Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on the election system’s upcoming stress test:
This year’s midterms are not shaping up to be normal elections. In an environment in which one party is gripped by skepticism and denialism about foundational democratic processes, new avenues are opening for voter intimidation and election interference — a stress test that could be a small taste of what is ahead in the 2024 presidential election.
Early signs of danger are popping up across the map at multiple levels in the election system.
Threats against voters: In Arizona, Maricopa County officials say men wearing tactical gear and masks have been observing a ballot drop box in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb. Voters have complained about these menacing figures to the Arizona secretary of state’s office, one alleging that the watchers photographed them and accused them of being what some on the right refer to as “mules” — that is, people who illicitly collect and deposit ballots in drop boxes.
This is all, sadly, unsurprising. After Joe Biden narrowly won Arizona in 2020, Donald Trump and his allies refused to accept defeat. Arizona’s Republican-led state Senate conducted a partisan “audit” of the results that found nothing of concern — but still fueled unfounded doubts. This year, at the top of the ticket, Republicans have nominated gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, one of the country’s most vocal election deniers.
A Reuters-Ipsos poll released Wednesday showed that 43 percent of Americans are “concerned about threats of violence or voter intimidation while voting in person,” and two-thirds worry that “extremists will commit acts of violence after the election.”
Undermining local election officials: Houston-area officials last week requested federal election monitors from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in response to the news that their own state government plans to send a squadron of election monitors there. This is the latest episode in a long-running war between Harris County officials and state-level Republicans, who previously banned 24-hour and drive-through voting, measures that had made it easier for Houstonians to vote in 2020. There is no credible evidence that substantial election fraud occurred as a result, but a toxic atmosphere of mutual mistrust remains — something that is not unique to Texas and its most populous county this year.
Conspiracy-minded partisans watching — and staffing — the polls: Partisan and nonpartisan observers have been on the Election Day scene for decades. But in the current environment — in which the majority of Republicans say they believe Mr. Trump’s lie that he was denied a victory in 2020 because of massive fraud — having an army of monitors is a recipe for confrontation and intimidation at the polls. As The Post has reported, the Republican National Committee and its allies have staged thousands of training sessions around the country on how to observe and lodge complaints about voting. Meanwhile, nearly a dozen states, from Texas to Montana and Utah to Florida, have passed laws giving election observers far more autonomy within polling places.
Americans might even have to worry that the Election Day worker helping at the local polling place, once a symbol of civic spirit, might be a partisan agent seeking to claim nonexistent fraud or engage in other misconduct. Last month, a first-time Republican poll worker in Michigan was charged with two felonies after he inserted a personal flash drive into an electronic poll book that contained sensitive voter information. Kent County, Mich., officials had to conduct a vote audit and decommission equipment.
What to do to protect the system: In this country’s decentralized voting system, state and local officials are the first line of defense. States such as Colorado, Maine and Oregon have recently passed laws specifically aimed at protecting election workers, but most states have not. So the burden is on local officials such as Sherry L. Poland, the election director in Hamilton County, Ohio, who said her polling places will take security measures in the coming midterm election vote that they usually reserve for presidential election years. State and local police, meanwhile, should enforce aggressive voting-security laws already on the books, such as Arizona’s banning armed people from being within 75 feet of a polling place.
There are also some simple things states can do to prevent partisan activists from infiltrating poll-worker ranks. An analysis released last week by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that 34 states require all temporary election workers to be trained, a critical part of ensuring they know their responsibilities and weeding out those who are unwilling to perform them. Forty states demand that polling workers take oaths of office. And 47 of them try to achieve partisan parity in hiring election workers. Though doing so is not always possible, given the lopsided partisan makeup of some communities, striving to achieve balance projects fairness and builds checks into the system.
Yet poll-worker oaths, training and partisan balance will do only so much. States also need strong and clear dismissal policies enabling supervisors to remove poll workers who break the rules, threaten voting integrity or otherwise cause a scene. Similarly, supervisors should have wide discretion to remove disruptive partisan election observers.
What to do to encourage more voting: Since the 2020 election, Republican legislatures have passed a wave of restrictive voting laws — 42 of them in 21 states, with most already in place for the midterm elections, according to the latest tally by the Brennan Center for Justice. In general, it is harder to cast ballots in red states than in blue ones, a recent analysis in the Election Law Journal showed.
