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Miami Herald

Those 14 students and three educators who died in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre have been laid to rest and will forever be mourned by their loved ones and many more who never knew them.

Those who survived bear emotional scars. And the schools’ thousands of students who have risen up with a resolve to challenge and change America’s fascination with guns and assault rifles, have a noble goal and a Herculean public task before them.

But in between those who died and those who lived and could walk, or run, from the scene, are those who still are recovering from the vicious wounds of an AR-15. In some cases, the injured are still fighting for their lives.

There was this sudden reminder when, on Thursday one of those 16 students, Anthony Borges, 15, took a turn for the worse and was moved back into intensive care at Broward Health. The teen was shot five times and is still fighting for his life more than three weeks after the attack.

Borges has been described as a hero of the Parkland shooting. He has undergone multiple surgeries and is now dealing with a possible abdominal infection. Doctors operated twice in the past few days, cutting a section of the small intestine to stop the infection, his father wrote on Facebook.

Reports are that Borges, a school athlete, used his body to block a classroom door, saving other students’ lives. He was among the most seriously wounded by Nikolas Cruz, the former student who opened fire at the school on Feb. 14.

Borges is not alone in that injured group of 16 students and one English teacher who had angels on their shoulders the day Cruz came out shooting.

The survivors had been all but anonymous until Wednesday, when Cruz was officially charged in a Broward County courtroom with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for wounding not just Borges, but also classmates Ashley Baez; William Olson; Kheshava Managapuram; Justin Colton; Alexander Dworet; Genesis Valentin; Daniela Menescal; Samantha Grady; Samantha Fuentes; Isabel Chequer; Samantha Mayor; Benjamin Wikander; Madeleine Wilford; Marian Kabachenko; and Kyle Laman; in addition to English teacher Stacey Lippel.

One survivor has spoken out. Fuentes, a senior, carries the visible scars of that horrible day. She has a black eye from diving for cover, she also has shrapnel lodged behind her left eye and cheek. She also has a bullet wound and more shrapnel embedded near both her knees — shrapnel that came as other students around her took bullets.

Fuentes has told reporters her high school experience is over and so is her sense of life as usual: “There is no such thing as ‘normal’ anymore,” she told CNN.

That’s probably the sentiment of the 16 other wounded survivors. The Broward school district must monitor these students, even if their relationship becomes adversarial. Borges’ parents were the first to announce plans this week to sue the school district. Others will likely follow.

In the meantime, these have been the least visible of Cruz’s victims. Let them not be forgotten as they confront recovering from their physical and psychological wounds.

More losers than winners in tariff decision

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Trade policy, like health care policy, is more complicated than President Donald Trump imagined. His pledge last week to raise tariffs on steel and aluminum and his casual disregard for the harmful effects of a trade war have done the following:

— Alarmed Republicans in Congress, who think he’s undoing the benefits of the tax cuts they passed.

— Cost him the services of his chief economic adviser.

— Concerned his secretaries of state and defense, who think a trade war will make the world less safe.

— Angered some of America’s closest allies.

–– Cast a pall on hopes that the threat of a nuclear North Korea can be forestalled.

Not bad for an impulsive decision made last Thursday without consulting Gary Cohn, the director of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers. Cohn, the former No. 2 executive at Goldman Sachs, is among the few in the administration who understand global economics. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped by more than 300 points after Cohn’s plan to resign became public Tuesday, and stocks stayed deeply in the negative for most of Wednesday.

But Trump has long believed that global trade agreements work against U.S. interests and pledged during his campaign to restore balance. He believes that America-first protectionism will benefit him politically in the industrial Midwest. On that, he’s probably correct.

A 25 percent tariff on imported steel will be popular among the 500 steelworkers recalled Wednesday by U.S. Steel’s works in Granite City, Ill. works. Rust Belt Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio praised Trump’s plan.

But GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., weren’t so sanguine. Among the business interests who make up the GOP donor class, far more are steel users than steel manufacturers, and they’re not happy. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned that tariffs would “undermine” the tax-cut bill passed in December.

In large part that’s because, as the conservative Heritage Foundation has reported, the U.S. steel and aluminum industries employ 200,000 workers, while companies that make things from steel employ 6.5 million people.

And should the tariffs trigger a larger trade war, not only will Midwest corn and soybean growers suffer, but so will import-dependent companies in the Midwest that are part of international manufacturing chains for things like auto parts.

Allies, including South Korea, are apoplectic about Trump’s plans, warning that they could imperil nascent security negotiations with North Korea. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have warned trade officials that Trump’s tariffs could endanger U.S. national security.

Trump still hasn’t made his plans official but has pledged to do so “in a loving way,” whatever that means. The country would be better off if, as often happens, he changed his mind.

Don’t weaken ban on politics in pulpit

Los Angeles Times

One of President Donald Trump’s favorite bad ideas — making it easier for churches to endorse political candidates — is back. Among several so-called policy riders that Republicans hope to smuggle into an omnibus spending bill is a measure that would weaken the Johnson Amendment, which has been part of the Internal Revenue Code for more than 60 years.

Trump has said that he would like to “totally destroy” the amendment, which prohibits not only religious organizations but other nonprofits from participating in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, a candidate. “You’ve been silenced,” Trump told an audience of pastors in 2016, but he promised that “we’re going to get your voice back.”

Actually, the Johnson Amendment doesn’t prevent churches from speaking about a wide array of political issues, and members of the clergy are even free to endorse candidates so long as they do so as individuals and not, for instance, from the pulpit as representatives of their church. Churches aren’t free as institutions to back or oppose candidates, but that’s a fair tradeoff for the financial benefits they receive from tax-exempt status.

