Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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Sept. 4

The Houston Chronicle on gun laws in Texas following a mass shooting that killed seven people:

Texas leaders who keep going through the motions of addressing mass shootings in this state without making significant changes should be ashamed.

In the past two years, eight people were killed during a domestic dispute by a gunman in Plano, 26 killed by a gunman in at a church in Sutherland Springs, 10 killed by a gunman in a Santa Fe school, 22 killed by a gunman outside a Walmart in El Paso, and seven killed Saturday by a gunman during a police chase in Odessa.

"I'm tired of the dying of the people of the state of Texas. The status quo is unacceptable," Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday. But the only specific proposal he made to address the violence is to speed up the execution of convicted mass murderers.

Abbott said he was working on a legislative package to address mass shootings. "Expedited executions for mass murderers would be a nice addition," he tweeted Monday, retweeting an article about the Department of Justice's plans to do the same. But suggesting that speedier executions would help prevent future mass murders is an insult to Texans' intelligence.

Texas already metes out capital punishment swifter than most states; on average within 11 years here compared with 15 years nationally. Secondly, the state cannot stop automatic appeals in capital punishment cases, including possible reviews by the U.S. Supreme Court, all of which can take a decade.

As for the legislation he says he's working on, Abbott knows lawmakers won't return to session until 2021. That's too long, and Abbott should know that. And yet, the governor so far has refused to call a special session.

It's not just Abbott, however, who avoids legislative remedies to gun violence. None of the state's other political leaders .... are speaking out for reform.

In fact, the day after the Odessa shooting eight new laws loosening gun restrictions in Texas went into effect.

Among other things, the new laws repeal the ban on carrying firearms into a house of worship, prevent towns from having gun laws more restrictive than the state's, prevent landlords from barring a tenant or guests from having a firearm, and allow unlicensed people to carry a gun for up to a week after a natural disaster.

Escalating the amount of firepower available is no way to stem gun violence.

Polls show Texans have become more receptive to stricter gun laws, with more than 60 percent in favor of extending background checks to gun shows and private sales. But the partisan divide is wide, with Republicans strongly opposed to almost any legislated gun reform, including bans on semi-automatic weapons (78 percent) and high-capacity magazines (72 percent).

Do those numbers matter more to the Republicans who run this state than the 73 people who have died in mass shootings over the past two years?

It's not enough for the politicians to say no. If saving lives truly means more to them than winning votes, they won't let the Odessa shooting become yet another footnote in the long history of gun violence in Texas.

If politics isn't all they care about, the governor will call for a special session and legislators will come up with meaningful reforms that will help Texas become a safer place for people to go to school, the store, or a place of worship.

If Abbott is as tired of seeing innocent people being shot to death as he says he is, he will match his words with action.

Online: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/

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Sept. 4

The Los Angeles Times on a federal case allowing litigation against the Transportation Security Administration:

In the post-9/11 universe, airline passengers have no choice but to subject themselves and their belongings to screening by agents of the Transportation Security Administration. Sometimes that process is intrusive; sometimes it's even worse than that. It is vital that travelers who are manhandled or harassed by screeners be allowed to seek damages for their mistreatment in a lawsuit.

That would be possible under a welcome decision handed down last week by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia. Reversing a three-judge panel, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 9-4 that Nadine Pellegrino could pursue a lawsuit claiming that TSA officers who searched her luggage at the Philadelphia airport in 2006 had abused their authority.

Pellegrino says that, during a screening, officers spilled the contents of several containers in her baggage and were so rough in handling her belongings that her jewelry and eyeglasses were damaged. After she told the officers that she would report them to a supervisor, two officers claimed she struck them. She denies having done so.

As a result of the TSA officers' allegations, she was arrested and charged by the district attorney with 10 crimes, including aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of a crime (her luggage), and making terroristic threats. All the charges were eventually dropped or dismissed, and Pellegrino sued the TSA and individual officers alleging, among other things, property damage, false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

Although the federal government generally is immune to lawsuits, a law called the Federal Tort Claims Act allows lawsuits for wrongs committed by "investigative or law enforcement officers." But a three-judge panel held that TSA officers weren't covered by that exception because it was designed to apply only to "criminal law enforcement officers."

