Editorial Roundup: United States
Dec 12, 2023, 1:14 PM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on a border solution
Given the never-ending partisan brawl over the southern U.S. border, it is not surprising that American voters would believe that the United States faces a wave of migration with little precedent in the history of the world.
And yet, of some 22 million displaced people on the move in the Americas last year, maybe more than 3 million came to the United States. Colombia has received more than one-third of the 7.7 million migrants who have fled Venezuela. The United States has received about 500,000.
This fact should reshape the immigration debate in Washington. If the Biden administration and Congress want to manage the crush of asylum seekers and help the unprecedented number of migrants moving across the Western Hemisphere, they might focus less on hardening the border and more on dealing with the regional dimension of the challenge.
Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group, points out that countries along migrants’ path to the United States have few choices. Stopping migrants and sending them back home is the least realistic. (Honduras, for instance, has seen immigrants from China, Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, India and Uzbekistan. Where should Hondurans “send them back” to?)
So countries along the way are either openly letting migrants in transit through — busing them north as Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras have done — or, like Mexico, performing a sort of Kabuki of cooperation with Washington, occasionally deploying the National Guard, which detains and expels some migrants, to keep Washington happy.
Several have tightened visa restrictions to stanch the flow. Almost every country north of Colombia now requires a visa for Venezuelans. Following Nicaragua’s decision to allow visa-free entry for Cubans to continue their journey north, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico started requiring transit visas to stop the air route from Havana to Managua that had layovers in their countries.
Still, nobody is happy with how anybody else is handling the issue. The United States wants more help stopping migrants along the route. It has provided substantial aid — committing some $2.9 billon since 2017, according to USAID — to help South American countries address the humanitarian crisis caused by mass Venezuelan migration.
But aid groups assess that financing represents only about one-fifth of what is needed. The Colombian government has been calling for more. Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, in May it stopped offering temporary residence to Venezuelans, so new arrivals have less reason to stop their journey north.
The New York Times on an aid package for Ukraine and Israel
The Biden administration has asked Congress to approve a $105 billion military aid package, mostly to Israel and Ukraine, and lawmakers appear to be at an impasse over the border security measures included in it. It is essential that Congress overcome this opposition and approve it promptly, as an investment in America’s security goals.
Here’s what this aid package is: a commitment against authoritarianism in Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as a commitment to regional stability in the Middle East. The bill includes $61.4 billion in military and economic assistance for Ukraine and about $14.3 billion in arms assistance to Israel, along with more than $9 billion in humanitarian assistance to both countries and to Gaza. To help win Republican support, the White House added $7.4 billion in security assistance to Taiwan and other Pacific allies — as well as almost $14 billion to bolster security on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Here’s what this aid package is not: a decision to neglect security at home in favor of fighting conflict abroad. A strong and free Ukraine, one that is capable of standing up to Russian aggression, is essential to peace and stability in Europe. If Vladimir Putin’s strategy of waiting for American resolve to falter is successful, he would then be in position to attack NATO allies and potentially draw American troops into a war, as President Biden said on Wednesday.
Nor is it a turn away from a humane and sensible approach to border security. The compromise that the Biden administration has put forward, and has urged Congress to pass, includes significant funds for additional Border Patrol agents, immigration judges and other border security measures.
One Democratic aide told NBC News that the party’s negotiators have offered proposals to streamline asylum processing and change the “credible fear” standard for approving an asylum claim, a measure that immigration advocates oppose. But Republicans have rejected those reasonable compromises and reportedly are pushing for extreme measures that could effectively end asylum altogether and could mean giving the executive branch broad new power to shut down the border.
There are important and still unresolved questions about what kind of immigration this country requires, and how much. This board has supported the need for more effective border security, a more rational system of screening and admitting asylum seekers and legislation that would allow a level of immigration that better reflects the needs and values of the American public. This aid package can’t address all those issues, but it could help add structure and safety to who is entering the country, when and how.
This package also should not be seen as a blanket approval of Israel’s approach to war in Gaza. There are real concerns about the number of civilian casualties in this conflict so far, and the Biden administration has been appropriately vocal about these concerns. In February, the State Department put strict rules in place to try to reduce the risk of harm to civilians from the use of American weapons. So far, there is no indication that the United States considers either Israel or Ukraine to be in violation of American policy.
Publicly, both Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have urged Israel to reduce the number of civilian casualties, and administration officials have become more forceful, in public statements and in private conversations with Israeli leaders. The recent humanitarian pause that the United States helped negotiate has saved many lives — by halting the bombardments, allowing aid to enter Gaza and allowing the release of dozens of hostages held by Hamas.
