Excerpts from recent editorials

October 13, 2018

Charlotte Observer, Oct. 9

Donald Trump is probably a tax crook. The response to it might be worse

It’s not breaking news that Donald Trump is, in so many ways, like no president this country has had. But a two-year New York Times investigation revealed last week that he likely is something else: A tax cheat.

In damning detail, the Times reported how Trump received hundreds of millions of dollars from his father, Fred Trump, much of it through tax dodges and schemes in the 1990s. The investigation laid waste to Trump’s claim that he parlayed a meager $1 million loan from his father into the fortune he has. More importantly, the report showed that the President of the United States in all likelihood defrauded the government he now leads.

When faced with this damning investigation, did Donald Trump fight back with ferocity, as any normal public official might do? No. He called the report “boring.”

America apparently agrees. The response to the NYT investigation has been muted, and that might be the most alarming news of all.

At least some of the country’s collective shrug can be explained away by timing — the Times’ report came in the midst of the Brett Kavanaugh fight that consumed the nation. It’s also far from a surprise that the president’s tale of self-made success is mostly fiction, and America long ago got a glimpse of Trump’s business ethics through reports that detailed his Trump University scam.

But the NYT investigation revealed something far more damning — a man and his family whose tax dodges included creating a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents. If true, that’s fraud. It’s also a felony.

The Republican response has been sadly predictable — and perhaps worse. Few people expected that GOP leaders would enrage their base and call for a congressional investigation of the NYT’s findings. But the Times’ report wasn’t even met with usual Republican murmurings of the story being “troubling if true.”

Yes, this country has hit similar thresholds before with Trump admitting to grabbing women by the crotch, and with Trump’s racist or profane utterings, and with Trump breaking presidential norms in countless other ways. It’s also true that no president is perfect, and some were far from it. But if potential tax fraud can be met with this type of indifference, we wonder what it means not only for the GOP, but for all of us. How acceptable has it become to avert our glance to what once was unacceptable, so long as a president is bringing his party the right Supreme Court justice or legislative win? Is this just a Donald Trump phenomenon, or is it something greater? We’re already seeing signs that Democrats are ready to fight lower expectations with lower expectations.

We’ve long known that this is a president like no other, and although he has brought out the worst in his country, we’ve hoped he was a fever that eventually would break. But the most troubling symptom of America’s condition might be apathy, and it’s one from which we might never recover.

The Baltimore Sun, Oct. 8

Unemployment is down, now pay should go up — even for federal workers

The U.S. economy added 134,000 jobs outside of the farming sector last month, coming 51,000 short of projections, but that might have been the only bit of bad news in the monthly jobs report. In short, the economy remains robust. The U.S. unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percent to 3.7 percent. That is the lowest level since December 1969 when the federal government imposed a military draft lottery for the first time since World War II, the first Boeing 747 rolled off the assembly line and a gallon of gas cost 35 cents.

Of course, there are any number of caveats. This is not a really new development — the steady decline in the unemployment rate started eight years ago and the trend has simply continued downward during what has proven to be an unusually long economic recovery after a particularly bad recession. The unemployment rate for teens and minorities did not improve in September. The number of long-term unemployed holds steady at about 1.4 million, and the labor force participation rate didn’t change either.

Still, that might be quibbling when compared to long-term averages. The unemployment rate isn’t a record low (it would have to drop to the 2.5 percent of May 1953 to even tie the monthly record), but it’s practically in the neighborhood. Given that development, the expectation of the workforce ought to be, in the immortal words of the fictional football player Rod Tidwell: Show me the money. If workers are becoming increasingly scarce, employers are going to have to pay more to retain and attract them. And as salaries rise, there ought to be a further payoff as those salaried workers buy homes and cars, clothing and essentials.

Yet that payoff has lagged, a hesitancy born perhaps of weaker unions, residual worker fear of unemployment, the growth in low-wage jobs, automation and increased productivity. That’s why high-profile companies like Amazon, which we recently lauded for raising starting pay to $15 per hour beginning next month, and the public sector should be setting an example. This is not the time to cap government salaries _ as politically popular a cause as that might sometimes be. Federal, state and local governments are not immune to the laws of supply and demand either. If they expect to have quality workers, they should be willing to pay them what they deserve.

