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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

November 29, 2018

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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Nov. 26

The Washington Post on a new federal climate change report:

If you did not hear about the major new federal climate change report, the Trump administration will be pleased. The report was released the day after Thanksgiving — when many people were distracted — probably because it contradicts practically everything President Trump has said and done on global warming. The Fourth National Climate Assessment is yet another reminder that reality will catch up to the United States, no matter how much the president tries to ignore and deny it.

The world is heating up, and there are no “credible natural explanations for this amount of warming.” U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions have decreased a bit lately. But they need to go down much further and faster to avoid dire consequences.

Already, the nation is seeing “intensifying droughts, increasing heavy downpours, reducing snowpack,” as well as “declines in surface water quality.” Without a course change, increasingly depleted groundwater, rising seas and other effects will make it more difficult to farm and provide enough water for large cities.

Foodborne and waterborne diseases will spread. Disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes will be more common. Extreme heat will cause more deaths. Wildfires and insect infestations will overwhelm U.S. forests. Sea ice will melt and coral reef ecosystems will dissolve. Power outages and fuel shortages will be more frequent. Roads and bridges will swamp. Pipelines will become unsafe. Waterside property will be increasingly unusable. Fisheries will dwindle.

“Even if significant emissions reductions occur, many of the effects from sea level rise over this century — and particularly through mid-century — are already locked in due to historical emissions,” the report explains, underscoring the necessity for coastal communities to prepare. On the horizon is “the potential need for millions of people and billions of dollars of coastal infrastructure to be relocated.”

Critics of acting on climate change often cite the possible economic costs. But not acting has costs, too. The experts expect “substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century,” finding that “with continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century — more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.”

And the damage will be long-lasting. “The climate change resulting from human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide will persist for decades to millennia. Self-reinforcing cycles within the climate system have the potential to accelerate human-induced change and even shift Earth’s climate system into new states that are very different from those experienced in the recent past,” the report notes.

The White House responded to the report by misrepresenting scientists’ work and promising “fuller information” in the next analysis. Cooking the next report will not change the facts. Mr. Trump and the Republican Party have been negligent stewards of the country’s irreplaceable resources. Future Americans will not forgive or forget what these “leaders” did to them. Playing games with report release schedules won’t change that.

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

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Nov. 27

The Telegraph on the seizure of three Ukrainian warships by the Russian navy:

The seizure of three Ukrainian warships by the Russian navy in the Black Sea shows that Moscow has lost none of its enthusiasm for seeking to intimidate its neighbour. Accusing the Ukrainians of illegally entering what Moscow deems to be Russian territorial waters, Russian warships are reported to have fired on two Ukrainian vessels, and rammed a third. As is often the case with unprovoked acts of aggression by Russia, the attacks took place when the rest of the world was distracted, on this occasion because EU leaders were meeting to sign off the Brexit deal.

Indeed, it is precisely because the world has failed to take sufficient interest in Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its subsequent meddling in eastern Ukraine, that the Kremlin felt emboldened to attack the warships sailing through the Kerch Strait which, under international law, is designated as shared territorial waters.

But as we have seen in Crimea and elsewhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin has little regard for the norms of international law, and if an opportunity presents itself that is to Russia’s advantage, he will grab it. Thus, by challenging the right of Ukrainian shipping to sail unmolested between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, Russia is trying to establish de facto control of the Kerch Strait, severely restricting the free movement of Ukrainian vessels.

Not surprisingly, Ukraine has responded angrily, with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, a committed opponent of Moscow, threatening to impose martial law, which would allow him to cancel the upcoming presidential elections. Yet again, Mr Putin’s wanton disregard for international law is helping to foment political instability in the rest of Europe.

Online: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/

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Nov. 27

The Wall Street Journal on a U.S. auto maker saying it plans to eliminate 15 percent of its salaried workforce in North America and stop production at five plants that employ 6,700 workers:

President Trump believes he can command markets like King Canute thought he could the tides. But General Motors has again exposed the inability of any politician to arrest the changes in technology and consumer tastes roiling the auto industry.

