Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on the Respect for Marriage Act
The American public overwhelmingly supports marriage equality. More than 70 percent believe same-sex marriage should be legal, according to Gallup, and a bipartisan bill codifying these protections easily passed the House, with support from 47 Republicans. So it’s disappointing the Respect for Marriage Act is facing inexplicable pushback in the Senate. We urge conscientious Republican senators to work across the aisle to pass a measure that is popular, common-sense and, above all, moral.
In July, after nearly one-quarter of the House GOP caucus joined with Democrats to pass the act, many observers hoped it would herald a rare bipartisan breakthrough on LGBTQ rights. The Senate version of the bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), was also backed by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) did not publicly commit to the legislation, but she indicated support for same-sex marriage.
Unfortunately, the early momentum could be fading, with no other GOP senators coming out in support of the bill. Worryingly, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — who in July said he saw “no reason to oppose it” — seems to have changed his position, telling constituents he considered the matter settled law and would need to look at amendments.
The act, which is currently less than 500 words, is fairly anodyne: It would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It would also require state governments to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. The legislation was written to offer the same protections to interracial marriage.
Though versions of the bill had been introduced previously, it became a priority after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer. The court’s willingness to reverse years of precedent raised fears it could also strike down Obergefell v. Hodges, the 5-4 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. Heightening that worry was Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion, which specifically took aim at Obergefell.
The Respect for Marriage Act would enshrine a right that 55 percent of Republicans support. Yet many GOP senators have been reluctant to endorse it or have rejected it outright. Some have argued it is unnecessary, even though it would provide millions of LGBTQ Americans with clarity and relief going forward. Others cite unjustified concerns that the bill would allow for polygamous marriages or infringe on religious liberties.
The bill’s sponsors are working on amendments to clarify its scope. The suggested tweaks — which include specifying that marriage is between two people and making clear the measure does not undermine conscience or religious liberty protections — would do no harm. If Republicans are sincere about their concerns, these modifications should reassure them — and leave no room for further excuses.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he intends to hold a floor vote on the bill “in the coming weeks.” He also indicated Democrats would prefer to vote on it as a stand-alone measure, rather than inserting it into must-pass vehicles. This appears to be the right approach for now, politically and strategically: GOP senators seem to have more appetite to support the bill on its own, and the vote would force them to go on the record with — and defend — their position on marriage equality.
Let’s hope a filibuster-proof majority of senators does the right thing and votes to protect Americans’ right to marry whom they love.
The New York Times on censorship
Fights about free speech can feel rhetorical until they are not. Here’s what censorship looks like in practice: A student newspaper and journalism program in Nebraska shuttered for writing about pride month. The state of Oklahoma seeking to revoke the teaching certificate of an English teacher who shared a QR code that directed students to the Brooklyn Public Library’s online collection of banned books. A newly elected district attorney in Tennessee musing openly about jailing teachers and librarians.
In Florida today it may even be illegal for teachers to even talk about who they love or marry thanks to the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Of course, it goes far beyond sex: The sunshine state’s Republican commissioner of education rejected 28 different math textbooks this year for including verboten content.
Acts of censorship are often tacit admissions of weakness masquerading as strength. This weakness is on full display with the imposition of so-called educational gag orders, laws which restrict the discussions of race, gender, sexuality and American history in K-12 and higher education. A political project convinced of the superiority of its ideas doesn’t need the power of the state to shield people from competing ideas. Censorship is the desperate rear-guard action of a movement that has already lost the fight for hearts and minds.
This year alone, 137 gag order bills like these have been introduced in 36 state legislatures. That’s a sharp increase from 2021 when 54 bills were introduced in 22 states, according to a report released last month by PEN America, a free speech organization. Only seven of those bills became law in 2022, but they are some of the strictest to date, and the sheer number of bills introduced reflects a growing enthusiasm on the right for censorship as a political weapon and instrument of social control.
These new measures are far more punitive than past efforts, with heavy fines or loss of state funding for institutions that dare to offer courses covering the forbidden content. Teachers can be fired and even face criminal charges. Lawsuits have already started to trickle through the courts asking for broad interpretations of the new statutes. For the first time, the PEN report noted, some bills have also targeted private schools and universities in addition to public schools.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Republican lawmakers around the country were introducing laws designed to protect free speech on college campuses. Now, they’re using the coercive power of the state to restrict what people can talk about, learn about or discuss in public, and exposing them to lawsuits for doing so. That’s a clear threat to the ideals of a pluralistic political culture, in which challenging ideas are welcomed and discussed.
How and what to teach American students has been contested ground since the earliest days of public education. The content of that instruction is something about which Americans of good will can respectfully disagree.
The Supreme Court has also recognized limits on the censorship of school libraries, if not curriculums. “Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion,'” a plurality of justices wrote in a 1982 decision.
