Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Kansas City Star on hubris and COVID variants:
The COVID-19 crisis isn’t over, and we shouldn’t act as if it is.
Yes, yes, we’re tired of masks and social distancing. Crowds at the Truman Sports Complex, in the 18th & Vine Jazz District and at the neighborhood pool reflect the hunger for normalcy. At the grocery store, the movie theater, churches and synagogues, masks are gone and grins are back.
Yet the latest numbers in Missouri suggest such overconfidence can be dangerous, or even deadly. The state has led the nation in its rate of new COVID-19 cases over the past week, worrisome evidence that the viral disease is still a problem.
The outbreak is especially concerning in rural areas, where vaccination and isolation are far less common. The new COVID-19 cases include the so-called delta variant, a highly-contagious mutation first found in India.
“It is clear that the variant has become prevalent in communities throughout Missouri,” the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said last week. The viral load found in recent wastewater surveys — a marker for the extent of community spread — has increased dramatically in southwest Missouri, including Springfield and Joplin.
There have been spikes in the Kansas City region as well.
Some of this can be easily blamed on relaxed regulations in cities and in the state. While we would not suggest mayors and Gov. Mike Parson reinstate all previous restrictions, the government must review the new data and be ready in case a partial shutdown is needed.
Missouri’s state of emergency remains in effect until the end of August. Parson should focus on the lingering challenge of the pandemic this summer, instead of engaging in foolish photo ops to endorse anti-constitutional folderol.
But governments can only do so much, particularly since Republican lawmakers have spent the year linking COVID-19 abatement with predatory socialism. The plain fact is going back to widespread masks and enforceable quarantines is politically impossible in Missouri and other Midwestern states.
That means individuals must take responsibility for protecting themselves. Vaccinated Missourians should be cautious as the delta mutation spreads — masks can be worn, and contact limited, particularly with the elderly and very young.
But the biggest single step Missourians could take to quash this COVID-19 upturn — and avoid more drastic restrictions — is to get a full round of vaccination against the virus.
To date, just 38% of Missourians are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. That’s far below the vaccination rate in Virginia, Colorado or California. It’s below the national rate. It’s below the rate needed to protect the state against the upsurge in COVID-19 cases.
In Pemiscot County, in Missouri’s Bootheel, fewer than 20% of residents age 12 or older are fully vaccinated.
“Vaccinations are the best way to stop this virus in its tracks,” said a statement from Robert Knodell, acting director of Missouri DHSS.
To date, Missouri has not offered blanket incentives, such as money or gifts, for those who get vaccinated. At some point, the state may want to provide those incentives. Sadly, for some residents, protection against a deadly disease apparently isn’t incentive enough.
There is simply no good reason to remain unvaccinated. The shot is free, and now widely available. It has proved remarkably effective. For most, there are no serious side effects. And a fully vaccinated population is the best way to slow the spread of new variants.
The COVID-19 crisis is now more than a year old. Life is slowly returning to normal, but it will never be normal unless all of us do what we can to stop the spread of the virus. That means diligence, caution — and getting the damn shot.
The South China Morning Post on tough choices and Tokyo Olympics:
The Olympic Games oath, in which a representative of the host country promises on behalf of all athletes to compete honourably, closes with the aspiration: “To make the world a better place through sport”. There has to be a question whether the Tokyo Games beginning in just 30 days, already put off a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, can live up to that pledge amid fears they could spark a fresh wave of infection and the spread of the resistant Delta variant of the virus.
Members of the Japanese public who once anticipated the event with pride before it was put off last year no longer feel that way, according to a poll last weekend by the Asahi News Network. Sixty-five per cent of respondents want the Games postponed again or cancelled, and nearly 70 per cent doubt they can be held safely, contrary to reassurance by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Because of the risk of contagion, these are already the first Games at which foreign spectators will be unwelcome. Controversially, the Tokyo organisers, the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo and Japanese governments have decided to take that risk anyway by allowing up to 10,000 domestic spectators at each event, or 50 per cent venue capacity, whichever is lower.
