Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


April 11

The Chicago Tribune on United Airlines' treatment of passengers:

With much of the world " thanks to social media " appalled at United Airlines for having a passenger dragged off a Chicago-to-Louisville, Ky. flight, we're reminded of the story of how an airline put one of its customers first:

Kerry Drake was flying from San Francisco to Lubbock, Texas, to visit his dying mother. The flight was delayed and he risked missing his connection " the last of the night. Drake sobbed in his seat, distraught at the thought of not seeing his mother one last time. Flight attendants noticed, consoled him and notified the pilot, who radioed ahead. When the plane landed, a gate agent was poised: "Mr. Drake, we've been expecting you." Airline employees held the connecting flight, despite the imperative to operate on-time, and Drake got to his mother's bedside in time.

That well-documented event happened in 2013, and the airline was ... United.

So in extraordinary circumstances, employees of any airline can rise to the occasion, treating passengers with respect and kindness, not as chattel. The difference is individual initiative. Whatever motivated United personnel to show compassion to Drake was fully lacking Sunday at O'Hare International Airport, where employees thought only of the need to bump four passengers at random to make room for crew members who needed to get to Louisville. When one man refused to give up his seat, he was told, in effect, "get out or else," and then was roughed up and hauled away by Chicago aviation officers. It was an unconscionable act of violence in "the friendly skies" " captured on smartphones.

If only United's employees had made a different decision: to offer more than $800 or $1,000 (accounts vary) in compensation, which passengers didn't think was enough. Or tell the four employees to drive south. Or get creative and offer four passengers a fancy limo ride to Louisville, plus tickets to "Hamilton." Anything! (Besides having one passenger beaten up, that is.)

Because employees under pressure risk making terrible decisions that alienate customers, companies prioritize customer service and invest heavily in training. Many fail at the job. Everyone is attuned to the difference between good and bad customer service. The best companies work hard at teaching workers to be positive and thoughtful problem-solvers " to the point that good service becomes part of the culture. When Starbucks in 2008 was going through a period of sloppiness, CEO Howard Schultz shut down his coffee shops for three hours of training, then rebooted with a splashy promise that every barista would make every drink perfect or "make it right."

We checked in with a recently trained Starbucks barista who said pleasing customers can be challenging. Some are grumpy, some are confused. But when a customer asks for a nonfat latte and then complains because it's not an iced cappuccino, a properly trained barista doesn't scold the customer for misordering. "You say, 'I'm so sorry I made your drink wrong. Let me remake it for you.'"

United, by contrast, seemed lost after its disastrous blunder. CEO Oscar Munoz bungled several apologies, making United an international target of scorn, before he finally sounded the right note of contrition Tuesday, declaring, "No one should ever be mistreated this way."

This will not be an easy fix. United's customer problems run deep, back at least a decade to its stint in bankruptcy court. Then came struggles integrating Continental Airlines after the 2010 merger with United. When Munoz was new on the job in 2015, he visited the Tribune Editorial Board and acknowledged that flights were arriving late, employees felt beaten down and customers were seething.

Munoz vowed to do better by everyone, and we believed him. Now he's running out of chances with the flying public. Something went terribly wrong for United at O'Hare, and in management's subsequent attempts at damage control when the situation called for contrition.

This will go down in business history as one of the worst-ever customer service experiences. To retrain employees and appease angry customers, Munoz may have to do something as dramatic as the Starbucks shutdown-and-reboot. There are plenty of airlines out there. United has given many flyers an incentive to try them.




April 9

The Telegraph on what Syria means for the British-American alliance:

The West is finally cobbling together a policy for dealing with Bashar al-Assad. The decision not to support the Syrian resistance in 2013 allowed Russia to fill the void, prop up the regime and nudge it towards victory. But the alleged use of chemical weapons last week demanded a reaction. Would America permit Assad, yet again, to cross a humanitarian red line? The President, Donald Trump, decided not: Tomahawk missiles struck the dictator's air base.

