Editorial Roundup: U.S.
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Philadelphia Inquirer on continuing challenges to the 2020 presidential election:
Nine months after the election and six months after the U.S. Capitol riot their rhetoric inspired, many Republicans are still clinging to the Big Lie, including in Pennsylvania.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano last week announced yet another attempt to relitigate the 2020 presidential election, arguing that somehow, through an additional audit, he will uncover evidence that election boards, the Pennsylvania Department of State, the FBI, the Attorney General’s Office, and former U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain have tried and failed to discover.
The proposed election audit, inspired by the chaotic undertakings in Arizona, asks for all election materials to be sent to State Sen. Mastriano for a “forensic audit” of the results. Not just ballots, but ballot applications, voter registration system terminals, voting machines, and poll books. It even goes as far as to request logins for the state’s voter registration database from employees. It would be expensive and time-consuming. Mastriano’s office currently doesn’t even have a plan for where to put all this paperwork and equipment if the counties comply.
This audit isn’t actually aimed at uncovering the truth about the 2020 election, nor is it capable of finding nonexistent fraud or proving that Donald Trump is the real winner of the election.
The point seems to be jockeying for position in next year’s crowded Republican gubernatorial primary. Even the supposed goal of delivering the audit, an unlikely prospect, takes a back seat to fighting for the audit, something that most of Mastriano’s competitors, who don’t have access to subpoena powers, can’t do.
This points to one of the most pernicious aspects of the Big Lie: the way that it traps our political debate in November forever. Constantly fighting for one more audit and one more batch of secret revelations means people never have to accept the truth — that President Joe Biden fairly won the election — because there’s always new revelations coming if you wait. The constant drumbeat also helps justify new and unnecessary restrictions on voting.
That’s why it is so important that this effort is rejected quickly and firmly. Not just by Democrats and the few Republicans who have consistently opposed this rhetoric from the start, but by senior Republicans in Harrisburg, and Mastriano’s colleagues on the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee. Harrisburg Republicans claim that their phones are ringing off the hook with constituents upset about the election and concerned about fraud, which they use to justify their support of wasteful audits. These calls will never end if Republicans continue to give them credence.
Instead of catering to voter fraud claims, Harrisburg Republicans need to stand up for the integrity of our elections, the work of our election administrators, and the rights of our voters. It is time for GOP leaders to finally deal with this decisively, and prove that they are still a political party with a vision for Pennsylvania — and not a tribute band obsessed with finding the unfindable — by rejecting this audit and any subpoenas meant to enable it.
American democracy cannot function if one party spends its energy on conspiracies instead of governing. It is up to Republicans to get their party back on track.
The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer on the lessons Nikole Hannah-Jones left for UNC:
Nikole Hannah-Jones won’t be teaching journalism students at the University of North Carolina, but in turning down the job she has taught university leaders painful and crucial lessons.
First among them is that attempts by conservative officeholders, appointees and donors to steer the university rightward are having a disastrous effect on UNC’s once shining reputation. Imposing political ideology on what is supposed to be a haven for free thinking is bad enough. The ideologues have compounded the damage with their incompetence, first with the fight over the removal of the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam and now with the bitter departure of a prominent Black journalist who is not silent about the racist currents that run through U.S. history.
Hannah-Jones also provided UNC leaders – particularly UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and outgoing Provost Bob Blouin – a tutorial about the cost of going along with their conservative overseers.
In a lengthy statement released Tuesday, she described her shifting perceptions of how she was being treated by her alma mater as the Board of Trustees delayed and finally agreed by a 9-4 vote to approve her for tenure. In the end, she said, it wasn’t just the treatment she received from the Board of Trustees that drove her decision, but the reluctance of UNC’s top leaders to publicly advocate for her. She wrote, “Once again, when leadership had the opportunity to stand up, it did not.”
At the start, UNC proudly announced that Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, would be teaching under an endowed professorship, the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. The position has traditionally come with tenure dating back to the 1980s, but when Hannah-Jones’ tenure application – strongly supported by the faculty tenure committee – came before the Board of Trustees action was delayed.
The delay clearly reflected doubts about granting tenure to a journalist whose “1619 project” at The New York Times drew criticism from conservatives for emphasizing the roles of slavery and racism in the founding of the United States. Among doubters was Walter Hussman, the Arkansas newspaper publisher whose name was placed on the journalism school after he donated $25 million.
Once Hussman’s objections surfaced, Hannah-Jones decided she could not teach at a school named for a man who questioned her worthiness to teach there. So now, Hannah-Jones is moving on to Howard University where she will teach there – with tenure – about race and journalism under a professorship endowed by the Knight Foundation. At Howard, she also plans to create the Center for Journalism and Democracy, backed by more than $20 million in foundation grants.
