- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


March 21

The Charleston Gazette on President Donald Trump’s plan to tackle the opioid crisis:

The Trump administration’s latest proposal for tackling the opioid crisis is not devoid of good ideas. It’s certainly got more meat on its bones than the president’s declaration of the crisis as a public health emergency last fall.

There was talk, although still not enough specifics, of increasing treatment options for addicts, and of new limits on prescriptions of oxycodone, hydrocodone and other opioids.

But Trump spent the days leading up to his announcement touting the idea of the death penalty for opioid dealers, and his Monday speech focused (as much as it focused on anything) on similar “tough on crime” policies.

The problem is, those policies don’t get good results. America - well, much of it - has learned from previous drug epidemics that such tough-talk tactics aren’t the solution. By all means, prosecute drug dealers and interrupt their trade routes. But if too much emphasis is on chucking people in jail, let alone executing them, America will just raise another generation of damaged, hopeless families.

Many law enforcement officers and politicians in this area openly acknowledged this a few years ago - a welcome departure from the years when they were afraid of being painted as “weak on crime.” Now, at least at the federal level, that mindset has returned.

At least the plan released by the administration Monday merely referred to increased use of the death penalty under existing law, rather than increasing the situations where it might be used.

No word if the death penalty for opioid dealers would extend to the CEOs of companies that shipped millions of unnecessary painkillers to West Virginia, resulting in hundreds of deaths. No word if the doctors who overprescribed opioids, or the pharmacists who ran “pill mills,” would face execution.

Trump also claimed Monday that his beloved wall at the Mexican border would stop the flow of heroin into this country. Experts are extremely skeptical of that claim, to put it mildly.

Even the better parts of Trump’s plan have problems. Cutting prescriptions for painkillers sounds good, and West Virginia lawmakers have already taken steps in that direction. They passed a bill (SB 273) earlier this month that would limit many initial opioid prescriptions. Gov. Jim Justice asked for that bill, so even though he hadn’t signed it as of Tuesday afternoon, he almost certainly will.

That’s useful, but even though prescription painkillers kicked off this epidemic, heroin and fentanyl have eclipsed them in recent years, partially because those addicted to pills had to find other ways to feed their addiction once the pills became harder to get. And chronic pain sufferers who legitimately need opioids will likely find them harder to get under such limits.

The plan for increasing treatment for opioid addicts is still more undefined - as is how any treatment increase would be paid for.

A budget passed by Congress calls for $6 billion in spending on the opioid crisis over the next two years, but public health officials say that’s a drop in the bucket. Trump’s budget proposal calls for an additional $7 billion, which would be two or three drops in the bucket.

One specific goal from the Trump plan - to have Congress repeal a law that allows large treatment facilities to get Medicaid reimbursement - wouldn’t help West Virginia, because the state already has federal permission to waive that rule.

And speaking of Medicaid, many people in West Virginia who get treatment for their opioid addictions do so through the state’s Medicaid program, which was expanded under the Affordable Care Act, which Trump and his GOP cronies keep wanting to cut.

There are no easy answers for this huge and disastrous conundrum. But as long as the federal government focuses on punishment, rather than treatment and recovery, the problem will only get bigger.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/


March 20

Los Angeles Times on Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and privacy abuses:

Reports surfaced this weekend about yet another Facebook-fueled abuse of privacy, this time by an outside company trying to manipulate voters on behalf of political causes and candidates - including Donald J. Trump in 2016. The revelations were both sadly familiar and newly outrageous.

According to the Guardian and the New York Times, a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan produced an innocuous-looking personality testing app for Facebook whose real purpose was to identify the sorts of marketing pitches one might be susceptible to - ones that played to people’s anxieties, for example, or alternatively to their sentiments. He then gathered data not just from the roughly 270,000 people who used the app, but from tens of millions of their Facebook friends, all without the friends’ knowledge or consent, according to the news articles.

The story gets worse, however. Kogan reportedly turned over the Facebook data he had harvested to a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, to help it build profiles that it could use to sway voters on a massive scale. The messages could be tailored precisely to the weaknesses of a narrow group of voters, and each pitch could be confined to a single group to avoid putting off voters with different sensibilities.

As Christopher Wylie, who worked at Cambridge Analytica from its founding until 2014, told the Guardian, “We would know what kinds of messages you would be susceptible to, and where you’re going to consume that. And then how many times do we need to touch you with that in order to change how you think about something.”

Political campaigns and commercial advertisers have long sought to target their pitches; what’s different now is how the internet and enormously popular platforms such as Facebook make the process easier, more effective, wider-scale and far more intrusive. Cambridge Analytica has denied using Facebook data improperly, but news reports over the weekend strongly suggest that the firm built its profiles at least in part with data Facebook users didn’t realize they were sharing with it.

Kogan insists that he, too, did nothing wrong, and that’s one of the most disturbing elements of the story. One reason he could acquire all that data about his app users’ Facebook friends, including their posts and their likes, is because Facebook opened that information to application developers in 2011. The company rolled back access to information about app users’ friends in 2015, long after Kogan harvested and shared that data.

