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Editorial Roundup US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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Feb. 11

The Wall Street Journal on Sen. Bernie Sanders winning the New Hampshire primary:

The good news for democracy Tuesday was that in New Hampshire they know how to count votes. That’s especially good news for Bernie Sanders, who was denied his election night TV time in Iowa last week but not this time as he narrowly won the Granite State. Whether that’s good news for the Democratic Party is another story.

The socialist from next-door Vermont repeated his triumph from 2016, albeit with a smaller (26%) share in a much larger field. The result showed the loyalty of Mr. Sanders’s millennial and left-wing supporters despite a heart attack and his 78 years. In poll after poll, in state after state, Mr. Sanders has retained that plurality base of more than 20%.

The New Hampshire win after his near-tie in Iowa gives him considerable momentum going into Nevada, then onto South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states on March 3. He is already leading in California, the March 3 state with the biggest delegate count. That plurality if it holds will keep him above the 15% threshold needed to rack up delegates all the way to the Milwaukee convention.

In a splintered field, which it may continue to be for some time, Mr. Sanders has staying power even if most Democratic voters prefer someone else. Donald Trump took similar pluralities all the way to the Republican nomination and the White House in 2016.

The other winners Tuesday night were Midwesterners Pete Buttigieg (about 24%) and, in a mild surprise, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar at 20%. We say mild because she was the star of Friday’s debate and had risen in the weekend polls. She won a major chunk of late-deciding voters.

Ms. Klobuchar may also have benefited from the campaign implosion of Joe Biden, as she picked up his theme of electability and a “return to normalcy” after the Trump Presidency. Her challenge now will be to raise enough money to organize and compete as the race expands to more populous states. She has always struck us as a candidate with the gravitas and message to give Mr. Trump a strong race in swing states.

Mr. Buttigieg capitalized on his apparent Iowa victory and showed he can attract voters who think Mr. Sanders is too far left to beat Mr. Trump. The former South Bend mayor has enough money to compete in the next states, but he will need to show he can appeal to minority voters in addition to the white gentry liberals who like his biography and his ability to speak in Barack Obama -style aspirational tones about progressive progress. South Carolina will be a major test of his staying power.

The biggest losers were Mr. Biden (8%) and Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from neighboring Massachusetts who invested heavily in New Hampshire. She fell below the delegate threshold line with about 9% and will have to rebound in Nevada and South Carolina or reconsider her campaign. The candidate with the plan for everything has never been able to supplant Mr. Sanders as the champion of the millennial progressives.

Mr. Biden’s fall to fifth place shows that voters may be concluding that his day has passed. His message that he can defeat Mr. Trump loses credibility if he can’t finish ahead of four other Democrats. He can also blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who tried to take out Mr. Trump with impeachment but instead gave Mr. Trump a chance to drag in Mr. Biden and his son Hunter’s actions in Ukraine. Tuesday night Mr. Biden made an overt pitch to black and Hispanic voters to salvage his campaign in South Carolina and Nevada.

Overall the results show an unsettled race, with Democrats still looking for the candidate they hope can beat Mr. Trump. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joins the fray on Super Tuesday with the biggest checkbook in the history of politics. But as long as the field contains multiple candidates, Mr. Sanders’s socialist plurality has the advantage.

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

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Feb. 11

The Japan News on China’s response to the coronavirus:

There seems to be no end in sight to the spread of pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus. Can the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping bring this situation under control? Its capability for crisis management has been put to the test.

In a meeting of the Communist Party’s supreme leadership, the Xi administration expressed a view that it needs to “improve the capability to cope with (the crisis) by addressing the weak points and shortcomings that have emerged from the response to the (outbreak).” The administration has also been examining the responsibility of senior local government officials and others, as well as disciplining them.

It is unusual for the Communist Party-led regime to acknowledge faults in its governance. Although the Xi administration did not go as far as to acknowledge its own responsibility, the view apparently indicates a sense of crisis that the situation could deteriorate if left unchecked.

It is clear that there were problems in China’s initial response to the virus. In Wuhan — the capital of Hubei Province and the epicenter of the outbreak — the number of patients with pneumonia of an unknown cause increased in December last year, but it was not until the end of the year that the municipal government announced such a development.

A local doctor who had sounded an alarm on social media before the city’s announcement was reprimanded by local authorities for “spreading false information.” The doctor later died after becoming infected with the virus.

It was not until Jan. 20 that Xi announced the country-wide response to the outbreak. Even though his government took the drastic measure of sealing off Wuhan, which has a population of 11 million, it failed to keep up with the rapid pace of the outbreak.

Questions were also raised over China’s response in 2003 to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). It took about three months for Beijing to reveal the outbreak, drawing international criticism for its concealing of the truth, among other concerns. China did not take as long to reveal the coronavirus outbreak this time, but it cannot be said that Beijing has fully learned the lessons from the SARS epidemic.

