Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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July 21

The Washington Post on the recent hacking of several high-profile Twitter accounts:

“Tough day for us at Twitter,” company chief executive Jack Dorsey tweeted last Wednesday, after several high-profile accounts on his site were hacked. This was an understatement.

The security breach the social media network experienced last week was alarming not only for what happened but also for what could have happened. Accounts from Warren Buffett to Kanye West to Joe Biden promised to double money sent to a Bitcoin address. “I am giving back to my community due to covid-19!” former president Barack Obama, another victim, appeared to declare.

The perpetrator made off with about $118,000. But imagine trusted accounts hijacked to share false news of a massive terror attack and unleash financial meltdown — or imagine them taken over on Election Day to give voters false information about polling places.

These worse-case scenarios point to the risks when public and even government figures carry out essential functions on a single private platform. The mishap should teach elected officials not to rely exclusively on Twitter or Facebook or anything else to communicate with constituents. But it should also teach platforms to adopt smarter cybersecurity practices.

Twitter hasn’t yet provided a full post-mortem, but a blog post from the company combined with reporting from multiple outlets offers a peek: A hacker lurking on a forum generally used for stealing and then selling credentials to accounts with coveted short-character screen names (often an individual letter or number such as @6 or @y) boasted that he had access to Twitter’s internal controls.

He gained these through “social engineering” — which could mean phishing of employees or bribery or even an insider-initiated attack. Once he had done so, he could bypass all the safeguards people are always being told are essential to responsible security.

Of course, these safeguards are still essential. But companies such as Twitter must also take steps to ensure the integrity of their platforms, primarily when it comes to administrative tools employees use to touch the most sensitive information. Sites should require more sources of authentication for getting into those systems; a password alone shouldn’t be enough.

They should also scale back the number of workers who can use the systems, and institute robust monitoring programs that alert them when something suspicious is happening behind the scenes. And they ought to consider implementing special protection programs for sensitive accounts of the precise type that were compromised last week.

The FBI is investigating what happened, and lawmakers have asked for information. Twitter has promised a fuller explanation to the public of what went wrong. It should deliver that — along with an explanation of how it means to ensure things don’t go wrong again.

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

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July 21

The Dallas Morning News on the death of U.S. Congressman John Lewis:

Right now, America needs heroes. And we have one for the ages in John Lewis.

His life of sacrifice in the name of the larger principles of freedom and equality and his career of service to his country are emblems of the better America we hope to be and the better America we can become.

In remembering him, we should remember that the struggle for equality is an enduring human struggle, that it will not come cheaply nor easily, that the path can be dangerous and the pain very real, and that it will almost certainly never be over.

We can remember too, though, that it can be rewarded — that things can get better — and that Lewis’ sacrifice, along with those of the Freedom Riders and so many advocates for reform, bequeathed to us a better nation, where we more fully, if still imperfectly, embrace the individual dignity of each American and extend in law the protection of their basic human rights.

Lewis, who died at 80 Friday, had his skull cracked with a billy club as a young man to help bring us to this place where we are. And even as violence was done upon him, he rejected violence in return. The undeniable moral authority that he carried on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965 was the authority that finally mattered.

In considering his legacy, we must also consider the work that remains. Poverty, imprisonment and other legacies of slavery and codified racism still track our country. Lewis supported the marches in opposition of police violence against Black Americans and considered them an extension of his work as a young man.

We also hope, as we memorialize his life and all he did as a protester, organizer and congressman, that we don’t fail to recognize the truth that his work mattered because it made a real difference in our country and in improving the lives of Black Americans. The America that John Lewis died in is not the same America he was born into as the child of sharecroppers. It is not the same America that disenfranchised Black Americans as a matter of law denied them basic human rights.

It is an America that took his search for justice and equality seriously, that cared his body was beaten and his skull fractured, that rejected the forces of inequality, segregation and racism.

That better America is an America we must work toward every day. The struggle is renewed over and over in each of us as individuals and in all of us as a society.

John Lewis has died. But in a good and ever better America, John Lewis will live forever.

Online: https://www.dallasnews.com/

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July 21

The Wall Street Journal on charges brought against a Missouri couple for displaying guns at protesters during a demonstration outside their mansion:

By now all America knows Mark and Patricia McCloskey from the video showing the St. Louis couple holding legal firearms as they defended themselves and their home from a crowd of protesters trespassing on their property. A politically motivated prosecutor on Monday charged the couple with unlawful use of a weapon.

