NATIONAL NEWS

Editorial Roundup: United States

Apr 4, 2023, 1:16 PM

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

April 1

The Washington Post on youth mental health

Responding to clamoring from parents, and dreadful stories of youth suicide and hospitalizations, leaders in both parties convey an increasing sense of urgency to address epidemic levels of teenage anxiety, depression, loneliness and lashing out. About two dozen governors described teenage mental health as a crisis during their state of the state addresses this year and proposed budgets that would expand treatment options. The need is glaring; the pandemic supercharged trend lines that have grown worse as America’s social fabric has been pulled at the seams and social media has grown ubiquitous.

Leaders across the ideological spectrum are surging resources into expanding access to mental health care for kids, especially those who lack strong family support systems. It’s essential to create sturdy lifelines that students know about and can grab hold of when a crisis develops. Many places are scaling up or replicating programs that show promise. But the nation’s leaders are behind; even as they acknowledge the problem, there is a vast number of difficult-to-solve issues — such as onboarding enough mental health professionals and responding to the nation’s deepening cultural decay — after they have already become major problems. The country’s leaders should make this a long-term commitment, even as federal relief dollars dry up.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows 42% of high school students report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness and 22% say they seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021. It’s much worse among girls. “It’s an issue that transcends both state and party lines,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who has made teen mental health his top priority as chair of the National Governors Association.

IMatterColorado.org offers six free mental health consultations for every student in the state, with the promise of confidentiality. The SafeUT app allows any Utah student to immediately, and anonymously, contact a mental health professional. Children can also report friends struggling with suicidal thoughts or who might bring guns to school. “We know we have saved lives,” said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R), who speaks openly about his own struggles with suicidal thoughts in middle school after his parents got divorced. Several other states are looking into requiring student identification cards to include a phone number for children and teenagers to call if they’re in crisis.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) campaigned on putting a mental health counselor in every school, and his new budget calls for $500 million to do it. As attorney general, he launched Safe2Say, an anonymous system for students to report threats of violence. More than 100,000 tips were submitted in its first five years, but 75 percent were from kids reaching out about mental health issues. “Students want someone who can help them,” he said. “They want people to talk to.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) launched a Medicaid managed care program last summer that’s already providing 16,000 children specialized behavioral health care. And Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) proposed $230 million to build “a strong and stable behavioral health safety net,” including “greater pre-crisis service capacity in schools.”

Federal funding has made much of this investment possible, including the continuing build-out of the 988 suicide prevention hotline. State and local officials used pandemic relief funds and grants under the American Rescue Plan specifically for teen mental health. The bipartisan gun control bill that passed after last year’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Tex., includes $1 billion in grants for K-12 schools to combat mental illness. President Biden’s recent budget proposal calls for $428 million in additional grants.

Even if Congress approves that request, which it should, the federal spigots are starting to slow. Many states are now trying to make more permanent investments with their general funds. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) declared 2023 “the year of mental health.” Last year, his state spent $30 million of federal pandemic relief funds to expand school-based mental health services through an initiative he called “Get Kids Ahead.” This year he’s proposing to make that a permanent state program and invest $270 million to ensure every student has access to mental health care. “The state of mental health in Wisconsin is a quiet, burgeoning crisis that I believe will have catastrophic consequences for generations if we don’t treat it with the urgency is requires,” said Mr. Evers.

Combating the teen mental health crisis requires more than money. In neighboring Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz (D) pushed a ban on conversion therapy as part of putting mental health “front and center.” He said it was vital “to ensure that every LGBTQ student knows they are perfect just the way they are.”

Another problem is that, amid growing demand for their services, mental health professionals are in short supply because of low pay and high burnout. No appointments are available in many places and sometimes insurance won’t cover care. Many kids suffer in silence, and their illness gets worse when it goes untreated.

California, Arizona and South Carolina have increased Medicaid reimbursement rates to incentivize psychologists and others to provide mental health services in schools. Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo (R) proposes increasing reimbursement rates for anyone providing mental health services in areas of acute need. Governors in states such as Montana and Idaho are talking about generational investments to get more doctors to rural areas. In some cases, telemedicine authorizations will need to be expanded so that psychologists can treat people in places without enough therapists. New Jersey launched a student loan redemption program as an incentive for certified professionals to serve communities that have shortages.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) calls for hiring, training and engaging 40,000 new mental health workers in his state. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) aims to reduce unmet mental health needs among children by half in the next five years. “Our children need preventive services now to stop them from needing intensive services in the future,” she said. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) speaks in moral terms and calls access to mental health treatment a fundamental right.