Even though most patients infected with the coronavirus are concentrated in China, overseas experts have pointed out that there are few detailed reports on symptoms that can be used to help with treatments. China must thoroughly disclose information and promote the sharing of expertise.

It is essential for all countries and regions to cooperate in the establishment of an international framework to prevent a pandemic. Even in Taiwan, which is not a member of the World Health Organization (WHO), there are concerns about the outbreak of the coronavirus. China should change its stance of excluding Taiwan from an information-sharing framework.

In this latest outbreak, the Communist Party’s centralized administrative system and controls of speech have emerged as obstacles in the response to the crisis.

The Xi administration has suppressed dissent by strengthening surveillance using such tools as the internet and facial recognition technology. With Xi having concentrated power, there is a tendency for things not to move without his direction.

Such an authoritarian system conflicts with measures that a government should take when responding to an emergency, such as sharing information within the government, promptly releasing information and transferring authority to local governments. How will the Xi administration resolve this paradox?

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

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Feb. 11

The Washington Post on President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year:

President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins in October, is a dishonest exercise. In some respects, that’s not unusual. Mr. Trump is hardly the first president to obey his legal requirement to present a spending plan to Congress by sending one that has no chance of passing. In fact, Mr. Trump signed legislation — a two-year budget agreement last August — that would have to be repealed if this budget proposal were to become operative.

Nor is he the first to engage in rosy forecasting — but in this case, the exaggeration is especially flagrant. Mr. Trump misleadingly projects a future of declining federal deficits in part by claiming economic growth significantly exceeding consensus forecasts. The Trump budget beats the Congressional Budget Office’s projection for the annual growth rate a decade hence by more than a percentage point, enabling him to claim an extra $4.5 trillion in 10-year deficit reduction, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Also not forthright is the underlying assumption of the budget, which is that the country’s structural fiscal deficits (to the extent Mr. Trump considers them a priority, which his record to date shows he does not) can be addressed almost entirely through cuts to nondefense discretionary spending, such as the 13 percent cut Mr. Trump would administer to the Interior Department or the 21 percent cut he seeks for foreign aid. In fact, additional revenue, too, is necessary, yet Mr. Trump’s budget adds $1.5 trillion to the next 10 years’ debt by assuming that the individual income tax cut he and a GOP Congress enacted in December 2017 will be extended beyond their scheduled December 2025 sunset.

Inevitably, perhaps, this much dishonesty leads to what can only be called cruel inequities. Upper-income tax cuts are preserved, so Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits must be denied to those who cannot meet tightened work requirements, and redefined to include boxes of preselected foods rather than spendable funds (savings: nearly $182 billion over 10 years). Low-income housing assistance would also be conditioned on work requirements and sliced from $44.8 billion to $41.3 billion. The last vestiges of federal cash anti-poverty benefits, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant — a $16.5 billion annual item that has not been increased in real terms this century — would get cumulative cuts totaling $15.2 billion by 2030.

This country badly needs an honest debate about equitable tax and spending reforms. What we are getting instead from the administration is this fiscal 2021 budget, which serves but one useful purpose: to record the warped priorities upon which Mr. Trump is willing to campaign for a second term.

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

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Feb. 11

The Los Angles Times on the electoral college:

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases involving the electoral college, the antiquated system that twice in recent history has installed the loser of the popular vote for president in the White House and could have that perverse result again in 2020. Alas, it’s beyond the power of the court to do away with the electoral vote system, but the justices can prevent it from becoming even less democratic.

Although U.S. citizens cast ballots for president on election day in November, they are actually choosing people to serve as electors — usually party loyalists — who convene in state capitals in December to formally choose a chief executive. Laws in 29 states and the District of Columbia bind those electors to reflect their citizens’ votes. (In 48 states, all of the electoral votes go to the winner of the statewide popular vote, and D.C. also allocates its electoral vote on a winner-take-all basis. Maine and Nebraska allocate some electoral votes to candidates who finish first in congressional districts.)

But in 2016, as in previous elections, some electors decided to support people other than the candidate who carried the popular vote in their states. The two cases the court will review — one from Washington state, the other from Colorado — raise the question of whether states can penalize or remove such “faithless electors.” The court should answer yes.

In the Washington state case, three electors — Peter Chiaflo, Levi Guerra and Esther John — voted not for Hillary Clinton, who carried the state, but former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who wasn’t even on the ballot. They were fined $1,000 each for violating a state law binding electors to vote for the popular-vote winner. The Supreme Court of Washington upheld both the law and the fines.

