Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Mercury News and East Bay Times on California's easing of coronavirus restrictions:
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to lift regional stay-at-home orders across the state makes absolutely no sense.
The governor’s irresponsible action Monday is the latest in a series of blunders that is severely damaging California’s ability to end the COVID-19 crisis.
The drop in the number of coronavirus cases over the weekend is good news, but the overall outlook hardly justifies opening up businesses and activities. That approach has only led to ensuing surges that further cripple the state.
California is far, far away from being out of the woods.
As of Saturday, the state’s overall ICU hospital bed capacity stood at 4.5% availability.
Troubling ICU hospital bed capacity numbers are hardly the only concern.
While the seven-day average of daily new cases is down 43% from the Dec. 22 peak, the average as of Sunday, 25,576, is still 2 ½ times as great as at any time prior to the current surge.
The seven-day average of daily deaths is down just 5% from the peak on Jan. 15, and remains 3 ½ times as great as at any time prior to the current surge.
The percentage of tests in the state coming back positive has been steadily declining over the past couple of weeks, now down to 8.1% for the seven-day average. While that’s a marked improvement from the start of the year, it’s a level that before the current surge had not been reached since May, when testing was less widely available.
Meanwhile, researchers in Los Angeles have reported the discovery of a new, fast-spreading variant that may be driving the Southern California surge. The variant, labeled CAL.20C, may or may not be more deadly or contagious than other forms of the virus. It is also unknown to what degree current vaccines are effective in combatting the variant and other variants identified in South Africa and Great Britain. But the variants are spreading through Southern California counties and should be cause for increased concern.
Finally, Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker reported California now ranks dead last among the 50 states administering COVID vaccines. California has given 37.3% of its available vaccines, joining Minnesota (39.8%) Virginia (40.2%) and Alabama (41.1%) in the vaccination Hall of Shame.
The national rate stands at 48.6%. The top three states include North Dakota (82.8%), West Virginia (73.0%) and New Mexico (68.6%).
Newsom reminded Californians during a press conference that COVID-19 “deaths continue to be significant, and this is a sober reminder of how deadly this pandemic remains now more than ever.”
But his action Monday ignores that reality. Newsom should be extending the stay-at-home orders rather than ending them altogether. Instead, he is repeating a strategy that has done next to nothing to bring the COVID crisis to an end.
The Free-Lance Star on the legacy of record-breaking Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron:
Back before it was possible to access any bit of baseball trivia on one’s iPhone, the Baseball Encyclopedia was an essential part of a stats geek’s library. Turn to the player register, and it was possible to see the complete big-league statistics of anyone who ever played.
How fitting that the very first name in the register was Henry Louis Aaron. Talk about leading with your best stuff.
Hank Aaron, who passed away last week at the age of 86, is no longer the all-time major-league home run leader on paper, having lost that distinction to Barry Bonds, who hit many of his homers amid the long-ball onslaught of the steroid era. In the hearts of many baseball fans, though, Aaron is the champ and always will be.
He batted in more runs than anyone in baseball history, a more accurate measure of a player’s worth than home runs.
Maybe his most remarkable statistic is one that often gets overlooked. He accumulated more total bases (one base for a single, two for a double, etc.) than anyone else — not by a mile, but by more than 12 miles.
Aaron’s place in history, though, goes far beyond that.
In April of 1974, playing for the Atlanta Braves, he tied and then broke Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs. The news media attention was intense, building up over the winter after Aaron hit No. 713 at the end of the 1973 season. It should have been cause for celebration, a moment as full of joy as the night 21 years later when Cal Ripken surpassed Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played.
Leading up to the milestone, though, Aaron got so much hate mail, including death threats, that he looked back on that year as a bittersweet time, at best. He needed police escorts and had to slip in and out of ballparks. ... Some of the animosity came from New York Yankees fans who didn’t want to see the Babe’s record fall to anyone, but the contents of the letters told a painful truth: Many did not want a Black man to break one of sport’s most cherished records.
“They carved a piece of my heart away,” Aaron said 20 years later in an New York Times interview. He said he kept many of those letters, to remind himself and others of a darker time.
