Editorial Roundup: US

The Associated Press

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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March 11

The New York Times on paid sick leave:

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, set a standard for the rest of the private sector on Tuesday by announcing that, in addition to its existing paid sick leave policy, it would provide up to two weeks of paid leave for employees who fall ill or are quarantined because of a confirmed exposure to the coronavirus.

It’s now incumbent upon other American employers to match that example.

Companies that do not provide paid sick leave to all employees, particularly those in the retail and restaurant industries, are endangering their workers and customers.

Studies show that paying for sick employees to stay home significantly reduces the spread of the seasonal flu. There’s every reason to think it would help to check the spread of the new coronavirus, too.

But many of the nation’s big restaurant chains, in particular, do not provide paid sick leave. Nationwide, only 45% of workers in the hotel and food service industries get paid sick days, compared with 97% in the financial industry, according to the latest federal data. The list of restaurants that don’t pay sick workers to stay home is a roll call of familiar brands, including Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Jack in the Box, Wendy’s and Panera.

One consequence: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2014 that “one in five food service workers have reported working at least once in the previous year while sick with vomiting or diarrhea.”

Other developed nations, and a number of American states and cities, already mandate some form of paid sick leave, and some congressional Democrats have seized the coronavirus moment to push for a change in federal law. Such a change is long overdue, and would be welcome news.

But it is not sufficient, by itself, to meet the demands of the moment.

Public health officials recommend that people exposed to the coronavirus remain in isolation for 14 days. Even companies that provide sick leave are rarely that generous. Accordingly, the proposed legislation would also require up to 14 days of paid sick leave during public health emergencies.

One flaw in the proposal is that it would require employers to foot the bill, even as many companies are facing a drop in revenue. The government should absorb the cost of the emergency sick leave provisions by giving companies a tax credit.

Americans needn’t wait on Washington — particularly because any change in federal law depends on President Trump’s willingness to act in the public interest.

People looking for a place to eat can protect their own health, and encourage restaurant chains to do the right thing, by patronizing places that offer paid sick leave.

Darden Restaurants, which owns chains including Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, has long opposed paid sick leave for its roughly 170,000 hourly workers. Indeed, the company has campaigned against sick leave laws. But on Monday, following publication of an exposé by the journalist Judd Legum, Darden said it was offering sick leave effective immediately. (The company, however, has not committed to pay workers in quarantine.)

McDonald’s confirmed in an email to The Times Tuesday that it will pay for up to 14 days in quarantine — although the change does not apply to workers at the roughly 80% of McDonald’s owned by franchisees, and the company still does not guarantee paid sick leave to all workers.

Other major restaurant chains that do not offer sick leave to all employees did not respond to emails on Tuesday asking whether they would change their policies.

One idea that might help: In 2016, a Colorado state senator proposed unsuccessfully that restaurants that do not provide paid sick leave be required to post a notice on the front door.

Eleven states, beginning with Connecticut in 2012, already have passed laws requiring large employers to offer paid sick leave. The list now includes New York and California, as well as a number of large cities, including Washington, D.C. But companies can sidestep those regulations by categorizing workers as contractors, and laws require enforcement.

Last month, the Service Employees International Union released a report alleging Chipotle stores in New York routinely violated the city’s sick leave laws. It quoted workers who said they had been told to work while sick. The company, which offers paid sick leave at all of its locations even in jurisdictions that do not require the benefit, has said that it is committed to following the law and that employees who are sick should stay home.

The city has taken some actions against Chipotle, including suing the company last year for violating worker protections at five locations in Brooklyn. Last month, New York fined Chipotle for firing a worker who took three sick days. But the union, which has led a series of walkouts at New York Chipotle restaurants, said workers need better protection.

“If we work sick, then you get sick,” workers chanted during a recent protest.

They’re right — and companies have a duty to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/

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March 10

The Palm Beach Post on young voters:

Young people could change this country.

They have the numbers. In 2016, Americans aged 18 to 35 were roughly 31% of the U.S. electorate same as the powerful Baby Boom generation. Only, the younger voters’ percentage is on the rise while the Boomers’ is declining because of mortality. By now, Millennials could be the largest cohort in American politics.

They are, by a long shot, the most liberal and racially diverse of the age groups eligible to vote. By substantial margins, they’re more likely to favor universal healthcare, climate action, diplomacy over military might, abortion rights, and to say that immigrants strengthen America, according to the Pew Research Center.

But they’re not changing the country. Not enough.

That’s largely because, for all their potential power, they aren’t voting -- at least in substantial numbers.

