Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


Feb. 17

The Dallas Morning News on widespread power outages in Texas brought on by recent winter weather:

With more than 4 million residents suffering hours without power in the midst of a historic cold snap and pandemic, Texans deserve to know what went wrong and why. So on Tuesday, as public outrage cascaded across the state, Gov. Greg Abbott wisely added an investigation into the power outage and reform of the grid operator to his list of emergency items for this Legislature to tackle.

The simple answer is the cold snap created a massive demand for electricity that exceeded the ability of power plants to generate it. Wind turbines froze and weather-related shutdowns of a nuclear plant in South Texas and similar disruptions to natural gas-powered electricity plants left Texans huddling at home with thermostats turned down to avert a larger and more dangerous power shutdown statewide.

But we want a better answer, namely: Could this have been avoided, and at what cost? Should the existing power grid and generation network be made more resilient to accommodate weather extremes, something lawmakers advocated after freezing weather crippled the power generators in 2011?

Only an honest investigation will get at the truth, and only compliance with the findings will prevent a replay. Originally, Abbott tweeted that the electricity grid had not been compromised and suggested the extreme weather alone was to blame. Later, Abbott attributed the massive outages to power companies falling short in their obligation and expanded his criticism to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operator of Texas’ power grid, calling it “anything but reliable.”

It is not as though Texas hasn’t been through this before. In the early days of February 2011, many homes and businesses lost power from 20 minutes to over eight hours. Immediately, fingers of blame pointed to power companies, alleged market manipulation and faulty ERCOT energy management ...

In a television interview Tuesday, ERCOT chief executive officer Bill Magness said 70 to 80 generating units out of about 680 statewide are not working, idling about 45,000 megawatts, which he called “a high number.” He also said improvement in the weather and restoration of power units will determine the duration of this crisis. He said power plants had made winterization improvements in the past decade, but in light of this crisis suggested that officials need to have a conversation about incentives and winterization practices needed to keep power flowing.

Texas’ vibrant, competitive power market must be reliable and affordable. The state is growing, attracting new residents and corporations, many of them from California, a state that has a long history of power blackouts. It will be hard to make a competitive argument for relocations if we don’t deal with the weaknesses in the state’s power network.

We’ve been warned before. Maybe this time we’ll listen.

Online: https://www.dallasnews.com


Feb. 17

The Los Angeles Times on raising the federal minimum wage:

At $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage is appallingly low.

It’s so low that a full-time worker making the federal minimum wage qualifies for food stamps, and a single parent working 40 hours a week falls below the poverty line. It’s hard to fathom how an adult could afford rent, food, transportation or a decent standard of living on the minimum wage salary of $15,000 a year, much less save money for a rainy day.

Yet an estimated 1.7 million workers across the U.S. are paid the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased since 2009. These workers — along with other low-wage workers earning less than $15 an hour, who make up 20% of the nation’s workforce — are long overdue for a raise.

Congress is now debating whether to include President Joe Biden’s proposal for a $15 minimum wage in the next COVID-19 relief package, while also eliminating the tip credit that allows restaurant workers in 43 states to be paid as little as $2.13 an hour. Lawmakers shouldn’t be swayed by naysayers and pessimists who argue that the pay hike is too much, too soon. Gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 will lift more working people out of poverty and help begin to reduce the yawning income inequality gap in this country.

While the federal minimum wage stagnated over the last decade, cities and states have raised their pay floor. Twenty-nine states and more than 40 cities have set base pay above $7.25. Florida has passed legislation to raise its minimum gradually to $15 by the year 2026. Many other states are already at $15 an hour or will get there in the next year or two, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as the states of California and Massachusetts. And many have pegged future wage hikes to inflation so the pay floor will continue to rise.

Biden’s proposed hike is likely to lead some businesses to raise prices, increase automation or pare their payrolls. But that’s just half the picture. The Congressional Budget Office projected that the higher wage would raise the purchasing power of an estimated 27 million workers, lifting 900,000 out of poverty. That additional economic activity would boost the overall economy, at least temporarily ...

The Raise the Wage Act would increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour in June. Then it would rise every year until it hits $15 in June 2025. After that, the minimum wage would increase annually with growth in the median wage. That’s important. Workers shouldn’t have to wait a decade or more for lawmakers to find the political will to raise the minimum wage. Guaranteeing that the minimum wage rises with inflation would help ensure that the lowest-paid workers don’t get left behind again.

There is considerable pushback to $15 an hour from lawmakers in low-cost states where the increase from $7.25 would be a considerable change. In Mississippi, a $15 minimum wage would give almost half of all workers a raise, the New York Times reported. Mississippi also has one of the highest poverty rates in the country.

