- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2020

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Ohio Legislature erred with its hasty decision

The Warren Tribune Chronicle

April 5

Ohio’s recently rescheduled primary election by mail hastily drawn up by state legislators against recommendations of the state’s top elections official and other voter organizations, will create a cumbersome situation with major obstacles for county boards of elections.



That is not to mention it also likely will discourage many voters from casting ballots. When that occurs in this very important presidential election year, members of Ohio’s state Legislature who voted to approve the measure can blame themselves.

But it is voters who will suffer.

We are disappointed at our Ohio General Assembly for ignoring the experts, delaying voting by only six weeks, creating a nearly unachievable timeframe, and replacing in-person voting with a complicated mail-only process. In times of crisis, Ohio voters deserve to know their democracy remains sound. This mess falls short of any such reassurance.

The fact is, a letter sent from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose on March 21 - days before the state Legislature acted to pass HB 197 extending the election until April 28 - implored all members of Ohio’s General Assembly not to set an election date earlier than June 2.

Ohio’s recently rescheduled primary election by mail hastily drawn up by state legislators against recommendations of the state’s top elections official and other voter organizations, will create a cumbersome situation with major obstacles for county boards of elections.

That is not to mention it also likely will discourage many voters from casting ballots. When that occurs in this very important presidential election year, members of Ohio’s state Legislature who voted to approve the measure can blame themselves.

But it is voters who will suffer.

We are disappointed at our Ohio General Assembly for ignoring the experts, delaying voting by only six weeks, creating a nearly unachievable timeframe, and replacing in-person voting with a complicated mail-only process. In times of crisis, Ohio voters deserve to know their democracy remains sound. This mess falls short of any such reassurance.

The fact is, a letter sent from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose on March 21 - days before the state Legislature acted to pass HB 197 extending the election until April 28 - implored all members of Ohio’s General Assembly not to set an election date earlier than June 2.

“No date before June 2nd is logistically possible. We simply cannot put a postage-paid absentee ballot request in the hands of each eligible voter and afford them reasonable time to cast a ballot any earlier. A plan that does not afford every Ohioan an opportunity to vote free of charge would be unconstitutional,” LaRose wrote.

The Legislature ignored LaRose’s urging, as well as that of other voting experts, and instead moved with haste to establish April 28 as the deadline for voting by mail. The bill’s passage was unanimous, and the governor signed it almost immediately.

Now, under the new law, LaRose’s office is designing and mailing informational postcards explaining how to obtain an absentee ballot, rather than sending applications automatically. As part of the clunky plan, voters also may print the application themselves, or ask their county board to send one, then pay their own postage to send it back. If all goes as planned, voters will receive a ballot via mail and return it? all by April 27. LaRose estimates the postcards alone won’t hit mailboxes until the second week of April.

In the days following the health order to delay the March 17 election, some legislators expressed frustration at the last-minute decision. But let’s make no mistake, while the administration may make decisions during crisis, it is only the legislature that may change the date of an election. Given that, as this pandemic grew in the days leading up to March 17, it was the Ohio Legislature that was asleep at the switch by failing to act to postpone the election and start debate as to when it should have been rescheduled.

Even in times of health crisis, democracy must not be abandoned. Ohio voters need to know that. Unfortunately, this legislative rush job appears to send a message to the contrary.

Online: https://bit.ly/2V5I5up

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Close the backdoors

Toledo Blade

April 6

By exploiting weaknesses in a decades-old global messaging system, Saudi Arabia has been able to track its citizens as they travel through the United States. This disturbing revelation should open the eyes of U.S. regulators to the need to improve the security of the American telecommunications system.

The Saudi spying campaign, revealed by a whistleblower to the Guardian, utilized vulnerabilities in Signaling System No. 7 (SS7), a global messaging system created in 1975 and last updated in 1993. Despite its age, SS7 remains a key component of America’s digital infrastructure.

The system allows phone networks to exchange the information needed for passing calls and text messages, and allows users to roam from one network to another as they travel around the world.

Foreign service providers use SS7 to ping users’ phones and receive location information from other providers in order to levy roaming charges.

But the Saudi government appears to have abused the system, pinging the phones of Saudi nationals traveling throughout the United States at an inordinate rate.

This vulnerability can just as easily be exploited to surveil the communications of American citizens, as noted in a 2018 letter from the Department of Homeland Security to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.).

Despite the known vulnerabilities and a set of fixes that tech experts regard to be relatively straightforward, the Federal Trade Commission has never required the U.S. telecommunications industry to implement fixes.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is currently considering a bill, known as EARN IT, which threatens the future of message encryption offered by U.S. Internet platforms, ensuring more vulnerabilities in the U.S. telecoms system.

The Saudi spying campaign should reveal the danger of either maintaining the status quo or, worse, further compromising U.S. cybersecurity. Efforts must be taken immediately - by the telecommunications industry, by the FTC, by Congress - to bring America’s digital infrastructure into the 21st century.

