Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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March 12

The Washington Post on President Donald Trump's proposed $4.7 trillion budget:

The best that can be said for President Trump's $4.75 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2020 is that it has no chance of becoming law. This is almost always true of presidential budgets, because ultimately Congress does the nitty-gritty work on spending legislation. Even by the standards of previous nonstarter White House blueprints, however, Mr. Trump's effort this year stands out for dishonesty and warped priorities.

First, dishonesty. There is, to be sure, a smidgen of candor in the fact that the plan does not purport to balance the federal budget within the next decade, though it does suggest that balance may be achieved by 2034; so much for the pretense that growth sparked by the 2017 tax cuts will solve the United States' fiscal problem. The budget claims instead that trillion-dollar annual deficits over the next three years will taper off thereafter, such that overall national debt will decline from 78 percent of gross domestic product today to 71 percent in 2029. However, it reaches that modest achievement for fiscal responsibility by projecting 3 percent growth through 2024 and near-3 percent growth thereafter. More realistic forecasts produce an estimated debt of 87 percent of GDP by 2029, according to the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington think tank on fiscal issues.

Second, warped priorities. Such budgetary savings as Mr. Trump does claim to achieve over the next decade come disproportionately from domestic programs, including those targeted at the neediest people in our society. It adds work requirements — difficult to administer and sometimes counterproductive — to key safety-net programs such as Medicaid, housing assistance and food stamps. At a time when evidence of dangerous harm from climate change is mounting, the budget proposes to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, to the tune of a 31 percent cut in its budget next year. Defense comes in for a 5 percent increase, meanwhile, which might indeed be necessary — but which the president would achieve by invoking a special uncapped warfighting account, an obvious gimmick Congress won't countenance.

There's more: cuts to refugee assistance while asking $8.6 billion for a border wall; decreasing scientific research while freezing the maximum Pell Grant for low-income college students. Here and there, the Trump budget proposes valid reforms to expensive programs, such as its suggestion for "site-neutral" Medicare payments (i.e., similar fees for services either performed in a hospital or not), which the Obama administration also backed. But you get the picture. This is a document whose good ideas can't get traction because its bad ones simply swamp them.

Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

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March 12

Los Angeles Times on a college admissions bribery scandal that has led to charges against coaches and celebrities:

The indictment of dozens of wealthy parents, including several Hollywood actresses and business leaders, along with the top college athletic coaches they allegedly bribed, tells a shocking story of corruption and deception in college admissions. If the charges are true, these privileged but desperate parents sought to ensure spots at elite schools for their children by pretending they were top flight athletes, helping them cheat on standardized tests, and paying off college officials, among other things.

Well-known designer Mossimo Giannulli was among those charged, along with actress Felicity Huffman. Coaches allegedly pocketed millions of dollars in some cases for their role in helping get the children admitted.

But let's not kid ourselves. This is simply the extreme and egregious (and, prosecutors say, illegal) edge of a college admissions process that is already heavily weighted with subtle and unsubtle forms of favoritism for the rich, empowered and connected. The offspring of major donors generally receive favorable treatment at private colleges, as do the children of alumni, who tend to be a far more privileged group than other applicants.

Furthermore, the parents of affluent children commonly hire private college-admissions counselors who sometimes edit or rewrite — or even write — student essays for them and coach them intensively through the process. These techniques are not illegal. In 2016, journalist Jia Tolentino wrote in the publication Jezebel about her years supporting herself by charging wealthy families $150 an hour to write or rewrite their teens' essays.

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Any students currently in college as a result of outright bribery should have their admission revoked. Whether or not they consciously participated, their presence at college is based on fraud — and the seats they're filling could be taken by other students with legitimate credentials.

But colleges cannot claim to be the hapless victims of parental manipulation of the admissions process. Despite their supposed belief in a system of merit-based admissions, the reality is that they have created and tolerated a lopsided system that, despite some efforts to the contrary, continues to benefit the rich over potentially more deserving students with lesser means.

Colleges could start fixing this by eliminating the admissions preference for children of alumni, by demanding strong academic performance from all applicants including athletes and by forbidding students to use paid professional help to complete their applications. Students in better-funded schools would still have advantages, but not by as much as they do when they hire private outside counselors. Applicants should have to sign a statement that their essays represent solely their work, and that they understand their admission will be revoked if it's found otherwise. Applicants would still lie here and there, and it is not clear what meaningful enforcement there could be. But at least students — and their desperate parents — might hesitate if they knew they'd be committing fraud.

At the very least, it would send a message that colleges are serious about leveling the slanted playing field of admissions.

