Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the Texas governor’s decision to lift coronavirus restrictions:
Before issuing his order to end mask mandates, Gov. Greg Abbott must not have looked at the recent numbers of coronavirus deaths in Texas. Or worse, he did and decided that the 59 deaths reported Monday is good enough.
Either way, the governor’s order Tuesday to end the statewide mask mandate and business capacity restrictions is a mistake. Even with recent improvement in COVID-19 case totals, hospitalizations and deaths, the pandemic is not over. Another spike is possible before enough people are vaccinated to finally squelch the disease’s spread, and Abbott’s order makes it more likely we’ll see one in Texas.
The governor was careful to say that everyone should still take personal responsibility and adhere to public health recommendations. And many no doubt will. But plenty will hear only that the governor says we’re in the clear and ditch their facial coverings. Sending that message, even wrapped in a careful warning about the need to follow guidelines, is irresponsible.
At a minimum, Abbott should have given local officials flexibility. His new order appears to offer no wiggle room whatsoever. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who just extended the local mask order last week, reversed course almost immediately after Abbott’s announcement and cancelled mask mandates. Abbott’s order may be fine in many parts of Texas, but in large urban areas, public health officials and elected officeholders need to be able to respond to a sudden surge.
Abbott has made it pretty tough for them to react. His order allows county judges in areas where coronavirus cases make up more than 15% of hospitalizations to impose some “COVID-19-related mitigation strategies,” though with almost no enforcement power.
The position the governor has put businesses in, too, is maddening. Many would no doubt like to continue requiring masks, if only for the sake of their potentially vulnerable employees. They still can, but it raises the risk of confrontation and makes it harder to justify such a requirement when the governor declares it’s time to end it.
Large chains will probably keep their mask requirements, though it will be harder for individual locations to enforce them. And local businesses risk antagonizing customers they need to survive.
Why do this now? Why, when the news is so good on cases, hospitalizations and vaccine production, increase the danger? Why, with spring break and its associated travel and activity around the corner, send the message that we can let our guard down?
There’s little to gain, unless the governor has been feeling heat on his right flank over COVID restrictions. He highlighted his steady approval ratings on the eve of his announcement, and politically seems to be in good shape.
On the other part of his order, removing restrictions that had businesses operating at a maximum 75% of their capacity, Abbott may merely be nodding to reality. Texans’ activity levels seem to have increased in recent weeks, and many businesses don’t seem to be paying attention to headcount.
His order encourages continued social distancing. So, Abbott acknowledges that crowded spaces are a bad idea but takes away a tool to limit crowding. Pity the poor restaurant owner who tries to untie that knot.
Texans are understandably done with this nightmarish year of the pandemic and its restrictions. Every day brings good news about the vaccine supply, the quickening pace of inoculations and a possible return to so many of life’s activities that are still on hold. Like an exhausted runner, Texans are lunging for the finish line.
It’s lamentable that the governor can’t show the patience that most citizens have. Instead, he decided to make more illness and death more likely just as the finish line is in sight.
The Tahlequah (Oklahoma) Daily Press on the failed effort to include a federal minimum wage hike in the latest stimulus package:
A minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is an insult to hard-working Americans trying to support families. That base figure should have been raised years ago, but a successive cadre of self-serving politicians saw to it that working-class folks were kept in their “rightful place,” as they did the bidding of greedy corporate CEOs.
Be that as it may, there are several ways a sudden and drastic bump to $15 an hour could be catastrophic at this time. One has to do with the pain being inflicted on businesses by the pandemic – and that’s why the minimum wage hike had no place in the stimulus package passed a few days ago by the House of Representatives.
President Joe Biden had made raising the minimum wage a cornerstone of his campaign, and he’s not the first. Trump, Obama, and Bush also paid lip service to the idea. After all, only a fool would think anyone in New York City or Los Angeles could scrape by on $15,000 a year. Still, when it comes to COVID-19 relief, doubling the pay of millions of workers – or even assuring a metered uptick as part of that deal – would be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
It’s understandable that activists are faunching at the bit to pull their fellow Americans out of poverty. But when it comes to timing on matters such as this one, it’s fair to say that erstwhile presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders can be viewed as a belwether. Sanders has championed a minimum wage increase since time out of mind, but even he has apparently decided the relief package isn’t the right vehicle for it.
The Senate parliamentarian last week ruled that under rules Democrats have adopted to push the stimulus bill, the minimum wage hike would be inadmissible. Sanders and others entertained a backup plan to penalize behemoth corporations that refuse to pay $15 an hour, probably because they know these companies can afford it. But economic experts have said that plan is rife with loopholes and tough to enforce, and even liberal thinkers are skittish.
