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Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

April 8

The Mercury News on the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary not being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic:

We must not only save our nation’s residents from the pandemic, we must also save our democracy from it.

The Wisconsin primary debacle on Tuesday highlights just how far the Republican Party is willing to go to disenfranchise voters in the middle of a health emergency – and that the highly partisan U.S. Supreme Court majority is willing to enable the despicable behavior.

Let this serve as a warning of the danger ahead in the November election. It’s highly likely that the threat of the coronavirus will not be over by then. Yet, 16 states don’t even offer balloting from home as an option for all voters – and congressional Republicans are opposing funding to help change that.

Then there are states like Wisconsin, where Republican lawmakers blocked efforts to delay the primary voting while the nation’s high court overturned reasonable deadline accommodations for those voting from home who had not received their ballots in time.

As we said before, everyone eligible to cast a ballot should be able to do so by mail, especially in the middle of a pandemic. While we hope that the coronavirus will be a thing of the past by November, we shouldn’t count on it.

Moreover, we should be prepared for any emergency that might make turning out at the polls difficult or impossible. As Wisconsin demonstrates, we’re not. The warning signs of the threat of COVID-19 were ignored for far too long; we must not ignore the mounting dangers to our electoral process.

For decades, the GOP strategy has been to suppress voter turnout. Now President Trump is talking openly about it as he continues his exaggerated claims about voter fraud. Last week, he complained about Democratic vote-by-mail proposals in Congress. “They had levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he said.

It’s so cynical. The Republican political strategy seems to hinge on depressing turnout. The party carried that to an extreme in Wisconsin by insisted on holding the primary election despite a statewide order to stay at home to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Wisconsin was the only one of 12 states that conducted in-person primary voting in April. The state GOP there, which has sought to dilute the voting power of the state’s Democratic and African-American voters in the urban centers, is battling to elect a conservative state Supreme Court justice to a 10-year term.

Republicans, who control the Legislature, balked at postponing the election, as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had sought. The result was the chaos the nation witnessed Tuesday that included long lines and limited polling locations for voting. There were only five Milwaukee locations to cast ballots.

The confusion was compounded by delays in fulfilling unprecedented numbers of requests for absentee ballots, resulting in tens of thousands of voters not receiving them in time. Consequently, a federal judge ordered the deadline for returning those ballots delayed, but the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday blocked that.

By a 5-4 vote, with the high court split along ideological lines, the majority ruled that the postmark deadline for returning the ballots would remain Tuesday.

“The Court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the minority. “A voter cannot deliver for postmarking a ballot she has not received. Yet tens of thousands of voters who timely requested ballots are unlikely to receive them by April 7, the Court’s postmark deadline.”

It’s a foreshadowing of the chaos to come in November if voters across the nation don’t insist on a fair system. For lawmakers, this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Unfortunately, thanks to the GOP, it is.

Online: https://www.mercurynews.com/

April 7

The Wall Street Journal on Democrats' effort in attempting to delay the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary:

Wisconsin held its election Tuesday on schedule despite coronavirus, and Democrats are blaming the Supreme Court for endangering public health. That’s not what happened. On Monday night the Justices rightly reversed a district judge’s last-minute order that would have allowed Wisconsin ballots to be cast after the election was legally over. The confusing episode is a reminder that, even in a pandemic, steps as grave as rewriting voting rules should be up to elected representatives and not freelanced by judges.

Wisconsin planned to mitigate the coronavirus threat with a large increase in vote-by-mail so fewer people would need to leave their homes. The Democratic National Committee sued to force the delay of the election outright.

Last Thursday a federal judge denied that extreme request but said vote-by-mail needed to be extended. Instead of receiving ballots by April 7, he said, clerks needed to count any ballots received by next Monday, April 13. After apparently realizing that this could distort the electoral process by allowing Tuesday’s reported results to influence votes, the judge issued another order banning the state elections board from reporting any results before April 13.

The Republican National Committee asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, and five Justices agreed that the district judge was outside his authority. His remedy would “fundamentally alter the nature of the election by allowing voting for six additional days after the election,” they wrote in an unsigned opinion. By trying to muzzle election results, they added, “the District Court in essence enjoined non-parties to this lawsuit.”