That is why it is imperative for the federal government to act. Congress should boost federal penalties for threatening election workers. It should also reempower the Justice Department, which has seen its tools under the Voting Rights Act stripped away by the Supreme Court. Most urgent right now, in the absence of new legislation, is for the department to send monitors to places where intimidation is likely to happen — and to investigate and prosecute it where it occurs.
Finally, Congress should send a lot more money to states to secure and improve voting. Federal funds could finance election technology upgrades, poll-worker training (the quality of which varies widely from place to place) and voter education. Ms. Poland, the Ohio county election director, said her office conducts “behind the ballot tours,” showing those concerned about voting integrity their facilities, methods and safeguards.
Yet even if local, state and federal officials fail to rise to the moment, voters can still have the final say. Americans of goodwill and common sense should refuse to allow threats, intimidation, antidemocratic lies, malign poll workers or vigilantes in body armor to prevent them from casting ballots. And when they cast their ballots, it should be for candidates who condemn these tactics — not those who encourage and profit from them.
The New York Times on a possible compromise regarding immigration reform:
A wave of people seeking better lives has overwhelmed America’s immigration infrastructure. In response, the United States has allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking asylum to live and work in the country without any evaluation of the merits of their claims, while summarily expelling hundreds of thousands of others, also without regard to the merits of their claims. A promise to shelter those in need has thus devolved into a Kafkaesque sham.
Immigration is a vitalizing force in the nation’s cultural and economic life, but the United States cannot admit all those who wish to come. The choice of who is allowed to enter must be intentional, not the result of a government that lacks the capacity to enforce its own laws. The shambles of the asylum process is undermining public support for immigration. And that, in turn, jeopardizes the ability of those with legitimate need to obtain refuge.
America’s commitment to offer asylum to people fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands is an essential expression of the nation’s ideals. But the system is broken.
The United States needs to invest the resources necessary to live up to its ideals by building a system that treats asylum seekers with dignity, provides for a fair and efficient adjudication of their claims and ensures that those who do not obtain permission to stay in the country do not remain.
The daily scenes of bedraggled families sloshing across the Rio Grande to reach Texas encapsulate the misery and unfairness of an immigration system that has devolved into a haphazard collection of breaches and barriers. Between October 2021 and June 2022, the first three quarters of the most recent fiscal year, the government accepted asylum applications from more than 150,000 people, mostly from Latin America, many traveling with their families. Often they seek or wait patiently for arrest as soon as they set foot in the United States, knowing that after a few days in federal custody, they will be released. More than 750,000 people are now waiting for the government to review their asylum claims, and the average wait time is more than four years, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. In the meantime, they can live in the United States and, after 150 days, apply for permission to work here.
The Government Accountability Office reported last month that the government was struggling to keep track of a significant portion of those released from custody. Between March 2021 and February 2022, Customs and Border Protection released 184,900 migrants seeking asylum. They were instructed to report to immigration offices in their destination cities, but as of March 2022, roughly one in four of those people had failed to do so.
The backlog of asylum claims has swelled even though the government, since March 2020, has used the pretext of a public health emergency to bar asylum claims from some of the nations that historically have numbered among the largest sources of migrants seeking to enter the United States, including Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Between October 2021 and June 2022, the federal government invoked that rule, known as Title 42, to expel migrants 853,000 times along the southern border (although that number includes many people who were caught and expelled more than once). The Biden administration’s efforts to end the use of the rule are currently tied up in federal court.
The capricious nature of the current system was on vivid display earlier this month. After allowing tens of thousands of migrants from Venezuela to enter the country in recent years, the Biden administration added Venezuela to the list of Title 42 countries, effectively barring new claims. That was an abrupt shift from an overly permissive policy to an overly restrictive one.
The basic problem is that the government does not have the resources to act justly. A bill introduced last year, the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act, would provide those resources. The core of the bill would expand the capacity of the immigration system to triage asylum claims. It provides funding for four new processing centers along the southern border where migrants seeking asylum could be detained for up to 72 hours and where they would undergo health screenings, background checks and an initial screening to determine whether they have a credible fear of persecution in their countries of origin. Individuals who do not meet the standard could be deported, with a limited right to appeal.
