Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Sept. 25

The Japan News on how world leaders responded at the United Nations Climate Action Summit:

Global warming measures have entered the phase in which world leaders must not merely express their determination or reveal their targets but actually reduce greenhouse gases. To what extent have world leaders been able to deepen their recognition of this?

The Climate Action Summit was held at U.N. headquarters, where world leaders gathered to discuss global warming.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel unveiled policies of doubling the budgets for battling climate change and promoting the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. French President Emmanuel Macron said his country will increase its contribution to a fund which extends support to developing countries, helping them to adapt to changes that result from global warming such as rising sea levels.

Toward achieving the targets set out under the Paris Agreement, an international framework for fighting global warming, 77 countries have reportedly committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The question is whether it is possible to realize the target. It won't be easy for any country under dire economic circumstances to proceed with environmental measures that impose burdens on its citizens.

Even since the Paris accord was adopted in 2015, the brakes have not been applied to greenhouse gas emissions, which have increased. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2018 reached a record high. The average global temperature for the 2015-19 period is expected to be the warmest on record.

It is feared that natural disasters, in the form of typhoons, floods, droughts and the like, will become more likely. Besides human losses, economic activity will also suffer a blow.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres appealed to world leaders, saying, "The biggest cost is doing nothing." The Paris accord is to be implemented from 2020. The endeavors of the signatories to implement their commitments should be accelerated.

First of all, the United States and China, which are the two largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, each need to assume due responsibility.

The United States has announced its withdrawal from the accord, and is moving ahead with easing environmental regulations. U.S. President Donald Trump made an appearance at the summit but did not make a speech.

Wang Yi, Chinese state councillor and foreign minister, said, "Developed countries need to take the lead in reducing (greenhouse gas) emissions," emphasizing China's position on the part of developing countries. As a major economic power, it is irresponsible for China to say this.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe forewent his attendance at the summit, as he was unable to adjust his schedule. At a meeting related to the summit, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said Japan will cooperate with other countries "to realize a decarbonized society." Japan should promote the development of materials produced by reusing CO2 and support developing countries with energy-saving technologies.

Movements among young people, mainly in Western countries, calling for governments to accelerate their global climate measures have become spirited. A 16-year-old Swedish environmentalist told world leaders during the summit meeting that "you are failing us."

Implementing appropriate policies and passing better environments down to the next generation — leaders of countries must assume this grave responsibility.

Online: https://the-japan-news.com/

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Sept. 24

The Washington Post on a decrease in child death rates worldwide:

Humankind knows no greater tragedy than the death of a small child. Thanks to quiet but powerful progress in public health, that tragedy is far less common than it once was — including in the planet's developing regions. As recently as 1990, the global annual rate of death for children under the age of 5 was 82 for every 1,000 live births. Last year, that rate was 37 per 1,000 live births. If the present trend continues, the rate could reach 28 by 2030. And with additional effort from private agencies and governments, it could fall even further, hitting the target, 25 per 1,000, set under the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

Many factors account for these improving numbers, which are laid out in a report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Economic growth is one: More than a quarter of the decline in child mortality over the past 28 years occurred in booming India, where 1.2 million fewer children died in 2017 than in 2000. Actions by governmental and nongovernmental agencies, to distribute lifesaving technology and medicines more widely, also were essential. Political stability and the relative absence of major war helped, too; only in Syria, scene of a horrific conflict since 2011, has the rate of child mortality not improved.

Child mortality is far from the only area of improvement. In fact, the Gates Foundation's report notes, "Health and education are improving everywhere in the world." The share of the world's population living on $1.90 or less per day stood at 8 percent in 2018, down from 36 percent in 1990. The U.N.'s goal was to bring to zero the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2030; that seems unlikely, according to the Gates Foundation report, but the wonder is how close the world may come.

There is no cause for complacency. The report's title, "Examining Inequality," is properly intended to emphasize that people's life chances are still far too often a matter of such factors as geography and gender. Child mortality, along with other forms of suffering, continues to be highest in a band of countries in the drought-prone region of Africa known as the Sahel. And the southwest corner of one Sahel country, Chad, has a child mortality rate — about 15 percent — that is even higher than in the rest of the country. Awareness of these differences can and should help focus resources, including what must be sustained U.S. government support, on those areas where the need is greatest.