The Supreme Court decision came an hour after the Wisconsin Supreme Court swatted aside Gov. Tony Evers’s effort to unilaterally postpone the election. Through March, Mr. Evers, a Democrat, had indicated the election should proceed and issued an executive order exempting polling places from his mass-gathering ban.

Yet liberal pressure built in recent days and on Monday Mr. Evers tried using his emergency powers to call off the next day’s voting. The state’s Supreme Court ruled 4-2 that he didn’t have that power—election law would need to be changed by the legislature (though in other states Governors’ emergency powers are broader). And so voting went ahead, with long lines at socially distanced polling places and a surge in absentee ballots—more than a million compared to less than a quarter million in 2016.

More than a dozen states have postponed their spring primary elections because of the virus. Yet Wisconsin’s election is more consequential than the all-but-finished Biden-Sanders primary that is the main item on the ballot in many states. A state Supreme Court seat and criminal-justice referendum are both contested. Postponing it by months could require altering the duration of elected officials’ terms.

Republicans in the Legislature didn’t show interest in postponing the election, but neither did Mr. Evers until recently. If voters are disappointed, they can hold legislators accountable in November or boot Mr. Evers in 2022.

The pandemic has disrupted much of American life and voting is no exception. But both the district judge’s jury-rigged order and Mr. Evers’s last minute 180-turn under political pressure set a bad precedent. This virus will be here for some time, and people in different states need to deal with it through the democratic process. Americans have already temporarily lost some of our freedom and we shouldn’t also toss out the rule of law.

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

April 7

The New York Times on protecting Americans' privacy during the coronavirus pandemic:

Millions of Americans, sheltering in their homes from the coronavirus, have turned to communications platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger in order to work or stay connected to friends and family. Free and easy to use, the services are gobbling up record numbers of new users.

But there’s a saying in Silicon Valley: If the product is free, you are the product.

This is not business as usual, though. Americans aren’t willingly surrendering their online identities during this pandemic — many are being compelled to do so by their schools, family or work. Just as a swath of manufacturers are switching their production lines to ventilator and mask production for the greater good, corporations that normally view every new registered user as a data point to exploit need to take a pause on profiting from online data harvesting.

For those fortunate enough to have laptops and reliable broadband internet at home, it is not sufficient to simply update privacy policies or customer agreements. Americans need a guarantee that conversations held over video chat won’t be data collection events.

The videoconferencing company Zoom has been a standout brand of the pandemic, in part because its daily user numbers ballooned to 200 million in March from 10 million last year, making it one of the few buoyant stocks amid the recent sell-off.

New York State’s attorney general started an investigation into Zoom, calling on it to proactively beef up security measures, rather than just in response to negative press reports about lapses in privacy protection. And the F.B.I. warned that Zoom was susceptible to a form of digital hijacking known as “Zoombombing” following incidents where hackers joined online meetings to harass participants with racist or graphic taunts, raising the specter that personal user data might be vulnerable, too.

The New York Times also found that Zoom displayed some data from people’s LinkedIn profiles without their permission, a flaw Zoom says it has fixed.

Zoom’s chief executive, Eric Yuan, apologized for the lax security practices, including the transfer of customer data en masse to Facebook, reported by Motherboard. The company said it was halting new feature releases for three months to focus on security.

Skittish about risks to the privacy of their students, a number of school districts, including those in New York City, Pittsburgh and Clark County, Nev., home of Las Vegas, won’t allow classes to be conducted over Zoom, further interrupting the already bumpy launch of virtual learning. Officials said they were concerned that default settings allow for heightened data gathering and that parents may not have the tech savvy to disable such features.

Jeff Ericson, a father of two students in Pittsburgh, said he’d grudgingly agree to whatever terms Microsoft sets for use of its video software in the district. “Like anybody, I care about my kids’ privacy, but I also don’t want them missing out on any more time with their teacher, so what choice do I have really?” he said.

Technology companies see an opportunity in this crisis. Verily, a division of Google’s parent company, requires a Google account to find and arrange coronavirus testing and says it may share your personal health information with contractors, government agencies and other outside parties.

Video-chat tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are stirring concerns that they may be using data vacuuming technologies on the most vulnerable. Schools and businesses that now rely on such services often give people no choice but to accept their terms of service.