That’s why the recent agreement between House and Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill to raise federal civilian pay 1.9 percent in 2019 should be viewed by all Americans as good news. President Donald Trump had proposed freezing their pay, which was an absurd proposition for a chief executive who likes to brag about the health of the economy. If federal workers don’t deserve bigger paychecks during the boom years, when exactly would they deserve them? During the next recession? At some point in between? Clearly, there are certain politicians who would prefer that government employees _ from the doctors at the National Institutes of Health to the civilian support staff of the Pentagon _ worked for subsistence wages, if that.

This arrangement isn’t necessarily settled. It’s part of an overall spending bill that still hasn’t been ironed out. But it certainly suggests that the families of federal workers won’t be getting coal in their stockings this yuletide season. And that’s a welcome development for Maryland, which hosts its share of that workforce and not just in the D.C. suburbs but also in the Baltimore area with the headquarters for the Social Security Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

It’s all very reasonable to debate about this or that government program, but the notion that all federal workers — the majority of whom earn between $33,000 and $55,000 per year and do not work in the District of Columbia but in far-flung posts across the country — should be denied a cost-of-living boost in times of prosperity is absurd. Better for Congress to set the example. It’s time for employers of all stripes to open up the purse strings. The federal government can find its budgetary savings elsewhere (we have plenty on that list beginning with a repeal of recent tax cuts for the uber-wealthy) and pay its own employees a competitive wage.

The Dallas Morning News, Oct. 8

Finally, thankfully, Congress finds something to agree on — fighting scourge of opioid abuse

In this age of partisan bickering in Washington, we’re pleased to spotlight rays of bipartisan congressional cooperation on a national crisis: opioid abuse.

After months of hard work, much of it led by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, and Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn, a comprehensive bill to address the medical and social scourge of opioid addiction lacks only Donald Trump’s signature to become law. The president, who declared opioid addiction a national emergency, is expected to sign the bill, providing new weapons to curtail an epidemic that has shattered families and communities.

The measure, which passed the House and Senate by overwhelming bipartisan margins, would make it easier for first responders to obtain naloxone, an anti-overdose treatment, and would increase research into non-opioid pain treatment as an alternative to legally prescribed but addictive opioids. The bill also offers greater support for treatment programs and drug courts, and steps up law enforcement resources to prevent fentanyl and other deadly synthetic drugs from coming into the United States.

Opioid addiction is such a widespread problem that congressional action is a strong first step but, unfortunately, not a complete solution. Opioid deaths are higher than the peak yearly death totals from car crashes or gun violence. Nationally, opioid-related overdoses occurred at 116 per day in 2016 — five times the rate in 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Opioid abuse is a problem in our backyard, too. In Dallas County, at least 1,928 people have died of opioid or heroin overdoses since 2011, according to a Dallas Morning News review of autopsy records earlier this year. Federal law enforcement officials in North Texas have a nine-agency strike force, one of just a handful across the country, to focus on violent gangs that traffic in heroin and synthetic opioids from Mexico and China.

Congress needs to stay on top of opioid abuse and be prepared to tweak or expand strategies as the crisis evolves and to provide additional dollars in other budget cycles. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill could cost $8 billion over five years, a fraction of the tens of billions that addiction experts say is needed for treatment and other intervention. A landmark report from the surgeon general two years ago concluded that only about 28 percent of people with an opioid problem receive specialty treatment.

The good news is that Democrats and Republicans found common ground on many issues and didn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. For now, we’ll call that a big win.

A jerk with tenure: Brooklyn College can’t touch a professor who says sexual assault is a rite of male passage

New York Daily News, Oct. 8

Trolling for outrage, a Brooklyn College business professor who specializes in skewering the left-wing cant of the academy wrote something abhorrent on his blog: that “If someone did not commit sexual assault in high school, then he is not a member of the male sex.”

Further, that “The Democrats have become a party of tutu-wearing pansies, totalitarian sissies who lack virility, a sense of decency, or the masculine judgment that has characterized the greatest civilizations.”

Mitchell Langbert, who now insults the city’s intelligence by pretending this was all Swiftian satire, is a tenured professor at a public university, one that rightly asserts in its policy on free expression that “concerns about civility can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however disagreeable or offensive they may be to some members of the University community.

“The appropriate response to false or offensive speech is not to prohibit it but to respond with more speech.”

So, while some call for Langbert to get canned, we simply say to him: Get bent.

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