Maryland, Iowa and Illinois started programs last year that offer mental health training for staff in schools. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is using state money to expand the availability of a national training program called Youth Mental Health First Aid so adults who work with 12-to-18-year-olds, whether teachers or coaches, can learn how to identify and respond to signs of mental distress and substance abuse. This is a welcome stopgap in rural areas with shortages of psychologists.

Making more counselors available to children is an important step, as are many of the varied ways in which state leaders have responded to the teen mental health crisis. But these will not address all the root causes. It’s fair to expect the severity of this crisis to recede as more time passes post-pandemic. But the nation also needs to look upstream to counter the poisons making youngsters feel so sad, hopeless and inclined to self-harm.

Do TikTok, fentanyl and other opioids deserve a share of the blame? Certainly. But there’s also a toxic sludge of selfishness and entitlement that’s corrosive to the culture. Intolerance, polarization and the demonization of the other fuel disunity in civic life. A study this week showed Americans, driven by young adults under 30, place declining value on patriotism, child-rearing and community involvement. The kids are not alright.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/04/01/teen-mental-health-state-programs/

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March 30

The New York Times on holding Donald Trump accountable

For the first time in American history, a grand jury has indicted a former president of the United States, The Times reported on Thursday. Donald Trump spent years as a candidate, in office and out of office, ignoring democratic and legal norms and precedents, trying to bend the Justice Department and the judiciary to his whims and behaving as if rules didn’t apply to him.

As the news of the indictment shows, they do.

A pattern of disregard for the law often leads to a criminal indictment, and that is the outcome Mr. Trump now faces. Federal and state prosecutors were right to set aside concerns about political fallout, or reverence for the presidency, and initiate thorough criminal investigations of Mr. Trump’s conduct in at least four instances. The investigation by the Manhattan district attorney is the first known to result in an indictment.

Mr. Trump completely transformed the relationship between the presidency and the rule of law, often asserting that a president was above the law. So it is appropriate that his actions as president and as a candidate should now be formally weighed by judges and juries, with the possibility of criminal penalties on the line. Mr. Trump badly damaged America’s political and legal institutions and threatened them again with calls for widespread protests once he is indicted. But those institutions have proved to be strong enough to hold him accountable for that harm.

A healthy respect for the legal system also requires Americans to set aside their politics when forming judgments on these cases. While Mr. Trump routinely called for his enemies to be investigated by the F.B.I., to be indicted or to face the death penalty, his indifference to due process for others shouldn’t deny him the system’s benefits, including a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. At the same time, no jury should extend to him any special privileges as a former president. He should have to follow the same procedures as any other citizen.

The indictment remains sealed, and the exact charges against Mr. Trump may not be known for several days. But Alvin Bragg, the district attorney, has been pursuing a case of possible fraud and campaign finance violations by Mr. Trump for concealing payments he made to the porn-film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. His actions — using money to silence critics and hide politically damaging information — were wrong. The question that will face a jury is whether that behavior meets the threshold for conviction as a felony.

If those are the charges, conviction will hinge on proving that Mr. Trump participated in falsifying business records while violating campaign finance law, a somewhat novel legal strategy. Falsifying records can be charged as a misdemeanor in New York; to make it a more serious felony requires proof that he combined it with a second crime, in this case, a potential campaign finance violation. The former president, who is seeking a second term in 2024, has denied the allegations and has said that the case against him brought by Mr. Bragg, a Democrat, is politically motivated.

While some legal experts have questioned the theory behind Mr. Bragg’s case, there is no basis for the accusation that it is politically motivated — a claim that Mr. Trump has made, for many years, about every investigation into his conduct. Just as jurors are routinely instructed to ignore evidence that is improperly introduced in a trial, they will also have to ignore the unsubstantiated implications raised by Trump supporters and attorneys in these cases and judge them strictly on the merits.

Three of the other investigations that may result in indictments are more serious, because they involve allegations not just that Mr. Trump violated the law but also that he abused his presidential office.

Among the most egregious are the accusations against him in Georgia. The Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, is weighing criminal charges against several people, including Mr. Trump, for attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state, which President Biden won by 11,779 votes. Mr. Trump repeatedly pressured Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” additional votes that would change the results of the state’s election, part of a scheme to undermine the will of the voters.

A special grand jury impaneled by Ms. Willis recommended in February that charges be brought in the case; it’s not yet known which people or allegations were included in the grand jury’s recommendations or whom, if anyone, Ms. Willis may seek to indict.

A federal Justice Department inquiry led by a special counsel, Jack Smith, could also result in charges against Mr. Trump. Mr. Smith is investigating the former president’s efforts to prevent the peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 6, 2021, when Mr. Trump roused an armed mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol, threatening lawmakers who were gathered to certify the results of the presidential election. A bipartisan Senate report last year found that seven deaths were related to the attack.