Aaron was no firebrand. His “Hammerin’ Hank” nickname notwithstanding, his lifestyle and his playing style were low-key. Bobby Bragan, who managed the then-Milwaukee Braves in the mid 1960s, said of Aaron, “If you need a base, he’ll steal it quietly. If you need a shoestring catch, he’ll make it, and his hat won’t fly off and he won’t fall on his butt.”
He seemed an unlikely candidate for death threats, only making noise with his bat and glove. He came from humble beginnings in Mobile, Ala., starting his pro career as a teenager in the Negro Leagues. But his talent was impossible to hide.
By the age of 20, in 1954, he was a starting outfielder for the Milwaukee Braves. His home runs came relatively quietly over the years. He never hit more than 47 in a season, but he was steady, gradually chipping away at the Babe’s record, outlasting other diamond stars who got more attention from the news media and the fans.
He got 97.8 percent of the vote the first year he was eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame, causing many to wonder what motivated the other 2.2 percent.
In interviews later in his life, Aaron seemed to express more sorrow than anger at the venom that accompanied his greatest achievement. It is hoped that some who cursed him nearly half a century ago can look back now and see the greatness to which they were blinded at the time.
The Washington Post on the threat of emerging coronavirus variants:
Vaccines offer hope for an easing of the pandemic, but the coronavirus is not loitering around, waiting to be vanquished. Two significant genetic variants in Britain and South Africa pose a challenge on top of all the other misery and suffering. They require an urgent response and a concerted effort to scale up genomic surveillance in the United States so we aren’t flying blind into the next storm.
All viruses mutate, and most mutations have little consequence. But some variants in the genetic makeup can cause significant changes in viral behavior and in the ability of vaccines to protect against it. That is why scientists have been paying special attention to the variant identified first in Britain, and the variant spotted in South Africa, as well as a new one from Brazil.
The British variant spread with remarkable speed and is now dominant there, leading to a strict lockdown. The epidemiological evidence — the scope and speed of the spread — suggested that it was more transmissible, perhaps up to 50 percent more, than the original virus, though it is not yet known exactly how or why. At first, researchers said the variant did not appear to be more lethal or cause more serious illness. However, on Jan. 22, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the variant “may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” based on a report that found “there is a realistic possibility” that infection with the new variant “is associated with an increased risk of death” compared with the original virus. The data is limited, but this could foreshadow trouble in the United States, where the new variant has a foothold.
On Monday, another concerning development was disclosed about the South African variant. Vaccine developer Moderna announced that its mRNA vaccine could successfully protect against the British variant but might have diminished impact on the South African one, though it would still offer protection. The company said “out of an abundance of caution” it was starting work on a booster candidate to use against the South African variant.
How to respond? The methods used so far — face masks, social distancing, lockdowns, good hygiene — all seem to mitigate the new variants. Hopefully, the vaccines also will work. But one missing piece is the equivalent of a tracking radar. Genetic sequencing technology has developed rapidly. It should be deployed into a massive cross-country genomic virus surveillance network for disease detection and risk assessment, and then incorporated into a global network that would provide timely alerts as the virus evolves. Such a network will be valuable not only during this pandemic but also to help spot future threats. Unfortunately, the United States is way behind other nations in this endeavor. The Biden administration, aware of the problem, should make it a highest priority.
The Chicago Tribune on a standoff between the teachers union and Chicago Public Schools over virus protections:
The Chicago Teachers Union’s vote to not return to in-class instruction — and to teach only if allowed to do so remotely — comes with the union’s usual we’re-not-the-problem spin: Teachers aren’t walking out, CTU says, they just don’t want to work in classrooms they say aren’t healthy.
The truth, without the union’s brand of varnish: CTU has convinced its teachers to authorize an illegal strike. A strike that, if allowed to happen, will continue to damage the education of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students, particularly minority children who risk falling even further behind.
The union’s window dressing surrounding the vote was engineered to deceive. Though bound by a five-year contract that gave them lucrative raises, teachers voted to not return to work, and plainly put, that’s a strike. It’s a walkout that would come after more than 300 days of compromised education in the form of online learning, a walkout that reminds the city of the disregard the union showed to its students and parents in the fall of 2019 when teachers struck for 14 days, even though they had a generous offer on the table.
