Editorial Roundup: United States
Jan 4, 2024, 3:11 PM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on election integrity and GOP officials
Since 2022, nine states where Republican officials administer elections have quit a nonprofit, nonpartisan consortium that helps keep voter rolls up to date through interstate data exchange. They did so amid pressure from former president pumps the rolls ” for Democrats.
Consequently, voter rolls in those states — Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia — are less accurate, and it’s becoming harder to detect the small number of people who improperly vote in multiple states. Indeed, as 2024 begins, these same election officials find themselves spending taxpayer dollars to re-create the very tools that the system they abandoned had provided.
Formed in 2012, the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) grew to include 33 states and D.C. It identified 12.5 million people who moved to a different state from the ones in which they were registered to vote as well as almost 600,000 deceased voters still on the rolls. The database worked excellently, before fringe blogs started calling it part of a plot funded by George Soros to boost Democratic registration.
ERIC, whose operating costs are paid entirely by member states, received some seed funding from Pew Charitable Trusts, which previously received support from a foundation backed by Mr. Soros, but he has never been directly involved.
The bogus claim that ERIC tries to boost Democratic turnout stems from the fact that member states agree to send information to eligible but unregistered people every two years on how they can sign up. In March, Missouri Secretary of State John R. “Jay” Ashcroft (R) said he was withdrawing from ERIC in part because it’s wrong to send “a solicitation to individuals who already had an opportunity to register to vote and made the conscious decision to not be registered.”
This was breathtaking but not as bad as what West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) has said about the 2020 election. At a GOP debate this month, he insisted that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Mr. Trump. “It was stolen by the CIA,” he said. Later, he added: “The FBI covered it up.” Mr. Warner pulled his state out of ERIC in March.
Some GOP secretaries of state who pulled out of ERIC had publicly defended it quite recently. In February, Iowa’s Paul Pate called it “ a godsend ” and Ohio’s Frank LaRose described it as “ one of the best fraud-fighting tools that we have.” Both announced on March 17 that their states would withdraw.
American Oversight, a left-leaning activist group, filed Freedom of Information Act requests, and two lawsuits, to obtain thousands of pages of emails from states that pulled out. These documents reveal employees privately acknowledging ERIC’s importance and the lack of adequate alternatives. One email showed Mr. Ashcroft’s chief of staff dismissing a blog post about the Soros connection as “ horrible and misleading.” Texas’s then-director of elections emailed ERIC’s executive director when Ohio withdrew to say: “I really worked as hard as I possibly could to avoid this.” Four months later, in July, the Lone Star State gave notice that it, too, would withdraw.
Virginia’s departure from ERIC in May stung because the commonwealth was a founding member under Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) in 2012. The Virginia Department of Elections says it implemented a new process in September to update voter records by receiving data from the Department of Motor Vehicles about those who may have gotten new driver’s licenses in 40 other states. Election officials say they plan on contracting with a new partner for National Change of Address mailings in 2024 while pursuing direct access to the Social Security Administration’s death file.
Further reinventing the wheel, Virginia has also signed bilateral information-sharing agreements with Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia and D.C. — but not yet Maryland, which remains part of ERIC. Other states that cut ties with ERIC are signing similar state-to-state deals, but NPR reported in October that most don’t appear to allow for the sharing of driver’s license information available in ERIC.
In addition to the nine states that have left ERIC, two states, Oklahoma and North Carolina, have recently passed laws to preclude joining it in the future. As matters stand, only 24 states, plus D.C., remain members, including, fortunately, six key presidential battlegrounds: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In Arizona, Gov. Katie Hobbs (D), a former secretary of state, vetoed a bill that would have withdrawn the state. Election officials in red states that have stayed in ERIC, such as South Carolina, Utah and Kentucky, deserve credit for not bowing to conspiracy theorists. They’ve shown they take their jobs, and election integrity, more seriously than some of their counterparts.
The Wall Street Journal on Tort law and anti-Israel protesters
Normally we wouldn’t wish trial lawyers on our worst enemy. But as anti-Israel demonstrations grow increasingly lawless, the plaintiffs bar could help. Why not hit protesters who break the law and keep Americans from getting to their destination with a tort liability suit for false imprisonment?
