Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on “Martin Luther King, Jr. did not give up. Those fighting for democracy must follow his example”:
On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is perhaps more important than ever to recall King’s immortal expression of hope, a paraphrase of a 19th century abolitionist minister: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
King preached both urgency and patience — nonviolent perseverance in the face of fire hoses, dogs, beatings, lynchings. Every second of marginalization was intolerable. Yet it took a decade after King’s 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott for Congress to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Enslaved Americans had been freed a century before. King did not lose hope. He kept working. He believed that most people feel compassion for their fellow human beings, even if it can take time for some to recognize themselves in others — and even more for this recognition to change minds.
Though the challenges today are different, it is increasingly hard to hold on to this hope and faith in each other. Compassion across political and social disagreements appears to be disappearing. Abhorrent beliefs are hardening rather than softening. Americans increasingly refuse to venture outside their bubbles — physical and virtual zones of the like-minded that are filled with varying amounts of misinformation.
Thus, a once-in-a-century pandemic is exacerbated by people who refuse to accept miracle vaccines and the politicians who pander to them. A disturbingly large number of voters, concentrated on the right, now believe that anti-democratic violence is acceptable. And, most important for King’s legacy, the political system is failing to protect the voting rights of minorities in the United States.
The Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act. Republican-run states have since passed waves of laws that are designed to make voting harder, with a disproportionate impact on minority communities. There was once a bipartisan commitment in Congress to protect all Americans’ voting rights. Now, Republicans block bills that would impose modest minimum standards for voting access and they balk at efforts to repair the Voting Rights Act they once overwhelmingly supported.
King would not have lost hope. He would have kept working. “The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going,” he declared in Montgomery in 1965.
It is crucial to seize every opportunity for progress, even if it feels small and insufficient in the moment. Senate Republicans are poised to block voting access bills this upcoming week, and Democratic holdouts refuse to change the chamber’s rules to ease their passage. But some have expressed interest in insulating the election process from partisans who would subvert the results. As important as enabling Black Americans to vote is ensuring that their votes are counted over the objections of those seeking to label their ballots illegitimate.
If there is an opportunity to make even a small amount of progress, leaders of conscience must seize it. Then they should redouble their efforts — in towns, cities, counties, states, the courts and Congress — to do more. King’s hope for the future was not an invitation for complacency. The arc of the moral universe will not bend itself.
The Wall Street Journal on “How to Mess Up a 5G Rollout”:
It’s hard to know which is more messed up these days — air transportation, or the Biden Administration. As another case in point, consider the clash between airlines and wireless carriers over 5G.
Verizon and AT&T said Tuesday they’ll delay a 5G rollout planned for Wednesday after airlines complained it would disrupt flights across the country. President Biden took credit for preventing anarchy in the skies, though his Administration created the mess.
At issue is the C-band spectrum that carriers plan to use to blanket metro areas with 5G. Carriers paid the U.S. government $80 billion for this valuable spectrum, but the Federal Aviation Administration now won’t let them use it. The agency says the signals could potentially interfere with plane altimeters that measure the distance to the ground.
The Federal Communications Commission reviewed these concerns during notice-and-comment on its plan to repurpose C-band from satellite operators. In March 2020, it approved a 258-page decision that included a safe buffer between the bands occupied by altimeters and 5G — larger than many other countries require.
Yet some 20 months later, the FAA demanded to relitigate the FCC decision and took airlines and carriers hostage. If Verizon and AT&T didn’t pause their 5G rollout, the FAA would order flights grounded or diverted. AT&T and Verizon didn’t want to be blamed for that, so they twice agreed to scale back and delay their rollouts.
Two weeks ago they struck a deal with the Transportation Department to limit C-band signals within a mile of airport runways for six months and delay deploying 5G until Jan. 19. The FAA said it wouldn’t ask for another delay. And if you believed that . . .
On Sunday the FAA said it had cleared only 45% of U.S. commercial airplanes to land in low-visibility conditions at only 48 of the 88 airports it deemed at highest risk from potential 5G interference. This didn’t cover Boeing’s wide-bodied 777 and 787 models, which are flying in countries around the world with fewer 5G restrictions.
This meant airlines would have to reroute or cancel thousands of flights. The disruptions would cause immediate havoc while forgone 5G service wouldn’t be felt by Americans. Wireless carriers would be blamed for the chaos, which is probably why they conceded Tuesday to more “voluntary” and “temporary” restrictions.
“At our sole discretion, we have voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment, since they have not utilized the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment,” AT&T said.
That’s far too charitable to the FAA and Transportation Department. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg rolled FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, who has supported the carriers’ 5G rollout behind the scenes. And now he and Mr. Biden are portraying their blundering as a diplomatic victory. This Administration needs less political spin and more competent governance.