The full 3rd Circuit persuasively rejected that argument. Writing for the majority, Judge Thomas L. Ambro held that TSA agents are in fact officers of the United States. And he rejected the idea that allowing lawsuits against TSA agents would open the door to litigation against federal employees who conduct "administrative" searches of products or premises for health and safety violations. Unlike those searches, he said, searches by TSA officers "often involve invasive examinations of the physical person."

"Without recourse under (the Federal Tort Claims) Act, plaintiffs like Pellegrino will have no remedy when (Transportation Security Administration officers) assault them, wrongfully detain them, or even fabricate criminal charges against them," the judge wrote.

Ambro acknowledged that the overwhelming majority of TSA officers perform their jobs professionally "despite far more grumbling than appreciation." But those who do abuse their authority must be held accountable. Civil suits for damages can provide justice for victims of misconduct and also act as a deterrent. If, as seems likely, the Justice Department appeals this sensible decision, the Supreme Court should refuse to reverse it.

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

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Sept. 4

The Khaleej Times on how the removal of an extradition bill in Hong Kong has affected protests:

The withdrawal of the extradition bill in Hong Kong could be seen as an effort to bring a semblance of calm to the city where tensions have hit breaking point. But the announcement is unlikely to end the protests as the pro-democracy demonstrators believe it's a step "too little, too late". They say withdrawal of the bill is just one of their five demands, the other four being the retraction of the word 'riot' to describe rallies; the release of all arrested demonstrators; an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality; and the right for Hong Kong people to democratically choose their leaders. The fiery protests have plunged Hong Kong, an international financial hub, into its deepest crisis since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.

While Hong Kong's pro-China leader Carrie Lam defended the extradition bill on the grounds that it would help close the existing loopholes which allow criminals to use Hong Kong as a safe haven, millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets saying the amendment is an encroachment on the territory's autonomy, and would corrode the territory's legal protections.

The protests have morphed into a mass movement against China's repeated reinterpretation of the Basic Law and seizing jurisdiction over this semiautonomous territory. The introduction of the extradition bill was perceived as one of the steps to erode the city's autonomy. The prolonged protests have hurt the economy, with a slowdown in the Chinese economy and its trade war with the US adding to the woes.

But the core values promised for Hong Kong - the free press, the rule of law, independent judiciary and impartial police - will continue to keep the wind in the protesters' sail. With CEO Lam taking orders from the Xi Jinping government, which has warned that it would not sit idly if the unrest threatened Chinese security and sovereignty, and the protesters remaining largely leaderless, it remains to be seen how much democracy Hong Kong will be able to achieve in the future.

Online: https://www.khaleejtimes.com/

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Sept. 3

The Wall Street Journal on the expansion of a federal corruption investigation surrounding the United Auto Workers:

Labor Day must have been grim this year at the headquarters of the United Auto Workers. Federal agents last week raided the homes of the union's president, Gary Jones, and a former president. They haven't been criminally charged, but it's an escalation of a probe that has already won guilty pleas.

For years the investigation has focused on the UAW's Fiat Chrysler unit, which prosecutors say marinated in a "culture of corruption." Thousands of dollars, purportedly allocated for worker training, were instead allegedly misspent on lavish parties, steakhouse tabs, gifts such as a $2,000 Italian shotgun, and much more.

Last month former UAW vice president Norwood Jewell was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Last year a former Fiat Chrysler vice president who negotiated with the UAW, Alphons Iacobelli, received 5 ½ years. The point of this illegal scheme, according to the feds, was to keep union leaders "fat, dumb and happy."

Now the investigation seems to be expanding. Three weeks ago a retired staffer at the union's General Motors training center, Michael Grimes, was accused of taking kickbacks on contracts. The court documents mention, but do not name, two other "senior officials in the UAW GM Department" who were allegedly in on the action. Mr. Grimes plans to take a plea deal, his lawyer told local media, which means he may be cooperating with prosecutors.

After last week's raids, the union put out a statement saying that it is cooperating with investigators and that Mr. Jones "is determined to uncover and address any and all wrongdoing, wherever it might lead."

The news comes at an awkward moment, as the UAW is negotiating new contracts with the big three American auto makers. The current terms expire Sept. 14. Employees at all three companies have already voted to authorize strikes, if needed.

