NATIONAL NEWS

Editorial Roundup: United States

Jul 10, 2024, 7:46 AM | Updated: 9:28 pm

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

June 27

The Washington Post on how the Pentagon can avoid stumbling

As disinformation and misinformation become major tools of global conflict, democracies need to decide when and how they should influence populations abroad. Influence campaigns are undoubtedly necessary, but how to conduct them according to democratic values is less obvious.

The Pentagon has offered a good lesson in what not to do. A clandestine disinformation campaign against Chinese coronavirus vaccines in 2020 and 2021, a program just revealed in an investigation by Reuters, was a grave error.

Reuters journalists Chris Bing and Joel Schectman reported June 14 that the Defense Department operation was targeted at the Philippines and “aimed to sow doubt about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and other lifesaving aid that was being supplied by China.” They found the Pentagon, through a contractor, General Dynamics IT, created some 300 phony social media accounts. Impersonating Filipinos, Reuters said, the accounts were used to criticize China and the quality of “face masks, test kits and the first vaccine that would become available in the Philippines — China’s Sinovac inoculation.”

The campaign carried the slogan in Tagalog, “China is the virus.” One posting from July 2020 read in Tagalog: “covid came from China and the VACCINE also came from China, don’t trust China!” The words were next to a photo of a syringe beside a Chinese flag and a chart showing infections soaring. According to Reuters, another post read: “From China — PPE, Face Mask, Vaccine: FAKE. But the Coronavirus is real.” The campaign was begun under President Donald Trump and was terminated in mid-2021 by President Biden.

Psychological warfare has been a tool of foreign influence for many decades; the digital revolution has accelerated the use of disinformation and misinformation. Reuters reports that in 2019, then-Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper signed a secret order that allowed commanders to sidestep the State Department when carrying out psyops against Russia and China.

When the pandemic began, China blamed it on the United States. Military officials at Central Command, based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, decided to respond with a social media campaign aimed at China. The phony postings sought to raise doubts about the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine, released in early 2021, which had a lower efficacy than the U.S.-made mRNA vaccines, but was still a valuable tool to fight the pandemic and approved by the World Health Organization. The phony postings sought to “amplify the disputed contention that, because vaccines sometimes contain pork gelatin, China’s shots could be considered forbidden under Islamic law,” Reuters found, noting that the phony postings were also intended for broader dissemination in Southeast and Central Asia.

The Philippines was fertile ground for vaccine hesitancy. A scare over a dengue vaccine in 2016-2018 had created suspicions about inoculations. In the pandemic, the Philippines suffered a high death toll and low vaccine uptake. When a desperate President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to arrest people who were unvaccinated in July 2021, only 2.1 million of the nation’s 114 million citizens were fully vaccinated, far short of the government’s target of 70 million.

The Pentagon seriously blundered by spreading disinformation that could directly harm individuals — if they shunned masks, vaccines and other tools, they were more vulnerable to the virus. Reuters reports that at least six State Department officials raised objections to the campaign, and quoted one of them as saying, “We’re stooping lower than the Chinese and we should not be doing that.”

The United States undermines its own credibility this way. The Pentagon conducted a review in 2022. Since then, we’re told, the Defense and State departments signed an agreement to tighten oversight of such operations, which are still ongoing. Part of Mr. Esper’s 2019 order was rescinded. Good; future administrations should remember why.

The United States should be leading the fight against the global proliferation of disinformation. China and Russia constantly advance a misguided narrative that their dictatorships are more efficient at helping people than messy democracies. In fact, Beijing and Moscow crush human dignity and individual initiative. That is among the honest messages Western information campaigns can disseminate.

The State Department’s Global Engagement Center is one part of this mission, but its future is imperiled. A reauthorization has cleared the Senate, but the Republican-controlled House has refused to follow suit, meaning the program could lapse by year’s end. The center has done important work exposing Russian disinformation campaigns, including a new report calling out Russian attempts to undermine elections in Moldova. The House should act soon to make sure this program, built with years of effort, does not fall by the wayside when it is needed most.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/06/27/pentagon-vaccine-disinformation-china/

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June 29

The Los Angeles Times on the homelessness and the Grant’s Pass ruling

“Homelessness is complex.” So wrote Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch even as he and the majority of the court upheld a law that does nothing to recognize the complexity of homelessness. In a 6-3 ruling on Friday, the justices sided with a law passed by Grants Pass, Ore., that criminalizes homeless people for sleeping outside on public property.

On a day of bleak Supreme Court decisions, the ruling in City of Grants Pass vs. Johnson raises the grim question of whether cities and counties will rely more on anti-camping ordinances to deal with homeless people and encampments rather than doing the hard work of creating interim housing, such as motel and hotel rooms, and permanent affordable housing, often with services.

