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Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

May 6

The Dallas Morning News on murder hornets:

Like the rest of America, we’ve been following the coverage of the so-called murder hornets showing up in northern Washington state and just across the border in Canada. We still don’t know how deeply these hornets from Asia have integrated themselves into North America or whether this will become a problem that will challenge honeybee hives across the United States.

What we do know is this: If these jerks show their faces in Texas, authorities should show no hesitation in eradicating every last one of them. We’re still hoping that these invasive bugs can be murdered off in Washington state before they gain so strong of a foothold that they’re impossible to dislodge. Otherwise, we’ll see these hornets wreck honeybee hives by invading them, killing bees, and carrying off parts of their carcasses to feed their own young.

In Japan, apparently, honeybees have figured out a defense against the murder hornet. The bees pile onto one of these tough creatures as it tries to make its way into their hive, and rather than uselessly employing their stingers against the hornet’s hard outer-shell, the bees work to overheat the hornet. Essentially, the bees form a ball around the invader and over time the inside of the ball rises to a temperature the bees can withstand but that the hornet cannot. In the end, what’s left is the cooked carcass of a murder hornet.

That works for us as does any other eradication technique. In this time of coronavirus, we simply can’t deal with an additional pestilence that includes something called murder hornets. Enough is enough. Please, pray God, deliver death upon the murder hornet.

Online: https://www.dallasnews.com/

May 6

The Guardian on an app released by the National Health Service in England that can trace COVID-19 interactions:

The idea of the National Health Service tracing app is to enable smartphones to track users and tell them whether they interacted with someone who had Covid-19. Yet this will work only if large proportions of the population download the app. No matter how smart a solution may appear, mass consent is required. That will not be easy. Ministers and officials have failed to address the trade-offs between health and privacy by being ambiguous about the app’s safeguards.

Instead of offering cast-iron guarantees about the length of time for which data would be held; who can access it; and the level of anonymity afforded, we have had opacity and obfuscation. It is true that we are dealing with uncertainties. But without absolute clarity about privacy the public is unlikely to take up the app with the appropriate gusto.

The NHS and the health secretary Matt Hancock are now racing to fix these problems so that the app can be rolled out. Time is of the essence, as digital contact tracing will be required so that the lockdown can be eased. Mr Hancock’s problem has been exacerbated because the NHS app is incompatible with a new interfacing software, or API, being developed by Google and Apple.

The difference is a fundamental one. The NHS in England wants to pool the information it collects in a single database. The tech giants aim to decentralise the Covid-19 data across devices. The NHS app was designed when testing was rare in the UK and is built for self-diagnosis. Users tell the app if they are displaying symptoms and a centralised database records which phones are being sent alerts and roughly where they are. This is a protection against pranksters aiming to deceive the system. The Google/Apple API relies on public health systems and mass testing. Silicon Valley, it seems, wants only medically endorsed results as inputs – once you have good data there’s no need for the discipline of a panopticon.

Apple and Google could allow third-party developers like the NHS access to the Bluetooth signals smartphones have received in the last two weeks. The tech giants at present only permit developers to ask if a signal has been heard and respond yes or no. They do not allow them to scan a phone’s collected signals. Permitting the NHS to do this, the digital behemoths fear, would lead to similar demands from totalitarian regimes interested in the company people keep beyond their Covid-19 status. European nations have been infuriated by this reasoning.

In England, around 60% of the population needs to download the app to make it work. As Google and Apple account for nine out of 10 phones, it may be easier to piggyback on their software. Without their help, apps strain to work properly. NHS England was not wrong to chart its own course. But the venture has struggled because of a wider failure to build a “test, trace and isolate” system. Even with the level of testing England currently has, Google and Apple’s app would not be the answer now. Ministers have a few weeks to bridge the gap between an English system that might be rendered redundant in the near future and a Californian one which needs a public health system we do not yet have.

May 6

The Los Angles Times on the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate:

The fight over whether employer-provided health insurance has to cover birth control for women returns to a familiar battleground Wednesday: the U.S. Supreme Court.

