Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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July 15

The Washington Post asks who is paying for the next Supreme Court justice:

Before President Donald Trump tapped Brett M. Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, the dark-money spigots were already beginning to open. As politics increasingly defines judicial nominations, confirmation battles for major judgeships are looking more and more like political campaigns, with shadowy groups pouring cash into national advertising and lobbying initiatives while keeping their donors and spending decisions opaque. This deprives Americans of information about who is backing nominees to some of the most powerful seats in the land, and it increases the likelihood that judges and politicians will feel pressure to make decisions that partisan spending networks demand.

Top on the list of major outside spenders is the Judicial Crisis Network, which pledged $7 million in 2016 for a pressure campaign to block Obama high court nominee Merrick Garland, plus $10 million the following year to help Neil M. Gorsuch get confirmed to the seat. The network has already announced it would spend $2.4 million on Mr. Kavanaugh's confirmation. Like many big outside spenders, the Judicial Crisis Network is a registered 501(c)(4) nonprofit, a designation in the tax code created to benefit civic groups such as volunteer fire departments that has become a major vehicle for hiding political money. An analysis from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found that the network's major donor has been the Wellspring Committee, which has links to a married couple that organizes conservative dark-money groups.

The Judicial Crisis Network is far from the only conservative outside spender active in the Kavanaugh fight. Americans for Prosperity, a group tied to the Koch brothers' network, has promised a seven-figure effort. The Great America PAC and Great America Alliance, the latter a 501(c)(4), have pledged $5 million, in part because the groups' strategists see the nomination battle as a way to rally Republicans before November's midterm elections.

Liberal groups are also participating in the independent- spending frenzy. Demand Justice, a relatively new organization working against Trump judicial nominees, has promised to spend $5 million. The group is set up such that its funding is arguably even more opaque than the nonprofits against which it competes. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Demand Justice's fiscal sponsor is the Sixteen Thirty Fund. The fund did not respond to questions about its donors.

Congress should close the loopholes that enable organizations clearly created for big-money partisan politics to benefit from tax-exempt status and to disclose little information. Though this is primarily an issue involving political campaigns, it is clearly an increasing problem in judicial selection, both in places where judges are directly elected and where they are chosen by elected officials.

But the prospect for reform is dim. In the days when the corrupting power of money in government was an issue Congress appeared interested in addressing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other opponents of cracking down argued that spending restrictions were unwise but that everyone could agree to the second-best policy of requiring donor transparency. Now that transparency is the only thing lawmakers might conceivably demand, Mr.?McConnell and his allies have opposed it.

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

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July 16

Toronto Star on President Donald Trump's comments on the international stage:

Faced with a direct question as to who he believes — the U.S. intelligence agencies he oversees or the autocratic leader of a powerful rival state — Trump ducked and dodged and then finally gave the benefit of the doubt to the longstanding foe of his own country.

This would be extraordinary enough if it was a one-off event. But of course it isn't.

Trump has been on a campaign to destabilize and eventually destroy the United States' traditional alliances and the international institutions it has built over the past six decades.

Faced with a persistent trade deficit with China, he launched a self-destructive trade war against the United States' closest economic partners — Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

He went to the G7 summit in Quebec and thumbed his nose at Washington's major allies, personally insulting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the bargain.

He wrote off the NATO alliance as "obsolete" and said he'd be just fine if it broke up. And last week alone, he publicly dissed the leaders of two more major U.S. allies, Germany and Britain.

If Trump had deliberately set out to shred any trust that Washington's allies may still have in American leadership, he couldn't have done a better job.

Yet on Monday he outdid himself after his two-hour meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump went into the meeting only three days after the U.S. special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election issued indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers.

The indictment, reported the New York Times, "includes a litany of brazen Russian subterfuge operations meant to foment chaos in the months before Election Day." And further, "it details a vigorous and complex effort by Russia's top military intelligence service to sabotage the campaign of Mr. Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton."

On the same day, Trump's own top intelligence official, Republican Dan Coats, told a Senate committee that the Russians are still at it. "The warning lights are blinking red again," said Coats. "Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack."

