Editorial Roundup: United States
Aug 30, 2022, 1:29 PM | Updated: 3:33 pm
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on Lindsey Graham’s riot prediction.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham on Sunday said that if the Justice Department prosecutes former president Donald Trump for mishandling classified information, there will be “riots in the street.” A few minutes later, he said it again. There is no excuse for this irresponsible rhetoric, which not only invites violence but also defies democratic norms.
The comments the South Carolina Republican made on Fox News’s “Sunday Night in America” imply that there is no plausible case against Mr. Trump based on his taking sensitive White House documents to store, unsecured, at Mar-a-Lago. This has been a continuing suggestion from the right wing, usually paired with a comparison to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. Yet already, differences between these cases are apparent, and more still could emerge: from the number of documents improperly kept, to the intentions behind keeping them, to the harm that holding this material could have done to national security. The possibility of obstructive behavior mentioned in the FBI affidavit unsealed last week can’t be discounted.
Because pursuing the investigation remains worthwhile, Mr. Graham’s comments are especially dangerous. His spokesman defended the interview to The Post as “predicting/forecasting what he thinks will happen.” But some predictions are also threats. And in this case, giving a forecast on national television might make it more likely that this vision of the future comes to pass. Mr. Trump promptly shared the clip on his platform Truth Social, which he has peppered with myriad ravings about the search of his property of late. Meanwhile, menacing messages from angry supporters are inundating the National Archives, and one man attempted to attack an FBI facility. The Jan. 6 insurrection showed the country how readily some voters will interpret a leader’s words as a call to arms — and then action.
Mr. Graham, a former prosecutor who has chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, should understand how his comments could heighten the risk of unrest. He should know that the Justice Department does, too. By talking about the possibility of violence without condemning it, Mr. Trump’s sympathizers play a game of intimidation: daring Attorney General Merrick Garland to bring a case and face the consequences. As wary as Mr. Garland and his colleagues should be of overusing their power in tumultuous times, federal prosecutors must not allow themselves to be bullied out of doing their jobs. References to riots, civil war, banana republics or so much else we’ve heard in recent weeks make it more dangerous for the government to uphold the rule of law. “I worry about our country,” Mr. Graham said at the end of Sunday’s interview. His reckless words and others like them are cause for the greatest concern.
The New York Times on former President Donald Trump and the Capitol riot.
Over the course of this summer, the nation has been transfixed by the House select committee’s hearings on the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and how or whether Donald Trump might face accountability for what happened that day. The Justice Department remained largely silent about its investigations of the former president until this month, when the F.B.I. searched his home in Palm Beach, Fla., in a case related to his handling of classified documents. The spectacle of a former president facing criminal investigation raises profound questions about American democracy, and these questions demand answers.
Mr. Trump’s unprecedented assault on the integrity of American democracy requires a criminal investigation. The disturbing details of his postelection misfeasance, meticulously assembled by the Jan. 6 committee, leave little doubt that Mr. Trump sought to subvert the Constitution and overturn the will of the American people. The president, defeated at the polls in 2020, tried to enlist federal law enforcement authorities, state officials and administrators of the nation’s electoral system in a furious effort to remain in power. When all else failed, he roused an armed mob that stormed the Capitol and threatened lawmakers.
The Justice Department is reportedly examining Mr. Trump’s conduct, including his role in trying to overturn the election and in taking home classified documents. If Attorney General Merrick Garland and his staff conclude that there is sufficient evidence to establish Mr. Trump’s guilt on a serious charge in a court of law, then they must seek an indictment too.
This board is aware that in deciding how Mr. Trump should be held accountable under the law it is necessary to consider not just whether criminal prosecution would be warranted but whether it would be wise. No American president has ever been criminally prosecuted after leaving office. When President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, he ensured that Nixon would not be prosecuted for crimes committed during the Watergate scandal; Ford explained this decision with the warning that such a prosecution posed grave risks of rousing “ugly passions” and worsening political polarization.
That warning is just as salient today. Pursuing prosecution of Mr. Trump could further entrench support for him and play into the conspiracy theories he has sought to stoke. It could inflame the bitter partisan divide, even to the point of civil unrest. A trial, if it is viewed as illegitimate, could also further undermine confidence in the rule of law, whatever the eventual outcome.
