Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The London Evening Standard on Labour Party leader Keir Starmer's comments on the government explaining when and how the lockdown will end:
Put yourself in the shoes of Keir Starmer, the new leader of the Labour Party.
What would you do? Back the Government’s response to coronavirus to the hilt — because the middle of a great national struggle is no time to be picking fights? Or criticise the things which are going wrong — because that’s what an Opposition is for?
This morning Sir Keir made a big call. He said that the Government isn’t doing enough to tell us when and how lockdown will end.
People, he argued, need to see “light at the end of the tunnel”. With an eye on the public inquiry which will inevitably come when the crisis is over, he also said for the first time that we were late in going into lockdown.
He’s written to Dominic Raab, who is standing in for the Prime Minister, to say Labour will back an extension of the lockdown when it is confirmed tomorrow, as the law requires.
But don’t be fooled by that. The Labour leader’s decision is a sharp attack on the Government. So why’s he done it?
If he’s after political advantage, he’s made a mistake.
Polls suggest that the Government is currently one of the most popular ever. There’s huge sympathy for the Prime Minister as he recovers.
Labour is miles from power, public trust in the party wrecked by Corbynism. Voters aren’t ready to hear lectures from Labour about honesty. The party’s just managed to land itself in the middle of another internal row about anti-Semitism.
So Sir Keir is in a weak position to tell others how to be straight and open about tough choices.
When he says we need to see light at the end of the tunnel, he’s wrong, too. It’s too soon for that. Simply offering hope that we are reaching the end of lockdown, when we don’t know if we are, isn’t the same as the “transparency and openness” he says we need.
It might actually be the opposite. But as the Evening Standard argued last week, when decisions are taken which have a massive impact on our lives and the economy, we should be told why.
We should also be told that ministers and officials are working on a way to end the lockdown. The longer this goes on, the more it matters that the Government openly sets out the grounds on which choices will be made, rather than through background briefings.
This week, almost no one will question the decision to extend the lockdown. As time passes, the questions will become more challenging.
Sir Keir has an eye not just to where politics is now, but where it might be in three months’ time and in three years.
This Government is about to find out what it is like to face a serious Opposition.
The Boston Globe on financially assisting the U. S. Postal Service:
Last month, US Postal Service workers delivered “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America” to households across the country. But Trump, of course, has no interest in helping the agency he relied on to get out his message and feels no patriotic duty to support postal workers who are on the front lines of essential service delivery during the coronavirus pandemic, putting their own health at risk to supply all Americans with medicine, supplies, and information.
Instead, the Trump administration has a long-range plan to privatize the Postal Service. In the meantime, the president wrongly blames longstanding financial problems on a package delivery deal the US Postal Service has with Amazon.
That leaves any rescue plan up to Congress. Unless lawmakers step in, the Trump administration and a drop in mail volume connected to COVID-19 just might accomplish what the Internet threatened to do: kill a universal delivery service that traces its roots back to the birth of this nation.
In 1775, members of the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin as the first postmaster general. After that, Article 1 of the US Constitution empowered Congress to establish post offices, which evolved into the US Postal Service. Universal delivery — the idea that everyone in the country would be linked together by dependable mail service — was considered essential to the free flow of information.
Of course, times have changed dramatically since then. The US Postal Service lost business over the years, as personal letter-writing was overtaken by electronic communication — which has also put dents in common business communications like billing and payments. The agency also bears the burden of a huge pension liability, due to a congressional mandate that it pre-fund its benefit obligations. But the concept of universal delivery is still important in this country, especially in rural areas. Postal workers deliver medicines, packages ordered online, and communications from the government — including Trump’s coronavirus guidelines. Voting by mail could also play a role in November’s presidential election, as the contagion forces states to explore alternatives to in-person balloting.
Today, the rapid drop in mail volume connected to the coronavirus could be “catastrophic” to that agency, Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, told New Hampshire Public Radio. With business advertising halted, mail volume could drop as much as 60% by the end of the year, he said.
Last year, the US Postal Service reported an $8.8 billion loss. According to The New York Times, the Postal Service is projecting a $13 billion revenue shortfall this fiscal year and predicts $54 billion in losses over 10 years. To offset those grim numbers, the Postal Service is asking lawmakers to support an $89 billion relief package. However, the Trump administration is fighting that request, and some Republican lawmakers are resisting it, too.
At a recent press conference, Trump said the Postal Service “is losing billions of dollars, and the taxpayers are paying for that money because it delivers packages for Amazon at a very below cost.” He wants the agency to raise prices on Amazon package delivery — a push that some see as punishment aimed at Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, which often publishes articles that are critical of Trump.
“At the end of the day, they have an agenda,” Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told the Times. “Raise prices, reduce worker benefits and reduce service, make it appear more profitable and set it up for sale.” Added Dimondstein: “The COVID crisis should not be used to achieve political aims.”
