Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on a bipartisan two-year spending plan:
President Trump and congressional leaders have struck a bipartisan deal on a two-year federal spending plan, and while all the details are not clear, three big takeaways are.
First, a deal beats no deal. Before the agreement, the government was on its way to running out of legal borrowing authority, and, therefore, cash, by September. The agreement avoids the debt default that might have resulted, by extending the federal debt limit through mid-2021. Setting spending caps for all defense and nondefense discretionary programs, totaling roughly $1.35 trillion per year through fiscal 2021, the agreement banishes the specter of mandatory across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, as well as the prospect of another government shutdown. In tumultuous political times, these truces provide a welcome measure of stability and predictability. To that minimal extent, the system worked.
The second, far less optimistic point is that compromise proved possible only on the basis of the lowest common denominator: Both parties get to spend more on pet priorities, without offsetting spending cuts or tax increases. The Democrats, in control of the House and of enough Senate seats to mount a filibuster, leveraged a $27 billion increase for next year in nondefense discretionary programs; the Republicans got $22 billion more in defense spending and, of course, no new revenue. Those elevated levels would then apply the year after as well. The White House dropped its earlier demands for $150 billion in lower spending over 10 years, in return for a Democratic promise not to attach policy conditions to appropriations bills, plus a handful of promised savings that don’t take effect until 2027.
To govern is to choose; both political parties basically chose not to. The deal could increase projected deficits by $1.7 trillion over the next decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — on top of the $1.5 trillion debt increase already wrought by the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts. With a historic political struggle looming next year, Mr. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proved unwilling to spend a nickel’s worth of political capital on debt control. This may have been the pragmatic course, but historians will still record that, under Mr. Trump’s leadership, the budget deficit increased by double-digit percentages each year — despite robust economic growth — while the Republican Party abandoned even the pretense of fiscal responsibility. Now, the GOP will campaign in 2020 as the party of debt-financed military spending, and Democrats as the party of debt-financed domestic spending, reinforcing the unhealthy notion that certain functions of the national government belong to this or that party, not everyone.
Which brings us to the deal’s third implication: While postponing a budget reckoning, the deal also changes the terms under which the next battle will take place. When this agreement expires on Sept. 30, 2021, there will be no more budget caps. The 2011 law that created the sequestration threat will be a thing of the past, too. The winners in the 2020 election will be that much less inhibited to borrow and spend than they are now.
The Miami Herald on Puerto Rico’s embattled governor:
Puerto Rico’s embattled governor is trying to hold on to his job. But, at this point, Ricardo Rosselló is never going to be un-embattled. It’s time for “Ricky” to listen to his angry constituents. Their protest posters say it all: “Ricky Renuncia” — “Ricky Resign.”
The street demonstrations — and clashes with police — that started in quaint Old San Juan last week in front of the governor’s mansion have spread everywhere on the island. The outrage has been exported to cities on the mainland, including Miami, Orlando and New York.
Monday night’s demonstration was to be one of the largest in the country’s history and brought thousands of Puerto Ricans from across the country to San Juan, where police waited in riot gear.
The governor has remained firm that he will not resign because, as he told Fox News in a tense interview on Monday, he was “elected by the people.”
But the people who put him in office are determined to push him out. Last week, we said that Rosselló had earned the governorship when he was elected to office. “Now, he must earn the right to keep it,” we wrote.
This week, it’s clear that it’s too late. Rosselló has simply lost the collective ear of Puerto Ricans who are sick and tired of their drained economy, the fight to recover from Hurricane Maria, government corruption and a governor incapable of making anything right.
In a video posted to his Facebook page over the weekend, Rosselló apologized — again — for his part in cruel and puerile chat messages that insulted women, gays and even people who died in the hurricane two years ago. He promised not to run for reelection and stepped down as the head of his political party. He also said he looked forward to defending himself against the process of impeachment, whose initial stages are being explored by Puerto Rico’s legislature.