The reluctance to grant Hannah-Jones tenure has exposed problems at UNC that conservatives have compounded, but did not create. Hannah-Jones noted them in her statement. One is a lack of diversity in the school’s leadership and its faculty and a chronic failure to address the concerns of Black students and faculty members.
Another is a lack of transparency about how and why the university is operating. UNC prides itself on being the nation’s first public university, but it behaves like a private enterprise, reluctant to release records or hold itself accountable to the public.
This weakness, so apparent in the university’s handling of the athletic-academic scandal and Silent Sam fiasco, showed up again in the silence and secrecy surrounding Hannah-Jones application for tenure.
The Hannah-Jones controversy has hurt UNC’s reputation and raised anew questions of race at the university. That damage can’t be easily fixed, but it can be immediately addressed. That should begin with a review and disclosure of what happened and what should be done so that it doesn’t happen again. Let that be UNC’s 2021 Project.
The Wall Street Journal on President Joe Biden, Jim Crow and Texas voting:
The Democratic narrative on voting is becoming unglued. “The 21st-century Jim Crow assault is real,” President Biden claimed Tuesday. “We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War–that’s not hyperbole,” he said in the same speech. “The Confederates back then never breached the Capitol, as insurrectionists did on January the 6th.”
As Mr. Biden apparently sees it, the latest Civil War is in Texas, where state lawmakers want to make voting “so hard and inconvenient that they hope people don’t vote at all.” On Monday more than 50 Democrats from the Texas House absconded to Washington, D.C., to deny their chamber a quorum. “I left because I am tired of sitting as a hostage,” one lawmaker told the awaiting press at Dulles airport, “while Republicans strip away the rights of my constituents to vote.”
This partisan rhetoric is detached from the facts. We’ve already gone through the misrepresentations of Georgia’s and Florida’s voting laws. What’s proposed in Texas? First, the bills would end two practices that Harris County pioneered last year amid the pandemic: drive-through voting and 24-hour voting. These options were used disproportionately by nonwhites. Perhaps they made sense when every Texan was urged to stay six feet from every other Texan.
But if the Legislature doesn’t want them to be permanent, then reverting to the pre-Covid status quo of 2019 is not some epochal loss for voting rights. Gov. Greg Abbott argues that drive-through voting breaks the traditional privacy of the polling booth. “Are you going to have people in the car with you?” he asked. “It could be somebody from your employer or somebody else who may have some coercive effect on the way that you would cast your ballot.”
As for 24-hour voting, it isn’t unreasonable to think polling-place mischief might be more likely at 3 a.m. Public confidence can be undermined by even false claims about what happened in the dead of night, including President Trump’s wild allegations about ballot “dumps.” The Texas bills would allow broad voting hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Senate version, or 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the House version.
This is not a blockade of the ballot box. To the contrary, in some places the bills would expand mandatory early voting hours. Current law says that in the final week before Election Day, counties with 100,000 people must open their “main” polling place for 12 hours on weekdays and five hours on Sunday. The House would lower the population threshold to 55,000, and the Senate would set it at 30,000. Both would also require six hours of Sunday voting.
Mail voters would be asked to verify their identities by supplying a state ID number or the last four digits of a Social Security number. That way election workers could quit squinting at people’s signatures. A study of Georgia in 2018 found that 54% of the ballots rejected for signature or oath issues were from black voters. Under the Texas plan, if the ID numbers matched, the voter’s signature would be presumed valid.
The voting bills propose many other provisions that are hardly extreme: Local officials would be barred from sending unsolicited mail-ballot applications. Courts would have to “instruct” felons about how their convictions affect their voting rights. Employers would be required, “while early voting is in progress,” to permit workers to be absent for the purpose of going to the polls. Ballot harvesting for compensation would be banned.
The argument is not that these bills are perfect, because no election system is. The point is that they are not some “un-American” throwback to Jim Crow, as Mr. Biden claims. If Texas Democrats think one provision or another is wrong, then they should stay in Austin and argue the case to the public. They claim to be fighting for democracy, even as they deny a quorum to prevent democracy from functioning.
The Legislature’s special session ends Aug. 7, and the Texas Democrats plan to camp out until then. If they set foot back in Texas, Governor Abbott says they will be arrested and taken to the Legislature. But even if they hold out until the session expires, Mr. Abbott can simply call a new one. Their flight might be a delaying tactic, but it looks more like a PR stunt.
Mr. Biden is escalating his rhetoric about Jim Crow and now the Civil War. Part of his aim, after Republicans made gains in 2020 among nonwhite voters, might be to reinforce the message that the GOP is racist. But Mr. Biden is also distorting the truth to justify congressional passage of H.R.1, a constitutionally dubious takeover of voting rules in all 50 states. He is trying to appease frustrated progressives who are starting to blame him for the Senate’s refusal to kill the filibuster.
