Editorial Roundup: US

The Associated Press

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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May 19

The Washington Post on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' plan on governing how schools and colleges handle sexual harassment and assault accusations:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s long-planned overhaul of regulations governing how schools and colleges handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault has been released in final form. As expected, they came under almost immediate court challenge from advocates for sexual abuse victims who claim they will lead to a return to the bad old days when campus rape and sexual misconduct were swept under the rug.

It is fair to question why the Trump administration chose to release the final rules during a global pandemic when schools across the country are scrambling to deal with chaos and uncertainty. It is also understandable to wish that the department had taken more to heart some suggested changes, including how sexual harassment is defined, how victims are cross-examined and the scope of a school’s responsibility. But the old guidance was in need of improvement, and the new Title IX rules do not provide license for schools to ignore sexual assault and harassment. The revisions, as we observed when the proposal was put out for public comment in 2018, include some changes that would bring needed balance to disciplinary proceedings.

Four advocacy groups for people who have been sexually assaulted filed a federal lawsuit last week seeking to block the provisions from going into effect Aug. 14. The regulations, released May 6, replace the now-rescinded guidance of the Obama administration on how to enforce the 48-year-old federal law banning sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs. The Education Department was right to tell schools, in a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, that they needed to deal with long-neglected problems of sexual abuse or risk the loss of federal funding. But that led to a different set of problems. Law professors at leading universities said overcorrection in countering the culture of denial resulted in an assumption of guilt that denied the accused any semblance of due process, including access to evidence from investigative reports and the right to a fair hearing.

The basic issue surrounding the new rules is whether bolstering the rights of those accused — starting with a presumption of innocence and requiring a separation between investigation and adjudication of a complaint — will have a chilling effect on the willingness of students to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. Some changes — such as allowing schools to apply a higher evidentiary standard for sexual abuse cases than is used for disciplinary proceedings — seem ill-advised. It is concerning that schools that are now trying to deal with the dilemmas caused by the novel coronavirus will also, barring court action, have to put in place new (and likely costlier) procedures to deal with sexual abuse and harassment cases. Equally concerning, though, is that overheated rhetoric about the bad old days could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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

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May 18

The New York Times on authorities policing social distancing guidlines:

Of the 125 people arrested over offenses that law enforcement officials described as related to the coronavirus pandemic, 113 were black or Hispanic. Of the 374 summonses from March 16 to May 5, a vast majority — 300 — were given to black and Hispanic New Yorkers.

Videos of some of the arrests are hard to watch. In one posted to Facebook last week, a group of some six police officers are seen tackling a black woman in a subway station as her young child looks on. “She’s got a baby with her!” a bystander shouts. Police officials told The Daily News the woman had refused to comply when officers directed her to put the mask she was wearing over her nose and mouth.

Contrast that with photographs across social media showing crowds of sun-seekers packed into parks in wealthy, whiter areas of the city, lounging undisturbed as police officers hand out masks.

So it is obvious that the city needs a different approach to enforcing public health measures during the pandemic. Mayor Bill de Blasio seems to understand this, and he has promised to hire 2,300 people to serve as social distancing “ambassadors.”

Hopefully, the mayor will think bigger.

One promising idea, promoted by City Councilman Brad Lander and others, is to build quickly a kind of “public health corps” to enforce social-distancing measures.

In this approach, specially trained civilians could fan out across the neighborhoods and parks, helping with pedestrian traffic control and politely encouraging New Yorkers entering parks to protect one another by wearing masks and keeping their distance. Police Department school safety agents, who are not armed, could help. Such a program could also provide much-needed employment for young people, especially with New York’s summer jobs program, which serves people 14 to 24, threatened by budget cuts.

Another method to help social-distancing efforts may be the community-based groups that have been effective in reducing gun violence in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.

The Police Department would play only a minimal role in this approach, stepping in to help with crowd control, for example, something it does extremely well.

Without a significant course correction, the department’s role in the pandemic may look more and more like stop-and-frisk, the policing tactic that led to the harassment of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, most of them black and Hispanic, while rarely touching white New Yorkers. Mr. de Blasio has scoffed at the comparison, though it’s not clear why.

