AP NEWS

Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

October 30, 2019

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Oct. 30

The Wall Street Journal on criticism that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has faced over the company’s policy on political campaign ads:

Facebook is in the midst of its worst scandal since Cambridge Analytica. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been hammered by presidential candidates, Members of Congress, fellow tech moguls and virtually every major newspaper, magazine and television network. Hundreds of Facebook employees have signed a petition calling for him to change course.

What did Mr. Zuckerberg do to deserve this avalanche of criticism? Cave to Chinese censorship pressure, like some NBA players? Walk away from U.S. defense contracts for ideological reasons, like Google did last year?

No, the scandal is that Mr. Zuckerberg said two weeks ago that Facebook is committed to supporting free expression. Most scandalously he said his company, like broadcast stations, won’t fact-check candidate election ads. Instead it will allow disputed claims to be debated by the public and press in America’s democratic tradition.

This has many in politics and the media up in arms because they think it could re-elect Donald Trump in 2020, and they’ve wasted no time signaling to Mr. Zuckerberg that they’ll blame him if Mr. Trump wins. We doubt Mr. Zuckerberg favors Mr. Trump politically.

Yet the company is thinking beyond the current frenzied political environment. Politicians have been lying about one another for hundreds of years, and dragging Facebook into the election circus will damage the company’s credibility in the eyes of millions and undermine faith in the electoral process.

The media anger about Mr. Zuckerberg’s free-speech policy is especially odd. Shouldn’t reporters want to know what candidates are saying so they can dissect and report on it?

Instead journalists are offering sophisticated-sounding arguments for why political speech should be controlled by tech companies. One popular argument is that Facebook’s algorithm rewards appeals to emotion so legitimate debate can’t take place. Yet political advocacy in the U.S. has always included emotional appeals. If Facebook’s algorithms favor polarizing content, that’s a separate debate.

Others resent the way the platform has upended news delivery in a way that takes power from the press. “The news media have traditionally borne the responsibility for insuring that the actual purpose of the First Amendment is fulfilled,” said the New Yorker. It’s an unfortunate conceit of some in the media that they ought to have a monopoly on free expression to the exclusion of ordinary people and their elected representatives.

Facebook is also being attacked because Breitbart News has qualified for inclusion in its “News” feature which will be unveiled this week. This is said to prove Facebook is a right-wing platform in the tank for Mr. Trump. But about 200 outlets so far have qualified for inclusion based on neutral criteria, including liberal sites like Salon.com and CNN. (The Journal has also agreed to participate in Facebook’s News app.)

Media and political elites think they are advancing the public interest in demanding that Mr. Zuckerberg put his thumb on the political scales. Yet in the process they are showing why so many Americans have lost trust in them.

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

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Oct. 30

The London Evening Standard on the report following a two-year inquiry into the cause of the Grenfell Tower fire:

The report into the Grenfell Tower fire has taken more than two years to prepare. It runs to over 1,000 pages. Yet early sight of the document ... is dominated by just one bleak finding: the London Fire Brigade’s planning was “gravely inadequate” and fewer people would have died if it had responded differently. The families of those who died feared a whitewash. Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who has chaired the inquiry, has had the courage to spell out the truth.

Grenfell is the story of our city, in all its diversity and hope, in the horror of what happened to residents of an ordinary tower block in the early hours of June 14, 2017, in the bravery of the firefighters, and in the generosity and compassion of Londoners in the days which followed. More people died that night than in any other single incident in London since the Second World War: 72 lives were lost including those of 18 children. After the fire there was understandable anger. Something had gone hideously wrong in the heart of one of the world’s most advanced cities. People wanted answers. They wanted to know where blame should lie. And they wanted justice.

The job of the inquiry, announced by the prime minister soon afterwards, was to make sure all this happened. This week’s report is part of that process, but more will follow: a second phase of the inquiry, beginning in January; a police inquiry, which may lead to prosecutions; and new rules and work to make other buildings safe.

Already, however, from this powerful and shocking report much of the story is clear. It shows how the fire started: in Flat 16, on the fourth floor, with a fault in a fridge-freezer. “A kitchen fire of that relatively modest size,” says Sir Martin, “was perfectly forseeable.” The question is how something like this “could have such disastrous consequences.” He praises the courage and efforts of firefighters at the scene. Amid the search for answers we should remember that when called upon, they showed “extraordinary bravery and selfless determination to duty”, running into the building repeatedly as they tried to save lives. And many people were saved. But as this report shows, many more could have been had two fundamental failings not turned what should have been a containable blaze into a shameful disaster.

The first lay outside the London Fire Brigade’s control. The fire should not have spread outside the flat where it started. The report finds that the “principal reason” why flames spread up the side of the 24-storey block was that it had been refurbished with panels containing an aluminum composite with a polyethylene centre which “acted as a source of fuel”. The building was unsafe and people died as a result.