In Colorado, where Clinton also won the popular vote, Micheal Baca was removed as an elector after he tried to vote for then-Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who had lost to Donald Trump in the Republican primary. Baca appealed to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in his favor, holding that “the Constitution provides no express role for the states after appointment of its presidential electors.” The court also said that the definitions of the words “elector,” “vote” and “ballot” — all occurring in the Constitution — imply “the right to make a choice or voice an individual opinion.”

This is a close question, but the court should uphold the laws against faithless electors, for two reasons.

First, the overriding goal of the framers of the Constitution was to give states authority over the selection of electors. While it’s true that early in American history, electors were chosen by state legislatures, states long ago decided that the better approach was to award electoral votes on the basis of the popular vote. The court should respect that decision by allowing states to penalize or replace electors who disregard their instructions.

Second, ensuring that voters have the final say in the selection of electors is consistent with a trend toward participatory democracy that is also reflected in changes in the Constitution, especially the 17th Amendment ratified in 1913. That amendment took the choice of U.S. senators away from state legislatures and provided for popular election for the Senate.

Of course, the ultimate culmination of that democratizing trend would be a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college altogether and provide for popular election of the president. But even if approved by a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress, such an amendment would require ratification by three-fourths of the states. (Amendments can also be proposed by a constitutional convention, but ratification would still require approval by three-fourths of the states.)

Because amending the Constitution is such a daunting proposition, reformers have proposed an alternative called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under that arrangement, participating states pledge to award all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. The compact, however, doesn’t go into effect until it includes enough states to constitute a majority of 270 electoral votes. So far it has been endorsed by 15 states (including California) and the District of Columbia, representing 196 electoral votes.

Enforcement of the compact would mean, effectively, that the winner of the popular vote would become president. That would of course be preferable to the current system, but its prospects are also uncertain. In any case, the surest way to make the presidential election a true vote of the people would be to amend the Constitution.

The court can’t prevent such a disservice to democracy. It’s up to the American people to make it clear to their elected representatives that the electoral college is an undemocratic anachronism.

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

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Feb. 7

The Palm Beach Post on “Inspire Change,” an NFL initiative giving grants to current and former players for a specific “cause”:

Amid the gaudy spectacle and commercial blitz of Sunday’s Super Bowl, a somber advertisement appeared that featured, to our surprise, a Palm Beach County story, a story that, unfortunately, could have taken place anywhere in the United States.

It was the story of Corey Jones, the 31-year-old black man whose car broke down at an intersection of I-95 in the lonely after-midnight hours of Oct. 18, 2015, and who was shot to death by an undercover officer of the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department who did not identify himself.

Jones, as it happens, had a cousin, Anquan Boldin, a Pahokee native who became a star wide receiver in the National Football League. And now that retired player, impelled by the injustice of Jones’ death, is heading an effort by the NFL called “Inspire Change.”

“Inspire Change” is an initiative that lets current and former players receive grants for their causes as decided by a committee of players and team owners. The league says it began dispersing money for fighting social injustice in April 2018.

But the NFL did not tell the whole story in that commercial.

For, while the game was underway between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, and the league was basking in its cultural and corporate dominance, the 49ers’ former quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained blackballed after leading the protests that pushed the NFL into the controversies and ultimate compromises that produced such a thing as “Inspire Change.”

Or, as writer Samer Kalaf put it in an essay for the Washington Post: ”‘Inspire Change’ is a shameless strategy for Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s owners to pretend that they not only supported the movement to bring attention to police violence and systematic oppression all along, but that they were really the progenitors of the whole idea.”

It was Kaepernick, remember, who started it all by refusing to stand for the national anthem during the 2016 preseason. He made his intent clear. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told an interviewer.

What was a public-relations headache for the NFL became a full-blown crisis when President Donald Trump began tweeting about it in September 2017, twisting the protest against police brutality into an attack on patriotism and the U.S. Armed Forces. At a rally, he roared that team owners should fire any “son of a bitch” who joined the protests. His audience cheered.

And with that presidential gasoline added to the fire, the controversy soon consumed the whole country.

As more players joined the protests, voices threatened NFL boycotts. Owners got nervous.

In one response, owners started working with a group called the Players Coalition, co-founded by Boldin, to financially support causes important to players. Kaepernick broke ranks with them in November 2017, seeing the NFL’s offer as hush money.

Kaepernick stopped playing for the 49ers after the 2017 season. He hasn’t played a down since, though many statistically inferior quarterbacks have been hired. There’s little doubt that the NFL has shunned the player, his politics too unsettling for the business of pro football; the league even settled a collusion lawsuit with him.

It takes a special kind of hypocrisy to celebrate the activism of players who are concerned about the mistreatment of minorities by police departments while at the same time exiling and erasing the player who was brave enough or foolhardy enough to use his celebrity to make a public issue of it in the first place.

