- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


June 28

The New York Times on the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights:

Civil rights organizations and some members of Congress are troubled by the Trump administration’s rollback of civil rights enforcement generally, but they are particularly worried by what is going on at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The office has played a crucial role in protecting the rights of transgender students and victims of sexual assault and especially in forcing school districts to abandon disciplinary policies that unfairly single out minority children for suspension and expulsion.

This issue came to the fore this month when the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, Candice Jackson, sent a memo to the office’s regional directors backing away from a policy that requires investigators to look for systemic problems - and whole classes of victims - when civil rights complaints emerge. The department says the new policy will expedite investigations, but critics rightly argue that it could discourage the staff from opening cases at all.

Over the past decade, investigators often looked at years of data to determine if discrimination, harassment and other problems raised in a complaint indicated a systemic problem that affected other students in the same school district or institution.

That kind of data collection has allowed the department to ferret out trends that might otherwise have been missed - notably concerning school disciplinary practices. For example, in 2014 parents and educators across the country were startled to learn that minority children were subjected to excessive disciplinary practices at every level in the public schools.

Federal data showed that minority preschoolers - mere 4-year-olds - were nearly four times as likely to be suspended as their white peers, at an age when they cannot absorb the lesson from such a punishment. Federal civil rights officials issued guidance showing districts how to avoid such discriminatory policies. Beyond that, the data has had a powerful effect on researchers wo have begun looking into the roots of this serious problem.

Civil rights groups and lawmakers are worried that the Education Department is preparing to abandon the role it is supposed to play in prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex and disability.

The United States Commission on Civil Rights - an independent bipartisan agency that advises the government - has begun an investigation into the administration’s retreat, citing the Education Department as a place of particular concern. And on Tuesday, Senate Democrats demanded that the department furnish information about how investigations are being handled and why the policy was changed. In addition, a bipartisan group of House members have asked the department to maintain guidance issued by the Obama administration for combating sexual violence in schools of kindergarten through 12th grade.

This represents a good start. But civil rights groups and federal lawmakers need to keep bird-dogging this agency whose job is to protect America’s schoolchildren

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


June 27

The Washington Post on Ford’s shift to China:

As a candidate for the White House, Donald Trump blasted the Ford Motor Company for planning to shift production of its leading compact car, the Focus, to Mexico. He even went so far as to threaten a huge tariff on any and all U.S. cars formerly produced in this country that might be exported from Mexico back into the United States. After Mr. Trump’s election, Ford seemed to cave by announcing it would not be building the cars in Mexico after all.

So what are we to make of the surprising facts that Ford now plans to make the Focus in President Trump’s other trade nemesis - China - and that the Trump administration’s response is, essentially, “whatever”? Ford’s move just “shows how flexible multinational companies are in terms of geography,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross observed. You don’t say!

Lesson one: Economic reality is stubborn. Gas prices are plunging. Ergo, the American consumer can afford to indulge a preference for larger vehicles, to the detriment of smaller, fuel-efficient models such as the Focus, U.S. sales of which fell 31?percent between 2012 and 2016. Assembling these slow-selling vehicles in high-wage American factories is not profitable; even nonunion Japanese and Korean carmakers are de-emphasizing small-car production in the United States, in favor of SUVs and crossovers. Mr. Trump’s coercion was bound to fail, and while it’s not ideal to see any production shift overseas, kudos to Ford for calling Mr. Trump’s dictatorial bluff - especially because the company plans not to lay off workers but to redeploy them producing pickups and SUVs in Michigan.

A second lesson, though, is that government subsidy can’t overcome fundamental market dynamics either. Ford was the recipient of a $5.9?billion low-interest loan from the Energy Department, authorized under a bipartisan program signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007 but funded by the Obama administration in 2009, the purpose of which was to help Ford produce the next generation of fuel-efficient vehicles in the United States. “We have an historic opportunity to help ensure that the next generation of fuel-efficient cars and trucks are made in America,” President Barack Obama said . A declared purpose of the huge loan was to convert two truck factories to car production. The loan did, indeed, help Ford raise the fuel efficiency of its best-selling F-150 pickup (which it might have done anyway to meet stricter federal standards). But as Ford’s recent moves demonstrate, the dream of hot-selling gas sippers, made in the U.S.A., has apparently died, a victim of low gas prices and high U.S. production costs.

Is it too much to hope that the federal government will stop purporting to micromanage specific business-location decisions using either threats or bribes? The right approach is to enhance business conditions generally - especially through corporate tax reform - so that the United States remains competitive with all the other places in the world where capital may freely locate. Mr. Ross seemed to concede this, noting that after Ford’s move, German and Japanese automakers will be attracted to this country by Mr. Trump’s “reforms.” So we’re wondering: What was the point of all that protectionist fuss?

