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Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Feb. 26

The Minnesota Star Tribune on the coronavirus:

As fears mount over coronavirus, perspective is in order. If you’re reading this editorial, chances are you’ve already survived a pandemic, the term for when an epidemic goes global.

In 2009, U.S. health officials detected a new strain of influenza circulating here, one containing a “unique combination of influenza genes not previously identified in animals or people.” After its rapid worldwide spread, medical experts declared the influenza epidemic a pandemic. From April 2009 until the pandemic’s end in April 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there were 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths in the United States.

While health officials have yet to declare coronavirus a pandemic, it’s increasingly clear that it’s on the verge of being one and that the U.S. must be ready for the pathogen’s likely escalation here. Doctors, hospitals, state and local health departments and, most important, the public, need to understand how quickly the coronavirus is spreading and the role that everyone has in combating it. The clarity about coronavirus risks communicated this week by the CDC, the Minnesota Department of Health and infectious-disease specialists such as Minnesota’s Mike Osterholm is alarming but appropriate.

This is a virus that can kill and is more easily transmitted than initially thought. This better understanding of how contagious it is has been a game-changer. It’s behind the CDC’s assessment this week that the virus’ spread within the U.S. is inevitable and that “this might be bad.” That bluntness may have spooked the stock market, but it was necessary. Public health should be paramount, and it is best served by honesty about the challenges that might lie ahead. An informed nation is one that can come together to control this virus, just as it did with the influenza pandemic 11 years ago.

President Donald Trump’s tweets this week focusing on economic fallout and suggesting that partisanship is driving concerns have not been helpful. Thankfully, Congress is rising to the occasion. Coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it’s officially known, spurred several hearings this week in the House and Senate. Republicans and Democrats have asked thoughtful questions and made it abundantly clear that funding to fight this outbreak will not be a problem.

On Tuesday, for example, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., urged administration officials not to “lowball” requests for additional dollars. The Star Tribune Editorial Board shares Shelby’s concerns and also wishes the request would have come much sooner. The administration is seeking $2.5 billion in emergency spending, some of which involves nonsensically diverting money from other important programs. In comparison, the Obama administration asked Congress for $6.2 billion to rein in a 2014 Ebola outbreak. And this week, Politico reported that one analyst, a former federal emergency preparedness official, said as much as $15 billion may be needed.

Smart questions by lawmakers from both parties have also put a spotlight on readiness. Answers from Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Chad Wolf, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting secretary, have not been reassuring. Under questioning from a GOP senator, Wolf “struggled to produce basic facts and projections about the disease,” according to The Washington Post. Azar has had to revise the number of protective masks the nation has ready in case of an outbreak, suggesting that officials don’t have a firm grasp on supplies stockpiled.

The duo’s performance indicates a lack of coordination at the federal level. Dr. Peter Hotez, a Baylor University infectious-disease specialist, has suggested appointing a coronavirus “czar” to harmonize agencies and establish a clear chain of command. That’s a sensible recommendation. Once the epidemic is under control, the czar should also do a broader analysis to ensure that it has the management infrastructure in place to handle pandemic and other health threats. Reports that the Trump administration dismantled the system built to handle the Ebola outbreak are unsettling.

The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has now topped 81,000. Fifty-seven have been confirmed in the United States. There is currently no vaccine or treatment other than supportive care. Measures needed to stop the virus’ spread may include school and day care closings, employees working at home, and canceling conferences and other meetings. This will not be easy, which is why straight talk from the CDC and other public health experts is vital right now.

http://www.startribune.com/

Feb. 25

The Wall Street Journal on how much the United States is spending on the coronavirus:

Federal health officials warned Tuesday that the new coronavirus will spread much more than it has in the U.S., and financial investors continued their repricing down of assets as a result. Equities fell another 3% or so. Politicians, meanwhile, were repricing upward their chances of another burst of new federal spending.

The Trump Administration on Monday sent Congress a request for $2.5 billion in spending to combat the virus that began in China. The government is now spending some $40 million to $50 million a month, so the request builds in the expectation of more U.S. cases than the 57 already diagnosed.

The White House is seeking up to $1.5 billion to develop and purchase a potential vaccine. Another quarter-billion dollars would go toward stockpiling protective gear, from masks to biohazard suits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would get the rest to cover the costs of testing, repatriating and quarantining Americans who test positive with the disease.

Cue the inevitable gripes from Congress that this isn’t nearly enough. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the request “long overdue and completely inadequate.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the Administration’s proposal to tap some of the money from an Ebola preparedness account an example of Mr. Trump’s “towering incompetence.” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, worried that the White House was “lowballing” the emergency.

We’d take these complaints seriously if they were based on any expertise or factual understanding of the threat. Instead, they’re ritualized gripes intended to set up the politics to make the bill a blowout and dare Mr. Trump to veto virus funds. The Schumer-Pelosi gambit is to load up the supplemental bill with other health spending, whether for state grants, federal research funds, or even aid for Puerto Rico’s disaster survivors.

