Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser on the false missile alert that sent Hawaii into a 38-minute panic:
Unbelievable. Un-freakingbelievable. Two mornings ago, Hawaii residents and visitors woke to a postcard-perfect day, and to this emergency text alert: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
It was a false alarm, thankfully, but not totally outside the realm of possibility given heightened warbaiting between North Korea and the U.S. But the revelation of how this happened was mind-boggling: “human error” involving a lone staffer at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) hitting the wrong computer button, not once, but twice in confirmation; no dual-staffer safeguard; and no quick path to retract a false alert.
With tensions precariousness, Hawaii’s best needs to be on watch and on alert. This incident belied that, and HI-EMA has become its own worst enemy — having in 38 minutes, between alarm and retraction, eroded its credibility with the public as a trustworthy source in the event of dishwater or attack. Three minutes after the 8:07 a.m. issuance, it was confirmed to be a drill gone wrong, and Oahu police and others started spreading that word; the counties did a laudable job in maintaining professionalism. Due to protocol gaps, though, HI-EMA’s official “false alarm” alert didn’t come until 8:45 a.m., and even that dissemination was spotty.
This botched episode deserves the stern scrutiny of the Federal Communications Commission, which has opened a “full investigation” into Hawaii’s emergency notification system. State legislators also are holding a Friday hearing into the situational.
This is not a mere oops that deserves shielding, let alone from HI-EMA administrator Vern Miyagi, the bungler’s boss, who made this weak attempt to downplay when asked about consequences: “You gotta know this guy feels bad, right?”
Lame. Unacceptable. Tell that to the man hustling his loved ones down a manhole in hopes of protection from a “this is not a drill” missile. To the many crying, terrified kids at activities who were corralled to safety, some separated from parents. To the many tourists here, hunkered and tweeting final farewells to loved ones back home, believing they could die.
Simply but profoundly, HI-EMA holds responsibility for widespread life or death. There are no second guesses here, there are no second chances. This is not about thirst for blame; it is about the imperative for accountability and trust. Miyagi in a Saturday news conference did apologize and take responsibility, but his attempt to deflect staff culpability as a “personnel” matter was laughable if it all wasn’t so serious; Miyagi and “this guy” on the button have lost public confidence to remain on the public payroll.
All day Saturday, this false missile alarm topped news cycles worldwide — and it was telling, and necessary, that Hawaii’s tourism authority chief was front and centre in news conferences reassuring global partners and potential visitors that Hawaii remains safe, clean and “open for business.”
In addition to tourism impacts, this episode intensifies discussion on a plethora of issues: The need for better co-ordination and communications between first responders on the state, city and federal levels; better integration of social media into alerts; the value of missile-attack alerts; buildup of military missile defences for Hawaii; political fallout for Gov. David Ige; more diplomacy with North Korea.
The confusion also begs assessment of the responses, such as dropped calls by the overwhelmed 911 system; and better training on protocols by bus drivers, hotels and schools. And yes, we all must take time to educate and prepare ourselves in event of disaster threats, natural or manmade.
But, Saturday’s surreal, needless chaos exposed too many incompetencies. Some galling procedural gaps have already been fixed, such as double-teaming at button-pushing drills and adding a template to HI-EMA protocols to quickly retract false alarms, which of course, is avowed to never happen again. That very vow, though, will be met with skepticism unless crucial “personnel” fixes are made to restore trust — among Hawaii’s citizens and now, an attentive global audience — that things will not be lax business as usual.
The Los Angeles Times on a Congressional bid to preserve net neutrality:
Congressional Republicans breathed new life last year into the all-but-ignored Congressional Review Act, using it to reverse a wide range of Obama administration regulations on the environment, consumer protection and workplace issues. Now Senate Democrats are trotting out the act to undo a Republican effort to let cable and phone companies meddle with the internet. This particular turnabout is most definitely fair play.
At issue is the Federal Communications Commission’s move not just to repeal the strict net neutrality rules it adopted in 2015, but also to renounce virtually all of the commission’s regulatory authority over broadband internet providers. Its new “Restoring Internet Freedom” order, adopted last month on a party-line vote, opens the door to the likes of Comcast, AT&T and Verizon giving deep-pocketed websites and services priority access to their customers for a fee. It also lifts the ban on broadband providers blocking or slowing down traffic from legal online sites and services, provided they do so openly. Such steps could cause unprecedented distortion in what has been a free and open internet.
The Restoring Internet Freedom order was a triumph of ideology over sense, sacrificing the interests of internet users and innovators on the altar of deregulatory purity. Some leading broadband providers, recognizing that they got more from the FCC than they’d bargained for, pledged never to use their newfound freedom to interfere online. But that’s not enough.
