Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Feb. 2

The New York Times on immigration

President Biden’s assertion that he’s ready to sign a border deal — one that would make it much harder for migrants to enter the United States — is a necessary and long overdue step to restore the public’s confidence in the federal government’s ability to maintain control over immigration.

The crush of asylum seekers crossing the southern border has overwhelmed the government’s capacity to deal justly with their claims. The needs of the migrants have strained the resources of cities and towns across the country; in the absence of federal help, these communities are finding it difficult to maintain humane conditions for everyone who crosses. This situation is untenable.

Democrats have been too slow to respond to the increasingly urgent pleas from mayors, governors and voters to act. Republicans deserve credit for pressing for action, and they ought to be celebrating that Mr. Biden has now accepted many of the strict border security measures that they have long pushed for. But Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, insists that Republicans reject the legislation taking shape in the Senate. Several Senate Republicans have said Mr. Trump is blocking it to keep immigration alive as a campaign issue. Senator Todd Young of Indiana called this move to derail the negotiations “tragic.” He and the other Senate Republicans nevertheless continue to work with their Democratic colleagues to hammer out a compromise.

House Republicans, however, don’t seem interested in writing laws; they have instead submitted to Mr. Trump’s demands. The House speaker, Mike Johnson, says any bill the Senate sends to the House will be “dead on arrival.” Instead of negotiating with Democrats, they are pressing ahead with a farcical effort to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security.

Republican leaders outside Congress are engaged in other forms of sabotage. The Oklahoma Republican Party voted to censure the Republican senator James Lankford for his role in leading the Senate negotiations. The Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, who has long used human lives as political props, has directed the Texas National Guard to impede the work of federal immigration officers along the southern border. These actions have set off a constitutional standoff between the state and federal governments and created dangerous conditions, including regular reports of people drowning or being injured by the barbed wire the state installed over the objections of federal authorities.

These political maneuvers are counterproductive and a distraction from the scale of this issue: The number of migrants entering the United States from the southern border has never been greater. As Miriam Jordan of The Times reported, 2.5 million people crossed in the 2023 fiscal year, “more than live in most U.S. cities.”

It is a migration driven by problems in the places left behind, by opportunities in the United States and by the ease of entering this country and staying here. It is common knowledge that people can enter the United States legally by presenting themselves as applicants for asylum. Without the resources to judge those claims quickly, the government lets hundreds of thousands of people live and work in the United States while awaiting a hearing.

The deal under construction in the Senate reportedly would raise the bar for asylum claims and provide funding to expedite decisions. It would expand other forms of legal immigration, which could help to take some pressure off the asylum process. It also includes a provision, which Mr. Biden has embraced, that would establish limits on the number of migrants able to ask for asylum on any given day — a provision that could bar many people from claiming asylum, no matter how strong their cases.

The details of any border deal will require careful scrutiny to avoid shifting from a policy of arbitrary permissiveness to a policy of arbitrary cruelty.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Biden waited so long to speak out forcefully on this issue, but he is right to urge Congress toward a deal. Whatever the fate of this piece of legislation, Americans should not lose sight of what Congress could do if it chooses: Congress can and should invest the needed resources and provide the needed powers to regain control over immigration. It needs to provide aid to border cities and cities far from the border dealing with influxes of migrants. It needs to act so that people without legitimate claims cannot walk into the United States — not least so that others are able to do so.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/02/opinion/border-deal-senate-biden.html


Feb. 2

The Washington post on Trump damaging U.S. national interests

The 2024 election is shaping up to be much more than a likely rematch between President Biden and former president Donald Trump — or even as a test of their competing visions for U.S. democracy. To a greater extent than perhaps any other moment since the 1920 debate over U.S. entry into the League of Nations, this country’s role in the world will be on the ballot. At the same time, the United States faces critical global challenges in Ukraine, the Middle East, East Asia and elsewhere.

Assuming they do end up facing each other in November, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump will offer voters a stark choice between the former’s support for the network of alliances and international institutions the United States helped create after World War II and the latter’s “America First” approach. In that sense, U.S. voters will not be choosing a direction for their country alone but for the world as a whole.

The assumption underlying such institutions as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the mutual defense agreements that bind the United States with Japan and South Korea is that security is not a zero-sum proposition. By committing resources over extended periods and combining them, taking mutual advantage of differing capabilities, countries can make themselves far safer than would have been possible if they acted unilaterally or in temporary concert. Mr. Biden believes this is still a workable model, which is why he is trying to apply and expand it to deter the challenge to NATO posed by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Mr. Trump, by contrast, has repeatedly depicted security alliances not as prudent long-term investments but as free rides for allies who get U.S. protection but do not shoulder their fair share of the defense burden. This is why Mr. Trump is pushing to end America’s support for Ukraine and hinting at a separate peace of some kind with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. His campaign website promises “fundamentally reevaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.”

Self-absorbed and easily swayed by honeyed words and calculated attention from autocrats such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, he inconsistently directs venom at China’s predatory trade practices and admiration for that country’s leader, Xi Jinping. This sows uncertainty not just in Taiwan but also the wider range of allies and partners that includes Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia and India. The Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy, has warned that a Trump return would raise foundational questions about America’s trustworthiness as well as “the credibility of its commitments to foreign partners, and the durability of its role as the (linchpin) of the global security order.” We wish it were exaggerating.