Facebook says that when it first learned about Kogan’s data sharing in 2015, it instructed his company and Cambridge Analytica to destroy the harvested data. If the latest news reports are true, a Facebook executive told the Guardian, “it’s a serious abuse” of the company’s rules.

That’s little comfort to the millions of people whose marketing susceptibilities have now been cataloged with Facebook’s help. And this is just the latest in a long line of privacy problems at the social network. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission entered into a settlement with the company in 2011 over misleading or false disclosures to users about app developers’ access to data, among other issues.

Whether the consent decree that Facebook signed in 2011 will have any bearing on this latest privacy affront remains to be seen. Regardless, the fundamental problem here is that companies keep finding new and unanticipated ways to use the personal information people share online - including the digital bread crumbs they leave unwittingly as they wander around the web. Are you comfortable knowing that companies are scooping up your crumbs, your “likes,” your tweets, your status updates and your lists of friends to determine whether to offer you discounts? To decide which news items to show you? To determine how best to sell you on a controversial presidential candidate or a costly ballot measure?

The largely hands-off approach taken by regulators to date has encouraged bountiful innovation and experimentation, but it’s also reinforced an act-first, ask-forgiveness-later mentality among entrepreneurs. The only guidelines are the vaguely worded prohibitions in federal law against unfair and deceptive practices; rather than trying to adopt comprehensive guidelines, the Federal Trade Commission has handled complaints on a case-by-case basis.

It’s not enough. Internet users need some measure of control over the information they reveal online, so that they are not unwittingly helping countless unseen data brokers, aggregators and analysts find new and better ways to steer their opinions, purchases and votes. A federal bill of rights covering online data would be a good place to start. How many outrages have to surface before the tech industry and the federal government start taking privacy seriously?

Online: http://www.latimes.com/


March 20

Chicago Tribune on Sister Jean, Loyola University Chicago and overcoming cynicism:

Sport today gives us so many reasons to be cynical about whatever game we’re watching. Contracts the size of Powerball payouts. Athletes with egos that would make Donald Trump blush. Ticket prices that take a tiger shark-sized bite out of your bank account.

Here in Chicago, however, we’ve found a bit of salve to numb the cynicism. She’s 98, in a wheelchair after a fall broke her hip, and by now, a household name across the country. Jean Dolores Schmidt, aka “Sister Jean,” is team chaplain to Chicago’s Loyola University Ramblers, who are Sweet 16-bound after winning a couple of nail-biters in the first two rounds of this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.

She’s won the hearts of tournament watchers with that wide smile and her pregame prayers with the team. “Don’t let those Tennessee team members scare you with their height,” she told the team before the game against the Volunteers, an invocation that was equal parts pep talk and prayer. “You’re good jumpers. You’re good rebounders. You’re good at everything, and just keep that in mind.”

The bond between Sister Jean and her Ramblers is rock solid. After stunning Tennessee with guard Clayton Custer’s game-winning, final seconds jumper, the team queued up to give Sister Jean a hug. “For her to be doing what she’s doing at her age, it’s amazing. And it’s inspiring,” Custer told The Associated Press.

It sure is a lot more inspiring than a coach who throws chairs across the gym floor. (Bobby Knight, for those too young to remember.) Sister Jean’s connection with this year’s Cinderella Ramblers reminds us that, in the billion-dollar business of college basketball, there’s ample room for people like her. We know every team can’t have a Sister Jean, but wouldn’t it be great if each team had someone like her, someone who inspires fire in each player but also keeps their heads in the right place?

In the Olympics, we watch athletes often without knowing if their gold medal was won with grit or pharmacology. In Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA, we watch players who complain that their eight-digit - and in some cases, nine-digit - contracts aren’t enough. Sister Jean’s connection with her Ramblers isn’t going to change what’s wrong with sports. But it certainly gives us a welcome moment to breathe and smile. And it works wonders for a team with dreams of the Final Four and beyond.

On Thursday, Loyola goes to work again in Atlanta against a fiery Nevada team. We know our Ramblers will continue to amaze and inspire us. The same goes for Sister Jean.

Online: http://www.chicagotribune.com/


March 17

The Baltimore Sun on how a top-ranked university finally exploded into the national consciousness - through basketball:

If the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s stunning upset of No. 1 seed Virginia in the NCAA basketball tournament was the first time you ever heard of UMBC, you could be excused for wondering: Is that a community college? No, it’s not. Actually, it’s something of a nerd factory (and proud of it) that churns out future research scientists, computer scientists, engineers and Md-PhDs at an astonishing rate.

It’s a bit of a joke in Maryland that UMBC was repeatedly ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the top up-and-coming university in the nation. The truth is, it up and came quite a while ago. The magazine also ranks it as one of the top 20 schools for undergraduate teaching and one of the five most innovative national universities. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance has called it a best value university for eight years in a row.

