- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


June 1

The Los Angeles Times on the UCLA shooting:

The call came from the UCLA campus just before 10 a.m. - someone had opened fire with a gun. “Active shooter,” and the warning went out for those on campus to shelter in place. Where was it? The Engineering 4 building.

Police arrived in waves, along with firefighters and other emergency responders. The Los Angeles Police Department went on citywide tactical alert, the better to marshal resources, as television showed students being escorted to safety, hands on their heads, by officers in tactical gear.

And then the wait. What had happened? Was there still someone with a gun? Was it still dangerous? Was this going to be another horrific scene of of violence, like that at Umpqua Community College in Oregon in October?

But there were no more bullets. No confirmed sightings of a man with a gun still at his deadly work. Something less dramatic, apparently, had occurred, something smaller in scope than the mass shootings we’ve become accustomed to.

The massive police and emergency response proved unnecessary, but there was no way the LAPD could have known that when the panicked call came in. And this is where we are - the anticipation that a shooting on a college campus was going to turn out to be a mass tragedy, and that a major city’s law enforcement response is geared up for that eventuality.

In this case, it was only two dead. Murder-suicide in a small office. And so America shrugs. Just another incident in the daily parade of gun violence that defines contemporary America. And so two families, and two circles of friends, and a community of students and faculty are left to their grief, and their confusion, and maybe a touch more fear than usual at the recognition that violence can and will strike so close to home.

Ultimately, we should be glad this was a tragedy for fewer people than feared when the phrase “campus shooting” first popped up on screens. But that society will just shrug this off is tragic in its own way. That the nation accepts gun violence as commonplace, as a reasonable trade-off for some romanticized view of every gun owner as a soldier against tyranny, is the continuing tragedy.

And so the deaths will mount.




May 31

The New York Times on Donald Trump :

Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy presents decent people everywhere with a dilemma: Sprayed with an open fire hose of schoolyard insults, locker-room vulgarities and bizarre policy pitches by the presumptive Republican nominee, they must make hard choices. Is this latest comment so outrageous, so much worse than all the others, as to require its own response?

Speak up too often and you risk sounding like a car alarm, so urgent and yet so familiar that residents no longer hear it. But don’t speak up often enough and you risk turning the unacceptable into the unremarkable.

At a rally in San Diego, Mr. Trump again steered his pirate ship into uncharted waters, firing off personal and racially tinged attacks against a federal judge hearing a case in which Mr. Trump is the defendant.

The judge, Gonzalo Curiel of the Federal District Court in San Diego, is presiding over a class-action lawsuit that accuses Trump University of defrauding and misleading customers who spent $1,500 for three-day seminars that promised to teach Mr. Trump’s secrets of success in real estate. Shortly after Mr. Trump’s rally, Judge Curiel ordered the unsealing of about 1,000 pages of the company’s internal documents. The release, which came in response to a request by The Washington Post, was standard procedure for a civil suit.

But Mr. Trump doesn’t do standard procedure. In a rambling, 11-minute stream of vitriol, Mr. Trump, who has attacked Judge Curiel before, called him “very hostile” and a “hater of Donald Trump,” and said he “should be ashamed of himself. I think it’s a disgrace that he’s doing this.”

One would think Mr. Trump, whose sister is a federal appellate judge, would know how self-destructive it is for any litigant anywhere to attack the judge hearing his or her case. But Mr. Trump is not any litigant; he is running to be president of the United States - a job that requires at least a glancing understanding of the American system of government, in particular a respect for the separation of powers. When Mr. Trump complains that he is “getting railroaded” by a “rigged” legal system, he is saying in effect that an entire branch of government is corrupt.

The special danger of comments like these - however off the cuff they may sound - is that they embolden Mr. Trump’s many followers to feel, and act, the same way.

For good measure, Mr. Trump added that Judge Curiel “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” False; the judge is from Indiana. But facts are, as always, beside the point for Mr. Trump, who reassured his audience that “the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump when I give all these jobs.” (Presumably he was not referring to those he has promised to deport if he is elected.)

In a masterpiece of understatement, Judge Curiel, who is prevented by ethical rules from responding directly to comments like these, noted in his order that Mr. Trump “has placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue.”

Mr. Trump turned his fire back to the media in addressing news reports that he had failed to give a $1 million gift to a veterans’ charity as he had promised in January. He said the donation had now been made, called one reporter “a sleaze” and complained that the news media “make me look very bad.”

Mr. Trump has said so many irresponsible or dangerous things so often and in so many settings that there is a real risk that many voters will simply tune out and his campaign will somehow be normalized.

