Editorial Roundup: United States

Sep 28, 2022, 12:43 AM | Updated: 12:44 pm

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Sept. 26

The Washington Post on congressional stock-trading

It is a long-running scandal that members of Congress are allowed to trade individual stocks. They have access to privileged information. They oversee a sprawling web of federal policy. Their actions can have direct effects on the companies in which they have stakes. The potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest is enormous.

Yet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has not always favored cracking down on lawmaker stock-trading. “It’s a free-market economy,” she said last year, dismissing concerns. Lately, she has changed her stance, indicating that a stock-trading bill from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) will make it to the House floor this month. That’s good. The question is whether the speaker will do what’s necessary to get it over the finish line.

Ms. Lofgren sent a letter to colleagues last week laying out a framework for a bill that would restrict public officials from exploiting their positions for personal gain: banning them as well as their spouses and dependent children from dealing in stocks, securities, commodities, futures, cryptocurrencies and similar investments, and mandating that they either divest existing assets or put them in a qualified blind trust. Those officials would still be able to hold diversified funds as well as government bonds, on the theory that dealing in those sorts of investments doesn’t present the same potential for abuse. Disclosure requirements would also become more detailed, and the penalties for noncompliance more severe.

The proposal Ms. Lofgren described is appealing. But good-government advocates are nevertheless wary. Democratic congressional leaders have not allowed votes this year on multiple bipartisan bills written along similar lines, which hardly builds confidence that they are committed to reform. Timing is now an issue: Lawmakers leave Capitol Hill on Friday and will not return until after the midterm elections, so any knotty disputes will need fast untangling if the Lofgren bill is to pass.

The proposal’s prospects are made even murkier by the pressure to apply the bill’s restrictions to Supreme Court justices along with members of Congress. This is a guaranteed nonstarter for Senate Republicans, at least some of whom would need to support the bill for it to advance. Otherwise, the bill might pass the lower chamber, handing Ms. Pelosi a victory and a talking point, but perish in the upper one.

The speaker shouldn’t allow that to happen. If Ms. Lofgren and her allies believe their bill is better than those already introduced, they should seize the opportunity to fix their own branch and leave the others for separate legislation. Some reform is better than none.

A recent New York Times report on congressional conflicts of interest revealed that nearly one-fifth of lawmakers bought or sold assets in industries possibly affected by their work. Some of the examples appear to show impropriety; the majority likely show only the appearance of it. But both are corrosive to citizens’ faith in good government. In bringing a viable bill quickly to the floor, House Democrats would help restore public faith — by holding themselves to account on stock-trading, and by doing what they said they would.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/09/26/democrats-congress-stock-ban-house/


Sept. 23

The New York Times on the threat to democracy

In the weeks after the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump and his allies were unable to get far in their attempts to prove widespread voter fraud. There were two reasons for that.

First, there wasn’t any, as numerous investigations by journalists, expert reports and court rulings showed. But second, Republican election officials in multiple states repeatedly said that their counts and recounts were accurate, and they defended the integrity of the election. For all the pressure that the Trump camp brought to bear, well-trained, civic-minded election workers carried out their duty to maintain the machinery of American voting.

Many top Republican Party officials and lawmakers have spent the last two years striking back, and drawn the most attention for their efforts to pass “voter integrity” laws that aim to make voting more onerous under the guise of preventing fraud. From January 2021 to May of this year, just under three dozen restrictive laws had been passed in nearly 20 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

These are pernicious laws, and they undermine Americans’ hard-won rights to vote. But just as important is the matter of who counts the votes, and who decides which votes count and which do not.

This is where Mr. Trump’s allies have focused much of their scheming since his re-election defeat. Their mission is to take over America’s election infrastructure, or at least key parts of it, from the ground up by filling key positions of influence with Trump sympathizers. Rather than threatening election officials, they will be the election officials — the poll workers and county commissioners and secretaries of state responsible for overseeing the casting, counting and certifying of votes.

These efforts require attention and mobilization from Americans across the political spectrum. America’s system of voting is complex and decentralized, with most of the oversight done at the state and local level by thousands of elected and appointed officials, along with poll workers. While it is outdated and inconvenient in many places, this system has worked relatively well for roughly 200 years.

But Mr. Trump’s attempts to subvert the election also revealed the system’s vulnerabilities, and his allies are now intently focused on exploiting those pressure points to bend the infrastructure of voting to their advantage. Their drive to take over election machinery county by county, state by state, is a reminder that democracy is fragile. The threats to it are not only violent ruptures like the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, but also quieter efforts to corrupt it.