The felony count is because they pointed their weapons at protesters. Mr. McCloskey said he did so because he was “scared for my life,” and that of his wife. No shots were fired. Yet now prosecutor Kim Gardner is charging them on grounds they made the trespassers fear for their safety.

The good news is that there’s been plenty of official blowback. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson tweeted that “We will not allow law-abiding citizens to be targeted for exercising their constitutional rights.” He has promised a pardon if they’re convicted.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt is working to get the case dismissed, noting that, in addition to the U.S. and Missouri constitutions, Missouri law recognizes the “castle doctrine.” This allows residents to use force against intruders, including deadly force, based on self-defense and the notion that your home is your castle.

Ms. Gardner contends that those who surrounded the McCloskeys were “peaceful, unarmed protesters,” and the couple were therefore interfering in the crowd’s First Amendment rights. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Ms. Gardner that the guns they carried may be a reason events didn’t turn violent. “I really thought it was Storming the Bastille, that we would be dead and the house would be burned and there was nothing we could do about it,” Mr. McCloskey told KSDK in an interview.

Even if the charges are dismissed, or the McCloskeys are pardoned after being convicted, again we have a public official responsible for upholding law and order wink at a mob while treating law-abiding citizens as criminals. If police cannot be counted on to deal with mobs, it’s even more vital that law-abiding Americans are free to exercise their Second Amendment right to protect themselves.

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

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July 20

The Los Angeles Times on President Donald Trump sending federal law enforcement officers to Portland, Oregon:

The deployment of federal agents in Portland, Ore., over the objection of state and local officials, to shoot and gas protesters and to snatch people from the street to stuff them into unmarked vans is an unconscionable assault on democracy and a dangerous and needless ratcheting up of tension.

President Trump’s action in defiance of Oregon’s governor and Portland’s mayor has predictably given new life to nonstop protests that began after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody but at last had begun to peter out. The president has thus employed his wretched talent for exacerbating division and inflaming discord at precisely the time the nation needs a leader to calm overheated passions and fears.

Presidents have broad power to deploy troops to quell lawlessness, but they generally exercise that power only when governors request assistance, or when the commander-in-chief himself determines that state authorities are failing to deal with the problem.

They send in federal forces to protect people or to enforce the Constitution, as when President Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, Ark., in 1957 to enforce the right of Black students to enroll in a previously all-white high school and to make clear that the famous Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education would be enforced, that the doctrine of “separate but equal” had been overturned, and that state segregationists could not defy the basic American principle that all people are equal under law.

Trump, by contrast, directed federal agencies to use their muscle to protect statues, monuments and other federal properties, not people or the Constitution. And he said Monday that he plans to do this in more cities — evidently, because he thinks displaying force against the citizenry is going to help him in November.

This has become part of his pattern. In the weeks before overreacting to the Portland protests, Trump used troops to clear his path for a photo op near the White House. He set forth his doctrine that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” He articulated his principle that states should “dominate the streets,” and if they didn’t, that he would override their authority.

It is a fact that some individuals have used the protests in Portland as an opportunity to destroy property and inject chaos into the demonstrations. It fell to Portland leaders to strike the proper balance. They could respond with force, and thus play into protesters’ hands by presenting police engaged in precisely the kind of actions that were being protested; or they could monitor the situation, give protesters the room to make their case, tolerate some property losses and allow the demonstrations to die down on their own.

They made their choices, and they may well have made some bad ones. Portland has been on edge for weeks. But Mayor Ted Wheeler is the person answerable to the city’s people. He did not need, and did not seek, federal backup.

Trump’s insistence on federalizing the situation on his own undermines Portlanders’ control of their own city, and exacerbates the violence far more than the protesters’ actions did.

The president has in effect equated people protesting police brutality with terrorists, and is treating them as such.

In October, before Trump’s impeachment, before the COVID-19 pandemic, before the death of Floyd and before the nationwide protests, the president signed an order creating a Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. As with so many steps Trump takes, this one appeared to be geared directly toward undoing an action of the Obama administration, in this case the creation of the 2015 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

The Obama task force delved into police brutality, racial disparities in arrests and prosecutions, and other challenges facing modern-day policing in the U.S. Its recommendations included enhancing civilian oversight, improving training and building trust and legitimacy. Many of its efforts were rolled back by the Trump administration.

In launching Trump’s commission, Atty. Gen. William Barr included as a central question something that apparently baffles him as well as the president: Why is there a “continued lack of trust and respect for law enforcement” in many communities?

