Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials - InfoNews

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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

February 28, 2018 - 11:58 AM

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


Feb. 28

The Baltimore Sun on the lavish lifestyles of Trump administration officials:

It never pays for public officials to appear to be living high on the hog. Well, almost never. At least that's the advice we should have given a certain former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon who took up politics only recently and now finds himself defending a $31,561 dining room set the taxpayers purchased for his office suite at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And, apparently, he didn't even get to pick it out.

The problem, of course, is that while the agency in charge of helping the poorest Americans find decent housing was ordering a custom-made table for the secretary's personal space, HUD officials were also planning how best to make substantial reductions to programs that help the elderly and homeless. And, worst of all, people noticed. A senior agency official claims Dr. Carson's wife, Candy Carson, has spearheaded an effort to spend lavishly on that same office space — even if it means going around federal rules that require congressional approval for any spending on a department head above $5,000 — and the official filed a whistleblower complaint about it.

Not good, right? You are about to make decisions about how many Americans deserve to live on heating grates and in cardboard boxes while simultaneously picking out that just-so mix of mahogany and leather. Dr. Carson's defence is that he didn't have much direct involvement (it was a Charm City-based federally-approved contractor picking out that fancy dining room table, by the way) and that the cost isn't out of line for such furniture. Here's what his defence should be: I'm just following the example set by my boss and fellow cabinet members.

If there's one thing that has defined Donald Trump's first year in office — aside from the incompetence, erratic behaviour and frequent lies, of course — it's how in both policy and appearance this president and his minions have favoured the wealthy and shamelessly gamed the system for their personal benefit. The tax plan approved by Congress last fall is surely the centerpiece of policies side so lopsidedly tilted to the rich that investor Warren E. Buffett recently estimated his company's windfall at $29 billion. So how's that slightly lower income tax withholding rate working out for the rest of us?

But it's not just the giveaways, it's the shameless takeaways, too. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt doesn't fly coach when on government business, he goes strictly first class, lest he be seated next to an irate passenger. Apparently, rolling back environmental protections has its price in rude behaviour from the little people who favour clean air and water but can't afford an upgrade when they fly. Where in the world did Mr. Pruitt get the idea it was acceptable to travel on the public dime with the champagne set? Maybe it was from former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who racked up a $1 million tab using private and military planes.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin used a government aircraft on a trip to Kentucky that gave him an exceptional view of the solar eclipse at a cost of $26,900, which is like 85 per cent of a Carson dining room. He even ended up reimbursing the government for the cost of his wife's travel, $595. Readers may recall his wife, the actress Louise Linton, who after facing criticism for announcing the designer clothing she wore on that Fort Knox trip, told her critic that she was "adorably out of touch." Those darn peasants.

Yet all that pales to the master of the opulent lifestyle who once criticized Barack Obama for playing golf too much only to set the presidential record for days on the links in his first year in office, spending tens of millions in taxpayer dollars (and better yet, directing many of those dollars at his own businesses) to fly to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida at least 13 times and New Jersey's Bedminster 11. The fact-checkers at Snopes estimate his Secret Service golf cart rental bill for 2017 at more than $100,000 alone. NBC News calculates the president's first year in office included 130 days at Trump properties. Mr. Trump refuses to give Americans a full accounting of his personal finances, so we're kept in the dark about just how much he profits from his position and government spending at venues like his D.C. hotel or Mar-a-Lago, but he's certainly set the tone

Dr. Carson's circumstances may seem more severe because he works at HUD, not Treasury or the Oval Office. But it's still small potatoes. As Secretary Mnuchin's spouse might observe, he's adorably out of touch. This may be an administration that claims to be working for the little guy, but it's a crowd that identifies more with guys who fly in the front of the plane and play the back nine at the most exclusive clubs.

Online: http://www.baltimoresun.com/


Feb. 26

The Chicago Tribune on Janus v AFSCME and mandatory union fees:

Mark Janus is a child support specialist for the state of Illinois who, like many Illinoisans, has some disagreements with the policies of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Most Illinoisans, however, are not required to pay dues to the union. Janus is.