Rosselló should save legislators the time and trouble. The irreparably damaged governor should resign.
On Fox, he tried to tout his administration’s work: “You know, I’ve had the biggest recovery effort in the modern history of the United States on our hands. We’re battling corruption with certain initiatives that we’ve already started and certain new ones that we want to put out there, so that we can fix the problem.” Now he’s all action. He said he wants a federal fund disbursement czar to be assigned; he said he just introduced a procurement initiative to “battle corruption.”
But the chat thread was simply the final straw for Puerto Ricans. The U.S. territory continues its struggle to recover from Hurricane Maria. While Rosselló’s administration declared 64 people had died, a Harvard study found that there were at least 4,645 storm-related deaths.
The bankrupt country is working to restructure part of $70 billion in debt amid a 13-year recession. And now the economy is taking a further hit as cruise ships sail past San Juan without stopping. He has an enemy-for-life, it seems, in President Trump. Puerto Rico, unfortunately, has seen only a fraction of the $42 billion — not $92 billion as Trump wrongly blared Monday — in Congress-allocated disaster aid.
Puerto Ricans’ unrelenting anger makes clear that Rosselló was an ineffectual leader long before the obnoxious emails were discovered. There’s little he can do to reverse that in the time remaining in his term. His credibility is gone.
The New York Times on ties between the leaders of China and Russia:
One of the striking warnings in a recent Pentagon white paper on the growing strategic threat from Russia is that its president, Vladimir Putin, could pull a “reverse Nixon” and play his own version of the “China card” with the United States, a reference to the former president’s strategy of playing those two adversaries against each other.
Until recently, any relationship between Russia and China could largely be dismissed as a marriage of convenience with limited impact on American interests. But since Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine in 2014, Chinese and Russian authorities have increasingly found common cause, disparaging Western-style democracy and offering themselves as alternatives to America’s postwar leadership. Now China and Russia are growing even closer, suggesting a more permanent arrangement that could pose a complex challenge to the United States.
“The world system, and American influence in it, would be completely upended if Moscow and Beijing aligned more closely,” John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, wrote in the report, to which Defense Department officials and other analysts contributed.
The latest evidence of warming ties was a meeting last month in Moscow at which Mr. Putin thanked the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, for enabling the two countries to do more than $100 billion worth of trade in 2018, up 30 percent from the previous year, and an implicit rebuke to America’s trade standoff with China. The two countries also signed more than two dozen agreements. That meeting came shortly after Mr. Xi called Mr. Putin his “best and bosom friend.”
The leaders have met almost 30 times since 2013. Russia recently agreed to sell China its latest military technology, including S400 surface-to-air missiles and SU-35 fighter jets.
While China and Russia have conducted joint military exercises intermittently for more than a decade, they began naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean in 2012 and last fall, staged what Russia called their biggest war games in decades in eastern Siberia. They plan to hold joint exercises on a regular basis in the future.
With melting ice opening new opportunities for oil and gas exploration, researchers from the two nations recently agreed to open a joint Arctic research center. They often vote alike at the United Nations and have similar positions on Iran and North Korea. Both have become much more active in the Middle East, where Russia is trying to regain its standing as a major power and China is trying to cultivate relations with energy suppliers like Iran.
The Pentagon white paper, and a separate report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, warn that the United States and its allies are not moving fast enough to counter efforts by Russia and China to foment instability with “gray zone” tactics that fall short of military involvement — the use of proxy forces, political and economic coercion, disinformation, cyberoperations, and jamming technologies against American satellites.
In his State of the Nation address in February, Mr. Putin expressed confidence that ties with China would enhance Russian security and prosperity, especially as he aligns his Eurasian Economic Union plan with China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, a colossal infrastructure program designed to link China with Asia, Africa and Europe.