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


June 27

The Los Angeles Times on a Supreme Court decision on playgrounds:

On Monday, the Supreme Court decided a case that despite its mundane subject matter - the resurfacing of a preschool playground - was viewed by some conservatives as an opportunity for the court to radically redefine the constitutional relationship between church and state.

Fortunately, the court did no such thing. That’s good news at a time when the culture wars over the role of religion in public life have become inflamed.

At issue in the case was an application by the Trinity Lutheran Church Child Learning Center of Columbia, Mo., for a state grant to resurface its playground using rubber from recycled tires.

The state rejected the request, citing a provision in Missouri’s constitution, similar to those in many other states, that says, “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.”

By a 7-2 vote, the court ruled that Missouri had violated the constitution in rejecting the preschool’s application. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. explained that the 1st Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause “protects religious observers against unequal treatment and subjects to the strictest scrutiny laws that target the religious for special disabilities based on their religious status.”

Roberts insisted that Monday’s ruling “is unremarkable in light of our prior decisions.” He’s right. In 1947, for example, the court upheld a New Jersey law enabling a school district to reimburse parents for the public transportation costs of sending their children to parochial as well as public schools.

But if this case was so straightforward, why did religious conservatives attach so much importance to it? The answer is that they hoped that the court would rule for Trinity Lutheran Church in much more sweeping terms that would make it clear that states couldn’t ban subsidies even for pervasively religious educational programs at parochial schools.

Some conservatives also hoped that the court would overrule a 2004 decision in which it upheld the state of Washington’s refusal to include students studying for the ministry in a state scholarship program. Instead, Roberts highlighted the distinctions between the two cases; the 2004 case involved longstanding concern about state subsidy of the clergy, not merely the resurfacing of a playground.

We had urged the court to hand down a narrow decision focused on the specific facts of the playground program. The court has followed that advice.

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


June 27

The Minneapolis Star Tribune on the Senate health care bill:

Twice now, the Congressional Budget Office has provided a clear message to Republicans rolling out health reform legislation: The “cures” the party has proposed are far worse than the Obamacare ills the bills try to fix.

Late Monday, the CBO’s nonpartisan group of economists released its review of the Senate bill that has been crafted with little input from consumers, patients, medical providers or the state leaders who would be forced to grapple with the drastic cuts to Medicaid the legislation calls for. Not surprisingly, the CBO’s “score” of a bill written by politicians for politicians signals that the reforms serve wealthy GOP supporters at the expense of the poor, the seriously ill, early retirees and working-class families struggling to pay for health insurance.

Compared with former President Barack Obama’s reforms, 22 million fewer people would have health insurance in 2026. The Senate bill also pulls out $772 billion from the Medicaid program over the same time period, recklessly leaving states, which jointly fund the program, to deal with the fallout. Premiums for consumers buying individual health insurance would rise across the board in 2018 and 2019. After that, most - particularly those who are older or sicker - would pay considerably more to maintain the level of coverage they have under Obama reforms.

On its face, the Senate bill’s score is slightly better than the CBO’s assessment of the previously released House plan, which would result in 1 million more Americans lacking coverage. But the CBO score doesn’t reflect the steeper cuts the Senate bill makes to Medicaid after 2026.

Minnesota experts are understandably issuing extraordinary warnings about these steep future cuts. “Nursing homes, a lot of them, will probably close because they will not be able to survive,” said Lynn Blewett, a nationally respected University of Minnesota health policy expert, at a Saturday health reform forum in Burnsville.

Blewett’s concern is justified. Both the House and Senate plans go far beyond rolling back the Obama law’s expansion of Medicaid to needy adults. The program, which is jointly funded by the states and the federal government, provides medical care for the poor and, as part of this, pays for the bulk of long-term care for the elderly and disabled. One in two Minnesotans in a nursing home relies on Medicaid, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In assessing the Senate bill’s potential damage, it’s also important to remember the expensive remedy the Minnesota Legislature crafted this year to stabilize the state’s individual health insurance market, where consumers were hit with soaring price hikes. The solution: a $600 million “reinsurance” program to offset the cost of patients with costly, ongoing medical needs. In turn, it was hoped that this would reduce by 20 percent the premiums of the roughly 5 percent of Minnesotans who buy insurance on their own.

Many Minnesotans struggling to afford individual policies under Obamacare earned slightly too much to qualify for the financial aid the law made available to discount premiums. But the Senate bill does the opposite of what’s needed by significantly lowering the financial eligibility line to qualify for premium assistance. The aid also would be skimpier for many of those who qualify. The result: more individual market consumers unable to afford coverage, leaving legislators in Minnesota and elsewhere on the hook for future rounds of reinsurance or other pricey aid. The skimpier premium aid could also affect MinnesotaCare funding, creating another legislative budget headache here.