A key element of this strategy is dismantling the bulwarks that stopped the assault on democracy in 2020. In Georgia, the top state election official, Brad Raffensperger, its secretary of state, refused Mr. Trump’s request to help steal the election by agreeing to “find” 11,780 additional votes. In Michigan, the Board of State Canvassers certified Joe Biden’s victory despite Mr. Trump’s aggressive meddling. A host of other state and local officials, many of them Republicans, pushed back on similarly antidemocratic machinations.

Mr. Trump and his allies have set about removing and replacing these public servants, through elections and appointments, with more like-minded officials. In some cases, the effort has failed. (In Georgia’s Republican primary this year, Mr. Trump backed a losing candidate in a vendetta against Mr. Raffensperger.) But in other states, Republicans have embraced election deniers as candidates, including for secretary of state.

In Nevada, the Republican secretary of state nominee, Jim Marchant, maintains that the 2020 presidential race was rigged and that he would not have certified Mr. Biden’s win in Nevada. He blames voting fraud for his own failed House run that year and has said that Nevada voters haven’t truly elected their leaders in years because the system is so rigged.

Mr. Marchant is a part of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, whose candidates are campaigning for measures that would make it more difficult for Americans to vote, such as by limiting voting to a single day and aggressively purging voter rolls. They have the financial backing of pro-Trump election deniers including Mike Lindell, the founder of MyPillow, and Patrick Byrne, the former chief executive of Overstock.com.

The Republicans’ pick in Michigan, Kristina Karamo, is also an America First candidate. She gained political notice with her unsubstantiated claims to have witnessed election fraud as a poll watcher in Detroit in 2020. She has also promoted the baseless conspiracy theories that Dominion voting machines flipped votes in Mr. Biden’s favor and that Jan. 6 was a false flag operation conducted by “antifa posing as Trump supporters.”

The most outrageous G.O.P. choice may be Arizona’s Mark Finchem. Mr. Finchem has in the past identified as a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group, and he spoke at a QAnon convention last year. He was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, although he denies being within about 500 yards of the building. As a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, he introduced a resolution this year to decertify the 2020 election in multiple counties, and was a sponsor of a bill to empower the Republican-led Legislature to overturn election results.

Mr. Finchem wants to ban early voting and put limits on mail-in voting. In April, he filed a federal lawsuit, backed by Mr. Lindell, to block the use of electronic vote-counting machines in Arizona in the midterms. (It was dismissed.)

Installing election deniers as top election officials is just one element of this plan. Much less visible, but just as important, is the so-called precinct strategy, in which Trump allies are recruiting supporters to flood the system by signing up to work in low-level election positions such as poll workers. A prominent promoter of the precinct strategy was Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser. Last year, Mr. Bannon rallied the listeners of his “War Room” podcast to sign up as precinct committee members. “We’re going to take this back village by village … precinct by precinct,” he proclaimed in May 2021.

The call was answered. An investigation by ProPublica in the summer of 2021 found a surge in Republicans signing up to be precinct officers or equivalent lowest-level officials in key counties. Of the 65 counties contacted, 41 reported a collective increase of at least 8,500 new sign-ups following Mr. Bannon’s call to arms. (ProPublica found no such spike on the Democratic side.)

The precinct strategy has been endorsed by Mr. Trump — who declared it a way to “take back our great country from the ground up” — and adopted by segments of the Republican Party.

Mr. Bannon is appealing to his supporters’ sense of civic duty by asking them to be more involved in their local election process. But unsettling details of what this effort entails emerged this summer after Politico acquired videos of Republican operatives discussing strategy with activists.

New election recruits would attend training workshops on how to challenge voters at polling places, explained Matthew Seifried, the Republican National Committee’s election integrity director for Michigan, in one of the recordings. These poll workers would have access to a hotline and a website staffed by “an army” of Republican-friendly lawyers prepared to help with challenges. “We’re going to have more lawyers than we’ve ever recruited, because let’s be honest, that’s where it’s going to be fought, right?” Mr. Seifried said at a meeting last October.

As testimony during the Jan. 6 committee hearings revealed, the legal challenges presented by Trump allies to the 2020 election quickly collapsed in part because they lacked even the most basic documentation. But carried out as designed, the precinct strategy means that even if, ultimately, there are no instances of fraud and most of the challenges to individual voters fall apart, they could still bog down the voting by causing delays and introducing unnecessary friction and confusion, giving cover to a state election official or state legislature to say that an election is tainted and therefore invalid.

In some parts of the country, this is already happening. This summer, an all-Republican county commission in rural New Mexico refused to certify the primary election results because of unsubstantiated suspicions of fraud. New Mexico’s secretary of state, a Democrat, intervened and asked the state Supreme Court to order the commission to certify the results. Two commissioners relented, but the third, Couy Griffin, refused. He admitted that his suspicion of fraud was not founded on any evidence: “It’s only based on my gut feeling and my own intuition, and that’s all I need.”

