Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


March 18

Star Tribune of Minneapolis urges political leaders to foster better intelligence sharing on domestic terror threats and white supremacy after the New Zealand mosque massacre:

As the world mourns the loss of 50 lives in the New Zealand mosque shooting, leaders across the globe need to stop and ask a vital question:

What is being done to prevent the next hate-filled extremist from getting swept up in a toxic mix of white supremacy and nationalism and then acting upon it to take innocent lives?

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, is in custody in New Zealand and stands accused of the slaughter that took place in two houses of worship in the city of Christchurch late last week. Before he acted, Tarrant chillingly outlined in a 74-page manifesto the abhorrent ideology he embraced. It's likely that the same technology that enabled publication of his sick screed is one of the main culprits in his radicalization. The digital age has made it easier for propaganda from hate groups to metastasize.

Sadly, Minnesotans have had a front-row seat when it comes to witnessing the rise of online terror recruiting and its impact on the state's Somali-American community. In 2016, nine men from Minnesota were sentenced by a federal judge for their efforts to aid the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

While Western nations have understandably focused on Islamic extremism, similar international cooperation is needed to thwart individuals who subscribe to Tarrant's stated beliefs. Over the weekend, a Washington Post story shed light on alarming security gaps. The U.S. and its closest allies have built up impressive infrastructure to monitor and share intelligence about international terror, but there's no comparable approach for domestic terror.

Homegrown terrorists who espouse extreme nationalism are generally seen "as a problem for domestic law enforcement and security agencies to confront," according to the Post story, impeding the flow of information internationally. The reality is that this malignant ideology transcends national borders. Online groups have followers from around the world. They venerate killers from a wide number of nations, including the U.S.

The antiquated parameters that hinder intelligence sharing about this threat must end. Stronger recognition of the threat posed by extreme nationalists, neo-Nazis and others of a similar ilk is also needed from political leaders. In 2017, "20 of the 34 extremist-related murders in the United States . or 59 percent, were related to right-wing extremism," according to the Anti-Defamation League. The October 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue is a painful reminder that the threat remained the following year.

The Trump administration has lent far too little support to efforts like this and, at one point, specifically pulled funding to one of the organizations working to combat right-wing terrorism.

Another critical issue that needs airing: What are social media companies' responsibilities when it comes to harboring users spreading radical, dangerous ideology? And what about their obligation to quickly shut down violent video of crimes perpetrated in real-time?

Violent right-wing extremism has thrived in part because it has fallen between the cracks of international intelligence sharing. Minnesota's increasingly influential congressional delegation should seize the opportunity to lead on this issue. All solutions must be pursued to prevent others from succumbing to the siren call of terror.

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


March 18

Portland Press Herald on the declining number of insects worldwide:

This may surprise anyone who's been caught outside on an early summer night in Maine, but the number of insects is declining rapidly - and that's not good for anyone.

The first global review of reports of insect population decline confirmed what researchers have feared for a while - that the loss, rather than just regional, is in fact worldwide. Around 41 percent of all insect species have seen a decline in the last 10 years, the study said. By weight, insects are dying off at a rate of 2.5 percent per year, and have been for some time - which would mean complete disappearance within a century.

Some examples of the harm already, the study said, are the loss of 58 percent of butterfly species on English farmland from 2000 to 2009, and the disappearance of half of all bee species in Oklahoma from 1949 to 2013.

The dire evidence aligns with earlier studies. One found a 76 percent decrease in flying insects over just a few decades in German nature preserves. Another study, which returned to the Puerto Rican rain forest after 40 years, found almost no butterflies, and far fewer birds. Moths, grasshoppers and spiders were disappearing, too; the number of frogs and birds was cut in half.

The decline of non-insect species shows how interconnected these ecosystems are - it is impossible to lose a component as essential as insects and not see a change in the lives of other, dependent species.