Mr. Schumer tossed out a $3.1 billion demand with little tangible basis, a tacit acknowledgment of the difficulty of spending on a potential pandemic of unknown severity. If the virus proves more serious or longer-lasting, Congress will have many chances to spend more.

This is the same game Congress played in 2014 when it ultimately appropriated $5.4 billion amid the Ebola panic. Most of that money went to fight Ebola abroad and develop a vaccine and drugs for treatment. Yet Democrats are now objecting to the White House plan to shift some $500 million of unused Ebola funds to fight the coronavirus. The Administration deserves credit for trying to reallocate that money to the more urgent threat.

Asked about this criticism while visiting New Delhi, Mr. Trump said that if he had requested more money Democrats would have said it was too much. He has a point, though our guess is that Democrats are preparing the ground to blame the Administration if the coronavirus spreads. The virus may well get worse, which is why the funding request anticipates more cases. Alas, there is no cure for cynicism in the service of pork-barrel politics.

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

Feb. 25

The Washington Post on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' universal child-care plan:

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) criticizes Democrats for lacking the courage to think big. But it takes no courage to promise impossible levels of new spending and programs that could not work as advertised. It takes courage to level with voters. Mr. Sanders’s rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination have done far better at that.

Fresh off a big win in the Nevada caucuses, he released on Monday his latest massive spending proposal, a plan to enable all Americans to get child care. It is similar to the universal child-care plans that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) previously rolled out, except it would cost more than twice as much.

Each candidate’s plan would provide universal access to child care. Each would rely on a mix of organizations — from small, home-based facilities to large day-care centers to public schools. And each would apply new standards to the child-care industry and raise the pay of child-care providers.

But Ms. Warren’s and Mr. Buttigieg’s plans would cost $700 billion over a decade, and Mr. Sanders’s $1.5 trillion. What’s the big difference? In large part, it is that Mr. Sanders would make government-sponsored child care free to all, even the wealthiest of families. Ms. Warren and Mr. Buttigieg would ask families that could afford to pay something to do so. The Warren plan, for example, would offer free services for those who make up to twice the poverty level — or about $50,000 for a family of four. Everyone else would pay something, their contribution determined on a sliding scale based on their income, though no family would have to pay more than 7% of its income.

Mr. Sanders says he can pay for his unnecessarily expensive approach with money he would raise from his proposed wealth tax. But economists calculate a gap of $1 trillion or more between what his wealth tax would raise and what he claims it would raise. Given the massive shifts in taxation that Mr. Sanders is already proposing, meeting the shortfall with additional taxes would be extremely hard. Even if Mr. Sanders led a political revolution that reshaped Congress, making his plans more politically viable, the country does not have an unlimited supply of money that can be diverted into the federal treasury without consequences for economic growth. True progressives recognize that federal money is scarce and must be spent carefully, with the poorest first in line, so that many needs can be met.

Mr. Sanders presents himself as the only one who really cares about issues such as health care, climate change and pre-K. But other Democratic candidates, not Mr. Sanders, are treating these issues with the seriousness they deserve.

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

Feb. 25

The Khaleej Times on the United Nations backing Palestine:

The UN Security Council's unanimous backing for a two-state solution is along expected lines and bodes well for a future Palestinian state alongside Israel. That's the easy part about the more than seven-decade-old conflict that is complicated at several levels. There's an air of uncertainty in the current atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. How does one bring the two sides who are holding their ground to the table for a dialogue when they refuse to share a stage or even strike a pose for the media? The two-state is simply a nice-sounding idea that is being raised at several UN forums but how does one get started? In other words, there is no plan because the two main parties to the dispute are on different pages and refuse to engage at any level. Covert or track 2 diplomacy is non-existent, which only dampens hopes for peace and raises fears of further violence in occupied Palestine.

A separate country for the Palestinians is key to lasting peace in the Middle East. But the question is how does the UN get the two sides to talk? US President Donald Trump's Deal of the Century has been a wasted effort and the Palestinians have rejected it outright. There is lack of support from the Arab and Muslim world for the plan that gives more territory and control to Israel. The only silver lining about the pact is that it keeps the two-state solution alive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party played no role in the drafting of the so-called agreement that had only two stakeholders - Israel and the US. The Palestinians, the aggrieved side, was left out of discussions and they were justified in throwing it out. But the Trump administration believed that the deal was a starting point for direct talks between the Palestinian leadership and Israel. What it didn't take into account was the fact that the agreement openly favoured Israel's interests over the victims of the occupation.

The Security Council statement read: "Council Members reiterated their support for a negotiated two-state solution where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace." The UN must realize that words alone will not suffice. It is clear that the US cannot be an honest peace-maker. Now is the time for the global body to move beyond grand statements. It should start with developing a confidence-building mechanism that creates an atmosphere of trust. This may be followed by talks in neutral venues that are mediated by a UN special envoy. Easier said than done, but this is an opening that the UN must seize if it is to stay relevant as a peace-making body.

Online: https://www.khaleejtimes.com/

Feb. 24

The New York Times on Harvey Weinstein:

What does the hard-won, long-overdue conviction of Harvey Weinstein demonstrate?