The expansion of the federal investigation to the UAW's top brass also raises the possibility that prosecutors may try to put the union under federal oversight. Facing a racketeering lawsuit in 1989, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters signed a consent degree that involved monitoring of its internal affairs. That agreement wasn't terminated until 2015.

In the light of all this, perhaps it's no surprise that nonunion auto workers are opting to stay that way. In June the UAW lost its second attempt to organize the Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The vote, 833 to 776, wasn't much different from the 2014 result, 712 to 626. Two years ago Nissan workers in Canton, Miss., voted 2,244 to 1,307 to reject the UAW.

Columbia University's teaching assistants recently joined the UAW, as did card dealers at Caesars Palace. But these nontraditional auto workers aren't enough to arrest the UAW's slide. Membership dropped to 396,000 last year, according to federal data, down 8% from 2017. Corruption isn't a great attraction.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/

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Sept. 2

The Chicago Tribune on the internet after a net neutrality ruling in June 2018:

The phrase was opaque but vaguely appealing. Why would anyone want to repeal something called "net neutrality"? Neutral is inoffensive, right? So when the Federal Communications Commission debated whether to ditch the policy, many Americans joined in the energetic protests.

Recall how the U.S. Senate Democratic caucus warned that "If we don't save net neutrality, you'll get the internet one word at a time." Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that "The repeal of these protections has corporate greed and corruption written all over it." Sen. Chuck Schumer predicted that without net neutrality, watching baseball on a smartphone would mean missing every other pitch.

Hotter heads even used the internet itself to threaten the murder of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's family. One sign memorably warned his children: "They will come to know the truth — Dad murdered democracy in cold blood."

Net neutrality, a policy imposed by the Obama administration's FCC in 2015, essentially said internet providers should make all content available at the same speed. Many liberal advocacy groups and Democratic officials warned that if the Trump administration's FCC repealed net neutrality, cable companies and wireless carriers would speed up and improve the transmission quality of the websites they control, while slowing down rival data streams. What's more, the providers surely would charge more to guarantee high speeds to affluent users, while slowing down data streams to those who couldn't afford fast service.

In other words, defenders of net neutrality said repealing the policy would imperil America's disadvantaged and anti-establishment voices. They argued that the piping of the internet should be viewed as akin to a regulated water or electric utility, and maintained as a neutral carrier.

We wrote in December 2017 that that argument would make sense if technology had reached maximum progress and the main concern, as with an electric company, is keeping the lights on. In truth, though, digital technology is a new, evolving industry, more like robotics or bitcoins than water service. It thrives on market competition, consumer choice and, above all, unfettered innovation.

We argued that the policy emphasis should be on encouraging scientific and commercial discoveries, while incorporating safeguards against exploitation of consumers. Our hunch was that rather than enticing internet providers to extort their customers, this deregulation would give private-sector companies incentives to improve speeds and services: Increased competition would be a greater spur to innovation than government fiat had been.

The FCC did vote to nix net neutrality, effective June 2018. A year-plus later, broadband download and upload speeds have quickened rather than slowed. Internet providers haven't bifurcated service into different speeds for rich and poor households. Mobile networks, too, move data more swiftly than before. Broadband investment in better technology again has accelerated. And if baseball fan Chuck Schumer has missed a pitch, blame his bat speed, not his data speed.

Who knows, maybe the internet providers are lying in wait to pounce on their customers.

More likely, they've learned a lesson from one failure of the post-net-neutrality era. During the California wildfires, Verizon throttled service to the Santa Clara Fire Department, the better to nudge the firefighters into a more expensive data plan. That looked like an outrageous attempt at exploitation.

The rest of the story: Verizon copped to a humiliating customer service failure. The company representative engaging with the Fire Department either didn't know about, or flouted, Verizon's standing policy in such situations of suspending any data speed restrictions to emergency responders.

It was a bad mistake, but a mistake. And all the other notorious cases that suggest a need to reinstate net neutrality? That is, where's the internet Cybergeddon the naysayers predicted, and predicted, and predicted?

