Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:


March 16

The Chicago Tribune on the March 15 U.S. presidential primaries:

Say what you will about this presidential election through Tuesday’s hard-fought primaries in Illinois and four other populous states: It’s been volatile, messy, noisy, exhausting, ugly and sometimes even scary. But you can’t say it hasn’t been democratic with a small “d” and a big heart. It’s hard to remember a campaign for the White House that was so wide-open, so competitive, so galvanizing to voters.

Watching the results roll in Tuesday night you saw the Republican race roiled early and often: First, Donald Trump’s fast win in Florida. Then John Kasich’s almost as fast win in Ohio; Trump’s loss there makes it harder for him to lock up the necessary 1,237 delegates for a first-ballot win at the party’s national convention in Cleveland. And, sandwiched between those two events, Marco Rubio’s withdrawal ” thus making him, yes, a potential GOP candidate for vice president. All of that within an hour of the polls closing here in Illinois, where Trump also triumphed.


Almost as swiftly, Hillary Clinton had won Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. So if you’ve been hoping for open conventions in which neither party’s candidate is predetermined: The odds that Republicans who oppose Donald Trump can survive a first convention ballot improved Tuesday night ” even as the already slim odds that Bernie Sanders can make a real race of this grew a little slimmer.

There is no telling who will be inaugurated next January. But it’s clear that the familiar presidential election template has been smashed, most likely for good. American democracy, often controlled by powerful insiders, has been taken over by the people.

No one saw it coming. Ever since Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, the smart money bet that veteran insiders Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush would enjoy a smooth, straight ride to their parties’ 2016 nominations. They had the names, they had the connections, they had the money and they presumably had the good opinion of most of the rank-and-file.

The grousing often heard back then was that Americans were going to be subjected to the political equivalent of a monarchical succession battle. The campaign would follow carefully staged choreography. It was going to be stale, predictable and dull.

Nothing about the Trump and Sanders campaigns has been conventional. Trump has about as much interest in conservative philosophy as he does in occupying a bungalow. Sanders has served more than two decades in Congress while disdaining the party whose nomination he seeks: He was an independent who has caucused with Democrats but kept his own counsel.

Trump rejects the GOP traditions of free trade and muscular internationalism. Sanders has criticized Bill Clinton, a Democratic icon, as an apologist for Wall Street whose welfare reform amounted to “scapegoating some of the most vulnerable people in this country.”

You don’t have to agree with either of these candidates to recognize that they have changed the way the presidential campaign game is played ” by challenging assumptions and upending expectations. They have captured the interest of people who sat on the sidelines in the past. Both have attracted huge throngs to their rallies. Republican turnout has been well above what it was four years ago and, in many states, the highest of any year going back to 1980. Democratic participation has likewise spiked from the 2012 level.

Populism is not always a positive force. Trump’s alarms about Mexicans and Muslims exploit unsavory racial and religious prejudices. Sanders’ ostentatious contempt for “Wall Street” and demand for near-confiscatory income tax rates play on class envy and economic fantasy.

But their showing in this rambunctious campaign cycle proves that the people running things up till now have failed to address the legitimate concerns of many Americans who feel left out or misused. In a democracy, when large numbers of people are unhappy, they have the option of rebelling.

In 2016, in these United States, the people rule.




March 16

The Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates, on Russia’s decision to bring back troops from Syria:

Moscow’s decision to pullback troops from Syria could not have come at a more opportune time. President Vladimir Putin, after five months of extensive military operation, on Monday instructed his security forces to start pulling out and simultaneously underscored the need for diplomatic efforts to broker a peace deal in the war-torn Arab country. But one thing is for sure: Russian support had shored up President Bashar Al Assad and now his regime is in a better position than what it was a few months ago.

In other words, Russian artillery and strategic support had saved Damascus from capitulation. Putin’s aggressive posturing in the Middle East has impacted the geostrategic equation of the region, and is bound to have far-reaching consequences. Which is why Moscow says it will retain its ‘minimum’ presence in Syria, and stay put at the port of Tartous and at the Hmeymin air base in Latakia province. Russia has expanded itself toward the crescent of the Middle East and rewritten the rules of engagement in this part of the world.