CTU’s existing contract includes a no-strike clause, “and the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board has ruled a strike of this nature would be illegal,” CPS Chief Talent Officer Matt Lyons said in an email to teachers. “The decision by the union to remain out of schools and deny families access to in-person school is a decision to strike.”
After the vote was announced over the weekend, CPS flinched. District officials had required teachers to show up to their classrooms Monday to prepare for reopening. Now, they’re moving that start date to Wednesday to give both sides more time to resolve the standoff. “We now agree on far more than we disagree, but our discussions are ongoing, and additional time is needed to reach a resolution,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson and district Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade told parents in an email.
On Feb. 1, K-8 CPS students are supposed to begin a hybrid format that divides the week between in-class instruction and remote learning. Teachers need to return to schools to prepare for that start date. If the two sides can hammer out an agreement soon, crisis averted. If not, it’s clear who suffers — Chicago’s children.
We’re not surprised at all by CTU’s strike threat. But lawmakers in Springfield might be.
State Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, sponsored a bill earlier this month that expands items over which the union can bargain with CPS, and therefore what it can strike over. In explaining the bill to his colleagues, Cunningham said he and Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, had met with CTU leaders who reassured them teachers are bound by their existing no-strike language in the contract.
So the union assured Cunningham and Harmon their contract with CPS bars them from striking, and then they took steps to strike anyway. That’s CTU doublespeak on full display.
For weeks, union leaders have been saying CPS has shut them out of the process of forging a reopening plan. Yet CPS spokesman Emily Bolton says the district has had more than 60 negotiating sessions with CTU leaders about a safe reopening of schools. The union says reopening schools would be safe only when Chicago achieves a citywide positivity rate of 3% or less. In reality, it would be hard to find any public health official at the federal, state or local level who has ever suggested that standard.
The district’s plan can’t eliminate the risk of COVID-19, but it minimizes it. All K-8 students, teachers and staff will be required to wear masks in schools at all times. Regular testing will be available to all teachers and staff. Strict cleaning procedures will be used at all schools. High schoolers will continue remote learning only. And the district’s metric for reopening, the point in which confirmed cases double at a rate of every 18 days or more, now stands at 126 days.
On Friday, Jackson announced that the district expects to get COVID-19 vaccines by mid-February and begin vaccinations of teachers and other staff at that point, though the process will take some time.
Will CTU still throw up roadblocks, even if its teachers are among the first in line to get vaccinated? Based on the history, most likely.
The Wall Street Journal on the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, now a private citizen:
Democrats can’t let go of Donald Trump even as a former President, so on Monday House managers walked their article of impeachment to the Senate for a trial. Their goal is to banish Mr. Trump from running for office again. The result may instead be his acquittal and political revival.
Democrats have already forced one impeachment trial, resulting in acquittal and no notable decline in his political standing. He lost the election due to his handling of Covid and its consequences. But now Democrats want to do it once more with feeling, after Mr. Trump urged his supporters to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6 with a goal of overturning the Electoral College vote for Joe Biden.
We’ve said Mr. Trump’s actions — and failure to act to stop the riot as it unfolded — were an impeachable offense and urged him to resign. But now he is out of office and no longer the “imminent threat” that House Democrats said justified their rushed impeachment. The question is what good purpose a Senate trial will serve, and that isn’t apparent.
The Democratic case is that Mr. Trump must be punished lest any future President try something similar in his final days. A conviction by two-thirds of the Senate would also open him to a majority vote barring Mr. Trump from running for public office again. But what if he is acquitted?
One problem is whether such a trial is even constitutional. The language in the Constitution refers to impeachment against a President while in office, and Mr. Trump is now a private citizen. Chief Justice John Roberts doesn’t seem to believe he needs to preside over the trial because the Constitution stipulates that role for the Chief only for a President. Senior Democrat Pat Leahy will preside instead.
In the only relevant precedent, the U.S. Senate held a trial of a former War Secretary in 1876 after he was impeached and resigned. But Senators acquitted William Belknap in part because some thought a trial after resignation was unconstitutional.
