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Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Sept. 23

The Guardian on new customs regulations due to Brexit:

The prospect of a Brexit-induced queue of 7,000 lorries at Dover, each one requiring a permit to enter the county of Kent, would once have been dismissed by leave campaigners as baseless fearmongering. Now it is the government’s “reasonable worst-case scenario” for the end of transitional arrangements with the EU on 31 December.

The grim scene was set out on Wednesday by Michael Gove, who told parliament that Britain did not yet have an operational border ready for the abrupt reintroduction of regulations and checks necessary to clear a new frontier with Europe’s customs union and single market.

The government’s “check, change, go” campaign, urging businesses to prepare, has been running since July, but inevitably traders’ attention has been focused on the coronavirus pandemic. Those that have been worrying about Brexit have found it hard to get through to Downing Street.

The government has no intention of taking responsibility for a border fiasco. Instead, two targets are being lined up for blame – the companies that have to handle the trade, and the EU. Speaking to a parliamentary committee earlier this week, George Eustice, the environment secretary, claimed that “all the work in the world” was being done to prepare on the UK side, but that chaos could not be ruled out as a result of things being “slipshod and disorganised” on the continent.

The frequency with which the government attempts such cynical inversions of the truth should not diminish the shock at hearing a new one. The European commission has been well ahead of the UK in notifying ports about the hazard of new friction at the border and how to mitigate it. Meanwhile, British freight and logistics companies have been pleading with the government to pay more heed to the practical economic implications of Brexit choices that are driven by Eurosceptic dogma.

But Boris Johnson has no interest in dissenting testimony. If Alok Sharma, the business secretary, has doubts about the current plans (or has had doubts thrust on him by anxious traders), the message is unlikely to be forced on a prime minister who expects nodding subservience from his cabinet. Mr Gove has more clout in the government’s upper echelons, but he shows no sign of applying it for the purpose of shaking Mr Johnson out of his complacency.

Instead, the focus is on urging the private sector to do the heavy lifting that the government has been shirking all year. In July, the government promised to train about 50,000 new customs agents to satisfy an expected surge in demand. The number so far recruited is thought to be substantially less (Mr Gove refuses to give a figure) and brokers do not have resources to pre-emptively hire staff in the autumn to save the government’s blushes in winter. IT systems that are meant to lubricate new border controls are not yet up and running. It is impossible for some businesses to prepare fully for new regulatory requirements, because the details depend on the terms of a deal that does not exist.

In a letter to cabinet colleagues, Mr Gove noted that problems at Channel ports will arise “irrespective of the outcome of negotiations”. In other words, the Brexit model that is expected to disrupt the passage of freight, increase the burden of bureaucracy, reduce the volume of trade and slow the economy is one chosen by Mr Johnson. The “reasonable worst case” that ministers warn about is not some accident or unintended consequence. It is a function of the plan they hailed last year as a triumph. And if no deal is done, even worse scenarios are feasible.

Mr Johnson is creating borders where there were none, inflicting cost where none was previously levied, erecting barriers, closing doors and calling it freedom. As the moment of implementation nears, the fraud inherent in the whole enterprise is getting harder to conceal.


Sept. 22

The Miami Herald on former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg raising $20 million to help ex-felons in Florida vote in the presidential election:

Last week, the Editorial Board urged Michael Bloomberg to “write a big old check” to help ex-felons in Florida vote in the presidential election. The editorial was picked up by several national outlets.

This week, he announced that he has raised almost $20 million for the cause. Bravo!

After decades of being denied the right to vote, most former prisoners in the state still are being denied access to the ballot box, even though, in 2018, a solid majority of voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing them to cast a ballot. Gov. DeSantis and the Republican Legislature erected what they knew would be a roadblock: an added provision that ex-felons have to pay all court fees and fines before having their right to vote restored. It was a caveat that voters never intended.

We don’t know if the ex-New York mayor and former Democratic candidate for president even read our Sept. 17 editorial, “Write a big old check, Mr. Bloomberg and help Florida’s ex-felons vote in November.” But at the very least, we’re going to pat ourselves on the back for having a good idea that Bloomberg, too, thought was worthy.

He is fulfilling his promise to do anything in his money’s power to pull Florida into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s camp in November. He already had pledged to spend $100 million in Florida alone for Biden ads. Tuesday, he announced the strategy championed by the Editorial Board to get more Florida voters to the polls by paying off many former inmates’ fines and fees. Bravo!

On Tuesday, Bloomberg announced his team has raised at least $16 million to pay the court fines and fees of nearly 32,000 of the 776,000 Florida voters with felony convictions, many of them Black and Hispanic.