Those are the solutions — the only humane solutions — to homelessness and they require hard work, funding and patience.

This decision, cruelly, allows cities to deal with homeless people by fining, jailing and ultimately shooing them away from sidewalks and parks, leaving them to search out other sidewalks and parks. Impoverished people cannot pay fines, and so the penalties accumulate — sometimes going on their credit report or triggering a court bench warrant for failure to pay. That only hurts their chances of finding housing when they get a rental subsidy and apply for an apartment.

In letting the Grants Pass law stand, the court effectively overturned the 9th Circuit’s decision in Martin vs. Boise, which ruled that it was a violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to fine or jail homeless people for sleeping outside when there is no available shelter. The Grants Pass law had been found unconstitutional by a federal court and the 9th Circuit for the same reasons.

Gorsuch said the cruel and unusual punishment clause applies to types of horrific punishments (say, burning people alive) and that, essentially, fines for outdoor camping didn’t qualify. Nor, Gorsuch writes, do federal judges have particular competence to decide whether some people breaking a law — like camping outside — don’t have “moral culpability” for that because they were homeless and had no place to go. He said those questions are “generally best resolved by the people and their elected representatives.”

But that’s the problem — local elected officials, under pressure from their housed constituents, don’t always make the best decisions for poor people who live on the streets of their cities. In what universe is issuing fines to people who can’t pay a reasonable approach to homelessness?

Gorsuch cited a litany of amicus briefs from city, county, state and law enforcement officials complaining about how difficult and expensive it is to cope with homelessness, how homeless people often refuse offers of shelter and how anti-camping ordinances could help. The city of San Francisco, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto all filed amicus briefs asking for the ability to do enforcement or guidance on doing it.

Gorsuch wrote that different areas use anti-camping restrictions to varying degrees but that policymakers agreed they needed all the tools in the “policy toolbox” to tackle housing and homelessness. But, he said, “the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit took one of those tools off the table.”

This is ridiculous. Anti-camping laws are not tools in the toolbox that fix homelessness. And citing people for living outside has nothing to do with creating housing. In fact, the Boise ruling that homeless people could not be fined unless there was non-religious shelter available was an effective tool — to disincentivize elected officials from harassing people rather than creating new housing.

Yes, it is difficult to grapple with homelessness, but the problem is not solved by jailing and fining people and pushing them from one sidewalk to another. Only adequate housing and services — including treatment for mental illness and substance abuse — will solve homelessness. It takes time and it takes money. Decades of under-investment in affordable housing and the loss of rent-controlled apartments have made the homelessness problem worse year after year.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, to her credit, slammed the decision, warning that it “must not be used as an excuse for cities across the country to attempt to arrest their way out of this problem or hide the homelessness crisis in neighboring cities or in jail. Neither will work, neither will save lives and that route is more expensive for taxpayers than actually solving the problem.”

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that fining people for sleeping outside who have no choice is indeed cruel and unusual under the 8th Amendment because it is punishing them for their status — something they can’t control. “That is unconscionable and unconstitutional,” she wrote.

She’s right. What a sad decision.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2024-06-29/editorial-grants-pass-ruling-will-only-make-it-harder-to-end-homelessness

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June 30

The Guardian says Joe Biden, Democrats must grab the wheel

The Democrats have no good options. The question now is which is the least dangerous of the bad ones. Democratic voters did not want Joe Biden to run again. Almost 70% judged him too old to serve another term as president when polled last year. Privately, many senior Democrats and donors shared their qualms. But with Mr Biden determined to stand, the consensus was to rally round. Now, after last Thursday’s catastrophic debate, the party is panicking. Only four months from the election, there is frenzied discussion of potential replacements.

That would almost certainly require Mr Biden’s agreement. His wife, Jill, seen as key to his decision, seems to be urging him on. He is said to believe that only he is capable of beating Mr Trump again. Few agree. The lack of a formal mechanism to remove him does not preclude the effects of political gravity. Slumping polls, drying up funds and private, or even public, demands for his departure from senior Democratic figures could yet change his mind. A growing chorus of previously supportive media figures is urging him to quit.

Mr Biden has achieved far more than even many sympathisers expected, despite merited internal criticism over his handling of Israel’s war in Gaza, and immigration. It is true that he has not received sufficient credit. It is also true that his debate performance was far worse than even pessimists had anticipated. It went beyond fumbling words, looking frail and sounding feeble. On abortion rights, his answer was incomprehensible. No confident rally appearances will erase this disaster.

