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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 12, 2014 at 2:48 pm •  Published: March 12, 2014

Congress should have approved an extension for six months or a year without much trouble in December. Enough Republicans and Democrats, especially in the Senate, insist that they want to achieve as much. They have been at odds for weeks about how to pay for the extension, roughly $12 billion for six months.

Thus, many people suffer while lawmakers clash and lack the necessary sense of urgency.

This past week, both parties have revived their discussions. The hope is, they will find a way to bridge their differences.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has played a leading role in the negotiations. The Ohio Republican noted last week a need to repair "a broken system that is failing to connect Americans with jobs."

The system may need improvement. The suggestion should not be that the high number of long-term unemployed reflects a flawed program. The real culprit is an economy failing to generate enough jobs, payroll employment still below the peak before the recession.

As it is, too much has been made about lawmakers paying for an extension of jobless benefits. To be sure, the country has a huge deficit problem in the long term. Still, the deficit has shrunk by roughly half the past five years. More, the answer to the deficit problem does not reside in covering the expense of a temporary extension that actually would boost the economy.

That said, the politics are such that a mechanism for covering the cost is required. What both Democrats and Republicans could use is that sense of urgency. Many people in Ohio and elsewhere are hurting. They deserve better from their representatives in Congress.



March 12

Los Angeles Times on the labels on generic drugs:

When Congress gave generic drugmakers a shortcut onto the market 30 years ago, it required them to provide the same warnings as the brand-name medicines they were copying. Two recent Supreme Court rulings applied that stricture in an unexpected way: Even if generic drugmakers learned of a new side effect, they could not be expected to warn about it unless and until the brand-name drug did. In response, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed a rule to let generic makers add new warnings unilaterally — and allow them to be sued if they don't. One problem with the rule, though, is that it runs counter to the law, which still requires uniform labeling.

When drug manufacturers learn about a bad reaction to one of their products, they have to report it to the FDA — within 15 days if it's serious, less rapidly if it's not — so the agency can decide whether to change the drug's warning label. Brand-name drugmakers have the power to add new warnings temporarily while waiting for the FDA to approve a new label, and to alert physicians about the risk. But the FDA had previously barred generic manufacturers from taking such steps, and the Supreme Court held in 2011 and 2013 that injured patients couldn't sue them for selling unreasonably dangerous products as long as their labels were the same as those on the branded versions.

Fearing that the rulings left generic manufacturers with little incentive to monitor the safety of their products, the FDA has proposed to reverse its stance and allow all drug makers to add temporary warnings without the FDA's approval. The goal is the right one: to make sure doctors and patients are adequately warned about newly discovered risks as soon as possible.

The agency's good intentions, however, don't outweigh the fact that the law doesn't allow generic drugs' labels to vary from the brand-name equivalents'. Allowing each manufacturer of a generic drug to alter its label unilaterally would result in supposedly identical drugs carrying different warnings. That's not only confusing, it would be counterproductive if consumers gravitated away from the generics that carried more daunting — but more up-to-date — warnings.

The FDA is in an awkward position, having relied on manufacturers to take the lead in monitoring drugs after they're approved. But the agency doesn't have the authority to rewrite the 1984 law to give generic manufacturers the same labeling responsibilities that brand-name manufacturers have. Besides, only the FDA has access to all the data that the competing manufacturers compile about drug safety. It should take advantage of its unique vantage point and find a way to update the warning labels for all versions of a drug as needed, simultaneously.



March 11

Toronto Star on Canada's trade deal with South Korea is a calculated risk:

At first blush, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's free trade agreement with South Korea looks like pretty small beer. Federal officials say it will boost Canada's $530-billion annual global exports in goods and services by a relatively paltry $1.7 billion or so. Spread across a $1.9-trillion economy, the impact would be hard to feel.

There's even less to crow about if you share Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's understandable concern that the pact risks further hollowing out one of the heartland's key industries. "In terms of the agri-food sector, we are very optimistic about the opportunities that a Canada-Korea deal might provide," she says. "We do have reservations about the auto sector" and the 93,000 direct jobs that ride on it. There's merit in Queen's Park's call for a task force to monitor the rollout of this deal.

Harper says the pact will "create jobs and opportunities" when it comes into force after it is ratified by both governments. That will likely be next year. But in his rush to sign the deal Harper took a calculated risk. He failed to negotiate the same protections that the United States leveraged in its own 2012 trade deal with South Korea, and that may prove costly. Ford of Canada predicts that Korea will remain "one of the most closed automotive markets in the world." And Unifor, the country's largest private sector union, sees the deal as a "serious threat" to domestic production and jobs. We'll only know for sure once Korean automakers such as Hyundai and Kia gain duty-free access in a few years.

On the brighter side, the deal does provide a little catch-up for Canada in terms of getting a toehold in the Asian market. That matters, given the region's rapid growth.

As the Star's Les Whittington and Robert Benzie report, it is our first trade liberalization pact with an Asia-Pacific country, opening the door to deals with other Pacific Rim nations, including Japan. The European Union, the U.S. and Australia have all reached similar deals with South Korea, putting Canada at a competitive disadvantage and hobbling our exports. Much of this deal is about regaining lost ground.

Moreover like the recent Canada-EU trade deal — a centrepiece of Harper's political legacy which stands to boost our economy by $12 billion — the Korea agreement is welcome to the extent that it helps diversify Canada's exports, marginally easing our unhealthy over-dependency on the U.S. market.



March 12

The Australian on bleak days for Malaysia justice:

The world's preoccupation with the missing Malaysia Airlines flight is understandable. But the long-entrenched government in Kuala Lumpur must not be allowed to escape scrutiny over the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the sudden court decision to overturn opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's successful appeal against a conviction on sodomy charges and sentence him to another five years in jail. The move reeks of blatant political interference and, as the US State Department has said - on the eve of a visit to Kuala Lumpur by President Barack Obama - it raises serious questions about the rule of law and independence of the courts in one of the most important countries in our region, and one with which Australia has particularly close ties.

According to the Malaysia Bar Council and others, the Appellate Court's unusual decision to suddenly expedite hearing of the appeal against Anwar's acquittal, pending since last July, came only days before the deadline for nominations in the crucial Selangor state assembly by-election and a month before it was scheduled to be heard. Anwar, a perpetual and highly effective thorn in the side of the long-dominant Barisan National coalition, was set for a victory that would have made him chief minister of Malaysia's most populous and richest state - a powerful platform from which to campaign against the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak. This prospect was clearly too much for the ruling coalition, which is still smarting from the debacle it suffered in last year's general election when it lost the popular vote for the first time in 44 years, though it managed to cling to its parliamentary majority through quirks in the voting system and the gerrymandering for which it has long been notorious.

Anwar is now barred from contesting the by-election, as he will be from the next national election. No wonder Human Rights Watch has labelled the case "politically motivated persecution". Anwar has been put through a judicial wringer since first being charged in 1998. The country deserves far better than the endless political and judicial chicanery being seen in Kuala Lumpur.