Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Chicago Tribune on a tactic some wealthy parents used to secure financial aid money for their college-bound children:
From today’s edition of what-were-they-thinking?: Some affluent Lake County parents used the court system to transfer guardianship of their teenage children to other people solely to get access to college financial aid intended for the needy.
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This was apparently a legal process, though we hope the loophole is closed ASAP. Morally, it represents an unconscionable abuse.
According to reporting by ProPublica and the Wall Street Journal, several dozen parents in well-off Chicago suburbs transferred guardianship of teens who were juniors or seniors in high school to friends or family members. The teens were then able to report only their own small income on financial aid forms, which allowed them to claim and receive money meant for poor students.
The investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Education has suggested a possible fix, according to the Journal: tightening the language about legal guardianship in the Federal Student Aid handbook. This seems like a good start. University financial aid offices and college counselors also have a role to play in ending this abuse.
And oh, yes: Parents and teens need to honestly report their financial circumstances. The college experience should be an accrual of life lessons. What does it teach teenagers when their parents sign them out of the family and ask them to declare poverty to position themselves for ill-gotten benefits?
Like the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal that broke earlier this year, in which rich families were accused of bribing their kids into elite colleges, this is not a victimless act. Money is diverted from students in real need, as grant money does run out. This could make the difference between whether a low-income teen can afford to attend college or not. Court resources are wasted on nonsense guardianship requests that flout the intention of financial aid regulations.
The Wall Street Journal found 38 similar incidents in a study of 1,000 probate cases in Lake County. The reporting described a Chicago-area woman with a household income of more than $250,000 a year who transferred guardianship of her then-17-year-old daughter to her business partner. Claiming only her $4,200 summer job earnings, instead of her parents’ income, the teen secured $20,000 in need-based aid, including a federal Pell Grant. Yes, taxpayers foot the bill for some of this.
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There is some credit due in this outrageous saga. Not to the “college consulting” company apparently involved, and not to the law firms who shepherded the guardianship requests. Rather, we salute the high school counselor, unnamed in the articles, who raised the issue after she smelled something rotten. And we applaud university officials who aren’t varnishing their words.
“It’s a scam,” Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told ProPublica.
The Los Angeles Times on multiple deadly shootings in recent days, including one at a garlic festival in California:
Two American traditions — summer celebrations and gun violence — collided in jarring fashion over the weekend.
Here in California, a man armed with a military-style rifle snuck through a perimeter fence at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival and opened fire late Sunday afternoon, killing three people, two of them children, while a dozen others were wounded or injured fleeing the pandemonium. Police on Monday morning were trying to determine why the gunman, identified as Santino William Legan, 19, of Gilroy, decided to shoot up the festival.
A day earlier and on the other side of the continent, gunmen opened fire during a neighborhood Old Timers Day celebration in a Brooklyn, N.Y., park, killing one person and wounding or injuring 11 others. Police were investigating whether the incident was gang-related.
As a nation, we’ve become slowly accustomed to such senseless violence, with attacks on houses of worship, on schools, at workplaces and on family members. Just last week, police in Los Angeles arrested Gerry Dean Zaragoza after he allegedly shot three family members in Canoga Park, killing two of them, then shot a former girlfriend and a man at a gas station, killing the woman. Then later still, police say, he shot dead a stranger on a bus. Separately, an off-duty Los Angeles police officer grabbing a late taco with his girlfriend and her two brothers in Lincoln Heights confronted a graffiti tagger and was shot and killed.
The inevitable debates after Gilroy will touch on the usual themes. It wasn’t the gun, it was the poison in the man’s mind. There’s some truth to that, given that firearms are inanimate objects. But without a firearm, the man couldn’t have shot anyone. And without the semiautomatic function of the firearm, he couldn’t have shot so many so quickly. And military-style rifles like the one used Sunday are conceived and designed for battlefields and it’s preposterous to sell them for hunting or “self-defense.”
The violence, of course, won’t move President Trump or Congress to act. Trump tweeted Monday that the shooting was “horrific” and said we should continue to “work together as communities and citizens” to prevent violence. But in fact he has done virtually nothing to address our long-running national scourge. He has fallen into the full embrace of the National Rifle Assn. in ways no other recent president has done. “You have a true friend in the White House,” he told the NRA two years ago, after the group spent $30 million to help get him elected.
