You are here

Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

___

Feb. 7

The Detroit News on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos:

Betsy DeVos has endured weeks of attacks on her character — and her mission to make schools work for children. But Michigan's billionaire philanthropist has prevailed, despite the best efforts of Democrats and teachers unions.

We're glad for that.

It was certainly not an easy victory. Following the defection of two Republican senators last week, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Maine's Susan Collins, Vice President Mike Pence needed to cast the tie-breaking vote, which was unprecedented in Cabinet nominations.

Democrats tried their darnedest to sway one more Republican to defect, spending 24 hours repeating union talking points on the Senate floor.

The teachers unions have tried to convince politicians, teachers and even parents that DeVos will dismantle public education as it exists. That's not true, and they know it, but to their credit they launched an effective campaign to discredit DeVos that almost worked.

The federal Department of Education is in major need of an overhaul — one that will reduce its ever growing bureaucracy, which only causes headaches for districts and isn't making a dent in academic performance.

America's schoolchildren need help. Recent national standardized test scores show that just 40 percent of America's fourth-graders are proficient in math. And only 36 percent are proficient in reading. That's despite the U.S. being one of the highest education spenders in education in the world.

We think DeVos is the perfect person to approach the department in a way that will shrink the education department's footprint and untie some of the strings attached to the federal dollars that make up roughly 10 percent of states' school budgets.

Any school administrator will tell of the hours wasted complying with federal paperwork. That translates into a waste of taxpayer dollars, too. The department currently spends about $70 billion a year on education, with very little to show for it.

Throughout the confirmation process, DeVos said she believes in turning more control back to the states, where most education decisions are made anyway.

This is a concept even the Democrats embraced in ditching No Child Left Behind a year ago. The new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which got bipartisan support, made big steps to return more control to the states. No Child misguidedly tasked the Education Department with school board duties, micromanaging the performance of districts.

"If Democrats fear what a Trump administration might try in education, they ought to be encouraged by Betsy DeVos, who made one thing clear in her confirmation hearing: she does not think she should be calling the shots," observes Neal McCluskey, director of Cato's Center for Educational Freedom.

At its core, the Education Department has a fairly narrow mission: "To promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access."

It also is tasked with "establishing policies on federal financial aid for education," ''collecting data on America's schools and disseminating research"; "focusing national attention on key educational issues"; and "prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education."

Yet since the department was formed in 1980 under President Jimmy Carter, it's grown to 4,400 employees.

DeVos should take on the task of reducing the overreach of the Education Department. And she should use her post to continue advocating for policies that will improve opportunities for kids, rather than boosting a system that is failing far too many.

Online:

http://www.detroitnews.com

___

Feb. 6

Boston Herald on the New England Patriots Super Bowl win:

Last night, the New England Patriots didn't just win the Super Bowl, they made history. They did it the hard way — that's for sure — but they did it. After two years of bad headlines, a prolonged legal battle between Tom Brady and the league, Brady's four-game suspension to start the season and a whole lot of hot air, well ... it was no longer about redemption.

It was an opportunity to rub the football world's face in it.

Petty, sure. But the 2015 Deflategate "scandal" grew so far beyond any reasonable scope — the punishment so disproportionate to the barely-there offense — that Patriots fans, and the team itself, can be forgiven for reveling in this victory over the Atlanta Falcons perhaps more than they have any of the team's four previous Super Bowl wins.

Two years ago we thought the Patriots' victory in Super Bowl XLIX would put to rest any talk of a tarnished franchise. But we underestimated how much sports fans resent the "overdog" — and how far the league was willing to go to squeeze its highest profile player.

We're no longer naive enough to think this victory will cement the team's place in the football firmament, or change the opinion of Brady haters. (Seriously, have they seen him talk about his parents? How can they hate this guy?) Because everything is about politics these days the critics may just forget about football and focus on kvetching about the team's links to President Trump.

There won't be much opportunity to marvel at, say, the early-season contributions of Brady backup Jimmy Garoppolo, or third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett, or how, exactly, they won it all without Rob Gronkowski.

Then again reveling in their own success is not how the Patriots play things anyway. If the league allowed it, coach Bill Belichick would probably have these guys back on the practice field today. Outdoors.

Sorry, America. After this win there will still be no living with Patriots fans.

The Patriots are on to 2017 — with another ring on their fingers and another Lombardi Trophy in the case.

Online:

https://www.bostonherald.com

___

Feb. 6

The Charlotte Observer on President Trump and federal judges:

Donald Trump's tendency to question the legitimacy of the judicial branch has gone beyond inappropriate and is now a threat to American judicial independence.

It's OK for a president to disagree with a decision by a federal judge. It's a time-honored tradition that was on display not too long ago when President Obama questioned the Citizens United ruling during a State of the Union address as most members of the Supreme Court watched.