After Bloomberg committed to spending $100 million in the state, we followed up by saying that, with legal challenges to overturn the fee requirement for ex-felons seemingly at an end, Bloomberg “could be their last hope, empowering hundreds of thousands of new voters to cast their ballots in Florida.”

“With such a significant donation, Bloomberg’s money won’t get lost in the miasma of campaign ads and yard signs, it will have a direct effect on ensuring the democratic process.”

Bloomberg’s fines-and-fees money now goes to the fund created by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which has been collecting money to pay what’s owed by former prisoners who want to vote.

The onus now is on the coalition to quickly reach out to those disenfranchised voters in Florida, settle up their fines and fees and get them registered to vote before the Oct. 5 deadline.


Sept. 22

The Wall Street Journal on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's views on replacing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

"The voters of this country should be heard,” Joe Biden said this weekend as he exhorted Senate Republicans to block a vote on President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. That might be clever messaging—who doesn’t want voters to be heard? But there’s one problem: Unlike Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans, Mr. Biden has given so few details about his Supreme Court vision that voters are left guessing at what a vote for him means for the judiciary.

Start with appointments. Mr. Biden has resisted naming individuals he’d consider for the Supreme Court, saying it would subject them to undue criticism. Fair enough—Mr. Trump’s practice of making his short-list public is not required of other candidates. But the absence of specifics raises a fair suspicion that he doesn’t want voters to know that his nominees would be well left of center.

Mr. Biden’s chief stated requirement for a Supreme Court appointee is based on race and gender, not judicial philosophy or qualifications. His website says he would appoint the first African-American woman to the Supreme Court. That’s his prerogative, but it doesn’t help voters concerned about the impact of the Court on their lives; race and gender are not a proxy for views of the law.

Given those requirements, legal observers have speculated that two women top his list: 44-year-old Justice Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court and 50-year-old federal district court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, whom President Obama reportedly vetted for Justice Scalia’s vacancy. Both have significant records, but by avoiding names Mr. Biden can please his base with race and gender symbolism and avoid a debate on the law.

Perhaps more important to voters is whether Mr. Biden would undermine the Court’s independence. The Supreme Court remains one of the more trusted American institutions, but Democrats in Congress are threatening to pack it with liberal Justices if the Senate confirms Mr. Trump’s nominee. “Nothing is off the table,” Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said this weekend.

Legislation expanding the Supreme Court would need Mr. Biden’s signature, and he was asked Monday by a Wisconsin news station whether he was open to it. His answer: “It’s a legitimate question, but let me tell you why I’m not going to answer that question. Because it will shift the whole focus, that’s what (Trump) wants.” This is a calculated political dodge, and moderator Chris Wallace shouldn’t let Mr. Biden get away with it in next week’s first presidential debate. Would he veto court-packing legislation?

Mr. Biden wants to run on Donald Trump’s character and the coronavirus, full stop. He also wants to duck his party’s court-packing threats because they aren’t popular. Data for Progress, a progressive polling group, found only 40% of voters favor packing the Court if Republicans confirm Mr. Trump’s nominee.

But Mr. Biden has given little reason to think he’d resist his left flank in office. From his economic plan issued with the Bernie Sanders team to his increasingly extreme climate-change rhetoric, and new openness to eliminating the Senate’s legislative filibuster, Mr. Biden has shown little willingness—or ability—to shape the Democratic Party in his image. If the Justices rule the way Democrats don’t like, the pressure would be overwhelming for Mr. Biden to go along with court packing.

So let’s review the way both sides are honoring the voters who Democrats say should decide the next Court seat. In 2016 President Trump ran on the courts, becoming the first candidate to release a list of potential Justices. In 2018 voters increased the GOP’s Senate majority in part because they disliked the Democratic smearing of Brett Kavanaugh. Now Mr. Trump is putting forward a new nominee, for which he can be accountable on Nov. 3.

Mr. Biden, in the name of letting voters be “heard,” is demanding that Republicans surrender and not confirm a new Justice. But he has given voters no idea of who he would appoint to the Court, beyond an identity politics pledge. And he won’t tell voters if he’d resist his party’s court-packing scheme that could blow up its legitimacy.

The integrity of the Supreme Court and judicial independence are on the ballot, and Mr. Biden has a duty to clarify his position if he really wants to give voters a chance to be heard.


Sept. 19

The New York Times on the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday at the age of 87, will forever have two legacies.

The one Americans could be focusing on right now is the one of legal trailblazer: Justice Ginsburg, the second woman ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court, paved the way for women’s equality before the law, and for women’s rights to be taken seriously by the courts and by society.