The dismaying fact is that on Super Tuesday, despite the heavy stakes affecting their future, younger voters didn’t show up. In Virginia, for example, where overall voting surged 62% over four years ago, the share of young voters declined to 13%, three points less than in 2016. The young cohort’s standard bearer, Sen. Bernie Sanders, won 55% of those young voters. But former vice president Joe Biden took the Old Dominion State, commandingly.

It was the same in North Carolina. Young voters were 14% of the electorate on Super Tuesday, compared to 16% four years ago. In Tennessee, 11% compared to 15%. Even in California, where Sanders is romping to victory with 89% of the vote counted, voters under age 30 were only 11% of the overall turnout.

Sanders admits that a pillar of his campaign strategy a surge in youth voting has flopped. “Let me tell you the bad news, to be honest with you, young people vote at much lower rates than older people,” the Vermont senator said Monday. “All right? That is the facts. I hope all of the old people vote, that’s great, but I want young people to vote at the same rates.”

Granted, the numbers may improve in Tuesday’s six primaries, being held as this is written. But Sanders seems to be taking no chances, his rhetoric since Tuesday seemingly putting new emphasis on “working class” voters.

Even though this newspaper has endorsed Biden in the Florida primary, we find it regrettable that the Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren campaigns did not turn more young people into voters. These campaigns offered a refreshing new vision of politics a politics that isn’t owned by lobbyists for corporations and by uber-wealthy contributors, a politics that places the people first. Sanders’ talk of “political revolution” might spook older voters, but it’s music to the young.

The failure of those campaigns to translate youthful enthusiasm into votes is particularly disappointing because Millennial turnout nearly doubled between the midterm elections in 2014 and 2018 from 22% to 42%, according to Pew Research. Some of that was undoubtedly fueled by gun-control activism spurred by survivors of 2018′s tragic Parkland shooting.

Why did that momentum stop this year?

NPR correspondent Michel Martin interviewed young voters in Washington state in advance of Tuesday’s primary, asking why more young people aren’t voting. One said that the candidates aren’t talking enough about their issues. That’s hard to believe, given how Sanders, especially, focuses on the financial straits of most Americans and his promise to eliminate student debt.

One young woman said she works several jobs and goes to school but in Washington, voting is almost all by mail. She suggested making Election Day a holiday.

Another said there should be “an incentive to come to the polls to vote.” She suggested doughnuts.

What kind of breakdown in civics education produces young adults who think that voting is some kind of favor they do for someone else, like participating in a product survey and that they should get a little something in return?

Obviously, we need to be doing more than teaching kids about the U.S. Constitution. We need to instill in them that self-government is a fragile inheritance that doesn’t perpetuate itself. It needs the active participation of every new generation. The beneficiaries are us. All of us.

That’s why the Post Editorial Board has consistently supported proposals on the state and federal levels to bolster civics education. In the meantime, we urge younger voters to come out in force in next week’s Florida primary.

We know it doesn’t appear likely, given the trends. But it isn’t too late to confound the pollsters and pundits. Millennials have clout. They just have to go to the polls and use it.

Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com/

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March 10

The Los Angeles Times on the Department of Health and Human Services sharing therapy notes from migrants seeking asylum with Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

Kevin Euceda, a 17-year-old Honduran boy, arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border three years ago and was turned over to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services until his request for asylum could be decided by immigration courts. During that interim period, he was required, as are all unaccompanied minors in custody, to meet with therapists to help him process what he had gone through.

In those sessions, Kevin was encouraged to speak freely and openly and was told that what he said would be kept confidential. So he poured out his story of a brutalized childhood, of how MS-13 gang members moved into the family shack after his grandmother died when he was 12, of how he was forced to run errands, sell drugs and, as he got older, take part in beating people up. When he was ordered to kill a stranger to cement his position in the gang, Kevin decided to run.

His therapists submitted pages of notes over several sessions to the file on him, as they were expected to do. But then, HHS officials — without the knowledge of the teen or the therapists — shared the notes with lawyers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who used them in immigration court to paint the young migrant as a dangerous gang member who should be denied asylum and sent back to Honduras. In sharing those therapy notes, the government did not break any laws. But it most assuredly broke its promise of confidentiality to Kevin, violated standard professional practices — the first therapist involved quit once she learned her notes had been shared — and offended a fundamental expectation that people cannot be compelled to testify against themselves in this country.

Kevin, whose story was detailed by the Washington Post, wasn’t the only unaccompanied minor to fall victim to the government’s atrocious behavior, though how many have been affected is unknown. The government says it has changed that policy and no longer shares confidential therapy notes, but that’s not particularly reassuring coming from this administration. It adopted the policy once, it could easily do so again.