Government officials have overridden the government’s top health adviser, Shigeru Omi, who says banning all fans now is the safest option. They have pointed to domestic and international sporting events that have been held safely in recent months, but these are hardly comparable with an Olympic Games. Up to 80,000 officials, journalists and support staff are expected, in addition to 11,500 athletes. Officials and athletes do not have to be vaccinated, although the IOC expects most will be by the time the Games begin.
The reality is that developing countries left behind in the global vaccination race will be represented at the Olympics. It could take just one person to be infected before returning home to become a superspreader of the virus in a region without the infrastructure or health services to cope. New infections have been running at 300-400 a day in Tokyo, with only 16 per cent of people having taken the first jab. It does seem a dangerous gamble to hold an event like this at a time like this. Whether a scaled-down event goes ahead or not, the Japanese taxpayer will pay the financial price.
The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal on the Dan River tragedy:
That’s the term boating experts have given to the type of small dam that claimed the lives of at least four people who were riding tubes along the Dan River Wednesday near the Duke Energy Steam Station.
A total of nine people apparently toppled over the “low-head dam,” or “weir,” into an unforgiving whirlpool during a family outing.
The dam is only eight feet tall and the water at its base is only three feet deep, but the churning current at its base is deceptively strong and potentially fatal.
Experts surmise that the victims who died drowned after their tubes had overturned and they were stunned and swallowed by the turbulent water.
“The hydraulics is what gets people,’’ Glenn Bozorth, who owned and operated Dan River Adventures in Stoneville for 25 years, told RockinghamNow’s Susie Spear. “When the water goes over the dam, it creates a circular motion that pulls you under ... .”
Once trapped inside such a powerful vortex, even professional divers have lost their lives. The churning water spins and pulls its prey under over and over. Further, the concrete walls on the sides of a low-head dam can block an escape route. And rescue attempts are both dangerous and frequently unsuccessful.
Last week’s incident is being described as the worst recreational accident ever in Rockingham County.
The four survivors who were rescued near the dam were found clinging to their tubes after spending an estimated 19 hours in the river. A Duke Energy employee spotted them near the steam station.
Among the victims were 7-year-old Isiah Crawford, 27-year-old Bridish Crawford and 30-year-old Antonio Ramon, all of Eden, and 14-year-old Sophie Wilson of Laporte, Ind. At press time, a 35-year-old Eden woman, Teresa Villano, remained missing.
Low-head dams have their uses. They can improve the flow of rivers for boating, boost the generation of hydro-electric power and increase the collection of water for irrigation and drinking.
But they also are universally reviled as serious safety hazards, described variously as “washing machines” and the “perfect drowning machine.” The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources simply calls them “killers.”
Experts say the best way to prevent low-head dam tragedies, which are not uncommon, is simply not to have low-head dams. Whether that is a practical solution in the case of this stretch of the Dan we don’t know. But where these structures no longer serve their original purposes, say, in service to a factory or electric power station that has since been closed or abandoned, why keep them in place? Some civil engineers and environmentalists say removal of such structures not only can make rivers safer but also help restore local ecosystems.
Short of that solution, experts say, rafters, tubers and boaters can take some commonsense steps to prevent similar accidents:
Don’t be deceived by the innocuous appearance of these structures. They are much deadlier than they look.
Plan river outings carefully and know the length of your route and the duration of each trip. “One of the biggest problems is people get in the river without a plan,’’ the Stoneville boating expert, Dan Bozorth, told RockinghamNow. “Whenever we’ve had to rescue people it was typically because they weren’t listening to directions.’’
Know where dams are located along the route.
Take seriously the posted warning signs that advise leaving the river and walking around the dams, a precaution called “portaging.”
Avoid drinking alcohol while rafting or tubing in order to remain alert and react quickly to unforeseen obstacles or emergencies.
Wear a life jacket. Sadly, no one did in the case of the ill-fated family on the Dan.
The Dan River remains a precious resource for kayaking, rafting and tubing on hot, lazy summer afternoons. But don’t let the allure of its banks and waters conceal the inherent hazards.
