Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
The Associated Press
Oct. 11, 2017
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on Congress blocking a crucial part of Obamacare:
The Obamacare debate has been out of whack from the start. Republicans have criticized the wrong things, allowing Democrats to ignore the Affordable Care Act's biggest flaws. Now, this off-kilter debate may lead to the quiet loss of one of the law's most important provisions, currently on Congress's chopping block.
The partisan conflict has mostly focused on Obamacare's health-care-coverage expansion, and Democrats have won that argument. The GOP's recent repeal-and-replace fiasco revealed that Americans are mostly comfortable with assertive government regulation and spending in order to guarantee (nearly) all Americans affordable, comprehensive coverage. Though they tried to make it sound otherwise, Republicans countered with policies that would have shredded this guarantee, particularly for the neediest. They failed.
The problem is not that Obamacare's coverage expansion was fundamentally flawed, as Republicans have alleged. It is that it was not accompanied by measures to control costs across the health-care system, which has gotten so expensive it represents a sixth of the economy. And that is just for now: With the baby boomers aging, and tantalizing but expensive medical innovations on the horizon, costs threaten to rise unsustainably if the government does not force changes to the way care is delivered.
The right response is not to cut poor and sick people off insurance rolls but to stop paying for treatments and services that are unneeded, that do not work or that are not any better than cheaper alternatives. This is hard, because it involves telling people to change — and occasionally saying "no." So Democrats mostly avoided the issue when they wrote Obamacare.
Mostly, but not entirely. They tucked in a few cost-cutting provisions, significantly raising Obamacare's appeal to those who worried about expanding coverage without encouraging more responsibility on health-care spending. The most important was the creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a panel of experts tasked with making some hard choices. If health-care spending accelerates too rapidly, the board must recommend ways to slow the rise through changes to Medicare's payment system — without slashing benefits. The board's conclusions would go to Congress, which would have the opportunity to overrule the experts. If lawmakers declined to do so, the board's recommendations would automatically take effect.
The idea was to ensure that costs did not escalate too quickly by removing political barriers to efficiency-driving reforms. Recent history has shown that, when the issue is left to Congress, doctors and patient groups will effectively block reform, even if the evidence suggests current practice is misguided.
Indeed, the forces favoring complacency and waste have not surrendered. Even though costs have not yet risen fast enough to trigger the IPAB, the board has sustained heavy criticism from both sides of the aisle. Republicans say they dislike the notion of government bureaucrats dictating health payment policies. Democrats say they dislike anything that smacks of a cut to Medicare. A bipartisan bill ending the IPAB passed the House Ways and Means Committee last Wednesday.
Republicans, who claim they want to reduce wasteful government spending, should stop trying to repeal this important piece of Obamacare. So should Democrats.
The Chicago Tribune on a possible bump stock ban:
We're relieved congressional Republicans appear ready to consider a limited form of gun control: banning the bump stock, the rapid-firing device used in the Las Vegas massacre.
We're stunned the National Rifle Association seems to agree. What a significant moment this could be, in the wake of a horrendous criminal act, for the national conversation about gun rights and gun culture.
The sniper who slaughtered more than 50 people and wounded nearly 500 at an outdoor concert possessed numerous weapons, including some retrofitted with bump stocks. This allowed the shooter to fire at a near-continuous rate, as if raking his target area with a machine gun.
Why on earth would any private individual need access to a weapon of war? That's the question even adamant defenders of the Second Amendment right to gun possession appear willing to ask in the wake of Las Vegas. Our answer is that there is no compelling reason to give civilians the firepower of the infantry.
The history of machine gun regulations dates to Chicago's gangster era of the 1920s and early '30s. The bad guys shot each other up with Tommy guns. The National Firearms Act of 1934 clamped down on machine guns by imposing tax and registration restrictions. These days, the sale of automatic weapons to civilians is banned, and the sale of automatic weapons manufactured before 1986 is closely regulated and monitored.