Harried parents seeking a remedy for their kids’ isolation could be forgiven for not poring over book-length privacy policies before connecting them with grandparents on video chat or entertaining them with a few hours of streaming YouTube videos.

Elizabeth Johnson, a lawyer in North Carolina who specializes in data privacy, is at a loss for a solution when her two children, ages 10 and 12, want to use videoconferencing services that she knows will harvest their data. “I have no idea what to do about it,” said Ms. Johnson. “Staying in school now is more important than an amorphous future where companies have made inferences about my children as online consumers.”

Time and again, corporations have shown that, for them, the value of huge data stores that can inform advertisers or their own product development trumps any potential embarrassment over how it was compiled. Smart home speakers record our private conversations, and smartphones track users with distressingly accurate precision.

A recent study from researchers at Northeastern University and Imperial College London found that smart speakers from Google, Apple and Amazon can accidentally activate as many as 19 times daily and record snippets of more than 40 seconds without users knowing.

Not content with having millions of Americans forced onto their platforms for work or pleasure, the tech industry is also using the pandemic as an excuse to seek the rollback of the modest privacy protections that exist.

In January, millions of Americans got the opportunity for the first time to request a detailed readout of the personal dossiers that multinational companies collect and to compel those businesses to no longer sell their data, thanks to the landmark California Consumer Privacy Act.

The results were eye-popping. The law helped expose the extent of corporations’ data collection, including logs of every tap on a Kindle e-reader, detailed credit card data, email addresses, complete lists of past purchases and inferences about customer preferences, like which movies they are most likely to watch.

Yet, as the pandemic bore down on the United States, a coalition of trade groups petitioned California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, to delay enforcement of the privacy law until next year. If a delay is granted, corporations will be reprieved from requirements that include disclosing personal information they collect about Californians. (The attorney general’s office has taken no action.)

Instead of trying to worm out of privacy regulations, companies providing critical connectivity services should apply that energy to limiting data collection during the national emergency to only what they need to operate and to give additional reassurances that their services comply with child protection laws.

Many companies make it exceedingly difficult to opt out of data collection, burying permissions deep on their websites or frequently changing privacy policies that dictate how and how often personal information can be harvested. Once you start using some services it can also be hard to stop, particularly if your files or photos are stored there, a desirable feature among tech companies known as lock-in.

“They understand that we as consumers are lazy,” said Alastair Mactaggart, who leads the board of Californians for Consumer Privacy. “We don’t take the precautions we should, and these companies are able to capitalize on it. So this could be a boon for them.”

It may be tempting for corporations to view their ballooning user numbers during the pandemic as a harbinger of long-term prosperity. But consumers need the option to delete user profiles after the crisis has abated, particularly if they have stored sensitive information about their children, and they deserve easy access to what has been collected.

Americans have lost control over a lot as a result of the coronavirus. At least they should be able to control what happens to their personal data.

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

April 7

The London Evening Standard on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab handling government affairs while Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ill with COVID-19:

No one really knows how ill our Prime Minister is. Even his brilliant medical team at St Thomas’ are dealing with a new coronavirus about which so much is still a mystery.

Except for his fiancée and perhaps his family, only a very small number of people at the heart of government — the Cabinet Secretary, the core team in the Number 10 private office, the head of the NHS and, yes, the Queen — will be getting a regular medical update.

Yesterday, for the first time, the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, will have been brought into the inside loop as deputy in more than name only.

But most of the Cabinet will be as much in the dark as the rest of us. Michael Gove had the good sense to say as much this morning to the media, rather than fall into the trap others have of pretending they know more than they do.

What we can be sure of is that anyone with an ounce of compassion in Britain will be wishing Boris Johnson recovers — and he has every chance of doing so. The Evening Standard, its staff and its readers join the rest of the nation in sending him our very best in this terrible time for him.

Of course, the personal is political. When a prime minister is ill, it is not just a private concern.

The country wants to know that it is still being led, especially at a time of crisis like this. Downing Street wants to reassure us that it is. That’s why we saw pictures of Mr Johnson in his isolation, clapping the NHS on the doorstep of Number 10 while clearly unwell. That’s why we’ve had announcements in recent days that the Prime Minister is “doing his red boxes” from his hospital bed.

Although it flows from the best of motives, it’s all been a bit reminiscent of Soviet updates on the health of the general secretary. It’s much better to level with the public.