Russia’s pullback decision incidentally has coincided with the resumption of peace talks in Geneva. This also seems to be a carefully choreographed move, as the United States was in talks with Russia as part of the larger dtente that had been reached over Syria. Notwithstanding the differences that the regional countries, Russia and the United States have over Syria, this is the time for focusing their synergies on the peace process, and working out a political solution to the five-year-old dispute. It is high time adventurism is put to rest and the entire region is saved from destruction and human exodus by brokering peace in Syria. Putin has taken the first step in the right direction.




March 15

The New York Times on fighting the Zika virus:

Republicans in Congress are refusing to allocate emergency funding to fight the Zika virus because, they say, the Obama administration could transfer money that was previously budgeted for the response to Ebola. This is a senseless and dangerous idea.

Last month, President Obama asked Congress to provide $1.8 billion to help research the Zika virus, develop a vaccine, give assistance to countries like Brazil that are on the front lines of the outbreak and prevent cases in the United States. This is a modest sum and there is no good reason for Congress to refuse to allocate the money. A delay could put many thousands of people at risk. There have already been Zika cases in Puerto Rico and other territories and the virus has been observed in people in Texas, Florida and other states after they traveled to affected countries.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus, first identified in Uganda, for which there is no cure or vaccine. Though infection is generally accompanied by mild symptoms, the outbreak appears to be linked to a big increase in microcephaly, an irreversible condition in which babies are born with underdeveloped heads. Health experts say Zika may also be causing an increase in Guillain-Barr syndrome, a disorder that causes the immune system to attack nerves.

Directing the administration to reallocate money from Ebola to Zika would rob one public health emergency to deal with another. Ebola has not been eradicated; there were new cases reported in Sierra Leone as recently as January. Public health experts have said shifting money would hurt efforts to develop and stockpile an effective Ebola vaccine as well as delay efforts to improve the public health systems in African countries.

Zika could become a much bigger problem later this year as mosquitoes move north with warmer weather. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects thousands of cases in pregnant women in Puerto Rico, which is in the middle of a major economic and financial crisis. Health experts say they fully expect that mosquitoes and people will increasingly bring the virus to the mainland, especially to humid states like Florida and Texas. Zika can also be transmitted through sex, which could be another big problem.

The Obama administration has been trying hard not to make the same mistakes with Zika that it made with its slow response to Ebola. The C.D.C. has devoted hundreds of people and some of its labs to the virus. A vaccine is under development and could be ready for testing later this year, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, though it could take years to produce an approved vaccine.

Such government programs cost money, and the administration is already having to divert resources from other diseases, like dengue fever. That’s why Congress needs to allocate dedicated funds for Zika now.




March 15

The Telegraph, United Kingdom, on refugees in Germany:

A year ago, Angela Merkel was indisputably Europe’s most powerful politician, by dint both of her longevity as Germany’s Chancellor and the strength of her country’s economy. Her writ ran far beyond Germany’s borders: in order to get anything serious done in the EU, Mrs Merkel needed to be on board.

Yet with one fateful decision she risked both her position and her reputation. Her invitation to refugees and immigrants to come to Germany last summer has arguably undermined her own government and damaged the cohesion of the EU, perhaps terminally.

The results from the state elections in Germany on Sunday are a straw in the wind. They were not a definitive rejection of Mrs Merkel’s immigration policy because some centre parties did well and most votes were still cast for parties supporting the Chancellor’s approach.

But the success of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, once a centre-right movement now infiltrated by more unsavoury elements, suggests that a growing number of voters no longer trust her handling of the refugee crisis.

It has reshaped the European political landscape and provides a problematic backdrop for David Cameron to campaign against as he tries to keep the UK in the EU especially when, as we report today, one third of undecided voters say their biggest hesitation in supporting Remain is concern over immigration.

In welcoming refugees, Mrs Merkel encouraged a movement of people into Europe that her own country is unwilling to absorb. Now she insists that other member states, who had no choice in the matter, accept immigrants they don’t want.

In addition, the crisis has led to concessions to Turkey, from where most of the immigrants are coming, that have alarmed many Europeans. Not only will Turks have visa-free access to the Schengen area and receive some six billion euros to look after Syrian refugees, but the EU will speed up Ankara’s application to join the EU, even if no-one expects such a request to succeed.

True, there are indications that the numbers crossing into Greece have started to fall as the Turkish authorities stop refugees boarding boats – something they should have done long ago. But thousands remain stranded despite promises to relocate them on a quota basis.