The answer is right under their noses. It is spread out on the street with George Floyd, it is shoved alongside protesters into unmarked federal police vans, it stands agog, with many of us, at actions to protect statues but shoot projectiles at people. The president won’t look. He sees what he sees, with eyes that won’t open.

Online: https://www.latimes.com

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July 18

The South China Morning Post on tensions between the United States and China:

The risk of military conflict in the South China Sea between China and the United States is high and tensions are rising. In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, amid discord on a wide range of issues and shortly after both held naval exercises in the area at the same time, American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has raised the stakes to even more worrying levels by ending his country’s silence on territorial disputes in the contested waters.

His siding with Southeast Asian nations over Beijing was to be expected, as was the foreign ministry’s angry response, but weighing in on so sensitive a row is a further unnecessary provocation that puts the rivals and their allies on a dangerous course. With relations arguably at their worst and seemingly spiraling out of control, there is every need for a diplomatic solution, no matter how remote that may appear.

Beijing has wasted no time in assuring Southeast Asian countries, with President Xi Jinping phoning the leaders of Singapore and Thailand and Foreign Minister Wang Yi contacting his Philippine counterpart. Washington’s refraining from commenting on the South China Sea issue had made a peaceful agreement between China and its neighbors on the various sovereignty claims more possible. Increasingly frequent sailings of US warships through the contested waters were voiced in terms of ensuring freedom of navigation in the busy shipping lanes.

But Pompeo discarded the US’ position last week, describing Beijing’s claims to parts of the resource-rich seas as “completely unlawful”, aligning for the first time with a 2016 tribunal ruling by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has not been acceded to by the US. Neither side is blameless, but US President Donald Trump’s administration has taken an increasingly antagonistic approach towards China on a widening range of issues. It has blamed Beijing for the coronavirus pandemic, an unproven claim that is in the way of cooperation to develop a vaccine.

The Sino-US relationship is among the most important in the world and talks improve understanding. A meeting in Hawaii last month between China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and Pompeo, was an opportunity to explain positions and visualise limits.

Wang recently laid out a strategy in which he proposed Chinese and American think tanks draw up three lists detailing areas of cooperation and discord so that disputes could be managed and their impact on relations minimised. Restraint is a sensible course and also a form of diplomacy. Pursuing the alternative makes no sense when the world’s most pressing agenda should be fighting the coronavirus on two challenging fronts, health and livelihoods. Dialogue, not confrontation, is urgently needed to avoid crossing red lines.

Online: https://www.scmp.com/

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July 18

The New York Times on expanding internet access for Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic:

When Autumn Lee, a pre-med junior at the University of New Mexico, needs to download lectures or class assignments, she hops in her car and drives 45 minutes to the McDonald’s nearest to her town of Sanders, Ariz., to connect to reliable Wi-Fi from her car. After the university sent students home because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ms. Lee grew frustrated with what she said is expensive and data-restricted internet service in Sanders, an unincorporated village of fewer than 1,000 people in eastern Arizona. Relying on her smartphone data plan wasn’t much of an alternative.

“It took one or two hours to watch a 20-minute lecture,” she said. “I just got so frustrated, I figured there had to be another way.” So she made the 40-mile trek several times each week — and she’ll likely have to keep doing it now that the school has canceled nearly all in-person classes for the fall.

Like Ms. Lee, many other Americans sheltering from Covid-19 are discovering the limitations of the country’s cobbled-together broadband service. Schooling, jobs, government services, medical care and child care that once were performed in person have been turned over to the web, exposing a deep rift between the broadband haves and have-nots.

Those rifts are poised to turn into chasms, as the global pandemic threatens another year of in-person schooling for American children. Large public-school districts like Los Angeles and Prince George’s County in Maryland, as well as a variety of colleges and universities, from Hampton to Harvard to Scripps, have canceled in-school instruction at the start of the coming year.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced rules that would require the vast majority of schools in California to begin the year remotely, meaning millions of pupils will need a reliable internet connection throughout the day for instruction. Additional districts that are going online only at the start of the year include Nashville, Houston and Atlanta.

Other districts will surely follow, as the raging contagion in their communities gives them little alternative. An adequate connection is no longer a matter of convenience; it is a necessity for anyone wishing to participate in civil society.

Service is often unavailable or too expensive in rural communities and low-income neighborhoods. This has forced people into parking lots outside libraries, schools and coffee shops to find a reliable signal — while others are simply staying logged off. At the same time, there is pressure on small businesses that are still using pen and paper to modernize or face extinction.