Skeptics of minimum wage increases fixate on the potential job losses as reason not to embrace the $15 target. But Congress can — and should — enact tax policies and financial incentives to help employers, particularly small business, adjust to the pay mandate and help preserve jobs.

The U.S. cannot continue to ignore the working poor. We cannot deny the destructive effects of poverty and income inequality. Raising the minimum wage to $15 is not the answer to poverty, but it’s an important tool to begin to alleviate it.

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


Feb. 15

The Albany Times-Union on New York's misrepresentation of COVID-19 nursing home deaths:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in a political firestorm entirely of his own making. Had he not been so worried about the political repercussions of transparency, he would not be mired in the repercussions of a political cover-up.

But it isn’t the governor’s political woes that ought to be a concern here. In fact, what his Republican opponents say about him is irrelevant. Officials of a party loyal to an ex-president who extravagantly and continually lied for four years in office are now shocked — shocked! — that Mr. Cuomo was less than forthright about COVID-19 nursing home deaths. That should be seen for the opportunistic, overwrought hand-wringing that it is. Ignore it.

What matters, though, is Mr. Cuomo’s months-long effort to hide complete information on COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents from the Legislature and the public. Now we know why: politics.

To be clear, as far as we know, the administration didn’t underestimate the overall number of COVID-19 deaths. But in not revealing how many deaths attributed to hospitals were actually the result of infections in nursing homes, the death rate among nursing home residents looked lower than it actually was.

This distinction came to the fore as a result of an executive order by Mr. Cuomo that barred nursing homes from denying admission or readmission of medically stable people solely on the basis of a COVID-19 infection. The governor issued the order in an effort to free up hospital beds for acute cases, then rescinded the order in May amid concerns that it was contributing to COVID-19 infections (which the state still insists was not the case).

When the Legislature in August asked how many hospital deaths included people who had been nursing home residents, the administration clammed up. And not because the answers were hard to get, as it long claimed. Rather, as Mr. Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, explained privately to Democratic lawmakers, the administration was scared that the data might be used against it by the U.S. Justice Department.

Now that a court has ordered the administration to release the numbers, we learn that the real tally is about 77 percent higher than reported last month. And the state’s rate of nursing home deaths compared with its general population is above the national average, though lower than 19 other states.

This bears not just on whether the March order resulted in more infections in nursing homes, but on whether nursing homes were and are taking proper precautions to avoid infection and transmission, whether state oversight of nursing homes is adequate to ensure elderly New Yorkers are well cared for, and whether the for-profit nursing home model should be reconsidered.

The situation demands a full and independent investigation, perhaps by the state comptroller or attorney general. And it requires that Mr. Cuomo come to terms with the harm that he can cause by insisting on total control and secrecy when good government demands transparency.

This was not just a vague “void” that Mr. Cuomo now laments his political foes have seized upon. It was a waste of six months of vital time, only for the sake of a governor ducking for political cover.

Online: https://www.timesunion.com


Feb. 12

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel on the third anniversary of the Florida high school mass shooting:

The rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is too big and too tragic for current law.

Circuit Court Judge Patti Englander Henning ruled last week that the Broward County School District had no duty to warn students and faculty that Nikolas Cruz could present a threat. It was the latest frustration for survivors and victims’ families who have sought to hold someone accountable.

Their frustration is understandable. The Florida Supreme Court previously ruled that, under state liability statutes, the deaths of 17 people and the wounding of 17 others qualifies only as a single incident. The school district thus could have to pay no more than $300,000 — split among all the families.

Sadly, bureaucratic ineptitude is not actionable. When it came to Cruz, the school district committed plenty of it.

District officials lost track of Cruz after he was assigned to a program for troubled students. After the shooting, the district tried to cover up its mistakes. Yet Englander’s ruling seems correct.

As the judge wrote in her ruling, “Plaintiffs wish to place on trial the district’s programs arguing that but for the ineffective special programs instituted for Cruz and other students with like tendencies, he would not have bought a gun nor have attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas nor used the weapon at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

“Knowing how poorly he was progressing with modified school programs, the district should have predicted his future criminality – specifically that he would one day enter the school (where he had not been in attendance for over a year) and commit the unimaginable violence that he did.”

Englander called the allegations “an impermissible stacking of inferences.” ... For every scenario of failure by the school district that the families raise, however, there’s another scenario.

Example: Why did Florida fail to ban the sale of military-style weapons — meant to inflict mass casualties as quickly as possible — before Cruz bought one? Why did the Legislature ban sales of such weapons to those under 21 only after the Stoneman Douglas shooting?

