Editorial Roundup: United States

Oct 25, 2022, 12:22 PM | Updated: 12:37 pm

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Oct. 19

The Washington Post on the West rebuilding Ukraine

Beyond Ukraine’s stunning recent battlefield successes, eight months of war have rendered the country a physical, financial and economic basket case. Millions of refugees have fled, the country’s gross domestic product has shrunk by about one-third, and the government, its budget depleted by the war, runs monthly deficits of $4 billion or more — mainly financed by Western grants, a lifeline for teachers, retirees living on pensions and millions of others.

Even if Russia were to withdraw now, Ukraine would remain enfeebled for years. Before Russian President Vladimir Putin rained missiles on Ukrainian power plants and other facilities this month, the cost of repairing damage to the country’s critical infrastructure had already been estimated at nearly $200 billion, according to a study by the Kyiv School of Economics. And that is just a fraction of the overall wreckage wrought by Moscow’s indiscriminate attacks.

Rebuilding the country, among Europe’s biggest by population and area, will be a generational undertaking. “It’s not every day that you rebuild a whole country,” said Vlad Rashkovan, a former deputy governor of the Ukrainian central bank who now represents the country on the International Monetary Fund’s executive board.

One question — the $1 trillion question, in the estimate of some economists — is who will pay for it. The United States and Europe, along with international banks and development institutions, must take leading and shared roles.

For Ukraine to succeed, it must also be reformed and broadly reinvented as a viable candidate for admission into the European Union, which can wield the leverage to effect those reforms. That means the reconstruction of Ukraine will depend on more than cash and concrete, although heroic quantities of both are needed. Ultimately its fate will turn on a transformation of mind-set and governance in a nation notorious for oligarchs and endemic corruption. Even before the shooting stops, the country must launch a durable, ironclad, transparent project to transform ministries, markets, courts, businesses and institutions, raising them to Western democratic and free-market standards.

Easier said than done, of course. Prewar Ukraine aspired to join the E.U., in the sense that a C student aspires to admission to the Ivy League. Transparency International ranks it as Europe’s third-most-corrupt country, behind only Russia and Azerbaijan. When a top advocate for reform in Ukraine was asked recently how corruption was faring in the country after months of war, he responded dryly: “The good thing is, there’s no money.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, rightly lionized as an inspirational wartime leader, was ineffective at best during his first three years in office in rolling back graft, the very promise that got him elected in 2019. His second prime minister, dismissed in 2020, said Mr. Zelensky fired him because the government’s own anti-corruption efforts were threatening wealthy power brokers close to the president. Hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds and foreign aid have been siphoned off in recent years by oligarchs, who have used Ukraine’s several thousand state-run companies as ATMs, with the government’s connivance.

Reforms need to start even as rebuilding and humanitarian efforts accelerate in shattered towns and cities from which Russian troops have withdrawn. They are key not only to launch Ukraine on what will be a long path toward E.U. membership — an exceptionally rigorous process — but also to signal to Western governments and multilateral institutions that their aid dollars will not be leached away by oligarchs and kleptocrats.

Ukraine has begun an impressive reconstruction planning effort — thousands of officials and multiple working groups are hammering out blueprints to rebuild housing, roads, transportation hubs, factories, communications towers, and water and sewer systems. Its own full-court press should be matched by an intensified international focus on Ukraine’s long-range needs, even as the West rushes funds, arms and materiel to help fight an existential war against Russia.

Western leaders cannot drag their feet on determining who will oversee and coordinate the hundreds of billions of dollars that will be required over time. Among the plausible candidates are the Group of Seven, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the E.U. itself. Someone needs to be in charge, and soon. A good place to start on that question is Berlin, where an international conference on Ukraine’s reconstruction is set for Tuesday.

At the same time, Ukraine should be on notice that Western aid will be heavily conditioned, and that the tsunami of grants and soft loans that officials in Kyiv hope for is likely to ramp up gradually. That will disappoint some Ukrainians. But it is realistic, given the political and economic pressures in donor countries grappling with energy inflation, nationalism and war fatigue. Pledges for Afghanistan’s reconstruction have so far fallen short of the United Nations’ target amount. The E.U.’s own promise earlier this year of 9 billion euros to close Ukraine’s monthly budget gaps has so far yielded just a fraction of that amount.

