Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Wall Street Journal on Democratic state Attorneys General suing to block T-Mobile's merger with Sprint:
Ten Democratic state Attorneys General on Tuesday sued to block T-Mobile's merger with Sprint, and the timing was no coincidence. The Justice Department will soon make its decision on the merger, and Democrats, unions and big business are lining up to defeat it at the expense of America's leadership in 5G telecom networks.
The State AGs say the merger "would eliminate Sprint as a competitor and reduce the number of (mobile network operators) with nationwide networks in the United States from four to three." But a market of three strong wireless players would be more competitive than a de facto duopoly led by AT&T and Verizon. T-Mobile has 79 million customers while Sprint boasts 54 million compared to Verizon (118 million) and AT&T (94 million). The Big Two need a strong competitor, not two weaklings that may not survive for long.
More spectrum improves connectivity and boosts download speeds, which helps the two giants attract more customers. With more revenue, they can procure more spectrum at government auctions to improve their networks. AT&T also came into a sweet spectrum deal two years ago when the Commerce Department selected it to build a national emergency network for first-responders.
For years T-Mobile and Sprint have been slashing prices to compete with the Big Two. As the state AGs note, the average cost per megabyte of data declined by between 72% and 83% between 2013 and 2017. The problem is that all of the carriers have piled up debt that could retard their 5G build-out.
AT&T and Verizon have used much of their cash paying for content acquisitions rather than investing in 5G. AT&T has curbed price cuts to pay down $171 billion in debt from buying DirecTV and Time Warner. Verizon has $113 billion in debt and is writing off its misconceived Yahoo and AOL acquisitions that were supposed to help it compete with Google.
While AT&T and Verizon have begun to roll out 5G service in some markets, T-Mobile and Sprint lack the complementary spectrum and capital to compete nationwide. So there's less impetus for AT&T and Verizon to accelerate their 5G plans, improve efficiency or redirect misallocated capital from more glamorous media plays.
The Democratic AGs claim to be standing for competition, but in opposing the T-Mobile-Sprint merger they're entrenching the Big Two. It's worth recalling that competition from Sprint and MCI is what finally broke AT&T's monopoly on long-distance service in the 1980s. Long-distance prices fell rapidly.
Sprint and T-Mobile have already committed to deploying a 5G network that would cover 97% of the U.S. population within three years including 85% of rural Americans. They have also agreed to maintain current prices for at least three years, which is three years longer than either Verizon or AT&T. The AG warnings about price increases are false.
As ever, there's a union-Democratic Party merger here. The Communications Workers of America, who represent AT&T and Verizon workers, oppose the tie between the nonunion Sprint and T-Mobile. The last thing they want is a stronger nonunion competitor. The union is a big financier of Democrats, and it endorsed the AGs in coordinated fashion on Tuesday.
All of this lobbying is aimed directly at persuading Justice antitrust chief Makan Delrahim to oppose the deal. Justice attorneys have been demanding divestitures with perhaps an eye to recreating a fourth wireless carrier. Cable companies that aim to launch plans with wireless carriers' spectrum — Altice already has a contract with Sprint — have criticized the deal for thwarting competition. But cable companies merely want to fortify their regional monopolies, especially in rural areas where a merged T-Mobile-Sprint could compete.
While the media obsess about Big Tech and antitrust, the T-Mobile-Sprint merger may be more consequential for America's future. More of the world economy is becoming digital every day, and 5G is essential to capturing the benefits of artificial intelligence and much more. The U.S. can't afford to fall behind by depending on a unionized duopoly. While Democratic AGs and unions may not care if 5G plods along, anyone who wants to preserve America's global competitiveness should.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar:
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar is back in the news again, and not in a good way. The former state representative who won a seat in Congress last fall continues to be dogged by past missteps, this time eight violations of Minnesota campaign-finance law that will cost her nearly $3,500 in reimbursements and civil penalties.
So complex were the allegations that the state Campaign Finance Board spent nearly a year assessing the case, deposing staff people and former staff people, along with Omar herself. The investigation was broadened in October — just a month before her election to Congress — to look more deeply into the allegations. Board Executive Director Jeff Sigurdson said that between six and eight people were deposed separately.
In an October 2018 editorial, we called on Omar to more fully explain her travel and other expenses. We noted that the allegations "suggest a pattern of carelessness and/or self-dealing with legally restricted funds. Neither conclusion inspires the confidence voters deserve to have in someone they send to the U.S. House to represent them."
It is even more disturbing, therefore, to learn that among the board's latest findings was a troubling discovery that is far beyond its jurisdiction, but worthy of greater scrutiny nevertheless. Omar, for two years running, filed joint tax returns with a man she was living with but not legally married to. Complicating matters further, she was legally married to another man at the time.