On Wednesday, anti-Israel protesters blocked access to JFK and LAX airports in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. The laws of New York and California, like most states, recognize the tort. While there is no precedent applying this tort to road-blocking protesters, it fits the offense. The purpose of these demonstrations is to block the road to keep people from getting to the airport — deliberately and against their will.
We wouldn’t say this if we were confident in the authorities’ ability to control unlawful protest. You might think that after the lawlessness and violence that attended both the George Floyd and Jan. 6 Capitol protests, American authorities would have learned the lesson. Yet here we are, with mobs using their opposition to Israel’s war on Hamas to bring chaos to campuses and city streets.
The airport blockade follows efforts in New York to disrupt holiday events such as the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Police made more than two dozen arrests Wednesday, though it isn’t clear if there will be real consequences. The city is already bracing for New Year’s Eve at Times Square.
Other protesters were doing the same to passengers trying to get to LAX. In a tweet, the LAPD said “protestors threw a police officer to the ground, used construction debris, road signs, tree branches, and blocks of concrete to obstruct Century BLVD while attacking uninvolved passerbys in their vehicles.” The cops said they arrested 36 for rioting, with one booked for battery on a police officer.
That’s only a fraction of the disturbances around the country. Demonstrators on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco a month ago delayed the delivery of organs for transplants. Whether it’s disrupting lectures on campus, shutting down traffic in Chicago, or clashing with police at the Democratic National Committee in Washington, the anti-Israel protests show contempt for the rights of fellow citizens.
This is deliberate, and the protesters are well aware when there is the lack of a firm response from law enforcement. An Antifa website that is good at tracking the mentality and strategy of progressive protests includes this report about a protest that shut down an Amazon fulfillment center for two hours in Lacey, Washington: “Law enforcement didn’t say a word to the demonstrators all day and carried out no arrests.”
In the absence of real criminal penalties, the protesters’ escalating resort to lawlessness calls for some creative class actions. Tort actions would hit the lawbreakers in their pocketbooks, even if district attorneys like New York’s Alvin Bragg won’t prosecute them.
Protesters have the right to call for a cease-fire, denounce Israel for “genocide,” and chant “from the river to the sea” all they want. They can protest within orderly parameters. But it’s long past time American justice made clear that, however right they think their cause, protesters can’t legally prevent their fellow Americans from going about their daily business.
The Los Angeles Times on marijuana pardons and federal drug laws
President Biden on Friday demonstrated the proper use of presidential clemency power when he pardoned thousands of people who had been convicted of various nonviolent marijuana violations on federal land.
The reasons he cited included addressing racial disparities in drug prosecution and sentencing, and that’s an important point. Criminal laws in theory cover all Americans equally, but in practice, laws punishing possession or use of small amounts of cannabis have been enforced over the years disproportionately against Black people. Unequal enforcement can render a colorblind law racist and an instrument of injustice. Clemency is a tool that, when wielded properly, can remediate flaws in the administration of criminal law.
It was the second time Biden has granted cannabis pardons. The first round in December 2022 covered most people convicted of marijuana use and possession. Last week’s action included many who fell through the cracks, such as those convicted of “attempted possession.”
The two separate actions are welcome but don’t correct the underlying problem. We still have federal laws and regulations that impose sanctions out of proportion to the alleged harm. Marijuana remains a “Schedule 1” drug under the Controlled Substances Act, a more serious classification than that applied to fentanyl, which few dispute is a far more harmful substance if misused. Possession and use of marijuana in the District of Columbia or on federal land can still result in prison time, at least theoretically.
The law’s defenders note that few if any people now go to prison under federal law for possessing small amounts of cannabis. But felony convictions bring lifelong consequences even to people who never see the inside of a cell. A conviction makes it extremely difficult or impossible for a person to rent an apartment, qualify for a home loan, go to college, get a professional license, get a high-paying job or even coach a child’s soccer team.
The thousands of people covered by Biden’s pardon will still have to apply for a certificate that they can present to banks, landlords and others to move beyond their marginalized position to become fully productive contributors to society. This is what they ought to have the right to do, and what all of us should want them to do. Reducing the number of unnecessarily marginalized people makes all of society safer and stronger.