Ukrainians understandably want the rebuilding project to tap Russian assets that have been frozen by the West, including $300 billion in Russian Central Bank deposits. No question: Moscow should pay war reparations. But legal, financial and political obstacles stand in the way. Even if some Russian assets can be seized or extracted through negotiations to help Ukraine rebuild, that will likely take years.

Other moves can and should happen faster. The West is already sending large aid packages to address immediate problems beyond the battlefields. In August, the State Department announced an $89 million grant to help disable hundreds of thousands of Russian mines scattered over an area bigger than Virginia and Maryland combined.

Another critical measure is to establish an insurance fund, backed by international financial institutions, to promote private-sector investment. Without that, businesses are unlikely to be able to insure projects they are considering in Ukraine. Corporations typically move faster than international donors; they are key to building wealth in a postwar Ukraine.

It is a vital Western interest not only to defeat a blood-soaked invasion but also to get Ukraine right in the long run. Since the Soviet collapse three decades ago set Ukraine free as an independent country, its anemic institutions, deep-rooted corruption and misgovernance were promoted and exploited by Moscow. The result has been a cataclysm.

The best course now is to rearrange Europe’s security architecture by ensuring that Ukraine is reborn as a vibrant, wholly modern country — a bulwark against an eastern neighbor that might remain brutish for the foreseeable future.

ONLINE: Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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Oct. 24

The Wall Street Journal on the impact of school lockdowns

The pandemic lockdowns were a policy blunder for the ages, and the economic, social and health consequences are still playing out. But the worst catastrophe was visited on America’s children, as Monday’s release of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress shows.

The 2022 NAEP test, often called the nation’s report card, found a record drop in learning across the U.S. since the last test in 2019. The tests measured proficiency in math and reading for fourth and eighth graders, and the harm from closed schools and online-only instruction is severe and depressing.

America’s schools weren’t doing all that well before the pandemic, but the lack of in-school learning made them worse. Eighth graders lost eight points on math since 2019, falling to an average 274 out of a possible 500. Fourth graders lost five points to an average of 236 in 2022. Not a single state or large school district showed better math performance.

The news is little better on reading, with the average score for fourth and eighth graders dropping by three points. Nationwide only 33% of fourth graders and 31% of eighth graders read at or above grade proficiency.

It’s hard to understate the human damage that these dry statistics represent. The learning loss is considerable and will take years to make up, if it ever is. Children who fall behind in reading skills have difficulty learning other subjects. The numbers also mean that millions of young Americans don’t know even the basics of writing and arithmetic.

The NAEP breaks down scores by states and school districts, though it is hard to compare scores by the degree of lockdowns. Every state lost ground to some extent, and different school districts across states often had different lockdown policies. There were also surprises, like a relatively small learning loss in Los Angeles, for unexplained reasons. Some 200,000 children were chronically absent from L.A. schools last year, which makes the results even odder.

But more often students in districts that struggled before the pandemic and had some of the most stringent lockdowns had some of the worst learning loss. In Detroit the average fourth-grade math scores fell 12 points to 194–20 points below basic mastery of fundamentals. The data-analytics company Burbio says Detroit students had access to in-person education only 51.2% of the 2020-2021 school year.

Fourth graders’ average math scores have now fallen below basic levels in Milwaukee, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Cleveland. In-person instruction was available less than one-fifth of the 2020-2021 school year in all of these cities, according to Burbio. Baltimore and Cleveland fourth graders recorded a 15-point drop since 2019.

Compare that to three Florida districts covered by NAEP, which offered in-person instruction 90% or more of the time in 2020-2021 by Burbio’s count. Fourth-grade math skills declined by seven points in Duval County, one point in Hillsborough County, and five points in Miami-Dade. Yet in all three districts the average fourth grader remained above basic mastery of math fundamentals in 2022.

The NAEP results support the case for school choice. Charter school performance was uneven, but in at least 11 states charter fourth graders outperformed their non-charter counterparts in math in 2022, including in Alaska (+16 points), Nevada (+12 points) and North Carolina (+21 points). NAEP says reporting standards were not met for a charter comparison in 22 states.

