Editorial Roundup: United States
Aug 1, 2023, 11:33 AM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on the “humming” U.S. economy
For the first time in a while, the nation — and its policymakers — can step out of crisis mode. This is an ideal moment for President Biden and Congress not just to take a victory lap but also to start tackling the United States’ long-running challenges.
The surprises keep coming for the U.S. economy — and nearly all have been worth cheering lately. Growth was better than expected this spring. Inflation is cooling off faster than anticipated. Unemployment remains near half-century lows. Optimism is picking up. Consumer spending remains solid. Wages are now rising faster than inflation. UPS workers are not going to strike after the company gave them a large raise. The stock market is near all-time highs. Wall Street banks no longer predict an imminent recession. Business investment is picking up. Even housing appears to be turning around. The nation might be able to achieve what many experts deemed impossible: bringing down inflation without triggering mass layoffs and a downturn.
Mr. Biden is eager to take credit for this Goldilocks economy. The latest data show government investments in infrastructure and manufacturing are helping, but they are modest so far in a $25 trillion economy. The Federal Reserve’s aggressive battle against inflation has played a bigger role. But the largest factor of all appears to be an economy returning to normal after three years of turmoil. Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell used the words “normal” or “normalization” nine times in his news conference Wednesday to characterize everything from supply chains to the job market.
Americans are starting to notice the improvement. Sentiment has jumped in recent weeks. People are finally putting the pandemic behind them and allowing themselves to embrace fun and optimism again. This is the summer of Taylor Swift, friendship bracelets, European vacations and “Barbie” movie laughs. It’s a comeback era.
It’s especially pronounced how much the United States bounced back vs. the rest of the world. China’s economy is sluggish, Germany’s is barely out of a recession, and Britain still has inflation near 8 percent. In the United States, the comeback has been so strong that growth is nearly back to its pre-pandemic trend. It’s a similar story for middle-class wages, which are close to the pre-pandemic trend even after adjusting for the recent inflation shock.
That doesn’t mean the country lacks problems. Lower-income households still feel higher costs, a reminder that the inflation battle isn’t over. Owning a home remains out of reach for many, and credit card debt is at a record high. Beyond economics, the ongoing GOP assaults on abortion, LGBTQ+ rights and basic facts about slavery are another reminder of how far from normal some aspects of life remain.
Even so, the country’s late good fortune offers its leaders an opportunity to take a breath and address some long-term national problems. At the top of the list are the $32 trillion national debt and immigration. Addressing these would set up the United States for stronger growth in coming decades. It would also prove to the world that American leaders are still capable of fixing tough problems.
Social Security won’t be able to pay full benefits as early as 2034. Simple changes now — mainly increasing taxes on the wealthy and slowing their benefit growth — would save the program for all, especially the lower- and middle-class Americans who really need it. We spelled out other ways to stabilize debt over the next decade — a mix of careful spending trims and tax modifications — in a recent series. Failure to act would mean the U.S. government would spend a growing amount on interest costs, reducing the government’s and the private sector’s ability to make investments in the future.
Meanwhile, immigration has been a top issue for 20 years. As baby boomers retire, the United States needs more workers. There has been an encouraging uptick in people entering the labor force again, especially women of color, but more workers are needed. The United States is in a global war for talent. Mr. Biden’s plans to build more factories at home are already being delayed citing a shortage of skilled construction workers. Congress is overdue for a major upgrade to immigration policies. In the meantime, Mr. Biden is right to utilize every power he has to let in more migrants through legal channels.
The country has seen a remarkable economic comeback. Now it’s time to aim higher.
The Wall Street Journal on school choice
Many states have recently created or expanded school-choice programs, but are parents taking up the opportunity? It’s early days, but data from several states should encourage lawmakers that robust offerings are in demand.
Indiana this year reported an increase of some 20% in its voucher program. More than 53,000 students participated in 2022-23, compared with 44,376 the previous school year, according to the state education department. Thirteen more private schools were included, bringing the total to 343. All of this was before the state made vouchers nearly universal in May by raising the income cap and removing other restrictions.
Florida also made its K-12 scholarships universal this year by removing income limits. Step Up for Students, a nonprofit administering organization, recently said it had awarded 268,221 income-based scholarships, up from 183,925 at the same time a year ago. The group said it also had granted 74,711 special-needs scholarships, an increase of some 15,000.
