Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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Aug. 26

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the police shooting of Jacob Blake:

Another horrendous shooting by police. Another Black man wounded. Another police department under national scrutiny.

With the shooting of Jacob Blake Sunday night, Kenosha and its police were plunged into the middle of the angry national debate over policing.

And now, the city faces yet another tragedy.

Two people were shot to death and a third was injured during protests late Tuesday night. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Illinois man, has been arrested and is being held in Lake County, Ill.

The deaths are heartbreaking and come after violence earlier in the week left several businesses in ruins. The violence is reprehensible and dishonors the good people fighting for a just cause.

Blake survived the shooting but remains in serious condition at Froedtert Hospital. His father says he is paralyzed from the waist down.

“They shot my son seven times — seven times, like he didn’t matter,” said Blake’s father, also named Jacob Blake. “But my son matters. He’s a human being, and he matters.”

While we don’t know precisely what led police to open fire on Blake, the video of a man being shot in the back in front of his kids is sickening.

Blake’s shooting provoked angry denunciations from a wide spectrum of American life — from LeBron James to Hillary Clinton. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said the shots that struck Blake “pierce the soul of the nation.”

We hope the shooting also forces a reckoning: Wisconsin must face up to the chronic problem of over-aggressive policing of people of color.

We support a package of bills that aim to reduce police brutality. Gov. Tony Evers is asking the Legislature to consider them in a special session next week.

Among other things, the measures would ban police chokeholds and no-knock search warrants and make it harder for officers with troubled pasts to move from one job to another.

We also support a proposal by state Sen. Van Wanggaard, a Republican and former police officer, to allow officials to analyze police-involved deaths the same way the National Transportation Safety Board investigates plane crashes. A new Police and Community Safety Board would help law enforcement learn from such incidents.

The truth is, we’ve been here too many times before. Black Americans account for less than 13% of the population nationally but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Hispanic Americans also are killed by police at higher rates than whites.

Dontre Hamilton.

Philando Castile.

Freddie Gray.

Breonna Taylor.

George Floyd.

They are among the many people of color who were victimized by police violence.

Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, put it this way on Twitter:

“That’s at the heart of being Black in America — living with that terrible anticipation of death. That’s the trauma in our bones.”

It’s unwise to prejudge an investigation based on 18 seconds of raw video, but Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett put it well: “The shooting of Jacob Blake is shocking, and, based on what’s visible in the video, appears to lack any possible justification,” Barrett said.

Republicans in the state Legislature are resistant to Evers’ request for a special session. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) wants to wait for more information about the shooting and says he’s forming a task force focused on racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety, and police policies and standards.

The Vos task force may be a good idea — we’re happy anytime the Legislature decides to rely on experts to write new legislation. But it shouldn’t take months — or a task force — to tackle the basics. Legislators could ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants now. And crack down on problem officers.

The people of Kenosha — and the entire state — need answers about Blake’s shooting.

And we need assurances that steps will be taken to prevent it from happening again.

Enough is enough.

Online: https://www.jsonline.com/

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Aug. 26

The Guardian on Brexit and free trade deadlines:

Boris Johnson’s government is too often caught unawares by events that were not only predictable but scheduled. The start of a new school term has been a feature of autumns for a lot longer than Gavin Williamson has been education secretary, yet arrangements for keeping classrooms safe from Covid-19 are still uncertain. Ministers cannot answer a question as simple as whether masks should be worn. As with the mess over exam results, guidance issued one day is contradicted the next.

The pattern is set by the prime minister. He deals in grand ambitions, not plans for their realisation. When things go wrong he shifts the blame, as he did on Wednesday when he suggested a “mutant algorithm”, and not ministerial incompetence, was at fault over the grading fiasco. The top civil servant at the education department is being ousted; the secretary of state responsible is not.

The problem is most extreme in relation to Brexit. Every stage of the UK’s uncoupling from the EU has been mapped out by treaty, including the expiry of transitional arrangements at the end of this year. By then, a free trade deal is supposed to have been negotiated and ratified. That is getting harder with each passing week. The impediment is British reluctance to recognise what is realistically available, or understand the imbalances of power in negotiations between a lone country and a continental trading bloc.

In June, the prime minister said he could see no reason why broad agreement might not be reached in July. But there was a reason, and he was it. Mr Johnson has not paid close attention, made choices or given his negotiators bandwidth for compromise.