"Two out of every three species on Earth is an insect, and they represent an incredible diversity," Bob Peterson, president of the Entomological Society of America, told National Public Radio about the most recent study. "Without insects, and what they do in our landscape, in our ecosystems, many of those ecosystems would completely collapse."

The latest study says changes in agriculture and land use is to blame, as well as climate change. Those factors have led to habitat loss, the widespread use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and increasingly inhospitable temperatures in the tropics.

All of it is alarming - but scientists are still quite in the dark when it comes to the population collapse of insects. To figure out just what is happening, why and what to do about it, more information is needed. That's where Maine is pitching in. The Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife is teaming with Maine Audubon to study the decline here, where there are anecdotal signs of losses in butterflies, dragonflies, beetles and other insects.

The department has put out calls to entomologists and ecologists to see what there is for data out there. Then they'll start analyzing the data, with the goal of conducting a long-term survey of insect populations.

We should pay attention to the results. There are many good reasons for fighting climate change, and for moving away from large-scale industrial agriculture. Saving insects - the building blocks of our ecosystems - may not be the most popular, but it may be one of the most important.

Online: https://www.pressherald.com/


March 19

The Virginian-Pilot urges parents to listen to doctors and researchers and allow their children to be vaccinated:

The measles vaccine saves lives. And it does not cause autism.

The researchers and medical professionals who have been trying for years to convince parents of those truths just got what ought to be enough evidence to end the misinformation campaign that's threatening the health and safety of increasing numbers of American children.

Researchers in Denmark have published a major paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine with findings of a massive study of data on more than half a million Danish children born over the span of a decade. Their findings are clear: There is no link between the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella and autism.

But then, this latest data simply bolsters what earlier research has shown. Epidemiologists have been telling us there is no link at least since 2010, when a British medical tribunal found that Andrew Wakefield, a former gastroenterologist, had acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" as the lead author of a study claiming to have found a link between autism and the MMR vaccine.

Wakefield lost his right to practice medicine in the United Kingdom, and The Lancet, the medical journal that had published his "study" in 1998, fully retracted it as false, saying the editors had been deceived. There were reports that Wakefield had "undisclosed" financial interests in making his claims.

And yet, the damage that started with Wakefield's initial study continues to spread. Here in the United States, where he moved in 2004, there's an alarming resurgence in measles cases. There are six outbreaks right now, with Washington state especially hard hit.

In recent days, there have been two congressional hearings into the problem of falling vaccination rates and the surge in measles cases.

The problem is particularly frustrating because it is so unnecessary. Vaccines had all but eradicated measles in the United State by 2000.

Before a vaccine was introduced in 1963, measles killed 400 to 500 Americans each year, mostly children, sent many more to hospitals and left many with lasting problems including blindness and neurological damage.

That doesn't have to happen again. But the anti-vaccine movement that started in part because of Wakefield has picked up steam recently. Like so many things in American society, the fear and rumors are spread on Facebook and other social media.

One of the witnesses at a recent Senate hearing was Andrew Lindenberger, an Ohio high school student who recently became famous by having himself vaccinated when he turned 18, against the wishes of his mother, who believes in vaccine conspiracies. Lindenberger said his mother got most of her false information from Facebook.

Ironically, probably one reason the anti-vaxxer movement has swayed so many people is because the vaccines for childhood diseases have been so successful. Most of today's parents have never experienced the damage they can do.

It's not just measles. Chickenpox, which can necessitate amputations, lead to shingles later in life, and even be fatal in infants, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, has also resurfaced. There was a major chickenpox outbreak in Asheville, N.C., last November.

Some parents think it's OK to skip vaccinations for their children because of "herd Immunity" — since most kids are vaccinated, theirs should be OK. But that's a selfish approach that can endanger people who for some health reason can't be vaccinated.

Others, like Lindenberger's mother, have bought into the anti-vaxxer scare.

Witnesses at the recent congressional hearings called for a major public relations campaign to combat the persistent misinformation. Social media sites are being urged to exercise more responsibility.

There also have been calls for tougher vaccination laws, with fewer exemptions.

