Editorial Roundup: United States

Dec 19, 2022, 8:59 PM | Updated: Dec 20, 2022, 11:07 am

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Dec. 14

The Washington Post on the Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve’s greatest resource is its credibility. People have to believe the central bank will get inflation under control — or else inflationary psychology becomes entrenched and causes years of pain. Likewise, people need to trust that Fed leaders will prioritize what’s best for the nation over any personal gain — otherwise the central bank won’t survive.

This year has tested both aspects of Fed credibility. On inflation, there were early mistakes, but the central bank has largely restored trust that it will get the job done. It’s a different story on the ethics side: Top Fed officials took a series of questionable actions, and the central bank’s leadership has not satisfactorily reckoned with the increasingly glaring problem. In fact, Congress might have to force change; a bipartisan bill — the Financial Regulators Transparency Act — would help make this critical institution more transparent and accountable.

Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell and his fellow central bankers were regrettably slow to recognize the inflation threat, but since March they have acted decisively. Interest rates are now nearly 4.5%, a massive jump from January, when they were close to zero. The Fed has not hiked rates this swiftly in a single year since the early 1980s. There are encouraging signs that inflation is cooling; it hit 9.1% annually in June but dropped to 7.1% in November. The fight isn’t over, but Americans believe price increases will continue to subside, and Mr. Powell has admitted his mistakes.

Where the Fed repeatedly fell short is in its leaders’ conduct. Fed historian Peter Conti-Brown calls this an “unprecedented” era of ethical missteps by top officials. Numerous Fed leaders made sizable trades during the 2020 pandemic crisis when the central bank was taking extraordinary steps to save the economy and stabilize markets. They not only made the trades, but several officials failed to file the required disclosures about them on time. When the trading was exposed, those involved expressed little regret. Three of them — former Boston Fed president Eric Rosengren, former Dallas Fed president Robert Kaplan and former Fed vice chair Richard H. Clarida — retired early, but Kaplan was willing to say only that his trades risked “becoming a distraction.” It doesn’t help that the Fed’s inspector general still has not released its review of what Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Rosengren did.

The red flags didn’t end there. In October, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic suddenly revised his disclosures to show multiple transactions in 2020 during the height of the crisis, as well as trades that took place during long-standing “blackout” periods before key policy-setting meetings. Mr. Bostic remains in his position. He says all transactions were done by his money manager and he had no knowledge of them.

On top of that, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard spoke in October at a private, invitation-only event for a top Wall Street firm where no media was present, raising concerns about bankers getting insider information. He also remains in his position.

Even if all these incidents didn’t violate the letter of the law, they broke its spirit and pummeled Fed credibility.

Mr. Powell deserves some recognition for significantly tightening the rules on how Fed leaders can trade. Top officials are now prohibited from purchasing individual stocks, and they must provide 45 days’ advance notice of any transactions. The presidents of the 12 regional Fed banks around the country — where many of the questionable acts took place — now have to publicly disclose trades within 30 days. These new rules are among the most stringent in government.

And rightly so. “The public’s trust is really the Fed’s and any central bank’s most important asset,” Mr. Powell said in November when a reporter asked for an update on the ethics problems. Mr. Powell added that all 19 top Fed leaders who help set interest rate policies had “recommitted” to “hold ourselves to the highest standards and avoid these problems.”

But Mr. Powell needs to do more than talk about a recommitment. There should be clear rules for when top Fed officials can accept speaking engagements. Perhaps the Fed could create a centralized approval process or specify that any discussion with more than five people must be open to the media.

The Fed should also have more effective oversight. Progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and conservative Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) rarely agree, but they have jointly written a bill that would make the central bank more transparent. It would make the 12 regional Fed banks subject to the Freedom of Information Act, require the Fed to respond to congressional ethics requests and make the Fed’s inspector general a presidential appointee. (The Fed chair currently appoints the inspector general, so it’s not truly independent.) Congress should pass this legislation soon, and Fed leaders should welcome it.

