Editorial Roundup: United States

Mar 12, 2024, 12:35 PM

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

March 11

The Washington Post on Biden, taxes and the middle class

Like most presidential budgets before it, President Biden’s fiscal 2025 tax and spending blueprint is more of a political statement than an actual legislative proposal. Basically, it’s a reelection pitch straight from the “Middle Class Joe” playbook he ran on in 2020: raise taxes on the rich and businesses and spend much of the proceeds on federal support for child care, health care and housing. These traditional Democratic priorities failed to become law even when Mr. Biden’s party narrowly controlled Congress, so there is zero chance of enactment now.

Considered differently, however — as a reminder of how another four years of Mr. Biden in the White House would be unlike a second term for likely GOP nominee Donald Trump — the document has somewhat more meaning. That is especially true for what might be the first major policy area to feel the impact of the voters’ decision in November: taxes.

The short version is that Mr. Biden’s tax plan would be fairer and more fiscally responsible than Mr. Trump’s. The longer version is: Despite this reality, the country needs a reckoning on its unsustainable budgetary path, and Mr. Biden’s proposals, though better than the alternative, do not envisage one.

The wide-ranging tax cuts a Republican Congress and Mr. Trump pushed through in late 2017 are set to expire at the end of 2025 — except for the corporate tax-rate cut, which doesn’t expire. It’s a looming deadline that will force whoever occupies the White House and Congress next year to prevent a sudden reversion to pre-2018 law. That would lead to mixed results in terms of equity and efficiency. Upper-income households would face a higher marginal rate; yet the irrational deduction for state and local taxes paid would also be restored. And it would impose a large tax increase on the economy as a whole. Better to plan ahead for selective reinstatement of higher taxes, where needed, and preservation of what was beneficial about the Trump bill.

Mr. Trump, of course, favors simply extending the entire law — estimated to cost $3.3 trillion over the next decade (with no realistic plan yet to pay for it). Mr. Biden, by contrast, makes it clear in his budget that he would raise taxes on wealthier Americans and corporations. His proposal lifts the corporate rate to 28 percent from the current 21 percent, among other increases such as hiking the corporate stock buyback tax. He also wants a minimum 25 percent tax on families with more than $100 million in wealth. (This would include taxing unrealized capital gains, an idea we have opposed because it is tricky to implement in practice and likely subject to constitutional challenges.) These changes would raise about $5 trillion.

Mr. Biden is at least right that the federal government needs more revenue and should raise it from those best able to pay. (Mr. Trump, in turn, is starting to realize that it’s bad politics to advocate for even greater corporate tax cuts; he talks less these days about his previous promise to lower the top corporate rate to 15 percent.) The president is wrong, though, to insist he won’t raise taxes on individuals earning under $400,000 a year ($450,000 for couples), as though that income level defined the middle class. In fact, it exempts all but 1 or 2 percent of taxpayers, including the entire upper middle class, from any new responsibility for helping the government pay its bills. It even rules out a much-needed increase in the federal excise tax on motor fuels, which hasn’t been raised in more than 30 years.

That isn’t fair and it isn’t fiscally responsible. Still, it is heartening that Mr. Biden is at least trying to be mindful of the national debt. Even after adding many new programs, his budget would shave about $3 trillion off the deficit over the next decade. Of course, that’s a modest reduction considering the deficit is still set to grow $16 trillion in that time frame. He, like Mr. Trump, is committed to the unrealistic promise of leaving Social Security and Medicare untouched.

For now, most Americans probably aren’t paying much attention to budget proposals. They see an economy that is growing rapidly and a job market that offers plentiful opportunities, but are still hurting from the inflation spike of 2022. Soon, though, voters will have to focus not just on the familiar personas of the two candidates who are set to face off again in November. They will have to consider the actual economic policy each would support. On taxes, an issue that the president inaugurated in January will have to address, Mr. Biden has the better, if far from ideal, approach.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/03/11/biden-budget-priorities-trump/


March 6

The New York Times on Trump’s effect on the GOP

With Donald Trump’s victories on Tuesday, he has moved to the cusp of securing the 1,215 delegates necessary to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The rest is a formality. The party has become a vessel for the fulfillment of Mr. Trump’s ambitions, and he will almost certainly be its standard-bearer for a third time.

This is a tragedy for the Republican Party and for the country it purports to serve.