It's against the law in Minnesota to file jointly unless one filer is legally married to the other. Last year Omar told the Star Tribune that she had married her partner "in her faith," and had earlier divorced her first husband "in her faith." That's fine for religious purposes. But for tax purposes, only civil marriages qualify. It's not known whether she benefited materially by filing jointly. That is something that voters, who are obliged to follow tax laws no matter how painful, are entitled to know.
It's not too much to expect that a lawmaker would check with a tax attorney on a rather complicated marital status before filing. And when questions arise, it's a violation to use campaign funds to clear up those personal issues, as Omar apparently did. The Campaign Finance Board has ordered that she reimburse her campaign $3,469 for violations related to her tax returns and non-campaign travel costs. She must also pay a $500 civil penalty.
Omar is no stranger to controversy. As a new state House member, she collected $2,500 in speaking fees — $2,000 from Normandale Community College and $500 from Inver Hills Community College — for appearances made shortly after she took office. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who publicly noted that state law prohibits legislators from collecting such fees from groups that have business before the Legislature, made that public, and Omar returned the money. Drazkowski also filed the latest complaint. "It's very clear there are huge ethical problems with Rep. Omar," he told an editorial writer, adding that the House should consider an ethics investigation.
If this pattern continues, further investigation may be necessary. Omar could have avoided nearly every infraction by taking simple measures in advance to determine whether her actions would pass legal muster. In its findings, the board noted that Minnesota "House Research staff did explain that generally when they discuss whether a member can accept something of value, for example, travel and lodging reimbursement ... they discuss whether that would violate the gift prohibition," but do not advise. "Rather, they commonly refer members to the Board. The Omar committee did not contact Board staff ... on the appropriateness of using committee funds for the travel reviewed in this investigation."
Omar's political rise has been marred by a series of unforced errors, including intemperate remarks and tweets earlier this year that were widely perceived as anti-Semitic. Every month seems to bring a fresh problem.
As an elected representative for Minnesota and one of the first Muslim women and Somali refugees elected to Congress, Omar is helping to break new ground. But more is expected of her than the symbolism attached to her victory. Omar has a special obligation to be worthy of the trust so many have placed in her, including many still-new Americans who expect better.
The Los Angeles Times on the rising number of horse deaths at Santa Anita Park:
On Saturday, a 4-year-old gelding named Formal Dude was euthanized after injuring itself during a race at Santa Anita Park. Formal Dude was the 28th horse to die from racing or training at the beleaguered track since December.
At that point, the California Horse Racing Board had had enough, and it took the extraordinary step of asking Santa Anita to suspend racing for the few days remaining in this season at the park.
But Santa Anita's owners refused, and on Sunday the racing continued. That's when a 3-year-old filly, Truffalino, collapsed and died just after the jockey pulled the horse out of a race. Truffalino became the 29th fatality of the season.
Frankly, we're appalled. There have now been numerous calls for the Stronach Group, which owns the Santa Anita track, to suspend racing — from animal welfare groups and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), among others. On May 29, this editorial board also called for a suspension.
All have urged the park to wait for the results from the official necropsies on these horses and an investigation into the mysterious spate of deaths that has bedeviled the Santa Anita track all year. It's reckless enough to keep racing before the park has all the information it needs. But it's disdainful and arrogant to do it in defiance of the state horse racing regulators.
It's time to give the racing board the authority to compel a suspension. State Senate Bill 469 would, among other things, allow the board to suspend a track's license to conduct horse racing when necessary to protect the health and safety of horses or riders. The bill should be approved. Furthermore, a congressional bill, HR 1754, the Horseracing Integrity Act, would establish some national oversight of a fragmented sport that is governed by different racing boards with different rules in every state. The congressional bill would ban race-day use of a common diuretic, Lasix, and establish a uniform medication control program to be developed and enforced by an independent authority.
There's no question that Santa Anita has instituted some ground-breaking reforms governing the administration of drugs to horses on the track, and setting new rules for trainers and jockeys. After a spike in deaths from late December through March, the park closed for several weeks and put in place some of the new rules. After that, the park went six weeks with no deaths.
Then another rash of deaths began. Not all were broken legs. A couple were pelvic injuries. Some were what horse experts call rare or freak occurrences — such as shoulder injuries. Yet, two horses at the park suffered life-ending shoulder injuries in the last few weeks, making them seem less freakish. In the last week alone, there have been three deaths. But in a statement Sunday, the Stronach Group and the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers noted the drop in catastrophic injuries and reiterated that the reforms were working. The statement said that "the reality is that our improvements and changes have been effective."
Really? Then why have we seen multiple deaths in a few weeks' time? At this point, the park has six days of racing left in its season, which closes June 23. Then it returns in the fall for about a month and a half.