For the truth is that we don’t want Mr Johnson to be working: he should be resting and reserving his strength for fighting the disease, not trying to get through the paperwork. But the fact that the Prime Minister is not running the country from St Thomas’ does not mean that Mr Raab is running it from King Charles Street, where the Foreign Secretary is based.

British politics may feel at times presidential, but Britain is not run by a president — and doesn’t have a vice-president.

We have a head of state, Her Majesty the Queen, who played her role as head of the nation in her exemplary broadcast on Sunday. We have a head of government, the Prime Minister, who exercises power in her name. But very few of those powers are direct, and those that are — the authority to launch our nuclear weapons or to shoot down a terrorist-hijacked plane — may be awesome but are only exercised in extremis.

Mr Raab, as First Secretary of State, was most likely already Mr Johnson’s designated alternate for these ultimate executive acts should the premier become incapacitated or uncontactable.

The real day-to-day power of a premier comes from the fact they choose the members of the government, and the fact that they control a majority in the law-making House of Commons.

Mr Raab has today none of these patronage powers. He will chair the meetings with the likes of the Chancellor, the Health Secretary and others — but he cannot fire them, or compel them to follow his instructions.

In normal times, the result would be that nothing serious would be decided until the PM recovered. But in this national crisis, every day presents serious decisions — and failing to take them costs lives and jobs.

Mr Raab’s role, aided by the Cabinet Secretary, is therefore a real one. He mustn’t let the system delay the pressing issues, in the absence of Mr Johnson, but bring them to the fore.

Since he can’t impose his will, he needs to work with colleagues and civil servants to establish a consensus to get things done. He must be what a Prime Minister in truth isn’t: the first among equals.

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

April 7

The Miami Herald on the U.S. halting deportations to Haiti amid the coronavirus pandemic:

If the federal government is sincerely interested in containing the spread of the coronavirus, then it will stop the southbound flight set to leave on Tuesday, returning Haitians being deported to their thoroughly beleaguered country.

Unfortunately, the federal response to the presence and spread of the coronavirus in the United States has been so hesitant, so irresolute, that it’s hard to imagine that anyone at that level of administration is thinking logically — much less compassionately — about the impact of continued deportations to Haiti and other countries.

Instead, the Department of Homeland Security is knowingly lobbing a potential cluster bomb of coronavirus infection into a nation where community spread of the disease has been identified, in addition to its presence in the adjacent Dominican Republic.

Tuesday’s flight is scheduled to deport at least 14 Haitians and, perhaps, some Dominican citizens to Haiti. At least one deportee — nonviolent, one charge dismissed, according to his attorney — is known to have had high-risk exposure to the virus. He first was held in a Bristol County, Massachusetts, jail, which now is the subject of a lawsuit because of overcrowding in the midst of the pandemic. He then was transported to another jail, in Stratford County, New Hampshire — alongside a reportedly sick and feverish Pakistani detainee. The Haitian man was supervised by deputy who tested positive for COVID-19.

VIRUS INCUBATORS

That’s one detainee, with three potential exposures. Obviously, the problem is a lot more extensive. John Sandweg, former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in The Atlantic last month that ICE detention centers “are extremely susceptible to outbreaks of infectious diseases.” He recommends that the Trump administration “release the thousands of nonviolent, low-flight-risk detainees” in ICE custody.

For Haiti’s part, Foreign Minister Claude Joseph said he has asked U.S. authorities repeatedly to postpone deportations to the island amid the coronavirus outbreak, “so we can get ready to accept them,” he told the Miami Herald.

But his requests have been ignored.

It remains shocking that doctors, nurses and so many other medical practitioners in the United States are scrambling for scarce resources and equipment to protect themselves and to give patients high-quality care. In Haiti, however, such scarcity has been the the norm during the best of times.

The country needs everything — intensive care beds, ventilators, personal protection equipment for the healthcare workers. In fact, through its embassies, Joseph has been seeking international donations of masks, ventilators and other medical gear.

HAITI CAN’T MANAGE

Long story short, Haiti is dangerously unprepared to treat its current coronavirus patients. Its debilitated healthcare system cannot withstand the additional pressure even one infected deportee would bring.