The UK still demands pristine sovereignty, with no obligation to align its standards with EU markets, plus a right to subsidise domestic industries to a degree not permitted under Brussels rules. The EU will not grant privileged market access on those terms, because doing so would undermine its own industries. Eurosceptic hardliners say they would prefer no deal to any obligation to match continental standards.

Whether that is a bluff or not is a question that interests EU leaders less and less. They have other things to do. At the instigation of Germany, Brexit has been dropped from the agenda of a top-level European meeting next week on the grounds that there is nothing new to discuss. Mr Johnson knows what the options are – they range from close integration to something more distant, with tariffs and quotas – and he must choose.

But he doesn’t. Instead, the government still treats Brexit in the most superficial manner, as if the performance of readiness counts as the real thing. A report that Tony Abbott, a former Australian prime minister, might take on a senior trade advisory role is a case in point. Setting aside Mr Abbott’s notoriously rebarbative character, the appointment would be consistent with the myth, common among Brexit supporters, that trade deals are conjured into being by swaggering personalities.

The reality is that good outcomes in a trade deal are achieved by the application of time, attention to detail, experienced negotiators and a rational appraisal of the other side’s interests. The UK government is deficient on all those metrics.

As with the challenge of reopening schools, or grading exams never sat, the job does not get any easier with neglect. Leaving everything to the last minute, testing the fixity of deadlines, is a method that might have worked for Mr Johnson when he was a newspaper columnist, but it is no way to run a government. He operates one day at a time, stumbling from one problem to the next, with no sense of a strategic horizon. Such a man cannot safely settle the UK’s long-term relations with its neighbours. Nor, for that matter, should he be trusted with many other tasks required of a prime minister.

Online: https://www.theguardian.com/

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Aug. 25

The Wall Street Journal on President Donald Trump and the economy:

Joe Biden is running on his record in the Obama Administration of staging a turnaround after an economic crisis, and last week we reminded readers there’s less to that record than the spin. Conversely, there’s more to President Trump’s economic achievements in his first three years than his detractors admit, and this debate is crucial to how well the economy recovers after Covid-19.

Mr. Biden and the economic left claim Mr. Trump inherited a long expansion, and nothing much changed. But recall that Mr. Trump was able to win in 2016 in part by running against the “secular stagnation” that liberals said was inevitable. The Obama-Biden recovery was the slowest in decades, and by the second half of 2015 it was losing steam and came close to a recession in 2016.

Mr. Trump promised to spur growth again, and his win immediately revived animal spirits. The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, which had languished below 100 for all but one month of President Obama’s tenure, jumped 10 points to nearly 106 in December 2016. The OECD’s Business Confidence Index showed a similar flip from pessimism through most of 2015 and 2016 into growing optimism. The University of Michigan’s consumer confidence survey quickly exceeded its Obama-era high.

In its first two years, Mr. Trump pursued two major policy shifts. Instead of raising taxes as Obama-Biden did, he cut them. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by a GOP Congress restored global competitiveness to the U.S. corporate tax code, years after even European governments cut their marginal rates. Rationalizing taxation of overseas profits encouraged companies to repatriate foreign earnings to fund investment, increase wages, or return to shareholders for other uses.

Tax reform also encouraged business investment by allowing immediate 100% expensing of capital spending. The result of these measures was a capex surge, with job creation and productivity gains in its wake.

The other track was deregulation. The Administration eased restrictions on new energy pipelines, opened new areas to exploration, and rationalized emissions rules in the energy industry. This spurred a boom in gas and oil production. America is now a net exporter of petroleum products, allowing Washington new freedom to advance American interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The Trump Administration also freed banks of the more pointless elements of post-2008 regulation, such as investigations into racial discrimination in auto lending based solely on borrowers’ last names. And wouldn’t you know, the financial system still looks set to survive the Covid-19 shutdown. Republicans killed another 16 Obama-era rules through the Congressional Review Act.

These policies delivered what they promised, which was a burst of growth. From the end of 2017 through September 2018 the economy grew by more than 3%.

Work also increased. The unemployment rate fell to 3.5% by September 2019. Many liberal economists had assumed the 4.7% unemployment of November 2016 was a floor. More impressive, this rate declined even as the number of people working increased. Labor participation among the prime working-age population increased to 83.1% as of January this year, a rate not seen since 2008. Participation among working-age men exceeded 89% in early 2018 for the first time since 2010.

Wage growth, adjusted for inflation, accelerated after years of stagnation. The improvement was especially pronounced among low-skilled and minority workers left behind by the Obama economy. Median weekly full-time earnings for blacks increased 19% in Mr. Trump’s first three years, to $806. That followed a period of 11% growth during Mr. Obama’s seven post-recession years in office. (See the nearby chart.)