In truth, the fault is not Trump’s alone. Successive administrations, and Congresses, have failed to break the gun lobby’s stranglehold on federal gun policies. And so the nation will continue to suffer gunshot wounds by the dozens each day, and by the tens of thousands each year. And something so harmless as a celebration of garlic, or of a Brooklyn neighborhood, will continue to carry the possibility of violent death.
The Wall Street Journal on a headline and a hashtag targeting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his track record on Russia:
Mitch McConnell, the most phlegmatic man in American politics, rarely gets riled up. But on Monday the Senate Majority Leader let it rip in defense of his reputation, and we’re glad he did.
Mr. McConnell was responding to a Democratic-media onslaught seeking to portray the Kentucky defense hawk as a toady for Russia. His offense is opposing some Democratic proposals to protect the 2020 election from foreign meddling. In particular he opposes attempts to nationalize election rules and ballot procedures that have been historically managed by the states. This is his long-held position and makes sense since a national system would be easier to hack than the systems of 50 states.
But Mr. McConnell is running for re-election next year, and the left needs a villain for the failure of special counsel Robert Mueller to find collusion between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. Enter #MoscowMitch, the hashtag that appeared on Twitter and was immediately picked up across the Democratic media landscape.
“It started with the angry lies on MSNBC. The host lied and said that I’ve dismissed Russia’s interference in our 2016 election as, quote, a ‘hoax.’ Of course I’ve never said any such thing,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor. “A few hours later came the Washington Post column. It was authored by Dana Milbank, a pundit who spent much of the Obama Administration carrying water for its failed foreign policies and excusing President Obama’s weakness on Russia.”
The column was headlined, “Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset,” which the Senator rightly called “a shameful smear.”
The truth is that Mr. McConnell has been far tougher on Vladimir Putin than most Democrats were across the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama Administrations. He pushed for tougher sanctions on Russia than the Obama crowd wanted and he supported the Magnitsky Act that has allowed the U.S. to sanction Mr. Putin’s cronies. He has also supported the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian meddling in 2016.
Republicans can’t count on a media phalanx to defend them from unfair attacks, so like Mr. McConnell they have to do it themselves.
The New York Times on a Trump Administration proposal to change rules regarding food stamps:
The Trump administration, which often talks about the importance of reducing regulation, has found at least one place where it would like to add red tape. The Agriculture Department wants to make it more difficult for poor children to get enough food.
The department is proposing to end programs in 40 states and the District of Columbia that make it easier for low-income families to sign up for food stamps. The stated rationale is that some people who are getting help do not need it. But the evidence suggests that problem is quite small, while the proposed solution is likely to keep millions of Americans who do need help from getting it.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helped 33.5 million people in the average month over the last year — mostly families with children, older Americans and people with disabilities — to buy a limited range of groceries from a list of supervised retailers. In place of the original coupons, beneficiaries now get an average of $127 loaded on a special debit card.
The program is enormously successful in mitigating poverty. Studies of Americans born in the 1960s, when the program was implemented nationally, show that children in families that received benefits went on to lead healthier and more productive lives.
Most beneficiaries live in households with incomes up to 130 percent of the federal poverty line — $32,640 a year in 2019 for a family of two adults and two children. But in 1996, as part of a broad overhaul of federal aid for lower-income families, Congress let states expand eligibility even as it curtailed benefits. States can offer food stamps to households with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty line, or around $50,200 a year for a family with two children. States also can waive a requirement that beneficiaries must have no more than $2,250 in assets.
Critics have long argued that the expansion was overly generous; the Trump administration is proposing to substantially restore the old rules. Officials at the Agriculture Department have highlighted the example of Rob Undersander, a 66-year-old Minnesota resident who qualified to receive food stamps even though he had more than a million dollars in assets because Minnesota, like most states, has chosen to waive the asset cap.
