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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

August 6, 2018

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Aug. 3

Trump’s wall funding shouldn’t cause government shutdown

Congress is right to push back on president’s irrational demand.

In issuing his threat to shut down the federal government this fall if Congress doesn’t cough up funds for his proposed border wall between Mexico and the U.S., President Donald Trump called America “the laughingstock of the world.”

He’s right. But not because America won’t build the unnecessary, multibillion-dollar boondoggle that he promised Mexico would pay for during his nativist race for the presidency in 2016, but because Congress is in a position to have to contend with Trump’s bluster about shutting down the government.

To their credit, congressional leaders, including Trump’s fellow Republicans, resisted the shutdown ploy.

Part of the congressional pushback is about politics: The GOP already faces strong headwinds heading into November’s midterm election, in large part because of Trump himself. And an ill-timed shutdown could further imperil Republican Senate and House majorities.

Part of the congressional pushback is about policy: There is so much backed-up business that Congress has left unfinished, including fiscal issues that would only be exacerbated by building a border wall.

In fact, 82 percent of voters say that they want the president and Congress to spend more time addressing the growing debt and deficit, according to a poll released last week by the nonpartisan Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

Another issue that should be higher on the congressional agenda is immigration itself.

The system is broken — a fact acknowledged on a bipartisan basis. And a fix, including a rational approach to enhanced border security, is badly needed.

Even the president seemed to agree during his news conference last Monday. “We have the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world,” Trump said.

He’s accurate in his diagnosis. But the cure is more complex than the simplistic solution of a border wall.

Congress needs to get to work on finding a more durable solution. And that won’t happen if the government grinds to a halt.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Aug. 5

Gas prices: Reducing fuel efficiency will be road to ruin

Why it matters: Freezing fuel efficiency standards would raise gas prices, increase pollution and disrupt the auto industry.

A Trump administration plan to freeze fuel efficiency standards of automobiles will turn back progress that has been made in reducing gas prices, reducing greenhouse gases and will likely disrupt the auto industry.

Part of the plan also calls for prohibiting states from setting their own standard — a clear swipe at states’ rights provided by the Constitution. California and other states already plan a legal battle against the proposal.

The Obama administration boosted fuel efficiency standards in negotiations with the auto industry in 2012, setting uniform standards that would make average fuel efficiency nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2026. The standards in total were estimated to save consumers $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce oil consumption by 12 billion barrels, according to the EPA and NTSB.

The program at the time was estimated to lower the price of gasoline by $1 per gallon. That became a reality as average U.S. gas prices were at about $3.80 in 2012 and are approximately a dollar below that now.

Some 13 major auto companies, who make 90 percent of the vehicles sold in the United States, agreed with the new standards in 2012.

Many now are privately balking at the new proposal and worry the federal government will lose suits like those brought by California and other states because it will force them to make different cars for different states.

The Trump proposal would also boost profits of oil companies by increasing oil consumption by half a million barrels of oil per day.

Gas prices have been rising along with U.S. consumption of oil. U.S. average gasoline prices were about $2.25 in 2017 and have been steadily climbing to touch on the $3 per gallon mark recently.

While our consumption of oil has gone up about 150 million gallons per year, the Trump proposal would nearly double that increase.

The Trump administration says leaving the standards as is will cost consumers $2,300 more when they buy a new car. But analysis of the standards when first imposed showed a more modest $1,200 cost.

The current fuel standards also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, where the new standards would increase those emissions by 2030 to a level equal to building 30 new coal-fired power plants, according to Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group.

Obama administration fuel standards, developed with the auto industry, environmentalists and others, are working as planned. They are reducing fuel consumption, reducing reliance on foreign oil, reducing gas prices and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Turning them back and freezing them at 2020 levels will increase gas prices and greenhouse gases.

There will be a 60-day public comment period on the new standards before a final decision is made. We urge the public and other interested parties, including the auto industry, to reject a policy that may be good politics but is bad economics.

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St. Cloud Times, Aug. 4

Do your part not to burn community bridges via bogus social media posts

Last weekend local social media was lit up by a Facebook post made July 27 describing a foiled abduction attempt at a St. Cloud Walgreens.

The post tells of an incident where a woman, a friend of the post’s author, fought off an attacker attempting to push her into her car. The assailant was said to have been chased off by a bystander that pulled up.

The post’s author goes on to promote potential self-defense options and describes the ethnicity of both the assailant and the people in the store — Somali.

The problem? According to a St. Cloud police investigation, it never happened.

This story echoes another local social media incident in December 2015.

In that post, the author, posting a secondhand story, described a friend-of-a-friend’s run in at a St. Cloud Wal-Mart with a Somali cashier who refused the friend-of-a-friend service because she was wearing a cross necklace.

A Times fact-check of that incident determined “there seems to be no evidence that the incident actually happened,” with a Wal-Mart spokesman stating “we’ve been unable to verify that this happened at all.”

In both cases the original posters removed the posts, but not before they were shared across other pages and avenues of social media.

A media release Wednesday from St. Cloud Assistant Chief Jeff Oxton addressing the Walgreens posting describes the actions of authorities to investigate, eventually determining:

“Upon contacting the author of the original Facebook post, and then contacting the alleged victim in the incident it was learned that the attempted abduction never occurred.”

These types of releases are generally a cut-and-dry statement of the facts, but Oxton spends another three paragraphs addressing the power of social media in spreading stories, or in this case “fear, anxiety, and an incredibly dangerous false narrative.”

One mea culpa from a local outlet in sharing the Walgreens story mentions that while not true, “it doesn’t mean it isn’t a possibility.”

This ignores the ramifications that such a post can have, especially when it involves race and ethnicity — never mind the possibility people who saw the original posts might never see the follow-ups.

Social media has given us unparalleled ability to share our stories, whatever they encompass — successes, compassion, anger, pleas for justice.

Central Minnesota is not a utopia, and it’s reasonable that people would want to share injustices with their circles. But in the rush for justice, we should strive not to create possible injustice.

It’s not enough that these stories could be true, not when social media wields such power. Furthermore, it erodes trust in the truthful posts made by those trying to share their own stories.

Oxton’s remarks should be in a disclaimer paragraph ahead of the “submit” button on all social media services:

“Social media can be a powerful tool in getting important information out to the public and is being utilized by law enforcement agencies across the country to alert the public about incidents that impact public safety. Unfortunately, when false narratives are spread about specific incidents, that same social media effect can be negative and can have potentially irreversible consequences.”

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