The Obama-Biden policy mix of easy monetary policy, higher taxes and hyperregulation skewed economic gains toward highly educated workers in industries such as tech and finance at the expense of other workers; toward asset owners at the expense of labor income; and toward larger companies at the expense of smaller. These inequities began to unwind under the Trump Administration.

Mr. Trump’s main policy mistake has been trade, which added costs by disrupting supply chains, raising tariffs and adding uncertainty. Tariffs on industrial inputs such as steel bogged down what could have been a bigger manufacturing boom. He made Nafta marginally worse but didn’t blow it up. Economists differ on the costs of this trade friction, but a Federal Reserve study put it at about 1% off annual GDP.

Mr. Trump deserves credit for challenging Chinese trade abuses and intellectual-property theft. But he has been less effective by refusing to build trade alliances, not least his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that excludes China. His immigration restrictionism has also hurt an economy that needs more workers to grow.

It’s easy to forget this record after the hell millions of Americans have suffered in recent months, and Democrats hope you do. Never before has a government suddenly shut down an entire economy, and Mr. Trump shares the blame. At least he soon reversed course and urged a reopening, while Mr. Biden still says he might lock the country down again.

Amid the Covid nightmare, Mr. Trump has also gone along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s demands for Keynesian income supports for individuals to survive the shutdown. But income transfers are no more than a palliative, and the deficits and debt will hang over the economy for decades.

The issue for the election is which candidate and party can best lead America to a sustained post-Covid expansion. Both will rely too much on easy monetary policy. But Mr. Biden would return to the Obama-Biden policy mix, with a Bernie Sanders lurch left: Much higher taxes, much more regulation, trillions in more spending with perhaps a little less protectionism.

Mr. Trump is no free-marketeer, but he’ll try to make his tax cuts permanent, block further regulation, and wouldn’t nationalize health care or the energy industry. He prefers faster growth to raise wages instead of income transfers or welfare. If voters look past the ravages of Covid-19, Mr. Trump has the better case.

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

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Aug. 25

The New York Times on comments made by Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration:

On Monday night, Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, addressed inaccurate and misleading remarks he made in a news conference the previous evening. Dr. Hahn had initially claimed that plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients — what’s known as convalescent plasma — could save 35 out of every 100 people who contract the disease.

As he has since explained on television and Twitter, his initial assessment conflated two different things: relative risk reduction (that is, how much a treatment reduces the risk of death in one group of patients compared to a different group) and absolute risk reduction (that is, how much a treatment reduces the risk of death in a group of patients compared to the rest of the population who didn’t get the treatment).

To proponents of convalescent plasma therapy, this might seem like an inconsequential flub: Why split hairs if lives were saved? But the survival benefit Dr. Hahn initially mentioned applies only to a narrow subset of patients: Those younger than 80 years old who were hospitalized but not on ventilators and who received plasma with high levels of antibodies within three days of diagnosis were 35 percent less likely to die than those who received plasma with low levels of antibodies.

If the former group of patients were compared instead to the wider population, the benefit would shrink considerably. (The data in question also has several other serious limitations, which the commissioner did not acknowledge or address.)

Dr. Hahn knows this — or at least he ought to. As an oncologist by training and a former hospital executive, he should be familiar with basic statistics. The trouble is, Dr. Hahn is serving a president who routinely demonstrates an overt hostility to science and who is facing a tough re-election. And he’s being pressed by that president to clear drugs and vaccines for use as quickly as possible — even if they may not have been proven safe and may not be effective.

Convalescent plasma is not an unreasonable thing for doctors and scientists to pin their hopes on — it has proved effective for other diseases, and so far it does appear to be safe for Covid-19 patients. But it has not yet shown any real benefit for them, and it’s the job of officials like Dr. Hahn to be as clear as possible about that. There is a playbook for communicating information during a public health crisis — it calls for honesty about what isn’t known and transparency about how decisions are being made in light of that uncertainty.

Dr. Hahn could have stood by leaders from the National Institutes of Health who advised hitting pause on the use of convalescent plasma until more data was available. Or he could have defended F.D.A. scientists who advised moving forward even though data was limited. Instead, he followed his boss’s lead, propping up victorious statements with fuzzy numbers. That’s perhaps unsurprising: In a world where disinfectant therapy is discussed with a straight face, the difference between relative and absolute may indeed seem small.

