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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

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Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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Jan. 31

The Boston Herald on U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy's Democratic rebuttal to the State of the Union:

Democratic leaders chose wisely to pass last night's torch to a new generation - and to a Kennedy, no less.

And while U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy's Democratic rebuttal to the State of the Union, delivered from the Diman Regional Technical School in Fall River, contained a good many of the false choices such speeches are prone to, it also struck a tone his party would be wise to emulate.

"We all feel the fault lines of a fractured country," Kennedy said "We hear the voices of Americans who feel forgotten and forsaken."

It was a message certainly not delivered by the party's presidential nominee in 2016 - and wasn't that the problem?

But the speech was more. And it was more than a whacking around of the president, although it surely was that too. It was a celebration of the American way of life and of the newly found activism of the past year.

"You fight your own quiet battles every single day," Kennedy said. "You serve, you rescue, you help, you heal. That - more than any law or leader, any debate or disagreement - that is what drives us toward progress."

It's also what wins elections - if only the gerontocracy that is the Democratic congressional leadership would step aside and allow a new generation to take charge.

Online: http://www.bostonherald.com/

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Jan. 31

Los Angeles Times on Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon and JPMorgan Chase forming a company to address health care costs for their U.S. employees:

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett is known as a "value" investor - someone who buys into companies that are selling for less than they're really worth. When his company provides its workers health care benefits, however, Buffett isn't paying for value. Instead, employers like Berkshire, which owns a diverse portfolio of financial and industrial companies, are paying ever-higher amounts for their workers' policies and getting less coverage in return.

That problem helped drive Berkshire Hathaway to announce plans Tuesday to join forces with online retail giant Amazon and Wall Street powerhouse JPMorgan Chase & Co. to create an independent venture that aims to reduce their health care costs while improving employee satisfaction. Notably, they said the new company will be "free from profit-making incentives and constraints."

What this new company will do, though, is anybody's guess. "Our group does not come to this problem with answers," Buffett conceded. Nevertheless, it's a welcome signal that companies are finally trying to rein in the rising cost of health care, rather than simply passing more of the pain on to their employees.

For a country that spends so much on health - Milken Institute health care economist Hugh Waters pegged it at $3.3 trillion in 2016, or $10,348 per person - we've managed to do surprisingly little about rising costs besides complain. Fears of rationing care keep federal and state governments from responding aggressively to higher drug and treatment costs, and a whole host of factors have led millions of Americans to fall into the trap of costly and preventable chronic illnesses, such as diabetes.

With more than 1.2 million employees worldwide combined, Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan Chase have the kind of bargaining power that could make a dent in what their workers are spending on hospitals, prescription drugs and outpatient care. But let's be realistic. Even employers this large don't have a lot of leverage over the sole manufacturer of a blockbuster drug, or the only obstetrician in a rural county, or the dominant hospital chain in a region.

That's why the other aspect of the companies' effort - using technology to help employees better manage and obtain care - may be more promising. Because part of the solution is to reduce the demand for care by helping Americans stay healthier, and to increase competition by helping people shop more intelligently for health care services. The latter is extremely hard today, given the complexity and opacity in health care pricing. If these companies struck a blow for transparency in that area, we'd all be better off.

Amazon already sells plenty of medical devices and fitness products, and it's reportedly looking to compete with local pharmacies for the retail sale of prescription drugs. If this new effort helps Amazon's more than 540,000 employees stay healthier and find high-quality, lower-priced services, it could ultimately offer consumers something better than step trackers and Ace bandages. But we won't know until we see the answers the three companies and their new venture eventually have to offer.

Online: http://www.latimes.com

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Jan. 30

The Washington Post on "#ReleaseTheMemo":

Far Be it from us to oppose the disclosure of sensitive government information, subject to appropriate, and appropriately limited, national security considerations. Sunlight can indeed be the best disinfectant. Yet no one should confuse the House Intelligence Committee's decision to release a much-ballyhooed "memo," written by Republican staff and purportedly describing malfeasance at the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation, with a good-faith exercise in legislative oversight.

This looks instead like a mischievous attempt to discredit the institutions responsible for assisting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election and any connection Donald Trump's campaign might have had to it. Promoted by the actions of committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the "#ReleaseTheMemo" campaign is not just partisan but hyperpartisan, a pet cause of GOP House ultras and their media cheering section that appalls more sober Republicans in the Senate and executive-branch agencies.

No doubt there is cause for legitimate concern in the politically tinged text messages exchanged by now-sidelined FBI official Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who, in conducting an extramarital affair, discussed both that and their worries that Mr. Trump might win in 2016, in writing. There might similarly be cause for concern if the Justice Department unduly relied on dubious, Democrat-funded sources in its request for a warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a Trump campaign official whose murky ties to Russia aroused suspicion in intelligence circles in the United States and abroad. These are said to be the issues raised in the now-notorious memo - though for all we know, the actual accusations, if and when we finally see them, may prove to be overblown, not "shocking," as Republican House members claim. The committee's Republican majority has denied Democrats a chance to publish their competing take on the intelligence simultaneously with the GOP version of events, which does not inspire confidence in the objectivity of the latter.

