NATIONAL NEWS

Editorial Roundup: United States

Jun 7, 2023, 10:31 AM

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

June 5

The Washington Post on social media’s harm to young minds

The U.S. surgeon general released an advisory this past month warning that the country’s children “have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment” of social media use. The trouble is, the results aren’t in yet.

There is no question that the nation is experiencing a crisis in youth mental health. In 2021, 42% of high school students in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness; 18% said they made a suicide plan. The numbers are bad for younger students, too. They are the worst for teenage girls.

There is also no question that these numbers have changed dramatically in the past decade or so — the same period of time during which smartphones practically became extensions of people’s physical bodies. Today, 95% of teenagers use social media, and two-thirds daily. A survey of eighth- and 10th-graders revealed that the average adolescent spends 3½ hours per day on social media. One in 7 kids spends more than seven hours.

But there are questions about whether the spike in social media use is responsible for the increases in depression and suicide. There are other possible causes, such as economic anxiety or the opioid crisis. The pandemic didn’t help, though these troubles began before it. A decrease in stigma around mental health conditions could also explain some of the surge: Kids were always depressed; they just weren’t always talking about it — though a rise in mental health-related emergency room visits suggests this is not the whole story.

Statistically, some studies have found significant associations between heavy social media use and mental health challenges; others, including an analysis focused on the more general category of “digital technology,” have found that the correlation of mental health issues to spending a lot of time online is only as strong as the association between mental health problems and benign activities such as “ eating potatoes.” Others, still, have discovered positive effects of social media use — especially among LGBTQ+ kids and members of other marginalized communities who can often find more diversity and acceptance on the internet than they do at home. Sometimes, different groups of scientists analyze the same set of numbers and come to opposite conclusions.

There’s also the possibility that what’s most harmful for the average kid isn’t social media use itself, but rather how it swallows up hours that would otherwise be devoted to the activities that science shows very clearly are beneficial for mental health, such as exercise or, crucially, sleep.

The vast majority of the meaningful associations researchers have found, in any case, are merely correlational. Causal relationships have been difficult to discern; technology companies, partly because of legitimate privacy concerns, are keeping to themselves the information necessary to come to those conclusions. The situation might improve with a new European Union regulatory regime, but U.S. lawmakers can also compel transparency for research purposes. Better still, they can fund this essential work.

The good news is, the contradictions and consistencies in the analyses researchers do have suggest places to probe deeper. The American Psychological Association’s declaration that “using social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people” has somehow served as a talking point for both companies eager to continue business as usual and their loudest critics. But it’s also a clarion call to figure out, under what circumstances, it is harmful.

What populations are most at risk, under what circumstances? What types of social media use heighten the threat — is this just about time spent online or is it about how that time is spent, with endless scrolling on the one hand and more active engagement on the other?

What features tend to promote the worst types of use — from recommendation algorithms that send users to evermore extreme versions of what they’re already consuming to “like” counters that respond to kids’ cravings for social rewards without ever truly satisfying them?

What types of content pose the same problems — material that relates to eating disorders, for instance, or to self-harming mechanisms?

The results of robust studies could help platforms come up with interventions that target the most dangerous aspects of their products. Or they could help Congress come up with legislation focused on, say, the way platform design promotes concerning behaviors. Perhaps restrictions on algorithmic recommendations for children are in order. Perhaps the endless scroll should actually end — or at least, users should be prompted to step away or look at something different. Perhaps they should be prompted to go to bed at bedtime. (Some apps are already experimenting with features such as these.)

Any additional insight can guide parents in setting rules for their own children, as well as in understanding what warning signs to watch for.

Whatever solution the numbers point to, it’s unlikely to be the blunt measures some states are considering and even passing into law today: See Utah’s restriction on children under 18 from using social networks without a legal guardian’s consent or Montana’s all-out ban on TikTok.

The surgeon general is right that we lack the evidence to conclude social media is “sufficiently safe” for the tens of millions of kids who while away their days on these sites. Yet so far, the country also lacks the evidence to conclude whether and how it is hurting them. For now, the best treatment plan is to get those answers and, in the meantime, for parents to use common sense, making sure their children get exercise, sleep and screenless engagement every now and then.Any additional insight can guide parents in setting rules for their own children, as well as in understanding what warning signs to watch for.

Whatever solution the numbers point to, it’s unlikely to be the blunt measures some states are considering and even passing into law today: See Utah’s restriction on children under 18 from using social networks without a legal guardian’s consent or Montana’s all-out ban on TikTok.