Then in 2010, manufacturers began offering the bump stock, a $100 to $400 conversion device that allows a semi-automatic rifle to fire at close to the same rate as a machine gun. It does this by replacing the stock and pistol grip with a piece of equipment that harnesses recoil power to bump the trigger back and forth repeatedly against the shooter's finger.
The added lethality of a bump stock is grotesque: The Las Vegas shooter appeared to fire as many as 90 bullets in 10 seconds. Without such a device, it would take several minutes to deliver that many rounds. You can find YouTube videos that show shooting experts testing bump stock devices, and even one of them sounded concerned about the availability of such firepower for as little as 99 bucks. "The packaging this thing came in said 'spray 600 rounds a minute,'" one expert says on his video. "That's right: 'Spray 600 rounds a minute.' They've since changed that on their website to say 'safe and precise,' but I think the people behind this could learn a couple lessons."
As we wrote earlier this week, gun violence in America is an epidemic. There are steps lawmakers can take — such as requiring background checks on all purchases, and limiting the capacity of magazine clips — that would address the scourge without tramping on the Second Amendment. Yet gun rights proponents, led by the NRA, in the past have responded as if they were being told the confiscation of all weapons begins at dawn. Even after the 2012 murder of 26 people, including 20 first-graders, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the debate was shut down by those who see gun ownership as a fundamental right protected by the Constitution.
Then came Las Vegas: dozens dead at the hands of a sniper mowing down concertgoers as if he were strafing an enemy battalion. It's too much for even the NRA to ignore.
Republicans, joined of course by many Democrats, now sound ready to look closely at the bump stock. "I own a lot of guns, and as a hunter and sportsman, I think that's our right as Americans," Texas Sen. John Cornyn said. "But I don't understand the use of this bump stock." On Thursday, the NRA said such devices "should be subject to additional regulations."
Bump stocks and the like should be banned. They serve no justifiable purpose. Republicans, move on this. Don't expect public pressure to fade. Ban these killing machines. Las Vegas was a moment the country never wanted that it must confront. This should be the starting point for the reasonable gun debate America needs.
China Daily on the necessity of dialogue between the United States and China:
That the relationship between China and the United States comes under strain from time to time is most often a result of one of them misinterpreting the other's intentions.
That is why the four high-level dialogue mechanisms, which were agreed during President Xi Jinping's visit to the U.S. in April, are both pragmatic and important, as they can help the two sides avoid any misunderstandings by enabling them to properly discuss and manage their differences and disputes.
The last of the first round of dialogues — on law enforcement and cybersecurity — was held on Friday in Washington, with the two sides agreeing to further cooperate on repatriating suspected criminals, and to work together to combat drug trafficking and strengthen cybersecurity — outcomes that reflect the call of Xi last month for countries to jointly tackle transnational crimes and cyber security challenges and advance common and comprehensive security.
It is natural that China and the U.S. do not see eye to eye on every issue. But so long as they take each other's major interests into account and keep the channels of communication open, there is no reason why they cannot forge a strong and friendly bilateral relationship.
For instance, one of the reasons the cyber security dialogue was initiated was the hacking attacks on U.S. companies and government agencies, which, despite Beijing's consistent and strong denials of any involvement, Washington alleged were sponsored by China.
These accusations have long been an irritant in bilateral relations. However, the dialogue last week served to clarify the situation and help end the altercation, as both sides pledged to jointly crack down on cybercrime and continue to implement their consensus on cybersecurity cooperation, including the agreement that neither side will conduct or support the cybertheft of intellectual property.
Likewise, the pledge of closer cooperation on repatriation will address China's concerns that the U.S. could become a safe haven for corrupt Chinese officials who have fled the country.
It is heartening that such frank exchanges have been the hallmark of the first round of four dialogues between the U.S. and China, since building a truly cooperative partnership between the two sides requires mutual trust and respect, and these can only be established by talking sincerely with one another to dispel misperceptions and suspicions. Addressing their concerns head-on in their talks will enable each to better understand the other's intentions.
And, after all, as President Xi put it, there are a thousand reasons to make the relationship work, and no reason to break it.