The Fed has confronted this year perhaps the greatest monetary policy problem in a generation, tackling inflation with painful interest rate hikes that only a central bank, insulated from political pressure and capable of taking the long view, could institute. To preserve its position at the controls of the world’s largest economy, it should make restoring public trust as high a priority as fighting inflation.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/12/14/federal-reserve-credibility-inflation-trading-speeches/


Dec. 17

The New York Times on Netanyahu and Democracy in Israel

Israeli elections can be dramatic, and its five elections within four years have been full of political surprises and firsts, including the first time an independent Israeli Arab party joined a governing coalition. This series of new governments and the sometimes tumultuous process of forming them are part of Israel’s proud tradition as a boisterous and pluralistic democracy.

Yet the far-right government that will soon take power, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, marks a qualitative and alarming break with all the other governments in Israel’s 75-year history. While Mr. Netanyahu clearly has the support of the Israeli electorate, his coalition’s victory was narrow and cannot be seen as a broad mandate to make concessions to ultrareligious and ultranationalist parties that are putting the ideal of a democratic Jewish state in jeopardy.

This board has been a strong supporter of Israel and a two-state solution for many years, and we remain committed to that support. Antisemitism is on the rise around the globe, and at least some of the criticism of Israel is the result of such hatred.

Mr. Netanyahu’s government, however, is a significant threat to the future of Israel — its direction, its security and even the idea of a Jewish homeland. For one, the government’s posture could make it militarily and politically impossible for a two-state solution to ever emerge. Rather than accept this outcome, the Biden administration should do everything it can to express its support for a society governed by equal rights and the rule of law in Israel, as it does in countries all over the world. That would be an act of friendship, consistent with the deep bond between the two nations.

Mr. Netanyahu’s comeback as prime minister, a year and a half after he was ousted from office, can’t be divorced from the corruption allegations that have followed him. He is now doing everything he can to stay in power, by catering to the demands of the most extreme elements of Israeli politics. The new cabinet he is forming includes radical far-right parties that have called for, among other things, expanding and legalizing settlements in a way that would effectively render a Palestinian state in the West Bank impossible; changing the status quo on the Temple Mount, an action that risks provoking a new round of Arab-Israeli violence; and undermining the authority of the Israeli Supreme Court, thus freeing the Knesset, the Israeli legislature, to do whatever it wants, with little judicial restraint.

Ministers in the new government are set to include figures such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in Israel in 2007 for incitement to racism and supporting a Jewish terrorist organization. He will probably be minister of national security. Bezalel Smotrich, who has long supported outright annexation of the West Bank, is expected to be named the next finance minister, with additional authority over the administration of the West Bank. For the deputy in the prime minister’s office in charge of Jewish identity, Mr. Netanyahu is expected to name Avi Maoz, who once described himself as a “proud homophobe.”

These moves are troubling, and America’s leaders should say so. The Biden administration’s main response so far has been a cautious speech by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the liberal advocacy group J Street on Dec. 4, in which he declared that the United States would deal with Israeli policies, not individuals. The new government has yet to be formed, so it is not surprising that the State Department does not yet have a well-defined position, but the administration has already discussed, according to a report in Axios, how to manage its meetings with the most extreme members of the new cabinet and which core interests to focus on.

This approach understates the potential consequences of the shift in Israeli politics that this government represents. The cabinet about to take charge is not simply another iteration of the unstable, shifting alliances that followed the past four inconclusive elections. Those coalitions, like many before them, often included fringe religious or nationalist parties, but they were usually kept in check by more moderate political parties or even by Mr. Netanyahu over the 15 years he served as prime minister.

All that is now threatened. Right-wing parties have an absolute majority in the Knesset, and Mr. Netanyahu, hoping that the new government will save him from prosecution and potential prison time, is in their power. Among the targets of the new leaders is the Israeli Supreme Court, which, in the absence of a national constitution, has served to weigh government actions against international law and the Israeli state’s own traditions and values. The nationalists would diminish this authority by voting to give themselves the power to override Supreme Court decisions. Not incidentally, they have also proposed eliminating the law under which Mr. Netanyahu faces a possible prison term.

As Thomas L. Friedman, a Times columnist who has closely followed Israeli affairs for four decades, wrote shortly after the election results were known, “We are truly entering a dark tunnel.” While Mr. Netanyahu in the past used the “energy of this illiberal Israeli constituency to win office,” Mr. Friedman wrote, until now, he had never given them this kind of ministerial authority over critical defense and economic portfolios.

