Editorial Roundup: United States
Jun 20, 2023, 2:53 PM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on use of excessive force by police officers in the U.S.
George Floyd was far from the first or only one. Men shot during foot chases or no-knock raids; a 14-year-old boy held by the throat, beaten with a flashlight and pinned by a knee at his neck and back; protesters pushed to the ground; a journalist who lost her eye to a rubber bullet. These are only a few of the incidents the Justice Department underscores in a report after its multiyear investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department.
The report, released Friday, is 89 pages of disturbing but hardly surprising details regarding an institution that the DOJ describes as having systemically used excessive force as well as discriminated against racial minorities. These issues predated the murder in summer 2020 that set off protests across the country.
Minneapolis police officers shot at people who presented no immediate danger to them — firing into a car containing six people after its driver was instructed to reverse down a one-way street; discharging four rounds at a man stabbing himself with a knife but threatening no one else; killing an unarmed White woman who “spooked” an officer by approaching his squad car after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in a nearby alley ….
Officers relied on neck restraints with abandon, and in some cases without warning, as when an officer sneaked up behind an unarmed Latino man and choked him until he blacked out. They stunned people with tasers because they didn’t comply immediately with occasionally contradictory demands: “Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!” a woman pulled over for an illegal U-turn yelled as an officer sent electricity into her neck. They pepper-sprayed citizens as punishment for criticizing or even just observing their activity; they responded to a diabetic woman’s plea for help by telling her they’d add a charge for obstruction and putting her in a full-body restraint. These aren’t examples of police making difficult split-second decisions to protect their safety or the safety of others. They are examples of officers hurting people for little reason at all.
The burden of this misconduct hasn’t been evenly borne among demographics. Black and Native American residents have been stopped disproportionately; their neighborhoods have been patrolled disproportionately; they’ve been the subjects of a disproportionate amount of force. The Minneapolis police have been on notice about these disparities, but despite some recent reforms, no one has done anything to sufficiently address them. To the contrary, after Floyd’s murder brought national attention to the city, many officers have simply stopped documenting race in the course of their duties …
These “pattern and practice” reviews fell out of favor during Donald Trump’s presidency, but their return is welcome. The imprimatur of the Justice Department, plus the push of a consent decree, might be what’s necessary to reverse long-standing and deplorable trends — in Minneapolis and elsewhere. Better still, police departments should take it upon themselves to remove the same rot in their own cities.
The Wall Street Journal on the U.S. wealth tax
Progressives have long dreamed of imposing a tax on wealth, and it looks as if an arcane corner of the 2017 tax reform might give them a legal opening. The Supreme Court can shut this constitutional door if it takes up a bad ruling on appeal from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Sixteenth Amendment revised the Constitution to allow “taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.” The Supreme Court has long held that income is defined as money that is realized from, say, wages or the sale of a property or financial asset. It has never been defined as unrealized income, such as from an increase in the value of an asset on paper that isn’t paid out to the owner.
Enter 2017’s mandatory repatriation tax, which taxed shareholders of some foreign corporations on their retained earnings. Congress was scrambling for revenue to pay for its reduction in tax rates, and foreign companies were an easy political target. But the tax also hits unsuspecting American bystanders.
Two of them are Charles and Kathleen Moore, of Washington state, who invested in a friend’s venture to distribute farm equipment in rural India. The company reinvested earnings to distribute more proceeds in India, and the Moores received no payout. Yet they were hit with a tax bill of $14,729 under the mandatory repatriation tax.
The Moores sued the Internal Revenue Service and sought a refund on grounds that the tax is an unconstitutional levy on income. They lost in federal district court, and a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the tax. ruling that “realization of income is not a constitutional requirement.”
The Moores also lost a request for hearing by the full Ninth Circuit. But Judge Patrick Bumatay issued a hard-hitting dissent that called out the majority decision as contrary to “ordinary meaning, history and precedent.” …
The Moores have appealed to the Supreme Court, and we hope the Justices will hear the case. The Ninth Circuit ruling controls only in its area, but if the High Court lets it stand, it will encourage Democrats in Washington, D.C., to think that they could get away with imposing a wealth tax.