Perhaps Mrs Merkel can turn this crisis around; but if her aura of indomitability has gone for good, she has only herself to blame.




March 14

The Wall Street Journal on Donald Trump and protests at his rallies:

Democracies are inevitably raucous, but they are often more fragile than their citizens believe. Americans, and especially President Obama and the presidential candidates, should take that lesson to heart amid the protests and outbursts of violence of the past week.

With his unrestrained rhetoric about Mexicans, Muslims and even his fellow Republicans, Donald Trump has become a polarizing political figure of the kind the U.S. hasn’t seen in many years. It’s no surprise, then, that Mr. Trump has inspired a political counter-reaction.

His rallies are now being systematically targeted by the organized left, as MoveOn.org has admitted. Like the university left these days, progressive activists have no tolerance for dissent and want to shut down conservative speech. The provocateurs who infiltrated the Chicago venue for Mr. Trump’s rally on Friday claimed victory when Mr. Trump prudently decided to cancel rather than risk an even uglier confrontation.

Some of these activists want to be arrested and some are not above violence. The man who bull-rushed the stage at Mr. Trump’s event on Saturday may have intended to do genuine harm. It’s worth recalling that Black Lives Matter activists also shut down a Bernie Sanders event last year. Hillary Clinton and President Obama would have more credibility criticizing Mr. Trump if they also condemned the antispeech left.

What’s as disturbing, however, is Mr. Trump’s apparent instinct to respond to the protesters in kind. This includes his denunciations of free political speech. A few weeks ago he said he would rewrite the libel laws to sue the press to muzzle his critics. He has threatened this newspaper with a defamation suit merely because we noted his evident lack of knowledge about the Pacific trade deal. In Kansas City on Saturday he assailed “lying, thieving reporters.”

Worse, his reckless language can seem to condone violence from his supporters. Last month he responded to one protester by saying that “the guards are very gentle with him. He’s walking out, like, big high-fives, smiling, laughing.” Then he added, to loud cheers, “I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.”

Like the left-wing professor at the University of Missouri who called last year for “muscle” to evict conservatives, Mr. Trump said in Kansas City he would have responded to a protester “boom, boom, boom” as he made a fist. He also said his campaign may pay the legal fees of one of his supporters who sucker-punched a protester in the face as he was being led out of a rally this week.

Mr. Trump has shown no desire to tone any of this down, and perhaps he figures it will mobilize supporters to vote in Tuesday’s important primaries. He may be right in that short-term political calculation, but the cost could be very high if he wins the nomination. Americans want a President they can respect, not one who is a constant source of turmoil.

Readers of a certain age will remember 1968, the worst election year in recent American history before this one, with its often violent protests. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. The protests this year have been mild by comparison, at least so far. But the first obligation of political leadership is maintaining civil order, and that goes in particular for those who aspire to be President.




March 14

The Los Angeles Times on doctors and health clinics selling prescription drugs:

Americans spent almost half a trillion dollars on prescription drugs last year, or nearly $1 out of every $6 spent on health care. And the total is rising fast, driven by an increased reliance on medications and a shift toward higher-priced drugs.

Federal taxpayers help pay for some of those drugs, and last week the Obama administration proposed a new approach aimed at encouraging the use of the most effective medicines, not the most expensive ones. The proposal was quickly denounced by doctor groups and drug makers, who argued that it could harm patients. But what it really targets is a bad business model that makes health care needlessly expensive.

The focus of the experiment is Medicare Part B, the optional but popular insurance program for older Americans that covers physician and outpatient services. Part B pays for a number of specialty medicines, typically ones like chemotherapy drugs administered in a doctor’s office or hospital. These drugs cost Americans more than $22 billion last year, which was twice the amount spent in 2005. The biggest part of that increase was a tripling in the amount spent on biologic drugs ” complex medications generated from living cells ” which federal researchers said was mainly due to price hikes.

The Part B drug program exemplifies a problem in the health care system. The way Medicare pays for prescription drugs gives doctors an incentive to choose the most expensive alternatives, and gives drug makers an incentive to raise prices relentlessly. In other words, the system works for doctors and pharmaceutical companies at the expense of everyone else. Eliminating such perverse incentives without reducing the quality of care is crucial to slowing the unsustainable growth of health care costs.