It shows how difficult it can be to bring abusers to justice, particularly when they are wealthy and powerful. It shows how much the #MeToo movement has changed American life. And it shows how far society still has to go.

Mr. Weinstein was convicted on Monday of a felony sex crime and rape in the third degree but was acquitted of the most serious counts against him, predatory sexual assault. He is headed for at least five years in prison. That’s a victory for Mr. Weinstein’s victims.

But the Weinstein case shows the obstacles presented by the American legal system to successfully prosecuting abusers. The case, tried in a Manhattan courtroom, rested on testimony from just six women out of the more than 90 who have accused Mr. Weinstein of sexual misconduct. (He also faces charges in Los Angeles of raping one woman and groping and masturbating in front of another.) It took decades of persistence by survivors, advocates, journalists and law enforcement to call Mr. Weinstein to account before the law. In 2015, Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, declined to prosecute credible allegations against Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Vance acted years later only after dozens of women went public with their allegations.

Mr. Weinstein’s prosecutors were able to break through a barrier common to many assault cases, a lack of physical or other corroborating evidence. And they also overcame another, even more fundamental barrier: basic mistrust of women alleging sexual assault.

Women have internalized that message of mistrust. Despite the far-reaching message of #MeToo, a vast majority of sexual assault victims — estimated to be more than three-quarters of them — never report their attackers to the authorities. Many have been conditioned to feel ashamed, as though the assault was their fault; those who know it wasn’t still have little faith in a criminal justice system that routinely disregards the testimony of victims.

If a more balanced legal approach to sexual assault is going to become the norm instead of the exception, then, for a start, the law needs to change. State statutes of limitations need to be extended or eliminated to give victims the opportunity to come forward even years after a traumatic assault. (Now, in some states, the statute of limitations for felony sex crimes expires after 10 years or less.)

Enforcement needs to change as well. Law enforcement authorities need to let women know that they will be listened to, and that their cases will be prosecuted quickly and thoroughly. Victims need to have confidence that their attacker’s DNA won’t be stashed away for decades in a file cabinet.

Mr. Weinstein’s lead lawyer said her client was simply “a target of a cause and of a movement.” That’s correct — if the cause is holding sexual abusers to account, and the movement is the national shift in consciousness over these crimes that arose in large part out of the revelation of Mr. Weinstein’s behavior. So his conviction, too, stands for something larger: that some measure of justice can be attained, and with it the balance of power between sexual predators and their victims can begin to shift.

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

Feb. 21

The Miami Herald on former NBA player Dwyane Wade:

This weekend belongs to Dwyane Wade. The Miami Heat is set to throw a giant party in honor of his career — a three-day “L3GACY Celebration.

Wade’s 16-year-career as one of the best guards in the NBA — and the Heat’s most beloved player — is being both hailed and wrapped up as his jersey is retired to the rafters of AmericanAirlines Arena.

But a funny thing has happened to Wade since he announced his retirement last year: He’s found a new calling — social activism.

Through social media and public appearances, Wade has morphed into a statesman, no longer just known for his snazzy wardrobe and lightning-quick moves.

Getting older and wiser and looking for a new path likely led him there, and Wade, 38, is the perfect Miamian to take up the cause of those less fortunate. (And, yes, he splits his time between Miami and the Left Coast where his wife, Gabrielle Union, is an actress).

He has said: “I know there are people that don’t have a voice … So I know that I’m speaking for the ones that are muted, the voiceless ones, and I take pride in that. I take pride in speaking for my community.”

His most famous stand has been in support of his transgender daughter, Zaya, 12. On this issue, he’s not the beloved championship player. He’s a father who publicly supports his daughter’s choices — and has won the respect of the LGBTQ community, and should win the respect of us all.

Wade first revealed his daughter’s announcement during a Feb. 11 appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

Wade urged parents in a similar situation to support their transgender kids. If they can count on their parents’ support, they have a better chance of weathering the unfortunate challenges that ignorance and bias bring.

His personal growth, he said, “comes with age, comes with maturity, comes with understanding your position. I’m very aware of life, of all the people around. I’m very aware of myself, so I’m going to speak on what I believe in.”

So now Wade is poised to show us how to live life with honor off the court. He’s expected to sign on as an NBA analyst and even release a song with Miami rapper Rick Ross.

When Wade announced his departure last year, the Editorial Board enthused that he refused to accept a loss when there was one second left on the clock; that he created magic with a ball in his hands and wings on his feet; that he was a competitor, of course, but also a teammate, a friend loyal, encouraging and nurturing who never, ever badmouthed another player.

The most important lesson Wade taught us was how to take one for the overall good of a team, sacrificing personal glory to let the others take center stage.

In 2010, he helped lure his superstar friend LeBron James from Cleveland, pulling off the grand heist with a vision he shared with James and Chris Bosh: that as “The Big Three” they would be unstoppable.

And, for a while, they were, winning the NBA Championship in 2012 and 2013. South Florida basketball fans never had more fun —- though, we hope, they will again.

Here’s the best part: Wade didn’t do drama — ego in check, no tantrums, no backstabbing.

On the court or in this community, it’s called class.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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