Online: https://www.latimes.com/

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March 7

The Boston Globe on how aid to Central America would affect U.S. immigration at its border with Mexico:

The sharp rise in the number of unauthorized migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in February seemed to confirm one of President Trump's loudest claims — that the nation faces a full-blown migrant crisis that requires a border wall. More than 76,000 unauthorized migrants crossed the border in February, a 31 percent jump from January.

But what's really happening at the southern border undercuts the president's central claims. Last month, when he declared a national emergency to build a wall, he said "(W)e have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people, and it's unacceptable." Yet the number of people apprehended is still below historical highs, and 40,325 of them are parents and children. And the people entering are overwhelmingly not criminals.

The migrants mostly come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — the area known as the Northern Triangle. They're coming to seek refuge from brutal socioeconomic forces in Central America.

... While homicide rates have fallen in El Salvador and Honduras in recent years, they still had the world's highest and second-highest rates in 2016. Guatemala ranked 10th. In addition to facing the pervasive threat of violence, people in these countries must live under governments that have largely failed to provide fundamental rights and protections for their citizens. There's a high incidence of gender-based violence, extortion by organized crime, and gang recruitment, as well as hate crimes committed against the region's gay and lesbian population. Impunity is commonplace, due to weakened institutions deeply infected by corruption. For instance, about 90 percent of crimes in Guatemala go unpunished, with similar rates in Honduras and El Salvador.

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Helping those countries grow economically and providing opportunity and security to their residents would help stem the tide of migrants. But U.S. aid to Central America has hovered between only $500 million and $1 billion in recent years. Trump has tried to slash that funding, but Congress has largely rejected his attempts.

How aid money is spent is also critical. The administration has focused on security, with funds going mostly to rule-of-law efforts and to fight organized crime and drug trafficking. In contrast, the Obama administration had a broader approach. "They recognized that there were other factors driving people to migrate — poverty, high rates of inequality, lack of economic opportunity, and systemic corruption," said Adriana Beltran, director of citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group. "They were also financing programs related to violence prevention, workforce development, anti-corruption initiatives." There's evidence those programs were working.

The flow of individuals from Central America to the United States will continue to rise unless there's a clear shift in the American response to the "crisis at the border." Walls don't dissuade people who are suffering through a humanitarian disaster. Rather, a solution requires political will, and not just from the United States but from the Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Honduran governments.

Online: https://www.bostonglobe.com/

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March 13

News & Record of Greensboro, North Carolina, on lawmakers' rhetoric about election fraud:

To recklessly throw around claims of voting fraud is to play a dangerous game that could do lasting harm to our democracy.

Yet politicians from the White House to the local level are indulging in that game more and more. Social media and casual conversation cheer them on.

NPR pointed out a recent high-profile example last week: Asked about the absentee ballot tampering in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District that has prompted a new election, President Donald Trump gave an answer designed to confuse. Saying he condemns "any voter fraud," the president went on to talk not about the improprieties surrounding the thrown-out election of Republican Mark Harris but rather the unsubstantiated claims of "a million fraudulent votes" in California.

Despite such frequently repeated claims of massive problems, the evidence shows that outright voter fraud is rare in this country (so rare that a commission appointed by Trump to investigate fraud in the 2016 election was disbanded). As for what happened in the 9th District, it's remarkable because it is one of the clearest cases of election fraud in recent history. A Bladen County man who worked as a political consultant in Harris' campaign has been charged in connection with the 2016 general election and the 2018 primary election. The charges involve illegally obtaining and altering absentee ballots, and the improprieties benefited a Republican candidate.

What happened in Bladen County is noteworthy also because it doesn't look much like the fears that are usually raised by inflammatory rhetoric about voter fraud: that hordes of illegal immigrants or people using names of dead voters are going to the polls.

Rather than worrying about actual absentee ballot tampering in Bladen County, some Republicans in the North Carolina legislature have been using false and vague charges of voter fraud to try to win support for suppressing minority voters. After the Republican legislators' strict voter ID law was thrown out by the courts, which found that it targeted African-Americans and other minorities, they tried again with an amendment to the state's constitution. That too was thrown out by a judge on the grounds that the legislature is so gerrymandered that its members don't represent the people (GOP legislative leaders have filed an appeal).

As the NPR report noted, politicians often use charges of "fraud" to confuse the issue when what they're really worried about is people whose voting choices they might not like. They are, in short, afraid of democracy.

People in both parties can play the game. Some Democrats use emotionally loaded words such as "purge" to exaggerate such procedures as challenging registrations. The danger in all this is that Americans will begin to have serious doubts about the democratic process and the results of our elections. And if their candidate loses, people might conclude that the election was rigged. Then what happens?

We're already seeing the hard-won gains in voting rights for minorities being eroded because of fears.

The country is deeply divided. We have to contend with Russians and others manipulating social media to make us lose faith in our system.

