Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

December 20, 2017 - 5:25 pm

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


Dec. 18

The Washington Post on the Department of Health and Human services instructing some of its divisions to avoid certain words or phrases in official documents that are being drafted for next year's budget:

Words are power. Whether used to twist or reveal, language matters, especially that used by the people who govern a nation devoted to free speech. This is why it was such a shock to hear the Department of Health and Human Services instruct some of its divisions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to avoid using certain words or phrases in official documents being drafted for next year's budget. It sounds like thought police at work.

If that judgment seems harsh, consider what happens in China, where thought police really exist. China routinely censors articles containing politically sensitive words such as "Taiwan," ''Tibet" and "cultural revolution" from publications because it does not want its people to think about them. Writing about democracy could lead to trouble in Belarus, Cuba or Vietnam, too. In Russia, words that refer to gays positively can trigger a penalty. In Saudi Arabia, a blogger, Raif Badawi, sits in jail for his online appeal for a more liberal and secular society.

It is not a far stretch from these examples of misguided censorship abroad to the actions of the HHS language militia. According to Post reporters Lena H. Sun and Juliet Eilperin, policy types at the CDC in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Dec. 14 during a 90-minute briefing to discuss the upcoming budget request. The terms prohibited to use are: "vulnerable," ''entitlement," ''diversity," ''transgender," ''fetus," ''evidence-based" and "science-based." They also reported that in some cases, the policy folks were given alternatives; instead of "science-based" or "evidence-based," the suggested phrase is "CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes." But in other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.

The CDC's new director, Brenda Fitzgerald, replied that "there are no banned words at CDC." That's a relief, given the agency's mission, which includes acting as sentinel for public health, warning of threats and responding rapidly to meet them. But Ms. Fitzgerald's assurance does not ease concerns that higher-ups at HHS are insisting on banned words to enforce a political and ideological agenda. Why would they eliminate "vulnerable," ''entitlement," ''diversity" and "transgender" in a budget document other than to airbrush the ideas out of the underlying policy?

Just as distressing is the attempt to limit the use of "evidence-based" and "science-based." Unfettered scientific research is vital for maintaining public health, even when the results are unpopular with some communities and points of view. Being able to talk about science is absolutely critical in, say, understanding the value of childhood vaccination in preventing the spread of measles. "Fetus" is a scientific word essential to exploring the impact of the Zika virus on the health of infants and pregnant women. And can there be an honest discussion of the health effects of climate change without science and evidence? Does anyone gain by hiding the truth these words express? No. Someone should tell the foolish thought police at HHS to stand down.

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


Dec. 17

The New York Times on Puerto Rico's recovery after Hurricane Maria:

It's been 12 weeks and counting, and Puerto Rico still flounders in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, left to beg for federal help. The politics and indifference underlying the island's desperation recall the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim 60 years ago in "West Side Story":

Nobody knows in America

Puerto Rico's in America!

The plot of that Broadway musical was rooted in the great migration in the 1950s as Puerto Ricans — American citizens in good standing — fled hardship on their beloved commonwealth island for fresh opportunity and better government benefits in mainland states. A similar diaspora occurred during the recent recession, when 400,000 migrated. And now, thousands upon thousands more have been leaving each week as the island staggers. Florida alone has received more than 230,000 Puerto Ricans since the Sept. 20 hurricane, and experts predict that the outflow to places like New York and Pennsylvania could increase by more than 300,000 in the next two years unless a radical rebuilding takes place for Puerto Rico's 3.4 million residents.

The Trump recovery imprint has been far clearer in Gulf Coast states hit by hurricanes this year than on an island that has so little political clout. A double standard in the law was quickly clear after the storm when a federal cap on Puerto Rico's food stamps limited the amount of emergency food aid. Texas and Florida had no such restraints after their hurricanes.

As of last week, only about 60 percent of Puerto Rico's power had been restored. Power remains the key to ever regaining normalcy in business, education and home life. But the island is suffering the longest blackout in United States history. An estimated 700 temporary generators are providing emergency power, with officials hoping for something more permanent no earlier than next summer.