The risks of political escalation are obvious. The Democratic and Republican parties are already in the thick of a cycle of retribution that could last generations. There is a substantial risk that, if the Justice Department does prosecute Mr. Trump, future presidents — whether Mr. Trump himself or someone of his ilk — could misuse the precedent to punish political rivals. If their party takes a majority in the House of Representatives after the midterm elections, some Republicans have already threatened to impeach President Biden.
There is an even more immediate threat of further violence, and it is a possibility that Americans should, sadly, be prepared for. In the hours after federal agents began a court-approved search of Mr. Trump’s residence in Palm Beach, based on a warrant investigating possible violations of three federal laws, including one that governs the handling of defense information under the Espionage Act, his most fervent supporters escalated their rhetoric to the language of warfare. As The Times noted, “The aggressive, widespread response was arguably the clearest outburst of violent public rhetoric since the days leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.”
Mr. Garland has been deliberate, methodical and scrupulous in his leadership of the Justice Department’s investigations of the Jan. 6 attack and the transfer of documents to Mr. Trump’s home. On Friday a redacted version of the affidavit used to obtain the warrant was released, revealing that the Justice Department asked to search the premises to recover documents because of concerns that their disclosure could compromise “clandestine human sources” of intelligence and because it had probable cause to believe it would find “evidence of obstruction” at the premises.
No matter how careful Mr. Garland is or how measured the prosecution might be, there is a real and significant risk from those who believe that any criticism of Mr. Trump justifies an extreme response.
Yet it is a far greater risk to do nothing when action is called for. Aside from letting Mr. Trump escape punishment, doing nothing to hold him accountable for his actions in the months leading up to Jan. 6 could set an irresistible precedent for future presidents. Why not attempt to stay in power by any means necessary or use the power of the office to enrich oneself or punish one’s enemies, knowing that the law does not apply to presidents in or out of office?
More important, democratic government is an ideal that must constantly be made real. America is not sustained by a set of principles; it is sustained by resolute action to defend those principles.
Immediately after the Jan. 6 insurrection, cabinet members reportedly debated privately whether to remove Mr. Trump from power under the authority of the 25th Amendment. A week after the attack, the House impeached Mr. Trump for the second time. This editorial board supported his impeachment and removal from office; we also suggested that the former president and lawmakers who participated in the Jan. 6 plot could be permanently barred from holding office under a provision of the 14th Amendment that applies to any official who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” or given “aid or comfort” to those who have done so. But most Republicans in the Senate refused to convict Mr. Trump, and Congress has yet to invoke that section of the 14th Amendment against him. As a result, the threat that Mr. Trump and his most ardent supporters pose to American democracy has metastasized.
Even now, the former president continues to spread lies about the 2020 election and denounce his vice president, Mike Pence, for not breaking the law on his behalf. Meanwhile, dozens of people who believe Mr. Trump’s lies are running for state and national elected office. Many have already won, some of them elevated to positions that give them control over how elections are conducted. In June the Republican Party in Texas approved measures in its platform declaring that Mr. Biden’s election was illegitimate. And Mr. Trump appears prepared to start a bid for a second term as president.
Mr. Trump’s actions as a public official, like no others since the Civil War, attacked the heart of our system of government. He used the power of his office to subvert the rule of law. If we hesitate to call those actions and their perpetrator criminal, then we are saying he is above the law and giving license to future presidents to do whatever they want.
In addition to a federal investigation by the Justice Department, Mr. Trump is facing a swirl of civil and criminal liability in several other cases: a lawsuit by the attorney general for the District of Columbia over payments during his inauguration ceremonies; a criminal investigation in Westchester County, N.Y., over taxes on one of his golf courses; a criminal case in Fulton County, Ga., over interference in the 2020 election; a criminal case by the Manhattan district attorney over the valuation of Mr. Trump’s properties; and a civil inquiry by New York’s attorney general into Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization.
The specific crimes the Justice Department could consider would likely involve Mr. Trump’s fraudulent efforts to get election officials in Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere to declare him the winner even though he lost their states; to get Mr. Pence, at the Jan. 6 congressional certification of the election, to throw out slates of electors from states he lost and replace them with electors loyal to Mr. Trump; and to enlist officials from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense to persuade officials in certain states to swing the election to him and ultimately stir up a mob that attacked the Capitol. The government could also charge Mr. Trump with seditious conspiracy, a serious charge that federal prosecutors have already brought against leaders of far-right militia groups who participated in the Capitol invasion.
The committee hearings make it clear: Mr. Trump must have known he was at the center of a frantic, sprawling and knowingly fraudulent effort that led directly to the Capitol siege. For hours, Mr. Trump refused to call off the mob.