But even small compromises with the truth can have big consequences for public trust, and for the course of global pandemics. It’s worrisome that a doctor in charge of one of the nation’s top regulatory agencies — who will play a leading role in the coming decisions about which vaccines are safe and effective enough to be injected into Americans’ bodies — doesn’t seem to realize that.

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

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Aug. 24

The Los Angles Times on the wildfires:

Fire season has barely begun, and California has already had two of the three largest wildfires in its recorded history. And they are burning through Northern California at the same time, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes during a pandemic. As if 2020 couldn’t get any worse.

And yet, this terrifying start to fire season was entirely predictable. Forecasters have repeatedly warned that climate change will fuel larger, more frequent and more devastating wildfires in the state. And that’s what we’re seeing. The 10 largest fires in the state have occurred since 2000.

Higher temperatures and prolonged droughts are making more areas of the state vulnerable to fire, including geography that has been considered lower risk, such as the usually damp, cool coastal redwood forests of Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties that have burned over the last week. The fires began the same week that Death Valley hit 130 degrees, the hottest temperature recorded on the planet in almost a century.

There was little the state could do to prevent these fires. They weren’t caused by poorly maintained power lines or sparks from a vehicle. Instead, thousands of dry lightning strikes have set off many small fires that merged into conflagrations. Those included the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, which covered 350,000 acres from Napa to Colusa counties as of Monday, and the SCU Lightning Complex fire, which had charred 347,000 acres from Santa Clara to Stanislaus counties.

Given the size, severity and number of fires, there simply are not enough firefighters or equipment available in California or neighboring states to respond. The Western U.S. is under siege, and we are unprepared.

As bad as California’s wildfires are now, the coming years are likely to be even worse as the planet continues to warm. And it’s not just fires. The state is facing more floods, coastal erosion and deadly heat waves.

California is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but we are not alone. Intense weather events are becoming more common around the planet, and they will overwhelm communities unless we act now. That means, rather than prolonging our reliance on fossil fuels, doing everything possible to slash the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. And at the same time, it means doing everything possible to adapt communities and infrastructure to the reality that climate is already creating environmental havoc.

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

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Aug. 24

The Washington Post on the Republican Party’s policy platform:

In recent years, people have tended to ignore or even gently deride the deliberations of party platform committees. All these arguments over arcane questions of policy, and for what? The nominee, if elected, won’t be bound by any of it.

True enough. Yet the Republican decision this year to adopt no policy platform whatsoever shines a light on the democratic significance of the exercise — and the alarming vacuity of the Republican Party under President Trump. The Republicans are announcing that they stand for nothing. The party’s only reason for being is to gain and retain power for itself and its comparably unprincipled leader. What kind of future can there be for such a party? And how healthy can the two-party system be if one party has no principles?

Leading up to the Democratic convention last week, supporters of former vice president Joe Biden spent hours debating with supporters of some of the candidates he had beaten for the nomination, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). They argued over health care, education funding, foreign affairs and more. They compromised at times, found new ground at times and hammered out a platform that the party could unite behind. If elected, Mr. Biden and Democrats in Congress won’t be bound by it, but the exercise will help shape their governing priorities. It was a useful democratic exercise.

The Republicans can’t risk such a debate. Many of the party’s senators and other leaders used to have principles, or at least claimed to. They believed in fiscal rectitude, free trade, limited executive power. Now, they have fallen in line behind a president who believes in none of that. So, are they the party of managed trade, unbridled presidential power, unlimited debt? No one wants to say that. Instead, they define themselves as the party of Donald J. Trump.

As a result, you will hear a great deal at their convention this week about what Republicans are against: socialism, the cancel culture, unbridled crime, Marxism, the “deep state” and — oh, did we mention socialism? At times, their negative passion will be focused on real but exaggerated problems (murder rates have climbed in some cities); at times, the threats will be imagined. And because they believe in nothing, they can put up no resistance when deranged and dangerous conspiracy-mongers move in, as has happened in several GOP congressional primaries.

You also will hear that they are for Mr. Trump’s “America first” agenda. But what is that agenda? No one dares spell it out, because he doesn’t know. One day he is a huge admirer of Chinese dictator Xi Jinping; a bit later, Mr. Xi is the source of all evil. In a cult of personality, no one can afford to be caught still saying nice things about Mr. Xi after the official line has changed. So better to say nothing at all.

And in a cult of personality, the government itself becomes the property of the leader. He wants to give his acceptance speech on the South Lawn of the White House? He wants to use the country’s chief diplomat, the secretary of state, as one more political prop?

The party can only cheer its approval.

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

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

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