Indeed, outdoor activities on land can pose their own threats. The day before the Dan River accident, a 64-year-old Greensboro man was found unconscious on a trail at Bur-Mil Park after being injured by a falling tree. He later was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
As with any outing on the Piedmont’s trails, lakes and rivers, behind natural beauty can lurk hidden danger … and sometimes unspeakable tragedy.
The Baltimore Sun on the Supreme Court affirmation of ‘Obamacare’:
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught Americans anything, it’s surely the necessity of making sure everyone has access to decent medical care. After all, it’s not enough to make sure the affluent can be treated or receive preventive care, it’s in everyone’s best interest to see that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed when a virus breaks loose and that herd immunity is achieved through widespread vaccination to truly vanquish such a threat. Yet over and over again, we have witnessed this basic inequity for 16 months: those of means get full medical care, those who do not often suffer. This is not new. It’s a long-standing problem and a major reason why before the pandemic, Black people in the U.S. had a four-year shorter life expectancy than whites.
Thursday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the Affordable Care Act, which has since its passage 11 years ago sought to help close this gap between the have’s and have-not’s of health care, is heartening. Not just because it keeps Obamacare in place but because it did so with an exclamation point — a 7-2 ruling that even included Justice Clarence Thomas. When such a conservative court rejects the efforts of Republican states to kill the ACA (even though a technicality like the elimination of the individual mandate four years ago), it doesn’t take a legal expert to recognize Barack Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment isn’t going away. This is the third Supreme Court defense of the law; surely even the most ardent GOP opponents will give it a rest.
As of this month, an estimated 31 million Americans have health insurance either through ACA marketplaces or the law’s Medicaid expansion, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data. Just as significantly, the nation saw a drop in the rate of the uninsured for much of the last decade. That’s been true not just in Maryland where the ACA has been embraced but in Red States that have only grudgingly accepted ACA perks such as broader Medicaid eligibility or the requirement that insurers can’t refuse coverage because of a preexisting health condition. Yet too many Americans still lack health insurance. And during the Trump administration, there was an uptick in uninsured rates for the nonelderly from 10% in 2016 to nearly 11% by 2019.
That’s why a victory in California v. Texas is great, but building on the success of the Affordable Care Act would be better. There are still many millions of Americans whose medical needs aren’t being met under the existing program. To his credit, President Joe Biden has already made some steps in this direction, adding a special enrollment period in February while funds from the American Rescue Plan are helping make ACA coverage more affordable this year. Yet additional steps need to be taken. And it should start with GOP leadership dropping their misplaced antagonism toward the law which was, after all, a compromise that preserved private insurance instead of moving toward a single-payer or Medicare-for-all system as liberals sought. Republican voters have benefited from the ACA. Their elected leaders are simply unwilling to admit it.
Just this year, the Maryland General Assembly approved legislation creating a pilot program targeting young adults 18 to 40 earning as much as $51,520 with subsidized coverage purchased through the individual health insurance marketplace. Lawmakers also passed a bill committing $59 million toward “health equity resource communities” to specifically address health disparities in low-income neighborhoods for the next five years. This kind of creative approach, to provide incentives and opportunities for people who may otherwise lack insurance, is exactly what is needed. Creative, smart, targeted, cost-effective ACA expansion.
Oh, it won’t be easy for certain critics to change their tune and stop referring to Obamacare as a government “takeover” of medicine or a communist plot. But then it probably also wasn’t easy for conservatives who initially opposed Social Security in the 1930s (even as nearly three dozen other countries had already adopted some form of social insurance). It was many years after the program’s initial passage that signature changes were adopted such as cost-of-living adjustments (1950) or disability insurance (1954). Social Security may need some more tweaks and better funding but it’s been generations since anyone seriously talked about doing away with that government safety net.
In his official statement, President Biden called the Supreme Court’s ACA ruling a “major victory for all Americans.” It certainly is that. But it’s also not the end of the story for providing greater equity in health care.
The Orange County Register on wildfires and property rights:
A new University of California Berkeley Center for Community Innovation study raises important questions about California’s wildfire policies, but its solutions would be disastrous. The report chastens the state for encouraging homeowners and cities to adopt wildfire-mitigation strategies rather than simply discouraging the construction of homes in fire-prone areas.