GM said it plans to eliminate 15% of its salaried workforce in North America and stop production at five plants that employ 6,700 workers, including one in storied Lordstown, Ohio. “We are taking these actions now while the company and the economy are strong to stay in front of a fast-changing market,” CEO Mary Barra said.

The U.S. auto maker plans to redeploy some $4.5 billion in annual savings to more profitable truck, electric-car and autonomous-vehicle manufacturing. Investors cheered by bidding up GM’s stock, but the President reacted like a spurned suitor. “You know, the United States saved General Motors and for her to take that company out of Ohio is not good,” he said Monday, adding Tuesday that he might end GM’s subsidies. GM shares promptly fell 2.6%.

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As a candidate Mr. Trump lambasted Ford for shifting production to Mexico, then took credit when the company announced it would keep its Lincoln MKC in Louisville, Kentucky. But both decisions were motivated by market changes, and so is GM’s.

GM is halting production at plants that make sedans including the Chevy Cruze, Impala and Volt hybrid. Americans are buying more trucks and SUVs amid lower gas prices and better fuel efficiency. Small cars make up a third of U.S. vehicle sales compared to half in 2012. About 75% of GM sales last year were trucks and crossovers, up from 60% in 2012. Its share of the small-car market has also fallen by a third in a decade amid Japanese and Korean competition.

The main driver of GM’s failure a decade ago was its uncompetitive labor contracts. Rather than reduce costs or idle unproductive plants, GM offered bigger discounts to goose sales. But the market tides still rolled in, and GM executives have learned that staying competitive is necessary to avoid another collapse.

GM is essentially following Ford and Fiat Chrysler by phasing out small-car production. Last year GM cut production by a third at Lordstown and nearly half at a plant in Oshawa, Ontario. Keeping these factories open at lower levels of output would waste human and physical capital that could be deployed to more productive and profitable units.

The Trump Administration deserves credit for giving auto makers flexibility to make more of the cars consumers want by relaxing corporate average fuel-economy standards. GM’s third-quarter profit in North America surged 37% even as U.S. sales fell due to strong demand for pricier pick-ups and SUVs.

Boosting production of higher-margin vehicles is imperative as auto sales flatten after eight years of robust growth and rising interest rates curb demand. Material costs have also increased due to Mr. Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. GM said in July the tariffs could raise its costs by as much as $700 million this year, which is equal to the pay of about 9,400 employees.

Mr. Trump and liberals howling about layoffs ignore that GM is steering more investment toward electric and autonomous vehicles. Electric cars make up only about 1% of U.S. auto sales and often sell at a loss though they could become more popular as batteries improve.

But China is GM’s largest market, and it sold a third more cars there than in the U.S. last year. Beijing has set electric-car quotas, and to be competitive GM has little choice but to make cars in China. All the more so after Beijing raised tariffs on U.S.-made cars to 40% from 15% in retaliation for Mr. Trump’s tariffs.

GM is also betting that autonomous cars will become the rage as millennials and aging baby boomers give up the wheel. Ford is experimenting with self-driving cars to deliver pizzas. Google’s Waymo will soon deploy a self-driving taxi fleet of Chrysler minivans, which GM is planning to challenge.

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Mr. Trump and Democrats seem to believe that with the right mix of tariffs and managed trade they can return to a U.S. economy built on steel and autos. This is the logic behind the Administration stipulating in its new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that 40% to 45% of a vehicle’s value must consist of parts made by workers earning at least $16 an hour.

But an economy doesn’t run on nostalgia. U.S. auto makers don’t fear the new wage mandate because engineering performed by higher-skilled U.S. employees accounts for ever-more of a vehicle’s value. GM could soon become as much a tech company as a manufacturer. Amid a strong economy, most laid-off GM employees should find work. GM may also decide to retool idled factories to produce trucks as Fiat Chrysler has with a plant in Michigan.

Mr. Trump thinks his trade machinations can overrule the realities of the marketplace, but he’s as wrong as Barack Obama was about the climate and regulation. Fine with us if he wants to end subsidies for all car companies. But if he intervenes to make GM less competitive, Mr. Trump will merely hurt more workers.

