Rash by rash and fever by fever, measles continues to spread. Health officials in Chicago are watching the case count tick upward. Nationally, measles has reached its highest level in two decades.
We know who’s primarily to blame: misinformed parents who harbor a needless and irresponsible fear of vaccines. Anti-vax parents imperil their own children and others by refusing vaccinations that repeatedly have been proved safe, leaving gaps in the protective circle that stops the spread of the virus. Amid alarming outbreaks and warnings that measles can be fatal in a small number of cases, medical professionals and authorities are taking the right step: Pushing harder to bring resistors into line for the greater good.
Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, but more than 450 cases have been reported in the country this year. Just seven of those are in Illinois, which has a high vaccination rate, providing the state with what’s known as herd immunity. At least one case has now reached Cook County: an infected person roamed the North Shore and Chicago a few weeks ago.
In an unusual move in the Chicago area, NorthShore University HealthSystem, Advocate Aurora Health and Lurie Children’s Hospital plan to give parents an extra push, sending letters warning of the risks to children who aren’t vaccinated against measles. It’s a worthy nudge, but this may not be all it takes to tighten compliance sufficiently. New York tried educational efforts like distributing informational flyers. It banned unvaccinated children from attending school. Measles cases continued to rise.
Now, Mayor Bill de Blasio, grappling with a significant outbreak in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, has escalated the city’s actions, The New York Times reports. He declared a public health emergency and ordered residents of part of Brooklyn to be immunized or face potential fines of $1,000. The city is providing free vaccines to help remove barriers of cost or access.
There is still plenty of conspiracy-fueling, anti-science rhetoric from high places.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said he forced his children to contract chicken pox by exposing them to a sick neighbor as kids. In other words, he made them miserable and risked complications including later susceptibility to shingles, instead of providing them with a safe, effective vaccine. Doctors strongly discourage this type of deliberate exposure, despite such festive names as “chickenpox parties.”
Measles is resurgent, which is unfortunate. Worse, its return was avoidable.
Parents, the best response is to make sure your children are vaccinated, and spread the word to others. Medical professionals have a role to play. The next step in Illinois could come from health officials to tighten vaccination requirements. The well-being of children is at stake.
(April 9) Los Angeles Times: On the departure of Kirstjen Nielsen.
The announcement that Kirstjen Nielsen was stepping down as Secretary of Homeland Security was sudden, but it wasn’t really a surprise. Never a favorite of President Trump, her days became numbered when her patr on in the administration, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, resigned in December. Nielsen’s biggest fault in the eyes of the president and those who surround him was that she failed to stop the steady stream of migrants from moving northward from Central America. Nothing, it seems, perturbs the president more than desperate people seeking sanctuary in the United States.
Her departure should be welcomed. Nielsen oversaw the draconian separation of thousands of migrant children from their families in a nasty and unsuccessful effort to deter others who might seek asylum. That was a policy so vile and destructive that even Trump, who has no shame, was eventually shamed into ending it.
In general, there were few significant public differences between Nielsen and Trump on immigration enforcement, the part of Homeland Security that matters the most to the president. For instance, Nielsen oversaw the president’s program forcing asylum seekers to wait out the lengthy process in Mexico — a policy struck down by a federal judge on Monday because the administration failed to follow federal law in crafting the new policy.
Yet the president held Nielsen responsible for the abject failures of his self-defeating policies, which have done little to address the reasons behind the increase in asylum applications from families fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The rising number of asylum seekers is a complex problem, to be sure, and its predecessor issue — the arrival at the border of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors, beginning in 2014 — vexed the Obama administration. But Trump, who has ranted for years about immigration enforcement, has found no workable solutions either, beyond trying to stop people from exercising their legal right to seek asylum.
Nielsen’s resignation also is part of a sweeping purge of top leaders in the agencies charged with enforcing immigration laws that, according to reports out of Washington, has been orchestrated by top White House advisor Stephen Miller. Among the most anti-immigrant voices in Trump’s ear, Miller has recently assumed more responsibility over immigration policy and homeland security. Late last week Trump withdrew the nomination of Ronald D. Vitiello as director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying he wanted to go in an unspecified “tougher” direction. One hint as to what that might be: NBC News reports that Trump wants to renew family separations as “the most effective policy at deterring large numbers of asylum seekers,” a move Nielsen reportedly resisted. Yet Vitiello, a career border patrol agent, also faced significant opposition from the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, the union for some 7,000 ICE agents, which was an early and active supporter of Trump’s campaign.
The head of the Secret Service, Randolph Alles, who reported to Nielsen, also is heading for the door as part of a “near-systematic purge,” as one administration official put it.
These personnel moves are likely to add even more instability and uncertainty to the nation’s immigration enforcement apparatus. Trump on Sunday named Kevin McAleenan, head of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection division, to be acting DHS secretary, which means that his current job will likely have to be done by another fill-in appointment. To sum up: Trump now has acting top executives in charge of Homeland Security and two of its top immigration-enforcement arms — ICE (mostly handling enforcement in the nation’s interior) and Customs and Border Patrol (which handles enforcement at the border). And there are reports that the head of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, Lee Francis Cissna, may also be targeted by Miller. This is government by chaos.