Communities located within, say, the wooded Sierra Nevada foothills certainly are more prone to wildfires, which impose high costs on state and local budgets. Instead of promoting time-tested market incentives to deal with this situation, the researchers promote policies that would raise taxes and exacerbate an already vexing housing crisis.
“Climate change and sprawl in the wildland urban interface are driving up both the economic and human cost of wildfires in California,” the authors explain. “Successive wildfire disasters strengthen the case for land-use conservation and urban infill strategies that reduce disaster risk, promote housing supply, and mitigate climate change impacts.”
The study, commissioned by the Next 10 think tank, promotes urban-growth boundaries and conservation easements – and calls for “funding streams” such as a fee on residential properties to fund wildfire-risk-reduction planning. These are terrible ideas. California already imposes strict growth limits, which lessen the amount of developable land.
The result is California has the highest housing prices in the nation and faces vast shortages and a growing homelessness problem. This editorial board generally supports loosening zoning restrictions so developers can more easily build higher-density infill projects, but that is only one small part of the solution. Not everyone wants to live in a mid-rise condominium, and such projects are costly to build.
To meet its housing needs, California needs to permit more developments virtually everywhere. Large master-planned housing developments in outlying and inland regions don’t pose any particular wildfire risk. And there’s an easy way to discourage construction within wooded areas – by reforming the state’s insurance rules so insurers can price policies to reflect the risk.
Yes, California needs to analyze its wildfire-related policies. But the state shouldn’t use that problem to promote a misbegotten scheme to force more Californians into high-density housing.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on ‘heritage of stench’ at the DOJ:
The Department of Justice is supposed to be above politics.
But this mostly has not been so.
Is there a way to make it so?
The Washington Post’s revelations about the extent to which the Trump White House’s chief of staff, the then-president, and other Trump aides and allies pressured the department to find evidence of voting fraud in the 2020 presidential election is disturbing.
It is disturbing because, even when little or no evidence could be found, they persisted: Find it anyway!
It is disturbing because the fraud squad pressed for negation or nullification of the 2020 presidential election via the appointment of new electors in the Electoral College. There is no constitutional basis for this — and no constitutional mechanism for it.
Finally, it is disturbing because it shows so little respect for the DOJ and so little understanding of its proper place in our system.
The truth is that, since Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Department of Justice has been more often politicized than not. That is, presidents have generally treated the attorney general as their own lawyer and not the nation’s. And they have generally treated the department as an arm of one man’s presidency rather than the fountain of the administration of justice in this land.
This has been the rule, not the exception, and true of almost all modern presidents — Truman, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, both Bushes and Obama. All appointed hacks and cronies as AG. All treated the Justice Department as an extension of their own political interests and part of the politics of their presidencies.
It was surely true of longtime FBI head J. Edgar Hoover. He saw the FBI as his personal fiefdom— there to suit his own personal and political agenda.
So there is a heritage of stench at the Department of Justice — a heritage that is not new. And it brings shame upon the DOJ and our system of laws.
Only President Gerald Ford and his AG, Edward Levi, and now President Joe Biden and his AG, Merrick Garland, have consciously and with deliberate intent set out to treat Justice as it should be treated — as utterly and fiercely independent.
Perhaps attorneys general should, like recent FBI directors, be appointed for terms overlapping presidencies, though this has hardly rid the FBI of politics. Still, who would not take William Webster or Robert Mueller over Hoover?
Imagine that the next president is a Republican and he vows to keep Mr. Garland in the job. This would be positive.
After George Herbert Walker Bush became president, he elected to keep President Ronald Reagan’s last AG, Dick Thornburgh, in the job. Not the same as appointing or retaining a Democrat, but continuity and professionalism won over cronyism, nonetheless.
The best solution overall to a political Justice Department is the Ford one: Have a bit of humility and respect for the Constitution and pick a nonpolitical AG. Put men in the service of the law, rather than the reverse.
The DOJ is not there to serve a presidency or a president. It is not a place for campaign politics or campaign managers. It should be beyond political meddling and above reproach. It should be the one department that we can always depend on to follow the law and seek justice. It should always make us proud. It belongs to our country, not our president.