Arizona beat Florida by a year in making its education savings accounts, or ESAs, universal. The state says it approved 47,667 new student applications in 2023, compared with 5,103 before the expansion. Nearly 700 private schools receive ESA funds.
West Virginia’s ESA program, open to any student already in public school, is entering its second year. The program has received 6,323 applications for the coming school term, up from roughly 3,600 last year, per the state Treasurer.
Iowa’s new ESA program received 29,025 applications during a month-long window, according to Gov. Kim Reynolds’s office. In Arkansas nearly 5,000 students and more than 80 schools have applied or begun applying to another new ESA system, the state Education Department says. Applications opened in late June and continue through July. The Iowa and Arkansas programs aren’t universal in the first year, but they’re likely to grow as they phase in broader eligibility.
None of this should prompt states to rest on their laurels. A recent Manhattan Institute report points out that getting ESAs through the political thicket is only the first step. Many parents are unaware of the offerings in their states, and a law does little good if it isn’t implemented well. “We fear a program in which 100,000 families want to participate,” the authors write, “but cannot log in to the payment platform, or cannot track their expenditures, or cannot promptly pay the educational providers helping their children.”
Some states might also find that the demand exceeds the supply of seats in private schools. But in time states that are generous with ESAs are encouraging a variety of options to expand or open, whether faith-based, classical, Montessori or something new, and with families choosing what works best for them. That’s what a future of school choice looks like.
The Los Angeles Times on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and an impeachment inquiry
Even with subsequent qualifications, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s floating of the idea of an inquiry into impeaching President Biden is irresponsible and another example of McCarthy giving aid and comfort to the crazy caucus of the Republican Party.
In an interview on — where else? — Fox News, the Bakersfield Republican referred to congressional investigations of the Biden family and said: “This is rising to the level of impeachment inquiry, which provides Congress the strongest power to get the rest of the knowledge and information needed.” McCarthy later clarified that he was not yet announcing an impeachment inquiry.
Impeachment of the president is supposed to be based on the commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But we are far from any justification for an impeachment inquiry. McCarthy cited old, much-hyped but unsubstantiated allegations that the president accepted bribes or was involved in questionable business activities of his son Hunter Biden when he was vice president. In an obvious attempt to damage Biden’s presidential bid, Senate Republicans tried, and failed, in 2020 to find evidence of corruption in these same allegations. Last October, McCarthy said that he didn’t see a basis for impeachment proceedings.
In what seemed like another see-saw, Politico reported that on Wednesday the speaker told a closed-door meeting of House Republicans that an impeachment probe would be launched only when and if Republicans secured the evidence to justify one. If that’s true, why raise impeachment at this point — other than to placate the party’s extremists? Or perhaps it’s an attempt to provide a distraction as Trump faces another criminal indictment, this time for allegedly trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
“There are some people that aren’t going to be happy until everybody in Washington gets impeached,” Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) told Politico. House Republicans are currently considering impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for “disastrous” border management and have recently raised the prospect of going after U.S Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland too. Treating impeachment as a routine tactic is contrary to the Constitution and corrosive of public trust in government.
A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict the former president on charges related to paying hush money to a former porn star. Convicted or acquitted, he is not fit for office.
Even worse would be to use this tactic as tit-for-tat retaliation for the two impeachments of Donald Trump by a Democratic-controlled House. Those impeachments were justified by evidence of Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden, and Trump’s role in inciting the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol. In any event, the Republican-controlled House has been able to investigate allegations against Biden and has yet to find evidence of any wrongdoing.
In recent years, McCarthy has played many parts on the political stage: enabler of election denial, Trump apologist (he said he supports the idea pushed by extremists in his party to expunge the two impeachments of Trump) and punching bag for extremists in his party who prevented him from winning the speakership until the 15th ballot.
Does he want to add the even more demeaning role of ringmaster of the circus that an impeachment inquiry could easily become?
The Guardian on the climate crisis
What was long predicted is now happening. Earth’s weather systems are increasingly disrupted and destructive, as a consequence of the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In addition to devastating heatwaves in the northern hemisphere, and their role in igniting forest fires, high sea temperatures over recent months have led scientists to reiterate their warnings that we are moving fast into uncharted, dangerous territory.