The Sacramento Bee on Silicon Valley's responsibility when it comes to fake news:
It has been a week since Las Vegas police stormed Stephen Paddock's hotel room at Mandalay Bay, finding him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and surrounded by a personal arsenal of modified rifles. And in that time, we've learned quite a bit about him.
We know he was 64, had a house in Reno, a brother in Florida and a girlfriend he sent to the Philippines. We know he was a real estate investor and a gambler. We know he expressed no specific political ideology.
This is real, factual, vetted news and anyone can find it online. But in the hours after Paddock fired bullets into a crowded country music festival, hitting 547 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, facts were hard to distinguish from falsehoods on Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Hoaxes and conspiracy theories got dredged from the sewage-like depths of the internet. Wildly false rumors were dressed up as truth and put into widespread circulation. Items on the notoriously toxic 4chan network and Russian propaganda site Sputnik claimed the shooter was a liberal who hated President Donald Trump and loved MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, and was tied to Islamic State terrorists.
Once again, the Silicon Valley platforms that dominate public discourse and serve as a de facto source of information for billions of people delivered fake news that was damaging as well as confusing.
How long will this go on?
Two-thirds of American adults now get their news from social media. Facebook alone reaches a quarter of the human race.
It may not be uncommon for an explosive new technology to get out ahead of its creators, and surely the explosion of social media has rewarded its shareholders. But the rest of us can't afford to wait much longer for some effective quality control, and some accountability.
After the dust-up over Russian bots and surreptitiously purchased political ads designed to influence last year's presidential election, the executives of these California tech companies promised they would do better. Just last month they said they would add human fact checkers and expedite tweaks to algorithms that determine what news and which targeted advertisements rise to the surface to be seen by eager readers.
Behind the scenes, Facebook has agreed to partnerships with some news organizations — including McClatchy Co., parent of The Sacramento Bee — to increase the company's credibility. And separately, Google and Apple worked with a few news outlets to steer people toward legitimate sources of information during Hurricane Irma.
However, to the extent Silicon Valley felt urgent responsibility for the broader risks being posed, it wasn't apparent. Pressed on why so much fake news surfaced after the shooting in Las Vegas, social media companies put out tone-deaf, boilerplate statements citing technical difficulties.
"Unfortunately," Google explained, "early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our search results for a small number of queries. Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we'll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future."
On why Facebook's "Trending Stories" section was suggesting an article from the Russian propaganda site Sputnik alongside articles from legitimate news agencies, a spokesperson told The New York Times: "Our Global Security Operations Center spotted these posts this morning and we have removed them. However, their removal was delayed, allowing them to be screen captured and circulated online."
YouTube also changed its search algorithm to net more videos from mainstream news outlets — although it didn't say which outlets counted as mainstream — after the site became clogged with conspiracy theories after the Las Vegas shooting.
But rampant disinformation isn't just a question of fine-tuning some coding. It's also a question of who will be accountable for lies, now that people can use technology to game the narratives that shape our civilization.
Social media has revolutionized our ability to communicate, but it has also made it easier to amplify and distort that communication. Who must take responsibility for that? Certainly not the machines.
Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet's Google and YouTube must make dramatic changes, and soon. Beyond the responsibility that comes with such ability to influence, they could run a real and unpleasant risk of being regulated by Congress.
Already Virginia's Sen. Mark Warner and Minnesota's Sen. Amy Klobuchar have introduced a bill to require more transparency from social media companies that run political ads. Facebook, for example, would have to follow the same rules TV stations do. And on Nov. 1, executives from Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet's Google have been invited to testify at a public hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
There's a good chance the fake news about the Las Vegas shooter will come up — and it should. It's time that these companies enact policies to place some ethical boundaries around the information they present to the public. More must be done to prioritize responsibly vetted news stories. Computer algorithms absolutely should be supplemented by human employees.
Change won't come easily. Billions of dollars in advertising revenue depend on maximizing the number of people spending time online.
But fake news isn't a sustainable business. Only 37 percent of web-using adults believe the information they get from social media. That can't be a promising metric.