This is not simply a disappointing turn in an old ally. The relationship between Israel and the United States has long been one that transcends traditional definitions of a military alliance or of diplomatic friendship. A body of deeply shared values has forged powerful and complex bonds. A commitment to Israel, both in its security and in its treatment by the world, has been an unquestioned principle of American foreign and domestic policy for decades, even when Mr. Netanyahu openly defied Barack Obama or embraced Donald Trump. As Mr. Blinken said in his speech, the United States will hold Israel “to the mutual standards we have established in our relationship over the past seven decades.”

Israel has been moving steadily rightward in recent years. That is, in part, due to genuine concerns about crime and security, especially after violence between Israeli Arabs and Jews last year. Many Israelis also express fear that the peace process has failed because of a lack of interest in peace among Palestinian leaders, a fear heightened by Hamas control in Gaza since 2007 and a sense that Mahmoud Abbas’s grip on the Palestinian Authority is coming to an end without a clear succession plan.

Demographic change in Israel has also shifted the country’s politics. Religious families in Israel tend to have large families and to vote with the right. A recent analysis by the Israel Democracy Institute found that about 60 percent of Jewish Israelis identify as right wing today; among people ages 18 to 24, the number rises to 70 percent. In the Nov. 1 election, the old Labor Party, once the liberal face of Israel’s founders, won only four seats, and the left-wing Meretz won none.

Moderating forces in Israeli politics and civil society are already planning energetic resistance to legislation that would curtail the powers of the Israeli Supreme Court or the rights of the Arab minority or the L.G.B.T.Q. community. They deserve support from the American public and from the Biden administration.

Whatever the contours of the new Israeli government, the United States will continue to be engaged with it on many issues of shared concern. Negotiations on a new nuclear deal with Iran are all but dead, a situation that poses a threat to security across the region. The Abraham Accords, while not a substitute for peace with the Palestinians, normalized relations between Israel and several Arab nations. That is welcome progress, and the United States could play an important role in helping to expand them to include other countries, such as Saudi Arabia.

While Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have long been moribund, the principle of someday achieving two states remains the bedrock of American and Israeli cooperation. Hopes for a Palestinian state have dimmed under the combined pressure of Israeli resistance and Palestinian corruption, ineptitude and internal divisions. Anything that undermines Israel’s democratic ideals — whether outright annexation of Jewish settlements or legalization of illegal settlements and outposts — would undermine the possibility of a two-state solution.

America’s support for Israel reflects our two countries’ respect for democratic ideals. President Biden and Mr. Netanyahu should do everything they can to reaffirm that commitment.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/17/opinion/israel-netanyahu.html


Dec. 19

The Wall Street Journal on the Jan. 6 committee’s findings

The House Jan. 6 committee decided Monday that the best way to cap its 18 months of work would be a political gesture. It thus referred President Trump to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution for his efforts to reverse the 2020 election, which culminated in the Capitol riot.

What is this supposed to accomplish? A Congressional referral to the Justice Department has all the legal force of an interoffice memo. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed special counsel Jack Smith to investigate Mr. Trump’s schemes to stay in office. The Jan. 6 committee’s loud public intervention makes his job more complicated, given the clear partisan context.

The House Jan. 6 inquiry has done useful work gathering documents and putting witnesses under oath. The wiser course was to let the established facts speak for themselves, while releasing full transcripts of its interviews to provide a complete public record.

The questions for Mr. Smith are whether Mr. Trump’s reckless conduct was criminal and whether indicting him is prudent and good for the country. The House referral cites laws against insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and conspiracy to make a false statement to the government. But getting a conviction requires a unanimous jury, and the House theories of the case have serious problems based on the current public evidence.

The “insurrection” on Jan. 6 was a rally that turned into a riot. As far as we know, there isn’t any allegation that Mr. Trump was secretly urging on instigators, such as the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys. There’s been much loose talk about Jan. 6 as an attempted “coup,” but Mr. Trump lacked support from the military, his own White House lawyers, most if not all of his cabinet, senior leaders at the Justice Department, senior legislative leaders in contested states, and his own Vice President.

When Mr. Trump pressured VP Mike Pence to reject Electoral College votes, he was following a crackpot legal theory that claimed to represent the true meaning of the Constitution. It was floated by John Eastman, a former law professor whom the committee also referred to the Justice Department.