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

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Nov. 28

Los Angeles Times on a Chinese researcher who claims to have helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies:

It has long been a scientific dream: to inoculate people against terrible diseases before they’re born. Now a team of doctors based in China has dangled that possibility in front of us by claiming it has edited the DNA of two human embryos during in vitro fertilization. The goal of the project was to protect the two (who are now twin baby girls) from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

If this was intended to be a gift to the world, though, it came in ugly wrapping. The principal investigator didn’t bother with such scientific protocols as peer review and publishing in a respected journal. Instead, he made claims about his results informally to a colleague at a conference, granted an interview to the Associated Press, and posted a video on YouTube. He offered no evidence or independent corroboration that his experiment succeeded.

And if indeed it did take place as described, it unquestionably crossed all sorts of ethical and safety lines.

The reaction was explosive. The hospital named in documents filed by researcher He Jiankui says that neither the research nor the birth of the twins happened there. The Chinese government, though it has not outlawed genetic experimentation on human embryos, launched an investigation into the ethics of the project. More than 100 Chinese scientists issued a statement condemning He’s actions, saying his team harmed the reputation of research coming from their nation.

Until now, research on gene editing has been restricted to faulty embryos in cases in which it was clear that children would be born with horrible illnesses. Even then, such research has been hotly debated, as it should be. While it is tremendously exciting to think that researchers might be able one day to switch off genes that predispose people to breast cancer, say, or Alzheimer’s disease, gene editing raises all sorts of other troubling questions. Even leaving aside people’s worries about eugenics and genetically designed superbabies bred for certain looks or athletic skills, there’s also the fact that gene editing isn’t just another treatment for an individual; it’s a process that changes the human genome; if successful, it will be passed on to future generations and spread through the population.

In some cases, that could be a good thing. But there could also be unintended consequences that might more than offset any positive effects. Gene editing can accidentally change genes other than those targeted in ways scientists can’t foresee. Or, in the case of the latest research claim, the Associated Press reported that the work involved disabling a gene that allows HIV to enter cells. The problem, it further reported, is that people who lack the normal version of that gene have higher risks of dying from flu or falling ill with West Nile virus. ...

The new research claim is especially disturbing because, although the father of the twins is HIV positive, the chance of transmission was small. This experiment on human children might or might not help prevent a disease that they were unlikely to have gotten anyway, and which is preventable through other means as well as treatable.

The ethical (and practical) concerns raised by such experiments are complex and far reaching.

For instance, if lifesaving or life-lengthening gene editing becomes more widely available, who should be allowed to benefit from it? Will it be restricted, at least in its early years, to only the wealthy who would be able to afford it?

And this: If people live considerably longer lives, how would that affect the size of the world population and how would longer-living older generations be supported?

Now, He said, society can begin discussing how far such research should be allowed to go. On the contrary, the time for that discussion was before he undertook his experimentation on humans, not after. And indeed, last year, a panel with members from scientific organizations around the world recommended against the implantation of gene-edited human embryos until the various aspects were better understood. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration forbids gene editing to be used medically if it would affect future generations.

Of course, it’s hoped that one day, when our knowledge of gene editing and its consequences is deeper, we won’t need such restrictions.

...

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

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Nov. 28

Chicago Sun-Times on the Indonesian carrier Lion Air jet that crashed and killed 189 people in October:

Airline passengers are demanding convincing proof from Boeing Co. that all its planes are safe.

Investigators are still piecing together what happened on Oct. 29 when a Lion Air 737 MAX 8 jet plunged nose-down into the Java Sea. Chicago-based Boeing insists its 737 MAX 8 is as safe as any other plane and blames pilot error for the crash.

But when a jet takes a nose-dive into an ocean and 189 people are killed, reassurances from the corporate flaks won’t suffice. Real questions demand full answers.

The single biggest question: Did flaws in the 737 MAX’s automated anti-stall technology — a prime feature of this latest model of the popular 737 — contribute to the crash?