Customs and Border Protection, the agency that would help run the new processing centers, has a long and well-documented history of mistreating migrants. Watchdog groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have raised legitimate concerns about any expansion of the authority of an agency that has often behaved as if it is fighting a war against immigration. But there is little sense in creating a new agency to do the work of an existing agency. This legislation presents an opportunity for Congress to clarify the agency’s mission, and it includes provisions for supervision by governmental and nongovernmental watchdogs.
The bill also would fund an expansion of the system for making final asylum decisions, with the aim of expediting those decisions. It would add 150 immigration judges, an increase of more than 25 percent, as well as 300 asylum officers. Under a pilot program that the Biden administration launched this spring, some asylum claims are heard by asylum officers who participate in a five-week training course rather than by immigration judges, who must hold law degrees and have at least seven years of experience. The pilot tries to strike a balance between due process and speed, providing applicants with at least 21 days but no more than 45 days to prepare for their hearing — a reasonable target for all asylum claims.
The bill also instructs the government to prioritize adjudication of new asylum claims during surges in the number of applications. That may delay the processing of existing claims, but it is a sensible strategy to discourage people without valid claims from joining the back of the line in the hope that years will pass before anyone judges the merit of their claim.
The bill is narrowly focused on the mechanics of asylum. It does not address the economic and political problems that propel people to risk the journey to the United States, nor does it offer alternative pathways to enter the United States legally to those who are ineligible for asylum. Those are real flaws, akin to building a dam without a spillway.
The bill also does not address the strain on border communities where migrants are released from federal custody, and on the communities throughout the country where migrants settle.
In the most recent fiscal year, the federal government allocated $150 million to reimburse local governments and nonprofits that provide aid to migrants. That is entirely insufficient; the Texas border city of El Paso alone is on pace to spend $89 million in a year providing services to migrants. California has spent $900 million over the past three years. In a 2016 assessment, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that immigration imposes significant short-term costs on local governments but that the children of immigrants “are among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population.” Immigration, in other words, is an investment in America’s future, but someone still needs to cover the upfront costs.
California coordinates closely with federal authorities and nonprofits to meet migrants as they are released from custody, providing them with health care and temporary shelter, and helping them to connect with friends and family. Similar efforts are needed in other states, especially Texas, where the number of migrants has been several times greater, and where the state government has provided little aid.
For all the problems that the border protection bill does not address, however, it still provides a framework for substantive progress. And its narrow focus may be a political virtue. Efforts to craft comprehensive overhauls of immigration law have proved unavailing, and the polarizing legacy of the xenophobic rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration has made any progress on immigration difficult.
The Senate sponsors, Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democrats Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, bucked the positions of their own parties by introducing the bill last year. Many Republicans want to make it even harder for anyone to seek asylum; many Democrats insist that any overhaul of immigration rules must include relief for those already in the United States.
Winning broader support will require more compromise and courage. But regardless of the results of the midterm elections, Congress has a real opportunity to begin the critical work of fixing the nation’s immigration system by overhauling the asylum process.
The Wall Street Journal on Biden’s climate policies and energy prices:
If Democrats lose next week’s election, one reason will be soaring energy prices. The lesson that an electoral defeat should drive home is that this is the result of their own policies.
Consider President Biden’s outrage Friday over last week’s robust earnings reports for oil and gas companies. Six of the largest “made $70 billion in profit in one quarter,” he said at a fundraiser. These “excess profits are going back to their shareholders and their executives instead of going to lower prices at the pump.” The President who has done everything in his power to limit U.S. oil investment is now furious that he succeeded.
Mr. Biden doesn’t seem to believe oil companies should be allowed to make a profit or even cover marginal costs. “We need to keep making progress by having energy companies bring down the cost of a gallon of gas to reflect what they pay for a barrel of oil,” he said. Anything more is “excess” profit.
Keep in mind that oil majors’ current profits follow steep losses in the pandemic. As oil prices plunged amid lockdowns, companies and OPEC nations pared investment and shut in wells. Demand for oil then bounced back much quicker than supply, which has driven up prices–and profits. That’s Econ 101.
