Editorial Roundup: U.S. | Healthy Aging

Second Amendment

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

The Guardian on China’s Winter Olympics and treatment of Uyghurs:

The financial crisis of 2008 was the moment which cemented both China’s rise and its growing confidence as the west faltered. But the Olympics held in Beijing a few months earlier was the global symbol of its ascendancy: a coming-out party which proclaimed its return to the forefront of political and economic power, greeted with genuine international enthusiasm, despite the misgivings of dissidents.

Fewer will celebrate the Winter Games due to kick off in Beijing in February. Last week, the UK and Canada joined the US and Australia in announcing a diplomatic boycott, and New Zealand has said it will not send anyone of ministerial level – to the wrath of China, which warned that countries will “pay a price” for the decision. (France will participate as usual, with Emmanuel Macron describing the boycott as “insignificant”, and much of Europe remains undecided). Concern for tennis champion and three-time Olympian Peng Shuai, since she alleged that a former senior leader had coerced her into sex, have magnified attention to China’s human rights record – and to the International Olympic Committee’s keenness to reassure the world that there is nothing to worry about, a repeated pattern.

But the primary issue is the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, up to a million of whom have been held in camps. Last week, an unofficial British-based inquiry’s report described the torture and rape of detainees and concluded that the treatment of Uyghurs constitutes genocide – the deliberate attempt to destroy all or part of the ethnic group. The inquiry’s chair, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, stressed that there was no evidence of mass killing, with his finding based instead on the suppression of births, including through forced birth control, sterilisation, hysterectomies and abortions; he argued that the “vast apparatus of state repression could not exist if a plan was not authorised at the highest levels.” (Human rights groups say they have yet to document the intent required for a genocide finding, but have evidence of crimes against humanity.)

Since the US had already stated that genocide is taking place, it was always hard to see how it could send an official delegation. Others have been clear in condemning grotesque abuses in Xinjiang. Staging the Olympics is always a statement by a government: in a country where dissent is not tolerated, and where a nationalist story of triumph is increasingly central to the party’s legitimacy, it is a propaganda event designed to elicit global applause for a domestic audience. It is no surprise that China, which dismisses genocide claims as “absurd”, portrays all concerns as the “politicisation of sports”, using human rights merely as a pretext. It is domestically useful to depict the boycott as another malign attempt to hurt China; but it is likely that the leadership also believes it, refusing to recognise that the primary cause of growing hostility abroad is not US hegemonic anxiety, but Beijing’s oppression of the Uyghurs and the crushing of Hong Kong’s freedoms at home, and its increasingly aggressive approach internationally.

Nor is the IOC’s willingness to play along unexpected. It is, however, reprehensible. Asked about the treatment of Uyghurs last week, IOC member Dick Pound told a German broadcaster that – despite satellite images, leaked documents, eyewitness testimony and campaigners’ briefings – “I don’t know enough of the facts.” He cast doubt on extensive reporting of abuses and suggested that an independent review might be helpful. The UN human rights chief has been asking to visit the region for three years without success.

The IOC believes its battered reputation is shielded by its incantation of the mantras of friendship and respect, and the global love of sport. But many countries have rightly thought again about offering their support to this event. Sponsors should now do the same.

The Chicago Tribune on where were Amazon brass in wake of tornado?

At 5:45 a.m. Saturday morning, a press conference was held in downstate Edwardsville. The deeply sad purpose was to update the public on what happened the previous night when a EF-3 tornado had rolled through that community and partially collapsed a warehouse belonging to Amazon. At least six people died.

Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford was there, so was Edwardsville Police Chief Michael Fillback and other local officials. So, in fact, was Gov. J.B. Pritzker, despite the early hour and the location of Edwardsville, which is far closer to St. Louis than Springfield or Chicago. Pritzker still got himself there to praise emergency workers and to try to comfort some of the afflicted.

You know who was not at that press conference? Anyone from Amazon.

Stunning, given that the company owned the warehouse where people died.

Worse yet, the absence of Amazon in front of the cameras that morning allowed confusion to grow over precisely how many people had died. The authorities said they didn’t know how many people were gone because Amazon didn’t know how many people had been in the warehouse during the incident.

That uncertainty, the officials said, was compounded by at least two other factors: a shift change was in progress and Amazon’s operation is only partially staffed by Amazon workers, the remainder being either employees of other entities or independent contractors.