Ideally, Congress would do something it should have done a decade ago: update federal communications law to give the FCC a mandate and clear authority to protect net neutrality. In the meantime, though, Senate Democrats have gathered more than enough support to force a floor vote on a resolution to reject the new FCC order and bar any similar deregulation for 10 years. In fact, they’ve lined up 50 senators in favour of the resolution, including one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine. That’s just one short of passage.
The prospects are dimmer in the House, where Republicans seem to rank deregulation in the pantheon with Mom and apple pie. Still, the fierce public backlash to the FCC’s order is powering a multi-front effort to repeal it, including lawsuits (one of which was filed Tuesday by the attorneys general of California, 20 other states and the District of Columbia) and proposals for state net neutrality laws in California and elsewhere. Although the FCC’s abdication invites states to wade in, no one should be eager for a patchwork of state neutrality rules. That’s all the more reason for Congress to step up. Lawmakers should reject the FCC’s latest rule and preserve the qualities that have made the internet what it is today.
The Washington Post on Congress’ impact on the Internal Revenue Service:
Hate the Internal Revenue Service? Worried that you won’t be able to fill out your returns correctly under the new tax law? Do not take it out on the poor IRS employee who could not answer your tax question, even after you spent a half-hour on hold. Blame the GOP-led Congress, which, in its anti-IRS fervour, has driven the agency into the ground.
It has become one of the most reliable traditions in contemporary Washington: Every year, the national taxpayer advocate explains that under-funding the IRS makes the tax filing process unnecessarily miserable for those who follow the law, while rewarding those who flout it. And every year, the Republican-led Congress decides to keep the tax system unnecessarily miserable for the law-abiding and easier on the lawbreakers.
“Funding cuts have rendered the IRS unable to provide acceptable levels of taxpayer service, unable to upgrade its technology to improve its efficiency and effectiveness, and unable to maintain compliance programs,” national taxpayer advocate Nina E. Olson wrote in her annual report to lawmakers. “It cannot answer the phone calls it currently receives, much less the phone calls it can expect to receive in light of tax reform, without adequate funding.”
Indeed, the new tax law could prompt a wave of confusion that the IRS is ill-prepared to handle. The agency estimates it needs about $500 million just to change computer programs, update forms, write new regulations and answer questions stemming from the bill. After the 1986 tax reform, agency call volume spiked, and the number of returns that required corrections also ticked up, and it is fair to expect the same now.
Though the IRS has tried to improve its phone service recently, even before the tax law passed it anticipated that fewer than half of callers would obtain help from a live person this year. Given the complexity of the new law, many people will have questions that are more than basic. “Taxpayers who want to learn about how the tax law affects them are left searching about 140,000 web pages on IRS.gov or turning to paid professionals,” Ms. Olson wrote.
While the taxpayer advocate argued that the IRS could do more with less, there is no doubt that underfunding is a key driver of the dysfunction. Congress has cut the agency’s budget by some $300?million since 2009, a bit under 3 per cent. During that time, lawmakers have saddled the IRS with responsibility to oversee the phase-in of a new health-care law and, now, a major tax overhaul.
Can’t the IRS — and the Americans it is supposed to serve — just cope? “On the surface, it appears ‘customers’ (taxpayers) don’t have a choice about seeking another tax agency to work with — there are no competitors to which they can move their ‘business,’?” Ms. Olson wrote. “In fact, however, there is a competitor, and it is the lure of noncompliance. If the IRS isn’t going to provide you the assistance you need in the manner you need it, then why bother complying with the tax laws?”
The Augusta Chronicle on the media’s reaction to vulgar remarks attributed to President Donald Trump:
We hope President Trump didn’t say what Democrats claim he did, even in private, when he supposedly complained to members of Congress Thursday, “Why are we having all these people from s(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)hole countries come here?”
Assuming it’s true, which he denies, it’s highly regrettable — but only because of the boorish verbiage, and the poor example it sets and the distraction it creates.
As far as the substance goes — which is the more important matter — the question is not only a valid one, but a vital one: How many more years of mass migration from Third-World nations can America endure without completely changing the nature of America?
And why are Democrats insisting on it? We’ll discuss that in an editorial Sunday.
The left-wing media, typically, went ballistic over the president’s alleged remark — with such outlets as CNN shrieking “racism!” and alleging the president was disparaging the immigrants themselves. Of course he wasn’t; he was characterizing the hot-mess countries they are, themselves, escaping.
Fleeing one’s country is arguably a much more stinging indictment of it than what our president said.
The president’s shrill critics, some of them parading as news people, also frantically seized on his example of Norway — clearly fresh from his meeting with its prime minister — as a more advantageous country to accept immigrants from. So? Is he wrong?