As an attorney she argued, and won, multiple cases at the Supreme Court in the 1970s, eventually persuading an all-male bench to apply the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause to sex-based discrimination. On the court, she continued to point the way toward greater equality in opinions like United States v. Virginia, which held unconstitutional the Virginia Military Institute’s policy of refusing to admit women. “Inherent differences between men and women, we have come to appreciate, remain cause for celebration,” Justice Ginsburg wrote for a 7-to-1 majority, “but not for denigration of the members of either sex or for artificial constraints on an individual’s opportunity.” It was sweet revenge for someone who had once been rejected for jobs at top New York law firms, and denied a clerkship on the Supreme Court, because she was a woman.

The other legacy of Justice Ginsburg’s that the country is now urgently forced to confront is the cold political reality that she died in the final weeks of a presidential campaign, at a moment when President Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, appear to be dead-set on replacing her with someone who would obliterate much of the progress she helped the country make.

The court now faces a serious crisis of legitimacy. Senate Republicans, who represent a minority of the nation, and a president elected by a minority of the nation, are now in a position to solidify their control of the third branch of government. The Supreme Court, with another Trump appointee, could stand as a conservative firewall against the expressed will of a majority of Americans on a range of crucial issues.

The cynicism of the political moment stands in sharp relief against Justice Ginsburg’s idealism. She faced down multiple bouts of cancer and other health emergencies during her tenure on the bench. Through it all, she never wavered in her commitment to the court as a vehicle for a more just and more equal America. She was a dogged, tireless fighter — it was easy to imagine she might live another 20 years, battling back whatever came at her. Of course, we knew better.

Defending her decision not to retire when President Barack Obama could have picked her replacement, she said, “There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president.” She never anticipated President Donald Trump, whom she called a “faker” during a 2016 interview. She shouldn’t have said it, but she was right.

Everyone who cares about the integrity of the nation’s highest court has been dreading a moment like this — the death of a justice as Americans are already casting their ballots in the most contentious and consequential presidential election in living memory. The future of the court now rests in the hands of Mr. McConnell, the man who has done more damage to the court’s standing than perhaps anyone in modern American history.

With Mr. McConnell’s help, President Trump has already filled two seats on the court with hard-right ideologues. The first, Neil Gorsuch, is a justice solely because of Mr. McConnell’s obstruction, on false pretenses, of President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. The second, Brett Kavanaugh, was a highly contentious nominee with a long, troubling record in government that Mr. McConnell hid from the American people. And that was before Mr. Kavanaugh faced credible allegations of sexual assault.

At least there was no question about the circumstances surrounding the vacancy that Justice Kavanaugh filled. In contrast, Justice Gorsuch’s seat is forever stained by Mr. McConnell’s outrageous ploy to deny a Democratic president an appointment. At the time, the majority leader claimed that he was holding open the seat that had been held by Justice Antonin Scalia because it was an election year, and the American people should have a “voice” in choosing the next justice.

Mr. McConnell disavowed that position almost immediately, claiming that it only applies when the presidency and the Senate are controlled by different parties. On Friday night, he said, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate” — even though the election is less than two months away. So much for the American people.

Throughout the Trump years, Republicans have shown little willingness to place principle above party, or to place the long-term interests of the nation above short-term political victories. But perhaps a few Republican senators will take the quickened pulse of the nation and consider the case to postpone resolving Justice Ginsburg’s replacement.

Justice Ginsburg, who was Jewish, died on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. Fittingly, it is a day when Jews look backward and forward, reflecting on what has passed, and preparing for what is to come. Justice Ginsburg’s death marks the end of her long battle on behalf of equality for all Americans. Others must now carry that fight forward.


Sept. 18

The Washington Post on President Donald Trump and TikTok:

President Trump has artlessly turned the TikTok deal into a debacle and, almost no matter what happens, a defeat.

When the president issued an executive order last month threatening to ban the video-sharing juggernaut if Beijing-based ByteDance didn’t sell it to a U.S. firm, he was asking for something more than what he was ultimately offered. ByteDance submitted a proposal this week to make software giant Oracle its “trusted technology partner.” No one seemed sure precisely what this meant, but it did not mean a sale. The days since have offered more detail but no resolution.

Mr. Trump had already turned a platform used by hundreds of millions into a geopolitical game chip. He had cajoled companies into courting him; he had shaken them down for promises of money to fill U.S. coffers. And early this week, it appeared the legitimate national security issues that were the pretext for all this buffoonery would end up far from fully addressed after all, with ByteDance still majority owner of TikTok and Oracle merely hosting its data. The White House and the companies have been wrangling ever since to make adjustments, including a possible initial public offering for U.S. firms to purchase stock in TikTok, mandatory third-party audits of data practices and an assurance that Oracle could inspect source code built in Beijing to detect any backdoors.