Congress has several other things to think about. While mega-corporations can foot the $15-an-hour tab without considerable pain, that’s not true for small businesses. And even if those small businesses got a “bye” on the raises or a few years to implement them, trying to compete with the higher-paying mega-corporations for quality labour would be almost impossible. In fact, many larger multi-state companies would have to trim staff – including newspaper companies. Even the Congressional Budget Office admits the hike would cost 1.4 million jobs, at least in the short term.
If the bottom line of a company or business doesn’t permit the additional expense, what else could the owners do? Simply close up shop and start praying? What about workers who are suddenly without the $13-an-hour jobs they had last year? Apply for welfare? Hope for yet another round of stimulus checks? And what would that do for the morale of employees who worked for years to achieve the $15 an hour rate? It’s implausible to expect companies to give those people comparative raises.
Someone in Congress needs to think of a more creative way to boost minimum wages, and to do it outside the relief package that needs Senate approval. Among the ideas to consider would be the tiered increase over a span of a few years – as has been on the drawing board, anyway – or better yet, minimum wages connected to the cost of living in respective parts of the country. After all, $15 an hour will go much farther in Tahlequah than in New York City.
The Los Angeles Times on President Joe Biden’s decision not to penalize Saudi leaders over the killing of a US-based Saudi journalist:
When Joe Biden was running for president, he was asked if — unlike then-President Trump — he would punish senior Saudi leaders for the 2018 murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Biden answered “Yes,” and went on to say that he believed Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Yet even though it released an intelligence report Friday concluding that the crown prince ordered an operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, the Biden administration is declining to impose sanctions on the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. That’s a disgrace and a disappointment.
However much the administration may rationalize that decision, sparing the crown prince dishonours Khashoggi’s memory and blinks at a conspiracy aimed at a journalist who lived in this country and wrote for the Washington Post. It also sends a dispiriting message to other journalists around the world who are speaking out against autocratic and corrupt governments.
The administration has imposed sanctions and travel restrictions on other Saudi officials and has announced a new policy of restricting and revoking the visas of individuals engaged in “extraterritorial activities” targeting dissidents or journalists.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also announced that the United States will “recalibrate” its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Already the new administration has reduced support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Welcome as these steps are, they are no substitute for formal action against the crown prince for complicity in this brutal murder.
In defending the administration, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted that historically the United States has not placed sanctions on the leaders of foreign governments. But the crown prince, although he exercises day-to-day authority in the kingdom, isn’t the head of state. That position is occupied by his father, King Salman, with whom Biden conferred recently.
It’s not uncommon for new presidents to break or bend campaign promises when faced with the complexities of governing. Even if the Biden administration “recalibrates” its relationship with Saudi Arabia, the kingdom remains a U.S. ally; the two countries have close economic and educational ties and a shared interest in preserving stability and prosperity in the Middle East.
But, as Blinken said in remarks describing sanctions on other officials, “we also want to make sure — and this is what the president has said from the outset — that the relationship better reflects our interests and our values.” That promise will ring hollow so long as sanctions spare the overseer of the atrocity that took Khashoggi’s life.
The Niagara Gazette on an investigation into harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
We wonder if Gov. Andrew Cuomo has undergone the anti-sexual harassment training the rest of us do every year. If so, it didn’t take.
Let us say at the top that Cuomo, like anyone else, is entitled to have the claims against him investigated before judgment is rendered.
Women have accused him of harassment. He has flatly denied some of the claims.
But even the things to which he has admitted fall outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour. They’d have earned any of us mere mortals a trip to the HR office at the very least.
Cuomo’s “apology” was lame at best.
“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny,” he said in a prepared statement. “I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offence and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”
We have seen those briefings. The public jibes are never funny. We can only imagine how the private ones impact people who, in subservient positions to the governor, are afraid to respond.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he continued. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
Why is that harassers understand such things only after they get in trouble? Why should we believe that now, when his deeds have had harsh light cast upon them, he has become “truly sorry”?
Cuomo seems to think his behaviour falls short of the standard of harassment, however.
“To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to,” he said.
At least two women say Cuomo did touch them inappropriately. Their accusations — like those of another woman who told of verbal harassment — deserve investigation and it seems Attorney General Letitia James is just the woman for the job.
James, who has shown independence before, did so again when she rejected a Cuomo proposal to conduct an investigation under terms that would have given her less than the full authority she needed. In the face of her strength, Cuomo capitulated and granted the legal referral necessary under law to complete the investigation.