The question is, having established an objection to Assad, what will the West do about him? Predictably, it is the old alliance of Britain and America that leads the search for answers. It is a watershed moment that could define the foreign policies of both governments.

Assad poses Mr Trump a choice between the two sides of the Republican aviary: hawks and doves. The doves supported him enthusiastically during the election, but in evolving from a candidate to a president, Mr Trump has doubtless learnt that US power is not something that can be walked away from. Inaction against Assad would mean tolerance of a war crime and a strategic win for Russia, which would also mean the diminishment of US authority. Mr Trump chose action. He suddenly looks decisive and tough. But once he chose to get involved in Syria, he committed himself to forming a coherent policy towards Assad - and that is a serious, risky challenge.

If America concludes that Assad has to go, it is recycling an old truth. Assuming Assad wins the civil war, he will not govern the country so much as occupy it. So long as he is in power, there will probably never be peace or democracy. However, if America says that he must stand down after victory, who will Mr Trump recommend to replace him? The opposition contains several fanatical groups: putting any one of them in charge of Syria could be swapping a lesser evil for a greater one. That is why many Westerners said they could not, in good conscience, support the opposition to Assad in 2013. They were worried that religious fundamentalists would take his place. Finally, if America does demand that Assad goes and he stays regardless, will this represent a victory for Vladimir Putin?

Into this dilemma steps Britain. Theresa May's attention has been focused on Brexit: most of her global diplomacy has been about teeing up trade deals. Now we can report that Syria is firmly on the Government's radar. Boris Johnson and Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, both had visits to Russia scheduled. Mr Johnson wisely decided to cancel his and will instead work the phones in an attempt to build a consensus among the G7 that can be presented to the Russians as the policy of a united Western front. The goal appears to be to persuade Russia to step back from its Syrian client.

The tag-team effort of Mr Johnson and Mr Tillerson is a step in the right direction. Back in 2013, the West only reacted to events and, when the window for action opened, it backed away. Better that this time the West agrees on a general course of action so that the world will know where it stands.

Put into this context, the missile strike last Friday will not be dismissed as an emotional reaction to an outrage but treated as a genuine red line: a statement that the West might not be able or willing to pick a winner in the civil war, but it still has a sense of principle about the conduct of modern conflict. Some horrors are simply unacceptable.

It is also good that Britain's role in the Trump era is becoming more clearly defined. Some sneered at Mrs May's visit to Mr Trump back in January. But it was not just about shoring up Britain after Brexit, or paying homage to Caesar. It reaffirmed a critical partnership between two powers, displayed in the close work of Mr Tillerson and Mr Johnson. The Americans bring overwhelming military force to the table, Britain brings experience and diplomatic clout - as well as significant military capabilities of its own. And so the Atlantic alliance goes back to work, now facing one of the hardest tasks in its history.




April 6

The Dallas Morning News on the opioid crisis and doctors' responsibility:

President Donald Trump held a "listening session" about opioids and drug abuse at the White House last week. The gathering included former addicts, parents of children who had overdosed, top federal officials and others. Trump vowed to make drug treatment more widely available " a worthwhile goal with bipartisan appeal. He also spoke of strengthening law enforcement and dismantling drug cartels.

But there is a cheaper, low-risk tactic for curbing some opioid misuse that was neglected: changing doctors' prescribing habits and better educating patients. A recent study found that for every 48 patients who receive an opioid prescription in the emergency room, one will likely become a long-term user. A more cautious approach to prescribing could save lives.

Across the United States, health care professionals wrote 249 million prescriptions for opioid pain medicines in 2013. In 2015, about 22,000 Americans died after overdosing on some form of opioid drug, legal or illicit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those deaths, 15,000 were attributed to prescription opioid overdoses. In fiscal 2015, Texas pharmacies dispensed almost 7 million prescriptions for the opioid painkillers hydrocodone or oxycodone alone.