Given its economic, military and technological trajectory, together with its authoritarian model, China, not Russia, represents by far the greater challenge to American objectives over the long term. That means President Trump is correct to try to establish a sounder relationship with Russia and peel it away from China. But his approach has been ham-handed and at times even counter to American interests and values. America can’t seek warmer relations with a rival power at the price of ignoring its interference in American democracy. Yet even during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union often made progress in one facet of their relationship while they remained in conflict over other aspects.
The United States and Russia could expand their cooperation in space. The United States is already dependent on Russian rockets to reach the International Space Station. They could also continue to work closely in the Arctic, as members of the Arctic Council that has negotiated legally binding agreements governing search and rescue operations and responses to oil spills. And they could revive cooperation on arms control, especially by extending the New Start Treaty. It was encouraging that top State Department officials met their Russian counterparts twice in recent weeks, including in Geneva on Wednesday, although there was no immediate sign that the two sides made any progress on arms control or other major issues.
Given their history, China and Russia may never reach a formal alliance. The two have been divided by war and ideological rivalries and even now compete for influence in East Asia, Central Asia and the Arctic. Their contrasting trajectories would also make an alliance difficult. China is a rising power and the dominant partner; Russia is declining. China has the world’s second largest economy; Russia’s is not even in the top 10.
Still, their shared objectives could increase, further threatening Western interests. America needs to rally its democratic allies, rather than berate them, and project a more confident vision of its own political and economic model.
The Orange County Register on a U.S. House vote to raise the federal minimum wage:
On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.
Given the realities of the U.S Senate and the White House, the vote for all practical purposes amounts to a mere political stunt.
But it does serve as a reminder that far too many in elected office are still all too willing to confuse their good intentions with sound public policy. Almost always, the well-intended politician resorts to a top-down government-coercion program and almost always, the result falls hardest on those least able to endure it.
A recent Congressional Budget Office analysis offers plenty of data to dissuade even the most ardent backer of a higher minimum wage. It won’t, but the data are there.
The minimum wage law attacks the poorest and least skilled among us. It tells those people not to enter the labor market because their abilities are not worth the hourly wage they’d be paid. Efforts worth $7.25 an hour (the current federal minimum, since 2009) may be worthwhile to an employer. But more than double that wage, to $15 an hour, and the employer could well conclude the price is just too high.
Some of the people such a law is intended to help will live a little better, to be sure. CBO says 1.3 million people will be lifted out of poverty by raising the wage to $15 an hour.
But look at the debris it scatters. CBO says if the wage is raised to $15 an hour by 2025, as many as 3.7 million people who might otherwise have jobs will not be working. Presumably, some fraction of that number will fall into poverty.
All consumers will pay higher prices for goods and services, as much as businesses can pass along. Businesses will produce fewer goods and services because the cost of production will be higher. The law will cause businesses to look at alternatives, like robotics, to hiring people.
Worse still, real income would rise about $8 billion for families below the poverty threshold, but will decrease about $16 billion for those above the poverty line. The net national result would be . lower family income.
So in addition to all the other damage it causes, it’s an inefficient redistribution program dressed up as a labor issue. The bottom line is, for every $2 the government confiscates from those above the poverty line, it will generously redistribute $1 to the intended beneficiaries. That other dollar must cover a lot of overhead.
Now about a distraction in CBO’s data. The agency says 1.3 million people - not families, people - would be lifted out of poverty. But everywhere else in the analysis, CBO uses the term “family” as though most people who work in minimum-wage jobs are supporting whole families. Yet 94 percent of people from 16 to 19 are low-wage workers; 30 percent of those over 19 are. About 7 in 10 low-wage workers have not graduated from high school.
So essentially, we are talking about a redistribution law that would lower the aggregate family income, reduce the goods-and-services economy, raise costs for all consumers, kick millions out of the workforce, and inefficiently distribute benefits to a targeted class consisting of a fraction of young people without high school diplomas.
Somehow, that’s not how it’s going to sound on the campaign commercial of the candidate bragging about “courageously standing up to big business.” And still the people who really do need help . can’t get a job.