Mr. Undersander applied for food stamps in 2016, in the manner of a man who robs a bank to demonstrate the need for more security. He collected more than $6,000 in benefits he did not need, donating the money to charity while seeking to publicize his story.
“There may be other millionaires” on food stamps, an administration official told reporters.
But the proposed changes are not tailored to keep millionaires from getting food stamps. They would keep millions of low-income families from getting food stamps.
The Trump administration estimates that 4.9 percent of beneficiaries live in households with incomes above 130 percent of the poverty line. But all recipients, including those households, still must demonstrate that their disposable incomes, after deductions for housing, child care, and other basic expenses, fall below the poverty line. That’s hardly an open-door policy — which is why relatively few households qualify. And those with higher incomes get smaller monthly payments. The program is meant to cover the gap between income and need.
The administration estimates another 4.1 percent of beneficiaries live in households with more than $2,250 in eligible assets. The standard excludes some kinds of savings, like equity in a home or money in a retirement plan. But it is still draconian. A worker in a minimum-wage job who managed to save three months of salary for a rainy day would lose his or her eligibility for food stamps as a consequence. The threshold was set at $2,000 in the mid-1980s, but only indexed to inflation in 2008. As a result, it has become much more restrictive than the original intent.
A reasonable asset ceiling, set at a level that allows rainy-day savings, has obvious appeal. But the evidence suggests that it would exclude very few people, because those with low incomes tend to have scant savings, and would impose large costs. According to the Trump administration’s own estimates, states would have to employ the equivalent of 6,672 new workers solely devoted to asset verification. The government, in other words, probably saved a lot of money by allowing Mr. Undersander to collect some benefits.
In all, the administration says the government can save about $2 billion a year by denying benefits to 3.1 million people who would not meet the old standards. By the same logic, the government could save $60 billion a year by suspending the entire program. But those savings will not come from denying food stamps to millionaires. The vast majority of the government’s money is given to Americans who are hungry, so they may eat.
The proposal once again highlights the gap between Mr. Trump’s rhetorical promises to help lower-income American families, and the reality of his policies, which have systematically made life more difficult for those very families. The administration has slashed taxes on affluent Americans and significantly increased total federal spending — on Thursday (July 25), it announced plans to give another $16 billion to farmers hurt by Mr. Trump’s trade policies — even as it seeks to make a show of fiscal discipline at the expense of children.
Congress should move to codify the current food stamp rules, which have been embraced by red and blue states alike, to protect millions of Americans from this act of theatrical cruelty.
The Baltimore Sun on President Trump’s criticism of Maryland’s seventh congressional district, represented by Congressman Elijah Cummings:
In case anyone missed it, the president of the United States had some choice words to describe Maryland’s 7th congressional district on Saturday morning. Here are the key phrases: “no human being would want to live there,” it is a “very dangerous & filthy place,” ”Worst in the USA” and, our personal favorite: It is a “rat and rodent infested mess.” He wasn’t really speaking of the 7th as a whole. He failed to mention Ellicott City, for example, or Baldwin or Monkton or Prettyboy, all of which are contained in the sprawling yet oddly-shaped district that runs from western Howard County to southern Harford County. No, Donald Trump’s wrath was directed at Baltimore and specifically at Rep. Elijah Cummings, the 68-year-old son of a former South Carolina sharecropper who has represented the district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1996.
It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream. President Trump bad-mouthed Baltimore in order to make a point that the border camps are “clean, efficient & well run,” which, of course, they are not — unless you are fine with all the overcrowding, squalor, cages and deprivation to be found in what the Department of Homeland Security’s own inspector-general recently called “a ticking time bomb.”
In pointing to the 7th, the president wasn’t hoping his supporters would recognize landmarks like Johns Hopkins Hospital, perhaps the nation’s leading medical center. He wasn’t conjuring images of the U.S. Social Security Administration, where they write the checks that so many retired and disabled Americans depend upon. It wasn’t about the beauty of the Inner Harbor or the proud history of Fort McHenry. And it surely wasn’t about the economic standing of a district where the median income is actually above the national average. No, he was returning to an old standby of attacking an African American lawmaker from a majority black district on the most emotional and bigoted of arguments. It was only surprising that there wasn’t room for a few classic phrases like “you people” or “welfare queens” or “crime-ridden ghettos” or a suggestion that the congressman “go back” to where he came from.