Though he has chosen not to join AFSCME, Janus is nonetheless required under Illinois law to pay fees to the union that represents state workers. He would like to stop doing so, rather than support positions and activities that conflict with his views. And the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case Monday, looks inclined to let him.

Those state employees who decline to join the union are exempt from that portion of dues that go to finance its political action. But they are forced to pay "fair share" fees that supposedly reflect the benefit they get from the union's collective bargaining. The rationale is that if workers could opt out of any payments, those doing so would be "free riders": They would reap the pay and conditions the union negotiates — while paying members bear the union's costs.

There are obvious problems with AFSCME's argument for compulsory fees. The first is that the union has the discretion to decide what counts as political spending and what doesn't. Janus' lawyers note that these claims "turn, to a large degree, on self-interested judgments by union officials about how they and other union employees spend their time."

More basic, though, is that when a union negotiates on behalf of public workers, everything it does is inherently political. When AFSCME pushes for higher wages or changes in work rules, it is putting itself on one side of a political issue.

In a parallel case from California two years ago, Chief Justice John Roberts asked the lawyer for the state to name a topic of collective bargaining that has nothing to do with such matters. When he cited "mileage reimbursements," Roberts disagreed: "It's all money. If you give more mileage expenses (to teachers), the amount that's going to be allocated to public education as opposed to public housing, welfare benefits — that's always a public policy issue."

Mandatory fees require dissenting nonmembers to support beliefs they reject. But the right of free speech, as the court long has recognized, includes the freedom not to speak. To force someone to pay for the advancement of political positions without his or her consent is incompatible with the First Amendment.

Union officials say losing the revenue from compelled payments would weaken their negotiating power. But they also fear losing, yes, political power. AFSCME's Naomi Walker has warned that a loss in this case "could undermine political operations that assist the Democratic Party" and damage "the progressive infrastructure in this country, from think tanks to advocacy organizations." But why should the needs of union-aligned groups take precedence over Janus' right to decide which causes to financially support? What if Illinois law required certain workers to contribute to groups that provide useful services but also donate heavily to Republican causes?

Writing in the Tribune two years ago, Janus argued, "Government unions have pushed for government spending that made the state's fiscal situation worse. How is that good for the people of the state? Or, for that matter, my fellow union members who face the threat of layoffs or their pension funds someday running dry?"

For Janus to win, the court would probably have to overrule a 1977 decision that upheld such fees. The justices came close in the 2016 California case, shortly after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, deadlocking 4-4. The addition of conservative Neil Gorsuch seems likely to provide the deciding vote for the reversal here.

In 2014, the Supreme Court said that "except in perhaps the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support." This case is a chance for the justices to say: And we mean it.

Online: http://www.chicagotribune.com/


Feb. 27

The Seattle Times on legislative secrecy, an editorial that ran on the newspaper's front page, in an unusual move:

Flanked by cameras, Gov. Jay Inslee boldly stood before President Donald Trump on Monday and told our commander in chief to listen to the people.

Inslee now needs to follow his own advice here at home. He must veto Senate Bill 6617, state lawmakers' flagrant and rushed attempt to avoid following Washington's Public Records Act.

Lawmakers hastily introduced and passed the legislation within 48 hours last week — a clear yet clandestine effort to evade a January court ruling that found they have been illegally withholding emails and other important documents from the public.

Hundreds of people emailed the governor's office over the weekend to demand Inslee veto the bill. And, on Tuesday, The Seattle Times was joined by 12 other newspapers that ran editorials on the front page, urging the governor to veto the measure.

Yet Inslee told MSNBC's Chris Hayes that he cannot block SB 6617 "because they have a veto-proof majority."

This is not true. Inslee absolutely can and should veto the legislation, forcing lawmakers to once again take this vote. This time, constituents are watching more closely.