The island was reeling under $74 billion in debt even before the hurricane hit, and its news tends to get worse, not better. Its government counted a death toll of 64 in the first 42 days after the storm, but a detailed survey by The Times found that 1,052 more people than usual had died. More lives are at risk now, with older residents and those with chronic health conditions particularly threatened as the on-again-off-again power grid affects vital medical machinery.

Nearly half of Puerto Rico's residents rely on Medicaid, which is not as well funded federally on the island as it is in the states. The problems are compounded by a looming financial crisis that experts say could leave a quarter of the island's residents without medical care early next year unless Congress and the Trump administration extend special help.

Washington caps the island's Medicaid assistance. This means that while federal revenue covers 75 percent of the Medicaid bill for low-income states like Mississippi, Puerto Rico gets only about 15 to 20 percent coverage. So it resorts to local budgeting and more debt, thereby worsening the bankruptcy spiral.

The tax bill working its way through Congress could make things worse, according to island officials. They fear Puerto Rico's status as a "foreign jurisdiction" would expose it to a devastating new 20 percent import tax on products sold to the states. This would mean more business flight and closings, and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

The shaky island government, spendthrift in the past, will have to convince Washington that it is reform-minded, as with the recent resignation of the head of the dysfunctional power authority. The island has requested $94.4 billion in federal rebuilding aid, including $17.8 billion to replace its power grid and $31.1 billion for housing. So far, about $5 billion has been approved by a Republican-dominated Congress far more preoccupied with cutting upper-bracket taxes than helping troubled Americans.

In the meantime, the exodus continues. "Everyone there will have moved here," Anita sings in "West Side Story." The current debate on the island has a more anguished edge about whether to go or stay. "Yo no me quito" ("I'm not quitting") has become the vow of those determined to stay to work for a recovery that is hardly in sight.

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


Dec. 20

The Boston Herald on judicial vetting:

Few institutions are as critical to a well-functioning democracy as an independent judiciary. And so at the federal level the job comes with life tenure.

While there is a kind of to-the-victor-belong-the-spoils element to judicial nominations, it is also crucial that such appointments are first rate — regardless of a nominee's ideological bent — especially at the district court level, where experience is important.

In the past week three potential judicial clunkers put forward by the Trump administration have been withdrawn — and the nation is better for that.

The most visible, public humiliation was that of Matthew Petersen, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who was whittled down to size by U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-Louisiana) in what became a viral video of Petersen failing to answer any of Kennedy's questions about his knowledge of the law.

That Petersen was a former colleague on the Federal Election Commission of White House counsel Don McGahn seemed to be his chief qualification.

"I had hoped my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television," Petersen wrote in a letter to Trump, asking that his nomination be withdrawn.

Last week, the White House withdrew two other nominations at the request of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Brett Talley, 36, nominated for the court in Alabama, a speechwriter for Republican candidates and a writer of horror novels, had been rated not qualified by the American Bar Association. He also happens to be the husband of McGahn's chief of staff.

Jeff Mateer, nominated for the Eastern District of Texas, had made some speeches in which he equated same-sex marriage with polygamy and described transgender children as proof of "Satan's plan."

That the nominations of all three men are now history is a relief — assuming the Trump administration takes to heart the lesson that the vetting process is not to be taken lightly. And theirs leaves much to be desired.

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


Dec. 19

The Seattle Times on rail safety:

Our hearts go out to victims of Monday's horrifying Amtrak derailment in DuPont and to their families.

Perhaps one way to pay tribute to them is by promptly addressing the factors in this accident that could improve the safety of rail travel.

Although the NTSB investigation is just getting underway, some important questions must be answered by the public and private operators of passenger trains in Washington state and beyond.