The surgeon general is right that we lack the evidence to conclude social media is “sufficiently safe” for the tens of millions of kids who while away their days on these sites. Yet so far, the country also lacks the evidence to conclude whether and how it is hurting them. For now, the best treatment plan is to get those answers and, in the meantime, for parents to use common sense, making sure their children get exercise, sleep and screenless engagement every now and then.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/06/05/social-media-mental-health-surgeon-general/

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June 5

The Wall Street Journal on GOP’s revolt against Janet Yellen’s global-tax plan

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has spent more than two years promising foreign leaders that the U.S. is committed to a new global deal to raise taxes on large companies. Now Republicans in Congress have a warning for the rest of the world: Don’t believe her.

All 25 Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee recently co-sponsored a bill that would impose retaliatory taxes on any country that implements the tax rules to which Ms. Yellen has agreed. It targets tech taxes aimed at U.S. firms and the proposed global minimum corporate tax that would be set at 15%. Those are the two pillars of the tax agreement negotiated at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which Ms. Yellen endorsed in June 2021.

The first pillar lets other countries impose special taxes on multinational tech companies. The second pillar allows a country such as France or Germany to impose a “top-up” tax on an American company if the U.S. firm’s effective global tax rate falls below 15%. We’ve warned from the start that Ms. Yellen’s participation in this tax circus is bad policy, bad law and bad diplomacy—and now here we are.

The policy ploy was that the Biden Administration could use a global tax increase to blunt the competitive deadweight of its proposed corporate tax increases on U.S. companies. But the OECD resisted setting the minimum tax rate anywhere near the level the Administration sought for the U.S.

European and other negotiators also outfoxed Ms. Yellen by securing favorable treatment for tax credits preferred in Europe while punishing the sort of credits and deductions that Congress traditionally offers U.S. companies. The result is a global tax regime that, if implemented, would make the U.S. even less competitive rather than more so.

Speaking of Congress, Ms. Yellen’s enthusiasm for the OECD deal is an attempt to usurp Congress’s constitutional tax-setting power by outsourcing complex tax-policy negotiations to a diplomatic process. The pillar-one tech tax would require the Senate to approve changes to a raft of existing tax treaties with other governments. Here too the Yellen Treasury tried floating statutory workarounds since it was clear almost from the start that the Senate would not go along.

The Republican bill aims to short-circuit all of this by discouraging other countries from pressing ahead with the OECD plan. The enforcement mechanism would be a retaliatory surtax, starting at 5% and rising to 20%, on corporate and capital income earned in the U.S. by companies and wealthy individuals from countries that impose versions of the pillar-one and pillar-two taxes on U.S. firms.

A tax war could be as bad as the problem it’s trying to solve, but the bill won’t become law given a Democratic Senate and President Biden’s veto pen—and it doesn’t need to pass to work. The point is to warn other governments that Ms. Yellen wasn’t speaking on behalf of America’s tax writers when she approved the OECD deal. Capitol Hill’s opposition has stretched across two Congresses (with new Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith picking up the baton from predecessor Kevin Brady) and will extend into a Republican Administration if one arrives in 2025.

That’s good news for U.S. companies, and a major diplomatic embarrassment for Ms. Yellen as Congress warns other governments to treat her tax promises skeptically. A Treasury Secretary is supposed to promote policies that boost the U.S. economy instead of searching for gimmicks that punish American firms in the name of raising more tax revenue from overseas.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/janet-yellen-global-tax-plan-house-republicans-ways-and-means-jason-smith-eb1ce0a2

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June 6

China Daily on U.S.-China relations

The studied silence surrounding the visit to Beijing by Daniel J. Kritenbrink, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and Sarah Beran, White House National Security Council’s senior director for China affairs, points to the sensitivity that now characterizes Sino-U.S. relations.

The visit of the senior U.S. officials to China is the second by members of the Job Biden administration since it unilaterally canceled Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Beijing in early February, which put the brakes on the positive momentum in bilateral interactions generated by the talks between the two countries’ leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, in November.

That Beijing gave the nod for the visit of Kritenbrink and Beran shows that it remains open to dialogue with Washington. But the lower level of the two visiting U.S. officials shows that both sides know there is much groundwork to be laid if higher-level talks are not to descend into acrimonious exchanges once again.

But although the talks are at a lower level than they would have been had Blinken’s visit gone ahead as planned, Kritenbrink and Beran are major contributors to policymaking in their respective fields, suggesting that both sides are still trying to manage their rapidly souring relations.

That being said, the visit of the two U.S. officials, which began on Sunday, provides a good opportunity for Washington to rebuild its credibility with Beijing. Their posts mean that they do not have to speak to the cameras, and they can listen as well as say their piece.

With the provocations of U.S. battleships and warplanes becoming increasingly frequent in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, no one would be too surprised if there was an incident on the doorstep of China.

It is to be hoped that the talks will be able to help avert such an undesirable scenario.

Which will not be the case if the two visitors have come all the way just to try and intimidate Beijing with coercion, threats and ultimatums. If they waste the opportunity of the hard-earned meeting in this way, it will only worsen the situation.