Lawmakers can override Inslee's veto only if they hold a second misguided vote, ignoring this week's public backlash and the front-page objections of newspapers throughout the state.

In his televised comments Monday, Inslee called SB 6617 a "bad idea" and unnecessary, while proudly trumpeting his administration as "the most transparent . in our state's history."

Now is the time for Inslee's actions to live up to his words.

Vetoing the bill would show legislators they are not, in fact, above the law, and that the state's executive will stand up to them when their actions diverge from the public interest.

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


Feb. 27

The Savannah Morning News on the threats levied against Delta Airlines by Georgia's lieutenant governor, over ending a fare discount for National Rifle Association members:

Be careful where you point your legislative gun, lieutenant governor.

Casey Cagle may have shot holes in his gubernatorial chances earlier this week by threatening to kill a tax incentive bill that would have benefited Delta Airlines, among others. Cagle, whose job also makes him state senate president, vowed to defeat a jet fuel tax incentive bill in retaliation for Delta ending a fare discount for National Rifle Association members.

Cagle tweeted the following Monday: "I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back."

Cagle's defence of the NRA aside, he is contradicting perhaps the biggest conservative tenet of all: To leave private business operating decisions to private businesses.

He'd be well inside the Republican tent if he opposed the jet fuel tax incentive on the basis of it being an unnecessary, taxpayer-supported corporate crutch. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who will run against Cagle for governor in the May primary, took just that approach.

"I oppose the proposed tax break because it puts special interests — not hardworking Georgians - first," Kemp tweeted Tuesday. "Even after spending countless (dollars) on lobbying &campaign contributions, the jet fuel tax exemption remains a raw deal for (Georgia) taxpayers."

Kemp pulled the trigger on his own governorship hopes a few hours later, though. He advocated, again via Twitter, for killing the jet fuel tax break and replacing it with a sales tax holiday targeting . wait for it . firearms sales.

No word yet on whether Cagle or Kemp will claim "Ready . fire . aim" as a campaign slogan. Maybe they can duel, Alexander Hamilton-style, for it.

Such political shortsightedness is staggering. This is pure pandering to a relatively small group of primary voters - many of whom were certain to vote for Cagle or Kemp anyway.

Consider this: the NRA claims 5 million members nationwide. State stats are not available, but using the national percentage as a guide and applying it to Georgia's adult population of 7.8 million, the Peach State's NRA membership is probably around 235,000.

Assuming a significant percentage of those are registered Republicans, the political loose cannons are aiming at approximately 5 per cent of party voters. And neither is differentiating himself from the other.

Meanwhile, they are alienating the much larger conservative constituency that believes in small government and is pro-business when it comes to tax breaks. And in a state with open primaries, Cagle and Kemp are peppering tens of thousands of prospective voters who work for aircraft-related businesses with their rapid-fire stupidity.

Delta alone employs 33,000 in Georgia, making it the largest private employer in the state. The jet fuel tax incentive also impacts local business aircraft manufacturer Gulfstream, which employs more than 10,000 Georgians. Several thousand more voters work at the state's airports, including the world's busiest in Atlanta. The bill is a competitive boost for those airports, the lower taxes allowing them to draw flights away from other airports. And what's good for the airport is good for its employees and those who work for airport concessionaires and other related businesses.

Then there's the post-primary trauma. Should Cagle or Kemp win in May, their tweets will put them in Democrat crosshairs. The NRA is under serious fire for hiding behind the Second Amendment at any suggestion of stricter gun control laws, such as age limits and bump stock bans, and the retort is sure to grow louder in the months ahead.

Granted, a Democrat hasn't held Georgia's top executive spot since Roy Barnes was voted out in favour of Sonny Perdue 15 years ago. But given the public outrage being voiced by all but the most gun-loving conservatives in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, the gun control issue will give the Democratic primary winner a bipartisan platform to blast away from this fall.

The top contenders have already released a few salvos.