Example: Why didn’t the FBI follow up more aggressively on two tips that Cruz might shoot up a school? A month after the shooting, the bureau issued a statement that read, in part, “As the FBI Director has made clear, the FBI could have and should have done more to investigate the information it was provided prior to the shooting. While we will never know if any such investigative activity would have prevented this tragedy, we clearly should have done more.”

Example: Why didn’t the Florida Department of Children and Families investigate Cruz more thoroughly? In 2016, DCF responded because Cruz was displaying erratic behavior, according to his mother. DCF closed the case after determining that he posed no danger to himself and was adequately cared for.

Another “if only” concerns Scott Peterson, the school resource officer. The disgraced former Broward sheriff’s deputy did not enter the building even after shots were fired.

That “if only” prompted the Broward County State Attorney’s Office to file 11 criminal charges against Peterson. Most accuse of him child neglect. The indictment, however, seems like overreach.

Prosecutors did not argue that even prompt action by Peterson could have saved the victims killed on the first floor of the 1200 Building. The allegation is that Peterson could have saved the six who died on the third floor.

As his attorneys responded, however, Peterson would have had just 73 seconds to reach the third floor and prevent the killings. Before getting there, he would have had to secure classrooms, bathrooms and teachers lounges on the first and second floors. Two years ago, a man in Dayton, Ohio, armed with a similar weapon, killed nine people in 26 seconds.

The families still can go after the school district in court. They could seek claims bills for higher payments through the Legislature, though that process can take years and usually requires claimants to hire lobbyists ...

But the Legislature could respect the Stoneman Douglas families — and change Florida for the better — by revising the state’s outdated sovereign immunity law. Doing so would require the Legislature to focus less on issues like allowing guns in churches and removing the license requirement for carrying concealed weapons.

Could Florida shift away from those priorities? If only.

Online: https://www.sun-sentinel.com


Feb. 11

The Wall Street Journal on the president's pledge to reopen schools within his first 100 days in office:

President Biden made an early pandemic show by promising that a majority of American schools would reopen in his first 100 days in office. But (last week) we learned that this depends on the meaning of the word “reopen.”

“His goal that he set is to have the majority of schools, so more than 50 percent, open by day 100 of his presidency and that means some teaching in classrooms,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Feb. 9. “So at least one day a week.”

One day out of five? We doubt that’s how working parents define open.

Ms. Psaki is trying to make a virtue out of a humiliating political embarrassment. Mr. Biden figured that his support for the teachers union agenda, along with more money, would get the unions to reopen the schools. Instead he’s discovering what America’s parents have learned in the last year: Unions run the schools, and no one—not parents, not school districts, not mayors, and not even a new Democratic President—will tell them what to do. So it’s one day a week, pal. Get used to it.

This really is one of the great scandals of the pandemic. At first unions demanded that cases drop in their cities before schools open. Now cases are falling almost everywhere. So unions are insisting that teachers must be vaccinated before returning.

Take Chicago, where elementary and middle schools were supposed to reopen last week—until the union called a de facto strike. On Feb. 10 the Chicago Teachers Union ratified an agreement to return to schools in March. But teachers, who will be prioritized for vaccines, won’t have to return to classrooms if they have an underlying medical condition or live with someone who does.

Most teachers may be able to apply for an exemption. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of people in Cook County have a chronic condition. The agreement also requires in-person instruction to be “paused” for 14 days if a single child in a school tests positive for Covid. All of this means most kids will be stuck learning remotely for the rest of the school year.

Or look at San Francisco, where the teachers union and district agreed over the weekend to reopen schools once all teachers are vaccinated. Mayor London Breed said Feb. 9 this means schools won’t reopen this year. “We have to do better. We have to think about these children,” she said. Maybe next year.

Incredibly, San Francisco’s school board and union hadn’t even considered a plan to reopen schools for nearly 11 months. Last week the city finally sued the school board to force it to come up with a reopening plan. ...

A University of Pennsylvania study estimates that each month of school closures costs students between $12,000 and $15,000 in future earnings. The earnings hit will be greatest for minority and poor children in cities. Private and suburban schools that aren’t controlled by unions have managed to reopen safely, though not because they have more money.

Congress last year appropriated $68 billion in Covid relief for K-12 schools, but they have spent only $4 billion. Although parochial schools enroll large numbers of low- and middle-income kids, they have been mostly excluded from federal relief funds. Now Democrats in Congress plan to send public schools another $130 billion—whether they open or not.

If Mr. Biden really wants to lead, he’d use his bully pulpit to say school districts that don’t reopen classrooms won’t get the money. Instead we get Ms. Psaki defining classroom instruction down. This ridiculous standard for success is what George W. Bush once called the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Online: https://www.wsj.com