Faced with all that, and asked pointedly whether he believed Putin's denials of meddling or the evidence of his own intelligence agencies, Trump meandered on about Hillary Clinton's lost emails and then effectively came down on the side of — Putin.

He said "I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia that was responsible for campaign interference. He stressed that Putin was "extremely strong and powerful" in denying any involvement. At no point did he tell the Russian president to his face to cease and desist from interfering in American elections.

The contrast between Trump's kid-glove treatment of the Russian autocrat and his back-of-the-hand contempt for the leaders of Washington's democratic allies could hardly be more stark.

It's clear now that Trump is most comfortable with tyrants and dictators, men he obviously admires and believes share his values. He has no use for mere democratic leaders, hobbled as they are by parliaments, courts and opposition groups. There's no reason to think this will change.

The question now is whether the president has crossed a line for honorable Americans who have generally supported him so far. A few Republican politicians denounced his siding with Russia over U.S. intelligence agencies as "shameful" and "disgraceful," but they have criticized him often before without actually doing anything to rein him in.

If that pattern continues, Trump will wreak untold havoc on America's standing in the world, not to mention make it that much more difficult to protect U.S. elections from Russian manipulation.

Some are calling that treasonous. If it isn't quite that, it's the closest thing to

Online: http://www.thestar.com/

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July 12

The Chicago Tribune on the Justice Department telling Congress that it is looking into the 1955 slaying of Emmett Till

The brutal murder of Emmett Till, a black Chicago youth, in Mississippi nearly 63 years ago went unpunished, but not forgotten. A decision by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to allow an open casket at Emmett's Chicago funeral represented an act of defiance as well as mourning, helping to ignite the modern civil rights movement. "Let the people see what I've seen," she told the funeral director.

"I think everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till," she said in a PBS documentary interview. Those words ring loudly amid news that the U.S. Department of Justice has reopened an investigation of the 1955 slaying.

Many of the horrific details of Till's death, including the racist intent and identities of the killers, are known. The name Emmett Till remains a powerful byword of the African-American struggle for equality.

What's missing is closure. And justice.

Emmett Till was 14 years old in the summer of 1955, living with his mother in a two-flat at 6427 S. St. Lawrence Ave., when he was put on a train to visit relatives near Money, Miss. The story told by a 21-year-old white woman was that Emmett propositioned and whistled at her at a corner store. Days later, Emmett was abducted. His body was found in the Tallahatchie River, weighted down by a cast iron cotton gin pulley. He'd been beaten savagely and shot in the head.

The case was a sensation. Photos in Jet magazine of Emmett's mutilated body shocked America. Two white Mississippi men, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, were acquitted of the murder — by an all-white, small-town Mississippi jury that deliberated for a little over an hour, including a Coke break. Rosa Parks said she had Emmett Till in mind in December 1955 when she refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala.

A month later, Bryant, who was Donham's husband, and Milam admitted their guilt to Look magazine.

The pair are dead, as is Emmett Till's mother, but the woman from the corner store, Carolyn Donham, is alive. About a decade ago, the Justice Department and Mississippi prosecutors reinvestigated the murder; they declined to move forward. A year later, though, Donham talked to writer Timothy B. Tyson and said she hadn't been truthful in her trial testimony. "Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him," she's quoted as saying in Tyson's recently published book, "The Blood of Emmett Till."

Donham's interview could be the reason for a renewed federal investigation, according to The Associated Press. (...) The Justice Department told Congress in a report in March that it is again looking into the killing because of "new information." It's interesting to note that the annual report to Congress on unsolved civil rights crimes is mandated by legislation named in recognition of Emmett Till.

His legacy endures. And now there is a new investigation. We hope that means the nation one day soon will know all the facts of what happened to Emmett Till.

Online: http://www.chicagotribune.com/

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July 14

Orange County Register says it is time to privatize air traffic control in the United States:

The Trump administration revived calls for privatizing air traffic control services last month as part of a broader proposal to reorganize and modernize the federal government.