Most states, including Virginia, allow exemptions for religious reasons. Some parents have legitimate religious objections to vaccinations, but there's considerable evidence that others, misled by junk science, take the religious exemption because it's easy to do so.

The measles vaccine saves lives. It's been proved beyond any reasonable doubt that it does not cause autism.

For the sake of their children and everyone in the community, parents should listen to doctors and researchers and allow their children to have these important vaccines. Any death of a child is terrible. An easily preventable death is even worse.

Online: https://pilotonline.com/


March 19

The San Diego Union-Tribune says building a border wall will harm national security by diverting funds away from military preparedness projects:

President Donald Trump's plan to divert $6.6 billion from the Pentagon and the Treasury Department to help pay for the construction of a border wall is a frontal assault on the constitutional provision that gives Congress the authority to appropriate public funds. It is shocking that 41 Republican senators accepted this extralegal seizure of power.

But as illustrated by the Pentagon's newly released list of military construction projects that might have to be canceled, Trump's plan isn't just objectionable because of his constitutional overreach. It will also harm national security by forcing cancellation of projects that are necessary for the safety of members of the armed forces and for military preparedness. In the San Diego region, nearly $170 million that was meant to be spent on construction of a new Navy SEAL complex in Coronado is in jeopardy. At Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, $175 million in projects may be canceled, including a fire emergency response station needed to address the huge threat of intensifying wildfires. New landing pads for F-35B combat aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and long-planned infrastructure projects at Naval Air Station North Island and Naval Base San Diego could also be scrapped.

Besides his signature concern about unauthorized immigration, Trump says a border wall is urgently needed to stop narcotics trafficking. But this is undercut by the fact that in recent years, the Drug Enforcement Administration has repeatedly reported the vast majority of illegal drugs entering the U.S. from Mexico came through ports of entry.

The president has pledged to rebuild the military after it was allegedly "totally depleted" because of budget rules approved by Congress in 2011. There is a gap between his words and his actions.

Online: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/


March 19

The Wall Street Journal defends the purpose of the Electoral College:

Last week we wrote about Democratic ambitions to pack the Supreme Court. This week the Electoral College is on the chopping block as Senator Elizabeth Warren comes out in favor of its abolition, Beto O'Rourke makes sympathetic noises and Colorado's Democratic governor signs a bill adding his state to the "National Popular Vote Interstate Compact." Scrapping the system the U.S. has used to select Presidents since its founding will likely soon be the Democrats' default position.

Like the Supreme Court, the Electoral College sometimes frustrates the will of political majorities. That makes it an easy target in this populist age. But while "majority rules" has always been an appealing slogan, it's an insufficient principle for structuring an electoral system in the U.S.

Presidential elections often do not produce popular majorities. In 2016 neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump won 50%. "Plurality rules" doesn't have the same ring to it. In the absence of the Electoral College, the winner's vote share would likely be significantly smaller than is common today. Third-party candidates who can't realistically win a majority in any state would have a greater incentive to enter the race.

Democrats are upset that Mr. Trump is President with 46% of the vote to Ms. Clinton's 48%. What if a Republican was elected with a third of the vote in an election featuring five formidable third-party candidates? A free-for-all plebiscite would hurt the system's legitimacy. The Electoral College helps narrow the field to two serious contenders, as voters decide not to waste their vote on candidates who have no chance to win.

The founders designed the Electoral College to help ensure that states with diverse preferences could cohere under a single federal government. Anyone who thinks this concern is irrelevant today hasn't been paying attention to the current polarization in American politics. The Electoral College helps check polarization by forcing presidential candidates to campaign in competitive states across the country, instead of spending all their time trying to motivate turnout in populous partisan strongholds.

In a popular-vote contest in 2020, for example, the Democratic candidate might ignore the economically dislocated areas that Mr. Trump won and focus on urban centers along the coasts. Mr. Trump might campaign more in upstate New York or Texas but ignore urban voters.