Los Angeles Times on “Shame on SoCal leaders for backing a ballot measure to roll back housing fixes”:
Recognizing California’s desperate need for housing, the Legislature passed two important laws last year. The more controversial, Senate Bill 9, lets property owners construct duplexes, and in some cases four units, in most single-family-home neighborhoods.
For many politicians and homeowners, the measure amounted to a defiling of the vaunted single-family neighborhood. And before the ink was dry on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature on SB 9, opponents were determined to find a way to get rid of it.
The Our Neighborhood Voices Initiative is their attempt to dismantle SB 9 and other state housing laws. The proposed ballot measure says that any city or county land-use or zoning law overrides all conflicting state laws (except in certain circumstances such as when land is governed by the Coastal Act.) The initiative would allow cities to ignore state laws that made it easier for homeowners build granny flats on their properties and let developers build bigger projects if they include affordable housing. The initiative could also jeopardize state requirements that cities plan for enough market-rate and affordable housing to meet population demand. Backers want to put the initiative on the November ballot but first have to collect the signatures of nearly a million registered voters.
It will be months before signatures are turned in and the state determines whether the measure qualifies for the ballot, but that didn’t stop the Regional Council of the Southern California Assn. of Governments — known by the unappealing acronym, SCAG — from voting this month by 32 to 12 (with 3 members abstaining) to support the initiative.
That is downright shameful. This regional group, which represents 191 cities and six counties (Los Angeles among them, of course), touts its goals as “innovative regional solutions” and commits to taking “deliberate, bold and purposeful risks.”
Nothing could be less bold and risky and innovative than defending the status quo. Cities have had decades to come up with plans to build enough housing, particularly affordable housing, to meet population demand. Few have. If they had, we wouldn’t need state laws to encourage new home construction or override local laws that stymie construction.
Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand, one of the creators of the initiative, said he had been working on the ballot measure for four years and that it was not a “knee-jerk reaction” to SB 9 but was instead a reaction to the bad housing legislation coming out of Sacramento over the years “that does nothing for affordable housing,” he contends.
But the state laws were a reaction to the utter failure of cities and counties to support more housing in their communities, which has created a shortage that has driven up rents and home prices to record highs.
“Fundamentally we as the rulers, the supreme authorities over land use, have not allowed housing to be built,” Alex Fisch, a SCAG member and city councilman from Culver City, said, chastising his fellow elected leaders. “We make it more expensive with parking minimums and with delays … and making people wait for four years as they go through community meetings.”
The state housing bills passed in recent years have been aimed at easing local restrictions that make it harder, if not impossible, to build. SB 9 offers a way to create more housing in single-family neighborhoods. About three quarters of the residential land in the state is zoned for single-family homes only. How can we ever create enough housing for all people, at various income levels, when so much of it is set aside only for single-family homes?
Opponents of SB 9 say that subdividing lots in single-family neighborhoods won’t create affordable housing. But it doesn’t have to. It just needs to create more housing.
Meanwhile, we do need dedicated affordable housing for low-income households. To all the city and county representatives who said at that SCAG meeting that they’re building affordable housing: good for you! Keep going. There is nothing in SB 9 or any of the other state housing bills that prevents a municipality from also creating affordable housing.
But the voter initiative could hinder the production and preservation of affordable housing. The measure would allow cities and counties to pass or block whatever housing laws they want. The initiative could override Assembly Bill 1482, the law that limits how much landlords can increase rents and requires they show “just cause” — such as a failure to pay rent or a lease violation — before they evict a tenant. Overturning that law would jeopardize hard-fought protections that give vulnerable renters stability and security.
There is nothing about the initiative that encourages housing of any kind. It’s about returning local control to cities and counties so that they can once again block much-needed housing. That’s bad. And SCAG should not have supported it.
China Daily on how “Biden’s problem-solving policies exacerbate those in Sino-US ties”
On Jan 20 last year, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States vowing to solve its problems. Reviewing the development of Sino-US relations, one year on, it is clear that his administration has worsened the problems in Sino-US relations, not solved them. Not only has it enthusiastically inherited its predecessor’s bullying trade practices and Indo-Pacific strategy targeting China, it has also sought to further toughen them.
More Chinese entities have been blacklisted, and the administration has tried, and continues to try, to get the US’ allies to close ranks with it, and to persuade or coerce other countries, to isolate China politically and economically and in the technological field, despite their obvious reluctance to choose sides.