If the two U.S. officials have come to Beijing with the willingness to talk in good faith, they will find their hosts willing to reciprocate. But they should always bear in mind that no meaningful exchanges can take place unless the U.S. side respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and core interests.

ONLINE: https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202306/06/WS647f12f3a31033ad3f7bac76.html

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June 3

The New York Times on states silencing the will of their voters

Gov. Greg Abbott, Republican of Texas, is expected to sign a bill in the next few days that would make it immeasurably more difficult for cities in the state to govern themselves. The bill would strip cities of the ability to set standards for local workplaces, to ensure civil rights and to improve their environments, trampling on the rights of voters who elected local officials to do just that.

The bill, recently approved by the Texas House and Senate, would nullify any city ordinance or regulation that conflicts with existing state policy in those crucial areas and would give private citizens or businesses the right to sue and seek damages if they believe there is a discrepancy between city and state. That means no city could prohibit discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. employees, as several Texas cities have done. No city could adopt new rules to limit predatory payday-lending practices. No city could restrict overgrown lots or unsafe festivals or inadequate waste storage. Cities would even be barred from enacting local worker protections, including requiring water breaks for laborers in the Texas heat, as Dallas, Austin and other cities have done after multiple deaths and injuries.

Business lobbyists and Republican legislators who have pushed the bill said its purpose was to rid the state of a patchwork of conflicting regulations. In fact, that patchwork largely exists only in three or four mostly Democratic cities in an overwhelmingly red state, and the bill is the latest effort by Republicans to rid the state of any policies that conflict with their hard-right agenda — even if those policies are fully supported by voters in those cities, who elect representatives to serve their interests.

Already the state won’t let cities ban discrimination against low-income renters, and it prohibits them from cutting their police budgets. Dozens of other bills have been introduced to restrict election reforms by Texas cities and counties, including one that would let an official, most likely a Republican, overturn election results in a single place: largely Democratic Harris County, which includes Houston. “The bill is undemocratic,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio told The Texas Tribune. “It is probably the most undemocratic thing the legislature has done, and that list is getting very long. Local voters have created city charters, and I can’t imagine that they will be pleased to have their decisions usurped by lawmakers.”

By reducing the right of localities to make their own decisions, Texas has joined dozens of other states that have asserted their dominance over cities in recent years through a practice known as state pre-emption. One watchdog group has counted more than 650 pre-emption bills in state legislatures this year; the large majority have been introduced by Republican lawmakers to curb policymaking in cities run by Democrats.

It’s not a new phenomenon — city halls and state capitols have always jockeyed for authority, and in a legal showdown, the state usually wins, as the more supreme power. But conservatives used to champion ideas like local autonomy, devolution and even block grants as a way of weakening centralized control. The 20th-century movement toward home rule, or letting localities handle most of their own affairs, was once supported by both Republicans and Democrats. What’s now become clear is that Republicans dislike local control if they are not in charge of it. The home rule movement has steadily faded in the last few decades as state lawmakers on the right have become more aggressive in invalidating the priorities of elected officials in cities, which have moved leftward in their voting patterns in recent years.

“We are seeing a real increase in the pre-emption of local authority,” said Clarence Anthony, the chief executive of the National League of Cities and a former mayor of South Bay, Fla. “Local officials are elected by citizens to represent them, and they’re the ones who know what their citizens need the most. But we’ve been seeing state legislators trying to have control over local communities, and that’s not good governance at all.”

Many of the recent bills are particularly brazen in their disdain for local decision-making. The Florida Legislature passed a bill in early May allowing businesses to challenge municipal ordinances in court simply for being “unreasonable.” If they win, the businesses can collect $50,000 in attorney fees from the taxpayers if the ordinance is not withdrawn, but cities can’t collect attorney fees if they win. In Tennessee, Republicans were angry that leaders in Nashville blocked a bid to host the 2024 G.O.P. convention, so they passed a bill to shrink the size of the Nashville Metro Council and upend its voting district maps, which many residents say will dilute the political strength of minority groups. A local court put that law on hold for now, but the final outcome has not been determined.

Most of these legislative power plays follow the ideological patterns of the hard-right MAGA core within the Republican Party, which is often more visible at the state than the national level. The efforts tend to fall into the following categories:

Democracy and voting. Several states are trying to make it harder for citizens to enact laws or constitutional changes through the referendum process, after abortion-rights supporters Kentucky, for example, were proposed by anti-abortion groups. (Both were ultimately rejected by voters.) Restricting these ballot measures is fundamentally about depriving voters of a way to put a check on legislators, regardless of ideology.