The Mail & Guardian (South Africa) on the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
On Wednesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a “health emergency of international concern”, a formal designation that underscores just how serious the situation has become. It is hoped that this declaration will mobilise desperately needed funding — to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars — to implement a new plan to control the epidemic.
“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system,” said WHO boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
But solving this crisis requires more than just money.
When the outbreak was officially announced on August 1 2018, most experts thought it would be contained relatively easily.
For one thing, the DRC has had plenty of experience in dealing with Ebola outbreaks — this is the 10th such outbreak in the country. For another, for the first time responders had a weapon with which to fight the virus: a new vaccine that had proved effective in trials.
But 2,522 cases of the disease and an estimated 1,698 deaths later, it is clear that international efforts to prevent the spread of Ebola have failed. Last month, several cases of the virus were recorded in neighbouring Uganda; this week, an infected priest made it all the way to the regional capital Goma, a major transport hub, where he died.
Several factors have hampered the medical response. One is the location of the outbreak, in the northeast of the country, which is both extremely poor and in the midst of conflict. It has been difficult, if not impossible, for medical teams to access all the affected areas.
Another factor is a widespread mistrust of local authorities and the international community, which is hardly an irrational sentiment. After all, the Congolese government is one of the most corrupt and least effective in the world; and, in the DRC at least, the international community has a long track record of failing to protect citizens (take, for example, the peacekeepers — including South African soldiers — who have been repeatedly implicated in sexual assaults).
Increased funding will undoubtedly help the international community to scale up its Ebola response. But don’t expect the outbreak to be contained until, somehow, local communities are given good reason to trust the responders.
The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina, on a chant targeting a U.S. House member during a Trump’s campaign rally:
It happened in the first half of Wednesday’s speech. Donald Trump, our president, began to talk about Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota who was among the four women of color he had attacked Sunday in a racist tweet. Everyone knew Trump would speak about the women at some point to the Greenville, North Carolina, crowd. Did we know what would come next?
“Send her back.”
The chant rose quickly from a handful of voices to a chorus of bigotry. It was a chilling moment. It was “lock her up” in a white hood. It was despicable.
“Send her back.”
It could have happened at any Donald Trump rally. It might have happened in any state, north or south. But it happened in Greenville, in our state, and it was one of North Carolina’s darker moments.
“Send her back.”
Or perhaps not. Maybe the chant will be absorbed in the vortex that is Donald Trump. In a presidency of so many shameful moments, of so many new lows, the singularly awful ones tend to lose their significance. It’s possible that North Carolina might be forgotten when the chant inevitably spreads to the next rally. But North Carolina shouldn’t forget.
For a state that likes to boast membership in the new South, we have difficulties shedding the old stench of discrimination. We were the last U.S. state to ban gay marriage just seven years ago. We were the first state to pass a transgender bathroom bill with HB2 four years after that.
And yes, we had a bit of a progressive wave here last year. We sent more people to Raleigh who think bills like HB2 are a blight on our state. But we still struggle with segregation in our cities. We still are burdened by economic disparity. We also still have overt moments like Wednesday, and we can’t blame it all on Donald Trump.
“Send her back.”
There will be a temptation for some today to point to Wednesday’s rally and say that’s not who we are in this state. We hear that kind of thing a lot these days when our president, but not only our president, acts contrary to the values we think this country shares.
But there was some backlash this week when people pointed to the president’s Sunday tweet and declared that it wasn’t who we are. Because it is, of course, part of who we always have been in America. And in North Carolina. It’s who we were in Wilmington in 1898. It’s who we were when Dorothy Counts made that first walk to Harding High. It’s who we were when we redlined black residents out of white neighborhoods decades ago. It’s who we were on a July night in Greenville, and it could be what’s coming to Charlotte next summer.
“Send her back,” Donald Trump’s supporters chanted, without seeing the irony that it was they who were moving backward. “Send her back,” they cried, and it was both a reminder and a warning that here in North Carolina, in America, going back is not that far of a journey.