There is no algorithmic shortcut for the responsibility humans have to society, to the truth and to each other. It's time for Silicon Valley to show us it shares our values.
The Los Angeles Times on blame in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal:
With horrific allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault swirling around co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, the company that bears his name fired him Sunday. But by waiting so long to take a step that should have been taken, frankly, years earlier, the company fostered a climate in which his behavior — well-known within the company and in Hollywood — was tolerated, concealed and even enabled. For that, the company's entire leadership shares some blame and shame.
The latest allegations, detailed in the New Yorker Tuesday, go beyond the initial tales of sexual harassment that appeared in the New York Times and now include further allegations of sexual assault. In the typical scenario sketched out by Weinstein's accusers, young, unsuspecting actresses and models were escorted to his hotel room by female staff members conscripted into serving as "honeypots" — essentially, tricking the women into believing another woman would be present, but then leaving as soon as the "meeting" started. Then, according to a number of accounts, came the intimidation and the victimization, including physical assaults in several cases involving oral sex and other acts. Afterward, Weinstein expected them to say nothing. Most complied; some of the few who did talk believe their careers suffered for it.
A spokesperson for Weinstein has said that he denied any allegations of nonconsensual sex.
Weinstein's behavior as described by the women is disgusting, but so are the allegedly widespread efforts on the part of other executives and staff members at his company to cover up for him. According to news reports, some of his underlings did try — without effect — to talk to Weinstein, and some reported his behavior to the company officials. Others apparently agonized over whether to say something, fearful about the repercussions for their own careers. In many cases, they did nothing.
That kind of collusion — and that's what it is — on the part of colleagues who think they know about sexual misconduct but do not stop it or report it is why sexual harassment and assault are still so prevalent in the workplace. Even as women ascend in business and politics, even as seemingly every business and nonprofit instructs its managers on what sexual harassment is and how not to commit it, it flourishes where men wield power over less powerful women — and other people look away. Collectively, we have already stopped accepting the "boys will be boys" excuse for sexual harassment and assault. However, until there is a cultural shift to condemning not just sexual misbehavior but also the routine cover-up, and until reporting it becomes the norm and not an act of bravery, it will continue.
One heartening thing in the last few days is the growing number of women — including some of Hollywood's best-known actresses — who have come forward to report what happened to them. One can only hope that we are reaching a turning point as a society and not reacting as we always have, renouncing misbehavior years after it should have been stopped.
The Boston Herald on the need to protect those brought to U.S. illegally as a child by their parents:
Well, so much for that bipartisan agreement President Trump insisted he wanted on immigration.
Sunday the White House released a laundry list of more than 70 specific immigration-related demands — items that would have to accompany any effort to grant permanent legal status to some 800,000 "Dreamers" — young people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.
"I have a love for these people," Trump once said, "and now hopefully Congress will be able to help them and do it properly."
A dinner with Democratic leaders "Chuck and Nancy" seemed to clinch the deal.
Now Trump has decided to hold those Dreamers hostage to a list of ridiculous demands the Democrats — and any Republicans with a smattering of sense about basic economics — will be forced to reject. That raises the question of how serious he was in the first place.
The list of Trump demands includes, of course, money for a border wall with Mexico — nothing sensible like a high-tech approach to security, but a real wall — a non-starter for Democrats.
And, of course, the 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to enforce all of these new laws. (Aren't Republicans supposed to be in favor of smaller government?)
But the truly horrifying part is the demand that legal immigration be cut in half — which would constitute a devastating blow to the U.S. economy. Has no one the courage to explain to Trump that with virtual full employment, the real danger is a labor shortage.
Sure, there's a case to be made for a merit-based system that would prioritize occupations that could contribute the most to the U.S. economy. But who then will manicure Trump golf courses or serve dinner at Mar-a-Lago.
Of course, the plan hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of actually passing — which is a good thing. But that does raise the question of who will save the Dreamers? Surely there are enough sensible Democrats and Republicans left in the Congress who are capable of doing the right thing — even if the occupant of the White House hasn't a clue what that is.