But giving rotten legal advice isn’t illegal. Mr. Trump’s ultimate goal wasn’t to obstruct the Congressional session on Jan. 6; he wanted it to go his way. This was nonsense, and it had no chance of success, but was it a crime to lobby Mr. Pence to try? Mr. Pence, who stood up to the browbeating, said Monday he doesn’t think it was.

Also, what about the First Amendment? The 2020 election wasn’t stolen, but Mr. Trump has a right to argue it was, even if he knows he’s misleading his followers. Politicians dissemble all the time. The Justice Department’s job isn’t to police partisan deceit as criminal conspiracy.

The Justice Department has evidence that isn’t public, and perhaps it has turned up proof of a broader conspiracy to take over the government with Mr. Trump as the mastermind. But we have a hard time believing such information wouldn’t already have leaked to the press, since everything else involving Mr. Trump does.

Jan. 6 was a disgrace, and Mr. Trump’s behavior on that day and since is a reason not to trust him with the Presidency ever again. But Justice must balance a decision to indict Mr. Trump with the risk of setting a momentous precedent: prosecuting a former President running against a current President.

The proof to support such a charge would have to be undeniable, with a legal theory straightforward enough to convince most of the country, including most Republicans. Otherwise it could cleave the country in two, and it might even help Mr. Trump in rallying supporters to his defense. Indicting a former President would also take the scourge of criminalizing political differences to new heights. Democrats would surely be future targets.

The House referral alone will give Mr. Trump an excuse to claim this is all another Democratic revenge campaign. And it comes as Republican voters finally seem ready to bang the gong on the Trump show. Voters in November rejected candidates who campaigned on Mr. Trump’s stolen election theories.

In their crusade against Mr. Trump’s norm-breaking, Democrats and the press have too often broken norms themselves. They have also had too little trust in U.S. institutions to hold up against abuses and in voters to self-correct. An indictment on the current evidence would be seen as political, and it wouldn’t help the country get past Mr. Trump or Jan. 6. Instead it could plunge American democracy into a new and dangerous era.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-jan-6-inquirys-not-so-grand-finale-donald-trump-criminal-referral-justice-department-11671488663


Dec. 14

The Los Angeles Times says national crisis line needs federal funding

For all the convulsive court decisions, congressional hearings, price increases, invasions, mass killings and social media takeovers, 2022 should also be remembered as the year of 988 — the nationwide crisis line that went live in July. If the states and the federal government do their work, the number could become far more than just an easier-to-remember suicide prevention resource. It could be the foundation of a vastly improved mental health and emergency response system and an essential tool to defuse needless police violence.

Turnaround time was short, in government terms, between a 2019 proposal from the Federal Communications Commission and the system’s debut five months ago. It’s now possible to connect with a crisis center by calling 988 almost anywhere in the nation. But it’s mostly up to states to provide for crisis call centers, mobile psychiatric response teams and specialized care centers — or as system proponents put it, someone to call, someone to come and somewhere to go.

Just under half the states passed legislation this year to fund 988 services. California, to its credit, is one of the states that has committed to building out a comprehensive system by passing AB 988, also known as the Miles Hall Lifeline Act. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill in September, creating enough funding to keep 13 call centers open, including the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services center in Los Angeles County.

The missing piece is federal funding and technical assistance to ensure that the state systems are fully linked, continuously operated and coordinated with 911, the emergency response system that summons police and firefighters. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Pacoima) sponsored HR 7116 to authorize five years of funding, boost Medicaid coverage for mental health counseling on the phone and in person, and require the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to set standards for behavioral health services. Because the system requires a well-trained workforce of clinicians, counselors and other mental health professionals, the bill assists states in providing training and scholarships.

The next few days are critical. The midterm elections will put the Republicans in control of the House and alter the political dynamic in Washington. Congress, in the midst of a particularly busy lame-duck session that could run through Christmas, is trying to pass a spending bill to keep the government running while providing funding for priorities like fighting COVID-19 and assisting Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion.

Members would be wise to include, in their sprint, the 988 funding and programs laid out in Cárdenas’ bill.