In a healthy democracy, political parties are organizations devoted to electing politicians who share a set of values and policy goals. They operate part of the machinery of politics, working with elected officials and civil servants to make elections happen. Members air their differences within the party to strengthen and sharpen its positions. In America’s two-party democracy, Republicans and Democrats have regularly traded places in the White House and shared power in Congress in a system that has been stable for more than a century.

The Republican Party is forsaking all of those responsibilities and instead has become an organization whose goal is the election of one person at the expense of anything else, including integrity, principle, policy and patriotism. As an individual, Mr. Trump has demonstrated a contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law that makes him unfit to hold office. But when an entire political party, particularly one of the two main parties in a country as powerful as the United States, turns into an instrument of that person and his most dangerous ideas, the damage affects everyone.

Mr. Trump’s ability to solidify control of the Republican Party and to quickly defeat his challengers for the nomination owes partly to the fervor of a bedrock of supporters who have delivered substantial victories for him in nearly every primary contest so far. Perhaps his most important advantage, however, is that there are few remaining leaders in the Republican Party who seem willing to stand up for an alternative vision of the party’s future. Those who continue to openly oppose him are, overwhelmingly, those who have left office. Some have said they feared speaking out because they faced threats of violence and retribution.

In a traditional presidential primary contest, victory signals a democratic mandate, in which the winner enjoys popular legitimacy, conferred by the party’s voters, but also accepts that defeated rivals and their competing views have a place within the party. Mr. Trump no longer does, having used the primary contest as a tool for purging the party of dissent. The Republican candidates who have dropped out of the race have had to either demonstrate their devotion to him or risk being shunned. His last rival, Nikki Haley, is a Republican leader with a conservative track record going back decades who served in Mr. Trump’s cabinet in his first term. He has now cast her out. “She’s essentially a Democrat,” the former president said the day before her loss in South Carolina. “I think she should probably switch parties.”

Without a sufficient number of Republicans holding positions of power who have shown that they will serve the Constitution and the American people before the president, the country takes an enormous risk. Some of the Republicans who are no longer welcome — such as Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney — tried to hold their party’s leader accountable to his basic duty to uphold the law. Without such leaders, the Republican Party also loses the capacity to avoid decisions that can hurt its supporters. John McCain, for example, voted to save Obamacare because his party had not come up with an alternative and millions of people otherwise would have lost their health coverage.

A party without dissent or internal debate, one that exists only to serve the will of one man, is also one that is unable to govern.

Republicans in Congress have already shown their willingness to set aside their own priorities as lawmakers at Mr. Trump’s direction. The country witnessed a stark display of this devotion recently during the clashes over negotiations for a spending bill. Republicans have long pushed for tougher border security measures, and Mr. Trump put this at the top of the party’s agenda. With a narrow majority in the House and bipartisan agreement on a compromise in the Senate, Republicans could have achieved this goal. But once Mr. Trump insisted that he needed immigration as a campaign issue, his loyalists in the House ensured that the party would lose a chance to give their voters what they had promised. Even the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who pushed for the bill for months, ultimately abandoned it and voted against it. He has now endorsed Mr. Trump, a man whom he has not spoken to in over three years, according to reporting by Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman and Shane Goldmacher of The Times. And last week, Mr. McConnell announced that he would step down from his leadership post.

Similarly, the party appears ready to ditch its promises to support Ukraine and its longstanding commitment to the security of our NATO allies in Europe. When Mr. Trump ranted about getting NATO countries to “ pay up ” or face his threats to encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to them, many Republican leaders said nothing.

The Republican Party has long included leaders with widely different visions of America’s place in the world, and many Republican voters may agree with Mr. Trump’s view that the United States should not be involved in foreign conflicts or even that NATO is unimportant. But once competing views are no longer welcome, the party loses its ability to consider how ideas are put into practice and what the consequences may be.

During Mr. Trump’s first term, for example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo persuaded him not to abruptly withdraw from NATO. If Mr. Trump were to try in a second term, Congress could, in theory, restrain him; in December lawmakers passed a measure requiring congressional approval for any president to leave NATO. But as Peter Feaver pointed out recently in Foreign Affairs, such constraints mean little to a party that has submitted to the “ideological mastery” of its leader. Marco Rubio, one of the authors of that legislation, now insists that he has “ zero concern ” about Mr. Trump’s comments.

It may be tempting for Americans to dismiss these capitulations as politicians doing whatever it takes to get elected or to ignore Mr. Trump’s bullying of other Republicans and tune out until Election Day. In one recent poll, two-thirds of Americans said they were “tired of seeing the same candidates in presidential elections and want someone new.”

