Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The San Francisco Chronicle on a photo showing the death of a migrant and his daughter who were headed to the U.S. southern border:
Sometimes a photograph captures the inhumanity of the world in a way that words never could. Such was the case this week with the searing shot of Óscar Alberto Martinez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valerie, face down in the muddy Rio Grande, after they had drowned in their determined quest for refuge in the United States.
The photo by Julia Le Duc, first published in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada then distributed around the globe by the Associated Press, was haunting in its detail. The toddler’s right arm was curled around his neck. His black T-shirt was wrapped around her to hold her close as they crossed the river.
It was the most universal of human interactions: parent protecting child against danger, and child clinging to her ultimate source of safety. For the child’s mother, who watched her loved ones swept away in the current, it was the most unthinkable of horrors.
It should tug at the conscience of all Americans.
The Salvadoran family had wanted to seek asylum the safe way — the legal way, as prescribed in U.S. and international law — by presenting themselves at the port of entry. The international bridge at Matamoros, Mexico, was closed that day. So they took a risk, as so many desperate refugees do, too often with tragic results.
That heartbreaking sight puts in perspective the U.S. customs policy of “metering” — severely reducing the number of migrants who can request asylum on any given day — and the Trump administration’s expressed intent to discourage people fleeing crime and poverty for a better life by complicating their options for legal entry. The 25-year-old Martinez had struggled to support his family on $350 a month working at a Papa John’s in El Salvador.
“They went for the American dream,” his mother said.
This is not the first time a photo of a child has commanded the world’s attention on crisis: there was the lifeless 3-year-old Syrian boy on the beach after the sinking of a refugee boat in 2015; the blood-and-dust-covered Syrian 5-year-old pulled from a building bombed by the Russians the same year; the starving Sudanese girl being eyed by a vulture in 1993.
This one is on us. We can’t look the other way. We must challenge the policies that led them to the river.
The Los Angeles Times on a Trump Administration effort to help patients know their health care costs before receiving treatment:
The Trump administration continued to nibble away Monday at the problem of high healthcare costs, unveiling a set of proposals to bring more transparency to the industry’s byzantine pricing practices. But like just about everything else the administration has done on healthcare affordability, the proposal would strike at best a glancing blow to rising costs. And paradoxically, it could wind up raising prices for some patients.
It’s hard to argue with the idea that people should know how much their care will cost before they receive it, not after. The White House proposal would address that directly, administration officials said, by requiring insurers and healthcare providers to tell patients in advance what their out-of-pocket costs would be.
The initiative’s main effort to hold down healthcare costs, though, would be to require hospitals to clearly and publicly disclose how much people actually pay for services there. In theory, people seeking non-urgent care — a knee replacement, say — could use the information to shop around for the most affordable hospital, promoting the kind of competition that drives down prices in normal markets.
It’s not at all clear how helpful the information will be, however, in part because the proposal doesn’t specify how much detail hospitals would have to release about their prices. The less detailed the hospitals’ price lists are, the less help they give consumers to shop around. But the more detailed they are about the prices negotiated with insurers, the greater the risk that hospitals will discover when they’re charging less than their competitors and raise their prices accordingly.
Beyond that, Americans pay a relatively small percentage of their healthcare costs out of pocket, even with steadily increasing deductibles. They typically depend on their doctors to tell them exactly what care they need. What’s more, if they’re seriously injured or ill, they may be in no position to look around for care. And in many communities, there aren’t enough hospitals or physician groups to support real competition. All of these factors shield the healthcare industry from the sort of consumer pressure and market forces that the Trump administration wants to unleash.
Making a major dent in healthcare costs would require the administration to take a much bigger swing at the way healthcare is delivered and paid for in the United States. Why do we spend so much more than the residents of other countries do, even though the care doesn’t yield consistently better outcomes? It’s not because prices are hidden. The president’s proposal may prove helpful, but only on the margins.
The New York Times on the U.S. Supreme Court taking up a lawsuit about copyright and the law:
No one owns the law, because the law belongs to everyone. It’s a principle that seems so obvious that most people wouldn’t give it a second thought. But that’s what is at issue in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, a case about whether the State of Georgia can assert copyright in its annotated state code. This week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in its next term.
Americans deserve free and easy access to public records of all kinds, including court documents. But access to the law is the most important of all: Democracy depends on it. Keeping the law free of copyright is the first step.