Only hours later did Amazon finally put out a statement from a spokesman that was so anodyne as to be insulting to those victims: “We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the storm. We also want to thank all the first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene. We’re continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area.”

Thoughts and prayers? Please. Anything but that cliche. And when families and “partners” are in pain, they show up for each other. And who is the “we,” exactly? Without a face or a name, this was meaningless language.

It got worse. Early Saturday, Jeff Bezos, still the executive chairman and public face of Amazon despite handing over the CEO reins to Andy Jassy last summer, was tweeting Saturday morning about the pleasures of his fun space venture, seemingly oblivious to what had happened the night before to regular folks trying to survive on terra firma. Only after he received intense pressure for the omission, did Bezos put out an expression of sympathy.

He, Jassy, or a top lieutenant, should have been at that microphone at 5:45 a.m., or at least on Zoom, answering real questions and attending to the pain of the good people of Edwardsville. Amazon was not, of course, responsible for the tornado, but people still died because they were in that warehouse, working for Amazon.

The absence did not go unnoticed, nor, later in the day, did the disparity between Amazon being fully able to get a package to your door in minutes and yet not being entirely sure how many people had been killed in its own warehouse.

“The company with one of the most sophisticated logistics systems in the world can’t say how many employees are still unaccounted for nearly 24 hours after the tornado hit its warehouse?” tweeted the Springfield NPR-affiliate reporter Hannah Meisel.

Apparently, it could not. We share Meisel’s amazement. And we don’t think that “thoughts and prayers” did the job.

Those of us who work on this page have been around long enough to remember CEOs and company presidents who understood that in a time of crisis, Chief Executive Officer must stand for Chief Emergency Officer. We recall watching airline CEOs at crash sites, even as the rubble was still smoldering; we remember jackets replaced by reflective clothing following previous heartland tornadoes; weekends with families abandoned in service of the message that any employer who does not tend to workers, or their grieving family members, in a time of crisis is not a company for which anyone should either want to work or conduct business.

And we’re well aware of what they used to teach in business school: Act immediately, show empathy, do the right thing fast. And take care of your people.

But tech companies, as a group, have not exactly kept up that tradition as they have risen in wealth and power. They hide behind the new ease of anonymity, avoiding the costs of human contact. We suspect that it took Pritzker’s staffers a lot of effort to figure out exactly who their boss could call at Amazon so he could say that he had done so. Was there anybody even there? Was the spokesman really an algorithm?

This abnegation of traditional channels of expressing corporate responsibility is not in the company’s interests, as it further fosters the image of these entities as giant, impersonal traders in human work-lives, exploiting the gig economy for their own purposes, hiding their humanity behind their technology and refusing to play the role that American business has always played. There are exceptions, of course, and Amazon faced real difficulties here, but the perception certainly did not improve this past weekend. Big bosses hid.

This event happened in an ordinary downstate community in our state, in the same kind of logistics warehouse that Amazon has been building all over the nation. We suspect executives don’t often venture to the likes of Edwardsville, space apparently being preferable to messy events like tornadoes on the prairie.

This page often has taken government officials to task for falling down on the job. In this case, the government was there doing the best it could, all through the night Friday and on Saturday morning. It was a business that fell down on surely its most important job: to immediately show that it cared for human life right here on earth.

The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer on top Trump aide, Mark Meadows, and obstruction:

Here’s a question that might make Sen. Richard Burr smile: When will the N.C. Republican Party censure Mark Meadows?

The answer, of course, is never. But that won’t hide the embarrassment that Meadows is for his party or for the state he represented in Congress for seven years. He left Congress in March of 2020 to become President Trump’s White House chief of staff.

The North Carolina Republican Party’s Central Committee voted unanimously to censure Burr for voting to convict Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection. History may record that vote as Burr’s finest hour. Meanwhile, Meadows is emerging as a disgrace during a dangerous hour for U.S. democracy. Documents obtained by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol show Meadows participated in Trump’s effort to throw out the result of a free and fair presidential election.

Meadows made a deal to cooperate with the congressional probe, but now is refusing to sit for a deposition, citing executive privilege. He also has sued to block the committee’s subpoenas against him as “overly broad and unduly burdensome.” He had turned over thousands of pages of documents to the committee, but is withholding some 1,000 text messages. The House panel voted Monday to recommend contempt charges.