But tuning out is a luxury that no American, regardless of party, can afford. Mr. Trump in 2024 would be the nominee of a very different Republican Party — one that has lost whatever power it once had to hold him in check.

This subservience was not inevitable. After Mr. Trump incited the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, some party leaders, especially in Congress, suggested that they were ready to break with him. The Republican Party’s disappointing results in the 2022 midterm elections appeared to further undermine Mr. Trump’s support, adding doubts about his political potency to the longstanding concerns about his commitment to democracy.

But after Mr. Trump announced his candidacy and it became clear that the multiple indictments against him only strengthened his support, that resistance faded away. He is now using these cases for his own political purposes, campaigning to raise money for his legal defense, and has turned his appearances in court into opportunities to cast doubt on the integrity of the legal system.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the federal Jan. 6 trial, imposed a gag order on him to prevent him from intimidating witnesses. She noted that Mr. Trump’s defense lawyers did not contradict testimony “that when defendant has publicly attacked individuals, including on matters related to this case, those individuals are consequently threatened and harassed.” The leadership of the Republican Party has been silent.

With loyalists now in control of the Republican National Committee and his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, in line to become its co-chair, the party may soon bend to Mr. Trump’s insistence that the party pay his legal bills. His campaign spent roughly $50 million on lawyers last year, and those expenses are mounting as the trial dates approach. One prominent Republican, Henry Barbour, has sponsored resolutions barring the committee from doing so, but he conceded that the effort can do little more than just make a point.

Mr. Trump has also taken over the party’s state-level machinery. This has allowed him to rewrite the rules of the Republican primary process and add winner-take-all contests, which work in his favor. That is the kind of advantage that political parties normally give incumbents. But in the process, he has divided some state parties into factions, some of which no longer speak to each other. Democrats may see the dysfunction and bickering among Republicans as an advantage. But it also means that for Democrats, even state and local races turn into ones against Mr. Trump. Rather than competing on the merits of policy or ideology, they find themselves running against candidates without coherent positions other than their loyalty to Trumpism.

Republican voters may soon no longer have a choice about their nominee; their only choice is whether to support someone who would do to the country what he has already done to his party.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/06/opinion/trump-republican-party.html


March 8

The Wall Street Journal on accusations that UNRWA USA charity aids terror

The United Nations has acknowledged that employees of its permanent refugee organization for Palestinians (Unrwa) supported Hamas and participated in the Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel. Should tax-exempt groups supporting Unrwa be held responsible for funding the atrocities?

That’s the subject of a lawsuit that accuses a Washington, D.C.-based charity of providing material support for terrorism through its donations to Unrwa. Unrwa USA is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt charity that describes its mission as “support for the humanitarian work” of Unrwa through “fundraising, advocacy, and community engagement in the United States.” The group is Unrwa’s largest private donor, with $3.8 million in donations in 2022 and $5 million in 2021.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Delaware federal court on behalf of Oct. 7 survivors, says the charity’s work amounts to terrorist financing in violation of federal law. The plaintiffs say the 501(c)3 has been aware of Unrwa’s connections with Hamas’s terrorist activities and yet continued its donations. The suit says Unrwa USA knowingly “aids, abets and provides material support for those activities under the guise of humanitarian assistance.”

In January, the U.S. and other countries announced they were pausing funding to Unrwa while allegations of employees’ involvement on Oct. 7 are investigated. On Jan. 29, Unrwa USA said it was “horrified” by the allegations but that instead of pulling back on aid it would be “redoubling.” On March 1 the group said it supports the investigation by the United Nations and would “resume financial support to UNRWA upon appropriate resolution.”

Under the 2016 Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, civil litigants are granted the “broadest possible basis” to seek relief against “persons, entities, and foreign countries” that have provided material support for terrorism, the lawsuit says. The evidence of participation by its employees in the Oct. 7 attacks suggests that Unrwa was deeply infiltrated by Hamas.

Unrwa USA describes itself as working “hand in hand” with Unrwa, and Unrwa’s ties to Hamas have been public knowledge since long before Oct. 7. In 2004 then-Unrwa commissioner Peter Hansen said that he was “sure that there are Hamas members on the Unrwa payroll, and I don’t see that as a crime.”

Unrwa USA says on its website that educating Palestinian children is one of its priorities, but Unrwa’s educational infrastructure in Gaza has been a locus of terrorist sympathizers. In a Telegram chat describing itself as an “interactive group for all education workers at the International Relief Agency ‘Unrwa’ – Gaza Region,” participants celebrated the Oct. 7 massacre, according to U.N. Watch.