Investigators say it’s still “too early” to tell. But it’s surely troubling that the new MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), designed to automatically lower the aircraft’s nose when sensors determine that a plane is ascending too quickly, apparently kicked in erroneously and sent the plane plunging.

Even as the desperate pilots tried repeatedly — 26 times — to pull it up.

Was Boeing aware of this potential malfunction? If so, when did the company become aware? What steps did Boeing take to warn every airline that used the new jet? Was sufficient pilot training provided in how to deactivate the MCAS when necessary?

Unions representing pilots for United, American and Southwest are sounding the alarm, claiming Boeing didn’t provide enough information, though Boeing denies this.

“The relevant function is described in the (flight crew operations manual, or FCOM), and we routinely engage customers about how to operate our airplanes safely,” an internal memo from Boeing President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg stated.

Meanwhile, there are questions for Lion Air, too.

Did Lion, the largest budget airline in Indonesia, properly maintain its planes? Did it warn pilots of the fatal flight that similar problems with the anti-stall technology had occurred with this plane before? Were all Lion Air pilots trained in how to override the MCAS?

Investigators suspect there were problems on all these fronts.

For our safety and their reputations, Boeing and Lion Air had better put it all out there.

Online: https://chicago.suntimes.com/

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Nov. 26

The San Diego Union-Tribune on the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana:

The humanitarian crisis at the California-Mexico border demands thoughtfulness and clear thinking from federal, state and local leaders. With thousands of Central Americans in Tijuana seeking asylum after the arrival of their “caravan” this month — and thousands more still expected in coming weeks — some obvious points need to be agreed upon while more complex moral questions come up for debate.

The first point is that President Donald Trump and his administration should follow the letter of federal law on asylum. Last week, San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar issued a temporary restraining order blocking the president’s Nov. 8 proclamation that said no one who crossed the southern border illegally would be eligible for asylum. While Trump derided Tigar as an “Obama judge” — properly drawing a rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts — the judge was following a clearly written provision in a 1996 immigration law: Anyone in the nation can request asylum.

If the president wants to make it more likely that only those who are genuinely at risk in their home countries receive asylum — and that the unqualified don’t skip future hearings and join the millions of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. — then he should seek to sharply beef up the resources used to process asylum-seekers. There is now a backlog of about 750,000 applicants. Of those from Central America, only 10 percent are generally granted asylum, according to The Washington Post. The disputed Post report that the incoming administration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would be willing to have Mexican border areas serve as the “waiting room” for those seeking U.S. asylum is worth considering — if the safety of asylum-seekers can be assured in Mexico and if the asylum review process can be sharply improved and quickened in the U.S.

The second point is that the decision to close the San Ysidro Port of Entry between Tijuana and San Diego for four hours on Sunday — and Trump’s Twitter vow to “permanently” close the border if more migrant “caravans” arrive — pose an immense threat to the regional binational economy, which generates $230 billion a year. This economic engine is utterly dependent on cross-border traffic, with roughly 120,000 passenger vehicles, 63,000 pedestrians and 6,000 trucks going back and forth on an average day. A border closure should never be made lightly. Sunday’s chaos at the border even prompted the Las Americas Premium Outlets in the San Ysidro neighborhood of San Diego to close as the border mall’s holiday retail season began in earnest. Such disruptions are terrible for the economy.

The third point is that Border Patrol agents have a difficult job: maintaining order at the border. The Democrats who sharply criticized these agents for using tear gas Sunday to stop a group of migrants — men, women and children — who rushed the border and threw rocks at agents are blaming them for doing that job. Ultimately, no one was seriously hurt in the episode. That’s fortunate. Border Patrol agents and migrants considering rushing the border should both exercise restraint. These tensions don’t need violence or the demonizing of government immigration officers. The situation is complex enough. Some polls show that many people want legal immigration cut. Other polls show openness to foreigners is “essential to who we are as a nation.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board has long supported comprehensive immigration reform as the most constructive, humane path forward. It remains our goal, but until far more centrists emerge — until the demagogues and demonizers stop grandstanding — it seems a long shot.

Online: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/

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