Despite the moral panic over teaching about gender and race, American parents say they are overwhelmingly satisfied with the instruction their children receive. A poll from National Public Radio and Ipsos earlier this year found that just 18 percent of parents said their child’s school “taught about gender and sexuality in a way that clashed with their family’s values,” while 19 percent said the same about race and racism. Only 14 percent felt that way about American history.
And yet, some Republican candidates are using the threat of censorship as a show of strength, evidence of their power to muzzle political opponents. Last year in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin won the governorship of that state after a campaign in which he demagogued the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Beloved” by the Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison. Other candidates are looking to make it a centerpiece of their pitch to voters in the midterm elections in races from Texas to New Jersey.
Some want to extend censorship far beyond the classroom. In Virginia, a Republican state representative tried to get a court to declare as obscene two young adult books frequently banned in schools, “Gender Queer,” by Maia Kobabe and “A Court of Mist and Fury,” by Sarah Mass. The case was dismissed last week, but if it had been successful, it could have made it illegal for bookstores, libraries to carry the books or for private citizens to sell or share them everywhere in the state.
Right-wing lawmakers are also looking to restrict what Americans can say about abortion. Model legislation from the National Right to Life Committee, which is circulating in state legislatures, aims to ban Americans from giving “instructions over the telephone, the internet, or any other medium of communication regarding self-administered abortions or means to obtain an illegal abortion.” That prohibition extends to hosting websites that contain such information.
Even when such bills fail to censor can easily cascade into vigilantism. Across the country, libraries in small towns are being closed and library staff are being harassed and intimidated. The Times reports that librarians “have been labeled pedophiles on social media, called out by local politicians and reported to law enforcement officials. Some librarians have quit after being harassed online. Others have been fired for refusing to remove books from circulation.” The American Library Association has documented more than 1,600 books in 700 different libraries or library systems that have faced attempted censorship.
Political factions on both the left and the right are insecure enough in their ideas that they’ve tried to muzzle those with whom they disagree. But only right-wing legislators are currently writing censorship into law and enforcing it with the power of the state.
For a vocal minority to ban discussion of certain facts or topics — because they make some people uncomfortable or simply to score political points — is deeply undemocratic, particularly in a nation founded on a commitment to free speech and the open exchange of ideas. Free expression isn’t just a feature of democracy; it is a necessary prerequisite.
The Wall Street Journal on a new drug to treat ALS
Few diseases are as cruelly debilitating as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). But a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee this week gave patients a glimmer of hope by backing a new treatment that can slow their decline and provide precious more time to live.
ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neuro-degenerative affliction that gradually robs people of their ability to function. It afflicts about 30,000 patients in the U.S. with 5,000 new cases each year. Patients typically live only two years after a diagnosis as they lose their ability to control essential muscle movements and eventually to chew and breathe.
Scientists don’t fully understand what causes the disease, and there are only two approved treatments. Neither has shown to both extend life and slow functional decline. But Amylyx Pharmaceuticals’ experimental drug did both in a small Phase 2 trial. Patients treated with the drug lived on average 4.8 to 11 months longer than those who weren’t and experienced 25% slower functional decline over 24 weeks.
However, an FDA advisory committee in March voted 6-4 against approving the drug. Many members wanted to wait for results from Amylyx’s Phase 3 trial, which likely won’t be complete until late next year or early 2024. They worried that approving the drug would give patients false hope if the Phase 3 results prove less beneficial. Our guess is that patients will take their chances on any hope.
FDA leaders appeared inclined but reluctant to approve the drug after the political lashing they took for overruling their advisory committee last year to approve Biogen’s experimental Alzheimer’s drug. Billy Dunn, the FDA chief of neuroscience, was pounded by the public-health left for urging regulatory flexibility amid positive but inconclusive trial results.
The FDA earlier this summer made an unusual decision to let Amylyx submit more trial data and reconvene its advisory committee for a second look. Canadian regulators in June approved the drug on condition Amylyx completes the Phase 3 trial, which prompted some patients to consider heading north to obtain the drug. What an embarrassment for the U.S.
The U.S. is the world’s leading pharmaceutical innovator, and Americans typically get access to more novel treatments, and sooner, than patients in countries with government-run health systems. But the public-health left is campaigning to limit access to expensive new treatments, and Amylyx’s ALS drug was nearly caught in the cross-hairs.
The good news is that advisory members appeared to have been moved at their recent meeting by wrenching testimony from ALS patients and the doctors who treat them. Patients who received the drug said it helped stabilize their conditions and live independently. One could even go hiking.
Dr. Dunn rose in support of patients and urged members to show the broadest flexibility, notwithstanding an FDA staff report that was somewhat critical of Amylyx’s results. Advisory members voted 7-2 in favor of approval. It’s notable that one of the no votes, Johns Hopkins internist Caleb Alexander, was also a leading critic of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug.