There is no medical explanation for the rise in opioid use. Sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, even though Americans don't report having more pain now. Prescribing rates vary widely among states, even though health conditions don't. Even among doctors working in the same emergency room, some prescribe opioids much more frequently than others.

The federal government " along with some states and professional associations " has produced extensive prescribing guidelines. Opioid medications are not the preferred option for managing chronic pain; doctors and patients should try other approaches first and carefully weigh risks before starting prescription opioids. For acute pain, such as after surgery, doctors should prescribe the lowest possible dose of opioid for the shortest duration. Prescribers must be especially careful with older adults because opioid painkillers can put seniors at higher risks of falls and fractures.

Pharmacists and patients have an important role. In Texas, lawmakers are considering a bill, SB 316, which tightens the state's prescription drug monitoring program. The bill would make it easier for pharmacists and regulators to quickly spot patients who fill multiple prescriptions for addictive medications and doctors who prescribe inappropriately.

And the public can help, too. How do most people who misuse prescription pain medications get them? One large study showed that about half obtained them free from friends or relatives. So, if you have pain pills left over from surgery or dental work, drop them in the toilet. Really. These medications are so dangerous when misused that the FDA recommends flushing them down the sink or the toilet if you can't find an official drug take-back event. That will keep everybody in your home " you and your friends, relatives, kids and pets " safe.




April 8

The Raleigh News & Observer on securing LGBT rights through the courts:

Gay rights and civil rights advocates have blasted Gov. Roy Cooper for a repeal of HB2 they say does not go far enough to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination, but a federal court ruling last week indicates that the governor took the right path.

Cooper's signing of House Bill 142 repealed HB2 and eliminated the rule that people use the bathrooms in government buildings that match the sex on their birth certificate. But it also imposed a moratorium until Dec. 1, 2020 on local governments passing anti-discrimination laws, including those that would explicitly protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Cooper thought getting rid of the offensive language of HB2 and ending boycotts of the state was worth the compromise of accepting the moratorium. There was no hope of getting anything stronger through the Republican-led legislature. (And, overlooked amid the outrage, was that the moratorium also prevents conservative-led towns from adopting their own "bathroom laws" in response to the HB2 repeal.)

The compromise was far from ideal, but Cooper expects that future election results and court decisions will grant protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity just as the federal courts upended North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage. That expectation was fulfilled last week when the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled 8-3 that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation does violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Significantly, the majority includes five Republican-appointed judges.

The judges who dissented said the decision represents a court "updating" a law and that is something only a legislative body should do. But in matters of civil rights - usually involving the rights of minority groups - the federal courts have often moved ahead of legislatures since rights that are inherent in the U.S. Constitution can't be legally denied by a legislative vote. The question is whether gay and transgender people have a right to be protected from discrimination. The 7th Circuit ruling says gay people, at least, do have such a right.

Richard Posner, a judge appointed by Ronald Reagan, concurred in the opinion but, as reported by the Indianapolis Star, wrote about how the lawmakers who passed Title VII may not have had sexual orientation in mind when it came to sex discrimination in the workplace. Posner wrote "that the concept of sex discrimination has since broadened as society's definitions of gender and sex have also broadened."

Circuit courts have disagreed on this issue, and the Supreme Court will have to ultimately decide, but last week's lopsided ruling suggests that the law is quickly evolving to include protections for gay people. Holding out until the General Assembly allows town and cities to immediately grant such rights is holding out for what is - under the current legislature - unattainable.




April 11

The Washington Post on White House visitor records:

Government-transparency activists sued the Trump administration Monday, demanding the release of records showing who has visited the White House, when and for how long. It's not clear the activists have the better side of the legal question, which revolves around whether the visitor logs are Secret Service records subject to the Freedom of Information Act or White House records shielded from public transparency standards. But there is no question about how President Trump should respond. Under a 2009 settlement with these activists, the Obama White House disclosed the visitor logs for the rest of President Barack Obama's time in office; Mr. Trump should disclose his also.