In addition to the Texas bills, several states have tried to usurp the role of local election boards and officials, restricting attempts to expand voting and making it more difficult for voters in urban areas, who are often people of color, to cast a ballot. recommended earlier this year that they stop.

Law enforcement and courts. Many rural legislators who live nowhere near urban areas are trying to capitalize on an exaggerated fear of crime to change the way cities enforce the law and prosecute criminals. In Mississippi, new laws allow the state to take over policing and the court system in Jackson, which is more than 80 percent Black, but nowhere else. The N.A.A.C.P. immediately sued the state after the laws were enacted in April, saying the laws discriminate against Black citizens and erode their political power. A new law in Georgia creates a commission with the power to remove local prosecutors. One elected district attorney there, Fani Willis of Fulton County, is investigating Mr. Trump over possible election fraud.

Guns. Only a handful of states — Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — allow cities to regulate firearms. The other 45 have enacted either extreme or limited forms of pre-emption that reserve this power to the states. This effectively means that cities in those states must accept the same attitudes around the use of guns as rural areas, even if voters might have different attitudes and would prefer different laws. Some states, including Florida and Kentucky, have gone so far as to impose fines or criminal liability on any local official who violates the pre-emption rules.

Discrimination. Many Republican-controlled states have forbidden cities from banning discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. employees in the workplace, and there are hundreds of bills now pending that would override local authorities in order to ban books on L.G.B.T.Q. issues and prohibit drag-queen shows, even if those communities want them. Arkansas and Tennessee already prohibit cities from enacting anti-discrimination protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people, and Texas is one of several states that appear to be heading in the same direction. Many states are also telling local school boards to change their curriculums to limit classroom discussion of slavery, racial prejudice and the civil rights movement.

There are cases where pre-emption laws are in the public interest: for example, when it becomes necessary for states to prevent their cities from creating or perpetuating injustices, to prevent discrimination and help citizens achieve fundamental rights like equal access to housing, employment and the ballot. New York State did the right thing recently by proposing a law to get cities and towns to build more housing for families that are being priced out by restrictive zoning rules but backed down when suburban towns protested infringements on their autonomy. California was more successful in acting to remove local zoning laws to foster more low-income housing and increase density around transportation hubs.

But the vast majority of the pre-emption bills and laws in the last few years do not meet that test. They undermine fundamental principles of equality as well as access to the ballot and fair representation.

Some cities, including Nashville, Cleveland and Coral Gables, Fla., have fought back and won in court; in Maryland, Florida and several other states, Democrats have joined Republican moderates to beat back some of these bills. But in many other states, the will of the people in these cities is being silenced. They and their representatives will have to use every legal means available to be heard.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/03/opinion/texas-preemption-bill.html

National News

Associated Press

House speaker chaos stuns lawmakers, frays relationships and roils Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers who had been sitting in stunned silence gasped at the declaration: The office of speaker “is hereby declared vacant. ” For the first time ever, a House speaker had been voted out of the position, plunging Congress into a new degree of turmoil. “Now what?” someone in the chamber yelled out. […]

13 minutes ago

Associated Press

Male nanny convicted in California of sexually assaulting 16 young boys in his care

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A male nanny who worked for families across Southern California was convicted Tuesday of sexually assaulting 16 young boys in his care and showing another boy child pornography, prosecutors said. Matthew Antonio Zakrzewski was arrested in May 2019 after a couple told Laguna Beach police he touched their son inappropriately. […]

26 minutes ago

Associated Press

Multiple people have been shot on campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore, police say

BALTIMORE (AP) — Multiple people were shot at Morgan State University in Baltimore on Tuesday, police said. The Baltimore Police Department said officers were on the scene for an “active shooter situation” on the campus of the historically Black university. The address given for the shooting appeared to match a residential building. “We’re asking everyone […]

45 minutes ago

Associated Press

Lahaina residents deliver petition asking Hawaii governor to delay tourism reopening

HONOLULU (AP) — Residents from fire-stricken Lahaina on Tuesday delivered a petition asking Hawaii Gov. Josh Green to delay plans to reopen a portion of West Maui to tourism starting this weekend, saying the grieving community is not ready to welcome back visitors. The petition signed by more than 14,000 people comes amid a fierce […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General has charged a police officer in the shooting death of a Black man

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez on Tuesday announced that a police officer has been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a Black man during a confrontation at a gas station. Las Cruces Police Officer Brad Lunsford was booked on the single charge and released on Tuesday […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Judge denies Phoenix request seeking extra time to clean largest homeless encampment

PHOENIX (AP) — A judge on Tuesday denied the city of Phoenix’s legal request seeking extra time to clean up the city’s largest homeless encampment. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney ruled in September that Phoenix must permanently clear the encampment on the edge of downtown by Nov. 4. The city asked for a […]

4 hours ago

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Editorial Roundup: United States