"I applaud Delta's decision to listen to feedback from its customers and reject NRA extremism that has prevented common-sense reform for too long. Our obligation is clear: reduce the risk of gun homicide and suicide in Georgia," said Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams.

Added her main primary opponent, Stacey Evans: "Casey Cagle once again confirms he puts ideology ahead of Georgians and Georgia's economy. . Georgia deserves better."

Cagle and Kemp would be wise to walk back their Twitter comments and revisit their stances.

Cagle needs to show leadership in the senate and encourage his fellow Republicans to vote on the jet fuel tax incentive bill on its merits and stop treating it as a hostage awaiting execution. Kemp should bite the bullet, admit his tone-deafness and stop with the firearms sales tax holiday nonsense.

Otherwise voters should make sure neither of these active shooters are in the fight come fall.

Online: http://savannahnow.com/


Feb. 27

The Wall Street Journal on adding entitlements for paid family leave:

One in five Americans is on Medicaid, and Medicare and Social Security will require huge future tax increases. Yet some in the ostensible party of limited government think this is the perfect time to add a new entitlement for paid family leave. Who wrote that book about Republican Party suicide again?

Florida Senator Marco Rubio and his sidekick Mike Lee of Utah are teaming up with Ivanka Trump to design a plan for federal paid leave. President Trump has endorsed the concept, and his budget includes an outline involving unemployment insurance.

Kristin Shapiro and Andrew Biggs recently laid out a proposal on our pages to open up Social Security to finance family leave, and it is gaining some traction on the right. New parents could choose to draw on their retirement benefits for some length of time, perhaps 12 weeks, in exchange for delaying Social Security payments for a roughly comparable period.

The plan would supposedly pay for itself because workers would merely change the time in their lives when they collect Social Security benefits. No mandate on employers, no payroll tax increase. Presto, a free political lunch.

The first problem is that this would shift the burden of providing the benefit from the private economy to government. Academic evidence shows that family leave keeps employees in their jobs and can make them happier or more productive, which is one reason many companies pay for it. But why pay when the government offers 12 weeks?

Proponents say this won't happen because the Social Security payout will only furnish about 45 per cent of the average worker's wages, but that still changes business incentives. Some companies might add more money or more weeks, but they'll stop paying for that 45 per cent of the first 12. This "crowd out" effect is a hallmark of all entitlements — such as Medicaid's displacement of private health insurance.

Republicans would be making an enormous mistake to interrupt decades of business progress toward more generous family policies. CVS, Lowe's and Walmart are among the companies that have announced new or expanded paid leave benefits since the GOP's tax reform lowered the cost of wealth creation. Why not let faster growth and tight labour markets create more incentive for private family leave?

Also strap yourselves in for the politics. Social Security started as a 2 per cent payroll tax to support the elderly poor, but the tax is now 12.4 per cent and the program is still severely under-funded. We look forward to Ivanka explaining that politicians raiding Social Security for a new benefit pose no financial risk to Florida retirees.

Social Security purports to allow a person to earn benefits over a career, but that work requirement will also be a casualty of this family-leave raid. No politician is going to deny leave to a pregnant 22-year-old merely because she hasn't paid much into Social Security. Watch the social right demand a comparable cash benefit for stay-at-home moms, and also dads, or caring for an elderly dependent.

And wait until you meet the focus group known as Congressional Democrats, who are already dismissing the proposal as unfair for forcing women to choose between children and retirement. Democrats will quickly wipe out the deferral period so everyone is entitled to leave now and get the same retirement benefits later. And once Republicans open Social Security for family leave, the door will open for other social goals. Why not college tuition?

Some call these slippery-slope arguments, and they are, but every entitlement since Revolutionary War pensions has skied down this slope of inexorable expansion. Disability started as limited insurance but now sends checks to roughly nine million people. Medicaid was intended to cover the vulnerable and disabled but today dozens of states cover childless working-age adults above the poverty line. John Cogan's new book, "The High Cost of Good Intentions," explains all this, if conservatives care to learn from history.