If the utter cruelty of the deportations is not enough to get DHS to halt deportations, then President Jovenel Moïse himself should make the case that the Trump administration owes him one. After all, Moïse turned his back on his benefactor, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and recognized Maduro’s nemesis Juan Guaido as the country’s president. That should have delighted President Trump.

Still, the Trump administration has cut drastically USAID funds for Haiti’s destitute citizens and terminated the Haitian Family Reunification Program. Inflicting pain on Haiti seems to be a habit. Such cruelty should stop, however, starting with grounding the flight bearing Haitian deportees.

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The Haitian national housed in the Bristol County Jail in Massachusetts and the Strafford County Jail in New Hampshire, where staffers tested positive for COVID-19 was taken off the flight Tuesday. Haiti Foreign Minister Claude Joseph, who has been trying to get U.S. officials to slow down deportations so that the country can better prepare for the reception of returnees, said there would be 68 detainees aboard and all were non-criminals.

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

April 3

The Baltimore Sun on tracking the coronavirus by race:

Health disparities by race in this country are well documented. African American mothers are more likely to die in child birth, or shortly after, than white moms. Rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity are also higher in racial minorities, who are also more likely to die from these diseases. And studies have shown many of these inequalities exist even when you take income out of the equation.

Yet, as the country battles its biggest health crisis in decades, with no end in site, our federal and state health officials have not been tracking deaths from COVID-19 by race. This despite the fact that all the underlying health conditions people of color are more likely to suffer from will increase their chances of death from COVID-19.

African American lawmakers across the country, including state Del. Nick Mosby of Baltimore and other members of the Legislative Black Caucus, are calling for this vital demographic information to be included in data collection and released to the public — and rightfully so. The state is already tracking deaths and cases by age, gender and geographic location, why would they not make the data available by race as well? Health officials will not get a clear and detailed picture of the progression of the disease if they don’t.

American cities with large African American populations — including Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans — are quickly becoming hot spots for the virus, and the handful of areas that have begun collecting race data show black residents are disproportionately affected. Perhaps testing needs to be targeted in such communities.

Last Thursday, for example, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released COVID-19 data on its residents that included breakdowns by age, sex, race and ethnicity. It showed black and African Americans made up 35% of their confirmed COVID-19 cases, even though they make up only 12% of the population. Black people so far accounted for 40% of Michigan’s coronavirus deaths. In Chicago, about 68% of coronavirus deaths have involved African Americans, who make up only about 30% of the total population. Now they must dig into the reasons why there’s such a disparity.

Thus far, Maryland has no idea if its cases are similarly distributed. Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday Maryland would finally start providing this data and is directing the state health lab to report the information and “be as proactive as anyone in the nation” to push private labs to do the same. We are glad about this, but this vital statistic never should have been left out in the first place.

At the federal level, several lawmakers — including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey; and Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois — sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, calling for the collection of comprehensive demographic data on people who are tested or treated for the virus.

“Decades of structural racism have prevented so many Black and Brown families from accessing quality health care, affordable housing and financial security, and the coronavirus crisis is blowing these disparities wide open,” Senator Warren said in a statement. “We need the government to step up in a big way to ensure that communities of color have equal access to free testing and treatment.”

Studies have shown that bias, whether explicit or implicit, can sometimes result in racial minorities not getting the best care. For instance, it has been found that doctors don’t always believe African Americans pain levels so will give them inadequate doses of medication.

Race data can show patterns of treatment for coronavirus. Are people of color getting tested, and are they being hospitalized? Or are they being turned away by doctors and not diagnosed until the symptoms are so bad there is little chance of survival? We have to collect the data to know this.

Already, there have been stories about COVID-19 victims who died after doctors didn’t test them early enough, including an African American teacher in New York who was turned away more than once before rushed to the hospital barely able to breathe. The doctors could have been perfectly justified; we don’t know, which is among the many reasons it’s important to look for patterns of potential racial bias.

Virginia is recording race, but the system is inconsistent. A chart provided by the Virginia Department of Health showed that the information was missing for most of the cases.

That is unacceptable. Collecting complete demographic data must be prioritized as the spread of the disease intensifies if we are to correct any disparities now, in real time. We don’t want to discover a year from now that something more could have been done to save lives. Having this information in retrospect will be too late.

Online: https://www.baltimoresun.com/

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