Aggressive police enforcement of social-distancing measures is nearly certain to harm the health and dignity of the city’s black and Hispanic residents.

It could also diminish respect for the Police Department. Which is why it makes sense that the city’s largest police union has said that its members want little to do with social-distancing enforcement. “The N.Y.P.D. needs to get cops out of the social-distancing-enforcement business altogether,” Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said in a statement on May 4. On this issue, Mr. Lynch gets it.

New York is facing a public health crisis, not a spike in crime. Black and Hispanic New Yorkers are already suffering disproportionately from the coronavirus. They don’t need more policing. They need more help.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/

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May 18

The Los Angles Times on Congress requiring states to expand early voting and mail-in voting procedures:

Even as some states and localities are “reopening” businesses and public spaces, it is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will still be with us in November when Americans will elect a president, the entire membership of the U.S. House and more than a third of the U.S. Senate.

It is past time for Congress to require states to expand opportunities for voting by mail and early voting — and to help pay for those changes — so that Americans on Nov. 3 aren’t faced with a choice between protecting their health and exercising the most important right of citizens in a democracy.

That was the grim dilemma encountered by voters in Wisconsin’s April 7 election, when — despite social distancing and other precautions — dozens of voters and poll workers may have been infected at polling places. It’s vital that Congress act now to prevent voters across the country from encountering a similar situation in November, which could lower turnout as well as spread disease.

Congress included $400 million for state election systems in a coronavirus stimulus package approved in March. But that sum falls far short of what is required to make it possible for states — especially those that lack experience with extensive voting by mail — to prepare for an election in which most votes might have to be cast by that method.

The House passed a new coronavirus relief bill Friday that would give state election systems $3.6 billion to respond to the pandemic — a sum much closer to estimates by outside election experts of what will be required to conduct elections during this crisis. But Congress must act quickly; according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, states will have to start preparing this month if they’re going to be ready for voting by mail in the fall.

It’s also important that states take precautions to protect the health of voters who will cast their ballots in person, an option that must remain for disabled voters and those with unreliable mail delivery. Generous arrangements for early voting will reduce congestion at polling places, and election officials also must be prepared to sanitize those locations to protect the health of voters and poll workers.

Shoring up election systems to respond to the pandemic should be a bipartisan cause. But while some Republican governors recognize the importance of expanding voting by mail, Republicans in Washington haven’t risen to the occasion. Some GOP senators have expressed concern about a “federal takeover of the election process.” President Trump has called voting by mail a “terrible thing,” complained that it hurts Republicans, and suggested without offering proof that expanding the practice could lead to massive fraud. (Never mind that Trump voted by absentee ballot in Florida’s primary.)

Alarmism about a “federal takeover” of elections ignores the Constitution‘s instruction that, while states are responsible for the “time, places and manner” of congressional elections, Congress may “at any time make or alter such regulations.” Congress also has legislated regulations for presidential elections. It would be shameful if Republicans refused to exercise that authority to make it easier for Americans to vote during a public-health crisis. But then, the GOP in recent years has been the party trying to make it harder to cast a ballot.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who along with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced a separate bill to help states expand voting by mail, suggested that there could be negotiations with Republicans if they showed interest, though she said she would oppose any provisions that would suppress the right to vote.

Some compromises might be acceptable. While the problem of fraud in absentee voting is vastly exaggerated, occasional abuses have occurred. Some Republicans might be willing to support expanded voting by mail in exchange for a requirement that states minimize the possibility of fraud and error, including by placing limits on so-called “ballot harvesting,” the collection and delivery of multiple ballots by activists or party members. That’s a reasonable compromise.

But if Republicans in the Senate erect too many obstacles to an expansion of voting by mail and other measures to safeguard voting in this extraordinarily emergency, they will face the judgment of history — and of the voters they disenfranchised or endangered. They will play politics with this issue at their peril.

Members of Congress of both parties have recognized that the COVID-19 contagion requires new thinking. If the damage inflicted on the economy by the virus justified a massive federal response, so does the threat the pandemic poses to democracy. Time is running out.