But this situation was made worse by the way the LFB prepared for such a fire and by decisions taken on the night. This is the most significant of Sir Martin’s findings. The report finds “an institutional failure” by the LFB in failing to prepare for a fire involving cladding, or in evacuating a high-rise block. This, in a city full of high-rises, is appalling. So, it turns out, was the response in the control room dealing with those trapped by the fire, and the advice to stay put, despite “early indications that the building had suffered a total failure of compartmentalization.” Firefighters thought they were doing the right thing but bad communication and leadership meant they did the opposite.

Giving evidence in September last year Dany Cotton, the Commissioner of the LFB, said she would have changed nothing in the response to the fire. The report condemns this “remarkable insensitivity” and Ms. Cotton’s response on the night itself, and warns that the LFB is at risk of failing to learn the lessons of the fire because of this attitude. Brave as her firefighters were, it is clear from this that she cannot stay in her job. She plans to retire next year, at 50, with a large pension. She led an organisation in a way which let down the victims of Grenfell. Her attitude shows she has not learned the lessons. She should move on now.

Online: https://www.standard.co.uk/

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Oct. 29

The Washington Post on the impact of President Trump’s family separation policy:

Before the spring of 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had no system in place to track migrant children who were separated from their families. That was the case even though, it now turns out, the Trump administration, in its first months in office, had already begun wrenching scores of babies, toddlers, tweens and adolescents from their parents to deter illegal border crossings. Then, beginning in April last year, the administration doubled down, systematically breaking apart migrant families upon apprehension at the border — still with no means of tracking and reuniting the families it had sundered.

Only now, 16 months after a federal judge ordered migrant families reunified, has the scale of the administration’s cruelty become understood. Most Americans thought the policy detestable. It was far worse than they imagined.

Having resisted demands that it compile a definitive listing of the families broken apart by its policies, the administration finally relented this spring when U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw ordered a full accounting. Last week, hours before the deadline set by the judge, the government submitted the numbers to the American Civil Liberties Union, to whose volunteers it has fallen to clean up the mess created by President Trump, former attorney general Jeff Sessions, former homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and others.

No, it was not only the 2,814 traumatized children who had been separated and were in custody under the government’s policy of “zero tolerance” for unauthorized border crossers when Judge Sabraw ordered families reunified in June last year. It turns out that an additional 1,556 children had been separated in the preceding 12-month period, beginning in July 2017. Of those, more than 300 were 5 years old or younger.

Imagine, if you can, the suffering visited upon those children, including many still in diapers and requiring afternoon naps, by the administration’s cavalier brutality and incompetence — the anguish of little girls and boys removed from their parents for weeks or months because of a president lacking a conscience and a government whose data systems were not suited to the task of reunification. Those wounds won’t heal easily, or ever.

Incredibly, having shattered so many families, the administration threw up its hands and declared the task of reuniting them beyond its capabilities. Even now, volunteers working under the coordination of the ACLU are going door to door in Guatemala and Honduras, seeking to ascertain whether families have recovered their children.

More than 1,000 additional migrant children have been separated in the past 17 months on the grounds, the government says, that their parents or guardians endangered or abused them, or were unable to care for them, or were criminals, or were not actually their parents. The ACLU maintains that in some cases, those separations are also unjustified, triggered by minor offenses committed by the parents, such as shoplifting or driving without a valid license. It has asked Judge Sabraw to set a narrow standard for separations.

In all, the administration has taken at least 5,460 children from their parents. That is a stain on Mr. Trump, on the government he leads and on America.

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

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Oct. 28

The Los Angeles Times on climate change and wildfires across California:

California is in a state of emergency.

Since early October, millions of people in the northern and southern parts of the state have had their electricity shut off to prevent downed power lines from setting off deadly fires, like the ones that ravaged the state last year. But these unprecedented outages haven’t been as effective as had been hoped; despite them, a series of wildfires, fanned by extraordinarily heavy winds, have swept through the state forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

Nobody can honestly say this is a surprise, given the devastating fires of recent years. Yet it feels surprising all the same. How did things get so bad in California, so quickly?

The answer is climate change. It is here and our communities are not ready for it.

California is no stranger to fire, especially when the dry Santa Ana winds sweep through the southern end of the state, turning sparks into conflagrations. However, countless researchers and government reports have warned for years that climate change would amplify natural variations in the weather, leading to more frequent and more destructive wildfires.

It’s clear that conditions are getting worse throughout the state. Five of California’s 20 deadliest wildfires have occurred during the last two years. And 10 of the 20 most destructive wildfires, in terms of structures lost, occurred over the last 10 years.

And it’s also woefully apparent that the state’s infrastructure cannot handle this new normal. The power outages left many regions without cellular service, emergency information, traffic lights or the other essentials of a modern, functioning community. Roads clogged as people tried to evacuate. And the fires have proved again and again that even homes and commercial areas in suburban-style neighborhoods seemingly far from forests or chaparral can be torched by embers carried for miles by hurricane-force winds.

California has to retrofit itself to make communities more resistant to wildfires. That will mean, for example, making sure buildings are fire resistant and burying power lines in high-fire-risk areas when feasible and developing microgrids that can provide backup power. It will be extraordinarily expensive and politically fraught, but it’s essential to protect lives and control the chaos created by the growing fire threat.