The United States is in the midst of a mental health crisis, already apparent when the lifeline expansion was proposed. For example, suicide is the second-biggest cause of death for teenagers, after accidents, and is also a leading killer of veterans. Under-treated emotional or psychiatric conditions contribute to homelessness and have been linked to at least some mass shootings. The problem increased with the cataclysmic events of 2020 — the pandemic, the shutdowns and resulting isolation and economic and learning loss, and a death toll that is approaching 1.1 million. Political turmoil and anxiety make matters worse. Emergency rooms have struggled to keep up with waves of critical coronavirus cases and are struggling to concurrently deal with people suffering from serious mental illness or other behavioral health crises.

For many people, phone counseling is, in itself, an important treatment, even without a mobile response or transport to a crisis center. It is often the conversation that defuses the emergency. But to be of value the service must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the language of the person in need, and with people who have the training and, ideally, the personal experience to help the caller.

When a mobile response is also needed, it’s important to have an alternative to police, who are ill-equipped to deal with psychiatric emergencies. Miles Hall, the Walnut Creek man after whom the California bill was named, was killed by police who were responding to his family’s call for help. There are too many other tragic cases, including David Ordaz Jr., shot dead by L.A. County sheriff’s deputies responding, ironically, to a call for assistance when he was feeling suicidal. And Isaias Cervantes, an autistic man shot and critically injured by deputies when his family called for help. Alternative crisis response could be the key to addressing policing, equity and mental health challenges.

But first, the funding. Congress, don’t blow the chance to keep 988 in service.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-12-14/editorial-the-next-step-forward-for-988-federal-guidance-and-funding


Dec. 19

The Guardian on Cop15 and national responsibilities to nature

The 23 targets in the Cop15 biodiversity agreement announced in Montreal on Monday are insufficient to prevent further irrecoverable losses, including among the many species threatened with extinction. The deal is not legally binding, leading to concerns about the prospects for implementation. The track record of global biodiversity plans is terrible. Every one of 20 targets set at Aichi in Japan in 2010 was missed.

The new agreement was finalized despite complaints from African countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to one of the world’s largest rainforests, which is threatened by oil and gas exploration. The description of the U.S.’s role as “an interesting asterisk” by the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was too mild. It is shaming and alarming that the U.S. was at the talks as an “influencer” and not a participant, because the Senate has refused to ratify the U.N. convention on biological diversity.

These are more than caveats. The Cop15 process and its outcomes are deeply flawed – arguably even more so than the U.N. climate negotiations. In both cases, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of present challenges and past failures. Many of the decisions and promises being made now would have been prescient had they been made decades ago. That said, international cooperation is so vital to ongoing efforts at limiting further damage that the signing of the agreement at a conference co-hosted by Canada and China must be welcomed as a positive development.

The target known as “30 by 30”, which means a commitment to protect 30% of the planet – both land and sea – for nature by the end of the decade, is a good one and stands a decent chance of being taken on board by civil society in many countries, in the way that net zero has. The concept of national biodiversity plans, with a similar function to the nationally determined contributions in the U.N. climate process, is also sound. The U.N. has a key role to play as the steward of environmental politics, but governments take most of the decisions that determine whether commitments are fulfilled. The strong language around Indigenous rights is also welcome, and linked to recognition of the ecological harms, as well as the benefits, of “development”.

The removal from the final draft of a target of a 5% increase in natural ecosystems by 2030 was a missed opportunity. Without specific goals, the danger is that fine intentions will fizzle out. Other problems include the lack of a commitment to tackle consumption patterns, above all in the rich west, which make huge demands on finite resources, as well as producing large amounts of carbon. Diets, in particular meat-rich western ones, will have to change if we are to have any chance of conserving habitats including the Amazon, where cattle farming leads to deforestation.

But the agreement is a step forward, and the hope must be that the orientation of politics will now shift – as it has done in regard to climate – to place more emphasis on the conservation and restoration of nature. African governments collectively played an important role in securing progress in Montreal, and the treatment of the DRC in the final session must not be glossed over. Justice is at stake in the nature crisis, as in the climate one. If the Cop biodiversity process is to work, the U.N. must ensure that all voices are heard.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/dec/19/the-guardian-view-on-the-cop15-agreement-nations-must-do-more-for-nature


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Editorial Roundup: United States