He’s right. The millions of Americans holed up at home and relying on delivery are getting a fresh reminder of just how vital a mail system that reaches all Americans remains. Trump has now threatened to veto any stimulus package that includes funding to shore up the agency. Congress should call his bluff, and do what it takes to save the US Postal Service or make the president pay the political consequences of signing its death warrant.
The Los Angles Times on President Donald trump “reopening” the states and lifting social distancing restrictions:
Columnist Holman Jenkins offered an analogy in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend that captures the conundrum created by the U.S. response to COVID-19.
“Imagine a problem that can be solved by holding your head underwater,” Jenkins wrote, “but stops being solved when you lift your head out.” In other words, the stay-at-home measures adopted to protect against the outbreak are damaging in their own right, and not a cure for the disease.
In fact, there is no known cure, just a number of drug therapies being tested and vaccines in development. That’s why it’s so disturbing to hear President Trump assert, as he did again Monday, that he has the power to “open up the states,” presumably by lifting the restrictions on movement and commerce.
“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump said at Monday’s coronavirus briefing. “It’s total. And the governors know that.”
Oh please. Trump has a lot of influence over the country’s response to COVID-19, for better and worse. But thankfully, one thing he cannot do is order states to change the restrictions they’ve put on the public to safeguard health and safety — a core function of state and local governments.
As UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky explained in The Times last month, “no federal law gives the president power to order businesses to close or, for that matter, to open.” Nor is this Congress going to give this president that power.
There’s no question that the coronavirus-fighting measures have flattened the economy as they’ve flattened the curve of COVID-19. The restrictions have taken a huge toll on businesses and their workers, especially at retailers, services and manufacturers whose employees can’t do their jobs from home. Unemployment has climbed at unimaginable speed, and as workers have lost income, the pain has spread across the economy in the form of shrinking sales, unpaid bills and canceled outings.
Some critics of the social distancing measures are pushing Trump to act because they believe the damage being inflicted to the economy is greater than the potential harm from the coronavirus — an argument that has only gained steam as the restrictions have slowed the disease’s march. Meanwhile, Trump has his own political motives for wanting to get the country’s commercial engine up and running again: It’s tough for a president to win reelection in the midst of a recession.
Yet the hard medical reality is that we can’t keep the virus from exploding again until we know who has it, where they have been, whom they come into contact with and who has become immune — and only then if we have an adequate supply of an effective treatment for the disease it causes.
That means being able to test for COVID-19 at a scale we’re not even approaching today. That means having a widespread ability to screen people regularly for the antibodies that demonstrate immunity. That means having technologies and protocols to identify, notify, quarantine and test all the people who’ve recently come into contact with each person newly diagnosed with COVID-19.
A much more realistic announcement about the path back to normalcy was the one Monday by the governors of California, Oregon and Washington, three early adopters of tough social distancing rules that have dramatically slowed the spread of COVID-19. The governors said they would work together to develop “a shared approach for reopening our economies — one that identifies clear indicators for communities to restart public life and business.”
It’s more a statement of principles than a blueprint for action at the moment, but the priorities laid out are the right ones. Pledging to be guided by “health outcomes and science,” they articulated four goals: developing their own system for “testing, tracking and isolating” the disease (a step this editorial board advocated last week); protecting vulnerable populations, such as nursing home residents; ensuring an adequate supply of hospital beds and protective equipment; and mitigating the disease’s indirect effects on people who need other forms of medical care.
The states’ effort offers a sharp contrast with Fox News’ report that Trump plans to put his chief of staff, two economic advisers, most of his cabinet secretaries and two family members on a new council to help him decide when to lift the health-related restrictions. If any actual medical experts are included, they’ll be badly outnumbered.
Inevitably, moving back toward life before the coronavirus will require decisions about how much risk to take and who will be most exposed to it. That’s a political decision, not a medical one, even if it is informed by medical experts (as it should be). And it’s a decision best made by officials closest to the people whose lives and livelihoods are at risk, not one man in the Oval Office.
The Wall Street Journal on former Vice President Joe Biden switching his stances on Medicare for All and student loan debts:
So much for triangulating. After Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential run last week, Joe Biden waited barely 24 hours before racing to bolster his progressive bona fides. Mr. Biden said Thursday he plans to make 60-year-olds eligible for Medicare, while erasing undergraduate student debt for middle-class borrowers.
For months, Mr. Biden has opposed Medicare for All, saying a better path would be to “build on” ObamaCare with a “public option.” If he really believed this, he wouldn’t deprive his public option of 20 million potential customers. That’s roughly the number of Americans ages 60 to 64 whom Mr. Biden now wants to let hop on Medicare.