But the wildfires are just the beginning of what Californians can expect. We know what’s coming as the effects of climate change became more pronounced. The state will have to contend with more floods, coastal erosion and deadly heat waves. Intense weather will overwhelm existing public and private infrastructure unless we adapt now and build more resilient communities.

California has been a leader in trying to slow climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. That is still essential work because there’s still time to avoid some of the worst effects of global warming.

Climate change is at our doorstep in California. The rest of the world should be paying attention.

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

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Oct. 25

The Mail & Guardian (South Africa) on several protests in countries all over the globe:

South Africa is sometimes referred to as the “protest capital of the world”, because of our affinity for taking to the streets. This is both a weakness and a strength. On the one hand, it underscores just how much is wrong with our country and the leaders who govern it; on the other hand, it highlights how committed our citizens are to standing up for their rights and effecting positive change.

But, even a cursory glance at international news headlines will reveal that this double-edged distinction is under threat as the world becomes increasingly restless.

This month alone, there have been massive, unprecedented anti-government protests in Chile and Lebanon; countrywide protests in Iraq in which 149 people were killed by police; pro-independence protests in Spain’s restive Catalonia region; continuing anti-China protests in Hong Kong; continuing gilets jaune (yellow vest) protests in Paris, dispersed by riot police; climate crisis protests in the United Kingdom, during which 1,828 people were arrested; protests by indigenous groups in Ecuador which forced the government to temporarily relocate from the capital, Quito; opposition-led protests against constitutional amendments in Guinea, in which at least two people were killed; and protests across four Ethiopian cities in support of a leading activist, coming just weeks after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

This list is not exhaustive: it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up.

Of course, each protest action is unique, with its own underlying causes.

In Santiago a hike in the cost of public transport was the immediate spark; in Hong Kong it was an attempt to pass a controversial new extradition law.

But the sheer volume of such protests suggests that there may be common themes that run through them. So too does the fact that they are occurring not just against the backdrop of poverty and under-development, but in some of the world’s most prosperous cities (per capita income in Paris is more than $60,000, whereas in Hong Kong it’s $40,000).

As the economist Jeffrey Sachs observed in a recent column for Project Syndicate: “Each protest has its distinct local factors, but, taken together, they tell a larger story of what can happen when a sense of unfairness combines with a widespread perception of low social mobility.”

In South Africa, protest capital of the world, the resonance of that argument is impossible to ignore.

Online: https://mg.co.za/

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Oct. 25

The Kansas City Star on the possibility of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo running for a U.S. Senate seat for Kansas:

If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is running to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, then he should quit his rather important day job and do that.

Or if, as he told The Star and The Wichita Eagle in a testy, credulity-straining interview on Thursday (Oct. 24), he isn’t even thinking about it, then he should by all means focus on U.S. diplomacy — remember diplomacy? — and stop hanging out here every chance he gets.

If it’s the first, Mr. Secretary, then you are also going to have to drop the put-upon posture and answer the many valid questions that a Senate run would require with less attitude and more truthfulness.

In case you’ve forgotten what a straightforward statement sounds like, here’s one: It’s an unnecessary imposition to ask anyone to believe you were in Wichita on Thursday because Ivanka Trump “told me, gosh, probably four or five months ago that she was coming out here for an event at Wichita State. Some really remarkable work that was being done at Wichita State to train the 21st-century workforce along with private sector companies, the biggest Spirit and Textron, some of the smaller companies too. And I reminded her that’s my hometown, I’d love to come out and be part of that. Because that workforce development matters to my mission too.”

With the Kurds betrayed, ethnic cleansing made possible, Russia rewarded along with Iran and even ISIS, foreign service agents beside themselves, and a shadow foreign policy team on Ukraine apparently headed by Rudy Giuliani, well no wonder you’d rather be in Wichita with Ivanka Trump, cheering on “the great work this administration is doing to ensure that our workforce is prepared to compete all around the world.”

But again, if you’re not running, you have better things to do.

And if you are, what’s to be gained from complaining that you’ve already been asked “103 or 104” times whether the House impeachment inquiry has changed your thinking on the race? Until you stop what looks a lot like hedging your bets, there will also be a 105th and 106th time.

Telling a reporter asking a legitimate question about how our standing with other allies has been damaged by our treatment of the Kurds, “The whole predicate of your question is insane” is no doubt satisfying, so if you don’t want other questions not to your liking, don’t run.

Saying things like this does make you sound more like a candidate than someone who was really here to honor workforce development and attend your son’s bestie’s wedding: “Our task at the State Department is to use all our skill . to make sure that American markets are open for Kansas products all around the world. That’s what I’m focused on.” Or if you’re not a candidate, then you sound like an awfully parochial secretary of state.

Though the former feels more likely, you should know that Kansans are interested in the world beyond the Great Plains. And would frown on even a fellow Kansan using his government office to fund what looks increasingly like campaign travel.

Online: https://www.kansascity.com/

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