Mr. Smith’s team is also investigating the former president over his mishandling of classified documents that were removed from the White House and taken to Mar-a-Lago, his private residence in Florida. Some 300 classified documents have been recovered in the case. Prosecutors are also examining whether Mr. Trump, his attorneys or staff members misled government officials seeking the return of the documents.

In addition to criminal charges, Mr. Trump faces several civil lawsuits. New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, is suing the former president for “grossly” and fraudulently inflating the value of his real estate assets. Three of Mr. Trump’s adult children are named in the suit as well. A group of Capitol Police officers and Democratic legislators are suing the former president, arguing that his actions on Jan. 6 incited the mob that caused them physical and emotional harm. E. Jean Carroll, a writer who accused Mr. Trump of raping her, is suing the former president for defamation. Mr. Trump denies the charges.

Prosecuting the former president will no doubt widen the existing political divisions that have so damaged the country in recent years. Mr. Trump has already stoked that divisiveness, calling prosecutors behind the probes — several of whom are Black — “racist.” He claimed in a social media post that he would be arrested and called on his supporters to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” The language echoed his rallying cry that preceded the Capitol riot. Officials in New York City, taking no chances on a repeat performance by Mr. Trump’s supporters, have been preparing for unrest.

Those accusations are clearly aimed at undermining the allegations against him, inoculating himself from the consequences of his misconduct and using the cases to his political advantage. The two district attorneys in these cases are elected Democrats, but their race and political affiliations are not relevant to the legal proceedings. (Mr. Smith is not registered with either party.) Nevertheless, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy immediately demonstrated his party’s intent to politicize the indictment by calling Mr. Bragg “a radical DA” pursuing “political vengeance” against Mr. Trump. Mr. McCarthy has no jurisdiction over the Manhattan district attorney and no business interfering in a criminal prosecution, and yet he vowed to have the House of Representatives determine whether Mr. Bragg’s office is receiving federal funds.

The decision to prosecute a former president is a solemn task, particularly given the deep national fissures that Mr. Trump will inevitably exacerbate as the 2024 campaign grows closer. But the cost of failing to seek justice against a leader who may have committed these crimes would be higher still.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/30/opinion/trump-indicted.html

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April 3

The Wall Street Journal on U.S. oil prices

Oil prices surged 6.3% on Monday, to close to $85 a barrel on the global market, after a group of Saudi-led producers said they’ll reduce production by a million barrels a day starting in May. That’s another fist bump to the stomach from President Biden’s admirers in Riyadh, and it’s a warning to Democrats in the U.S. of how vulnerable they are to oil producers abroad.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus Russia already cut oil production by two million barrels a day in October. Monday’s additional reduction took markets by surprise, as the price surge suggests. If it continues, it will complicate decisions by the Federal Reserve and other central bankers trying to get inflation under control.

Not too long ago, before Joe Biden became President, the U.S. produced enough oil to be a price setter in the global market. But Mr. Biden unleashed an assault on U.S. fossil-fuel production that includes permit delays and regulatory hostility that have reduced the incentive to invest in more wells.

Mr. Biden finally approved the Willow project in Alaska last month, though that won’t help in the near term. Mr. Biden tried to reduce prices by tapping the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but he doesn’t have too many political tricks left.

Regarding oil prices, Mr. Biden and his party are now hostage to fortune as an election year approaches. A global recession would reduce demand and prices, but that has its own political risks. But if demand and prices surge, consumers paying more to fill up the SUV or truck won’t be happy.

As it happens, House Republicans are offering Democrats a lifeline in the form of H.R.1, the energy bill they passed last week. Mr. Biden is promising a veto, and Democrats may want to filibuster in the Senate. But the better part of political prudence would be to work out a Senate compromise. It’s unwise to count on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/oil-prices-saudi-producers-opec-russia-biden-99af6177

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March 30

The Los Angeles Times on Donald Trump’s indictment

The criminal indictment of a former president, regardless of the charge, is a momentous and sobering development.

The decision Thursday by a Manhattan grand jury to bring charges against Donald J. Trump, who is seeking to regain the presidency he falsely says was stolen from him, also raises concerns about possible violence and further political polarization.

Trump, who summoned his followers to Washington for a “wild” protest on Jan. 6, 2021, recently warned of “potential death & destruction” if he were charged as the result of Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg’s investigation. Law enforcement must be prepared to respond to any violence reminiscent of the attack on the U.S. Capitol. (In a statement reacting to the indictment, Trump denounced it as “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” but didn’t repeat his warning about “death” and “destruction.”)