Still, amid much justified concern about the warming planet's future, alarm must be leavened by recognition of what can be, and has been, accomplished, even in the face of seemingly intractable problems. Optimism is not unrealistic.

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

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Sept. 23

The Houston Chronicle on a decision not to cancel classes during Tropical Storm Imelda:

A viral video of elementary students, clutching lunchboxes while traversing a narrow catwalk of benches assembled down a flooded school hallway, has provoked varying reactions.

One is that Houston ISD's decision to hold classes Thursday (Sept. 19) in the wake of Tropical Storm Imelda was a maddening mistake that put young children, and later their parents, who braved sloshing streets to pick them up, in danger.

Another is that some ingenious teacher at Durham Elementary has learned the chief lesson of an increasingly erratic pattern of torrential rain events to hit our flood-prone metropolis: adapt.

Beyond them both is another realization: We have become a city without refuge.

There are no more certain shelters from these storms. So-called biblical events have become mere bookmarks in a new testament to climate reality.

High ground, as much as it ever existed, is an ever-fluid notion. Danger is not neatly confined or defined by floodways or zones or plains. The peril we used to measure in the trickle of centuries is now gushing in yearly increments.

Last week, Imelda's rains struck those still rebuilding from Hurricane Harvey — and those spared by that historic storm. In terms of patterns and predictions, experts continue to do their best, but basically, we're off the grid.

"Every flood in Houston is unique," said Matt Lanza, a meteorologist who runs the Space City Weather blog with Eric Berger.

He told a Chronicle reporter that hard-to-forecast freak storms that may target previously unscathed areas have become Houston's reality: "It doesn't matter if you get 5 inches of rain or 45. It depends on where it fills, how fast, what the conditions were like prior to when it fell and any other combination of things."

While the frustrations of parents and staff over districts' decisions last week are understandable, so too is the impossible position of a superintendent trying to outguess a moving target.

Was Houston ISD's decision to hold classes Thursday really "gross incompetence," as a sixth-grade East End teacher and union leader tweeted? Should HISD interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan and others have known after a predawn call with Harris County emergency management officials that they'd be inviting chaos and putting parents and kids in harm's way?

"Thank you for helping our families," HISD trustee Diana Davila tweeted sarcastically to Lathan that day, linking to images of firefighters helping families on flooded roads.

Blame isn't that easy to assign. Safety is a calculation these days, not a constant.

"You're damned if you do and damned if you don't," said Alief Superintendent H.D. Chambers, who was on the same 3 a.m. call as Lathan and also chose to keep schools open. In some cases, he said, school is the safest place because children may be left home alone if parents have to report to work.

The calls are getting harder to make, though.

"I know this," Chambers told the editorial board. "We don't have regular rain storms anymore hardly. We have rain events. They're much more intense. They happen so fast. We have to make these calls in a split second."

Jason Spencer, who handled communications for both HISD and Aldine ISD in the past and now does so at the Harris County Sheriff's Office, said the department was loading kids on trucks who were trying to walk home Thursday. Still, he puts the risk in context.

"At the end of the day, I'm not aware of any kids getting hurt, anybody dying because of the decision to have school. It caught a lot of people off guard," Spencer said. "The easy thing to do is to close and throw up our hands and say, 'Parents, you deal with it.' They chose to do the hard thing. I have a hard time bashing them for that."

So do we. Imelda did indeed take an "unforeseen turn," as Lathan noted in a letter to parents.

Such turns are no longer the exception. They're the rule.

Online: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/

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Sept. 20

The Orange County Register on a Democratic Party candidate's support of the Universal Basic Income theory, which has been modeled in California:

The latest Democratic presidential primary debate was largely predictable, but one little-known candidate, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, created some buzz with his pre-debate promise to do "something no presidential candidate has ever done before." Yang promised to give 10 people $1,000 a month for a year to reinforce his support for something known as Universal Basic Income. Despite all the hype, it's much ado about very little.