Meanwhile, the migrants continue to arrive, as many as 100,000 in March, according to the government’s numbers. Trump’s detention policies and his failure to sufficiently expand the immigration court system to handle the increased demand are yet more evidence that neither the president nor his top appointees know how to run a government. The president should work with Congress to finally adopt comprehensive immigration reform, craft informed policies to help stabilize the countries the migrants are fleeing, assess current asylum laws to see if they need changes, and prompt an overdue discussion of what the shape of future immigration should be. Instead, Trump throws a tantrum.
(April 10) The Washington Post on New Zealand’s gun control compared to the U.S.:
FIFTY VICTIMS. Twenty-six days. That — along with common-sense leadership from government officials — is what it took for New Zealand to pass a law that bans most semiautomatic weapons in the country. The contrast with the United States is both inescapable and striking. Despite the loss of far more lives in far more mass shootings — more than 2,000 mass shootings since the slaughter of elementary school children in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 — Congress has refused to make any significant change in federal gun law, including needed reimposition of the ban on the assault rifles that are often the weapon of choice of mass murderers.
“I can recall very vividly the moment I knew that we would need to be here, doing what we are doing right now,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Wednesday as Parliament voted to outlaw military-style semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles. Attacks on two mosques in Christchurch by a white nationalist on March 15 had killed 50 people and, she said, “I could not fathom how weapons that could cause such destruction and large-scale death could have been obtained legally in this country.” She put a temporary ban in place just days after the terrorist killings. Legislation to make the ban permanent and authorize a buy-back of the banned weapons moved swiftly through Parliament, passing with the support of all but one of the 120 lawmakers.
New Zealand’s form of government makes it easier for the ruling party to pass legislation. There also is no constitutional right to own guns as exists in the United States with the Second Amendment. But the most significant difference between the two countries — even as the vast majority of Americans favor sensible gun laws — is the outsize and malign influence of the National Rifle Association.
There have been some encouraging signs that the gun lobby’s control over lawmakers may be waning in the face of growing effectiveness of grass-roots movements for gun safety. Hopefully the resolve shown by New Zealand will serve as a model. It is notable, for example, that the government there consulted with the country’s hunting and rural communities about the impact of an assault weapon ban and the general consensus was that military-style weapons were not really necessary. Indeed, even before the ban was enacted, some gun owners surrendered their semiautomatic weapons. Tweeted one farmer: “Until today I was one of the New Zealanders who owned a semi-automatic rifle. On the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country.”
(April 10) The New York Post on Benjamin Netanyahu winning a fifth term as president:
In winning a record fifth term Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scored a uniquely personal triumph.
With corruption scandals and a likely indictment dogging him, Netanyahu waged an intense campaign blitz that overwhelmed his opponents by stressing a hard-line national security policy.
Though Netanyahu’s Likud party ran about even with its chief opposition, a centrist faction led by three former army chiefs of staff, it won more seats in the Knesset than it has ever held under his leadership.
More important, smaller right-wing and religious parties won enough seats to allow him to form a coalition with a comfortable majority.
Even voters who’d grown tired or leery of Netanyahu opted to give him yet another term, rather than trust an opponent untested in political office.
With peace and security dominating the race, Netanyahu had a formidable record on which to run: isolation of the Palestinian Authority, containment of the Hamas threat in Gaza and growing alliances, once unthinkable, with Arab states.
He also had a powerful and none-too-subtle ally in President Trump, who has taken great pains to strengthen the US-Israeli relationship that had become frayed under President Barack Obama.
On Bibi’s watch, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there, withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran, endorsed Israeli control of the Golan Heights and officially designated Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group.
All that no doubt weighed heavily with Israeli voters as Netanyahu took great pains himself to stress the close personal bond he has formed with the president.
And Trump was quick to declare that his upcoming Middle East peace plan has “a better chance now that Bibi has won.” We’ll see — Netanyahu sure owes Trump big-time.
He may yet find himself overwhelmed by ongoing legal troubles, but, for now, Netanyahu has won the mandate he was seeking.
(April 10) The New York Times on legislation prohibiting the IRS from making a free online system for tax filing:
Congress has landed on one of those rare ideas that commands support from both Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, it’s a bad one.
On Tuesday, the House approved legislation misleadingly titled the Taxpayer First Act that includes a provision prohibiting the Internal Revenue Service from developing a free online system that most American households could use to file their taxes. The Senate is considering a similar piece of bipartisan legislation.
This makes no sense. Congress should be making it easier for Americans to file their taxes. Instead of barring the I.R.S. from making April a little less miserable, why isn’t Congress requiring the I.R.S. to create a free tax filing website?
Better yet, the United States could emulate the roughly three dozen countries, including Chile, Japan and Britain, where most taxpayers do not need to fill out tax returns. In some of those countries, the accuracy of tax withholding is sufficient to obviate the annual filing process. In others, the government sends out completed forms to most taxpayers. In Estonia, filing taxes can be done in less than three minutes.