It has also been attempting to command the moral high ground by carrying out value diplomacy; bigging itself up as a beacon for democracy and defender of human rights while denigrating China as being a wrecking light for democracy and a violator of human rights. At the same time, it has called on China to cooperate with it to jointly respond to climate change, and strengthen bilateral coordination to try and resolve regional issues such as the Iran nuclear deal.
Yet despite China and the US having broad common interests and sharing common responsibilities for the world, and despite the Chinese side having made it clear in the exchanges between the two sides that it is always willing to engage in constructive dialogue with the US — including in the two leaders’ three talks by phone and video link, and the diplomatic interactions in Anchorage, Tianjin, Zurich and Rome — the administration continues to refuse to work with China to build a cooperative relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
The competition-confrontation-cooperation trichotomy with which it dresses up its China policy cannot disguise its artifice. China is the other that must be feared, since both the US psyche and the US economy demand a bete noire.
But it is a shortsighted and selfish policy that courts disaster for the world. Not least because apart from trying to put in place an Iron Curtain to separate the US and its allies from the rest, the Biden administration is continuously playing the Taiwan card, irrespective of the dangers of doing so.
The raging COVID-19 pandemic in the US, which caused nearly half a million deaths over the past year, and the highest inflation rate in decades should awaken the Biden administration to the fact that blaming China and the ceaseless printing of banknotes are slow poison instead of the solutions to the US’ problems.
The Biden administration should accept that it is counterproductive to build its China policy on the foundation of its predecessor’s and to let itself be led by the nose by the diehard China-bashers.
It should take the occasion of the anniversary to conduct a comprehensive and objective review and audit of its China policy, and make the necessary adjustments to help get the two countries’ relations back on the right track.
The Guardian on “Boris Johnson and ‘partygate’: all played out”:
In the days when he combined the job of Tory MP with editing the Spectator magazine, Boris Johnson was forced to go to Liverpool to apologize following the publication of a gratuitously offensive editorial about the city. Later, revealing his true feelings, he derided the episode as “Operation Scouse-grovel”. But the faux-contrition did the trick. In his biography of Mr Johnson, the journalist Andrew Gimson writes: “The Liverpool debacle did no lasting damage. It amused a great number of people and made him even more famous.”
Faced with a nation’s outrage during a public health crisis, Mr. Johnson appears to have believed he could get away with a similarly disingenuous approach. Unable to deny that he attended a lockdown-breaking drinks party in the garden of Downing Street, the prime minister has issued grovelling apologies while deploying sophistry to evade the consequences of his actions. His latest self-exculpatory move – made during an abject interview with Sky television – was to suggest that no one in No 10 warned him that the May 2020 party broke Covid rules. The language chosen was deliberately specific, failing to rule out warnings of a more general kind; but in essence Mr. Johnson asked the country to swallow the idea that he was the only person in Downing Street who did not understand what was taking place on 20 May. It is a proposition so shamelessly implausible that one senses that even Mr. Johnson does not expect it to be believed.
The question thus becomes what the Conservative party intends to do about a leader who has brought the government into disrepute, and betrayed the nation’s trust at a time of crisis. In the House of Commons on Wednesday, the senior Tory MP David Davis echoed the words used to dispatch a previous Tory prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, in 1940, telling Mr. Johnson: “In the name of God, go.” It was an appropriate message for a prime minister whose cavalier approach to the lockdown rules he himself set confirms an unfitness for office.
The defection of a northern Tory MP to Labour also testified to the extent to which Mr. Johnson’s authority is draining away. But while the prime minister’s behavior has succeeded in uniting MPs from different party factions against him, there is disunity over how to proceed. Some MPs, particularly among the 2019 election intake, favour moving to a vote of no confidence and a possible leadership contest immediately; others wish to wait to hear Sue Gray’s report on the Downing Street parties before acting. Those with ambitions to succeed Mr. Johnson as prime minister, such as the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, would doubtless prefer more time to prepare their challenge.
This internal division and indecision is currently allowing the prime minister to survive from day to day. Despite plunging poll ratings and a shot reputation, Mr. Johnson clearly remains determined to brazen out “partygate” if he possibly can, hoping that Wednesday’s lifting of Covid plan B restrictions will help his cause. As he staggers on, populist policy is being made on the hoof – from bashing the BBC to deploying the Royal Navy to confront migrants – in an attempt to shore up Mr. Johnson’s position.
It is a dismal, unsustainable state of affairs: a prime minister whose attempts to evade responsibility for his actions have not worked sits tight and hopes for the best; a party that has been too long in power calculates how to hold on to it once he has gone. As Britain faces the headwinds of a cost of living crisis, and attempts to navigate a successful exit from the Covid pandemic, it requires a prime minister it can respect and, at a basic level, trust. It does not have one.