The fighting in Gaza has resumed, and according to Mr. Blinken, Israel has put in place new steps to protect civilians, including keeping combat operations limited to designated areas of Gaza. Still, a “gap” remains “between the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground,” Mr. Blinken said. As the fighting continues, the Biden administration should do everything it can to make sure that if Israel continues to use American weapons, it adheres to U.S. policy.
With so much at stake, the rancor on display this week by Senate leaders was difficult to watch. It is evidence of the performative nature of lawmaking in the United States right now, one that doesn’t seem to benefit anyone except those trying to score political points. Passing this aid package would be a step toward protecting America’s interests, as well as toward getting back to governing.
The Wall Street Journal on Biden and pharma patents
While the press frets about Donald Trump establishing the Fourth Reich, President Biden is rewriting laws to arrogate sweeping power for himself. On Thursday the Administration threatened to seize patents of drugs and other innovations, which could be its most economically destructive executive act to date.
The Commerce and Health and Human Services Departments are proposing new guidance on “march-in” rights under the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act. The law was meant to encourage cooperation among industry, research institutions and government to bring innovations to market. Mr. Biden’s patent grab will do the opposite.
Bayh-Dole attempted to solve the problem of tens of thousands of government patents that were collecting dust. Government had taken the position that inventions stemming from federally funded research belonged to the government. But why develop a product if you won’t be allowed to profit from it?
Under Bayh-Dole, research institutions receiving federal funds were allowed to patent inventions and license them to companies to commercialize them. It worked. Only in limited circumstances can government “march in” and confiscate a patent—namely, when a company hasn’t made a good-faith effort to commercialize the research.
Progressives for decades have wanted to use march-in rights to seize patents on drugs they claim are too expensive. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra led the charge last decade in Congress. Yet Administrations of both parties have demurred until now because they understood its destructive impact.
Under the proposed Biden guidelines, march-in rights will be used as price controls. Government agencies could seize patents if “the price or other terms at which the product is currently offered to the public are not reasonable” or “unreasonably limit availability of the invention to the public.”
As Biden National Economic Council director Lael Brainard explained, “We’ll make it clear that when drug companies won’t sell taxpayer funded drugs at reasonable prices, we will be prepared to allow other companies to provide those drugs for less.” Translation: That’s a nice medicine you have there . . . shame if something happened to it.
Did the White House consult with the National Institutes of Health or other scientific agencies? The NIH this year rejected a petition by a left-wing group to exercise march-in rights on a prostate cancer drug by Pfizer and Astellas Pharma. NIH knows that seizing patents would dampen cooperation between research institutions and industry, harming innovation and patients.
That’s what happened 30 years ago when NIH briefly required companies exclusively licensing its inventions to pledge to sell the byproducts at a reasonable price. Private industry walked away. In rescinding the NIH policy in 1995, director Harold Varmus said “the pricing clause has driven industry away from potentially beneficial scientific collaborations with PHS (public health service) scientists” without offsetting benefits to the public. He called it “a restraint on the new product development.”
Former Sens. Birch Bayh and Bob Dole in 2002 explained that their law “makes no reference to a reasonable price that should be dictated by the government. This omission was intentional; the primary purpose of the act was to entice the private sector to seek public-private research collaboration rather than focusing on its own proprietary research.” They stressed that “the purpose of our act was to spur the interaction between public and private research so that patients would receive the benefits of innovative science sooner.”
Alas, the Biden Administration cares more about expanding government control over the private economy than accelerating life-saving treatments. The President’s cancer moonshot initiative boosts funding for research institutions, but his threat to seize patents will discourage companies from building on future discoveries. Does the Administration’s left hand know what its far left hand is doing? This will compound the damage from the Inflation Reduction Act’s Medicare drug price controls.
Progressives say government deserves paternity rights to drug patents because it plays an outsize role in funding their development. But of 18 medicines that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration with patents linked to NIH grants in 2000, total private investment exceeded government funding 66-fold. Profits and intellectual-property protections drive American innovation. Mr. Biden’s patent heist undercuts both and will embolden China to seize U.S. patents.
Note, too, that the Administration’s plan would let the government seize patents of other products such as semiconductors, artificial intelligence, nuclear energy and lithium-ion batteries, and any inventions that result from the $200 billion in funding from last year’s chips bill. Stealing IP is now part of Bidenomics.
The Los Angeles Times on the Biden impeachment inquiry
The politically inspired impeachment inquiry into President Biden has failed to produce any convincing evidence that Biden has committed the “ high crimes and misdemeanors ” required by the U.S. Constitution for the conviction and removal of a chief executive. So naturally Speaker Mike Johnson is proposing a floor vote, likely next week, to authorize the inquiry as a “necessary step.”