In calendar year 2018, according to statistics kept by the Jockey Club, Santa Anita's rate of deaths per 1,000 "starts" (a horse literally starting a race) was 2.04. That's substantially higher than last year's national average of 1.68. It's lower, though, than the alarming death rate of 2.73 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
Over time, Americans have to decide how much death they are willing to tolerate in this ancient sport. More immediately, though, the owners of the track at Santa Anita have to face up to the troubling, unexplained deaths that have occurred this past year. And they should not risk any more horses' lives for the rest of this season.
The London Evening Standard on the challenges facing candidates for Prime Minister of the United Kingdom:
"Never again," said the Conservative world, after Theresa May walked into the Tory leadership underprepared and unscrutinised three years ago. Next time, everyone insisted, candidates for the premiership, and their plans for office, should be put under the microscope. And yet here we are, in the week of the first ballot for choosing the next prime minister, and the most probing question being asked on TV and radio of the contenders is: what drugs did you take when you were younger? The unsurprising answer, like many people of their generation, is that, yes, most of them tried illegal substances at some point.
It's almost 30 years since Bill Clinton admitted smoking marijuana, 25 since Barack Obama confessed to taking cocaine, and 15 since David Cameron said politicians were entitled to a private past. It's time to move on to the serious questions that face anyone who wants to be prime minister. Let's start with the biggest: who has a plan to unblock the impasse over Brexit? Threatening a no-deal departure is hollow, because there isn't a parliamentary majority for one and (thankfully) no realistic way to stop Parliament meeting to express that majority. Promising a renegotiation with the EU, and wishing away the Irish backstop, isn't something anyone in the rest of Europe believes is credible. Passing a version of the existing deal on the table was something Mrs May failed three times to achieve. Meanwhile none of the leading contenders dare raise the prospect of a referendum, let alone an election. If candidates pretend it is easy to achieve what the current administration has found impossible, then they should be challenged.
Perhaps they can drive Brussels into submission; perhaps an Irish border commission involving the Republic might find a way through; perhaps a new leader will be able to reassemble a Tory majority. We need to see the evidence. To those who say they can deliver Brexit by October 31, we simply ask: how? To those who say they would be prepared to delay beyond that, we ask: how will that help? The very least the public deserve is that those who want to enter Number 10 in a few weeks' time are grilled seriously on their Brexit plan. The same applies to the other policy pledges that are coming thick and fast.
New ideas needed
A leadership contest is a time for new ideas, and it's right that — as the saying goes — in democracies we campaign in poetry and govern in prose. So we're not asking for every detail of every policy. But some idea of how things will be paid for is necessary if the country is not to be further misled by those who govern it.
Raising the tax threshold at which people pay 40 per cent beyond £50,000 is a solid Conservative idea that builds on what has already been achieved. Every modern society will want to invest in education but why have the Tories given up talking about the reform that means investment will be well spent? We want more housing but where are you going to build it? We'd all like to provide decent social care without raiding people's homes and savings but the answer has eluded numerous governments. Using the "headroom" in the public finances to fund all these commitments, as the candidates suggest, is code for "we'll borrow more". There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, if you explain it means a bigger national debt than would otherwise exist, and then higher taxes and spending cuts in the future.
Nor can candidates hide behind their "consciences" on social issues. Reducing the abortion limit is not solely a matter of personal belief when you're a legislator whose beliefs could impose serious, health-threatening restrictions on millions of women. Let's hear how you can morally justify that. And where is the debate about the disruption coming from technology? How do we harness all the exciting possibilities of artificial intelligence, genomics and robotics while mitigating the potential harm?
We've heard precious little. What we've had instead is more a replay of the Tory best hits from circa 1990. Britain faces the greatest political crisis for a generation. The foundations of our economic prosperity and security are threatened. We face profound change in our society. It's time the questions to our leaders matched the seriousness of the task that lies ahead of them.
The New York Times on the congressional response to an increase of migrants at the southern border:
Last week, as American and Mexican officials haggled over how to address the migrant crisis at their countries' shared border, United States Customs and Border Protection released its monthly migration statistics. They tell an alarming story.
In May, 144,278 migrants were taken into custody. It was the third consecutive month in which apprehensions topped 100,000 and the highest one-month total in 13 years.
Unequipped to deal with the crush, border facilities and migrant shelters are dangerously overcrowded, and the staff is overburdened. Dysfunction, disease and even death are a growing reality.
"We are in a full-blown emergency, and I cannot say this stronger: The system is broken," the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, John Sanders, said.
Also last week, officials said that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency assigned to care for unaccompanied migrant children, would begin cutting services "not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety." This includes English classes, legal aid and recreational programs.
Democrats and other administration critics called the move "cruel" and "illegal," but the financial reality is that the agency is overwhelmed. So far this fiscal year, it has taken charge of nearly 41,000 unaccompanied children — a 57 percent increase over last year. The entire program could run out of funding by the end of June.