The report, "Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century," renews the White House's commitment to seeing America join the rest of industrialized world by moving away from the taxpayer-funded, Federal Aviation Administration-run air traffic control system toward a non-profit system funded by user fees.

As the report notes, approximately 60 countries have shifted responsibility for air traffic control from government to non-governmental providers. Starting with New Zealand in 1987, countries like Australia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland the United Kingdom have turned over air traffic control to self-sustaining non-governmental operators.

By doing this, other countries have freed air traffic control operations from the constraints of a government entity subject to the whims of Congress to better reflect the actual needs of consumers. As Bob Poole from the Reason Foundation told us last year, "ATC is a high-tech service business that in the U.S. is trapped in a tax-funded regulatory bureaucracy."

Among the many consequences of these constraints, the American air traffic control system has long lagged behind other countries in incorporating modern technology into its operations.

"Our current air traffic control technology is a dinosaur compared to other countries' systems," noted Rep. Bill Shuster in an op-ed for The Hill. "American air traffic controllers use WWII-era radar technology as the backbone of our system to manage the most congested airspace in the world."

That could and should end if responsibility for air traffic control is spun off from the FAA and converted to a nonprofit corporation model similar to the system used in Canada, as supported by the Trump administration.

Nav Canada, created in 1996, is responsible for the second-largest navigation service by traffic volume in the world. Named a "global leader in delivering top class performance" by the International Air Transport Association, Nav Canada is funded by customers, not by government.

As a result, Nav Canada has kept ahead of the curve on adopting the latest technologies, yielding better service and greater efficiencies. It's a model the U.S. should follow.

Online: http://www.ocregister.com/

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July 17

The New York Times on President Donald Trump's tough talk on drug prices:

It has been two months since the president released his road map for lowering drug costs that seems to lead nowhere, and about a month since he predicted the "big drug companies" would announce "voluntary massive" price cuts. Here's where things stand:

A congressional investigation has found that the drug company Novartis got more out of its $1.2 million payment to Mr. Trump's "personal attorney" Michael Cohen than had been known. Meanwhile, several other drugmakers defied Mr. Trump's lofty prediction by raising their prices substantially, while his administration shot down a proposal that would have helped individual states lower their drug costs.

Taken together, the developments help explain why, a year and a half after Mr. Trump took office, prescription drugs cost more than ever.

Let's start with Novartis: When a lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic-film star suing Mr. Trump, revealed that the drug company was among those who had made payments to Mr. Cohen after the election, Novartis executives insisted they'd had only one meeting before concluding that Mr. Cohen didn't know enough about health care policy to be helpful. But Senate Democrats have since found that the company actually had several meetings, that drug-pricing policies were on the agenda and that a number of proposals Novartis pushed for made it into the White House plan.

For his part, Mr. Trump made a show of chastising the industry on Twitter when several drugmakers raised their prices this month. He called out Pfizer specifically, saying the company "should be ashamed" of itself. The tweet led to a phone call between the company's chief executive and the president, after which Pfizer agreed to hold off on those price increases for six months, or until the administration had a chance to put its road map into action.

Mr. Trump said the concession was "great news for the American people," but it might actually be more of a coup for the pharmaceutical industry. By tying its actions to the president's initiative, Pfizer now has both a stick and a carrot to wield: implement a policy that benefits the industry and maybe the company will abandon its price increases; create one that hurts the industry and the company may raise prices once again. In any case, none of the other drugmakers that raised their prices followed Pfizer's lead, meaning that those increases are all still in place.

These machinations would be troubling enough by themselves. But the administration seems intent on adding insult to injury, by blocking states from carrying out a policy that might actually make a dent in the drug-cost problem.

That proposal would have opened the door on allowing state Medicaid programs to deny coverage for certain medications. Private insurance companies, the Department of Veterans Affairs and many other countries with drug prices far lower than ours already do this, but Medicaid is required to cover all federally approved medications, no matter how much they cost or how well (or poorly) they work. If states were allowed to circumvent this rule, they would be able to avoid paying for pricey new drugs that aren't necessarily as effective as cheaper versions already on the market. They would also have much more negotiating power because they would be able to walk away from the table for drugs that were overpriced.