Last week, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced the Immigrants’ Mental Health Act of 2020 to ban the practice, which is a necessary preventive measure. The bill would also create a new training regimen to help border agents address mental health issues among migrants and require at least one mental health expert at each Customs and Border Patrol facility. Both of those steps are worth considering too.

That the government would so callously use statements elicited from unaccompanied minors in therapy sessions to undercut their asylum applications is part of the Trump administration’s broad and inhumane efforts to effectively shut off the United States as a destination for people seeking to exercise their right to ask for sanctuary. Jeff Sessions and his successor as attorney general, William Barr, have injected themselves into cases at an unprecedented rate to unilaterally change long-established practices and immigration court precedent.

They have been able to do so because immigration courts are administrative and part of the Justice Department, not the federal court system, and as a result they have politicized what should be independent judicial evaluations of asylum applications and other immigration cases. Advocates argue persuasively that the efforts have undermined due process rights and made the immigration courts more a tool of President Trump’s anti-immigration policies than a system for measuring migrant’s claims against the standards Congress wrote into federal law.

Of course, trampling legal rights and concepts of basic human decency have been a hallmark of the administration’s approach to immigration enforcement — witness, for example, its separation of more than 2,500 migrant children from their parents. Beyond the heartlessness of the separations, the Health and Human Services’ inspector general last week blasted the department for botching the process. Meanwhile, the administration has expanded detention — about 50,000 migrants are in federal custody on any given day, up from about 30,000 a decade ago — and forced about 60,000 asylum seekers to await processing in dangerous squalor on Mexico’s side of the border.

There are legitimate policy discussions to be had over how this government should handle immigration, asylum requests and broad comprehensive immigration reform. In the meantime, no government has the right to treat people with such abject inhumanity. History will remember Trump for this, but it will also remember the people who enable such atrocious acts.

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

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March 10

The Wall Street Journal on Russian President Vladimir Putin approving an amendment that would allow him to run for president two more times:

‘It would be very disturbing to return to the situation of the mid-1980s,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in January. “With the leaders of the state, one by one, staying in power until the end of their days.” He was right at the time, but this week Mr. Putin nonetheless cleared the way to rule Russia past his 83rd birthday. No one anywhere is surprised.

On Tuesday the rubber-stamp Duma approved a constitutional amendment that would allow the 67-year-old to run for two more six-year terms. The measure must be approved by a Russian court, but woe to the judge who finds it illegal. Then Russian voters will get their say in a referendum, but the Kremlin controls nearly all Russian media. This all but ensures that Mr. Putin, who has been Prime Minister or President for two decades, won’t have to step down in 2024 as he had promised.

The strongman has a reputation in some quarters as a master political tactician. It’s true that Russia punches above its weight internationally, from Venezuela to Syria and increasingly across Africa. Yet these costly interventions are often driven by a need to find foreign villains in order to shore up domestic political support as much as any grand geopolitical vision.

Russia remains an economic backwater overly reliant on energy exports. Life expectancy is comparable to the U.S. in the 1970s. The average Hungarian or Pole is now wealthier, and millions of Russian know it. Mr. Putin’s high approval ratings obscure that surveys show only about a third of Russians say they trust their leader.

That’s largely because of the corruption that has flourished at every level of the Russian state under Mr. Putin. The country ranks 137 out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index. That’s a regression from 82 when he took office.

Mr. Putin conceded during the Duma debate that “in the long term” it’s good to prevent leaders from clinging on. It’s possible he’s keeping his options open as he plans a safe way out. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev showed how this could be done last year, after he stepped down from the presidency but retained some powers to protect himself. But like most authoritarians, Mr. Putin can’t afford to leave office lest he lose protection against the enemies he’s made and the power to keep his many business and political retainers rich.

Mr. Putin has been lucky in his 20-year reign, not least with a long run of high oil and gas prices. But that era has been challenged by the rise of American shale drilling, which is why he is now hoping to use slumping global oil demand to break the U.S. industry. He is unlikely to succeed even if there is a U.S. recession since American producers that survive will get more efficient. In a country without the rule of law, even seemingly secure leaders can never sleep well.

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

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March 10

The Miami Herald on the United States reaction to Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse actions:

Haiti is a roiling, boiling mess. But in so many ways, it’s our mess, too. Haiti suffers in our hemisphere; and for South Florida, it’s our back yard.

Yes, in the long term, Haiti, and Haitians, must solve the country’s problems. And they are, unfortunately, prodigious.

However, the United States remains the 800-pound gorilla in the hemisphere. And where the administration has gone after Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, a veritable dictator who has overstayed his welcome and whose incompetence has tanked the country’s economy, undercut its legal institutions and sent millions of citizens fleeing across its borders, it has been too passive in thwarting Haiti’s dubious leader.