Tension between the executive and judicial branches should be expected in a healthy representative democracy. But a sitting president referring to a federal judge as a "so-called judge" because he ruled against the Trump administration's immigration executive order rips at the heart of the system established by our founders.

That was the tamest thing our new president said, or tweeted, on the subject. He took fear-mongering to new heights by claiming that "many bad and dangerous people maybe pouring into our country" because Judge James L. Robart put his travel ban on hold, as though Trump is unaware of the exhaustive vetting of refugees that had been going on long before his executive order.

An American has never been killed on U.S. soil in a terrorist attack by a refugee from one of the seven nations Trump targeted. So his executive order is misguided and has caused unnecessary pain for legitimate green-card holders, children and other travelers.

Beyond that, Trump attacked the heart of our democracy by suggesting that a judge had no right to rule against his administration - this after another case in which he declared that Judge Gonzalo Curiel couldn't be impartial because he was Hispanic. In neither instance was it simply a case of hyper-partisan politics, given that one of the judges is a respected conservative jurist appointed by George W. Bush and the other known for having stood up to some of the country's most dangerous drug cartels. Robart was confirmed to his post in a 99-0 Senate vote. He and Curiel are the kinds of judges a self-proclaimed law and order president like Trump should love. Instead, because they didn't simply do his bidding, he tried to delegitimize them.

Trump tweeted, "If something happens blame him and court system." And: "What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban."

It means our country still has sufficient checks and balances in place as a buffer against a man who acts as if he is the star of a reality TV show in which he can dictate all the action instead of president of the most influential nation in the free world.

Trump, the candidate, made tens of millions of American hearts flutter with his penchant to speak from the hip in ways previous candidates dared not do. It's one of the reasons he won in November - even after that blunt speech caused the Republican Speaker of the House to slam Trump for "textbook racism" when Trump claimed Judge Curiel's ethnicity was a disqualifying characteristic.

But as president, Trump must be better. He has the right to criticize any judge he likes. He shouldn't undermine our democracy while doing so.

Online:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com

___

Feb. 7

The Japan News on economic cooperation between Japan and the U.S.:

Reinforcing cooperation between Japan and the United States — not antagonistic relations between them — is exactly what is needed for the prosperity of our respective economies. The leaders of the two nations should share an understanding of the importance of facilitating a cooperative relationship for our mutual benefit.

In talks with U.S. President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to propose measures aimed at promoting new economic cooperation between Japan and the United States.

The specifics of the proposal are being considered. Its main pillar would be to create a 51 trillion market and produce jobs for about 700,000 people through such measures as infrastructure investment in the United States.

The proposal reportedly entails the provision of about 17 trillion by Japanese megabanks and government-affiliated banks over a 10-year period, with a view to financing planned high-speed railway services in the United States and revamping 3,000 train cars there.

It also includes Japanese participation in high-efficiency gas-fired power production and small-scale nuclear power generation in that country.

The series of projects is intended to meet the expectations of Trump, who continues pursuing the promotion of employment in the United States.

The construction of a high-speed railway system in the United States will lead to infrastructure exports from Japan, an undertaking in which this nation's business community has long sought to participate. The proposal also includes projects to combine Japanese and U.S. technological strengths, such as the development of robots and artificial intelligence.

Trusting relationship vital

The proposal is not just about encouraging the creation of jobs in the United States, it is consistent with Abe's growth strategy, whose aims include what the government has touted as a fourth industrial revolution. There is also hope that the proposal will expand business opportunities for Japanese corporations.

Needless to say, economic cooperation, which will benefit both Japan and the United States, is based on a relationship of trust between the two nations.

Trump has singled out Japan-U.S. automobile trade as "not fair," and has also lambasted Japan's foreign exchange policy, saying our country continued to guide the yen's value lower.

The prime minister needs to properly refute Trump's mistaken views about the facts while also making sure the president corrects his unreasonable "Japan bashing" stance.

If the prime minister does not say what he must to Trump, economic cooperation that accomodates the demands of the United States could convey the erroneous message that if the United States deals strongly with Japan, our nation will accede.

The proposal also spells out Japan-U.S. cooperation in the Asian region. It would seek progress in creating and refurbishing liquefied natural gas stations, thereby supporting efforts to increase the acceptance of shale gas in Asia, noting that there is an anticipated increase in the production of the gas in the United States.

Proposed measures also include strengthening bilateral cooperation in acting on an oversupply of steel and protecting intellectual property. These steps are apparently aimed at restraining China, which has been making its presence felt more strongly as it has become unlikely the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact will go into effect.

For Japan, this can be described as a strategy designed to "go for substance instead of form," attempting to substantively realize the TPP agreement, starting with areas where the United States finds it easy to accede.