How did something as simple and straightforward and profoundly important to a woman’s life as contraception, and insurance for it, become the focus of years of legal wrangling? Because what started as a narrow exemption for religious organizations from a federal mandate to cover birth control has ballooned into Trump administration guidelines allowing any company to claim a religious or moral belief as a way to evade the mandate. That’s going too far, and the Supreme Court needs to put a stop to it.

All these issues stem from the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s requirement that new insurance policies meet minimum federal standards, including coverage of preventive care. The law authorized the Health Resources and Services Administration to issue guidelines to implement that provision. During the Obama administration, the guidelines rightly instructed health plans to include coverage of contraception for women with no out-of-pocket cost.

Houses of worship were exempted in 2013 from having to offer any kind of coverage for birth control. (Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the government can’t impose a “substantial burden” on the exercise of religion unless it’s necessary to further an important government interest and it’s done in the least restrictive way.) And religious nonprofits were allowed to opt out of offering contraceptive coverage as long as they agreed to an accommodation: They filed a one-page form notifying insurers or plan administrators, which would then provide the coverage at no cost to the employer.

Things only got more complicated from there. In 2014, the for-profit craft company Hobby Lobby argued in the Supreme Court that forcing it to offer birth control coverage violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because its owners objected on religious grounds to some of the mandated forms of contraception. Unfortunately, the high court agreed, ruling that the government had to find a less restrictive means of providing contraceptive coverage for employees of closely held corporations whose owners had religious objections. One possibility, the court suggested, was offering them the same accommodation that was available to religious nonprofits.

After more legal skirmishing, the Trump administration issued new guidelines allowing any company, if it offered up a sincere religious or moral objection, to refuse to cover its female employees’ birth control. And companies would not even be compelled to offer a workaround. The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey got a federal court to block the guidelines with a nationwide injunction, upheld by a federal appeals court. Now the case is at the Supreme Court, which is set to hear arguments Wednesday.

To be clear, houses of worship and religiously affiliated groups whose work is intertwined with the practice of their religions should not be compelled to violate their beliefs. The issue here, though, is how to fulfill the government’s compelling interest in providing access to preventive care, as Congress mandated in the Affordable Care Act, without trampling on religious rights.

The workaround developed by the Obama administration met that test, severing religious-affiliated employers from any financial connection to the contraceptive coverage in the policies offered to their employees. The guidelines the Trump administration adopted last year, however, pretend that enabling women to obtain contraceptive coverage is merely optional. They would fully exempt any company whose owners (no matter the number) claim that the contraceptive mandate goes against their conscience, forcing their employees to find contraceptive coverage through separate policies or subsidized programs.

Of course, many companies — probably most — would not take away coverage of contraception even if they were allowed to cite a religious or moral objection. Employers compete for workers based in part on the health benefits they offer. Yet even the Trump administration estimates that as many as 120,000 women could be affected, and the National Women’s Law Center contends that the total will be far higher.

It’s true the Affordable Care Act doesn’t explicitly require birth control be included in new insurance policies. But it does explicitly require those policies to cover preventive healthcare for women. And the Obama administration correctly interpreted that requirement to include coverage of birth control, with rare exceptions for religious employers and with a reasonable accommodation for others with religious objections. The Trump administration shouldn’t be allowed to ignore the will Congress expressed in the Affordable Care Act to placate his supporters on the religious right.

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

May 4

The Wall Street Journal on universal lockdowns versus targeted lockdowns to stop the spread of the new coronavirus:

Americans are paying a fearsome price for the government’s strict lockdowns of American life and commerce, and now comes evidence that targeted lockdowns aimed at protecting those who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus would be better for public health and the economy.

That conclusion comes in a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research by MIT economists Daron Acemoglu, Victor Chernozhukov, Iván Werning and Michael Whinston. The authors compared relative risks of infection, hospitalization and death for the young, the middle-aged and those over age 65. They then compared strict lockdowns that treat all age groups the same with a more targeted strategy that protects the old.