We reached out to Unrwa USA for comment but the communications director said she was “unable to address specifics” and shared the group’s March 1 statement above.

The lawsuit isn’t over tax status, but the Internal Revenue Service might also review the exemptions of 501(c)3 charities that are contributing to groups tied to terrorist activity. Someone in Congress might ask the IRS.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/unrwa-usa-lawsuit-tax-exempt-organizations-hamas-united-nations-6c21446e?mod=editorials_article_pos9


March 10

The Guardian on Russian elections

Article 13 of the Russian constitution promises political pluralism. Article 29 guarantees freedom of speech. It is a brave citizen who insists on those rights.

Although Russia will hold a presidential election at the end of this week, the result is a foregone conclusion. Vladimir Putin will win comfortably. The spirit of post-Soviet democratisation is all but dead. The flame is kept alive by a courageous few.

Thousands turned out at the Moscow funeral of Alexei Navalny, the jailed opposition leader generally assumed to have been murdered by order of the Kremlin. There were chants calling for “Russia without Putin”. That is high-risk activity. Open dissent against the regime is punishable by fines and prison sentences. OVD-Info, a human rights group, has catalogued hundreds of detentions in dozens of cities after vigils in honour of Mr Navalny.

It has been the largest show of opposition since the invasion of Ukraine, but the numbers are not huge for a country of 144 million. What the majority of Russians think about their president and his war is opaque. Opinion polls show majorities in favour of both, but it is hard to conduct accurate surveys in a climate where deviation from the official line is legally proscribed.

Independent analysts say the picture is nuanced – a spectrum of sentiment with ideological pro-Kremlin conviction shading into looser patriotic sympathy with the army and then degrees of apathy, low-level discontent, grim resignation, despair and a kernel of committed anti-regime activists.

Mr Putin’s position is secured by brute force and cultivated disbelief that any alternative is viable. He achieves this by eliminating rivals and propagating a personality cult that depicts Russia as the target of a foreign dismemberment plot and himself as the only person able to hold the country together. This speaks to a deep-rooted national anxiety about the Motherland unravelling in chaos. Something like that happened recently enough for older generations in particular to see democracy as a risk not worth taking.

This week’s election is not meant to fool anyone into thinking that Russians have a choice. It is a ritual affirmation of incumbent power, a pastiche of democracy to demoralise those who dream of peaceful regime change. But even the pretence of a ballot gives the opposition something to rally around. Yulia Navalnaya, the murdered dissident’s widow, has called for anti-Putin voters to converge on polling stations at midday on Sunday even if they don’t intend to vote. The point is to be visible. The authorities can hardly ban such gatherings when they are laying on the election.

These are wholly symbolic gestures, but that doesn’t mean they are futile. Russians who dare to speak up for democracy, and those who silently crave the end of Mr Putin, need reminding that they are not alone. There is a role also for those outside Russia who can amplify voices of courage and hope. There are jailed opposition figures – Ilya Yashin and Vladimir Kara-Murza – at risk of suffering the same fate as Mr Navalny. The more conspicuous their plight, the harder it is for Mr Putin to pretend his is the only vision of Russian politics.

The freedoms that are promised in Russia’s constitution feel remote today, as this week’s election will sadly demonstrate. But it will show also that the spirit of opposition cannot be extinguished.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/mar/10/the-guardian-view-on-russias-democratic-opposition-a-resilient-spirit-that-needs-help


March 12

China Daily on U.S. “performance politics”

Michael Fakhri, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, has hit the nail on the head. Speaking of the United States’ recent food aid measures for the Palestinians in Gaza at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last week, he said they were a “performance” for a domestic audience in the US with the presidential election coming up.

That’s the only rational coherent interpretation for these aid announcements, he said, because “from a humanitarian perspective, from an international perspective, from a human rights perspective”, the aid is “absurd in a dark, cynical way”, given the US’ military aid to Israel continues.

No wonder Fakhri tried to remind the world in the Geneva meeting that Israel is destroying Gaza’s food system as part of a broader “starvation campaign”, as Tel Aviv is weaponizing its control of the food aid to the Palestinians in Gaza.