Amtrak Cascades Train 501 was going 80 mph into a 30 mph curve when it derailed Monday morning, strongly suggesting operating errors. This makes it eerily similar to a 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed 8 and injured 200, when a train entered a curve at more than twice the speed limit.

Safety equipment that could have intervened in both incidents — an automatic braking system — was installed on Cascades Train 501 but not yet operational.

Sound Transit, which owns the track segment and upgraded it with federal money passed through the state Department of Transportation, said the automatic braking system, known as positive train control (PTC), was scheduled to be operational in the second quarter of 2018.

It's beyond disappointing that PTC wasn't working before service began on this segment. Multiple parties share blame on this front.

Safety regulators have called for PTC systems for decades, but Congress and the U.S. railroad industry have been slow to implement this lifesaving technology.

Congress finally mandated PTC in 2008, after 25 people died in a California train accident that same year. PTC was required by the end of 2015. But after the rail industry struggled to finish the work on time, Congress relented and extended the deadline to December 2018.

Yes, PTC systems are expensive and complicated, but the public pays a far greater price when proven, effective safety systems are delayed.

Gov. Jay Inslee should demand that PTC systems be activated as soon as humanly possible on all passenger trains in Washington state. He has little authority over BNSF and Amtrak but can apply pressure and ensure that state and regional rail operators expedite their contributions.

Then there is a design question: Does it make sense to launch fast rail service on a segment of track with an S-curve that requires trains to slow from 79 mph to 30 mph as they snake across an old bridge crossing Interstate 5?

State and regional rail operators must provide a fuller explanation of why the bridge at DuPont wasn't realigned as part of the upgrade to 79 mph service. They should reassess the state's entire rail system for tricky segments that add risk and complicate efforts to increase speeds and frequency of passenger trains, and then explain how they will be mitigated.

Monday's deadly accident also highlighted the city of Lakewood's earlier warnings about safety on this new route at rail crossings and the city's difficulty getting the state and Sound Transit to address its concerns.

This should give pause to cities in Greater Seattle being pressured by rail advocates to expedite permitting of trains through their communities.

As the investigation and grieving continues, policymakers need to show the public that they're doing everything possible to improve the safety of passenger rail service. Further delays are simply unacceptable.

They must assure the public that safety is paramount both in the design and operation of passenger-train service — including current Amtrak and Sound Transit trains, light rail in the Puget Sound region and 200-mph passenger trains proposed between Oregon and Canada.

Online: https://www.seattletimes.com/


Dec. 19

Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Florida on the House passing legislation establishing the right to carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the U.S. under the laws of a person's home state:

We're reminded of the grim truth, headline after shocking headline: America has a gun problem.

Fifty-eight music fans fall in Las Vegas; 49 club revelers die in Orlando, Florida; 33 students are killed on the Virginia Tech campus; 25 churchgoers meet their God in Sutherland Springs, Texas; and 20 six- and seven-year-olds in Newtown, Connecticut, will never play again.

While the dead and wounded are still being counted, the call for sensible gun regulation is invariably greeted with the same response. "It's the wrong time to discuss the issue when emotions are running so high."

And so the call for action gets drowned out by the call for the "right time" to come along.

Five years of waiting for the right time to discuss guns and the loss of the Sandy Hook toddlers has produced exactly nothing in the way of reform.

On the contrary, just two weeks before the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a piece of legislation that is the National Rifle Association's top priority.

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, according to the NRA, is "the most far-reaching expansion of self-defense rights in modern American history."

And what does this "far reaching expansion" do? It establishes the right to carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the United States under the laws of your home state.

If you live in a loosely regulated state — one, for example, that doesn't require a permit — you can travel to New York, which has stringent regulations, unencumbered by New York's laws.

Further, if you are arrested by a confused New York cop for carrying an unlicensed concealed weapon, you can sue and collect damages under the protection of your home state's lax regulations.

The reciprocity legislation was widely opposed by law enforcement agencies and will be challenged by at least a dozen attorneys general, but that didn't stop the juggernaut.