Yet, federal and local initiatives have failed to bring swift internet service to tens of millions of Americans. Like electricity, internet service has become a necessity for modern life.

“What Covid-19 has done is accelerate the pace of technological change,” said Kathryn de Wit, manager of the Pew Charitable Trust’s broadband research initiative. “Getting online isn’t an option anymore, and if you don’t have that connection, you’re pretty much cut off.”

Efforts to fix this inequity extend back at least as far as 2009, when Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission to develop a plan to get broadband service to nearly every American.

Some 21 million still lack it, according to commissioners’ estimates. Yet that might be an underestimate: One study puts it far higher, at around 42 million. The Pew Research Center said as many as one in four rural Americans lack high-speed internet service, because of either the cost or a lack of availability.

Microsoft and others have disputed the F.C.C.’s data, which relies on self-reporting from internet service providers — reporting that can indicate an entire census block has service even if service is provided to just one household within the area.

Getting an accurate count of where broadband is needed is critical, because it helps federal programs like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund determine where to spend to expand broadband’s reach, meaning the Opportunity Fund’s $20.4 billion in planned outlays over the next 10 years could still leave many Americans behind. Two of the F.C.C.’s five commissioners dissented over parts of the funding, citing the faulty accounting.

Two bills passed by the House last year would help improve how broadband’s reach is counted. These bills are encouraging bipartisan steps toward addressing the problem.

Also worthy of strong consideration is a bill introduced last month by Representative James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina. It was followed by a Senate version this month, that would devote $100 billion toward making broadband accessible in underserved areas. But Republicans have indicated that they are not likely to support it.

In urban areas, the struggle to get reliable or affordable internet service disproportionately affects minorities.

The cost of broadband makes it three times more likely that households without internet service can be found in urban, rather than rural, environments, according to John B. Horrigan of the Technology Policy Institute. Distance learning over Zoom may be a poor substitute for the real thing, but with school closings amid the coronavirus extending into the fall, students without home internet connections could slip further behind.

To help bridge the gap, some school districts distributed Wi-Fi hot spots and laptops to needy students. Francine Hernandez drove to a Tucson, Ariz. parking lot with her 14-year-old daughter every day for nearly a month to access Wi-Fi beamed from yellow district school buses. She said the family had lost service after her husband lost his job, making this the best alternative.

“It was the only way she could finish her homework,” said Ms. Hernandez. She said she sat in the car with her daughter for three hours at a stretch until the buses left before lunch.

Today, broadband is a patchwork of infrastructure and services offered primarily by major corporations like Verizon and AT&T. But swaths of the country have been left with no service, either because of a lack of perceived profits or a lack of the political will to extend fiber to harder-to-reach communities.

Electrifying the entire country a century ago was made possible by a coordinated federal plan from the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt The Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to areas outside city centers through federal loans to small cooperatives formed to bring power lines and generators to their communities.

While such a centralized effort may be unlikely today without the urgency of the New Deal, the coronavirus has demonstrated that it is time for the federal government to think more creatively and to act more swiftly to deploy broadband service.

As service areas exist today, Geoff Wiggins cannot get broadband internet service extended to his house in Liberty Township, Ohio, near Columbus, even though he lives just a few houses in either direction from available service. He said a local provider told him he’d have to pay more than $30,000 to get internet cable extended just to his driveway. So he has relied on wireless service from phone providers and weekend excursions to the parking lots of nearby businesses.

Universal broadband will be costly, but shelter-in-place orders have demonstrated that it is even more costly to leave so many Americans behind. A House bill to accelerate deployment of the $20.4 billion overseen by the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is a start, but the F.C.C. has estimated it could take $80 billion to reach nearly every American without broadband. House Democrats proposed in April that more than $80 billion be authorized over five years for broadband expansion.

“People are afraid of the price tag,” said Mr. Clyburn, a co-sponsor of the bill along with Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan. “We can’t afford not to do it.”

Perhaps more daunting is the challenge of providing service that is speedy and at a price that even lower-income Americans can afford. One study found that poorer Americans can afford only $10 a month for internet service. But such service is typically at far slower speeds than what is available in more affluent neighborhoods, or for free at Starbucks.

Private industry may have little desire to provide lower-tier broadband service when it can profit far more from higher-end services. The expansion of federal programs, like E-Rate, to allow schools to distribute broadband service directly to students could also help lower costs.

But those solutions are not a fix to the broader problem. Drawing Wi-Fi from school buses and fast-food restaurants isn’t a long-term solution.

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