In advance of the recommendation, the committee released a report Sunday that contained new details of Meadows’s actions related to attempts to overturn the election results. The report said Meadows “received text messages and emails regarding apparent efforts to encourage Republican legislators in certain States to send alternate slates of electors to Congress, a plan which one Member of Congress acknowledged was ‘highly controversial’ and to which Mr. Meadows responded, ‘I love it.’”

It’s also known that Meadows was on the phone when Trump pressured Georgia’s top election official to “find“ enough votes to reverse Trump’s Georgia loss. He also sought to have the Justice Department question the integrity of the election.

The Jan. 6 committee wants to hear about those machinations. Crucially, it wants Meadows’s version of what Trump was doing as the Capitol was under assault and how he responded to calls for help from Capitol security officials and members of Congress.

All this comes after Meadows’s history as a Tea Party firebrand and founding member of the obstructionist House Freedom Caucus. He played a key role in shutting down the federal government in 2013 in an effort to end funding for the Affordable Care Act.

In his new book, “The Chief’s Chief,” Meadows delivers a mostly air-brushed version of his time in the White House, but he does reveal that Trump tested positive for COVID three days before a presidential debate with Joe Biden, but Trump went anyway. Meadows, who said a subsequent test of the former president came back negative, did not disclose the positive test, putting others, including the 77-year-old future president, at risk. Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19 three days after the event.

For North Carolina, Meadows is more than a figure in a Washington drama. He is the embodiment of how the state’s turn to extreme gerrymandering has opened the way for reactionary and incompetent candidates to represent the state in Congress. Before Meadows, the 11th District was represented by a conservative Democrat, Heath Shuler, who retired after the district was redrawn to heavily favor Republicans. Now the district is represented by Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who has found a way to be more extreme and embarrassing than Meadows.

It has long been clear that Meadows is a Trump sycophant. Now the question is whether his eagerness to please included breaking the law. The Jan. 6 committee needs to take a hard line with the former chief of staff who never drew a line for Trump.

The Houston Chronicle on locking up parents who don’t lock up guns:

In memory of four Michigan teenagers who won’t be spending time with their families this Christmas and in sympathy with six other teenagers and a high school teacher traumatized for life, we offer a modest proposal:

Any parent or guardian who refuses to secure guns in the home, arguing that a locked and unloaded gun denies them quick access to thwart a home invasion or other mortal threat, should be required to implement an alternative strategy. We propose designating an adult in the household to keep vigil just inside the front door every night, a loaded pistol, rifle or shotgun lying across their lap, ready in an instant to blow away those dangerous would-be intruders they fear so much. Parents, of course, could trade off, each taking four-hour shifts sitting guard or alternating night shifts.

We’re being facetious — sort of — but our proposal is no more absurd than keeping loaded, unsecured guns around the house, accessible to curious toddlers and troubled teens alike. Those kids or other family members who live in the house every day are the ones far more likely to get shot than any hypothetical intruder.

We offer another proposal, not so modest: Perhaps it’s time for those parents who refuse to lock up their guns to find themselves locked up instead.

The shooter at a high school in Oxford Township, Mich., on Nov. 30 was a 15-year-old sophomore, authorities said. He fired more than 30 rounds, randomly it seems, at students and teachers.

He not only had access to a loaded weapon but was allegedly abetted by his parents. Authorities say his father bought him the 9mm Sig Sauer SP2022 on Black Friday as a Christmas present. His mother took him target shooting, and after a teacher observed him searching for ammunition on his phone, the mother texted her child, “LOL, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” The parents kept the loaded pistol in an unlocked drawer in their bedroom.

Despite behavior at school so worrisome that school officials called the parents into a meeting, the parents refused to take their son home when asked to do so. A couple of hours later, authorities said he emerged from a bathroom and began firing.

“If the incident yesterday with four children being murdered and multiple kids being injured is not enough to revisit our gun laws, I don’t know what is,” Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said. She charged the shooter as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes.

Then the prosecutor took an extra step. She charged the shooter’s parents with involuntary manslaughter, because, she said, they should have known their son was a danger to the school. The parents, who fled to Detroit after the massacre, have pleaded not guilty. They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors are often reluctant to charge parents whose children commit mass murder, in part because the parents have a constitutional right to own a firearm. A growing number of states, including Texas, have Child Access Prevention laws that generally require gun owners to safely store guns and keep them out of the hands of minors. In Texas, a person can be held criminally liable, albeit for a Class C misdemeanor, if he or she doesn’t take reasonable steps to secure a firearm or leaves it loaded somewhere a child is likely to access it. The violation becomes a Class A misdemeanor, carrying up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine, if a child uses the gun to injure or kill someone, including himself.