No less than the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, has floated a wealth tax proposal. The Justices have a chance in Moore v. U.S. to restore the proper legal application of the income tax and avoid a constitutional clash that could do substantial economic harm.
The Guardian on Trump and political violence
Like Joe Biden’s ascent to the White House, Donald Trump’s indictment for unlawfully holding classified documents and obstructing justice offers a partial answer to one great question of American politics: can the country’s institutions contain his excesses?
The backlash that the indictment has prompted highlights another: what happens when they do? When the Democrat defeated him, Mr. Trump’s armed supporters stormed the Capitol to prevent the transfer of power, assaulting police officers and chanting “Hang Mike Pence”. Within minutes of his indictment last week, threats and even calls for civil war were surging on social media platforms used by his supporters.
The violent rhetoric doesn’t just come from the grassroots. The Arizona Republican Kari Lake announced that “to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me, and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me … Most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA (National Rifle Association).” Mr. Trump himself previously warned of “death and destruction” if he were indicted in a separate case, over hush money payments.
His bluster at such times is intended to deter action against him – despite the extraordinary case put forward in the indictment, including the now-familiar photo of boxes stacked in a bathroom. It is critical to avoid hysteria or fatalism about the threats facing U.S. democracy. It is true that the direst prognostications did not come to pass after the 2020 election.
Nonetheless, last year, research found that more than two in five Americans think a civil war is at least somewhat likely within the next decade. The number who think violence would be justified to restore Mr. Trump to the White House has fallen since last year, but still stands at 12 million. An increasingly divided country is also increasingly well armed, with almost 400 million privately held guns; their owners are disproportionately white, male and Republican. According to one study, almost 3% of adults, or 7.5 million people, bought a firearm for the first time between January 2019 and April 2021.
A slew of analysts have warned that the U.S. could be heading towards widespread political violence. Prof. Barbara Walter notes in her book How Civil Wars Start that two conditions are key: ethnic factionalism and anocracy – when a country is neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic. She believes that the U.S. has the first, and remains close to the second, even if the short-term threat has ebbed somewhat since 2021. Others have pulled back from warnings of civil war, but think major civil disruption is entirely plausible. …
No violence broke out at the indictment threats and political violence in recent years is undeniable. That the language of Mr. Trump and his enablers makes these more likely is surely, by now, beyond doubt.
China Daily on the prolonging of the war between Russia and Ukraine
After China openly announced it would try and mediate between Russia and Ukraine and dispatched an envoy to solicit opinions on how to get the two sides back to the negotiation table in May, more members of the international society have stepped up the promotion of peace talks.
In April, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva supported China’s call for peace and proposed forming a group to mediate in the Ukraine crisis. On June 3, Indonesian Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto also proposed a peace plan at the annual session of the Shangri-La Dialogue.
The latest initiative is from Africa. A delegation of leaders from seven African nations and the representatives of three others met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in Saint Petersburg, one day after talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.
Although neither Russia nor Ukraine fully agreed with their proposed “road to peace” that seeks agreement on a series of “confidence-building measures”, their mediation effort is still noteworthy as it is “the first time that Africa is united behind the resolution of a conflict outside of our continent”, as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said ahead of the trip. The fact that the African delegation made the trip and held in-depth talks with leaders of the two nations is further evidence that an increasing number of members of the international community recognize that peace best serves everyone’s interests.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, however, seems to have other ideas. Led by the Cold War warriors in Washington and the hawkish, antipathetic-to-Russia head of the organization Jens Stoltenberg, the transatlantic alliance continues to fuel the flames by supplying weapons and other military assistance to Ukraine, as their objective is to permanently weaken Russia.
On Thursday, the day before the African delegation arrived in Ukraine, NATO held a defense ministers’ meeting with the participation of senior executives from 25 major Western defense companies. The fault line in the international community demarcates those countries that cherish peace and those that seek geopolitical advantages at the cost of lives.
China and the other responsible members of the international society have already demonstrated they are on the former side of that divide. Now it is time for certain Western politicians to prove they don’t belong to the latter.