The way for Congress to investigate all of this should have been aggressively but soberly, seeking cooperation from the agencies involved and maintaining a bipartisan spirit on the committee. Instead, Mr. Nunes has maximized the hullabaloo surrounding the events in a manner plainly calculated to inflame public opinion. The release of the memo, in fact, constitutes the apparent first-ever exercise of the Intelligence Committee's declassification authority concerning such documents. And the GOP majority acted in the face of a Justice Department official's warning that release of the material "would be extraordinarily reckless" in terms of potential harm to intelligence-gathering, unless the department and FBI had an opportunity to review it in advance.

Damage is also being done to the political independence, real and perceived, of federal law enforcement. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) might have called a halt to this, but instead on Tuesday he chose to enable it, endorsing the release of the memo while feebly insisting that it is "completely separate" from Mr. Mueller's inquiry. Now the White House has less than five days to object to the release of the memo or approve it, which means that the last check against any possible abuse of this process will be the good judgment of President Trump.

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

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Jan. 31

The New York Times on the university where Larry Nassar worked:

Larry Nassar had a day of reckoning last week for his years of molesting young gymnasts and other athletes, and he will spend the rest of his life in prison. But the leaders of Michigan State University, where he worked, have yet to take full responsibility for their failures to protect those girls, or to even learn what went wrong and regain the trust of the public.

To ensure real accountability, the university's board of trustees, who pick the university's president, oversee its administration and set policy, should resign to make way for new leadership unencumbered by the Nassar scandal and the recent report by ESPN that the university concealed allegations of sexual violence by members of its prized football and basketball programs. If the trustees refuse to do so, Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, and its Legislature ought to remove them.

For about two decades, university officials - administrators, coaches, trainers, even police officers - either dismissed or silenced Dr. Nassar's victims, allowing him to abuse several generations of athletes at the university and U.S.A. Gymnastics. When one victim filed a complaint with M.S.U. in 2014, the inquiry said his action was medically appropriate. So officials continued to let him treat young women, even while campus police followed up on the complaint.

Separately, ESPN quoted a former sexual-assault counselor at Michigan State who described a pattern of disturbing behavior in which senior university officials hid information about sexual-assault complaints against student-athletes and protected them from punishment.

What is particularly distressing about all of this is that Michigan State's leaders seem to have learned little from the abysmal response by universities like Penn State and Baylor to reports of sexual abuse in sports programs. Its eight trustees stood behind its embattled president, Lou Anna Simon - who was aware of the 2014 complaint - until just before her resignation last week. She was embattled because she did not appear to take the Nassar scandal seriously and seemed callous toward the victims. Even her resignation letter struck a tone of defensiveness. "As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable," she wrote. The board's vice chairman, Joel Ferguson, defended Ms. Simon on a radio show last week by arguing, among other things, that she was a great fund-raiser and "there's so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing."

The university resisted commissioning an independent investigation and gave the public the impression that it had hired Patrick Fitzgerald, a respected former United States attorney, to run one. It turned out that Mr. Fitzgerald was representing, not investigating, the school. Belatedly, on Friday, the board said it would "bring in an independent third party to perform a top-to-bottom review of all our processes relating to health and safety."

But the term "health and safety" suggests that this inquiry may not be as comprehensive as the one Penn State commissioned from Louis Freeh, the former F.B.I. director, after the university failed to stop the abuse of boys by Jerry Sandusky, the assistant football coach.

Michigan State's board on Wednesday appointed John Engler, a former Republican governor, as interim president. Many faculty members and students, angered at not being consulted, opposed the move, and some disrupted a board meeting where the decision was made.

The first thing the board ought to do is commission a thorough and impartial investigation by someone of Mr. Freeh's stature. The university cannot outsource its responsibility to the state attorney general, the federal Department of Education and the National Collegiate Athletic Association - all of which have said they are investigating the university. While the state attorney general can bring criminal charges and the Education Department and N.C.A.A. can demand policy changes, only Michigan State's leaders can make far-reaching changes to the university's culture and practices.

University trustees, who are elected to staggered eight-year terms, have no credibility to help the university regain trust. Mr. Snyder could remove the trustees by conducting a public inquiry, and the Legislature could do so after impeachment proceedings. Both could take months. The two trustees who are up for re-election this year have said they will not run again, but all of them should leave.

Many young Americans probably cannot remember a time when sports did not play an outsized role in campus life and university administration. But the federal and state governments created Michigan State, Penn State and other land grant universities more than a century ago to extend higher education to more Americans. Now more than ever, the leaders of these universities need to place that core mission at the top of their priority list, above winning championships and signing lucrative TV contracts.