Republicans, who revere state's rights, seem to have forgotten their allegiance to the doctrine. Their bill, which passed 231 to 198, fundamentally rolls over a state's right to control who may carry a concealed weapon and under what conditions.

The reciprocity bill is so obtrusive, it even overrides the right of a town or village to pass stringent concealed-carry laws. So much for states' rights.

NRA muscle prevailed in the House and likely will be flexed mightily when the bill gets to the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to become law. The GOP enjoys a two-seat advantage over the Democrats, but defections on both sides are inevitable if the House vote experience applies. The House bill picked up six Democrats, but lost 14 fellow Republicans.

The right time for a serious discussion about sane control of guns and their use was yesterday — and a thousand yesterdays before.

Proposals like the reciprocity bill are not at all helpful. Indeed, that the measure enjoyed such strong congressional backing is an insult to the memory of the dead kids of Sandy Hook, the worshippers, the music fans, the partygoers, the college students and the hundreds of others who fall victim each day to unregulated guns.

The Senate should send it to the legislative graveyard where it belongs.

Online: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/


Dec. 20

The Japan News on the National Security Strategy President Donald Trump's administration unveiled:

To counter China and Russia, both of which are attempting to coercively reshape the post-war international order, the United States will reinforce its military power and strengthen ties with its allies, thus promoting peace and stability. It is significant that such a pertinent strategy has been clearly presented.

The U.S. administration under President Donald Trump unveiled its National Security Strategy. It will serve as the basic principle for the administration's foreign and security policies. It is said to be the first time for the security strategy to have been formulated by any administration in its first year in the White House. It is expected to bring about such effects as eliminating, to a certain extent, concern over the unpredictable words and deeds of Trump.

The strategy attaches great importance to preserving mutual interests shared by Japan and the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, and considers Japan as "our critical ally" in responding to North Korea and other issues. It is commendable that the strategy has stated expressly that the United States will cooperate on missile defense with Japan and South Korea; seek to increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India; and maintain a forward military presence.

It should be noted that in the strategy, the United States calls China and Russia "revisionist powers" that "challenge American power," thus strongly holding both countries in check.

The strategy defines China as a "strategic competitor" of the United States. It criticizes China for seeking "to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region" by building and militarizing outposts in the South China Sea and expanding its trade and investment in the region.

Regarding Russia, which has continued its hegemonic actions since it annexed Crimea in Ukraine, the strategy stresses that the country "continues to intimidate its neighbors."

Separate security, trade

The previous U.S. administration under President Barack Obama conspicuously took the posture of aiming to stabilize the international situation by cooperating with China and Russia. Consequently, however, the administration was taken advantage of due to its weak-kneed diplomacy.

It is appropriate for the U.S. administration to have shifted its strategy to one of reviewing its relations with China and Russia, on the basis of its level-headed recognition of the present state of affairs and in the form of protecting the national interests of the United States and the U.S.-led world order.

Regarding North Korea, which is proceeding with its nuclear and missile development, and Iran, a country that supports terrorist organizations, the strategy condemns both as "rogue regimes" that destabilize their regions. While preventing military tensions from escalating, the United States must resolutely deal with North Korea's provocation.

The strategy calls for preserving "peace through strength" and indicates the administration's policy of building up U.S. forces. In line with the increase in its national defense expenses, Washington also called for its allies to shoulder a "fair share of the burden of responsibility."

Japan will review the National Defense Program Guidelines next year. Also in light of the new U.S. strategy, it is necessary to deepen discussion on security policy as a whole, including Japan's possession of the capability to attack enemy bases.

It is worrisome that the strategy stresses promoting "American prosperity" and even refers to the correction of its trade imbalance. It can be called an undisguised indication of the "America First" policies advocated by Trump.

Regarding trade issues, there are international rules established under a framework separate from that of national security. Linking trade considerations to security issues may invite distrust among the United States' allies, thus leading to turmoil. It could also hinder realization of the security strategy.

Online: http://the-japan-news.com/

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