(Mr. Griffin, who attended the Jan. 6 melee at the Capitol, was later ruled to be ineligible to hold office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars from public office anyone who has sworn an oath to the Constitution and later engages in insurrection.)

After the May primary election in Pennsylvania, three Republican-controlled counties refused to count several hundred mail-in ballots on which voters had failed to write a date on the envelope. The administration of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, filed suit, and last month, a judge ruled that the ballots had to be included in the results, finally clearing the way for the primaries to be certified. (State officials learned of a fourth county that had done something similar.)

Litigation is an important tool in tackling this threat. But it will not save the day. The problem is too big, says Marc Elias, a Democratic voting rights lawyer. “For every one place you try to solve this in court, there are five additional places where it is happening,” he said.

The real threat to America’s electoral system is not posed by ineligible voters trying to cast ballots. It is coming from inside the system.

All those who value democracy have a role to play in strengthening and supporting the electoral system that powers it, whatever their party. This involves, first, taking the threat posed by election deniers seriously and talking to friends and neighbors about it. It means paying attention to local elections — not just national ones — and supporting candidates who reject conspiracy theories and unfounded claims of fraud. It means getting involved in elections as canvassers or poll watchers or precinct officers. (Mr. Bannon has the right idea about civic participation; he just employs toxic lies as motivation.)

And it means voting, in every race on the ballot and in every election. To this end, employers have a role to play as well, by giving workers time off to vote and encouraging them to do so.

The task of safeguarding democracy does not end with one election. Mr. Trump and others looking to pervert the electoral process are full of intensity and are playing a long game. Only an equally strong and committed countervailing force will meet that challenge.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/23/opinion/trump-big-lie-elections.html


Sept. 27

The Wall Street Journal on the Jones Act

Thousands of Americans in Puerto Rico are without power after Hurricane Fiona roared through last week. Idling off the island’s coast is a ship that reportedly carries 300,000 barrels of diesel fuel from Texas. Yet unloading that fuel is illegal without a Jones Act waiver, which the Biden Administration hasn’t granted.

The Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is protectionism at its worst. The law says waterborne cargo between U.S. points must be carried by ships that are primarily built, owned and crewed by Americans. This raises shipping prices, while shifting cargo to trucks, which are less efficient and worse for the environment. The law also explains why wintry Boston imports Russian liquefied natural gas.

The Jones Act is particularly hard on areas like Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Pedro Pierluisi, the Democratic Governor of Puerto Rico, has asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to expedite a waiver. The ship carrying diesel was diverted to Puerto Rico at the request of a wholesaler. Its general manager told CBS that, given the damage wrought by the hurricane, the company asked its supplier in good faith “to see if there was a cargo in the vicinity of the island that could come earlier.”

The Trump Administration issued a Jones Act waiver after Hurricane Maria in 2017. But Congress later tightened the requirements. Then the Defense Secretary could obtain a waiver if it was broadly “in the interest of national defense.” Now that kind of waiver must “address an immediate adverse effect on military operations.”

The Department of Homeland Security can approve a more limited waiver if the feds certify “the non-availability of qualified United States flag capacity to meet national defense requirements.” Does this apply today? After the Colonial Pipeline shut down last year, Mr. Mayorkas approved a waiver for fuel shipments to the East Coast, which he said was “in the interest of national defense.”

Puerto Rico is the home of Fort Buchanan, the U.S. Army’s “Sentinel of the Caribbean,” so perhaps there’s an argument that it harms national defense if the island is in chaos. Federal officials are anonymously telling the press that they’re unsure whether a waiver for Puerto Rico would be legal. Yet it’s hard not to wonder if President Biden is putting maritime unions above hurricane aid. Four months ago he pledged “unwavering support” for the Jones Act.

Several members of Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are calling on Mr. Mayorkas to give Puerto Rico some type of waiver. Maybe they should try to convince their Democratic colleagues to exempt the island for good — or better yet, kill the Jones Act entirely.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-jones-act-strands-hurricane-aid-ship-puerto-rico-pedro-pierluisi-alejandro-mayorkas-11664316612


Sept. 26

The Guardian on Italy’s election

The radical right’s clear victory in Italy’s election is a historic and disturbing moment in European politics. Formed 10 years ago, and with roots in a formerly fringe neo-fascist tradition, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party will dominate the most rightwing administration to govern the country in the postwar period. The third-largest economy in the eurozone and a founding member of the European Union, Italy has now become a beacon and a model for nationalist, authoritarian forces across the continent.