Already Medicare is scheduled to be insolvent by 2026. Plans to shore it up for seniors generally go in the opposite direction, slowly raising the retirement age to, say, 67. Sixty-five isn’t what it used to be. In 1970, life expectancy in the U.S. was 70.8. Now it’s about eight years longer. By lowering the age of eligibility instead, Mr. Biden would begin shifting Medicare’s focus from seniors to everybody else. Don’t worry about the funding, he insists, since the extra costs would be “financed out of general revenues.”
Mr. Biden’s new left turn on student loans is equally sharp. His old agenda had three big line items. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, he would cancel $10,000 for each debtor. Up to $50,000 more could be forgiven over five years for people “working in schools, government, and other non-profit settings.” Income-based repayment plans would get more generous: Instead of taking 10% of the borrower’s discretionary earnings, it would be 5%, with the balance written off after 20 years.
On Thursday Mr. Biden added another bullet: Cancel all federal undergraduate tuition debt for many borrowers who went to public schools, including four-year universities. This forgiveness would be given to anyone who earns $125,000 a year or less. It is not quite Mr. Sanders’s plan to zero out every last penny of student debt, but it is a huge move in that direction. How much would it cost? There’s no explanation.
Mr. Biden is trying to make his candidacy alluring to fans of Mr. Sanders, the socialist who called for a “political revolution.” The trouble for Mr. Biden in November will be selling suburbanites on his new proposal for Medicare for All on the installment plan.
The Washington Post on President Trump's comments on mail-in voting:
“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting,” President Trump tweeted on Wednesday. Mail-in voting, he explained, “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” The relevant question, though, is not whether mail-in voting would “work out” for Republicans, but whether it would work out for American democracy during the coronavirus crisis. If Mr. Trump has a better alternative, he should present it.
Public health experts continue to warn Americans not to leave the house unnecessarily, and certainly not to pack into a polling place with many other people. Tuesday’s disastrous election in Wisconsin provides a peek at what happens when Republicans “fight very hard” against mail-in balloting, the way Mr. Trump suggested. Wisconsinites who could not get absentee ballots had to decide whether to venture out to vote in person or listen to the doctors and epidemiologists counseling them to do no such thing. Election workers failed to show up, leading to mass polling-location closures. People who decided to risk their health had to wait in lines for hours. Many others were deterred. Milwaukee was particularly hard-hit, no doubt to the satisfaction of the Republicans who engineered the fiasco: state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. The likely upshot was to depress Democratic turnout in a state Supreme Court election.
Given the potential dangers of in-person voting, and the serious problems with online voting, a mass shift to mail-in voting is the most credible option during a time of social distancing. States such as Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and (deep-red) Utah conduct all of their elections by mail. Though no system is immune from fraud, they have not experienced major problems with illegal voting. Electoral fraud of all types is extremely rare across the nation.
About 30 additional states allow people to vote absentee for any reason. Mr. Trump admitted that he voted in last month’s Florida primary by mail. No doubt many more voters will request absentee ballots in the coming months, a move that states should encourage by sending out mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters. States will have to work out some kinks, ensuring they have enough ballots to dispatch and machines to process them when they return. Some polling locations must be kept open for people without fixed mailing addresses or with vision problems. Simple measures such as ballot tracking can combat absentee ballot fraud. Yet the president insisted Wednesday that only groups that happen to be Republican-leaning, such as senior citizens and military voters, should be allowed to vote by mail.
The only alternative appears to be the Wisconsin model — that is, chaos — or postponing elections. Neither is a legitimate option, particularly come November.
The New York Times on what can be done to stop black and Hispanic people from dying of COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate:
Across the United States, black and Hispanic people suffer disproportionately from poverty, poor health care and chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and asthma.
Now the data, when it is available, shows that black and Hispanic Americans are dying of the coronavirus disease at rates far higher than white Americans.
In New York City, Hispanic people are dying at the highest rate. Nearly 34% of the deaths in New York City are of Hispanic residents, who make up 29% of the population. Black New Yorkers, who represent about 22% of the city’s population, make up about 28% of the deaths.
Even so, New York’s racial disparities appear to be less severe than those in some other cities and states. (New York’s comparatively robust public health system and safety net may help explain why, but far more research on the matter is called for.) In Chicago, more than 70% of the deaths related to the coronavirus were among black residents, though black residents make up only a third of the city’s population. In Michigan, black residents make up just 14% of the population, but over 40% of the Covid-19 deaths.
As the pandemic continues, it is crucial that local and state health departments across the country report data on how the coronavirus is affecting people by race and also by gender and age. In Boston, for instance, doctors and community leaders are raising the alarm about high rates of infection in Latino neighborhoods, yet the official figures don’t reflect that concern. Given the dearth of testing so far, robust data collection should include not just recording the deaths of those who have tested positive for coronavirus, but also those suspected of suffering from it.