The federal government collects enough information about most American households to mail out a completed tax form that people would simply need to verify, sign and return. President Ronald Reagan proposed a version of just such a system. In 1998, Congress passed a law instructing the I.R.S. to develop such a system by 2008. President Barack Obama endorsed the concept during the 2008 presidential campaign. It still hasn’t happened.
The explanation is sad but not surprising. The most vocal opponent of simplicity is Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, which has spent millions of dollars lobbying against efforts to reduce demand for its services. The company draws support from conservatives worried that making it easier to file taxes would make it easier to raise taxes.
Intuit and its allies, including proponents of the legislation, say that it’s cheaper and better for the government to let private companies run the system. But companies have little incentive to advertise the availability of free filing or to make the system easy to use. Indeed, they have every reason to steer people away from the free products. That is how they make money.
As a result, the government is saving taxpayer money at the expense of those taxpayers.
Members of Congress pay lip service to ideas like filing taxes on a postcard, but they continue to perpetuate the current system of mass April immiseration by preventing the most obvious and effective way to simplify tax collection.
(April 10) The Charlotte Observer of North Carolina on robocalls:
You know the game by now: A call comes into your mobile phone. A number pops up on your screen. You don’t recognize it. Your first instinct is to decline it, but what if it’s your child’s school? The auto repair guy? Something else? It’s a guessing game, and we’re the losers, again and again each day.
U.S. mobile phone users received 48 billion robocalls last year, and it’s getting worse. Companies, some of them overseas, are using auto-dialing programs that encode Caller ID information so that the call looks like it’s from a local number — sometimes even numbers that look like your employer. That’s why we’re answering calls from computers and sending humans to voicemail. We’re cussing at our phones instead of talking on them. It’s annoying, and it violates laws that are supposed to protect Americans from spamming and scamming.
But there is, potentially, a flickering of relief to the robocall madness.
Lawmakers from state capitals to Washington are moving to slow the firehose of robocalls, and on Thursday, a U.S. Senate committee will hold a hearing on what it calls “The Scourge” of phone spam. It’s a bit of a show hearing — a chance for lawmakers to grill a telecom representative and signal that they understand their constituents’ misery. But the hearing is backed up with some legislation — the TRACED Act — which would push telecoms to improve their technology so that consumers can more easily identify scammers who wish to steal personal information. All four major carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — have said they’ll adopt the strategy, but critics think they need the 18-month deadline the TRACED Act would mandate.
The bill also makes it easier for the FCC to more quickly slap robocallers with significant fines, and it nudges the agency to be more aggressive with phone companies. The FCC has been ratcheting up its requests for telecoms to adopt more robust robocall technology, but it has been slow to actually require action.
Meanwhile, states are taking steps of their own, including Virginia, which passed a law cracking down on companies that call residents who are on the National Do Not Call Registry or have stated previously they don’t want to be solicited by that company. Little, however, has been done recently in North Carolina beyond Attorney General Josh Stein joining 34 attorneys general in a letter urging the feds to do something about robocalls.
… Congress and the U.S. government should pursue newer and tougher action. It won’t end the calls coming in to our mobile phones, but it could help us identify more quickly who’s on the other end….
(April 10) China Daily on where the U.S. stands amid China and European Union relations:
China and the European Union reaffirmed their shared commitment to further cementing their partnership and safeguarding free trade and multilateralism in a joint statement released on Tuesday at the conclusion of the China-EU Summit in Brussels, which Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended.
As two stabilizing forces in the world, their renewed commitment to uphold multilateralism and the fundamental norms governing international relations, and shared resolve to work together for improved global governance will be widely welcomed.
In a Pavlovian response to the meeting, Washington showed why that is the case, with a threat to impose tariffs on billions of EU imports, ostensibly because of subsidies to Airbus.
While Boeing has flown into trouble with its 737 MAX — for which it has received zero orders since all the operational planes were grounded for safety reasons — and will welcome such government pressure on its rival, the timing of the threat has raised eyebrows.
Such moves have become a hallmark of the current U.S. administration, which like Goldilocks wants everything just right and is willing to eat everyone else’s meal so long as it gets what it wants.
China has always advocated for a win-win situation in its trade relations with other countries, and staunchly opposes a winner-take-all approach when handling disputes, a position that the European Union has also taken.
Likewise, they stressed they want to work together to uphold peace and stability and address global challenges. Thus they reaffirmed their commitment to the Iran nuclear deal, a key element of the global nonproliferation architecture, and the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, both of which the United States has withdrawn from, believing they do not serve its interests, even though that was never their exclusive purpose.
And unlike the U.S. which it seems does not want to see any tangible outcome in the negotiations between China and the ASEAN countries on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, the EU welcomes the talks and hopes they will produce an effective conclusion.
By affirming that they will pursue policies that support an open, balanced, and inclusive global economy and multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization at its core and better global governance under the United Nations framework, the joint statement showed that China and the EU have a fruitful partnership and recognize their responsibility to lead by example and oppose the damaging tendencies of unilateralism and protectionism.
That stance may not find favor in the U.S. capital, but in most other places around the world it will.