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

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May 18

The Guardian on restaurants and bars reopening in Italy:

The famous Canova cafe, in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, was once Federico Fellini’s preferred spot for a morning coffee. On Monday the Canova was in the spotlight again as it reopened its doors, in glorious sunshine, after two and a half months of lockdown. “It’s a beautiful, exciting day,” said Valentino Casanova, one of the cafe’s barmen, whose words were reported around the world.

The reopening this week of Italy’s restaurants and bars – albeit with tight restrictions in place – is undoubtedly an uplifting moment. Italy alerted the rest of Europe to the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic; the return of its osterie and trattorie feels like a triumph of civilised pleasures over the annihilating bleakness of the virus. But no one in Italy is hailing a restoration of la dolce vita, as shutters are raised and tables are laid out in piazzas once more. In places such as Canova, seating capacity will have to be reduced by at least 40% for the foreseeable future. Running at around half capacity, with extra safety measures to pay for, many are likely to go the wall.

The bigger economic picture is equally challenging. At the weekend, Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, told fellow citizens that the country was taking a “calculated risk” by loosening the lockdown, but that it could not afford to wait around for a vaccine. After 20 years of stagnation, racked by huge public debt and heading for inevitable recession, Italy’s economy now faces the fight of its life.

The European commission forecasts a downturn of more than 9% this year. That would send the country’s public debt soaring to over 155% of GDP – easily the highest ratio, after Greece, in the eurozone. Yet with business on its knees, the government has been obliged to up the ante on spending. Mr Conte’s government signed off last week on a stimulus package worth $59.6bn. This injection of cash, combined with a steep fall in tax revenue, is likely to drive the annual budget deficit up to more than 10% of GDP.

Governments across Europe are, of course, facing similar problems, after sending economies into hibernation. But Italy’s debt levels make it uniquely vulnerable. There are ominous signs that the markets are beginning to turn the screw. One ratings agency recently reduced Italy’s credit status to one notch above junk, and government bond yields are steadily creeping upwards.

It is in this menacing context that the European Union may soon have a crucial judgment to make. Along with the leaders of eight other countries, including France, Spain and Portugal, Mr. Conte has called for a new common EU debt instrument to raise funds to assist recovery. Germany and the Netherlands have resisted this idea, pointing to existing options such as the European stability mechanism, which allows for countries in difficulty to receive guaranteed loans.

At root, this is a debate about how much Europe’s stronger economies should share risk with weaker members of the eurozone, in the context of an unforeseen public health emergency. How it plays out could have significant political consequences. Recent polls have indicated that Italian Euroscepticism is on the rise: the country felt let down by a lack of solidarity in the early weeks of the crisis, as EU capitals failed to respond to urgent requests to send personal protective equipment, such as face masks. Waiting in the wings, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the rightwing League party, would hope to profit from any economic meltdown. As Italy unlocks, it is in the EU’s interests to ensure that does not happen.

Online: https://www.theguardian.com/

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May 17

The Wall Street Journal on former President Barack Obama's administration “unmasking” former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn:

The media are mostly ignoring the news that 39 Obama officials sought to read the transcripts of Michael Flynn’s conversations with foreigners, but here and there they’ve asked a question. The unpersuasive answers suggest there’s more to learn.

Take Joe Biden, who “unmasked” Mr. Flynn only a few days before leaving office as Vice President. Last week Mr. Biden told ABC that he knew “nothing about those moves to investigate Michael Flynn.” George Stephanopoulos reminded Mr. Biden that he attended a Jan. 5, 2017, Oval Office meeting when the FBI’s Flynn investigation was discussed. Mr. Biden replied that he’d misheard the question and admitted he was “aware that there was, that they’d asked for, an investigation. But that’s all I know about it.”

This was more straightforward than what Mr. Biden told MSNBC when he was asked about his “involvement in the investigation of Michael Flynn.” Mr. Biden replied: “I was never a part or had any knowledge of any criminal investigation into Flynn while I was in office.”