The Universal Basic Income idea has been around for many years. It's mostly touted by progressives who are eager to help the poor. In their view, poverty is caused simply by a lack of money. Give poor people money and problem solved. But some conservatives, including free-market economist Milton Friedman, backed the idea. They argued that it could reduce the need for meddlesome social-service bureaucracies. It could cut out the middle man.

In its latest incarnation, the program largely is the hobby horse of tech moguls who fear that their industry is leaving many less-skilled workers in the dust. "In the next 12 years, one out of three American workers are at risk of losing their jobs to new technologies," according to Yang's campaign website. It argues that "the Freedom Dividend, a universal basic income (UBI) for all American adults, no strings attached" is the first step in avoiding an "unprecedented crisis." Yang points to Stockton, Calif., as a model.

Stockton officials are handing out $500 a month, without any limits on how the money can be spent, to 130 randomly selected low-income city residents. The program is privately funded, which keeps taxpayers out of it. But the project's goal is to create positive stories about the value of just giving people money — and create a blueprint that other agencies can emulate. But no matter who pitches it or pays for it, Universal Basic Income is a terrible idea.

For starters, there will never be enough money to endlessly provide a financial boost to every American who can use one. Private foundations can put their own money through a paper shredder if they choose, but taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pay for no-strings-attached handouts. In theory, UBI-type programs could replace welfare bureaucracies, but they won't. Supporters don't suggest using the money to replace existing welfare payments, but to supplement them.

These "free money" programs only diminish the value of work, education and investment. Anyone would enjoy having an extra 500 bucks in their wallet every month, but the way to prosper is to learn new skills, work hard and invest. The idea that poverty can be eliminated by simply giving people cash promotes the idea that wealth is about luck. It therefore encourages bad behaviors and a passivity about one's circumstances.

"I think poverty is immoral. I think it's antiquated and I think it shouldn't exist," said Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, in a recent interview about his city's program. No one likes poverty, but such sentiments make it harder to combat by creating the impression that prosperity is created by waving a magic wand.

Instead of figuring out new ways to redistribute existing wealth, policy makers need to figure out ways to boost business investment and job opportunities. It makes great headlines for mayors and presidential candidates to fund a lottery, but Universal Basic Income basically is nonsense.

Online: https://www.ocregister.com/

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Sept. 20

The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer on a college basketball coach who won a national championship and then turned down a raise:

University of Virginia men's basketball coach Tony Bennett did the best a college coach can do last season. His team won the national championship. But after the season, he did something even more impressive. He turned down a raise for his accomplishment.

It's true — a big-time coach didn't want another barrel full of money. "I have more than I need," he said. "I'm blessed beyond what I deserve."

One online commentator responded to the news with: "Sports hell has just frozen over."

That's an understatement. In a sports arms race in which coaches' salaries keep escalating, a coach actually said, "I have more than enough."

It's not that Bennett took a vow of poverty. He made nearly $6 million last season. That's way more than enough for a man who coaches players who aren't paid and often don't go on to lucrative jobs even if they get a UVA degree in exchange for their skill and effort. Bennett acknowledged as much by also donating $500,000 to support a career-training program for current and former UVA men's basketball players.

Will Bennett's self-denial shame other coaches who rake in millions off unpaid labor? No. When it comes to squeezing money out universities and shoe companies, they're always on a full-court press. But Bennett's move may signal an important shift in major college sports by bringing the excesses of coaches' pay into even starker contrast with the bankruptcy of the NCAA amateur model.

Addressing that mismatch, California passed legislation to allow athletes to be compensated for use of their name, image and likeness for marketing purposes. It's called the Fair Pay to Play Act. It's just, it's long overdue and the NCAA and those who operate the NFL's and NBA's minor leagues — operations also known as colleges and universities — hate it.

"We're firmly against anything that would lead to a pay-for-play system," said Larry Scott, the commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference.

The opposition rests on a tattered claim that pay would turn student-athletes into pros and ruin the ideal of playing a sport for its own sake. But even as the schools oppose paying athletes they've quietly backed away from their end of the deal: providing a good education in lieu of pay.