Until the indictment is made public, it is impossible to comment on its specifics. But Bragg was reportedly investigating events associated with an alleged attempt to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels, an adult-film performer who said she had an affair with Trump, before the 2016 election. (Trump denied her account.)

Bragg’s investigation arguably pales in significance compared with other ongoing investigations of the former president. Jack Smith, a special counsel appointed by U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland, is presiding over criminal investigations of Trump’s handling of classified documents after he left the White House, and of his attempt to stop Joe Biden from assuming office. Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis in Atlanta is weighing potential indictments stemming from Trump’s attempts to change Georgia‘s 2020 election results.

Given those potentially more consequential investigations, some will argue that Bragg should have exercised his prosecutorial discretion and refrained from pressing this case. Bragg obviously disagreed. Now the soundness of the charges should be assessed by a jury in a trial in which Trump is presumed innocent until proved guilty.

Trump, characteristically, seems bent on discrediting the prosecution with a conspiracy theory, and he is already receiving support from some Republicans in Congress. That makes it all the more important that the judicial system in New York afford the former president the due process to which any defendant is entitled.

But regardless of the outcome of this or any other prosecution, Trump has disqualified himself from any consideration as a candidate for the office he disgraced. That’s true regardless of the outcome of this criminal case.

To those who suggest that the indictment of a former president somehow threatens the office of the presidency, we would argue that nothing would so threaten the presidency, and the nation, as the election of Trump in 2024. He is a twice-impeached narcissist whose self-serving falsehoods about a stolen election inspired a terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Convicted or acquitted, Trump must not be returned to the White House. The Republican Party and, if necessary, voters can prevent that calamity, whatever judges and juries might decide.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-03-30/editorial-trump-should-never-return-to-white-house

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March 31

The Guardian on Donald Trump’s indictment

Donald Trump has built his career on brazenness. A man without shame, he has hurtled on apparently unstoppably, through serial scandals, two impeachments, electoral rejection and an armed insurrection by his supporters. Now he is setting another grim precedent, as the first former U.S. president in history to be charged with a criminal offence. Half a century after the first investigation into his business dealings, a New York grand jury has voted to indict him. But even if he cannot bluster or bully his way out, he will keep fighting the law, and the law may not win.

That the case relates to paying hush money to the adult film actor Stormy Daniels is at once apt and disconcerting. Apt, in that its tawdriness and banality encapsulate the man. Disconcerting, in that it appears almost inconsequential beside the damage he has wrought upon the nation. He still faces multiple other civil and criminal cases: on the latter score alone, he is being investigated in relation to potential mishandling of classified documents; attempts to overturn his loss in Georgia in the 2020 election; and obstructing the transfer of power, as part of the justice department’s probe of the January 6 insurrection. Many would rather have seen charges brought against him on one of these grounds.

The indictment is still sealed, but reportedly includes more than two dozen counts. While Mr. Trump has admitted authorizing a $130,000 payment on the eve of the 2016 election, he still denies an affair with Ms. Daniels, claiming to be a victim of extortion. Though his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges relating to the money, the case looks far from straightforward legally. That has fueled concerns that it may be unsuccessful and could even strengthen him. Yet by breaking the taboo on indicting a former president, some think, it could encourage other prosecutors to take action.

Any charges would play to the martyr myth of Mr. Trump’s supporters: he is already exploiting the case in fundraising and it is expected to boost him in the Republican primaries. His rival, Ron DeSantis, was quick to denounce the indictment; Fox News, which had distanced itself from Mr. Trump in recent months, fell back into line. But the tackiness of this matter makes it perhaps less potent than an election-related case – and it’s unlikely to help him in the general election with former supporters who stayed at home or peeled off to Joe Biden in 2020.

The former president, barefaced as ever, has decried the charges as “election interference”, accused the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, who is Black, of being racist, and drawn on antisemitic tropes. His incendiary rhetoric is not only vicious but dangerous. He had already written of “potential death and destruction” if he were indicted. His supporters have amply demonstrated their propensity for violence. But he has also demonstrated his propensity to hype the threat of force.

To shy away from bringing charges because they will increase divisions and might unleash violence would be wrong. As both businessman and politician, Mr. Trump has spent a lifetime seeking to avoid legal consequences for his conduct. To allow him to sidestep them for fear of his reaction and that of his supporters would be to bolster his message that truth and the law are for little people, and that lies and might will triumph. That would surely be a far greater blow to American democracy.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/mar/31/the-guardian-view-on-trumps-indictment-hell-fight-the-law-who-will-win

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Editorial Roundup: United States