Mr. Biden is miffed in particular that companies are returning cash to shareholders rather than increasing supply. “You should be using these record-breaking profits to increase production and refining,” he said this month. But the progressive climate lobby and his own Administration’s climate policies have been urging the opposite.
Exxon Mobil lost a board proxy fight in 2021 after large public pension funds and asset managers criticized it for investing too much in oil and generating too little profit. Exxon and its board need to assess “the possibility that demand for fossil fuels may decline rapidly in the coming decades,” BlackRock said.
The International Energy Agency warned only last week that “no one should imagine that Russia’s invasion can justify a wave of new oil and gas infrastructure in a world that wants to reach net zero (greenhouse-gas) emissions by 2050.” It added that “any new projects would face major commercial risks” that may result in failing “to recover their upfront cost.”
No wonder oil companies are returning cash to shareholders rather than make investments in production that take decades to pay off. U.S. shale drilling can produce returns more quickly. But rather than drill more wells, many producers are shrinking their inventory of “drilled but uncompleted” wells.
The Energy Information Administration reported last week that the number of these wells fell to the lowest since December 2013, which means production will eventually taper off even in the prolific Permian Basin. Permitting challenges impede new drilling, as does limited pipeline capacity to move natural gas produced alongside oil.
Large asset managers are also pressuring oil giants to maintain “capital discipline”–i.e., spend less on production. Private U.S. oil companies added 47 drilling rigs in the third quarter while public firms added only one. Climate lobbyists want companies to return profits to shareholders or invest in green energy.
Continental Resources founder Harold Hamm said this month he is taking his company private to have the “freedom to explore.” “We have all felt the limits of being publicly held over the last few years, and in such a time as this, when the world desperately needs what we produce, I have never been more optimistic,” Mr. Hamm wrote to employees.
Mr. Biden and fellow Democrats simply refuse to understand the economic consequences of their assault on American fossil fuels. They have come to believe that climate is a crisis and that banishing oil and gas is urgent. But that means higher prices, which they now blame on the very companies they want to go out of business. Economic logic won’t persuade them, but maybe a rout at the ballot box will.
The Los Angeles Times on President Joe Biden’s use of Title 42:
More than 25% of Venezuela’s population has fled the country since the authoritarian policies of Nicolás Maduro plunged the South American country into economic free fall and social unrest. The humanitarian emergency is believed to be the largest mass displacement of people in recent Latin American history, with most of the approximately 6 million migrants relocating to 17 countries, according to the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration.
But those who come to the United States seeking asylum are being turned away using the deceptive cover of a Trump-era COVID-19 pandemic provision known as Title 42. This new “migration enforcement process” was unveiled two weeks ago to ease the crush at the southern U.S. border, leaving thousands of desperate Venezuelan migrants stuck in Mexico. The program relies on cooperation from Mexican government officials, who have agreed to allow the Venezuelans to remain in Mexico, for now.
The number of Venezuelan migrants arriving in the U.S. has risen the past two years, particularly during the past few months. Border authorities reported that about 33,000 Venezuelans seeking asylum arrived in September alone.
Title 42 has been used since early 2020 by U.S. authorities to bar entry by individuals from “countries where a quarantinable communicable disease exists.” The provision was cruelly employed by the Trump administration to bar migrants lawfully seeking asylum, and the Biden administration continued using it until May, with some exceptions, partly as result of being unable to overcome legal challenges. Title 42 finally ended in late May, but the Department of Homeland Security is now applying that policy only to Venezuelans.
This policy, rooted in the lie that migrants are a serious health threat, is cowardly policymaking. It’s also disingenuous. In recent months, the Biden administration has sent mixed messages about COVID, downplaying its seriousness or issuing warnings depending on the situation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its indoor masking recommendation for fully vaccinated people in May, though more than 2,500 people are still dying of the coronavirus every week. President Biden said in a nationally televised interview in September that “the pandemic is over,” yet his administration renewed the public health emergency orders weeks later.
Administration officials can’t have it both ways. And if they are trying to fend off criticisms by Republicans about immigration controls in the hotly contested midterm elections, such a ham-handed policy shift in the weeks before election day isn’t likely to change many minds.