At least 30,800 Palestinians have been killed and over 72,298 injured amid mass destruction and shortages of necessities, according to Palestinian sources. Meanwhile, the Israeli military has pushed 85 percent of Gaza’s population into internal displacement amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine, while 60 percent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

The hypocrisy of the Joe Biden administration when it comes to food aid to the Gaza refugees is also evidenced by it wearing the same pants with Tel Aviv in obstructing the functioning of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East in Gaza, and it insisting that Israel be in charge of inspecting and controlling all aid to the refugees, which actually takes the form of Israeli trickle irrigation, leaving the majority of Gaza’s 2 million residents in a state of quasi famine.

The absurdity of the US providing humanitarian aid to one side while providing weapons to the other exposes the self-serving callousness at the heart of US politics, in which human suffering, whether at home or overseas, is simply collateral damage for the partisan struggle.

The two parties’ divergent attitudes toward the ongoing Ukraine crisis, another instance of US-orchestrated geopolitical carnage, is a further telling illustration of the “performance” politics that now prevails in the US, with the two parties vying to make it an issue for their electioneering.

With the Republicans holding a military aid package hostage to immigration action on the country’s southern border, the Biden administration is packaging support for Israel’s “self-defense campaign” as a means to advance the US’ geopolitical interests in the Middle East against the backdrop of its broader agenda targeting Iran and Russia.

The protraction of the Gaza and Ukraine crises would be regarded as spillover effects of the US’ incorrigible partisan struggle.

Both parties in the US should show they retain some humanity by opposing and condemning Israel’s acts against civilians and international law. They should set aside their one-upmanship and call on Israel to stop its military operations as soon as possible and do everything possible to prevent a more devastating humanitarian disaster unfolding.

Likewise, the two parties should stop trying to gain political advantage from the bloodshed in Ukraine and instead try to play a constructive role in securing a political settlement to the crisis, which has already caused immense direct and indirect suffering.

There is a lot of talk in Washington about morality. Those in Congress would do well to act on Schopenhauer’s observation that compassion is the basis of morality.

ONLINE: https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202403/12/WS65f04bcea31082fc043bc3aa.html

United States News

Associated Press

Kamala Harris is preparing to lead Democrats in 2024. There are lessons from her 2020 bid

ATLANTA (AP) — Kamala Harris was greeted by a massive, cheering crowd during the first rally of her newly announced presidential campaign in 2019. Speaking on a late January day outside city hall in her hometown of Oakland, California, she framed her bid as part of something bigger than simply winning an election. “We are […]

22 minutes ago

FILE - Unsold 2024 Escalade utility vehicles sit in a row outside a Cadillac dealership on June 2, ...

Associated Press

With US vehicle prices averaging near $50K, General Motors sees 2nd-quarter profits rise 15%

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. customers who bought a new General Motors vehicle last quarter paid an average of just under $49,900, a price that helped push the company’s net income 15% above a year ago. And GM Chief Financial Officer Paul Jacobson said he doesn’t see his company cutting prices very much, despite industry analysts’ […]

51 minutes ago

FILE - In this July 27, 2021 file photo, Simone Biles, of the United States, watches gymnasts perfo...

Associated Press

Biles, Osaka and Phelps spoke up about mental health. Has anything changed for the Paris Olympics?

Lydia Jacoby was a breakout star in the pool for the United States at the last Summer Games, earning a gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke and a relay silver. Part of what comes to mind from those heady days in Tokyo? “People talking about post-Olympic depression,” she said. She was 17 at the time, […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Harris to visit battleground Wisconsin in first rally as Democrats coalesce around her for president

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris is making her first visit to a battleground state Tuesday after locking up enough support from Democratic delegates to win her party’s nomination to challenge former President Donald Trump, two days after President Joe Biden dropped his reelection bid. As the Democratic Party continues to coalesce around her, […]

2 hours ago

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, center, hosts an event for Mahmoud al-Aloul, left, vice chairman ...

Associated Press

Hamas and Fatah sign declaration in Beijing on ending yearslong rift as war rages in Gaza

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a declaration in Beijing on ending a yearslong rift, Chinese state media said Tuesday, taking a step toward potentially resolving the deep divide between the sides as the war in Gaza rages on. The declaration by the two heavyweights of Palestinian politics — and […]

5 hours ago

FILE - Buildings and homes are flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura near Lake Charles, La., ...

Associated Press

Data shows hurricanes and earthquakes grab headlines but inland counties top disaster list

Floyd County keeps flooding and the federal government keeps coming to the rescue. In July 2022, at least 40 people died and 300 homes were damaged when the eastern Kentucky county flooded. It was the 13th time in 12 years that the rural county was declared a federal disaster. These are disasters so costly that […]

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Editorial Roundup: United States