McDonald, the Michigan prosecutor, said she had no choice but to charge the parents. “I am in no way saying that an active shooter situation should always result in a criminal prosecution against parents, but the facts of this case are so egregious,” she said.

“I’m angry as a mother. I’m angry as a prosecutor. I’m angry as a person that lives in this county. I’m angry,” she added. “There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent.”

Would that we all get angry at parents of children who live in homes with unsecured firearms.

Guns, just behind car crashes, are the second-leading cause of death for American children, according to the Giffords Law Center. Each year, more than 8,000 kids are killed or seriously injured by guns. An estimated 70 percent to 90 percent of guns used in youth suicides, unintentional shootings among children and by school shooters under age 18 are acquired from the homes of relatives or friends, according to the center.

Failing to secure weapons in the home also feeds an epidemic of gun thefts in this country. Stolen guns are likely to be diverted underground, a prime market for criminals.

Most gun owners we know, including members of the National Rifle Association, are hyper-careful about keeping guns in the home secure. They know the danger to their children and other family members. They also know that it’s surpassingly rare for an individual to need a weapon so quickly that a gun safe, lockbox, gun case, trigger lock or cable lock would put them in mortal danger. Far more dangerous, and likely, is an unintentional shooting or suicide.

James Densley and Jillian Peterson, professors of criminal justice writing recently in the Los Angeles Times, suggested that the Oxford Township school tragedy could be a catalyst for reviewing laws and filling in loopholes regarding safe gun storage. We would like to think so too, since many of the reforms that would make a difference are surpassingly simple.

For example, negligently leaving a loaded gun in the reach of a child who uses it to shoot himself or someone else should be a felony in this state, not just a misdemeanor.

As in Michigan, prosecutors should consider charging irresponsible gun owners under other statutes not directly related to gun storage. Texas also needs to get Child Protective Services involved much more quickly when law enforcement finds unsecured guns in the home.

According to the Giffords Law Center, only 13 states have any sort of safe storage requirements. Texas does not. Surely we can agree that we need such requirements.

In light of the continued proliferation of guns in this state — not to mention the rise of homemade “ghost guns” — and the lax oversight for which this state is notorious, we also encourage a more robust public information campaign for the Texas Department of Public Safety’s “Keep ’Em Safe Texas” initiative. It’s a program designed to inform gun owners about safe gun storage. House Bill 1 during the past legislative session provided $500,000 for the biennium to keep the program going.

What happened in Michigan is a reminder, yet again, that guns brought into the home to protect our children are actually killing them, as if Texans — after Santa Fe, after El Paso, after Sutherland Springs — needed a reminder. With those Michigan children uppermost in our minds, surely we can take modest steps to keep our own children safe. The Second Amendment shouldn’t protect outrageous irresponsibility and deadly negligence.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune on NCAA rules allowing college athletes to make money:

The rules that until recently governed what college athletes may and may not do to earn money seemed absurd on their face.

An Associated Press story out of West Virginia, for example, tells of a football player who made money on the side as a folksinger — but could not do so under his own name. His solution was to perform under a stage name, Lucky Bill. Presumably, he could have worked at a Starbucks under his true name, Will Ulmer.

The difference is that work as a barista could not have been construed as profiting from his own name, image or likeness. Before the rules were changed on July 1, any profit from said name, image or likeness belonged to others, not to him.

The new rules are a long-needed improvement. At last, college athletes will be able to profit from their own celebrity through endorsement deals or other business arrangements. A few will be able to make a lot of money; some, a modest amount, and most will get practically (or literally) nothing. But the new rules are a giant step toward equity — we might even say toward justice.

The NCAA had tried for years to keep student athletes from getting the compensation they deserved. The hope-filled young athletes were allowed scholarships and stipends that paid for tuition or living expenses, but that’s it. There was plenty of money being made — stadiums full of it — but it went to the broadcast networks, the coaches, the colleges, even to the NCAA itself. The athletes were hobbled by the official narrative that their motivation had nothing to do with money.