The academic-athletic scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ended with the school asserting and the NCAA meekly accepting that the governing body of college sports has no say over the quality — or even the reality — of classes that keep athletes eligible.

In response to that loophole in the deal schools make with their athletes, athletic reformers tried to close it. The reform commission headed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and an NCAA academic integrity working group recommended that the NCAA police egregious academic misconduct involving athletes.

The NCAA's Division I Board of Directors considered the proposed change and said, "We'll pass." An NCAA report said of the decision: "Feedback from the membership on this idea indicated some but not significant support."

Now in California there is significant support for letting athletes get compensated, especially since Division I leaders don't seem to care whether athletes get educated.

Tony Bennett went against that tide of avarice and neglect by turning down a raise and putting half a million dollars into players' career training. Perhaps after beating the competition, he — along with California — can help defeat the hypocrisy and injustice of big-time college sports.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/ and https://www.newsobserver.com/

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Sept. 19

The New York Times on laws passed across the country banning noncompete agreements for many employees who sign contracts:

It's a truism that capitalists don't like competition — especially for workers. In recent decades, American companies have tried to limit this problem by requiring millions of employees to sign contracts prohibiting them from moving to rival firms.

The absurd and harmful proliferation of the practice is well illustrated by a recent survey that found 30 percent of the nation's hair salons required stylists to sign noncompete agreements.

A few states, notably California, have long restricted the use of the tactic. And in 2008, Oregon passed an innovative law that barred noncompete agreements for most workers, including those making less than the median income for a family of four — $97,631 in 2018.

A new study finds that the Oregon law made a big difference for workers, increasing both how often they changed jobs and how much they got paid.

There is no single explanation for the stagnation of workers' income in recent decades, but a key reason is that negotiating power shifted from workers to employers. The rise of noncompete agreements is both a symptom, demonstrating the power of employers to dictate terms, and a cause, undermining the ability of workers to obtain a larger piece of the pie.

Defenders of the practice say it encourages companies to make investments, for example in employee training, since the company is more likely to reap the benefits. They also insist that workers are compensated for the loss of bargaining power with higher wages or greater job security. Indeed, some experts have asserted that the elimination of noncompete agreements would cause wages to fall, because workers would no longer be paid for signing.

The Oregon study shows that this theoretical model of labor markets bears little relationship to the lived reality. After the law took effect, job hopping increased by as much as 18 percent — and wages for workers no longer bound by noncompetes rose by as much as 21 percent.

Put plainly, the old rule allowed employers to suppress their workers' pay.

Among the reasons: Workers are often required to sign noncompete agreements after they accept a job, when they no longer have as much leverage to negotiate. Workers also may not understand the terms, nor anticipate the consequences for their own careers.

There may be some case for allowing corporations to negotiate noncompete agreements with top executives or other particularly valuable employees — although states would do well to consider the example of California, where the absence of noncompetes has contributed to the rise of Silicon Valley. But allowing broad use of noncompetes harms workers.

A growing number of states have followed Oregon's example in the past few years. Illinois went first, in 2016, banning noncompete agreements for workers making up to $13 an hour. Six more states have since passed new laws, ranging from Maryland, which drew the line at $15 an hour, or about $31,200 a year, all the way to Washington, which rendered noncompete restrictions unenforceable for workers making less than $100,000 a year. (The other states with new laws are in New England: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.)

A Republican senator, Marco Rubio of Florida, introduced federal legislation in January banning noncompete agreements for low-wage workers. In March, a bipartisan group of six senators, including Mr. Rubio, requested a Government Accountability Office study of the agreements, writing there was "no good reason" to let companies bind the hands of low-wage workers.

The Rubio bill needs to be broader. It would protect only workers who are eligible for overtime pay under federal law — mostly, employees earning less than $23,360 a year — a significantly lower threshold than in the Oregon law. It also needs stronger penalties for companies that break the rules. And Congress should consider protections for workers who may justifiably be subject to noncompete agreements, such as requiring any deal to be part of the job offer.

But the bill nonetheless offers a rare opportunity for bipartisan agreement. Congress should act to protect the freedom of American workers to seek jobs in an open marketplace.

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

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