Climate models have always allowed for uncertainty. For decades, scientists have been certain of the direction of travel: towards increased heat, risk and instability. But how precisely the crisis would manifest, in what order systems would break down, and how the knock-on effects would unfold, remains a subject for research and discussion. Currently, there is a debate between experts about whether the pace of global heating is accelerating or stable. The likelihood of vital ocean currents, known as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, collapsing this century is also contested. One new study has suggested that a tipping point could be approaching, and that the analysis of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has, in this respect, been too conservative.
The causes of record-breaking ocean temperatures are also being investigated. While an El Niño weather event was expected this year, it is not regarded as a sufficient explanation of the ocean temperature rises recorded since April. Heat is also thought to be causing oceans’ color to change from blue to green, due to increased plankton. The situation is particularly concerning because we have relied on the oceans to absorb 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases. Dr. Bernadette Sloyan, a marine scientist in Australia, has compared their role to that of an air conditioner.
Warmer seas present specific dangers, both to human and marine life: melting ice sheets; sea level rises (because water expands when heated); coral bleaching; more intense storms; lower oxygen levels causing fish to die. But they are also an indication of the overall pressure that global heating is placing on nature. The Earth’s capacity to stabilize the amounts of energy entering and leaving the planet’s system is reaching its limits for current patterns of existence.
For many of those focused on what is happening – including activists, scientists and politicians – the inadequacy of national and international responses to the emergency is disorienting as well as disturbing. Despite decades of pledges made under the auspices of the UN’s climate process, global emissions are at an all-time high. It is hard to fathom what further evidence is needed to persuade governments that a drastic change of course is the safest option.
But it is clear that the countries and businesses that are most strongly reliant on fossil-fuel profits will not willingly give them up. Whether and how they can be convinced or compelled to do so is the existential question of our times. Last weekend the G20 bloc of nations – which produce 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions – failed to reach agreement on phasing down fossil fuels. This November’s round of U.N. talks, Cop28, is being held in the United Arab Emirates and led by Sultan Al Jaber, who also heads his country’s national oil company. As forests burn and the sea turns green, the necessity of confronting vested interests – including energy-intensive western-type lifestyles as well as the corporations that depend on fossil fuels for profits – becomes more desperate by the day.
China Daily on the U.S. turning AI into a new weapon
The question is not to be, or not to be. It is not even a question of whether to use it or not. The question is how it will be used.
The United States turns almost every major new technological breakthrough into some kind of weapon. The corollary to that question is why would artificial intelligence be an exception.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo posed the question many are now asking, how AI is to be used, in a jointly penned article published in the Financial Times on Monday. While they claim that the Joe Biden administration is seeking to “limit the near-term risks of AI while fostering innovation”, they reveal the administration already sees the development of AI as a battleground by declaring that the U.S. must act quickly to shape its future development.
Acknowledging that the U.S. is “home to many of the leading companies, technologies and minds driving the AI revolution”, they said that the fact it is working with others around the world to ensure the future for this technology “reflects our shared values and vision”.
But the values and vision of the U.S. cannot really be shared as they are totally narcissistic. As the Biden administration and its predecessor have made crystal clear, the U.S. simply baits others to its domineering cause with high-sounding notions on which they can pin their own agendas.
Hence, Blinken and Raimondo can propose that G7-led action could inform an international code of conduct for private actors and governments. In the pretense that this would not be building high walls around AI technology or directly applying AI against other countries, they allege that the U.S. is open to global engagement. In a nod to criticism that has hit home, they even claim that the U.S. is committed to making AI work for, and designing governance with, developing countries, singling out India for a critical role. Notably, China is not mentioned.
Yet that only serves to highlight that the U.S.’ push to lead the governance of AI is not to safely harness its potential, but an integral part of its endeavors to weaponize the technology.
The two U.S. officials are right in saying that “AI holds an exhilarating potential to improve people’s lives and help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges” and “that only with the combined focus, ingenuity and co-operation of the international community will we be able to fully and safely harness the potential of AI”. But unless that cooperation is truly inclusive, then people will rightly continue to ask questions of Washington’s intent and purpose.