We don't need our political leaders further whipping up divisions and doubts with reckless and misleading rhetoric.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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March 12

Chicago Tribune on Congress considering a bill called the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act:

The news stories and photos from a Berrien County, Georgia, puppy mill are half past maddening: In recent days, authorities have removed more than 700 dogs from the wretched facility. Rescuers reported that the dogs had been living in tiny crates stacked one atop another. Many of the canines were unwashed and covered in feces and were never exercised.

Georgia authorities arrested the breeder, who faces criminal charges. But as anyone who monitors these cruelty cases knows too well, the next horrific one will erupt soon. And the one after that. And ...

At times these days, it feels as though Americans can't agree on anything. But cruelty to animals is one topic that unifies young and old, all races, Republicans and Democrats, red counties and blue cities, and even humans and other creatures. All 50 states make it illegal and treat some offenses as felonies. Most Americans can't bear to see animals abused or neglected, and that powerful sentiment has led to valuable protections for our fellow inhabitants.

Congress has generally deferred to the states to punish this sort of conduct, with some exceptions. In 2010, in response to public disgust for videos showing dog fights or the sadistic torture and killing of animals, Congress passed the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act to outlaw such recordings. An earlier ban, struck down by the Supreme Court, "almost immediately dried up the crush video industry," according to Wayne Pacelle, then president of the Humane Society of the United States.

The law is deficient in one notable way: Though it bans videos of such cruelty, it doesn't ban the cruelty itself. That's one reason Congress is considering a bill called the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT). State laws may not apply when abuse occurs on federal property, such as national parks and military bases, and this reform would close that loophole.

It would also allow the feds to go after anyone who facilitates bestiality by trafficking animals for that vile purpose in interstate channels. "Craigslist," reports the Humane Society Legislative Fund, "has numerous ads from people soliciting or offering animals for sex, often to be transported across state lines."

The bill wouldn't deprive the states of their primary responsibility for policing animal cruelty. But it would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to step in if local prosecutors drop the ball or plead that they're too busy with other crimes.

With Congress divided between a Democratic House and a Republican Senate, you might figure there is little chance of action. In fact, a version of this legislation passed the Senate unanimously in 2017, and the House companion bill attracted 283 co-sponsors. It died in the House only because it was bottled up by then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. But with Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a supporter, now in charge, the bill has brighter prospects.

It would provide a crucial extra layer of protection for creatures that cannot speak up for themselves. Americans are virtually unanimous in rejecting the needless abuse of animals. Our laws should leave it no safe harbor. Pass PACT.

Online: https://www.chicagotribune.com/

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March 13

China Daily on the relationship between the European Union, China and the U.S. as the European Commission set new policy recommendations for its China ties:

The European Commission set out new policy recommendations for its ties with China on Tuesday. The 10-point plan, which will be put to European Union leaders to discuss at their next summit meeting in Brussels on March 21-22, is the bloc's latest attempt to recalibrate its interaction with China amid changing international realities.

While stressing the EU's intention to seek reciprocal economic ties with China and greater bilateral cooperation on climate change and peace, the proposal also touches upon a few sensitive areas, which, if mishandled, could upset the good momentum of China-EU interaction.

While it is natural that the EU should seek to maximize its own interests by trying to balance its relations with China and the United States, it should not lose sight of the bigger picture by turning its back on openness and cooperation.

With the US pressuring its European allies to shun investments from China and seeking to disrupt the European countries' technological cooperation with China, it is understandable that the commission should want to show it is taking US concerns seriously by reviewing and even recalibrating its relations with China.

But while Washington decries what it sees as the distortive effects of foreign state ownership and security risks posed by foreign investment in critical assets, technologies and infrastructure — highlighting the security of 5G networks as a prime example — leaders in Europe should know that those concerns and suspicions have not been supported with any evidence. For example, US officials have never provided any proof when alleging that China's telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies is a security threat.

Although China and the EU countries differ in their political systems and social backgrounds, their common interests, which have expanded over the years, far outweigh their differences.

On the international front, for example, China and the EU have worked closely on all major issues concerning world peace and development. They are staunch supporters of global action to address climate change, global governance, WTO reforms and the Iran nuclear deal.

The European Commission's proposal will be put forward to EU leaders ahead of the EU-China leaders' meeting on April 9. It is to be hoped that, instead of fearing they will fall foul of the US, European leaders will view the bloc's ties with China both objectively and rationally so that any new policy recommendations focus on propelling China-EU cooperation forward.

The EU has everything to gain from promoting healthy and stable relations with China. After all, even against the backdrop of the changing international situation and Washington's "America First" policy, practical cooperation between China and the EU in various fields has already yielded fruitful outcomes, and there is much potential waiting to be tapped.

Online: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/

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