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski is something of a living legend among college presidents. He grew up in segregated Alabama - he knew one of the girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing and was part of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Children’s Crusade - and grew up to become a mathematician. He’s led UMBC since 1992, where his research has focused on expanding opportunities for minorities in science. It’s a good fit for a school founded as an integrated institution in the 1960s as Maryland’s other universities were just desegregating. Today, UMBC produces more African-American Md-PhD students than any other university in the country.

March Madness fans may not know about UMBC, but the graduate admissions departments at MIT, Cal Tech, Harvard, Stanford and so on sure do. So does the NSA, which is right down the road from UMBC’s suburban Baltimore campus. So do Facebook and Google, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

What they know is that this university produces graduates schooled not only in science (there are also excellent humanities students there, too) but in collaboration, innovation and application of what they have learned. Top graduate research programs knew UMBC students were overachievers long before the Retrievers trounced UVa.

Online: http://www.baltimoresun.com/


March 20

The Boston Herald on pets on planes:

The tragic and unnecessary demise of Kokito the French bulldog earlier this month touched Americans in their collective nerve center. We are a country that loves dogs, and word that a beloved canine died after being forced into an overhead bin on a United Airlines flight horrified us.

As protesters held a “Dog In” at LaGuardia Airport over the weekend, New York Sen. Marisol Alcantara presented a pet passenger Bill of Rights of sorts, called “Kokito’s Law.”

Indeed, Kokito was wronged and United Airlines has a problem when it comes to canines surviving flights - they lost 18 dogs last year - but the real issue is why so many dogs are on airplanes.

The simple answer is that people are certifying their animals as service dogs, emotional support dogs and therapy dogs with a few clicks of the mouse and a modest onetime fee on a number of websites, and trusting that the airlines won’t scrutinize their legitimacy for fear of a lawsuit. It’s working.

Delta Airlines estimates there are 700 support animals on flights every day. That’s almost 250,000 annually. The majority of these are dogs like Kokito, but according to the Delta website, “Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more.”

Sensible people can agree that we do not need spiders and turkeys on planes, but dog lovers - the major offenders - need to make some sacrifices. It’s time - with the exception of those assisting people with medical needs - to get the pooches off the planes.

Online: http://www.bostonherald.com/


March 18

The Japan News calls for Japan and the U.S. to keep step with each other on policy, ahead of the planned U.S.-North Korea summit:

Ahead of the planned U.S.-North Korea summit talks, it is important for both the Japanese and U.S. governments to keep step with each other on their policies regarding North Korea.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono visited the United States, and during his talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence both agreed on the importance of urging Pyongyang to take concrete measures toward complete denuclearization.

Kono emphasized that it is necessary to maintain maximum pressure on North Korea. Pence responded by saying that Japan and the United States are with each other 100 percent on their policies toward North Korea.

More than a few people are skeptical: Will North Korea, which has been heightening its threat, really change its policy and abandon its nuclear program?

It was well-timed for Japan and the United States to reconfirm once again during high-level talks the necessity of continuously putting pressure on North Korea until it completely abandons its nuclear ambitions. The two countries also need to work on South Korea, which tends to take a reconciliatory stance toward Pyongyang, to keep in step with them.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit the United States as soon as in early April. Abe must have an in-depth exchange of opinions with U.S. President Donald Trump before the planned U.S.-North Korea summit.

During a recent gathering, Trump referred to a retrenchment or withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. If Trump uses this issue offhandedly as a bargaining chip during the negotiations with North Korea, it could destabilize the regional situation. Abe must also take on the task of persuading Trump not to make any slipshod decisions.

With U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dismissed, it will take some time before U.S. diplomatic authorities are fully prepared. Both sides must make efforts so as not to cause a split in Japan-U.S. cooperation.

Address abduction issue

Using this opportunity of movement in the North Korean situation, the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea should be advanced. Kono asked Pence for the abduction issue to also be taken up as an agenda item during the summit talks.

Despite its promises that it would investigate matters related to the abduction, Pyongyang suspended those efforts unilaterally, and repeatedly acted dishonestly.

Japan’s fundamental policy is to comprehensively solve the issues of nuclear and missile development and of the abduction of Japanese nationals. While seeking cooperation from the United States, Japan should aim at bringing the whole matter related to the abduction to light, and realizing the swift return home of the victims.

Between Japan and the United States, there is a pending problem: the measures to restrict steel and aluminum imports to the United States that Trump has decided on.

Kono once again asked U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to exempt Japan from new U.S. import restrictions on steel and aluminum.

The effective date of the new import measures, March 23, is nearing. It is problematic that the U.S. government has yet to make clear which countries or products would be exempted from the new measures. The Japanese government, for its part, should make efforts to gather relevant information and to prevent turmoil at home.

Should every country introduce countermeasures, it would bring about a protectionist, retaliatory trade war. Toward the compliance with international rules, it would also become important for Japan to deepen cooperation with the European Union and other countries.

Online: http://the-japan-news.com/

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