Something else happened on Super Bowl Sunday that pertains to this story.

At Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, President Trump hosted a party. The crowd watching the big game on TV stood for the national anthem. While others held hands over their hearts, Trump waved his arms as if conducting a band, fidgeted, pointed in various directions, adjusted his chair. It was all captured on video.

Back when Trump was excoriating NFL players who kneeled in protest, he told Fox & Friends: “You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

To Trump, those rules apparently apply only to other people especially to athletes of color. Having ginned up outrage a couple of years ago over players’ supposed lack of patriotism, he now shows that it was all shtick to boost his political brand.

As for the NFL, it clearly wants to earn feel-good points for sponsoring efforts to fight social injustice.

But the league seems to live in fear of the man at Mar-a-Lago who on Super Bowl Sunday made light of the national anthem.

And it has made a pariah of the man who took the anthem so seriously that he sacrificed his career to express a point about unmet promises in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com/

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Feb. 5

The Boston Globe on the Senate’s decision to acquit President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial:

Wednesday was a sad day for America, a tragic bookend to an era of presidential accountability that began with the Watergate scandal. For a relatively brief period in American history, presidents had to follow the law, respecting the independence of the Justice Department and heeding the oversight demands of Congress. The cautionary example of President Richard Nixon, as journalist Bob Woodward once wrote, cast a “shadow” over each of his successors.

When Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled President Trump’s trial to a close, he gaveled that era to a close too. In declining to hold a true trial with relevant witnesses, despite ample evidence of misconduct, and in failing to remove President Trump from office, the Senate made clear that neither he nor future presidents need fear any constitutional consequences if they violate the law, put personal gain over the national interest, corrupt their office, or obstruct Congress.

Presidents were already immune from criminal prosecution under a theory embraced by the Justice Department. Now they needn’t fear Congress either. The only remaining check is the electorate — which, the Senate has now decided, the president is free to enlist foreign countries to manipulate.

If there is a bright spot in this verdict, it’s the courage of former Massachusetts governor and current Utah senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. He was the lone Republican to vote guilty, marking the first time in American history that any senator has voted to remove a president of his own party. Romney’s vote deprives the president of the ability to claim that his impeachment was purely a partisan witch hunt, and puts a significant asterisk next to his acquittal. It was a demonstration of a disturbingly rare practice in today’s national politics: breaking from one’s party not just for the sake of reelection but for the sake of principle.

Perhaps the fact that at least one Republican voted to remove Trump will serve as some deterrent against future presidential misconduct. But it is no substitute for the guilty verdict that Trump clearly deserved. Trump was impeached for a crystal clear abuse of power and obstruction of justice. He corruptly withheld $391 million in military aid from Ukraine to pressure its leader into announcing investigations into Trump’s political opponents and then stonewalled Congress when it began investigating. The president’s defenders did not mount any serious factual defense against either charge. They simply demanded the Senate acquit him — which it did.

It is not the first time the Senate has lowered the standards of acceptable presidential conduct by declining to remove an impeached president. But it is by far the most troubling precedent. The acquittal of President Clinton in 1999 arguably set the precedent that presidents could lie about personal matters without losing their job. The acquittal of President Trump says presidents can ignore congressional subpoenas, use the power of the office to help themselves, and barter official actions for personal favors. It also says that future presidents can do virtually anything they want to secure reelection.

That is the country that 52 senators chose to leave to their children. It could take years for the damage from that choice to come fully into focus. Or maybe we’ll know sooner: Trump himself is certain to use the carte blanche the Senate just gave him. The kind of corrupt, self-serving leadership that American diplomats used to criticize in other countries is now ensconced in the White House and blessed by the Senate.

At least the trial, thanks to the masterful work of the House Democratic impeachment managers, put the facts squarely in front of the American people. Even some Senate Republicans conceded that Trump did what he was accused of. Voters who paid attention will have a good sense of Trump’s actions when they decide in November whether to reelect him.

But it should not have come to that. The Constitution gave the impeachment power to Congress to protect Americans from a corrupt president, and this Senate ducked the responsibility entrusted in it.

After President Nixon resigned under the threat of impeachment, this is how the Globe editorialized:

“Congress is embarking on a new course. . . . It has, we think, a new awareness of its powers and importance. And the people, thanks to the televised proceedings of a few weeks ago, have a new and justified respect for its members. From now on the Congress should abandon the submissiveness of its less than recent past and not be afraid to assert itself. That would be healthy for our system of checks and balances.”

And indeed, for almost 50 years, it did assert itself. Our system of checks and balances was healthier.

But this Senate has embarked on a new course, too, restoring the submissiveness of the pre-Watergate era and leaving future generations to pay the price.

Online: https://www.bostonglobe.com/

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