“Interestingly, we find that semi-targeted policies that simply apply a strict lockdown on the oldest group can achieve the majority of the gains from fully-targeted policies,” the authors write. “For example, a semi-targeted policy that involves the lockdown of those above 65 until a vaccine arrives can release the young and middle-aged groups back into the economy much more quickly, and still achieve a much lower fatality rate in the population (just above 1% of the population instead of 1.83% with the optimal uniform policy).”

Interesting is right. The universal lockdowns of March and April have been aimed specifically at preventing hospitals from being overrun with Covid-19 patients and thus reducing the death rate. But the paper says a targeted lockdown aimed at seniors combined with other policies like social distancing will reduce the death rate by more.

Targeted lockdowns also reduce economic harm, as you’d expect. “This policy also reduces the economic damage from 24.3% to 12.8% of one year’s GDP. The reason is that, once the most vulnerable group is protected, the other groups can be reincorporated into the economy more quickly,” the authors write.

This is consistent with the economic evidence we told you about last week from the University of Chicago’s Casey Mulligan.

The universal lockdowns are finally easing in many states, and the damage in the last two months can’t be undone. But these studies can inform governors as they consider how and what to reopen in their states. And in particular they should inform government decisions about the kind of lockdowns to reimpose if there are coronavirus flare-ups, as there are likely to be until a vaccine or cure arrive.

Protect the most vulnerable, but don’t put the entire state in economic cold storage in the name of a false choice between saving lives and saving money. On the growing evidence, targeted lockdowns can save more lives and more livelihoods.

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

May 2

The Washington Post on World Press Freedom Day:

“What breaks my heart is to see how much he aged since being imprisoned. He used to be a man full of energy and vigor. Now, he is old, sickly, skinny, and there’s no way out of this situation for him.” So reported Khadicha Askarova, the wife of Kyrgyzstan journalist Azimjon Askarov, last year after visiting her 68-year-old husband in a jail where, we are sad to say, he still remains. It has been well established that Mr. Askarov is innocent of any crime. But he has spent nine years in prison after receiving a life sentence on trumped-up charges because of his truth-telling reporting on human rights violations.

Mr. Askarov’s case has been ranked as the most urgent by the One Free Press Coalition in advance of World Press Freedom Day on Sunday. But what is most striking and shameful is that Mr. Askarov is far from alone in a world where journalists’ freedoms have come under increasing assault. In 2019, at least 250 journalists were imprisoned, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and so far this year, six journalists have been killed and 64 are missing globally. The worst offenders are the authoritarian regimes in Turkey, Egypt and China.

Solafa Magdy, a freelance multimedia journalist in Egypt, has been jailed (along with her husband) on charges that include “spreading false news.” Four Yemeni journalists — Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed and Tawfiq al-Mansouri — have been sentenced to death on charges of spreading false news. Truong Duy Nhat, a blogger in Vietnam, has been sentenced to 10 years after a half-day trial on charges of “abusing his position and power while on duty.”

Some journalists — Elena Milashina in Russia; Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman in Pakistan; Yayesew Shimelis in Ethiopia — have been targeted for their reporting on covid-19. The pandemic not only underscores the vital role that journalists play in providing critical information to the public, but it gives real urgency to the need to free journalists who have been jailed for simply doing their jobs. Prisons and detention facilities have become hot spots for the deadly virus, and journalists such as Mr. Askarov, who was tortured and is in declining health, are at high risk.

“Freedom,” said Ms. Askarov, “is his main wish and goal. He lives for it.”

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

May 1

The New York Times on sexual harassment and assault accusations against former Vice President Joe Biden:

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president, has forcefully denied allegations of sexual harassment and assault made against him by Tara Reade, a former staff assistant in his Senate office.

“They aren’t true,” Mr. Biden said in a statement on Friday. “This never happened.”

Ms. Reade’s accusations, which have been percolating for several weeks, are grave and graphic. She charges that, in the spring of 1993, Mr. Biden cornered her in a deserted hallway of the Capitol complex, pinned her against a wall, reached under her skirt and penetrated her with his fingers.