The pressure to raise payroll taxes to finance Social Security and Medicare is already growing as more Baby Boomers retire. Complicate Social Security with new spending purposes, and the drive to raise the $128,400 income cap on the 12.4 per cent payroll tax will be unstoppable. How do you like a 60 per cent marginal tax rate?

Behind family-values platitudes is a question of whether government should pay for every benefit worth having in American life. Mr. Rubio and others think Republicans must compete with Democrats on government handouts, only less generous and targeted to people they like. With their latest budget deal, the GOP is staring at annual deficits of $1 trillion a year. Republicans should be reforming entitlements, not expanding them.

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


Feb. 23

The Toronto Star on the lack of justice for members of the Indigenous community:

There's the law, and then there's justice. As much as possible, the two are supposed to overlap neatly. But all too often, that just doesn't happen.

In the legal case of R. vs. Cormier, a judge and a jury of seven women and four men applied the law. The result was the acquittal on Thursday of 56-year-old Raymond Cormier on a charge of second-degree murder.

From a legal point of view, most experts seem to think it was a predictable outcome. The legal case against Cormier was circumstantial, they say, not enough to find him guilty beyond the venerable standard of "reasonable doubt."

But of course there is another case, one that raises questions of justice that go far beyond the confines of any courtroom.

In the case of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old Indigenous girl whose tiny body, wrapped in a duvet cover and weighted down by rocks, was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg three and half years ago, there has been no justice.

Most obviously, no one has been held responsible for her murder. The Winnipeg police and Crown prosecutors failed to prove in court that Raymond Cormier committed the crime. But the fact remains that someone did, and that person is walking free. For Tina's family, that itself is a reason for both grief and outrage.

But as many have pointed out, her death was just the culmination of a long tragedy, one that began even before she was born.

Her life, like that of so many Indigenous people in this country, was shaped by trauma and injustice that has been visited upon generation after generation. Her family was shattered by illness and addiction, and she ended up in foster care.

When she left her home in the Sagkeeng First Nation to go to Winnipeg, she was a vulnerable young teen. She was supposed to be under the care of Manitoba's Child and Family Services, but they failed in their duty to her.

They put her in a hotel with scant monitoring and, all too predictably, she ended up in the city's darkest and most dangerous corners. When she disappeared, the social workers charged with keeping an eye on her didn't bother to tell her remaining family back home. They had to call to find out what had happened.

Police also failed her. At one point, while she had been reported missing, they came across her in a car with an older man but did nothing to return her to safety.

The litany of neglect and indifference goes on, enough for Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman to declare that "we all failed Tina" and urge all Canadians to "confront the shame and tragedy of our country's racism and treatment of Indigenous people."

That's fine, indeed essential. But the best way at this point to ensure a measure of justice for Tina Fontaine is to ensure that the inquiry she helped to inspire does not end up as a wasted opportunity.

Outrage at her death in 2014 was a crucial factor in prompting the Trudeau government to set up the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) two years later. The idea is to examine why so many women and girls have shared the fate of Tina — cast away by a society that puts little value on their lives.

It should be a great opportunity but so far the MMIWG inquiry has been known mostly for its own internal problems — a string of resignations and a lack of clear direction. So much so that several major First Nations groups called last year for a "reset" of the inquiry and replacement of its leadership.

The Trudeau government has refused to go that route, and recently the inquiry is showing encouraging signs of getting its act together. It has been holding regular public hearings and says it has already heard from more than 700 of the 1,321 family members and survivors who registered with it.

But its success will be measured not in numbers of people spoken to, but in how effective it is in sparking real change. The inquiry itself has reported that in combing through past reports, some of them decades old, it has compiled 1,200 recommendations to address the problems it is looking at. The issue isn't more recommendations — it's whether they are put into action.

The task for the inquiry, and the government, is to make sure it overcomes its internal issues and makes a convincing case for change. Tina Fontaine, and the other Indigenous women and girls who have shared a similar tragic fate, deserve no less.

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

News from © The Associated Press, 2018
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