Though Mr Trump’s own rally addresses have been increasingly rambling, incoherent and vengeful, he was – by his standards – disciplined in delivery on Thursday. But what he delivered was a stream of lies. His first term, culminating in his attempt to overturn the will of the people in the 2020 election and his supporters’ storming of the Capitol, was profoundly damaging to the US. Far from any hint of repentance, his own words show that a second term would be far more destructive, and this time he has a cohesive and determined team to effect his plans. His rhetoric has become increasingly fascistic. The world is demonstrably less safe than before his tenure: look to North Korea, Iran, or any one of its emboldened autocrats from Vladimir Putin onwards. He would pull out of the Paris climate accord again. None of this lowers the bar for the Democratic candidate. It raises it, because it is essential that Mr Trump is defeated.

Replacing Mr Biden at this late stage would be risky. There is no obvious candidate for a coronation, even if contenders could be persuaded to put personal ambition and political differences aside. Kamala Harris, the vice-president, has similarly dismal poll ratings. Though August’s convention would offer a stage for contenders, the party would be going to the nation with a relatively unknown and largely untested candidate.

Yet Mr Biden is known and disliked. He was tested again on Thursday, and failed. He saved his country by standing in 2020. But the debate has forced many to conclude that the best way for him to save it in 2024 is to stand aside. Those closest to him must advise not in his interests, but the country’s. The Democrats are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. Whatever their choice, they must grasp the wheel before it is too late. If the vessel founders, it is not merely the party that is in danger, but American democracy itself.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/article/2024/jun/30/the-guardian-view-on-joe-biden-democrats-must-seize-the-wheel-not-drift-to-disaster

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June 28

The Wall Street Journal say SCOTUS had two big victories for liberty

Friday was a good day, make that a great day, for liberty and the Constitution at the Supreme Court. The Justices delivered an overdue rebuke to overreaching regulators in a ruling that abolishes Chevron deference, while they also reined in prosecutors who stretched the law in pursuit of Jan. 6 cases.

In arguably the most significant decision of the year, a 6-3 majority (Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo) overturned the Court’s 40-year-old Chevron doctrine that told judges to defer to agency interpretations of vague laws as long as they are “reasonable.” Now regulators will have a harder time bending laws, and Congress will have to legislate more clearly. Imagine that.

Chevron arose when judges were willy-nilly legislating from the bench, but its flaws were “apparent from the start,” as Chief Justice John Roberts explains for the majority. The doctrine lacked a constitutional basis and clashed with the Administrative Procedure Act’s command that courts “decide all relevant questions of law, interpret constitutional and statutory provisions.” From the start, he says, Chevron was “a ‘rule in search of a justification,’ if it was ever coherent enough to be called a rule at all.”

The doctrine spawned confusion and conflict in lower courts, including whether a given law was ambiguous in the first place. As Justice Antonin Scalia put it five years after Chevron was decided: “How clear is clear?” The Chief says deference to regulators became “an impediment, rather than an aid, to accomplishing the basic judicial task.”

The High Court hasn’t invoked Chevron since 2016, relying instead on basic statutory interpretive tools and its major questions doctrine, such as in West Virginia v. EPA. “At this point, all that remains of Chevron is a decaying husk with bold pretensions,” the Chief writes.

The problem is that lower courts still rely on Chevron and cite it repeatedly to rubber stamp even the most dubious rules. See the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Court’s considerations about when to revere precedents also support its decision. Not only has Chevron proven unworkable, it “has undermined the very ‘rule of law’; values that stare decisis exists to secure,” the Chief stresses. As Justice Neil Gorsuch notes in a powerful concurrence, “these antireliance harms” aren’t “distributed equally.” While “sophisticated entities and their lawyers may be able to keep pace with rule changes affecting their rights and responsibilities,” others may not.

Chevron “has led us to a strange place. One where authorities long thought reserved for Article III are transferred to Article II, where the scales of justice are tilted systematically in favor of the most powerful, where legal demands can change with every election even though the laws do not, and where the people are left to guess about their legal rights and responsibilities.”

Lacking a strong legal rebuttal, the three liberal Justices fret about “judicial hubris” and the Court turning “itself into the country’s administrative czar.” “The majority disdains restraint, and grasps for power,” Justice Elena Kagan writes in dissent. “Judges are not experts in the field.”

But the progressive impulse to defer to the rule of experts is one reason Americans are so frustrated with government. Some judges may run off the rails, but then some do that now. The crucial constitutional point is that each branch of government stays in its proper lane.

Chevron’s defenestration will require judges to determine the best reading of statutes. The Chief demonstrates how to do this in Fischer v. U.S. Prosecutors charged a Jan. 6 rioter with violating the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, of all unlikely statutes.

The financial securities law makes it a crime to “corruptly” shred or conceal documents “with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding.” This provision is followed by another one punishing anyone who “otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes” such a proceeding.