So-called “back doors” that can be exploited by U.S. law enforcement can just as easily be exploited by foreign governments.

Rather than sustaining or creating back doors, the United States should shut the door and protect the security of digital communications made on its soil.

Online: https://bit.ly/2XdtM9H

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How long will we pay for the stimulus?

The Columbus Dispatch

April 5

It wasn’t so long ago that a trillion dollars was an unfathomable amount of money. But now we need to understand just how big a number it is.

As this decade began, and before most of us had ever heard of coronavirus, fiscal conservatives were sounding alarms that the U.S. federal budget deficit would crest $1 trillion in 2020.

Now, triple that number, or maybe even quintuple it.

The U.S. Treasury is committed to funding more than a couple trillion dollars for just one of several coronavirus response bills passed by Congress and signed into law March 27 by President Donald Trump. The CARES Act - the third and by far the largest package of legislation - priced out at $2.2 trillion just by itself, but it will probably not be the last stimulus bill to be passed in efforts to keep Americans and our economy afloat in the wake of COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the president called for another $2 trillion for infrastructure improvements in a fourth coronavirus response package, something House Democrats have also started to discuss.

This is not to say that Congress was wrong to enact the CARES legislation and two stimulus packages that preceded it in quick succession in March. With coronavirus closures causing family finances to teeter and sending businesses to the verge of collapse, lawmakers and the Trump administration had to do something.

These record-setting bailout bills are needed to shore up individuals, companies and critical economic infrastructure until this nation and the rest of the global economy can catch their breath and return to something resembling normalcy, whatever that looks like post-pandemic.

But what has not been debated much, if at all, is how this debt will be recouped, if even a portion can be. It is a topic that deserves more attention, especially as to how it will affect future generations.

Some background is in order to put the dollars into perspective. One trillion dollars -a thousand billion - is almost a quarter of what the U.S. government spends a year.

For the 2019 fiscal year, the federal budget deficit - the gap between what the government takes in and what it spends - reached its highest level in seven years at $984 billion. That was a 26% increase over the prior year, attributed to a combination of falling revenue from 2017 tax cuts championed by Trump, trade war bailouts and increased defense spending.

We’ve been here before, but found our way back, a pathway that is not as apparent now. The deficit had touched the trillion-dollar threshold for four years running during the first term of President Barack Obama.

However, the largest previous deficit was attributed mostly to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which included the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program bank bailout, enacted at the end of the administration of President George W. Bush in 2008.

The deficit peaked at $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2009, fueled by TARP and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was additional stimulus aimed at countering the Great Recession, enacted under Obama in February 2009. The deficit continued at $1.3 trillion in 2010 and 2011, dropped to $1 trillion in 2012 and then fell further to $680 billion by 2013.

For the remainder of the Obama administration, the debt was substantially in check. It fell to $485 billion in fiscal year 2014, dropped to $442 billion in 2015 and then increased in 2016 to $585 billion.

Trump campaigned for president in 2016 on a promise to eliminate the national debt within eight years, but instead it has risen every year of his administration. The deficit climbed to $665 billion in fiscal year 2017, $779 billion n 2018 and finished the 2019 fiscal year in September at $984 billion.

With increased defense spending and bailouts aimed at softening the blow of Trump’s multi-front trade wars, the federal deficit was already projected to reach $1.1 trillion in the 2020 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, even before the global pandemic struck.

Some may dismiss the current explosion of the federal deficit and say it is no different than what previous administrations did by bailing out banks and auto manufacturers to combat the Great Recession.

We would like to think there are significant parallels, but it is difficult to draw similarities. The stimulus measures enacted under Bush 43 and Obama during the recession were more targeted and significantly smaller than what has been approved so far to deal with the coronavirus impact. There also were clear expectations with the stimulus packages passed to support banks and auto manufacturers in the Great Recession for those funds to be repaid, and in large part they have been.

Of $442 billion paid out under TARP, $390 billion has been returned and $52.5 billion has been earned by the Treasury on TARP investments.

Similarly, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, passed under Bush in July 2008, invested $191 billion to save and take control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two companies which guarantee most of the home mortgages made in the U.S. The principal was not repaid but dividends paid by the companies have exceeded $300 billion.

And Obama’s recovery and reinvestment stimulus cost just $800 billion over five years, from 2009 through 2013 - far less than the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that Trump signed into law on March 27.

For now, the most important task at hand is to get this pandemic under control, to save lives and to protect those on the front lines of caring for those sickened with COVID-19.

Funds flowing from the CARES Act will help do some of that. The 880-page bill includes critical support for the health care system as well as financial assistance for individuals, businesses and industries.

What isn’t spelled out is any hope for bringing the federal deficit back under control post-pandemic, as if annual shortfalls of hundreds of billions of dollars should ever be considered a degree of control.

But soon, we urge federal legislators and the Trump administration to consider just what their deficit-driving stimulus measures mean for our future economic security.