The Electoral College also contributes to political stability by delegating vote-counting to the states and thus delivering with rare exceptions a faster result. The uncertainty arising from a nationwide recount for President amid myriad regional irregularities — as happened in North Carolina and Florida in 2018 — would make Florida 2000 look tame.

The Electoral College abolitionists are unlikely to get a supermajority of three-fourths of states to agree to pass a constitutional amendment. The greater danger is the popular vote compact that Colorado has joined, which requires signatories to ignore their voters and grant their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. It goes into effect once states representing 270 electoral votes have signed. If the governors of New Mexico and Delaware sign their states' bills as expected, then 14 states and the District of Columbia with 189 votes will have signed up. A Democratic sweep at the state level could one day get to 270.

The pact is likely unconstitutional. But if it succeeded it would inject more corrosive uncertainty into American elections in pursuit of a hyper-populist system that goes against the structure of the Constitution that has protected liberty for 230 years.

Online: https://wsj.com


March 19

BusinessDay of South Africa says the response to the crash of a Boeing 737 in Ethiopia shows the U.S. has abdicated its leadership in aviation:

It's an accepted norm in aviation that when there is a decision to be made about grounding aircraft, it should normally come from the home regulating authority of the manufacturer.

In the case of the Boeing 737 Max 8 that crashed in Ethiopia last weekend, killing all 157 people on board, that would have been the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US. For days after the disaster, the FAA did not do that, while Boeing vouched for the safety of the aircraft.

While countries such as China and Indonesia, together with Ethiopia, almost immediately banned the model, most Western nations kept flying them, before the UK broke ranks, to be joined later by a number of other European nations. They, along with Comair, which initially said it would keep flying its 737 Max 8 before bowing to public pressure, were probably following this convention. They were, rightly, waiting for guidance from the main regulator and evidence of a link between that crash in Ethiopia and another deadly accident in Indonesia less than five months earlier.

In simple terms, this is a system that should be underpinned by one word: trust. And news coming out over the weekend is more than disturbing. It should be noted that the Trump administration did not ground the planes until Wednesday, March 13, while other countries had been moving to ban them the previous two days, with the US still insisting that they were sound. Even then, the US suggested the decision was more to do with psychology than a conviction that something was wrong with the planes.

Much has been said about the Trump administration's aversion to regulation of everything from finance to polluting industries. This, after all, is a president who does not believe in climate change.

The US is not the only country in the world where there is a worrying trend of individuals moving from companies and then working for organisations that are charged with regulating their former employers, or vice versa. That may not sound as something to be alarmed about when it's about taxation, for example. But when it comes to a life and death issue such as flying, it is very worrying indeed.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the acting head of the FAA used to work for American Airlines and the Aerospace Industries Association, which counts Boeing among its most important members. And reports over the weekend questioning the independence of the FAA will only add to the unease.

We must be clear that this is not about Donald Trump. A report by Bloomberg on Monday said that as far back as 2012, FAA employees were warning that Boeing had too much say over safety approvals of new planes. That, the news agency reported, led to a government probe that found the FAA hadn't done enough to "hold Boeing accountable" and that some employees had complained of retribution if they spoke out.

The Seattle Times published the results of its own investigation on Sunday, which found that the regulator had delegated much of the safety assessment of the 737 Max to the company itself and pressured safety engineers to speedily approve the resulting analysis. The original safety analysis delivered to the FAA for a new flight control system on the Max planes, which was used to certify the plane as safe, had crucial flaws. That flight control system, according to the newspaper, is now under scrutiny after the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

In an early sign that trust has been broken, Ethiopia said last week it would ask European, rather than American, experts to analyse the black boxes from the crashed plane. The country's transport minister said at a press conference on Sunday that there had been "clear similarities" with the crash in Indonesia in October 2018. A preliminary report will be released within 30 days, she said.

There are so many areas in which the US has given up its leadership role in recent years. Aviation looks like the latest one.

Online: https://www.businesslive.co.za/