The evidence can support either view, but it’s unsettled law and GOP Senators are lining up to say it’s unconstitutional. Perhaps the House managers will turn up evidence beyond what we already know that persuades the 17 GOP Senators necessary to convict. But most Democrats are already saying they need no new evidence since the facts of what Mr. Trump said and did are on the public record.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump will be able to marshal a defense that he wasn’t allowed to present in the House. He will have a new megaphone for that defense during the trial, and you can bet he will make the case that he is the victim of a sham, partisan show trial. He will mobilize his supporters to pressure GOP Senators, who will have to make a hard political calculation.
It’s easy for Democrats and the press to claim Republicans should vote to convict, but most want to run for re-election again. The rushed House vote — no hearings, no defense — also makes a vote to convict more difficult.
Most GOP voters long ago stopped trusting the mainstream media. Most of the conservative press opposes conviction. Look at the abuse that Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, is taking for voting for impeachment. She made a justifiable vote of conscience. But back-benchers are trying to oust her from the leadership.
All of this suggests the trial, which will start in earnest on Feb. 9, will end in Senate acquittal. If it does, Mr. Trump will claim vindication, and it doesn’t matter how many times Speaker Nancy Pelosi claims he has been “impeached forever.” Mr. Trump will play it as one more show of elite contempt for the “deplorables” who are his voters. He could emerge politically strengthened.
Perhaps this is what Democrats really want, since they know how much they have benefited politically from having Mr. Trump as a foil. They may think they have nothing to lose. If enough GOP Senators vote to convict, Mr. Trump’s supporters will hold it against Republicans more than Democrats. And even if he can’t run for office himself, he can still cause much political mischief.
We thought Joe Biden could have benefited from asking Mrs. Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to drop the trial now that Mr. Trump has decamped to Florida. Mr. Trump’s Presidency and his election challenge would have ended in infamy with the riot at the Capitol and the loss of two Georgia seats and Senate GOP control. But Democrats and the press are addicted to Donald J. Trump, so America gets to do this all over again.
The South China Morning Post on indefinitely postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games:
The Olympic Games is the world’s biggest celebration of sports, culture and unity. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga wants the postponed Tokyo edition rescheduled for July to be a victory lap in the struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic.
But in the midst of fresh waves of the disease in many countries, Japan among them, and with the effectiveness of nascent vaccination programmes uncertain, his insistence seems more about political fortunes. Pushing ahead in such circumstances is foolhardy.
The disappointment of athletes and a global television audience of billions is of little consequence to the damage caused by hosting such an event at a time when there should be examples set and strict social distancing to curb the virus.
About 15,000 athletes and tens of thousands of coaches, officials, journalists and sponsors from more than 200 countries and regions are usually involved in the summer Olympics and the Paralympic Games that follow. That is on top of hundreds of thousands of spectators.
Japan has not been as badly affected by Covid-19 as many other developed nations, but a recent record surge in infections has forced a state of emergency in Tokyo and other cities and the closure of borders to foreigners. Suga pledged in a speech at the opening of parliament that he would take tough action to tackle the outbreaks, but he is widely perceived as having so far responded poorly.
Unsurprisingly, recent opinion polls show that as many as 80 per cent of Japanese are either unsure that the Games should go ahead or want them called off. Rumours are swirling that they could be put back to 2032, after the next two Games, in Paris and Los Angeles.
In excess of US$12 billion has been spent on infrastructure and the delay so far has cost billions more. The International Olympic Committee also is adamant the Games should go ahead – the billions in commercial deals already signed are critical to its revenue. But politics is also at play, Suga having made their taking place a priority since last September when he replaced Shinzo Abe, the nationalist prime minister who was the driving force behind Tokyo holding the Olympics for the first time since 1964.
There is added pressure with Suga’s interim term ending in October and the likelihood of him facing voters, and Beijing’s staging of the winter Games next February.
The measures announced to ensure the Games take place safely are unconvincing. It would be risky to let in so many foreigners, even if they are required to get jabs. There are still too many unknowns about new coronavirus strains and the effectiveness of vaccines.
As the Australian Open tennis tournament has shown, even far smaller events are challenged by the effort to keep out infections. For all that is at stake, further postponement of the Tokyo Games would seem to be the only sensible option.