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

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Jan. 27

The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina on Democrats and gerrymandering:

The term "gerrymander" arose from an 1812 Massachusetts state Senate district so convoluted for partisan advantage that a cartoonist depicted it as a salamander. Since the mapmaking was done under the control of Gov. Elbridge Gerry, the new political creature was labeled a gerrymander.

Two centuries later, it's clear the artist saw the outline of the wrong reptile. For what politically contorted districts really resemble is a chameleon. When the party in power shifts, the districts change color.

Republicans and Democrats alike decry gerrymandering when they are in the minority and then impose it with gusto once they regain control. The phenomenon has recently been intensified by advances in computer-assisted mapmaking and Republican willingness to stretch the tactic to the verge of creating a one-party state.

This aggressive gerrymandering has fed political polarization at the federal and state level, contributing to gridlock and a loss of public confidence in the democratic process. But now there are signs that the excess may bring an end to politicians picking their voters.

Federal courts in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Maryland and the state Supreme Court in Pennsylvania have all found partisan gerrymandering a violation of constitutional rights. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will have to decide the legality, but it's encouraging that the high court even is considering it. Traditionally, gerrymandering was considered a spoil of political victory and perfectly legal unless it violated the civil rights of minorities. Now gerrymandering in any form is coming under legal scrutiny.

While politicians on both sides await the outcome of the legal challenges, it is not too early for Democrats in North Carolina to commit to ending gerrymandering here.

Republicans, who enjoy veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers and dominate the state's congressional delegation 10 to 3, won't give up the redistricting power that supports their advantage. It's up to Democrats to pledge now that they will support an end to gerrymandering should they regain the majority.

North Carolina State Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, has moved in that direction by proposing an amendment to the state Constitution that would establish an independent redistricting commission. Republicans, however, dismiss the proposal because it allows the governor an appointment that could tilt the commission in his party's favor. Since Gov. Roy Cooper is a Democrat, as most North Carolina governors have been, some Republican lawmakers are scoffing at the idea.

The Republican skepticism is understandable. Any commission that includes a partisan advantage defeats the purpose of such a commission. The key is to create a commission in which partisanship is balanced and softened by the inclusion of nonpartisan members. In California, for instance, the 14-member Citizen Redistricting Commission consists of five Republicans, five Democrats and four commissioners of neither major party.

One better approach to redistricting is found in Iowa, where partisanship has been drained out of the process almost entirely. Iowa's legislative and congressional districts are drawn by a nonpartisan state agency without regard to voter registration data or previous election results. The legislature has up to three opportunities to approve the districts. If it fails, the state Supreme Court decides, but since the nonpartisan approach was adopted in 1980 the legislature has always approved the maps.

Jackson is willing to try whatever improves North Carolina's contentious and unfair approach, an approach that has triggered 16 legal challenges since 2000, according the N.C. League of Women Voters.

"I'm open to any ideas - so long as we finally end the corruption of gerrymandering on which both parties have relied," Jackson said.

His Democratic colleagues should share his open commitment to finding a better way. Wayne Goodwin, head of the N.C. Democratic Party, should push to have nonpartisan redistricting as part of the party's platform and make candidates pledge to support it as a condition of party support.

Given the direction of the political tides - and court rulings potentially forcing less gerrymandered maps - Democrats may win control of the legislature before the next redistricting in 2021. But it will be a loss for everyone if under Democratic control the gerrymander, chameleon-like, turns blue.

Online: http://www.newsobserver.com

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Jan. 31

The Telegraph of London on President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address:

For a president who enjoys confrontation, Donald Trump's first state of the union address was unusually emollient and conciliatory. After a year in office, he seems ready to try to generate some of the plaudits he feels should be forthcoming for the country's economic success. In truth, much of the increase in employment dates from before he became president but the art of politics is to claim credit even when it is not fully deserved.

Still, Mr. Trump's tone and demeanour were noticeably different in the Capitol on Monday night, as though he was making a deliberate, almost Herculean, effort to be nice. It could all be undone with a moment's tweeting, of course; but if the president really is serious about mending the deep societal divisions in America, which he personifies, then he should surely be encouraged in that endeavour.

As was noted by observers, his speech contained less about himself than any other he has made. He used the word "we" 130 times and "I'' just nine. For Trump watchers who see him as an egomaniac this must have come as a shock. For Democrats whose recovery relies upon exploiting the deep antipathy to the president among a section of the population, it must have been alarming.

Mr. Trump shored up his base by promising to keep open Guantánamo Bay (which Barack Obama failed to close after eight years) and reaffirming his pledge to crack down on immigration. But he showed a willingness to pivot to the centre, easier now Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, has left the White House. With midterm elections later this year, Mr. Trump is playing a better political game than his detractors expected.

Online: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

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