On top of that, the prime minister must seek Trump's understanding regarding the importance of the free trade system.

Online: http://the-japan-news.com/

___

Feb. 7

The New York Times on Betsy DeVos:

"Government really sucks." This belief, expressed by the just-confirmed education secretary, Betsy DeVos, in a 2015 speech to educators, may be the only qualification she needed for President Trump.

Ms. DeVos is the perfect cabinet member for a president determined to appoint officials eager to destroy the agencies they run and weigh the fate of policies and programs based on ideological considerations.

She has never run, taught in, attended or sent a child to an American public school, and her confirmation hearings laid bare her ignorance of education policy and scorn for public education itself. She has donated millions to, and helped direct, groups that want to replace traditional public schools with charter schools and convert taxpayer dollars into vouchers to help parents send children to private and religious schools.

While her nomination gave exposure to an honest and passionate debate about charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools, her hard-line opposition to any real accountability for these publicly funded, privately run schools undermined their founding principle as well as her support. Even champions of charters, like the philanthropist Eli Broad and the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, opposed her nomination.

In Ms. DeVos, the decades-long struggle to improve public education gains no visionary leadership and no fresh ideas. Her appointment squanders an opportunity to advance public education research, experimentation and standards, to objectively compare traditional public school, charter school and voucher models in search of better options for public school students.

The charter school movement started in the United States two decades ago with the promise that independently run, publicly funded schools would outperform traditional public schools if they were exempted from some state regulations. Charter pioneers also promised that, unlike traditional schools, which they said were allowed to perform disastrously without consequence, charters would be held accountable for improving student performance, and shut down if they failed.

Ms. DeVos has spent tens of millions and many years in a single-minded effort to force her home state, Michigan, to replace public schools with privately run charters and to use vouchers to move talented students out of failing public schools. She has consistently fought legislation to stop failing charters from expanding, and lobbied to shut down the troubled Detroit public school system and channel the money to charter, private or religious schools, regardless of their performance. She also favors online private schools, an alternative that most leading educators reject as destructive to younger children's need to develop peer relationships, and an industry prone to scams.

In her Senate hearing, Ms. DeVos appeared largely ignorant of challenges facing college students, as well. She indicated that she was skeptical of Education Department policies to prevent fraud by for-profit colleges — a position favored, no doubt, by Mr. Trump, who just settled a fraud case against his so-called Trump University for $25 million. It was not clear that she understood how various student loan and aid programs worked, or could distinguish between them.

In the end, only two Senate Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, opposed Ms. DeVos, leaving Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tiebreaking vote. Maybe the others figured it wasn't worth risking Mr. Trump's wrath by rejecting his selection to lead a department that accounts for only about 3 percent of the federal budget. Maybe they couldn't ignore the $200 million the DeVos family has funneled to Republicans, including campaigns of 10 of the 12 Republican senators on the committee that vetted her.

The tens of thousands of parents and students who called, emailed and signed petitions opposing Ms. DeVos's confirmation refused to surrender to Mr. Trump. They couldn't afford to have a billionaire hostile to government run public schools that already underperform the rest of the developed world.

Did anyone who backed this shameful appointment think about them?

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/

___

Feb. 3

The Minneapolis Star Tribune on why the U.S. shouldn't backslide on torture:

Torture is immoral. Torture is illegal. Torture is ineffective.

These three truths, coupled with the shameful backsliding during the post-9/11 years of the George W. Bush administration, should have permanently put the torture issue to rest.

But torture as a U.S. policy option returned during the campaign of Donald Trump, who as president has held to his ill-considered belief that torture works, regardless of ethics and law.

Thankfully, President Trump has also said that he would yield to Defense Secretary James Mattis, who wisely pledged that the U.S. will not torture.

But America's international image already has been damaged. Trump, after all, announced his policy during a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, an event of global interest since it was his first official meeting with a foreign leader.

Mattis was joined by responsible Republican voices speaking with moral clarity. Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham were forceful in insisting the U.S. will abide by standards, laws and treaties.

"The president can sign whatever executive orders he likes," McCain said in a statement. "But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture to the United States of America."

Despite Trump's pledge to defer to Mattis, his unyielding belief in the value of torture — "I happen to believe that it does work. I've been open about that for a long time," Trump said during his appearance with May — means that Congress, Cabinet members and the American people need to remain vigilant.

"It's shocking now that as a country this is a place where we are at," Curt Goering, executive director of the Minnesota-based Center for Victims of Torture, told an editorial writer. "For our entire national history we've been seen as a beacon of hope that stands for human rights and ideals, and none is more central than how we treat people."

Online: http://www.startribune.com/

| Feb. 8, 2017 5:42 PM EST

..