Yet the law is in disarray on the topic. The last time the Supreme Court ruled on the issue was in 1888, and it only addressed opinions written by judges. In the last century, a number of lower courts issued lofty proclamations on how the law belongs to the people and the people alone. Meanwhile, copyright laws passed in 1909 and 1976 explicitly excluded any “work of the United States government.” But that exclusion applies only to the federal government.
So when the non-profit organization Public.Resource.Org purchased, scanned and uploaded all 186 volumes of the annotated Georgia state code to its website, the state sued to take it down. The code was already available free online through the state’s partnership with LexisNexis. As part of the deal, Georgia gave LexisNexis exclusive rights to official “annotations” that elaborate on the law but aren’t legally binding. LexisNexis allowed users to read the law free and it sold the annotated code for $404 per copy.
Public.Resource.Org is no stranger to litigation. For years, it has been embroiled in lawsuits over its publication of fire and electrical safety standards, air duct leakage standards, non-profit tax returns and European Union baby pacifier regulations. The founder of Public.Resource.Org was once labeled a “rogue archivist.” But if publishing building safety standards online is an act of roguery, it is time for the courts to take a hard look at what copyright is for.
Much of the litigation against Public.Resource.Org falls into an ever-expanding gray zone of the law, created by government outsourcing bits and pieces of its regulatory function to the private sector. Regulations for everything from student loan eligibility to food additives can use standards written by trade groups.
Courts have issued conflicting opinions on this premium tier of the law. In the Georgia case, an appeals court ruled that the annotations were “sufficiently law-like,” partly because LexisNexis had created the annotations at the direction of the state. As a consequence, “the people are the ultimate authors of the annotations.”
If the law is confused, it is in part thanks to the Supreme Court, which handed down two rulings on the subject in 1888. One stated that the law is in the public domain, and the other said that compiling the law with a table of contents, summaries and an index could be copyrightable. It’s this latter case that the State of Georgia relies on.
The modern-day outsourcing of regulations to the private sector makes this issue all the more important to take up anew. If the law belongs to anyone, it belongs to the people. After a hundred or so years of confusion, the Supreme Court now has the chance to affirm this principle of self-governance.
China Daily on how FedEx found itself in the middle of tensions between the U.S. and Huawei:
As the world’s largest express transportation company, FedEx claims that it holds itself to a very high standard of service. But its track record over the past month in relation to serving Chinese telecom giant Huawei would suggest not.
Last month, because of what it claimed was “inadvertent misrouting,” FedEx delivered Huawei parcels to the wrong address, amid escalating trade frictions between China and the United States, sparking a regulatory investigation by the Chinese government “on suspicion of undermining the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese clients”.
FedEx has again found itself caught in the vortex of controversy over the weekend — this time when it returned a US-bound package containing a Huawei smartphone, a P30 Pro, to the shipper at PCMag’s United Kingdom office, who called it “totally ridiculous”.
FedEx on Sunday blamed “operational error” for the shipping snafu. But that has failed to restore the confidence of Chinese customers in the service it provides. Huawei already said it was reviewing its relationship with FedEx soon after the mishandling of its packages last month.
Business credibility once lost is hard to regain.
Yes, Huawei is undergoing a critical moment after the US administration put it on a blacklist over national security concerns, basically cutting it off from all US technologies and hardware. But that does not in any sense constitute any legal reason for FedEx not to serve Huawei properly. This is all about the spirit of contract, which any business has to rely on if it wants to succeed.
Even FedEx admits that despite the Sino-US trade fight, it can “accept and transport all Huawei products except for any shipments to listed Huawei entities on the US Entity List”; not to mention a 90-day grace period that has been granted by Washington.
FedEx likes to say that it has played a due part in China’s rise ever since it entered the Chinese market in 1984, and it values its business here and its relationship with Huawei and other Chinese customers. And given the huge market potential that China provides that is no doubt true — “no markets will be able to absorb more than a fraction of what China produces”, as a top FedEx manager once said.
Before the results of the official investigation come out, we tend to believe the recent incidents related to Huawei may be just an example of lapse in management, or even extreme risk avoidance by individual employees, rather than the company risking its business future by playing the role of a willing pawn for some politicians. But the company must take action to make sure similar mistakes do not happen again.
As the saying ought to go in this instance, cheat me once, shame on me. Cheat me twice, shame on you.
The Wall Street Journal on how Obama Administration actions have affected the Federal Housing Administration:
In case you missed it, Quicken Loans this month agreed to pay a token $32 million to settle a dubious housing lawsuit initiated by the Obama Justice Department. The real scandal is how the Obama Administration extracted billions from mortgage lenders for sloppy underwriting on government-insured loans while loosening loan standards and setting up taxpayers for losses.