So it is particularly important to note when Mr. Trump’s statements go beyond the merely provocative or absurd and instead represent a threat to America’s carefully balanced political system. This is such a moment. It is not too late for Republicans who revere that system to question how they can embrace a nominee who has so little regard for it.




May 28

The Telegraph on the Olympics:

The 2012 London Olympics were a triumph. Nothing can ever distract from the brilliance of its ceremonies or the accomplishments of those who competed fairly. Sadly, not every athlete did. It has been confirmed that 23 athletes have failed drugs tests carried out on defrosted urine and blood taken during the Games - 8.7 percent of the total athletes retested.

These were samples that passed on initial examination, meaning that the dopers were using technology more advanced than was detectable. Embarrassment is not limited to London. The International Olympic Committee has also admitted that 31 athletes have tested positive from a reanalysis of samples from the 2008 Olympics. The IOC has confirmed that it will retest samples from the 2014 Winter Games following allegations that Russia ran a state-sponsored doping program.

Russia looms large in all of this. The identities of the 23 athletes discovered by the latest retests has yet to be given, but 14 out of the 31 who tested positive for the Beijing Olympics were Russian. And an international commission claimed last year that the London Games had been effectively “sabotaged” by Russian athletes. The nation’s track and field team is currently suspended from competing at this year’s Olympics in Brazil.

Questions have to be asked about what went wrong in 2012 and what can be learnt in time for Rio. The eyes of the world are on Brazil: a country beset with corruption scandals and the terrible Zika virus. To restore confidence in global athletics, these Games have to be seen to be clean - which means confronting the shame of doping with far greater determination than in the past.




May 27

The Minneapolis Star Tribune on Zika funding:

Congressional dithering on combating the Zika virus not only leaves Americans at risk, it’s also undermining emergency preparedness across the nation. Lawmakers shouldn’t need another reason to adequately fund the fight against this mosquito-borne disease, but it certainly heightens the urgency for them to act swiftly.

The federal government provides much of the funding relied on by state and local public health agencies to prepare for epidemics and other disasters. But the monthslong fight in Congress over the amount of Zika funding has left federal health officials scrambling to come up with the dollars needed to understand Zika’s unnerving spread and why it can cause a potentially devastating birth defect.

With funding still not forthcoming from Congress, money intended for efforts such as state and local emergency preparedness are now being redirected to the Zika response, according to Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. So far, roughly $744,000 intended for emergency preparedness in Minnesota has gone to the Zika fight. That has affected the state’s ability to replenish an expiring stockpile of medications, update equipment and hold training exercises. Reprioritizing these funds is certainly understandable, especially when infants are at risk and warmer weather’s arrival elevates the risk of mosquito transmission in the U.S., generally in southern areas. Nevertheless, it is ridiculous that funds for one important public health mission are being siphoned off for another. This is a wealthy nation fully capable of funding both needs.

The fight in Congress also boils down to a false choice about fighting one emerging disease or another. The Obama administration has asked for months for $1.9 billion - the amount disease experts say is needed - to fight Zika. The Senate has approved $1.1 billion. The House seeks $622 million and wants to redirect money dedicated to Ebola containment to Zika. Again, there is no need to choose between the two.

Zika’s emergence also serves as a reminder of how fortunate Minnesota is to have a state Health Department that’s respected worldwide. It’s no surprise that Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, requested that Ehlinger appear with him at a National Press Club speech last week.

It’s important to note that the risk of getting Zika from a mosquito in Minnesota appears to be minimal, though travel to warmer climates remains a hazard. Although one type of mosquito that can carry the virus occasionally has been found in the state, that insect typically has been imported in shipments of such items as tires from warmer areas. It doesn’t fare well in Minnesota winters.

Still, taking personal steps to eradicate the standing water that a variety of mosquitoes breed in remains important. The mosquitoes that do regularly buzz around during a Minnesota summer can carry other serious diseases - among them, the West Nile virus and encephalitis. Zika isn’t the only reason to wear mosquito repellent and take the usual summer safeguards.




May 30

The Des Moines Register on the IRS impeachment effort:

The aphorism known as Hanlon’s razor dictates that one should never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Where some people see evil intent and conspiracies behind every misdeed, the more likely explanation is good old-fashioned incompetence. That’s particularly true in Washington, D.C., where, despite the political machinations that seem to drive every decision, bureaucratic bungling is responsible for most of the federal government’s sins.

Even so, some Republican leaders in the House believe IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has engaged in a long-running effort to deceive Congress and the public. As they see it, Koskinen should be impeached for his response to claims that the agency targeted conservative organizations that sought tax-exempt status.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is leading the charge for impeachment, but he has had only limited success so far. Democrats are universally opposed to impeachment, which is no surprise, but so, too, are many Republicans.