The testimony from hundreds of witnesses, many of them high-ranking Republican officials from his own administration, reveals Mr. Trump’s unrelenting efforts, beginning months before Election Day and continuing through Jan. 6, to sow doubt about the election, to refuse to accept the result of that election and then to pursue what he must have known were illegal and unconstitutional means to overturn it. Many participants sought pre-emptive pardons for their conduct — an indication they knew they were violating the law.
Other evidence points to other crimes, like obstruction of Congress, defined as a corrupt obstruction of the “proper administration of the law.” The fake-elector scheme that Mr. Trump and his associates pushed before Jan. 6 appears to meet this definition. That may explain why at least three of Mr. Trump’s campaign lawyers were unwilling to participate in the plot. People involved in it were told it was not “legally sound” by White House lawyers, but they moved forward with it anyway.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Mr. Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, provided powerful evidence that could be used to charge Mr. Trump with seditious conspiracy. In her public testimony at a Jan. 6 committee hearing, she said that Mr. Trump was informed that many in the throng of supporters waiting to hear him speak on the Ellipse that day were armed but that he demanded they be allowed to skip the metal detectors that had been installed for his security. “They’re not here to hurt me,” he said, according to Ms. Hutchinson. “Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.”
If Mr. Garland decides to pursue prosecution, a message that the Justice Department must send early and often is that even if Mr. Trump genuinely believed, as he claimed, that the election had been marred by fraud, his schemes to interfere in the certification of the vote would still be crimes. And even though Mr. Trump’s efforts failed, these efforts would still be crimes. More than 850 other Americans have already been charged with crimes for their roles in the Capitol attack. Well-meaning intentions did not shield them from the consequences of their actions. It would be unjust if Mr. Trump, the man who inspired them, faced no consequences.
No one should revel in the prospect of this or any former president facing criminal prosecution. Mr. Trump’s actions have brought shame on one of the world’s oldest democracies and destabilized its future. Even justice before the law will not erase that stain. Nor will prosecuting Mr. Trump fix the structural problems that led to the greatest crisis in American democracy since the Civil War. But it is a necessary first step toward doing so.
The Wall Street Journal on President Joe Biden’ s student loan forgiveness.
President Biden’s student-loan write-off is the gift that keeps on giving, unless you’re the sap who paid off her loan or didn’t go to college. Thanks to a little-known provision in the March 2021 COVID spending bill, student borrowers will get a hefty tax benefit on top of their $10,000 or $20,000 in canceled debt.
Progressives started hounding Mr. Biden on loan forgiveness while he was still on the campaign trail, and they tucked a perk into last year’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in anticipation. The provision, sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bob Menendez, makes loan forgiveness tax free through Jan. 1, 2026. The Senators’ press release at the time boasted that this “paves the way” for President Biden to forgive up to $50,000 in debt. And so it did.
This contradicts the normal state and federal tax principle that treats loan forgiveness as taxable income. If a borrower earns income of $60,000, and has $10,000 in loans forgiven, his taxable income for the year becomes $70,000. The money is a windfall gift, while the lender that forgives the debt will deduct it from income.
Not anymore on federal taxes for student borrowers. According to the Senators, under their tax-free plan an average borrower earning $50,000 in income will save about $2,200 in taxes for every $10,000 of forgiven student loans. The borrowers get a double bonus, while taxpayers assume another burden in the interest that must be paid on the additional government debt now and higher taxes later. Only some 13 states chose not to follow automatically the new tax-free forgiveness policy in the 2021 bill.
In 2021 Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation scored the Warren-Menendez provision at a cost of $44 million, since at the time few borrowers were expected to receive forgiveness. But given the sweeping nature of the Biden loan cancellation, the left-leaning Tax Policy Center now estimates the cost could be roughly $34 billion.
There will be no comparable tax reprieve for Americans who take out other loans and struggle to repay, or Americans who were frugal and didn’t take out college loans. But give the Warren-Biden Democrats time. Don’t be surprised if a general debt amnesty is part of their agenda the next time there’s a recession and people are stretched to make their loan payments.