Before Democrats hail quorum breaking as heroism, they might recall that they are trying to pass the most radical agenda in decades with the narrowest majorities in decades. Who’s really undermining democracy?
The Austin American-Statesman on forgetting the Alamo, remembering the First Amendment:
Silencing journalists and scholars, chasing dissent from the public square, distorting history to serve an ideological narrative — it’s the stuff of autocrats, and now, the reprehensible behavior of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Texans of all stripes should be deeply troubled by Patrick’s announcement last week that he used his authority, as the state’s No. 2 elected official, to cancel a virtual panel discussion he didn’t like at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, a public institution supported in part by taxpayer dollars.
The topic was a new book about the Alamo, but that is beside the point. It’s not the lieutenant governor’s job to decide which ideas can be shared and debated at a public forum. It’s not his job to tell Texans what to think.
The book at the heart of this controversy, “Forget the Alamo,” casts a critical eye on Texas’ founding fathers, suggesting their desire to keep slaves helped fuel their push for independence from Mexico, which opposed slavery. That account — supported by decades of scholarship, largely by Latino historians whose work deserves greater public recognition — runs counter to the simplistic tale that generations of Texas students have learned in school, the story celebrating the white heroes of the Alamo while largely ignoring the contributions of Tejano allies and the thorny role of slavery.
The well-documented book is not, as Patrick alleged on Twitter, a “fact-free rewriting of TX history.” And it’s not solely about history. The book by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford also probes the present-day politics around the storytelling of the Alamo, suggesting Patrick used “manufactured outrage” over the Alamo restoration plan to undercut Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whom he viewed as a political rival.
Patrick’s push to cancel the book discussion went beyond preserving an idealized narrative of Texas’ founding fathers. It silenced an examination of Patrick’s own efforts to capitalize on that narrative — efforts that could cost Texas taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars if Patrick follows through on his pledge for sizable state funding for an Alamo museum, housing what the book’s authors argue is a collection of Alamo memorabilia of dubious authenticity.
For months now we’ve heard Republican gripes about “cancel culture,” a catchall condemnation for everything from the repackaging of Mr. Potato Head to the efforts by social media companies to reduce the spread of conspiracy theories on their private platforms. Simmering with faux outrage, Republicans have appeared on TV, penned guest columns and fired off fundraising emails — absurdly complaining to the masses that they were being muzzled.
But what Patrick gave us last week was a textbook case of real censorship, a clear case of the government stifling free speech. Patrick abused his authority as a member of the State Preservation Board to cancel an event at a public institution because he disagreed with the message. The only silver lining is that Patrick’s effort backfired spectacularly, drawing national attention to the topic and driving book sales through the roof. The publisher, according to one of the authors, has ordered two more printings.
Forget, for a moment, the Alamo. Remember, instead, the First Amendment. Remember that it was the first enumeration of Americans’ protected rights for a reason: The free exchange of ideas, even difficult or unpopular ones, is the oxygen that keeps democracy alive. We cannot govern ourselves if our government leaders dictate what’s fact and what’s not, what can be discussed and what’s forbidden.
And yet our state leaders keep trying. Last month Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill creating the “1836 Project,” a thinly disguised propaganda campaign about “why Texas became so exceptional in the first place.” He also signed a bill limiting the ways that race and current events can be discussed in public schools, tapping into the ginned-up debate over critical race theory — a topic he’s urged lawmakers to revisit in the special session, alongside the supposed censorship of conservatives on social media.
Abbott and GOP lawmakers have repeatedly tried to curtail an honest, nuanced examination of our state’s history, opting for indoctrination over discourse. This, on top of a barrage of bills last session in which the Legislature tried to dictate a range of decisions, from personal medical care to police funding levels, that Texans and local communities should be free to make for themselves.
Enough already. Patrick is free to disagree with the authors of any book. Better yet, he’s free to challenge the authors to explain and defend their findings. Either way, Texans deserve to have the discussion. The lieutenant governor had no right to shut it down.
The Guardian on the heat dome burning through the climate models:
Last week’s shockingly high temperatures in the northwestern US and Canada were – and are – very frightening. Heat and the fires it caused killed hundreds of people, and are estimated to have killed a billion sea creatures. Daily temperature records were smashed by more than 5C (9F) in some places. In Lytton, British Columbia, the heat reached 49.6C (121F). The wildfires that consumed the town produced their own thunderstorms, alongside thousands of lightning strikes.
An initial study shows human activity made this heat dome — in which a ridge of high pressure acts as a lid preventing warm air from escaping — at least 150 times more likely. The World Weather Attribution Group of scientists, who use computer climate models to assess global heating trends and extreme weather, have warned that last week exceeded even their worst-case scenarios. While it has long been recognised that the climate system has thresholds or tipping points beyond which humans stand to lose control of what happens, scientists did not hide their alarm that an usually cool part of the Pacific northwest had been turned into a furnace. One climatologist said the prospect opened up by the heat dome “blows my mind”.
