- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:

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May 29

Los Angeles Times on vaccination legislation:

The vaccination debate has reached fever pitch. Legislation has passed in the state Senate that would do away with the “personal belief exemption” that allows parents in California to refuse to vaccinate their children. As it moves to the Assembly, opponents are ratcheting up their rhetoric, calling the bill a huge intrusion on their rights, and one that is written so broadly that even children with conditions that make vaccinations dangerous for them wouldn’t be entitled to exemptions.

The noise surrounding SB 277 is drowning out the truth, which is this: In general, parents have a right to make medical decisions for their children. But when it comes to communicable diseases, which can have devastating consequences on large groups of people, there also is a general societal right to protect public health.

That doesn’t necessarily mean vaccinating all children - but it does mean vaccinating enough of them to achieve so-called herd immunity, the level at which even children who are too medically fragile for vaccination, or whose bodies don’t respond to vaccination, are protected by the health of others. To achieve that, 90 percent to 95 percent of the school-age population must be vaccinated. In many areas of the state - Santa Monica is one example - the rates have fallen far below that level, at least partly because of parents’ fears that the vaccines will harm children, though many studies have found them to be generally safe and effective.

For all the outrage, SB 277 is a moderate measure - possibly too moderate. Medical exemptions would still be granted if parents obtain a doctor’s note saying that their child has a medical condition that makes vaccination unsafe, and naming the condition. The bill would not dictate which medical conditions are acceptable.

Many doctors won’t write such a note unless it’s warranted, but the state can expect a handful of physicians to make a cottage industry out of giving parents what they want. Only parents with strong objections to vaccination are likely to seek out such doctors, though; others will go ahead and vaccinate, which might be enough to bring vaccination rates to protective levels.

Nor are schools required under the bill to automatically reject students who aren’t fully vaccinated - though they must work with parents to get the immunizations completed. Children currently in elementary school would have until seventh grade to be completely immunized; students currently in higher grades would be allowed to complete their schooling without vaccination.

Californians shouldn’t let the rhetoric cloud the long-term goal: a population with strong protection from diseases that were once scourges. Society’s right to safeguard its health, especially that of its vulnerable children, trumps individual belief.

Online:

http://www.latimes.com

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June 1

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on U.S. tangling with China:

The United States is faced with a troublesome question: Is it willing to challenge Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea to maintain a posture of exceptional military dominance in that part of the world?

Any willingness to do so must be measured not only in terms of national pride, but also in opportunity costs at home, taxpayer money that could be spent instead on U.S. infrastructure, education, health care, housing and other domestic needs.

The reality is that China, as it grows in economic importance, including in its favorable trade balance and the holding of more than $1 trillion in U.S. debt, will seek to expand its influence in its region of the world. In particular, especially given the importance to it of both exports and imports, it will be interested in expanding its sea presence. For all of its ambition, though, China spends only about 10 percent of what the United States does on its military.

Against that backdrop, the Chinese are seeking to reinforce their claims to the Spratly Islands, rocky outcrops in the South China Sea, by dredging and building installations there such as lighthouses and a runway. Chinese neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also claim parts of the Spratlys and are looking to the United States to defend their interests.

The U.S. military is carrying out air missions over the Spratlys, to the annoyance of the Chinese, to defend their neighbors’ and American interests there, although the latter are difficult to define.

There is always the risk of an accident or a military confrontation occasioned by U.S. flights over the Chinese sites. But are the gains worth, first, the financial cost of carrying them out and, second, the risk of conflict with the Chinese in their own region?

It’s becoming harder for the Pentagon to make that case.

Online:

http://www.post-gazette.com

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June 2

Miami Herald on reining in over-reach on national security:

The revised eavesdropping program that the U.S. Senate finally passed on Tuesday and sent to the president doesn’t go as far as some civil-liberties advocates wanted, but it’s the first time that Congress has placed limits on the government’s ability to spy on Americans after 9/11.

That alone should bring a measure of satisfaction to Americans who fear that the national-security apparatus of the government in Washington has gone too far in the direction of snooping, at the expense of the legitimate privacy rights of U.S. citizens.