It’s easy to see why. Chaffetz has accused Koskinen of failing to provide congressional investigators with subpoenaed evidence; not testifying truthfully about the destruction of IRS emails; and failing to promptly inform Congress that emails considered important to its investigation were missing.

Koskinen’s response to these allegations are reasonable and supported by the evidence. For example, he attributes the 90-day delay in telling Congress about the destroyed emails to the delay in determining just how much data had actually been lost.

He also says he assured Congress that IRS emails had been preserved - a claim that turned out to be untrue only because he wasn’t aware at the time they had been destroyed. Koskinen’s explanation is supported by the findings of the IRS inspector general.

Chaffetz correctly claims that 422 computer tapes containing up to 24,000 IRS emails were destroyed while Koskinen was in charge. But the inspector general investigated the destruction of those emails and concluded it was the result of an honest mistake, not part of an effort to withhold information from Congress.

It’s also important to remember that Koskinen didn’t begin running the agency until December 2013, which was more than three years after it was disclosed that the IRS had been scrutinizing the rapidly growing number of organizations that were purely political in nature but were seeking tax-exempt status as “social welfare” groups.

As it turned out, the IRS was, indeed, subjecting conservative and tea party organizations to closer scrutiny, but only as part of the larger effort to examine all partisan political campaign organizations that were seeking tax-exempt status. To quickly identify potential violators, the agency had singled out nonprofits that had the words “tea party” or “patriots” in their names. Only a quarter of the organizations flagged for closer scrutiny were tea party-related, but even so, the practice was seriously flawed and resulted in an apology from the IRS.

The Justice Department investigated the matter for two years and ultimately concluded that there was no evidence that IRS officials had acted out of political bias in focusing on any organizations, conservative or otherwise.

Given all of that, the effort to impeach Koskinen appears to be a face-saving move by Chaffetz to justify his fruitless, six-year campaign to demonize the IRS for political bias.

Even Fred Goldberg, who served as IRS commissioner under the first President George Bush, says Chaffetz’s allegations are “preposterous” and calls the impeachment effort “way over the line.”

When it comes to abuse of power, Chaffetz has more to answer for than Koskinen.




May 31

The Washington Post on the release of journalist Khadija Ismayilova from jail:

After spending 537 days in jail, persecuted unjustly in Azerbaijan for exposing corruption in the family of its president, journalist Khadija Ismayilova stepped into the sunshine and made an astonishing declaration. “I’m going to continue my investigations,” she said. “I’m so eager to start working on the Panama Papers. It’s the job I like.”

In so doing, Ms. Ismayilova reaffirms the resilience and power of liberty. Authoritarian rulers can deny their people freedom, but they never really take it away. Television and radio stations can go silent, newspapers can be shuttered, the Internet switched off, journalists imprisoned and fear loosed on the streets, but what can’t be extinguished is the courage and determination of one individual. Ms. Ismayilova is a beacon of hope to all who share this conviction.

After her release, Ms. Ismayilova said that the Azerbaijani government had clearly hoped to frighten reporters and others from investigating high-level corruption and cronyism, but “this didn’t happen.” Instead of fewer reports, there were more. The Panama Papers, a trove of thousands of documents on hidden financial dealings revealed by a coalition of journalists and activists, confirmed the truth of her earlier published account of offshore companies used by the family of President Ilham Aliyev to hold their interest in a gold mine.

From the start, Ms. Ismayilova understood the stakes and never wavered. “I am a journalist and my only ‘crime’ was to investigate high-level corruption within the government and family of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev,” she wrote to us in March, after Mr.?Aliyev released some other political prisoners but not her. “I am free even now, in jail, and my freedom is not for sale.”

She demanded that President Obama ask Mr.?Aliyev “to stop muzzling the independent media and civil society. Ask him to explain the billions of petrodollars wasted on white-elephant projects for the benefit of a few. Ask him when he is going to hold free and fair elections. Ask him when he is going to let all the political prisoners go free. Ask him when fundamental freedoms can become a right, in practice - not a gift that he can give or take away. I asked these questions, and I ended up in jail. These are important questions. They must not go unanswered.”

Now Ms. Ismayilova is out, and the answers are still needed. While Azerbaijan released her, and some others, the regime remains intolerant of dissent and criticism. Ms. Ismayilova called on Azerbaijan to allow U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, where she worked, to reopen its bureau in Baku, which was raided and shuttered by the Azeri authorities in December 2014.

Why Mr. Aliyev is releasing some prisoners now is not clear, but international pressure may have played a role. Ms. Ismayilova observed correctly that such pressure is most effective when brought to bear in the light of day. Tyrants don’t like sunshine. “The fight for human rights must be open and transparent,” she said. “We should not talk about it behind closed doors.”



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