In short, it is time for Congress to stop dithering and pass emergency funding to deal with this nightmare.
It has been more than a month since the administration sent Congress a request for $4.5 billion in additional border assistance. A large portion of the money, $3.3 billion, was earmarked for humanitarian aid — which most lawmakers agree is sorely needed. But a relatively modest piece of the request aimed at shoring up border security operations, roughly a quarter of the total, has tied negotiators in knots.
Early on, Democrats were opposed to funding additional detention beds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Republicans had problems with Democrats' demands for changes in the administration's asylum policies. At one point, negotiators thought they were close to resolving these conflicts, only to have other issues snarl the process. Beyond the money for security, one of the remaining disagreements is how much data sharing will be allowed between the agencies responsible for caring for migrant children and those that handle border enforcement.
The broader problem is that many Democrats have come to view the Trump administration as untrustworthy, and they are loath to hand over one more penny for anything to do with immigration. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus have been particularly adamant, insisting that their leadership take a hard line in negotiations. In part, they fear that the administration, despite its promises, will spend any additional funding on enforcement rather than humanitarian needs.
There is much to despise about this administration's immigration policies, which are exacerbating this crisis, but there should be no ambivalence about the urgency of addressing the humanitarian needs. While lawmakers wring their hands and drag their feet, tens of thousands of migrant children are suffering.
Congress needs to get serious about dealing with that suffering.
The Boston Globe on CBD, the nonintoxicating, natural molecule extracted from the cannabis plant:
If you believe the hype, one little bottle of CBD contains miracles. It treats diabetes; reduces stress; alleviates chronic pain and anxiety; even cures acne. Trouble sleeping? Panicky pet? CBD to the rescue.
All that, and so much more — at a bargain price as low as $40 for some formulas. This potent potable also comes mixed into body lotions, bath salts, coffee, smoothies, gummy bears, chocolate, cheese pizza, and dog biscuits.
The fad for cannabidiol, or CBD, has clearly gone mainstream. From virtually nothing a few years ago, sales of the cannabis-related compound have exploded into a billion-dollar market. CBD's true believers tout one miraculous health claim after the next.
In light of the wide dissemination of these beliefs, CBD claims deserve careful scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration — and some attention from state regulators, too. Despite its ubiquity, CBD is still largely an unresearched substance in the United States. Exaggerated or unproven claims need to be challenged, and the industry shouldn't be permitted to introduce CBD into food products until the compound is better understood.
CBD is the nonintoxicating, natural molecule extracted from the cannabis plant. CBD is found in marijuana, of course, but it's also present in hemp, the related plant whose cultivation in the US was legalized by Congress in December.
Its proven medical uses are confined to a drug the FDA approved last summer to treat two rare forms of pediatric epilepsy. It's the first — and only — medicine derived from cannabis that has been green-lighted by the federal agency.
Because CBD is already sold as a drug, federal law technically bans its use in food and drink that crosses state lines. "Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of the law, but also can put patients at risk, as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective," Scott Gottlieb, then the FDA commissioner, wrote in a statement when hemp production was legalized.
But enforcement is largely left to states, where it has been uneven. Earlier this year, New York City health officials banned bakeries and restaurants from selling food and beverages with CBD. Ohio and Maine have also moved proactively.
In Massachusetts, though, the sale of products containing hemp-derived CBD is still loosely regulated. For instance, the state has not addressed sales of food and drink made with CBD. But it has at least issued guidance for commercial growers and processors of industrial hemp. Among other things, the state Department of Agricultural Resources requires producers to label any product they make for human consumption that contains CBD with a warning stating the product is derived from industrial hemp, that it "has not been analyzed or approved by the FDA," and that it "has not been tested or approved by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources."
Now, maybe adding CBD to food is safe. And maybe it really can deliver medicinal benefits. But sorting through the safety and efficacy claims requires a more muscular FDA role. Last month, the FDA held a much-awaited hearing on how to regulate CBD consumer products and got an earful on the need for a science-based approach to regulation. "Currently, states are struggling with the lack of sound scientific research available in CBD and long-term health impacts, including those to children," said a Virginia state official. Most medical experts agreed that CBD holds potential medicinal properties, but more clinical trials are needed before allowing the hemp extract to be added to food and drink.
The hazy legal status of hemp-derived CBD until December, coupled with lack of funding, deterred studies in the past. Now researchers need to determine how different doses affect consumers; how CBD affects children; how it interacts with medical conditions and medications; how it affects pregnant women; whether long-term use carries risks; and if the purported benefits are scientifically verifiable.
None of which is to say that CBD itself should be banned. Coke is still available, after all; the company just no longer claims that the beverage cures headaches and upset stomach. ...