The USA Freedom Act, as it is now called, will end the National Security Agency’s wholesale phone-records collection program and replace it with a more-restrictive measure to keep the records in the hands of phone companies. Most of the programs of the old Patriot Act will remain intact in the new law, but significant, and welcome, changes have been enacted.

Now the government will need court orders to obtain data connected to specific numbers from the phone companies, which typically store them for 18 months. That represents a meaningful improvement in the law. Moreover, the new law creates a panel of outside experts to advise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which up to now has largely gone along with whatever the Bush and Obama administrations have requested.

To their credit, members of the Senate also resisted a push by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to strike a provision that would declassify some significant opinions by the secret surveillance court. In the end, Sen. McConnell, who fought against all the improvements in the House-passed version of the bill that the Senate ultimately approved, was effectively rebuked by members of his own party, who refused to follow his lead on a variety of bad amendments.

Beyond the actual changes in the law, the best aspect of the months-long effort to revise the old Patriot Act is that the people’s representatives in Washington actually held a long-overdue public debate on the fundamental question of the struggle between privacy and national security.

The revelations of Edward Snowden showed that the government had stretched the provisions of the Patriot Act to a point that shocked many Americans, not to mention more than a few members of Congress, and it was all done in secret. Repeated assertions by intelligence officials, and even President Obama - that it was all “for our own good” - did little to erase suspicions that the government was enhancing its powers of surveillance and intrusion without regard to the rights of citizens and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

There is a lesson here for future administrations, and for future generations.

The first is that if the government wants Americans to accept a controversial program, it must never fear to present its arguments in public, where they can be subjected to the rigor of debate and skeptical inspection. That’s basic democracy.

The other lesson is that citizens who are stampeded into accepting encroachments on their liberties wake up one day and find the government has gone too far. In the wake of 9/11, there was little public support for those who questioned whether the Patriot Act was an overreaction that did more harm than good, posing a threat to basic liberties. The public’s fears were understandable, but, with the advantage of hindsight, it now appears the skeptics were right.

Online:

http://www.miamiherald.com

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May 31

The Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky, on federal health care overhaul being dangerous:

The road to hell is not only paved with good intentions, but with serious unintended consequences.

Let’s test this premise by examining a couple of recent revelations surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

A poll by the American College of Emergency Room Physicians revealed emergency room visits are rising since “Obamacare” was implemented.

How can this be? President Barack Obama and those who supported the Affordable Care Act assured Americans there would be fewer emergency room visits.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear made similar claims, although he was on target in noting that emergency rooms are “the most expensive place to get care.”

The reason emergency room visits are rising is related to a surge of people who became eligible for Medicaid under “Obamacare,” some 500,000 in Kentucky.

Because many physicians don’t take Medicaid patients because of that program’s low reimbursement rate, more people utilize emergency rooms for their health care needs.

Local hospitals are not immune to this unintended consequence. Both local hospitals report more people using the emergency room as their primary care outlet.

Now consider a recent headline from The (Louisville) Courier-Journal that read “ACA forcing cuts, layoffs in Kentucky, report says.”

The story below the headline expressed concerns of the Kentucky Hospital Association that member hospitals would have a net shortfall of $1 billion in revenue by 2020 as a result of losing more money under “Obamacare” than they gain in revenue as a result of the law’s expanded coverage.

Consider the implications of this shortfall.

The same Courier-Journal story reported 7,700 hospital staff cuts in the state, services shut down and some smaller hospitals, particularly in rural areas, facing concerns about their very survival.

What we take from all of this is that because of the unintended consequences of “Obamacare,” Kentuckians can see the perfect storm on their horizon.

In an emergency, when minutes can literally mean the difference between life and death, our citizens could arrive at an emergency room filled with more patients with fewer staff to attend them.

For a person who needs immediate emergency care from an auto accident, stroke or heart attack who must cross several county lines to get to a hospital because their county’s facility was forced to close, the prospect is even more grim.