This is a president who will happily debase himself at the slightest provocation. And given Mr. Cummings’ criticisms of U.S. border policy, the various investigations he has launched as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, his willingness to call Mr. Trump a racist for his recent attacks on the freshmen congresswomen, and the fact that “Fox & Friends” had recently aired a segment critical of the city, slamming Baltimore must have been irresistible in a Pavlovian way. Fox News rang the bell, the president salivated and his thumbs moved across his cell phone into action.
As heartening as it has been to witness public figures rise to Charm City’s defense on Saturday, from native daughter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, we would above all remind Mr. Trump that the 7th District, Baltimore included, is part of the United States that he is supposedly governing. The White House has far more power to effect change in this city, for good or ill, than any single member of Congress including Mr. Cummings. If there are problems here, rodents included, they are as much his responsibility as anyone’s, perhaps more because he holds the most powerful office in the land.
Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are “good people” among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.
The Toronto Star on efforts to rein in the power of big technology companies:
“In a lot of ways,” Mark Zuckerberg has famously said, “Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company.”
Much the same could be said of the other tech giants that set the rules for so much of our lives — especially Google, Amazon and Apple. Real governments struggle to tame the beast in areas ranging from privacy and democracy to taxation and corporate clout. Facebook even has plans to launch its own cryptocurrency, called Libra.
Finally, though, there are signs governments are stirring themselves to meet the challenge — and not a moment too soon.
In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission slapped Facebook with a record fine of $5 billion (last) week for misleading its users about the privacy of their personal information. In addition, the FTC ordered the company to set up a new board-level committee on privacy and make its data practices more transparent.
That’s a lot of money. But for Facebook, even a fine of that size is just the cost of doing business. It earned more than that in the last quarter alone and its stocked jumped 56 per cent last year while it weathered a storm of criticism.
The bigger potential challenge to Facebook and the rest comes from another direction. After years of leaving the big tech firms to pretty much regulate themselves, the U.S. government has launched investigations into how they have amassed so much market power and whether they’ve violated antitrust laws.
This is a big change. So far the tech companies have faced their biggest push-back in Europe while Washington tended to defend them as champions of innovation. But now the U.S. Justice Department and federal regulators are lining up Facebook et al in their sights.
And it isn’t just about privacy, “fake news” and similar well-publicized concerns about social media and the health of democracy. Those are important, but the real stakes for the dominant tech companies lie in a challenge to the enormous market power they have accumulated in just a few years.
An antitrust review could put into question that power, the near-monopoly grip on key markets that lets them dominate billions of dollars in advertising revenue, squeeze out potential competitors, dictate terms of business, and avoid paying tax in many of the places they operate. Even breaking up some of the biggest companies would be a real possibility — especially if a Democrat wins the White House next year.
With all that, you might expect a lively debate among Canada’s political parties on how to meet the tech challenge. For the most part, though, you’d be disappointed.
The Trudeau government brought in new rules governing election advertising online and foreign meddling in campaigns. But it had no effective response when Google simply said it won’t carry any election ads rather than meet the Canadian requirements.
And Canada’s privacy commissioner was left to sputter impotently when he rebuked the company for violating the privacy of 620,000 Canadian users and it brushed him off. It turns out he has no power to tell Facebook to do anything. Even if he takes the company to court and wins, the maximum fine would be a risible $100,000.
On the key issue of taxation, Canada’s position is to wait to see what the big boys do. Finance Minister Bill Morneau told the Star’s Heather Scoffield recently that Canada wants to see what G7 leaders decide at their summit in France next month, so there can be common rules for all.
As for the future, the best the Liberals can offer is the tepid “digital charter” that Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains unveiled in May. It points in the right direction on privacy and other issues, but there’s no reason the government could not have moved faster in those areas.
Canadians deserve better. The trend across the developed world clearly favours reining in Big Tech, and Canada should be more than a bystander as these parallel governments are brought under control.
The coming election campaign will be an ideal time for the federal parties to spell out how they would meet that challenge.
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