Haiti, at best, is receiving mixed messages from the United States.

We applaud Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s call for Haiti to set a firm date for elections. In an exclusive interview in January with the Miami Herald, Pompeo said: “That is the most important thing. We need to have the elections. That is important.”

Very important.

PARLIAMENT DISSOLVES

In January, President Jovenel Moïse announced — by tweet — the end of the bicameral Parliament. All members of the lower chamber and two-thirds of the Senate are gone. There are just 10 senators left. All this after Haiti failed to hold legislative and local elections in October 2019.

Moïse is carrying out one-man rule — badly. He is ruling decree. He is confiscating private property and canceling government contracts. He has constitutional “reforms” in his sights and, in a push to reform the energy sector, is trying to arrest private power providers.

This alone should raise eyebrows in the United States and the rest of the hemisphere. But the administration has not made a peep; nor did it last week, when an embattled Moïse installed, without a political agreement with the opposition, Joseph Jouthe, prime minister, his fifth in three years.

Meanwhile, violence is ever present: Gangs who control one-third of the country are armed to the teeth, despite a U.S. arms embargo; tensions are so high that Carnival was canceled last month when disgruntled, underpaid Haiti National Police — funded by the United States, among other countries — staged a deadly shootout with soldiers from the newly formed Haitian Armed Forces; and, as detailed by the Herald’s Jacqueline Charles, kidnapping has escalated just since December. No Haitian citizen is safe from being taken for what little ransom poor families can scrape up, and U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals have been among the victims, too. Last week, the U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory for the country to Level 4 — Do Not Travel.

LESS FOOD AID

However, the Trump administration has cut drastically USAID funds for Haiti’s starving people; and it has quietly terminated the Haitian Family Reunification Program, which gave those already approved to relocate legally to the United States expedited status. These are the people who would find employment and send home desperately needed remittances.

But Moïse gets a pass. His extraordinary OAS vote to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s leader, spurning Maduro, no doubt bought him a ton of goodwill from the United States — the enemy of my enemy, and all that.

Unfortunately, his citizens are collateral damage. It’s time to step up the pressure on Moïse to bring law and order and to set an election date — and to stick to it.

The United States must show that, just as it loathes the autocrat in Venezuela, it will not tolerate the autocrat-in-the-making in Haiti.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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March 2

The Khaleej Times on refugees entering Turkey:

Refugees are not just victims of war, their plight is being unashamedly exploited and weaponised by Turkey to spread the suffering to neighbouring countries, particularly Europe. A failed experiment in 2015 by Germany to let in one million refugees has changed the political landscape of the continent that is staring at a far-right surge. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has realised that she is not immune to this crisis of human suffering and exploitation.

Racial strains are now showing in society and mainstream centrist parties appear to be losing to extreme power brokers from the fringe. The current crisis was sparked after Ankara said it will not prevent people from crossing into Europe, risking life and limb, after a Syrian airstrike killed 33 Turkish troops last weekend. A flood of migrants is on its way, reviving memories of the bloodshed and tragedy from four years ago when Syria was on the boil as government troops fought to regain control of the territory it had lost to Daesh and other rebel groups.

The fighting continues to this day as President Bashar Al Assad's troops push for a final victory in Idlib. This is displacing more people and driving them across the border to Turkey, a country that already hosts 3.5 million people. Ankara's bid to stop this exodus has them engaged in hostilities with Russian-backed Syrian forces. The European Union had agreed to pay Ankara 6 billion euros in 2016 to host people fleeing the Syrian conflict, but Turkey has not been able to meet most of its commitments. Last Thursday's airstrike was seen as a provocation by Ankara that has opened the refugee floodgates. However, Europe has vowed to turn them back.

Skirmishes, meanwhile, continue with Russia, Syria, and Iran on one side, and Turkey and European Union on the other. Another massive human tragedy awaits the region. Ankara cannot handle the influx of Syrian refugees as hostilities rage in Idlib with Syrian troops struggling to wrest control from rebel remnants who are putting up stubborn resistance. Since December, a million refugees have flooded Turkey. Ankara is now letting them go, an action that could end in catastrophe. How many more lives will be lost as people make deadly crossings by night - on sea and on land? Barbed fences and rising swells will not stop them.

Refugees on Turkey's border with Greece and those crossing the Mediterranean have nothing to lose in their run for freedom from want. They have risked everything to get this far - men, women and children; the maimed, the elderly, the infirm and orphans. The world has failed Syria; our conscience has vanished. The rest is tragedy.

Online: https://www.khaleejtimes.com/