That silence you hear in response to those two questions is the sound of free-market incentives improving internet services at a steady pace. Companies are competing to increase rather than decrease data speeds. And, thus far, internet providers haven't adopted exploitative service and pricing policies that would drive angry customers to rival providers in a heartbeat. And if companies do take unfair advantage of life after net neutrality, the federal deregulation can be modified, or reversed by regulators, or overridden by Congress.

America's web users, then, are back to where they were before net neutrality, when the internet operated without much government interference — and without adverse effects.

Government regulation does have its place. But on the internet as in so many other realms, consumers' demands and decisions are the most powerful regulators. Americans are the living, breathing free market forces that drive companies to make their internet services better — and increasingly faster — than ... one ... word ... at ... a ... time.

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

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Aug. 29

The New York Times on vacancies within in the Federal Election Commission:

The United States is headed into what promises to be among the most contentious and expensive campaign cycles in modern history — with foreign and domestic actors eager to make mischief — without the chief elections cop on the beat.

Sure, presidents are busy people, but in the interest of safeguarding democracy, President Trump needs to move a neglected item toward the top of his to-do list: put forward nominees to fill the vacancies at the Federal Election Commission — and push the Senate to confirm them.

On Monday, the vice chairman of the F.E.C., Matthew Petersen, announced that he was stepping down as of Saturday. Along with two pre-existing vacancies, this will shrink what should be a six-member board to three members — one short of the quorum required to hold meetings and perform many basic functions.

The agency's chairwoman, Ellen Weintraub, offered assurances that her team "will still be able to shine a strong spotlight on the finances of the 2020 campaign." Staff members will continue to post campaigns' disclosure forms, accept complaints and fulfill other administrative duties.

But, without four commissioners, the agency's regulation and enforcement of campaign finance laws — already badly compromised — will largely grind to a halt. The board will no longer have the ability to open new investigations. It will not be able to rule on whether laws have been broken, much less what penalties to impose. It will not be able to adopt new safeguards, such as to improve the transparency of online political advertising. Somewhere in Russia, the trolls responsible for the social-media chicanery of 2016 are smiling.

The harsh truth is that the commission has been a model of dysfunction for over a decade. Among the problems: Squabbling between Republican and Democratic commissioners increasingly results in gridlock over enforcing laws; funding has long been stagnant; and poor staff morale has created a critical "brain drain." The Center for Public Integrity has described the agency as "rotting from the inside out."

That is an argument for reforming this vital agency, not letting it die.

Even in its denuded state, the F.E.C. could occasionally get the job done. This spring, it levied fines totaling $940,000 in a case involving a Chinese-owned corporation that had illegally funneled $1.3 million through an American subsidiary into a political action committee supporting Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential candidacy. The action not only held the involved parties accountable, it also sent a message that "there are rules, and they will be enforced," said Trevor Potter, a former commission chairman and the president of the Campaign Legal Center, the watchdog group that filed the complaint.

The president should never have let the situation reach this point. One Democratic seat has been vacant since April 2017, a Republican seat since February 2018. Mr. Trump has named only one nominee, Trey Trainor — a Republican whose nomination in September 2017 has been effectively ignored by the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

It's unsurprising that keeping the election panel well staffed is not among Mr. McConnell's priorities. His antipathy toward campaign-finance regulation is legendary. To kick-start this process, Mr. Trump will need to apply a bit of pressure — and he will need to work with Senate Democrats and submit more than one nomination.

Why? The way commissioners typically get confirmed is for the president, in consultation with congressional leaders, to refer nominees in pairs, one from each party. This reduces the incentive for either team to stonewall. Mr. Trump's sending up a lone name was considered posturing, and no one seriously expected Mr. McConnell to act. With the agency now facing paralysis, the White House must huddle with lawmakers to find nominees whom everyone can live with, and the confirmations need to be fast-tracked.

This has happened before. In 2008, the Federal Election Commission found itself without a quorum. With a presidential election approaching, lawmakers pushed past their differences and confirmed five new commissioners. Something similar needs to happen now.

The president could submit up to six nominations. On top of the vacancies, the terms of the three remaining commissioners have expired, though the members can stay on until their successors are confirmed. But at the very least the vacancies should be filled so that America's elections monitor can get back to work.

As Mr. Potter warned, "Non-action here is an invitation to more foreign interference in elections."

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

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