Given all this, we believe it is entirely reasonable to require the “Obamacare” product to come with the following warning label: “Given the falsehoods surrounding this product and its unintended consequences, ‘Obamacare’ poses a risk not only to your wallet, but to your health and life as well.”

Online:

http://www.bgdailynews.com

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June 2

Wall Street Journal on the Obama administration handling FOIA requests:

A federal judge last week excoriated the State Department for sitting on Hillary Clinton’s emails, ordering it to release batches every 30 days. The State Department deserved the rebuke, but then it is merely following the rules laid down by the least transparent administration in history.

The House Oversight Committee on Tuesday began a two-day hearing into the extraordinary ways the Obama Administration keeps undermining the Freedom of Information Act. Enacted in 1966, FOIA allows anyone to request information about any matter from a federal agency. The agency has 20 business days to respond (10 more in unusual circumstances), and the bar is set deliberately high for what government may withhold or redact.

Most administrations play games with FOIA, but the Obama White House has turned stonewalling into an art form. A favorite tactic is to ignore or string out the requests. That’s what State did in Clinton’s case, claiming it simply couldn’t get around to issuing her emails until next year. A court order was needed to get it to move, and that’s typical across the administration.

FOIA request backlogs have more than doubled since President Barack Obama took office. The feds received 714,231 FOIA requests in fiscal 2014, and nearly 160,000 weren’t processed within the legal time limit, up 67 percent from fiscal 2013.

Another trick is to impose sky-high fees. Under FOIA, certain groups (media, educational) are exempt from most fees, so agencies have taken to denying them their legitimate categorizations. The Department of Homeland Security is currently in court for having denied a research institute at Syracuse University educational status, which could cost the institute more than $100,000 for a FOIA request.

Most disturbing are examples of destroying or hiding information. FOIA requests are supposed to be handled by specific FOIA staff as a guard against political types hiding information. Yet the Journal reported in May that Mrs. Clinton’s longtime aide, Cheryl Mills, interfered with FOIA staff at State, at times blocking the release of politically sensitive documents.

In March, federal Judge Royce Lamberth blasted the Environmental Protection Agency for mishandling a FOIA request from a conservative group seeking to discover if the agency had delayed controversial regulations in the run-up to the 2012 election. The judge found that FOIA officers and top aides to then-Administrator Lisa Jackson blew off the request until after Election Day and didn’t inform EPA employees of their obligation to retain relevant documents.

“Either EPA sought to evade (a) lawful FOIA request so the agency could destroy responsive documents, or EPA demonstrated apathy and carelessness toward (the) request,” Lamberth wrote. In 2012, outside groups also discovered that Jackson had used a second EPA email address under the name “Richard Windsor,” which may have been set up to stymie FOIA requests.

Congressional investigators have found examples of Obama officials excessively redacting information, or inappropriately shielding it from FOIA disclosure. The Administration is in particular abusing a FOIA exception that allows agencies to redact details that are legally privileged or “deliberative”_meaning that they relate to an agency’s decision-making process.

One example is the EPA’s ideological decision to veto the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska even before the EPA had conducted a scientific review. A December 2010 email string reveals that numerous EPA employees were working on that veto years earlier, and that several gave advice to an environmental attorney named Jeff Parker who opposed the project and who helped Native American tribes petition against it.

At the end of this string, the EPA’s Richard Parkin, a point man on Pebble, asks EPA attorney Cara Steiner-Riley: “Cara, in terms of the record for the decision making on the 404(c) petitions, are message chains such as this one, protectable from FOIA? should we be concerned with that? Should are subject line include something like Atty/Client Privileged or what ever? Should we just do that routinely?”

Given that most of the emails concerned EPA’s communications with non-EPA players, they are hardly privileged. We assume EPA lawyers recognized the risk of FOIA exposure because the email chain suddenly stops.

Obama famously vowed to run the “most transparent” administration in history. Instead he has presided over one that has systematically abused a law intended to assist public disclosure and keep government accountable.

Online:

http://www.wsj.com

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