We look forward to the result of that investigation and urge all involved in state government to allow it to run its course.
We have little patience for Cuomo enemies, particularly Republicans, who wring their hands, clutch their pearls and cry for immediate resignation or impeachment. They were strangely silent, or even dismissive of victims, when Donald Trump was accused of worse, by more women.
Impeachment or resignation may well be in order. It’s important for the governor — and all people who hold power over others — to understand there are limits on that power, that their authority is confined to the job and does not extend into personal lives.
But let’s find out, through real investigation, where the truth lies. Everyone, including Andrew Cuomo, deserves that much.
The Wall Street Journal on the successes of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed for vaccines:
American governments, federal and state, have made many mistakes in the Covid-19 pandemic. But the great success — the saving grace — was making a financial bet in collaboration with private American industry on the development of vaccines. That effort is now letting the country see the possibility of a return to relatively normal life as early as the spring.
President Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. should have enough vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of May. Last week the Food and Drug Administration finally approved Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, and this week J&J struck a deal with Merck to manufacture the single-shot J&J vaccine as well. With the Moderna and Pfizer shots already going into more than a million American arms each week, thousands of lives will be saved.
It’s important to appreciate what an achievement this is. Critics scoffed when President Trump set a target of having a vaccine approved by the end of 2020, and Kamala Harris suggested she might not take a shot recommended by the Trump Administration.
The Biden-Harris Administration has now changed to full-throated encouragement—though not before continuing to trash the Trump efforts. White House aides have suggested that they inherited little vaccine supply and no plan for distribution. Both claims are false.
The supply was ramping up fast, and while there were distribution glitches at first, the real problem has been the last mile of distribution controlled by states. Governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo tried to satisfy political constituencies that wanted early access to vaccines, adding complexity and bureaucracy that confused the public.
Mr. Biden made the same mistake Tuesday, asking states to give priority to educators (read: teachers unions), school staffers and child-care workers. That is arbitrary and unfair. A 30-year-old teacher who may still work remotely until September is at far less risk than a 50-year-old FedEx driver who interacts with customers all day. The fairest, least political distribution standard is age.
The Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed also contracted most of the vaccine supply for production before approval by the FDA: 200 million doses each of Pfizer and Moderna, and 100 million of J&J. No one knew which technology would be approved first, if at all, so the government wisely bet on several. This was the best money the feds spent in the pandemic. Mr. Biden ought to give the vaccine credit where it is due — to U.S. drug companies and Operation Warp Speed.
The Daily Star (Bangladesh) on the police killings of demonstrators protesting the coup in Myanmar:
According to the UN Human Rights Office, at least 18 people have been killed and 30 others injured after the Myanmar police opened fire on protesters in several places in Myanmar on February 28. The Burmese police have used live rounds, rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas to clamp down on protestors who came out onto the streets to voice their dissent against the Myanmar Army’s unlawful seizure of power and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership on February 1. The coup has once again brought a halt to Myanmar’s steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, and this latest crackdown has demonstrated the consequences of decades of absolute military rule.
The UN and a number of countries, including the US, UK and the European Union countries, have condemned the latest military crackdown on peaceful protesters in Myanmar. The UK and the US have also decided to impose sanctions on military leaders who directed the coup, as well as some of their business interests and close family members. While this is a step in the right direction, we hope we will hear stronger voices of condemnation and see a more concerted effort from the international community in holding the military junta in Myanmar to account. Organisations like Human Rights Watch and the Burma Campaign UK, while warning against the negative impacts of generalised sanctions on ordinary citizens, have instead urged for more targeted sanctions at military-owned businesses, and have also urged countries with strong trade relations with Myanmar to stop trading in resources that are tied with military interests.
However, none of these efforts will be of any consequence if Myanmar’s regional allies are also not brought to the table of discussion, most of whom have been conspicuously silent since the military coup occurred, or have termed it to be an “internal affairs” matter. The UN and the international community must work together with China, India and the ASEAN countries and exert their influence to ensure that the journey towards democracy in Myanmar does not end here. During the Rohingya refugee crisis and the exodus of 2017, it was clear that condemnations without targeted sanctions and disruptions in trade relations (especially with neighbouring countries) did not have any influence on the Myanmar authorities, whether it was the military or democratically elected leaders. There is now a very real possibility that other populations in Myanmar will experience similar levels of violence, as the army and security forces continue to act with impunity and crack down on protestors. We hope that the world will not make the same mistake twice and stand by as history repeats itself.
The Associated Press