The advisory committee’s support should give FDA the political cover it was apparently seeking to approve the drug. But the battle over FDA drug approvals will continue, so patients will have to keep fighting to live another day.
The Guardian on the global food crisis
Seven years ago, world leaders committed to a highly ambitious target: ending hunger by 2030. That goal is now more distant than ever. The United Nations estimates that the number of people in “hunger emergencies” – just one step away from famine – has jumped from 135 million in 2019 to 345 million. This week the UN humanitarian chief warned that famine is “at the door” in Somalia. Across the drought-ravaged Horn of Africa, 22 million are at risk of starvation. Almost a third of Pakistan is underwater, and as much as four-fifths of its livestock have died. In southern China, drought and a heatwave are putting crops at risk. These follow Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which affected supplies from two major exporters, and sent energy and fertilizer prices soaring.
Arif Husain, the UN World Food Program’s chief economist, has noted that the war itself did not create the crisis, but rather “put a lot of fuel on an already burning fire”. Multiple conflicts and climate shocks were already having an impact when the pandemic hit. Though its effects on food production were not as severe as many had feared, it depleted reserves and many have not recovered. It looks highly likely that 2023 will be worse. Two-thirds of those affected by hunger last year were women – with the food security gap between women and men multiplying by 8.4 since 2018.
The UN stresses that at the moment the issue is not supply but access and affordability. Globally, prices have risen by about 20% year-on-year (while food inflation stands at 33% in Iran and a staggering 122% in Lebanon). But production is an increasing concern. Fertilizer prices have soared by as much as 300% in some countries in Africa; wars and extreme weather are disrupting planting for next year’s crops.
The crisis is laying bare the broken food system that underlies it, in which consumers, and often producers, struggle while others make huge profits. Grain trading is concentrated in the hands of only four companies, which are making record profits from desperately needed dietary staples. Speculation and profiteering were blamed for helping cause the Arab spring in the last food crisis; the fear is that they are once more prevailing.
The resumption of Ukrainian grain exports, though sorely needed, cannot fix this even if it endures. A good harvest would help, if major food-producing regions are luckier with the weather next year. A windfall tax on companies that have profited richly from the pandemic could be used to help feed people now and create a sustainable food system, as Oxfam has proposed.
Any long-term solution will require curbing carbon emissions, adapting crops as the climate crisis takes hold, reducing dependence on chemical fertilizers – and challenging the dominance of a small number of players in food markets. Even the UN’s own human rights experts attacked its major food systems summit last year for failing to include the voices of the most vulnerable or effect any meaningful change.
The failure of governments to address the real problems has left the way clear for companies to exploit high prices for excessive profit, and Vladimir Putin to manipulate food for political ends – a tactic that others may be tempted to adopt in future, knowing full well its deadly cost. Meeting the 2030 goal is now a more daunting challenge than ever. The backwards slide must be halted.
The warnings and threats the United States has issued to try and cajole and coerce countries not to trade with Russia have no legitimacy, as they represent only the will of Washington, if not just a small group of politicians who are trying to hijack the agenda of the country.
Yet Western media outlets have scrutinized the 2022 Eastern Economic Forum Russia held in Vladivostok from Monday to Thursday with the aim of identifying which countries have the audacity to continue their economic and trade cooperation with Russia in defiance of the U.S.-led sanctions against the country.
They have paid special attention to trying to find evidence to prove that China is helping Russia.
That more than 5,000 participants from 67 countries and regions, including some allies and partners of the U.S., have attended the forum and a number of multilateral and bilateral cooperation agreements have been signed, particularly agreements on supplies of energy and food, is a telling sign of the fact that U.S. intimidation tactics has not worked.
On the contrary, it is the harsh sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Russia that have spurred these countries to flock to buy oil, gas, chemical fertilizers and food from Russia.
Some Western media outlets have criticized China for not exercising due “restraint” in its dealings with Russia.
But as friendly neighbors, it is natural that China and Russia should have strong economic and trade exchanges and seek to boost them.
Russia’s Far East region has become an important region for economic cooperation between the two countries. China’s cooperation with Russia is not subject to the attitude of Washington. China-Russia relations are not an alliance, and China-Russia cooperation does not target a third party.
In the first eight months of this year, bilateral trade between China and Russia jumped 31.4 percent year-on-year to $117.2 billion.
What should be “restrained” is not the legitimate cooperation between other countries and Russia, but the high-handed troublemaking of politicians in Washington.
In pointing scaremongering fingers at China’s cooperation with Russia, some Washington politicians are trying to link China and Russia together so they can fabricate a monolithic non-Western “threat” to the U.S. in pursuit of their own agendas.
But contrary to the picture they are trying to paint, it is the U.S. and the alliances and cliques it has formed that threaten world security and stability.