump campaign slogan, broke his long silence in a Washington Post commentary. The investigation, Mueller wrote, was of “paramount importance” because “Russia’s actions were a threat to America’s democracy.”

Regarding Stone’s prosecution in particular, Mueller wrote that, “Stone became a central figure in our investigation for two key reasons: He communicated in 2016 with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers, and he claimed advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ release of (Clinton campaign) e-mails stolen by those Russian intelligence officers.”

So Stone’s crimes — and in fact, they remain crimes of which he is not absolved — were a direct threat to the electoral process, the DNA of our democracy. Criminals like Stone endanger justice itself. It was “critical,” Mueller wrote, for Congress and the Justice Department to obtain accurate information. “When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Mueller’s patient, painstaking explanation contrasts starkly with Trump’s claim that Stone was treated “very unfairly.” On the contrary, it’s Americans who were treated unfairly by Stone, and by a president buying his silence.

Every president has broad prerogative on clemency and pardons, and the congressional calls for reform must pass constitutional muster. Trump is not the first to make controversial calls on these matters.

But few, if any, uses of presidential powers have been as egregious as this.

Online: https://www.startribune.com/

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July 10

The Toronto Star on a controversy surrounding one charity’s alleged connections to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

The first lesson of crisis management, say the experts, is this: if you screw up, admit it, put out all the sorry details before your critics do, and move on.

The Trudeau government does indeed have a screw-up on its hands, in the form of the controversy roiling around the WE Charity and its connections (we’re still not sure how many) with the prime minister, his family and at least one of his senior ministers.

And yet the government has chosen to handle it in a way that would make the crisis managers cringe.

First it denied there was a problem at all with WE being handed (without a competitive bidding process) a lucrative contract to manage its $912-million student volunteer grant program. Then it abruptly reversed course; WE conveniently announced it was pulling out of the deal, and the government said the civil service could manage the task after all.

Worst of all, it failed to disclose the full extent of the connections between WE and the Trudeau family. It wasn’t just speeches by Trudeau himself and a long-ago gig involving his wife, Sophie. It turned out his mother Margaret and brother Alexandre have been paid some $282,000 over a few years by WE. The charity itself has benefited from millions in contracts and grants since the Liberals were elected.

To top that off, we learned on Friday that two daughters of Finance Minister Bill Morneau have links to WE — one as a contract employee, the other as a speaker (unpaid, apparently).

It may well end there. But at this point the blood is in the water and who knows what else may be unearthed? Even if there’s nothing more, the impression is created that the government, and Trudeau in particular, was at the very minimum economical with the truth in this matter. Instead of disclose and move on, it’s been stonewall and hope.

As others have noted, we’ve seen a similar pattern from Trudeau in previous scandals, involving his family holiday to the Aga Khan’s Caribbean island and the SNC Lavalin affair. Won’t he ever learn? they ask.

Of course, everyone has his blind spots, and for Trudeau family may be a big one. Given his privileged background, he may just see connections to the likes of WE and the rewards that come with them as just the natural order of things.

But surely by now, with a string of crises behind him, he should have people around him whose job it is to spot these rocks in the river and steer him away before he dunks yet again.

Government ministers are sticking to their line that civil servants gave a “non-partisan” recommendation that WE was best-placed to administer the volunteering grants program.

But given the Trudeau family’s well-known connections to the organization, did it occur to no one around the prime minister that handing out a substantial contract with no competition might be problematic? And did it not occur to Trudeau and Morneau and their advisers that, at a bare minimum, they should recuse themselves from the decision when it came before cabinet?

Evidently not. And now the government must endure whatever damage emerges from three probes into the matter, one from the ethics commissioner and two from committees of the House of Commons.

The Conservatives want the RCMP to look into it as well as a possible violation of Criminal Code provisions outlawing “fraud against the government.” But, unless a lot more damaging information emerges, that looks like an overreach. In fact, the Conservatives themselves hardly sound convinced that this is a criminal matter.

In the short to medium run, this whole affair is unlikely to go very far. The Liberals, and Trudeau himself, have built up a lot of credit with Canadians for guiding the country through the COVID-19 pandemic. And the Conservatives are still in disarray, awaiting a new leader. This is no time, even in a minority Parliament, to put the survival of the government in jeopardy.

But these things take their toll over time. The prime minister needs strong people around him able to warn him off when he’s about to succumb to his worst instincts.

Online: https://www.thestar.com/

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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