The racial disparities may be predictable, but they are tragic nonetheless. Public health experts say there are actions that states and cities can take right now to help save lives. Doing so would help protect all vulnerable people.
The country’s response to the pandemic remains hampered by medical supply shortages. As masks, gloves and other protective equipment become more available, it is clear that all essential workers require them, not just emergency and medical personnel. That includes janitors, home health aides, delivery people, grocery and farm workers and sanitation workers. In New York, where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been accused of failing to protect workers early on, the work force has high rates of illness and death. In New York City, as in many cities, much of the municipal work force is black or Hispanic.
Another prescription is to speed access to medical care for Hispanic and black Americans, who are less likely to have primary care physicians. In New York, people are dying every day in minority neighborhoods of coronavirus-like symptoms at home, in the arms of family members and paramedics. Or they are waiting in line for hours outside the emergency rooms of the city’s overwhelmed public hospitals, only to give up and return home without care. Or they try for days to get connected to a doctor through the city’s swamped 311 nonemergency line but don’t receive the help they need.
These disparities in access and outcomes call out for more fundamental changes in health care policy in the United States. But for now, states and cities should do everything possible to quickly remove the barriers to care for all disadvantaged populations.
“Let’s not pretend there’s nothing we can do,” said Dr. Mary Bassett, New York City’s former health commissioner and now director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. .
New York finally began some of this work by setting up pop-up coronavirus testing centers in recent days in minority neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. But more can be done.
In many black and Hispanic communities, trust in government is low and the information given to the residents has often been confusing and come too late. To serve these Americans now, state and local governments will have to meet those in need where they are. That could mean directing more medical workers to reach out to vulnerable people, a serious challenge that calls for turning to trusted nonprofits, churches and advocacy groups and unions to help identify those in need.
Interstate cooperation would help, too. California and Oregon have sent ventilators and other needed medical equipment to New York and other hard-hit states. Expanding telemedicine services for at-risk populations is another useful strategy.
And everything possible needs to be done to tear down the wall between private and public medical care. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, should ensure that private hospitals and medical groups like CityMD make their substantial resources truly available for any patient who needs them, not just any patient who can pay. Though New York City’s public hospitals serve a majority of low-income people and those without health insurance, they are overwhelmed and cannot meet the need on their own. The private hospitals must step up wherever they can to assume more of the burden.
Another way to save lives is to provide alternative housing for workers and others who live in large households and have no way to isolate themselves if they get sick. In the Elmhurst area of Queens, for instance, many immigrant workers live in crowded boardinghouses where the virus is spreading rapidly. Families in New York City and other areas of the country where the cost of housing is high are already doubled or tripled up in small apartments, with several generations in one household. People in these usually vibrant neighborhoods are getting sick and bringing home the virus to their parents and grandparents.
New York has already turned to empty hotel rooms and college dormitories to house some residents and patients during the crisis. It can expand the effort to allow more residents living in poverty to recover from Covid-19 away from their families, helping slow the spread of the disease. It has already begun similar efforts in Queens, where the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has been transformed into a hospital where New Yorkers on the mend can safely complete their recovery without exposing family members and neighbors to the virus.
The economic toll of the virus in these already vulnerable communities is devastating, and it demands an urgent response from federal, state and local governments.
Community organizers in heavily immigrant neighborhoods in Queens are scrambling to find the funds to help hundreds of families pay the burial costs in their adopted country. Manuel Castro, the executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, an advocacy group that works primarily with laborers, said he was overwhelmed by requests for food from undocumented New Yorkers who are sick, out of work, or both, and have nowhere else to turn.
Mr. Castro said he planned to pull names out of a hat to decide which families would get one of the 100 boxes of groceries the group had on hand, though hundreds of other families are in need. “How do you do that?” said Mr. Castro, who himself is recovering from symptoms of Covid-19. “They’re asking for food. They’re asking for jobs. And we don’t have much to give.”
Getting state and local aid to nonprofits can help. So can cash assistance to individuals from state and local governments, possibly in the form of debit cards for those lacking bank accounts.
But given the scale of the need, this may be a job for the National Guard. The National Guard was dispatched last month to distribute food and other services in the New York suburb of New Rochelle, one of the first places in the country to suffer the epidemic. It may be time for similar action in poor neighborhoods across New York City where the death rates from Covid-19 are high.
Similar efforts can be undertaken in rural communities, especially those connected with farm work and the meatpacking industry, where low-wage workers are at high risk.
The coronavirus has brought misery to the doorsteps of millions of Americans of all backgrounds. But in hard-hit cities like New York, New Orleans and Detroit, the virus is sweeping through generations of black and Hispanic families, bringing waves of grief, and pushing those already living on the edge of economic hardship into the abyss.