Of course, the U.S. must enforce its borders to ensure the safety of the country and citizens, but the Biden administration should also be mindful of the global refugee crisis that’s displaced a record number of people. It’s not as if Venezuelan migrants arriving on the U.S. doorstep comes as a surprise. That country’s economy and society have been unraveling for years, with a United Nations fact-finding mission in late 2021 uncovering evidence of extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances and other potential crimes against humanity.
To mollify criticism, Homeland Security is including in the new program a chance for some Venezuelans to legally migrate to the U.S. under an advance parole system modeled after one used to help Ukrainian refugees. However, admission is capped at an abysmally small 24,000 people and the program for Ukrainians specifically excluded Title 42 from being used to bar them entry. Further, the advance parole program requires Venezuelans to have a U.S. sponsor.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle are treating migrants as objects to be ferried around — and dropped at the doorstep of political rivals — or demonized as health risks instead of treating them as human beings. Venezuelan migrants are traveling dangerous paths rife with smugglers, traffickers and other bandits, only to reach the U.S. border to become fodder in partisan power plays.
Republican and Democratic policymakers alike have failed miserably year after year to address even the smallest of immigration issues. Millions of young immigrants known as “Dreamers” are in suspended legal status due to the failure of legislators to pass or negotiate a permanent legal solution.
Homeland Security officials say this new program for Venezuelan migrants “enables the United States to lead by example.” An example of what? The U.S. is simply handing off migrants to another country not any better equipped to handle the crisis. A better example would be for the U.S. to create a program that doesn’t violate the human rights of Venezuelans.
The Guardian on the climate crisis:
The world is falling into an “abyss of risk”, said Prof Johan Rockström of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. Reports published this week by three U.N. agencies all point to the failure of governments to make – and keep – sufficient commitments to ensure that global temperatures will not rise by more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, which was the target in the 2015 Paris agreement. This is the worst possible news, and arrives just a week before this year’s round of climate talks, Cop27, is due to open in Egypt.
So far human activities have raised the temperature by around 1C on average. If current pledges on emissions are fulfilled, that figure is expected to rise to 2.5C. That would – and probably will – mean destruction on a scale that is hard to imagine, even after what we have already witnessed, most recently with devastating floods in Pakistan but also record-breaking heatwaves and other extreme weather elsewhere.
Optimists came away from Cop26 in Glasgow believing that unsteady progress there – particularly in the crucial area of U.S.-China cooperation – could be built on afterwards. Those hopes have now been dashed, with only 24 countries submitting new plans, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), over the past year – and even the adjusted pledges falling short of what is needed. Climate tipping points including the collapse of the Greenland ice shelf, scientists warn, are becoming unavoidable, with rises in methane emissions in 2021 a particular source of alarm. Gloomily, experts note that Russia’s war on Ukraine and worsening relations between the west and China are likely to make reaching agreement at this year’s conference even harder. Oil companies’ profits are soaring.
In the U.K., the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has made a terrible decision not to go to Cop27. Given that the U.K. held the Cop presidency this year, Greenpeace’s Rebecca Newsom was right to liken this no-show to “a runner failing to turn up with the baton” in a relay race. Mr. Sunak’s comment that “everyone should be really proud” of what the U.K. has achieved so far suggests that he is alarmingly out of touch with the rising threat. Over recent days, reports from Prof. Dame Jenny Harries and parliament’s joint national security committee have highlighted the multiple risks to the U.K. from climate change. Pointing to a lack of contingency planning for weather-sensitive infrastructure, the committee referred to a “gaping hole” at the heart of government.
Giving up on further progress via the U.N. process, and by other means including new taxes on oil companies, is not an option. Global heating of 2.5C is a terrifying prospect, especially for the millions of people who live in the places most dangerously exposed to sea-level rises. But it is a less terrifying prospect than the 2.7C of warming that would have followed from the Glasgow pledges. What has happened over the past year is disappointing and inadequate, but can and must be built upon. And amid this week’s grim news, a crumb of comfort came from the International Energy Agency, which believes high energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine are hastening the transition to clean energy.
Even people who understand fully the risks from climate change are sometimes reluctant to publicize them. Transformation of the global energy system, combined with a package of financial support for the global south from the north, is arguably more likely to be achieved if people believe that a greener future is within reach. With the head of the U.N., António Guterres, predicting “a global catastrophe”, this week that future looks horribly distant. But the struggle continues.
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