Massachusetts asked the administration for a waiver that would allow it to try this approach. But in June, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Health and Human Services agency that regulates these two insurance programs, rejected that proposal and issued a notice to all states, reiterating that all Medicaid programs must cover all drugs.

"It takes away a substantial tool that a lot of states were hoping to use," says Rachel Sachs, a law professor and drug policy expert at Washington University in St. Louis. It also points to a hypocrisy, she says. "They're permissive when it comes to work requirements that put added burden on the vulnerable, but protective when it comes to measures that would strain the pharmaceutical industry."

It's unclear where we go from here. The administration's road map for lowering drug costs was short on details about when or how any of its provisions might take effect. And while there's no telling what Mr. Trump discussed with Pfizer that caused it to temporarily halt planned price increases, the exchanges between Mr. Cohen and Novartis hardly inspire good faith. In fact, if the industry is "getting away with murder," as Mr. Trump once claimed, it stands to reason that at this point, it's doing it with the president's help.

The good news is that elections are coming, and lawmakers know that Americans are enraged by soaring drug costs. By keeping the pressure on, we may see real change yet.

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

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July 17

The Post and Courier of Charleston on Rep. Joe Wilson appearing to support a fake program to arm toddlers with guns on Sacha Baron Cohen's new satirical TV show:

Sacha Baron Cohen has fooled a lot of public officials during roughly two decades of TV and movie work playing a variety of characters who coax outrageous and embarrassing statements out of people like Newt Gingrinch, Ralph Nader, Ron Paul and then-host of "The Apprentice," Donald Trump.

The comic actor even made a couple of trips to Charleston for one of his earlier TV shows, duping more than a few of our fellow Holy City residents on camera in the process.

In other words, it would be silly to fault U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who appeared in the premiere episode of Mr. Cohen's new show "Who is America?" on Sunday, for falling for a noted prankster's tricks. But it is decidedly less silly to be somewhat concerned by what Mr. Wilson appeared to heartily endorse on the show.

The centerpiece of Sunday's episode was a bit in which Mr. Cohen played an Israeli anti-terror expert named Erran Morad. Several public officials and gun rights advocates endorsed Mr. Morad's outlandish "Kinderguardians" program as a solution to school shootings.

Why arm teachers, the pitch went, when students as young as 3 years old could be trained to defend themselves against armed intruders? (But no younger than 3, of course, because "they call them the terrible twos for a reason," joked Mr. Cohen in the episode.)

Obviously, such a plan would be ridiculous — not to mention dangerous. That's the whole point of the joke. But Rep. Wilson, who said on Tuesday he was just reading a script the show's producers gave him, went along with it.

"A 3-year-old cannot defend itself from an assault rifle by throwing a Hello Kitty pencil case at it," said Mr. Wilson. "Our founding fathers did not put an age limit on the Second Amendment."

Yikes.

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, former Sen. Trent Lott and former Rep. Joe Walsh also gave the Kinderguardians a ringing endorsement.

Again, it's not so much that Mr. Wilson and his fellow current and former lawmakers fell for Mr. Cohen's ruse. Who among us hasn't fallen for a practical joke at one point or another?

But Mr. Wilson's apparent willingness to go along with a clearly ludicrous proposal is less troubling than the extent to which such an absurd policy idea seems mundane in this era of heightened polarization and diminished appreciation for what has otherwise long been considered obvious common sense.

Mr. Cohen's show so far has earned mixed reviews for precisely that reason. The headlines on any given day are so unbelievable, and the daily Twitter missives from President Trump so inflammatory, that even the most jaw-dropping comment from a public figure seems commonplace.

To be sure, people have put their feet in their mouths so to speak for as long as there have been people, feet and mouths. And Mr. Cohen has proven himself uniquely adept at eliciting some cringe-worthy reactions from otherwise very serious people.

Still, we apparently live in a time in which "guns for toddlers" is an acceptable policy proposal for sitting lawmakers to endorse. It's hard to know whether to laugh or to cry.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com