The disturbing signs of climate disruption are not limited to north America. Pakistan and Siberia have also had record-breaking high temperatures within the last few weeks, as have Moscow, Helsinki and Estonia. In Madagascar, the worst drought in 40 years has left a million people facing food shortages. The climate author David Wallace-Wells suggested that current conditions should be regarded as heralding a “permanent emergency”. With policymakers struggling to absorb the very serious implications for human societies of current models, it is frankly difficult to take in the suggestion that these models may underestimate the threat. The prospect of the jet stream becoming locked, and weather systems such as tropical storms ceasing to move in the way to which we are accustomed, carries nightmarish possibilities. More hot weather is on its way to California, with the bulk of the wildfire season ahead.
If there is anything positive to be taken from this new information, and reports of the suffering and destruction caused by the heat, it can only be that it intensifies the pressure on policymakers to act. On Wednesday, the Switzerland-based Financial Stability Board issued a warning in advance of a G20 meeting in Venice this weekend. It urged finance ministers and central banks to take more notice of “far-reaching” climate impacts. Just how far-reaching these impacts will be depends on decisions taken by governments in the next months and years. So far, binding commitments to make the cuts in carbon emissions that are needed to avoid temperature rises above 2C are notable by their absence. With every worrying piece of climate news, the stakes ahead of November’s Cop26 conference keep growing.
Environmentalists used to shake their heads when highly unusual weather was reported in terms that ignored climate change’s contribution. Now, thanks to attribution science, the link is firmly made. To avoid future heat domes, countries including the US and Canada must stop pumping so much energy into the climate system.
The Boston Globe on an elusive chance to curb corporate tax evasion:
President Biden and other world leaders are on the brink of an extraordinary agreement that could curb the maddening — and until now, seemingly insoluble — problem of corporate tax evasion. Success would mean hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue for fixing crumbling infrastructure, healing the sick, and improving schools from Massachusetts to Mumbai.
But the president cannot deliver on the American end of the deal alone. He will need help from Congress if the world’s most powerful country is to do its part to bring a measure of justice to an unjust system.
For decades, jurisdictions from Ireland to Bermuda have engaged in what US Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has called a “race to the bottom” on corporate taxes — slashing rates in a bid to attract some of the largest firms in the world. American companies like Apple and Nike have taken full advantage — stashing billions offshore, cutting their tax bills, and effectively shifting the burden for funding government services to a struggling middle class.
For the longest time, a global solution to this problem felt out of reach. But an effort overseen by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development made notable progress toward a multilateral agreement in recent years — only to watch the effort stall amid the pandemic and the Trump administration’s insistence on a provision that would have favored American companies.
The Biden administration revived talks after taking office. And earlier this month, 130 nations representing more than 90 percent of worldwide GDP signed on.
The agreement has two major pillars. It would create a near-universal 15 percent minimum corporate tax, designed to dampen the motivation for corporations to shop around for low rates. And it would impose a separate levy on the largest companies in the world — requiring firms like Facebook and Amazon to pay taxes where they sell goods and services, even if they don’t have a physical presence there.
The pact, which still needs to be finalized, would be more than a diplomatic victory. It would be a triumph of the imagination.
Jeffrey Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites, says there has long been a sense that globalization is an “impersonal force of nature” that “no one controls” and that big, wealthy players will inevitably game the system. But the new agreement, which he calls “a breakthrough,” is a striking statement that the community of nations can, in fact, exert control.
Still, as Winters and other observers argue, the pact is just a start. The 15 percent corporate tax minimum is actually quite low. It’s a floor. And parties to the agreement can and should aim higher.
Gabriel Zucman, a University of California, Berkeley, economist known for his pathbreaking work on inequality, has called on Congress to approve a 25 percent levy that might inspire other nations to follow suit, “replacing a race to the bottom with a sprint to the top.”
As lawmakers work to build on the agreement, they should also strengthen its foundations. A handful of countries with low tax rates, including Ireland, Hungary, and Barbados, have declined to join the pact and must be brought along.
One way to get them on board is to apply political pressure. And diplomats are doing plenty of that. But Seth Hanlon, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, says American lawmakers could “seal the deal” by approving a Biden administration proposal called Stopping Harmful Inversions and Ending Low-Tax Developments, or SHIELD, which would impose substantial tax penalties on companies from holdout nations operating in the United States.
It’s an aggressive approach, more of a sword than a shield. But lawmakers should embrace it. And they should move quickly. Democrats are clinging to narrow majorities in the House and Senate, and Republicans have been hostile to the emerging agreement.
The nation and the world have a rare opportunity to curb a damaging run of corporate tax evasion — providing economic relief for a beleaguered middle class and hope for some of the poorest people on the planet. We can’t let that opportunity slip away.