Of course it’s a much greater service to humanity to take in refugees from Haiti and such — which we have done to a fault: There’s only so much we can do, only so many people we can take in without impoverishing our own middle and lower classes.
And let’s face it: Norwegians aren’t clamouring to emigrate, because their country isn’t a basket case — which gives credence to the president’s crudely worded concerns. The world is filled with nations that are beleaguered by decades if not centuries of atrocious, oppressive, dysfunctional, self-serving leadership.
We can’t fix that, though we do what we can and always will. Serving as a lifeboat is a special privilege. But it’s a delicate balance between rescuing others and keeping afloat yourself. After decades of historical amounts of mass immigration, much of it from the Third World, we have neglected our own interests far too long.
There are a few other issues raised by this superfluous rowdydow, so lamentable when there are so many weighty matters to be worked through.
One is that there can be no doubt that presidents throughout our history have thusly expressed themselves bawdily in private. But most of those conversations in the past have, happily, remained private.
And that’s the other issue: Someone in that room had to leak the president’s candid, if coarse, comments. That should indicate that the president, a political neophyte, has badly misapprehended the congeniality, motives and objectives of those around him. He needs to better understand the extent to which he is swimming with sharks.
Lastly, there’s the little matter of the media hysteria in this episode – which has been almost completely about how the president expressed himself, rather than his very legitimate point. The president may have been crude, but the media have been callow in response.
But, as we’ve seen before, it’s more important today to feel good than to do well.
The Wall Street Journal on collective bargaining’s effect on unions:
On Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos kicked off the New Year by calling for a rethink of the federal approach to education that has failed over both Republican and Democratic administrations. Sounds good. But to her list of questions that never even get asked, we’d add: Does collective bargaining by teachers help or hurt students?
Two Cornell academics — Michael Lovenheim, an associate professor of policy analysis and management, and Alexander Willén, a doctoral student — have recently completed a study that tries to answer it. In “A Bad Bargain: How teacher collective bargaining affects students’ employment and earnings later in life,” the professors conclude: “We find strong evidence that teacher collective bargaining has a negative effect on students’ earnings as adults.” Given that 34 states since 1959 have mandated collective bargaining with teachers and only seven prohibit it, the finding is also a call to reform.
The study compares outcomes for students in states that mandate collective bargaining before and after the collective-bargaining requirement was imposed to outcomes for students over the same period in states that did not require collective bargaining. It also adjusted for the share of the student’s state birth cohort that is black, Hispanic, white and male.
Students who spent all 12 years of their elementary and secondary education in schools with mandatory collective bargain earned $795 less per year as adults than their peers who weren’t in such schools. They also worked on average a half hour less per week, were 0.9% less likely to be employed, and were in occupations requiring lower skills. The authors found that these add up to a large overall loss of $196 billion per year for students educated in the 34 states with mandated collective bargaining.
All of this bolsters the accumulating evidence that collective bargaining may be profitable for the teachers and staff of public schools, but the price is being paid by the students. One solution is reforms like Governor Scott Walker’s in Wisconsin that diminish the power of collective bargaining in education. If that’s too hard politically, the alternatives are charter schools or vouchers that give parents the option of avoiding the damage to their children from collective bargaining.
The London Evening Standard on President Donald Trump’s comments on the U.S. Embassy in London:
The US Ambassador Robert “Woody” Johnson, writing for the Evening Standard, makes an eloquent case for the new US Embassy in Nine Elms, which opens next week.
It is, as he says, “the most secure, hi-tech and environmentally friendly embassy that the United States has ever built”.
This obviously correct view is, however, plainly at odds with that of the U.S. President.
Trump declared last night in a tweet that the reason he had cancelled his trip to London is that “I am not a big fan of the Obama administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts’, only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal.”
Our Nine Elms U.S. embassy is the most advanced we’ve ever built
In fact, the deal was not struck by the Obama administration but that of his predecessor; this is an embassy approved by presidents of both parties.
And, as the Ambassador observed, the cost was met by selling properties elsewhere in London.
As for Trump’s view that Nine Elms is an “off location”, it may not be as handy for the ambassador’s residence as Grosvenor Square but it is more secure.
And the reason for the move, as Johnson observes, was heightened security concerns after 9-11.
But more than that, the new U.S. Embassy has helped to make the area around Battersea Power Station one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic in London.
Big companies such as Apple moved there following the embassy; infrastructure is following suit with a Northern Line extension.
The new building has helped to shift the centre of gravity in the city a little. The Americans are at the head of the curve.
Is Trump’s decision not to come to London next week also affected by the prospect of demonstrations against his visit?
He has weathered them elsewhere, not least at home. It would be odd if he could visit Paris, but not London.
We should never forget that no matter who is president, the United States is our friend and closest ally.
Any US president is welcome here.