Throughout the election campaign, Ms. Meloni has been at pains to distance herself and her party from historical links to the Italian Social Movement (MSI), set up by supporters of Benito Mussolini after the war. According to Italy’s next prime minister, the far right has been on “a journey,” and should now be considered a national conservative party comparable to the British Conservative party. But a more relevant benchmark is her close ally Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary, which in power has developed a form of soft autocracy which Mr. Orbán describes as “illiberal democracy”.

As has happened in Hungary, Ms. Meloni’s aggressive social conservatism is likely to make Italy a more hostile place for migrants, LGBT people and women seeking to exercise reproductive rights guaranteed by the constitution after the abortion referendum in 1978. Like Hungary’s prime minister, Ms. Meloni has channeled “great replacement” theory, pledging to defend Italy’s Christian identity by cracking down on immigration and upping Italy’s low birthrate. Her party’s virulent opposition to gay adoption and surrogacy was signaled by campaign criticism of a Peppa Pig cartoon broadcast on a state channel, in which a plotline featured same-sex parents.

The prosecution of such culture wars is likely to provide red meat for Ms. Meloni’s supporters, as she takes a more cautious approach in initial dealings with the EU. Facing a brutal economic winter, Italy cannot afford to do without EUR200bn worth of promised EU COVID recovery fund money. This comes with strings attached, as would any future assistance from the European Central Bank, should markets begin to bet against Italy’s ability to service its huge national debt. On Russia’s war in Ukraine, Ms. Meloni has pledged ongoing support for Nato and the EU’s sanctions regime, but may encounter opposition from her more Putin-friendly coalition partners, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi.

The bigger picture, for those committed to the internationalism and liberal democratic values forged by the EU since the second world war, is a depressing one. Among the first to congratulate Ms. Meloni on her victory was Marine Le Pen, who suggested that “the whole of Europe is waking up, after Poland, Hungary, Sweden and now Italy”. For years, Ms. Meloni has been assiduous in building up far-right alliances. Profiting from disastrous divisions on the center-left and popular frustration with established parties, she is now able to place Italy – a major western democracy – at the head of forces favorable to rolling back European integration in the name of a reactionary nationalism and identity politics. Speaking before the election, Romano Prodi, the former center-left prime minister and ex-president of the European Commission, warned of the dangers for the European idea if national laws were ever allowed to take precedence over EU law. That is largely where Ms. Le Pen, Mr. Orbán and Ms. Meloni would like to end up. The triumph of Ms. Meloni has immeasurably helped their cause.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/sep/26/the-guardian-view-on-italys-election-a-victory-for-illiberalism


Sept. 27

China Daily on US gun proliferation

The manufacturing and trafficking of illicit firearms not only causes enormous civilian casualties, it also has obvious spillover effects such as exacerbating regional instability and fueling terrorism and transnational organized crimes.

While it is one of the safest countries in the world with the least gun-related violent crimes, China is willing to use its ratification of the Firearms Protocol as a chance to work with all parties so that concerted efforts can be made to address the global problem of gun proliferation.

State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced that China has launched the domestic procedure to ratify the United Nations’ Firearms Protocol in a speech at the general debate of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday.

The United Nations Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition is the only legally binding instrument at the global level to counter the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms, their parts, components and ammunition.

It aims to curb the manufacturing of illicit firearms and prevent the diversion of legally manufactured guns into the illegal circuit, as well as facilitating the investigation and prosecution of related offenses without hampering legitimate transfers.

China is firmly opposed to the illegal manufacture and trafficking of firearms and actively supports the international multilateral process of light arms control. It has always taken a prudent and responsible attitude toward military exports, strictly abides by its international obligations and does not transfer firearms to non-state actors.

China has faithfully fulfilled its obligations under the UN Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons as well as the International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons. It has actively participated in activities initiated by the World Customs Organization and Interpol to counter gun smuggling. And in July 2020, China formally acceded to the Arms Trade Treaty.

At present, the global gun epidemic is still serious. Governments of all countries should fulfill their responsibilities, strengthen domestic gun control and enhance international coordination and cooperation.

The United States not only has the world’s largest number of private gun owners and a serious domestic gun violence problem, it is also the world’s largest source of smuggled guns. The U.S. has refused to accede to the Firearms Protocol and other international legal instruments on gun control, and refrained from signing the Arms Trade Treaty, seriously undermining the efforts of the international community to regulate the conventional arms trade.

To build a peaceful and safe world free from gun violence, the U.S. is obligated to play its part in curbing gun proliferation.

ONLINE: https://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202209/27/WS6332e2d8a310fd2b29e7a0f0.html

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Editorial Roundup: United States