The Senate bill’s path through the chamber is far from assured, even as a vote is expected before August. The CBO has provided a factual analysis raising multiple red flags. Senators ought to heed, not ignore, these concerns.

Online: https://www.startribune.com/


June 26

The Chicago Tribune on the U.S. Supreme Court’s travel ban decision:

Because President Donald Trump failed to devise a reasonable and effective short-term travel ban, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in Monday to help. And a good thing too. The checks-and-balances system exists to handle these moments.

Here we have a mess that goes back to the first week of Trump’s presidency, when he issued a sweeping executive order on national security grounds that would have shut down travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. The order, meant to protect America from terrorism, was overly broad. The rollout was thoroughly botched too. Remember those chaotic scenes from O’Hare and other airports when some legal U.S. residents were detained?

Federal courts blocked the program, which represented the first step in guiding Trump back onto solid constitutional ground. Trump tried again with a narrower order targeting citizens of six countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen (Iraq was omitted). That order also was blocked - until the Supreme Court’s Monday action.

The high court said it will hear arguments on the ban in October, but until then split the difference between Trump’s wishes and lower court concerns: The ban on visitors from six countries can be enforced, except on individuals who have an ongoing relationship with the United States. They still can enter. Those individuals include, for example, someone with close family here or acceptance to an American university. The same ground rules apply to another part of the order putting a 120-day stop to the U.S. program for admitting refugees.

Trump has legitimate cause to look closely at how the U.S. screens travelers and refugees to determine whether the system keeps the country safe or has deficiencies. The profile of a would-be terrorist has changed since the rise of Islamic State, with Europe suffering a number of serious attacks by individuals who had connections to Syria. Trump’s decision to freeze travel from certain countries and suspend refugee arrivals could have been within his purview, if he had implemented his order responsibly. He didn’t.

The problem with Trump’s effort is that it looked like the U.S. government was discriminating against a broad group of people based on their religion, in violation of the First Amendment. Trump, in the eyes of federal courts in Hawaii and Maryland, wasn’t so much protecting America as targeting Muslims. Both courts reached their conclusions in March in part by examining Trump’s record as a candidate, which included his 2015 statement “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Appeals courts upheld the rulings, with one questioning whether Trump’s actions breached the scope of authority granted by Congress.

The issue of whether one can divine a presidential order’s intent by parsing a presidential candidate’s heated rhetoric is an interesting one, but the Supreme Court may not even need to go there. We don’t like Trump’s bombast, including his Twitter rants, because he often sounds irresponsible. But often his verbosity is irrelevant to his job responsibilities. In this situation, the details of Trump’s immigration order are what count. Lower courts saw enough to sideline Trump’s order. The Supreme Court will hear the full arguments. In the meantime, the administration doesn’t have to sit on its hands. Officials can get on with the task of vetting U.S. immigration policy while blocking from entry foreigners without any U.S. ties.

From a national security perspective, Trump could have been done with this process by now. If the president had gotten the details right the first time, the U.S. could have been admitting foreigners under newly tightened rules. Trump failed that early test of issuing rules within the confines of the law. Now the Supreme Court will have its say.

Online: https://www.chicagotribune.com/


June 27

The Khaleej Times on the U.S. travel ban:

A partial ban on travelers from six Muslim countries is still a ban. It’s discriminatory at its core though it may have the seal of approval from the US Supreme Court. But judges are human, after all, even in this age of artificial intelligence. They can be biased in their rulings. We can’t blame them for lacking in intellect, but what is of concern is their inability to take into consideration the spirit of the law. The issue is about emotional intelligence - which fell short in this case. There is bias in the ruling even it is for the sake of security. From being a country that is open to people from different countries, religions and races, the US has now fallen victim to the fear of the unknown. US President Donald Trump finally got what he wanted after creating a climate of suspicion in the country. Two attempts were beaten back by the lower courts, but this verdict will please the administration. It will keep the president’s White and male constituency of voters happy by pinning the blame on those who are yet to enter the country for a better life - they are not from here, so they could be dangerous. Guilty before arrival, is the verdict.

The six countries included in the ban - Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya - have been rocked by civil war for decades. In the case of Iran, the government had fallen foul of Washington in the late seventies, after the revolution that wracked the country, and brought to power a regime of clerics.

But this ban is about people, ordinary citizens of these countries who are fleeing strife and persecution. The argument made by the administration is that security measures at airports in these nations are inadequate and do not fall in line with US standards. Terrorists could slip through and make a break for it to the US. The argument is not without merits because these are places that are inimical to US interests. Under the revised rules, only people with bonafide links to the US may be considered for a visa. How do officials interpret these rules? Who gets to get in, and when? Get ready for another round of confusion.

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

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