Here’s how Part B works for many of the drugs it covers. Doctors, clinics and pharmacies buy medications for the patients they treat, then get reimbursed by the government based on the average price paid for those drugs plus a 6% markup. The obvious problem is that the more expensive the drug, the more the doctor, clinic or pharmacy makes on the transaction. That encourages them to use the most expensive of the effective treatments, which in turn encourages drug makers to raise prices.

The system has one important safeguard: Brand-name drugs and their cheaper generic equivalents are reimbursed at the same, comparatively low price, which encourages prescribers to use the generics. But prescribers still have the option to choose a different, more expensive brand-name drug that may not have a generic. If it’s more effective, great. If not, the system gets nothing for the extra money spent.

On Friday, the administration published plans for a five-year experiment designed to test ways to shift to a system that encourages prescribers and drug suppliers to get better results at lower cost. In one part of the test, prescribers would receive a much smaller markup ” average cost plus 2.5% ” and a fixed fee of about $17 per prescription. The amount is intended to be large enough to cover prescribers’ financing and insurance costs, but small enough to eliminate the profit motive for prescribing costly meds. Other methods to be explored include paying the same amount for different drugs that yield similar effects, and eliminating the 20% copay for drugs that deliver the biggest bang for the buck.

One might wonder why doctors and clinics are in the business of buying and selling drugs in the first place. They shouldn’t be. The government tried once before to take doctors out of these transactions by paying drug suppliers directly for Part B medications, but participation was voluntary and the effort was suspended in 2009. As part of the new experiment, the administration is exploring whether and how to try again.

The drug industry’s trade association defended the current Part B system, calling it “an effective, market-based pricing mechanism that works to control costs.” But as with so much of the health care system, Part B’s prescription program doesn’t function that way, with prices influenced only by supply and demand. The interests of the people who need care and pay the bills for it have to be aligned better with those of the doctors, hospitals and drug makers that provide it. The administration’s proposal is an overdue step in that direction.




March 14

The Washington Post on rules to protect retirement savings:

After nearly seven years of political and bureaucratic warfare, the Obama administration is about to unveil stricter rules governing brokers and others who help people invest their retirement savings. Specifically, the administration wants to impose a legally enforceable duty to act in the “best interest” of clients, similar to the fiduciary duty lawyers and other professionals already owe.

The administration says the “fiduciary rule” is necessary for two reasons: First, in the modern era, Americans’ retirement funds reside heavily in individual tax-advantaged accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs, the former accounting for $4.2 trillion and the latter $7.4 trillion in 2013. Yet federal regulations date from 1975, when corporate pensions predominated. Second, many financial advisers to IRA investors get paid commissions based on sales of certain products that may not be best for their clients, yet those compensation schemes are not always transparent.

It all seems commonsensical; a White House study suggests “conflicted advice,” allegedly particularly prevalent in the half-trillion-dollar-a-year 401(k) rollover business, costs consumers $17 billion in higher fees per year. The problem, according to the investment industry, is that the administration is using a hammer to swat a fly. Opponents do not deny that commission-based compensation schemes can create apparent conflicts of interest, but advisers are still required to act based on what’s “suitable” for a client. The proposed regulation, they argue, will render unprofitable commission-based business models that are the only way many small savers get investment advice now, and the costs of that would outweigh the costs, if any, of the status quo.

At its core, the fiduciary rule fight is, like many issues in Washington, a problem of where to draw the line. The fiduciary rule would inevitably abolish some number of business relationships certain people might accept; instead of possibly conflicted, but still “suitable,” advice, they would get none, or perhaps “robo-advice” online. On the plus side, however, other people would be protected from exploitation.

Both sides toss around cost-benefit estimates with faux precision; in truth it’s devilishly difficult to put a dollar value on what brokers and other investment advisers actually do ” much less define it concisely, as the many prolix pages of the Federal Register devoted to the “fiduciary rule” prove. The investment industry’s strongest point is that a proposed exemption the administration offered to placate opponents is so vague and unworkable that few, if any, companies would take advantage of it.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the whole rule (or at least the drafts that have appeared in public) is fatally flawed. We revert to common sense: If you’re in business to advise small investors, it should be as clear as possible that you work for them and not a third party behind the scenes. Yes, the fiduciary rule might shrink the business, but what remains could well enjoy greater legitimacy, in both reality and perception. In this time of raging populism, the financial industry needs all the trustworthiness it can get.



This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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