The government argued this catchall applied to the rioter’s obstruction. Six Justices disagreed. The catchall “was designed by Congress to capture other forms of evidence and other means of impairing its integrity or availability,” the Chief writes. He was joined by Justices Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

It would be “peculiar to conclude that in closing the Enron gap, Congress created a catch-all provision that reaches beyond the scenarios that prompted the legislation,” the Chief adds. The government’s “novel interpretation would criminalize a broad swath of prosaic conduct, exposing activists and lobbyists alike to decades in prison.”

The Court’s Friday decisions safeguard individual liberty against overreaching government. Isn’t that why the Founders fought the Revolution?

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/supreme-court-chevron-deference-loper-bright-jan-6-fischer-d5958b01?mod=editorials_more_article_pos12

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June 27

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune on the GOP and contraception

South Dakota’s senior senator, John Thune, is one of the most powerful elected leaders at the U.S. Capitol. The tall, plain-spoken Republican is now in his fourth term in office and has held a powerful party leadership post since 2019.

So after Republicans in that chamber recently blocked a Democratic bill protecting birth control access, it was initially reassuring to hear Thune vow that another bill like it, one that his party could support, would be forthcoming.

“We will have an alternative that that will make very clear that Republicans are for contraception,” Thune is quoted as saying in a June 9 USA Today report.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board commends Thune for that commitment and strongly urges to him to follow through. Regrettably, it’s unclear if and when Thune intends to put in his words into action.

Thune’s office failed to respond to several inquiries over the past week from an editorial writer. Among the questions that remain unanswered: the timing of such a bill, who might carry it, how soon it could reach the Senate floor and whether it could also pass the Republican-controlled U.S. House.

Also unknown: how this legislation will differ from the bill introduced by Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat. Markey’s legislation would have set forth “statutory protections for an individual’s right to access and a health care provider’s right to provide contraception and related information,” according to its congressional summary.

Cosponsors for the Markey bill included Minnesota’s two U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both Democrats. There were no Republican cosponsors. The bill failed earlier this month to reach the 60 votes needed to reach the Senate floor. All but two Republican senators voted against it.

Among critics’ objections to it: that there is no threat to contraception access, with birth control available in all 50 states. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, called the bill “a joke” during a CNN appearance.

The Editorial Board didn’t understand her remark and asked Noem to explain why the bill is a “joke.” Noem’s office replied with a link to her CNN appearance, which sheds little additional light. To see the interview, go to tinyurl.com/NoemBirthControl.

It is true that birth control continues to be legal in Minnesota and elsewhere. “Because of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), most insurance plans must cover all methods of birth control at no cost to you, including the pill. However, some plans only cover certain brands of pills or generic versions,” Planned Parenthood reports.

But current legal protections offer cold comfort to those who care about reproductive health.

There were assurances for years from U.S. Supreme Court nominees that Roe v. Wade was settled law. Then, in 2022, the high court cavalierly cast aside precedent and ruled that it wasn’t. Fourteen states now have sweeping abortion bans, including North and South Dakota.

A longstanding U.S. Supreme Court decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, also safeguards birth control access. In a 2022 concurring opinion, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that that high court “should reconsider” this ruling and others that protect same-sex marriage and relationships, according to Politico.

A May 21 New York Times story raises further concerns. Former President Donald Trump, who is seeking a second term, “suggested he might support allowing states to place restrictions on contraception, then said amid criticism that he didn’t support restrictions.”

Minnesota’s Sen. Smith has also sounded the alarm about a potential push to resurrect the puritanical Comstock Act to limit birth control access.

Clearly, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about birth control access and distribution. Legislative protections are necessary and urgent.

If Republicans couldn’t support Markey’s bill, Thune and other party leaders need to act, not simply talk about the party’s commitment to contraception.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican, did recently introduce a bill called the ” Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act.” Its focus: increasing over-the-counter birth control options, greater transparency into how government agencies are spending tax dollars to support women and families, and ensuring that “tax dollars are not being used to destroy life by funding abortions or abortion providers.”

If this is the alternative to the Markey bill that Thune has in mind, the legislation provides little confidence that it would prevent states or a future presidential administration from banning birth control.

Ernst’s bill “does nothing to improve access to contraception,” Smith told an editorial writer Thursday. It “authorizes an FDA review of a single type of product, of which one is already on the market, without touching anything else related to accessing contraception. Democrats’ Right to Contraception Act actually makes it a right, enforceable in court, for patients to receive whatever contraception they and their doctors determine is best for them.”

Ernst’s bill could certainly be strengthened. If Thune and his party are serious about safeguarding birth control access, the work should begin now on improving the Iowa senator’s legislation or introducing another bill that would actually contain real protections. A good start: answering questions about what the party intends to do.

ONLINE: https://www.startribune.com/editorial-gop-if-youre-for-contraception-show-it/600376803/

National News

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Associated Press

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Associated Press

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Associated Press

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Associated Press

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Associated Press

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Associated Press

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Editorial Roundup: United States