Ms. Reade’s brother and multiple friends have said that she told them of the incident around the time it occurred. Some bits of evidence lend credence to her claim, even as others prompt skepticism. When Ms. Reade’s brother, Collin Moulton, first spoke to The Washington Post about his sister’s accusations, for instance, he mentioned only that she talked about Mr. Biden touching her neck and shoulders; several days later, Mr. Moulton texted The Post to say that he also recalled her sharing that Mr. Biden had put his hand “under her clothes.”

As is so often the case in such situations, it is all but impossible to be certain of the truth. But the stakes are too high to let the matter fester — or leave it to be investigated by and adjudicated in the media. Mr. Biden is seeking the nation’s highest office.

In 2018, this board advocated strongly for a vigorous inquiry into accusations of sexual misconduct raised against Brett Kavanaugh when he was nominated to a seat on the Supreme Court. Mr. Biden’s pursuit of the presidency requires no less. His campaign, and his party, have a duty to assure the public that the accusations are being taken seriously. The Democratic National Committee should move to investigate the matter swiftly and thoroughly, with the full cooperation of the Biden campaign.

Ms. Reade’s account has some apparent inconsistencies. Last year, she was one of several women who came forward with complaints of Mr. Biden hugging or touching them in ways that made them uncomfortable, but she did not raise the assault accusation until this March. She says she tried to share her story with the media earlier, only to get “shut down.”

Members of Mr. Biden’s staff from that period have denied that Ms. Reade expressed any complaints about Mr. Biden, and they reject the idea that the office tolerated any harassment.

Ms. Reade says that she filed a formal harassment complaint with a congressional personnel office in 1993. (She says the report did not mention the assault.) Although she kept some of her employment records from that time, she says she does not have a copy of that complaint. In his statement, Mr. Biden said that if such a document existed, there would be a copy of it in the National Archives, which retains records from what was then the Office of Fair Employment Practices. He called on the archives “to identify any record of the complaint she alleges she filed and make available to the press any such document.” Later on Friday, after the National Archives said it did not have personnel documents, Mr. Biden asked the secretary of the Senate to direct a more extensive search, also asking for “any and all other documents in the records that relate to the allegation.”

This is a start, but it does not go far enough. Any serious inquiry must include the trove of records from Mr. Biden’s Senate career that he donated to the University of Delaware in 2012. Currently, those files are set to remain sealed until after Mr. Biden retires from public life — a common arrangement. There are growing calls for Mr. Biden to make those records available to see if they contain any mention of Ms. Reade or perhaps others who raised similar complaints about his behavior.

In a Friday interview on MSNBC, Mr. Biden resisted these calls, insisting that his Senate papers do not contain any personnel files and so could not possibly shed light on Ms. Reade’s allegations. He added that they do, however, contain sensitive information about his past work that could be unfairly exploited in a presidential campaign.

While understandable, this concern is not prohibitive — and Mr. Biden’s word is insufficient to dispel the cloud. Any inventory should be strictly limited to information about Ms. Reade and conducted by an unbiased, apolitical panel, put together by the D.N.C. and chosen to foster as much trust in its findings as possible. Admittedly, this would be a major undertaking. Mr. Biden served 36 years in the Senate. He turned over nearly 2,000 boxes and more than 400 gigabytes of data to the University of Delaware; most of it has not been cataloged. But the question at hand is no less than Mr. Biden’s fitness for the presidency. No relevant memo should be left unexamined.

It has been noted that President Trump has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by more than a dozen women. Those claims also should be investigated, and the Republicans concerned about Mr. Biden’s behavior now should be at least equally focused on the questions about Mr. Trump’s. For his part, Mr. Trump does not seriously address the claims against him; he simply denies them and attacks his accusers.

Mr. Biden has set higher standards for himself. That has been central to his appeal. His campaign is founded on the promise of restoring sanity, civility and decency to the presidency. Even if certainty isn’t possible in this matter, the American people deserve at least the confidence that he, and the Democratic Party, have made every effort to bring the truth to light.

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

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