Even for more serious crimes — petty theft, for example — the criminal justice system stumbles over the false binary of felony and lifelong consequences, or unenforceability. But there are obvious options in between, with consequences more rationally tailored to curb unwanted yet nonviolent behavior. People convicted of infractions or misdemeanors can be meaningfully sanctioned without facing a life sentence of second-class citizenship.
That’s how California deals with possession of dangerous drugs like heroin. An arrest gets the user into the criminal justice system or, as an important alternative, the public health system. The crime is a misdemeanor, a more reasonable and proportionate level of enforcement against behavior that as a society we want to stop, but that is not so critically dangerous that we need to marginalize the offender for life.
For marijuana, though, Californians have recognized that even misdemeanor or infraction prosecution is inappropriate. Simple possession of marijuana is no longer a crime here, nor in half the states; in fact, it’s no longer a crime in more than half the states when possession for medical use is included.
It need not be a crime under federal law either, but rather subject to the same kinds of regulations that govern possession of alcoholic beverages.
As part of last year’s pardons, Biden called for a review of marijuana’s controlled status. It’s high time for Congress to do its job and rewrite the law. Until then, proportional justice will require the president to periodically pardon people who should never have been prosecuted in the first place.
The Guardian on a second Trump presidency
The great specter haunting 2024 is the threat of Donald Trump triumphing in November’s election. A second stint in the Oval Office would have grim repercussions for the U.S. and the world. He dominates the Republican race for the presidential candidacy, while recent polls showed him beating Joe Biden in five of the six key battleground states, and besting the president on issues including the economy and national security. The Biden administration has overseen a striking economic recovery in tough global conditions, but voters don’t feel the improvement. The president’s handling of the war in Gaza is alienating core supporters. He inspires little enthusiasm.
Democrats point out that there’s a long way to go and that November’s off-year election results point to a brighter picture. Mr. Trump faces a dizzying array of legal cases, though the most significant may not move to a trial before the election. While they boost the belief of diehard admirers that he is being persecuted, some supporters say he should not stand if convicted. It’s not impossible that he might run from a prison cell.
Mr. Trump is already teeing voters up to declare a Biden victory fraudulent again. Election officials have been bombarded with death threats. Convictions for the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol were welcome and necessary, but his supporters remain armed and dangerous.
What would Mr. Trump’s return to the White House mean for America and the world? Nothing good. For all the volatility of his presidency, he delivered on key pledges for his followers: his Supreme Court appointments led to the overturning of Roe v Wade. Authoritarians don’t improve with power: quite the opposite. Mr. Trump’s first term began with “alternative facts” about his inauguration and ended with the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. His recent statements make 2016’s inflammatory rhetoric look almost mealy mouthed. He declared that he would be a dictator, though only on “day one”, because “I want a wall and I want to drill, drill, drill”. His language is not merely racist but echoes the invective of Nazi Germany: immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” while “communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical-left thugs” are “vermin.”
What is truly alarming this time is not merely that he has declared his intentions loud and clear, it is that his backers have drawn up action plans to implement his talking points, and that he faces fewer political, institutional or legal constraints.
Ms. Cheney is a rare exception to the rule that Republican politicians have ultimately fallen into line even when they briefly balked at his extremes. A reelected President Trump would benefit from a more compliant Congress (though there’s speculation that Democrats might win back the House while the GOP takes the Senate). And having set out his stall, he could claim a mandate from the people.
He would not appoint those who might thwart his will this time.
“The lesson he learned was to hire sycophants,” his former chief of staff John Kelly observed.
He boasts that he would “dismantle the deep state”, clearing out career employees and replacing them with appointees he could fire at will. Intimidation — siccing his base on those who impede him — would always be an option. He has suggested that Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, deserved to be put to death.
Legal challenges to his policies would face a harder path — the Supreme Court now has a conservative supermajority, with three Trump appointees, and he similarly stacked lower levels of the judiciary. He is preparing plans to turn the power of the state against opponents and critics, and boasting of “retribution” for those who hindered his attempt to steal the last election. He has warned that he would urge his attorney general to indict any political rival even without known grounds, saying: “I don’t know. Indict him on income tax evasion.”