Online: https://bit.ly/2V9UFbR

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Pandemic shows need to support less fortunate

The Canton Repository

April 5

Those Americans who are fortunate enough to be healthy and financially secure, with jobs that likely will survive the pandemic, no doubt are daydreaming about the eventual return to normal. When will we go back to work and school, sit down at a restaurant, shake a stranger’s hand, hug a friend, get a haircut?

That version of “normal” indeed sounds blissful, but many have reason to hope that not everything reverts strictly to late-2019 status.

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the gap between haves and have-nots in American society and how those differences affect us all. If that enhanced awareness leads to an economy that is fairer for all workers, America might just end up stronger for it.

Income inequality certainly isn’t news; policymakers have been warning about it for many years. A report by the Pew Research Center in February said that in 2018 the nation’s top 20% of earners brought in 52% of all U.S. income - more than the entire remaining 80%. In 1968, the top fifth earned only 43% of total income. Income inequality in the U.S. is the worst among G7 nations.

Last year and before, many Americans could go about their business without thinking much of those struggling on the margins.

The pandemic has changed that. Suddenly it matters that so many people don’t have sick leave or health insurance, because someone who can’t afford to miss work, much less pay for an expensive test and treatment, is more likely to skip the doctor visit and hope for the best.

Worse, those jobs are concentrated in fields - food service, retail, caring for children or the elderly - with high person-to-person contact.

Beyond the implications for public health, the lack of a personal safety net means that a setback such as getting sick or losing a job in the pandemic-related economic downturn can push a family into a downward spiral that puts financial security that much further out of reach. Having too many people unable to reach prosperity and security no matter how many hours they work is a recipe for social strife.

Less dire, but still significant, is the disadvantage of those without broadband internet access. That makes it harder for kids to keep up with school during the shutdown and for parents to work from home, even if their job allows it.

Advocates for low-income families have seized on the moment to push for worker-friendly changes. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is among those pushing for universal paid sick leave. The pandemic experience surely will affect the continuing health care debate.

Ohio Democrats, too, are pushing for guaranteed paid sick leave, expanded unemployment compensation and other supports for working families in response to the pandemic.

Will these be viewed as temporary necessities or a move toward the way the economy always should work?

The current awareness of low-wage workers’ plight no doubt is headed for a collision with the fact of shrinking government revenues, as income tax and sales tax collections fall with the economy.

But we hope that, when the pandemic has passed and the economy is recovering, policymakers and the public alike will remember one of the lessons of the crisis: An economy that leaves too many people unprotected from illness and instability makes a whole society more vulnerable.

Online: https://bit.ly/2RiPdSW

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Patience critical to ending coronavirus lockdown

Akron Beacon Journal

March 28

There’s only one certainty amid the chaos of our socially distant lives in this coronavirus moment.

We can’t do this again anytime soon, if at all possible. We have to get this right.

We have to do everything within our collective power to stop the spread of a highly contagious virus and emerge in a new world only when we’re confident it’s safe.

Resuming our lives too quickly could not only kill far too many people, it also could extend our economic crisis in ways we don’t want to imagine.

Everyone from President Trump to governors, health professionals, workers and students understandably want to resume normal life as quickly as possible. We all want events, sports and shows to resume, especially with summer looming.

We understand most of us have never been asked - or ordered by our governor - to make a vital sacrifice of our freedom for our fellow man. We’ve never deliberately brought our economy to a virtual standstill, instantly making millions of Americans unemployed.

It’s new and scary, especially knowing the worst is yet to come. A “tsunami” of serious COVID-19 cases could arrive in Akron-area hospitals as early as this week, local administrators believe.

This is as real as it gets.

Yet, many workers have been forced to report their employers for questionably labeling their work as essential while also failing to follow Ohio’s social distancing requirements. Even if staying open can be defended, forcing people to risk infection without proper safeguards is immoral and, for now, illegal.

One COVID-19 patient can create thousands of cases as they infect others who infect more and more.

The fastest path to normalcy with the fewest deaths possible requires everyone to heed the stay home and social distance advice of the experts who have prepared for pandemics.

Even then, there’s still no way to know how long life needs to be interrupted.

“You’ve got to be realistic, and you’ve got to understand that you don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN Wednesday night.

Fauci’s expert statement meshes well with Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton’s daily reminders that Ohio needs to buy time by blunting its rising number of cases as much as possible.

Doing nothing would create a sharp, quicker spike in sickness that would kill many, overwhelm our health system and cause far more havoc in our lives. A longer, shallower spike saves lives if we’re patient enough to let this awful virus run its course.

So, yes, two parents trying to work from home with kids trying to attend online school leaves plenty to be desired. Birthday parties via video conferencing aren’t as much fun. Senior years in college and high school may be ruined. Fun remains in short supply.

All of these challenges also are a far cry from what our fellow Americans achieved during World War II or other national struggles. They found a way to overcome.

It’s our duty to stay home, protect ourselves and others and bide our time.

This too shall pass, if we let it.

Online: https://bit.ly/39U2WX6

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