What Oracle almost certainly will not be able to do is exercise control over the secret sauce responsible for TikTok’s stunning success: its algorithm. That presents a different sort of national security issue, which is the possibility of subtle manipulation of this country’s information environment through what the tens of millions of TikTok users here, many of them teenagers, see when they stare at their screens. China all but ensured this outcome in response to Mr. Trump’s intervention by implementing new export controls preventing the sale of intellectual property precisely like the code in question.

Now, the president must either follow through on his threat of an ill-advised, possibly unconstitutional ban or approve an outcome that constitutes capitulation. The administration announced on Friday that new downloads of TikTok would be barred on Sunday and further restrictions imposed in November. (WeChat will be banned with full restrictions in place on Sunday.) This opens up wiggle room for an arrangement that satisfies security concerns to the extent possible — the right road forward for anyone interested in preserving the open and global Internet this nation claims to believe in.

Yet, no matter the outcome, the TikTok saga represents a squandered opportunity to address the knotty question of Chinese technology in the United States. The tale will teach other countries all the wrong lessons: that they can push companies, including our own, to pay up if they want to operate in a less-than-friendly environment; that they can play with free expression to score geopolitical points; and that these matters are less about security than they are about posturing. The problem for Mr. Trump is that the United States will still emerge from this kerfuffle with the slumped shoulders of the defeated.


Sept. 18

The Baltimore Sun on minorities participating in COVID-19 vaccine trials:

Scientists and researchers have long failed at inclusiveness in clinical research trials. African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic patients in particular are largely underrepresented in research into drugs and other disease treatments. Overall, African Americans make up about 13% of the population, but just 5% of clinical trials. And Hispanics fare even worse; they make up 18% of the population, but just 1% of clinical trial research, according to Clinical Research Pathways.

A 2018 ProPublica analysis found this is true even when a particular disease disproportionately affects one of these groups. One out of five people diagnosed with multiple myeloma in the U.S. is Black, and African Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to be diagnosed with the blood cancer overall, yet, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug to treat it in 2015 after a trial in which just 13 of 722 participants, or 1.8%, were Black. Disease can manifest itself in different ways depending on a person’s ethnicity and race. Leaving people out of trials means certain groups risk not getting the best treatment.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing the same playbook once again as scientists rush to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. It’s no surprise drugmakers are far from having the number of people of color they should for a truly representative trial — though we wish it was, especially since the racial disparities that come along with COVID-19 are so jarring. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the disease is killing Hispanic, Black and Native American children at a much higher rate than white children. More than 78% of children who have died from COVID-19 have been from these three minority populations, groups that make up only 41% of the U.S. population. Similar disparities exist for adults as well.

Scientists should have known at the outset to make the extra effort to reach out to communities of color, knowing the history and realizing their obligation to come up with a vaccine that works for a diversity of people. Instead, the drugmakers leading development of a vaccine, Moderna and Pfizer, said late last month they had enrolled more than half the people needed for trials of 30,000 people, but only about a fifth were Black or Hispanic.

We need minority groups in these trials. It is their mothers, aunts, sons and daughters who are more likely to contract the disease and die from it. But we also understand the distrust and skepticism many of these groups have toward these trials. In many ways, the medical community hasn’t given them reason to feel otherwise. Past transgressions are still fresh in the minds of many. Take the Tuskegee Experiment, for example: African American men were provided no treatment for syphilis so researchers could learn about the disease progression. Or the use of the cells of Henrietta Lacks at Johns Hopkins, and later by researchers all over the world, without consent. In the 1940s, patients in a trial in Guatemala were deliberately infected with syphilis and other venereal diseases, and now, there are allegations that ICE has been performing hysterectomies on detainees without their consent.

To gain that trust, Black and Hispanic researchers should be heavily involved in these trials. People of color are more likely to be comfortable with and trusting of people who look like them, hence the push to get more Black and brown people into the medical field. Billionaire philanthropist and businessman Michael Bloomberg recently announced he would give $100 million to four historically Black medical schools to help train doctors of color. Researchers also need to address transportation and access issues some low-income participants may face.

They could also stand to learn from the efforts of George Washington University, with 50% enrollment in its clinical trial, well past its goal of 30%. The university told The Washington Post it administered the vaccine on campus and from a van parked in local neighborhoods. Researchers worked hard to address people’s fears, including why they couldn’t get the disease from the vaccine.

We know it’s no easy task dispelling fears and myths that have existed for decades. But it is what medicine owes to African Americans and other people of color to fix the effects of history. And it is what it needs to lessen the death toll of COVID-19, which is hitting some communities harder than others.


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