Catholic schools tended to stay open during the pandemic, and on average their fourth and eighth graders scored higher in reading and math than public-school students. Department of Defense schools performed even better. Students deserve an escape route from schools that can’t prepare them for life and work.

These learning losses didn’t need to be as severe as they are because the school lockdowns didn’t have to continue as we learned more about Covid’s relatively small risk for children. Sweden kept its schools open and avoided the catastrophic learning loss of the U.S.

The school closures were a political decision, typically influenced by teachers unions. The political consequences now should be a backlash against the politicians who let the unions close the schools for so long. For starters, that means anyone endorsed by American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-school-lockdown-catastrophe-naep-test-results-national-assessment-of-educational-progress-11666643369

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Oct. 21

The Los Angeles Times on safeguarding electoral counts

No matter what happens in the upcoming midterm elections, Congress should act before the end of this year to safeguard the nation from any more Trump-style attempts to overthrow the will of the voters.

As the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol has shown in masterful detail, the horror of that day went beyond the violent mobs that interrupted the peaceful process of certifying an election. The rioters — hundreds of whom have been charged with crimes — were the most visible manifestation of former President Trump’s multifaceted attempt to cling to power despite being voted out of office.

But other parts of Trump’s plot — such as pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to throw out legitimate electoral votes for Biden — involved interpretations of the Electoral Count Act of 1887, an arcane law that governs how Congress certifies presidential elections. And that is something Congress can, and should, fix immediately.

The House and Senate have each introduced bills that would make common sense updates to this important law. They clarify what should be obvious — that the vice president’s role in counting electoral college votes is purely ceremonial. Of course a vice president doesn’t have the power to pick and choose which votes get counted, as Pence himself and prominent legal scholars across the political spectrum have said. But if it takes a new law to make that clear, Congress must do it.

The legislation also addresses the cockamamie scheme some Republican lawmakers embraced to stall the certification by objecting to electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania — despite a complete lack of evidence showing widespread problems with their elections. The bills would make it harder for Congress to consider an objection to electoral votes, which can happen now at the request of just one senator and one House member. The Senate’s bill would raise the threshold for an objection to at least one-fifth of each chamber, while the House version would raise it to one-third of each chamber.

The House passed its bill in September, with nine Republicans joining Democrats in support. The Senate version advanced from committee last month with substantial bipartisan approval. At a time when Republicans and Democrats agree on so little, it’s encouraging that lawmakers are coming together to strengthen the system the nation relies on to choose its president.

But this is not a done deal. It is critical that lawmakers in the House and Senate reconcile the two versions of the bill and send it to President Biden’s desk before the year ends. They have just a few weeks to get it done after they return to Washington after the Nov. 8 election. The so-called lame-duck session will be a busy period for Congress, with bills pending to protect the right to same-sex marriage and to ban lawmakers from trading stocks, on top of must-pass budget and defense bills, which will demand a lot of negotiations and wrangling.

An Electoral Count Act update could get folded into the budget or defense bills, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in a recent interview with The Times editorial board. But first the House and Senate must agree on how to merge their bills.

“I think that they can be reconciled, and maybe during the lame duck,” Pelosi said.

It would be a terrible shame if this Congress concludes without passing a clarifying overhaul to the law that governs a key component of American democracy.

The Jan. 6 committee has done an extraordinary public service in documenting the many ways Trump tried to overturn a free and fair election. The committee will disband at the end of the year, and with it out of the news, public attention on the fixes needed to defend the electoral process may also dim. Congress must not waste this opportunity to strengthen the law and protect the nation from another attempted coup. Fix the Electoral Count Act before momentum fades.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-10-21/editorial-president-trump-overthrow-election-jan-6-electoral-count-act

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Oct. 23

The Guardian on the forgotten war in Ethiopia

Millions displaced. Brutal attacks on civilians. A soaring death toll. Deliberate attacks on infrastructure. And little hope of a negotiated exit. Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is enduring probably the most brutal and deadly war being waged in the world today. Tens of thousands of combat fatalities have reportedly followed the failure of a ceasefire in August. Yet the world is paying little heed.