The Obama administration released some 6 million visitor records over two terms, offering a picture of the daily rush of advisers, lawmakers and petitioners granted access to the president, the first lady and staff across the executive mansion's grounds. Using this information, The Post noted that the Obama White House met with a variety of lobbyists " connected to everything from the meat industry to Wall Street " on a single sample day in 2012. That same year, the New York Times found that, along with the flood of lobbyists, "those who donated the most to Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party since he started running for president were far more likely to visit the White House than others." It was undoubtedly in the public interest for Americans to know who was attempting to peddle influence and when. Former Obama officials say that the policy discouraged staff from taking meetings that they should not have.

Some other former presidential advisers argue that these benefits come at too high a price. People who would otherwise offer valuable advice might shy from visiting the White House, so as not to appear on a public registry. In times of crisis, the president should feel uninhibited from seeking counsel. Emergency or no, one can imagine a variety of tough scenarios: Foreign dissidents, for example, might benefit from a private meeting with the president or West Wing staff, but would not be eager to send a public statement of association with high-level U.S. officials.

Former Obama administration staffers nevertheless report that, though releasing visitor logs led to some negative news articles, staff generally did not feel inhibited from arranging worthwhile meetings or getting good advice. Obama officials maintained a national security exception from the visitor log reporting program, the continuation of which would allow Mr. Trump and his staff to meet with sensitive sources or seek help in times of emergency. Moreover, a three-month reporting delay meant that, say, touchy negotiations with members of Congress were not immediately revealed.

The White House should not backslide on transparency. In fact, if the Trump administration is to use the billionaire's Mar-a-Lago retreat and Trump Tower as second and third White Houses, at considerable cost to the public, it should release logs of who visits there, too. Members of Congress, meanwhile, should raise their transparency game at least to match the Obama administration's. Their constituents are entitled to know who is helping to write the law.




April 12

The Orange County Register on congressional involvement in Syria:

President Trump's decision to order 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria last week does nothing to bring stability to that country, protect American national security or strengthen our position in the world.

It does, however, continue an unfortunate trend of American presidents committing acts of war with hardly even the pretense of legal protocol or long-term geopolitical strategy.

Ostensibly in retaliation for the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons which killed upwards of 100 people, American cruise missiles were fired on the airbase believed to house aircraft that carried out the chemical weapons attack. Undoubtedly the use of chemical weapons is reprehensible and the pictures which surfaced in the aftermath were simply heart wrenching.

President Trump argued that the strikes were in the "vital, national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons." That means the American response to appears to have been more symbolic than anything practical.

But whatever the impact of the strikes, President Trump ought to recall the words of candidate Trump: "The president must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria " big mistake if he does not!" he tweeted in August 2013. "President Obama, do not attack Syria," he warned on Sept. 7, 2013. "There is no upside and tremendous downside."

If there is anything we should have learned from our prolonged involvements in the Middle East and North Africa in recent decades, it's that toppling governments and bombing sovereign nations without an overarching strategy doesn't serve our national interests. Fighting and instability continue to plague Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, despite " and in part because of " our aimless interventions.

"While such operations and interventions are well-intended," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said following the Syria strike. "They should only be undertaken after serious consideration and approval by the elected representatives of the American people, ensuring that public accountability on war-making decisions exists."

Last week's strikes are a reminder that many of our interventions today have gone on without explicit Congressional authorization or even sensible limitations. Sens. Lee and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have introduced legislation requiring the president to seek congressional approval before using military force in response to humanitarian catastrophes. That would be a good start.

As convenient at it might be for the Congress to leave war-making to the whims of whoever is president at the time, such abdication only minimizes accountability while facilitating perpetual war abroad. In order to prevent further, unchecked escalation of American involvements in Syria, any future actions against the Syrian government must be authorized by the Congress.



This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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