Of course, some of them were pursuing professional careers in their chosen sports, but that goal is an elusive dream for all but a tiny minority — 2%, according to the NCAA. For the other 98%, their fame at present is about all they’re going to get. If they are able to leverage their celebrity into a lucrative side hustle — or even a lasting career — it’s perverse to argue that they shouldn’t be allowed to do it.

An article in Sunday’s Star Tribune noted a few local success stories. Paige Bueckers, who honed her basketball skills at Hopkins High in Minnetonka, has signed an endorsement deal with StockX as a star player for the University of Connecticut. Olympic medalist and retiring University of Minnesota wrestler Gable Steveson has signed on to a pro career with the WWE. The rule change made it possible for him to engage in promoting WWE events and his own future status as one of its personalities.

On a more modest scale, Gopher basketball player Parker Fox has licensed his name for use on a local restaurant’s tater tots. He told the Star Tribune that, through various ventures, he’s made about $10,000 off his name since July. That amount may not be in the same league with Bueckers and Steveson, but it’s a solid paycheck for a college student. His comments suggest a realistic view of his prospects:

“One day the basketball is going to stop bouncing,” he said, “and I’ve got to have a little money in my bank account.” He is working on his master’s degree in sports management.

Meanwhile, Bueckers has suffered a leg fracture that will keep her off the court for as long as two months. Her injury is a reminder that college athletes (all athletes, really) subject their bodies to stresses and strains that may shorten their careers as competitors.

So if a line of athletic shoes or tater tots can help student athletes secure their future, we’re all for it. When they couldn’t — that was exploitation.

The Wall Street Journal on Pfizer breakthrough with antiviral pills:

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Tuesday hailed his company’s antiviral pill Paxlovid as a “game changer” after final trial data showed it reduced risk of hospitalization among high-risk groups by nearly 90%.

An antiviral pill that prevents serious illness, to be taken soon after people develop symptoms, has long been understood as a path to easing the pandemic. Alas, the National Institutes of Health and Biden Administration were slow to invest in oral treatments, which is one reason the pills have taken longer to develop than have vaccines and monoclonal antibodies.

Vaccines are enormously beneficial, but many people won’t get vaccinated. And as we’ve discovered, vaccine protection against infection wanes with time and against some Covid variants. This leaves older people and those with certain health conditions at higher risk for severe illness.

Monoclonal antibodies have been helpful, but they’re also susceptible to mutations. German researchers said Tuesday that Eli Lilly and Regeneron monoclonals lost most of their effectiveness in lab tests against Covid’s Omicron variant. Monoclonals have also been rationed because they’re difficult to produce. Administered by infusion, they occupy scarce healthcare staff when needed to treat hospitalized patients during Covid surges.

Enter Paxlovid, which was found to reduce hospitalization or death by 88% in high-risk groups when taken within five days of symptom onset. The antiviral inhibits the machinery the virus uses to replicate so it’s less likely to be dodged by new variants. Pfizer says the drug blocked Omicron in lab tests.

Once the FDA approves Paxlovid, Americans who test positive for Covid could request that their doctor prescribe Paxlovid like Tamiflu when they get the flu. About 1,300 Americans a day are currently dying of Covid, so making Paxlovid widely available could save tens of thousands of lives this winter.

The Biden Administration last month ordered 10 million courses at a cost of $5.3 billion. While the pills are relatively inexpensive to produce, their cost of $530 per treatment rewards Pfizer’s innovation and is a pittance given their apparent effectiveness. Pfizer has signed a voluntary licensing agreement with the United Nations-backed nonprofit Medicines Patent Pool for distribution around the world.

Pfizer has submitted data for emergency use authorization, and the FDA has every reason to approve it as quickly as possible. Individuals who received the drug showed no worse side effects than those who got the placebo, so there don’t appear to be safety concerns.

As manufacturing and supply ramp up, the government may recommend that Paxlovid be prescribed only for those at higher Covid risk. But Pfizer’s preliminary trial data showed that younger, healthy people who got the pill experienced a 70% decline in hospitalization. They would benefit from broader authorization.

Pfizer’s study also showed a 10-fold reduction in viral load, which suggests it could substantially reduce transmission. Once Paxlovid becomes widely available, government travel restrictions and mandates will be even more unnecessary. Perhaps even President Biden will then thank Pfizer.

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