In 2015 the Justice Department sued Quicken under the False Claims Act for originating government-insured loans that allegedly didn’t comply with Federal Housing Administration standards. Justice cherry-picked about 100 of the 250,000 or so FHA-insured mortgages that Quicken made between 2007 and 2011 that ostensibly overstated borrowers’ income, among other underwriting lapses.
Yet the FHA has made more in fees and premiums on Quicken mortgages than it paid out, so the government wasn’t harmed. Quicken also has among the lowest default rates of all large FHA lenders. A mere 0.66% of its FHA-insured loans are seriously delinquent compared to the U.S. average of 1.43%.
Banks forked over more than $7 billion when Justice passed the offertory plate, but Quicken fought back. Federal Judge Mark Goldsmith this spring ordered the two parties to mediation after significantly narrowing Justice’s claims. Although Quicken founder Dan Gilbert had said he wouldn’t settle, the $32 million is less than 0.03% of the $108 billion in FHA loans it has made since 2007 and is a small price for avoiding a trial.
Meantime, the lawsuits have crimped the FHA’s business. JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon noted in 2017 that False Claims Act litigation “made FHA lending risky and cost prohibitive for many banks” and “led us to scale back our participation in the FHA lending program in favour of less burdensome lending programs.”
Nineteen of the 20 top FHA lenders are now non-banks. While more lending has moved online, banks may be better situated to make loans in low-income communities where they have branches. Banks also have more credit and income data on customers that can enable them to do better underwriting.
FHA insures mortgages with down payments as low as 3.5% on loans up to $727,000. The government insurer is supposed to make it easier for low-income folks to purchase a home, and its underwriting standards are lower than private insurers. But to bring in more business, the Obama Administration eased underwriting standards even more.
In 2016 the FHA rescinded a rule requiring manual underwriting for borrowers with credit scores below 620 and a debt-to-income ratio exceeding 43%. Non-bank lenders have since been making more and more FHA-insured loans to low-income customers for more and more expensive homes. What could go wrong?
A quarter of FHA-insured borrowers have payments that exceed half of their income — more than at the peak of the housing bubble. The average borrower credit score has declined to 670, the lowest since 2008. Santa Ana, California last week announced $80,000 in down-payment assistance for first-time buyers.
Defaults have been declining, but that’s because wages are rising while home prices have increased about 5% to 6% on average for the last five years. If the economy and home prices take a turn for the worse, FHA’s 2.8% capital cushion might not cover losses and taxpayers could wind up as the backstop. Count this as another way Team Obama’s policies continue to do economic damage.
The Orange County Register on the impact of restricting Americans’ travel to Cuba:
Our continent-spanning country is large — and we contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman had it.
Since we are so big, we sometimes fall into the habit of thinking we are all that there is. The reality is we are just a part of the world, and we are a better people making better decisions when we remember that.
So when thinking about our relations with neighbours, it’s well to remember that our longtime unilateral foreign policy toward Cuba is literally just that. Citizens of over 160 other nations around the world can travel to the island anytime they wish to, smoke Cuban cigars, drink Cuban rum. It is only we citizens of the United States who can’t readily do those things. Yet what has that policy done toward effecting reform ever since the awful Communist revolution pushed out the awful American-backed dictatorship 60 years ago?
Five years ago, recognizing mere reality and hoping for some leverage on human and economic rights for Cubans, the Obama administration began lifting the travel ban for Americans and adjusting trade policies. Though Cuban aid and comfort to the despicable Venezuelan regime is wrong, saying so has made no difference. The European Union agrees with us about the need for reform, noting Cuba’s “continuing flagrant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” But if a German wants to go sit on a Cuban beach, she can.
The Trump administration this month took a backward step when it restricted even group educational and cultural trips to the island. It also forbade cruise-ship trips there by Americans — after 142,721 Americans went to Cuba on ?cruises just this year, through April. The policy change, billed by the administration as aimed at stopping Cuban support for American adversaries in the Western Hemisphere, will instead just serve as political window-dressing. It’s a reactionary lurch in reverse that will surely be nixed by a future administration. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of curious Americans, goodwill ambassadors for our culture, will be needlessly prevented from visiting our neighbours.
Free trade and discussion have and will continue to achieve more than sanctions and restricting the liberty of American travellers.
The Associated Press