Last year, with great fanfare, Trump unveiled an executive order that he told religious leaders would allow them to “say what you want to say.” In fact, the order simply directed the Internal Revenue Service to evaluate political expression by religious nonprofits using the same criteria it employs for judging expression by nonreligious tax-exempt groups. True repeal or relaxation of the Johnson Amendment requires congressional action.

And that’s just what some Republicans in Congress would like to do using the stealth tactic of attaching a rider to a spending bill. One proposal would require consent by the IRS commissioner for each investigation of violations by a religious organization of the Johnson Amendment and notification to two congressional committees before an investigation could commence. That could make IRS officials even less likely to pursue violations of the Johnson Amendment than they are now.

Repealing or neutering the Johnson Amendment would have been wrong at any time since its enactment. But it would be especially dangerous in the post-Citizens United environment in which churches identified with particular candidates could be turned into the religious equivalent of a political action committee, using contributions from the faithful to amplify the candidates’ message at church functions.

The Johnson Amendment proposal isn’t the only possible rider that would make it harder to police the role of money in politics. Another would block any requirement that companies with federal contracts disclose their political spending and a third would increase the amount of money political parties could spend on candidates, undermining individual contribution limits. Additional riders would extend restrictions in previous bills, including one that prevents the Internal Revenue Service from adopting new limitations on political activity by so-called social welfare groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors.

Sneaking major policy decisions into spending bills is always a bad policy. But these riders are especially offensive. Congress needs to excise them.

Strengthen student mental health counseling

The Kansas City Star

With effective laws already on the books to address school safety, it’s going to take creative solutions to remedy the onslaught of recent threats of school violence.

Expanding access to mental health services could be a start.

That would be a much better option than the nonsensical approach of arming teachers proposed by President Donald Trump after a deadly shooting that killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school.

Since the Feb. 14 tragedy, several metro-area districts have been besieged by threats, most of them online. In some cases juvenile students were charged. In others, adults were suspected of making the threats.

Students in Kansas and Missouri are subjected to detention, long-term suspension or expulsion. Depending on the level of the threat, misdemeanor or felony criminal charges could be filed in either state.

A 14-year-old Kansas City middle school student was charged last week in juvenile court with one count of making a terrorist threat, a felony. The student is accused of taking images of firearms from Snapchat and posting them to Facebook.

As it turned out, there was no immediate danger associated with the threats, police said. Still, officers received hundreds of phone calls.

To help prevent such acts, school districts could improve mental health services for at-risk students. But a lack of funding makes that a steep challenge.

Replicating outpatient and day treatment services programs offered by organizations such as Cornerstones of Care could help.

Nine full-time therapists are spread across three school campuses and facilities in Blue Springs and Kansas City. They also provide intervention services for 50 area public and charter schools.

Mental health treatment cannot necessarily prevent threats to school safety, but it can make people more aware of the challenges young people face, said Jerry Keimig, the organization’s vice president of education.

“Kids make threats all the time, but when someone says something, we need to listen,” Keimig said.

Saint Luke’s Crittenton Children’s Center may have also found an answer with its Trauma Smart initiative in schools in eight states, including some in the bi-state area.

The program prepares parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators, school bus drivers and ancillary school staff to spot the signs of trauma in a child as young as age 4.

A $187,000 grant from Jackson County’s Children Services Fund will help Crittenton implement Trauma Smart in the Hickman Mills School District next fall. The goal is to build emotional resiliency for the entire community, said Crittenton CEO Janine Hron.

And that is a sensible approach to addressing the mental health needs of young people.

Why is studying gun violence forbidden? 

The Philadelphia Inquirer

President Donald Trump sounds interested — for now — in solving at least some of this country’s gun problems in the wake of the mass shooting that left 17 students and educators dead in a Florida high school.

But the president has also seemed confused and misinformed about why previous efforts at gun regulation have failed, or even what “due process” means when taking firearms from those who are a danger to themselves or others.

Fortunately, he has a top-notch research agency that can study the problem in detail to establish evidence and information in support of solutions.

All the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needs is governmental permission to resume research on guns, and protection from political influence.

It has been more than two decades since Congress passed the “Dickey amendment” in what was supposed to be an effort to keep the CDC neutral in the debate about gun control. But for the National Rifle Association, even a statement such as “having a gun in the house increases the chance of homicide” was too politically charged.

As a result, the CDC and other federal agencies were kept from studying the public health impacts of guns and offering ways that could prevent injuries or deaths. For example, the United States sees 30,000 gun deaths a year. More than half of those are suicides. Are there ways to prevent these deaths? How many lives might have been saved if we had the data and knowledge about gun violence that could have been accumulating for the last 20 years?

The 29-word amendment, approved in 1996 on Page 245 of a 750-page bill, and backed since then by gun industry lobbying, has had a lasting impact on American safety.

It says “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey (R., Ark.), who died last year, told NPR in 2015 that he never meant for his amendment to cut off funding for research and that he came to regret that outcome.

Trump sounded wide-open to new gun regulations during a meeting at the White House on Wednesday with members of Congress, making a series of suggestions that delighted Democrats and dismayed Republicans.

This would not be the first time the president has pulled this move — with the media broadcasting it live — only to upend any potential for a deal by completely shifting his stance. All signs point to a Trump double-cross coming on guns since, really, the only constant of his administration is uncertainty.

But in that — with Democrats and Republicans equally surprised by his sudden and seismic shifts in positions — there may be opportunity.

Poll after poll shows Americans are fed up with gun violence and, after each massacre call for our elected leaders to act on the problem.

Six members of the House have written to Speaker Paul Ryan, asking him to take up legislation to repeal the Dickey amendment. That’s what Dickey would have wanted. Ryan should respect that and act, allowing the repression of scientific study in an important area of public health to finally come to an end.


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