Except at the time there was no criminal investigation into Mr. Flynn — as Mr. Biden knows. In 2016, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn, and it was under that pretense that it conducted the interview in which it later claimed that Mr. Flynn lied. The lack of a criminal investigation is the primary reason the Justice Department moved this month to drop its prosecution. Mr. Biden still hasn’t explained why he personally unmasked Mr. Flynn.

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, defended his unmasking of Mr. Flynn as “perfectly legitimate.” Mr. Clapper told CNN that he had a professional duty to investigate the “numerous engagements by representatives of the Trump camp with Russians.” As he told Sirius XM’s “The Joe Madison Show”: “People would be derelict if they didn’t have enough curiosity to inquire what was going on.”

In other words, it’s OK to eavesdrop on your political opponents if you’re curious about their conversations with foreigners. We doubt that justification would have played well had the George W. Bush Administration spied on Barack Obama’s incoming team. Officials of incoming administrations routinely talk with officials of foreign governments.

Such exchanges don’t justify the widespread scale of Obama Administration unmasking of Mr. Flynn. And they certainly don’t justify the leaking of the conversations that Mr. Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had with the Russian ambassador. Leaking those classified conversations is a felony.

Then there’s John Brennan, the Obama CIA director, who claimed that the real scandal is releasing the names of the unmaskers. Mr. Brennan told MSNBC that President Trump is guilty of “egregious abuse” and “manipulation” of “the instruments of our intelligence and national security organizations.”

This is the same John Brennan who in August 2016 was frustrated that the Trump-Russia collusion narrative he’d been pushing inside the Administration hadn’t become public. He briefed then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who wrote a letter to FBI Director James Comey, laying out the “connection” between Mr. Trump and Russia and demanding an investigation. The letter leaked to the press.

The 2016 and 2017 spying on Trump officials and then leaking to promote a false narrative of collusion is one of the dirtiest tricks in the history of American politics. It is not “perfectly legitimate,” and the public needs to know the full story behind it.

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

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May 13

The Detroit News on armed protesters storming the Michigan capitol building:

We get it. Tensions are running high right now. And many Michiganians are fearful for their jobs and their liberty in the wake of extensive government lockdown measures. These are real and valid concerns during this unprecedented pandemic.

Yet we caution against citizens taking their frustration too far.

A Lansing protest at the end of April where armed demonstrators entered the Capitol with the clear intention of intimidating lawmakers and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer clearly wasn’t helpful, nor did it help further their cause.

Another protest was planned Thursday, along with a counter-protest.

Rhetoric has also grown more heated in recent weeks. For instance, Whitmer has received a number of violent threats against her on social media, and she called on Republican leadership Monday to condemn these words.

Both House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, quickly called out the threats as unacceptable.

As Chatfield wrote on Twitter: “I disagree with many of the governor’s decisions. I’ve been very open about that. I also support the right to protest. But as I’ve said before, those making physical threats (to both parties) are out of line and should be punished. It’s despicable. It’s wrong. It needs to stop.”

In a speech in the Senate Tuesday, Shirkey said: “These folks are thugs and their tactics are despicable. It is never OK to threaten the safety or life of another person, elected or otherwise, period. The moment an individual or group embraces the threat of physical violence to make a point is the moment I stop listening.”

But the GOP leaders also believe that the majority of protesters do not share violent sentiments, and blame a few bad actors for drawing attention away from justifiable objections to stay-home orders that have left businesses shuttered and thousands unemployed. Many businesses aren’t coming back, even once the orders lifts.

The First Amendment is one of the bedrocks of our democracy, and so is the right to protest. A wide swath of free speech protected, even speech that seems threatening and disturbing.

But that doesn’t mean it’s right.

In a post to the private Facebook group Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine, one member wrote: “We haven’t had any bloodshed yet, but the populous is counting to three, and the other day was two. Next comes watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants.”

It’s posts like this that led to Facebook taking down the site Wednesday. More than 380,000 members had joined it in a matter of weeks, and it’s unlikely the majority would defend such words.

Our country was already dealing with a civility crisis before the virus hit, and political divides now seem deeper than ever. But we hope that as protests continue, citizens avoid violence and threats. Otherwise, any valid message protesters are bringing will be lost.

Online: https://www.detroitnews.com/