The Guardian on climate chaos
The harm and distress caused by floods in Pakistan are difficult – if not impossible – to quantify, as a crisis of vast proportions keeps unfolding. They have killed around 1,000 people so far this summer, with at least 119 losing their lives in one 24-hour period last week. The number of those who have lost their homes, or been evacuated, is in the millions, with 300,000 dwellings destroyed. More than 33 million people are affected – around one in seven of the population. The country’s climate change minister, Sherry Rehman, says the floods – caused by torrential monsoon rains and melting glaciers – are the worst in living memory. Around a third of Pakistan is under water. Vitally important agricultural land will take months to drain.
Hunger, homelessness and the spread of water-borne diseases are among the most immediate problems, and humanitarian aid must be urgently ramped up if further suffering is to be prevented. Supplies have begun to arrive from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, but Pakistan’s government is right to expect more – especially from the rich western nations that bear the greatest responsibility for global heating. Pakistan has more glaciers – 7,532 – than anywhere on Earth outside the polar regions, and is thus one of the countries most endangered by fossil fuel use and the temperature rises and other extreme weather that it causes.
Earlier this year, scientists reported their finding that human-made climate change made the deadly heatwave then afflicting Pakistan and India 30 times more likely. (Another study found that the deadly heatwave in 2010 had been made 100 times more likely.) Studies seeking to establish and quantify the precise contribution of greenhouse gases to this catastrophic monsoon have yet to appear. The complexity of weather systems means it can never be stated categorically that global heating was the single cause of a given event.
What is beyond question is that a human-made climate emergency is upon us. The floods in Pakistan, like recent heatwaves, droughts and fires, are but a glimpse of the destruction ahead. Pakistan’s government knows this. Rehman described the floods as a “climate catastrophe”. The foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said: “We are devastated by climate disasters such as these time and time again.”
The International Monetary Fund will decide this week whether to release $1.2bn in payments tied to Pakistan’s bailout program, and surely will not refuse. Rightly, critics including local journalists have pointed to the need for Pakistan’s authorities to update planning rules and policies to reflect current risks. Undoubtedly, the impact of the floods was made worse by a lack of preparedness. One man spoke of having built a house on the understanding that flood defenses would soon be in place – only to see it washed away. In Pakistan, as elsewhere, people must adapt to survive.
But far from being a get-out clause for western governments and institutions, the necessity of adaptation in these worst-hit parts of the world makes it all the more imperative that they are helped. Climate finance, as this form of support is known, was among the unfinished business of the Cop26 summit last year. The principle underlying it goes beyond disaster relief or aid. Instead, the transfer of wealth built up over centuries of fossil fuel extraction is meant to enable a global transition away from carbon and towards a sustainable way of life. Pakistan’s devastation is a grim reminder of what is at stake.
China Daily on dealings between China and U.S. regulatory authorities.
That the Chinese and United States regulatory authorities finally reached an agreement that allows U.S. regulators to inspect U.S.-listed Chinese company audits is indeed an all-win outcome that illustrates both the need for and possibility of reciprocity-based collaboration even in the current severe climate of bilateral ties.
When news came that the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and the China Securities Regulatory Commission had finally broken their years-long deadlock on Friday, sighs of relief were heard from all stake-holding parties.
While easing the delisting pressure on the hundreds of Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges, it also mitigates fears that Chinese companies may permanently lose access to the world’s deepest capital markets and that the two countries are headed toward de facto financial decoupling.
The CSRC hailed the agreement as an important step that would benefit investors, companies and both countries. Lynn Martin, president of the New York Stock Exchange, called it “an important development for the global economy and our US capital markets”.
Yet, just as many have observed, this is only the first step toward truly breaking the longstanding regulatory deadlock, which has been unduly politicized, even stretched into a national security subject. Whether the pact reached on Friday, the details of which have not been published, will work as anticipated rests not only on how well the U.S. regulators’ first inspections in Hong Kong proceed, but also on whether constructive engagement can continue over time.
PCAOB inspectors are expected to travel to Hong Kong in mid-September to conduct initial inspections, after which the U.S. regulatory authority will determine whether its inspectors have been granted the “full access” promised and make their judgment on Chinese compliance. The Friday deal is being viewed as partial because plenty of technical details may get in the way of the implementation.
How the inspections proceed will to a great extent determine the fate of more than 200 Chinese companies listed in U.S. capital markets, some of which are key industry leaders in China whose financial health has significant impacts on the national economy.
Since the two countries’ regulators were able to navigate the complexities of the political situation to arrive at the agreement, there is every reason to hope that they will be able to arrive at a truly win-win scenario. And that would be good news indeed.
After all, it would prove it is possible to find a balance between the two countries’ respective national security concerns.
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