Johnson attempted to justify a vote by the full House — which should have been taken months ago as a procedural matter — as a response to supposed White House stonewalling. But it’s hard not to see it as the latest attempt by the House Republicans leadership to placate the far-right cohort of their conference and Trump cultists in the party at large.
Deposed Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) launched the Biden impeachment inquiry in September without securing a floor vote, thus avoiding a scenario in which saner members of his fragile majority — including Republicans elected in districts where Biden is popular — might rebel. Those same Republicans should join Democrats in denying legitimacy to this impeachment circus by voting no.
Despite questions about the business dealings of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and aspersions cast on what Republicans call “ the Biden crime family,” no proof has been offered that President Biden benefited from his son’s business dealings or shaped U.S. policy because of them.
Testimony by Devon Archer, a former Hunter Biden associate, spectacularly failed to substantiate allegations that President Biden had any significant involvement in his son’s business affairs. Republicans also seem to be trying to breathe new life into a claim, debunked long ago, that as vice president Biden pushed for the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, because Shokin was investigating Burisma, a company on whose board Hunter Biden served. In fact, the Obama administration’s campaign against Shokin was part of a multinational effort to press Ukraine to deal with corruption.
Finally, on Monday the House Oversight Committee announced portentously that Hunter Biden’s business entity, Owasco PC, which had received payments from foreign companies, had made monthly payments to Joe Biden. Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said the payments “are now part of a pattern revealing Joe Biden knew about, participated in and benefited from his family’s influence peddling schemes.”
But the Washington Post reported that the payments — made in 2018, when Joe Biden was a private citizen — were reimbursements for a truck Biden helped his financially strapped son to purchase.
The details of the overblown allegations against the president are almost beside the point, which is that the faltering impeachment inquiry is best viewed as an exercise in toadying to former President Trump, who has accused Biden of being “the most corrupt president we’ve ever had.” House Republicans faced with a vote on legitimizing this fishing expedition should ask themselves if it’s their interests to climb aboard this particular carriage in the Trump train.
The Guardian on a more realistic approach to Ukraine
A year ago, Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrived in Washington as not merely the respected leader of a courageous nation, but as a global star. His address to Congress was greeted with thunderous cheers. As he returns for a third trip on Tuesday, he is seeking to win over key legislators, and the public, after Republican senators blocked $106bn in aid, primarily for Ukraine and also Israel. They have tied the spending to US immigration measures. The administration has warned that funding could run out by the end of the year. Kyiv is also trying to shore up support from its other main ally, the EU. In talks this week, Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, is threatening to veto €50bn of support and is blocking progress on accession.
The failure of Ukraine’s counteroffensive has hit morale at home and enthusiasm for the cause abroad. Last month the commander in chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, acknowledged the stalemate and warned that “there will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough”. This is now, more than ever, a war of attrition. Gen Zaluzhnyi’s words demonstrated not only frustration but also the growing evidence of friction between political and military leaders. The US is also more openly discussing differences, primarily over military tactics, but also over issues such as corruption.
Whether or not divisions have increased, there is more willingness to air them. In a recent Time article, a close aide complained of the president: “He deludes himself … We’re not winning.” Amid the exhaustion and despondence, ordinary Ukrainians too are beginning to question his stubborn optimism. Gen Zaluzhnyi is seen as a potential future political rival to Mr Zelenskiy; another, Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, has claimed that Ukraine is “sliding into authoritarianism”. Politics is no longer frozen by the conflict. Yet the grumbling should not be overstated. There is little appetite for elections in Ukraine, or for seeking a ceasefire.
For all the high-flown rhetoric heard in 2022, and while people were genuinely moved by Mr Zelenskiy’s performance and the valour – and success – of Ukrainians in fighting back, international support was never chiefly about altruistic support for a heroic nation. Those ideals shored up public support, and encouraged countries to bear the costs of backing Kyiv, but shared values coexisted with a hard-headed recognition of shared interests. The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was right to observe that Russia “ won’t stop in Ukraine ”.
Russia has no interest in a ceasefire at present. The west’s oil sanctions are no longer working. Vladimir Putin is eagerly anticipating – and, presumably, working towards – a second Trump presidency, while relishing existing signs of “Ukraine fatigue”. He can muster personnel via mobilisation – though there may be some cost if he cannot produce victories to show for many more Russian deaths.
The reality is that the enthusiasm of 2022 was never going to be maintained indefinitely. War drains not only resources but also spirits. A more realistic acknowledgment of the likely length and costs of this war, and the potential range of outcomes, was always inevitable. It should not mean abandoning Kyiv. Ukrainians must decide if and when it is time for negotiations. Right now, Ukraine needs aid, and to begin accession negotiations with the EU. A year ago, Mr Zelenskiy told Congress: “Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in … global security and democracy.” Whatever else has changed, that message stands.