His associates have reportedly begun drafting plans to deploy the military against civil demonstrations — as he wanted to do against Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. One would hope that military leaders would oppose this. But it would be complacent to assume that.
Politics of hate
On the international front, the battle against global heating would be struck a catastrophic blow. A second Trump presidency would clearly be good for Vladimir Putin and bad for Ukraine and NATO, which the U.S. could well leave. Mr. Trump’s transactional approach to foreign policy puts himself first, and has only the most narrow and short-term conception of U.S. interests. Allies such as South Korea are already contemplating their own nuclear deterrents. He would seek to hammer China on trade again, and Republicans would encourage him to go further on other fronts, but his admiration for autocrats might allow him to come to terms with Xi Jinping on some issues — notably, Taiwan’s future. Overall, his ignorance, arrogance and erratic nature could be as damaging as his pursuit of specific goals.
The far right around the world would be emboldened by his victory. Mr. Trump is in large part a symptom of our times, but he has encouraged and enabled others in his mold at home and abroad. The social fabric has been damaged by a style of politics in which hatred is the organizing principle. Anti-Asian hate crime surged following his racist rhetoric about the “Chinese virus” and “kung flu”. A defeat for Mr. Trump would not in itself be sufficient to defeat Trumpism. But it is necessary.
The Democrats cannot campaign only on the threat that Mr. Trump poses. They must speak to broader concerns too. But focusing on the likely consequences of his reelection is critical to ensuring that voters understand the choice they are making — including by not voting, or by backing a candidate other than Mr. Biden. Think of the way that the voter backlash against the destruction of abortion rights was essential for Democrats in the 2022 midterms and has been evident in ballot measures more recently, with voters opting to preserve or expand access.
Of course, Mr. Trump might not be able to fully implement his nightmarish boasts in office. But he would do more than enough. Drive off a cliff and you might live to tell the tale. But you can’t count on survival — and you can be certain of damage. The U.S., and the world, cannot afford a second term for Mr. Trump.
China Daily on the U.S. threat to the national security of other countries
Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was previously head of the Central Intelligence Agency, was at least frank and explicit when he said of the organization: “We lied, we cheated, we stole.” His prideful admission underscores the extreme lengths to which the United States will go to compromise the national security of other countries in pursuit of its own interests.
In yet another example of what dirty tricks the CIA has been playing overseas, current and former agency officials told The Wall Street Journal that China’s national security agency all but blinded the CIA in the country a decade ago when it cracked its network in the Chinese mainland. As many as two dozen agents working for the CIA were rounded up. The CIA is still struggling to rebuild its human espionage capabilities in China, which according to the report is the agency’s top intelligence target.
That the U.S. spy agency wants to be active in China is no surprise given its history, which is marked by illegal activities such as torture, kidnapping, assassination plots, illegal surveillance of foreign leaders and U.S. citizens, as well as engineering civil unrest and the overthrowing of regimes. The blithe way in which the current and former CIA officials talked about how the agency has conducted and will continue to conduct activities targeting China reveals the double standard Washington has adopted in terms of national security.
The U.S. has used national security as an excuse to launch its full-scale campaign to contain China, which includes trying to prevent Chinese high-tech companies such as Huawei having access to any external markets worldwide, blocking high-tech U.S.-based investments going toward the country, and trying to decouple China from the global industry and supply chains in the name of “de-risking”. Washington has repeatedly — unwarrantedly and unsubstantiatedly — described China as the “most consequential threat” to U.S. national security.
Thus, when a Chinese civilian balloon for meteorological research drifted off course due to strong winds and entered U.S. airspace in February, anti-China hawks in Washington seized the chance to whip up anti-China hysteria by describing the balloon as part of China’s extensive aerial surveillance program targeting the U.S., an accusation that was fabricated out of thin air for the occasion, as the Joe Biden administration later admitted.
The latest disclosure of the CIA’s activities in China once again proves that it is the U.S., rather than any other country, that is the fundamental source of chaos in the international order, and poses the biggest threat to the national security of other countries and world peace and stability.