Assessing the true toll is impossible given that most communications have been cut off. Researchers at the University of Ghent have estimated that between 380,000 and 600,000 civilian lives alone have been lost, with 30,000-90,000 killed in direct attacks, but most dying for lack of food or healthcare. In a region already beset by hunger, but which had made some significant strides, food has become a weapon of war. Nearly half the population is in severe need of food aid. There is clear evidence of war crimes by all parties, including widespread sexual violence, although civilian casualties are believed to be overwhelmingly Tigrayan.

The conflict broke out in November 2020, following a political dispute in which the federal and regional Tigray governments declared each other illegitimate. The Ethiopian prime minister and Nobel peace prize winner Abiy Ahmed said he was launching a strike on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) because it had attacked an army base. Eritrea joined his cause. Many fear that the TPLF could regain the political dominance it enjoyed for decades, while others accuse the prime minister of a power grab. The conflict has become messier, more fractured and more entrenched as it has gone on, with the neighboring Amhara region also drawn in.

While some food aid finally arrived in Tigray this spring, Addis Ababa and its allies continued to block commercial traffic to the region, fuel shipments remained extremely limited, and electricity, telecommunications and banking services remained cut off. Now even the humanitarian operations are once again suspended.

The U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, has warned that the situation is spiraling out of control and there is no military solution. Yet Mr. Abiy and his allies still appear bent on one. Their current offensive is infantry-heavy, with poorly trained and equipped troops flung towards enemy lines, in addition to airstrikes. Eritrea has intensified mobilization, reportedly detaining parents whose adult children try to avoid conscription. Despite significant setbacks, many Tigrayans have come to see this as a fight for their very survival; giving up may look as dangerous as persisting. The International Crisis Group has warned of a serious risk of accelerating atrocities, especially given the surge in hate speech against Tigrayans. There are also concerns that the war could spill over given the poor relations and long-running border dispute between the federal government and Sudan.

The African Union, the obvious forum for pursuing a solution, has failed to make progress. While the U.S. has invested effort in diplomacy, it has not always been consistent in following through. The European Union has seemed largely uninterested, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Though there is a good case for U.N. action, including an arms embargo, the path is strewn with obstacles. Donors must make clear to Addis Ababa that anything more than humanitarian assistance cannot resume until it lifts the blockade and shows it is serious about pursuing peace. Tigray’s leaders must similarly demonstrate commitment to African Union talks scheduled for Monday. The collapse of the truce is deeply alarming. But another halt to the disastrous conflict is possible. It will not happen without significant and sustained external pressure: that must be applied, and it must be done now.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/oct/23/the-guardian-view-on-the-worlds-forgotten-conflict-ethiopias-devastating-war

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Oct. 20

China Daily on abortion rights in the U.S.

At a national event of the Democratic Party on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden pledged that if the Democrats do well enough in the midterm elections to get it through Congress, the first bill that he signs into law will be to codify the Roe v. Wade decision allowing women the fundamental right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy or not.

Abortion has emerged as the key issue in the midterm elections after the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion and overruled the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had given women the right to choose.

As the Supreme Court said in its ruling, until the latter part of the 20th century, there was no support in U.S. law for a constitutional right to seek or have an abortion. No state constitutional provision had recognized such a right.

It was not until 1973, after four years of struggle, that the Roe v. Wade case finally gained U.S. women the right to have an abortion. Subsequent legal developments until the Supreme Court’s decision in June had reinforced that.

Since that decision, the constitutional guarantee of women’s abortion rights has been officially abolished, and it is left to the individual states to decide.

In just four months, abortion bans have gone into effect in 16 states, where 26.5 million women of reproductive age are subject to these bans.

The abortion right that stood for 50 years has shaped the lives of women, influencing their choices about relationships and work, and supporting their social and economic equality. The removal of that right marks a reversal in the struggle for women’s rights and the reversal of social progress in the United States.

Karl Marx famously said that “Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex.”

While French philosopher Charles Fourier observed that “The extension of women’s rights is the basic principle of all social progress.”

Both quotes date back to the 19th century. It is now the 22nd year of the 21st century. But the Supreme Court’s decision is a sign of the times in the U.S., which is now firmly under the sway of the past and where human rights are regressing rather than progressing.

ONLINE: https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202210/20/WS63513e16a310fd2b29e7da58.html

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Editorial Roundup: United States