We say this in full awareness of the fact that Mr. Biden’s record is hardly perfect. Also, there are weaknesses in the U.S.-sponsored global security and economic architecture, such as the European allies’ neglect of military contributions to NATO and China’s mercantilist exploitation of its membership in the World Trade Organization. Mr. Trump has exploited these valid issues, albeit by exaggerating them. But if his harsh words helped force Europe to boost spending, well and good. In the case of trade, there is less disagreement between him and Mr. Biden than there is on alliances and security — unfortunately. Mr. Trump’s protectionist bent actually represents a point of convergence between him and the president who has, alas, maintained many of Mr. Trump’s tariffs and even alienated European allies by using subsidies designed to steer green energy investment to the United States.

At the same time, Mr. Trump’s brand of America First is ascendant within the GOP but not unanimous. Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the U.N. and governor of South Carolina, is still running against him and speaking for the Republican Party’s internationalist wing. Most Senate Republicans still support Ukraine. Part of what’s so concerning about the prospect of an isolationist second Trump presidency is that it would defy majority sentiment: Sixty-five percent of Americans want the United States to play a “leading” or “major” role in world affairs, according to the most recent Gallup Poll.

In short, U.S. foreign policy has evolved but still can rely on its time-tested essentials. Mr. Biden is far likelier to make sure of that than Mr. Trump. One way to gauge the radical changes that might lie in store is through the anticipatory words and deeds of leaders abroad. Mr. Putin shows no signs of backing down in Ukraine or negotiating peace because he obviously hopes for a better deal from Mr. Trump. Democratic leaders in Europe, by contrast, speak nervously of hedging against Trump Round 2. Whether or not he wins, Mr. Trump has already created a more dangerous world, in which the power and principles of the United States are seen not as constants but as variables.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/02/05/trump-world-global-reaction-tariffs/


Feb. 2

The Wall Street Journal on Biden and Iran

The U.S. on Friday launched what must be one of the most advertised military attacks against an enemy in history, with what the Pentagon said were airstrikes on seven facilities run by Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq.

U.S. officials have been broadcasting for days that strikes would be coming after the weekend drone attack that killed three Americans at a U.S. base in Jordan. Biden Administration officials signaled that the strikes were likely to be against the militias and not against Iran. Leaks to the media even suggested the U.S. was waiting for the skies to be clearer in the Middle East.

Militia leaders can’t say they weren’t warned, and if any of them were still around the target areas they are the world’s dumbest terrorists. U.S. officials said the strikes hit 85 targets that included command and control centers, and storage facilities for rockets and missiles. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers are likely to have vamoosed.

At least the Administration has signaled that the U.S. strikes could last for days or longer. “They have a lot of capability. I have a lot more,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday. The question is whether the U.S. will use enough of that capability to finally send a message of deterrence that sinks in.

The weak U.S. retaliatory strikes haven’t worked so far, despite more than 160 enemy attacks on U.S. bases or ships since mid-October. The multiple U.S. warnings this week send a message that the U.S. doesn’t want to do too much damage to the militias, who might consider that another sign that the U.S. fears escalation. The attacks on Americans are likely to end only when the enemy fears escalation more than President Biden does.

The real test will be whether these strikes, and covert U.S. actions such as cyber attacks, will deter Iran. The rulers in Tehran are the terror masters behind these militias, and so far they have paid no price for helping to kill Americans.

The White House has used its Boswells at the Washington Post and New York Times to suggest that President Biden is the wise voice of restraint in contrast to war-hungry Members of Congress. But that restraint has resulted in three dead and many wounded Americans, and this week a Houthi missile narrowly missed a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Red Sea.

There’s a time for restraint, and a time for using enough force against the right targets so that U.S. troops are no longer fodder for enemy target practice.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-strikes-proxy-militia-iran-biden-pentagon-lloyd-austin-3b3b98a3?mod=editorials_article_pos10


Feb. 1

The Los Angeles Times on U.S. college and adjunct professors

Undergraduates attending any of the California State University schools probably figure they’re being taught by well-paid, longtime professors. Sometimes they are. But more often, their teachers are low-paid “contingent faculty” — adjunct professors who work under contract, without a permanent job or the possibility of tenure.

Many CSU adjuncts have a PhD, but still make less working full time — about $64,000 a year — than the average California public school teacher, and with fewer benefits and little job security.

Because they are unionized — and under a new tentative contract, they will receive significant raises — Cal State’s contract instructors are at least doing better than the 250 contingent faculty who make up 75% of the teaching staff at University of Southern California’s highly regarded film school, according to James Savoca, an adjunct associate professor of film directing.

Many are current or retired Hollywood professionals who earn an average of $20,000 for teaching two courses, per academic year, which is considered a 20-hour-a-week job during the school year, Savoca said. Low pay is among the reasons that Savoca and other adjunct film school faculty at USC are trying to form a union. They recently presented USC with a petition signed by 80% of the adjunct professors, asking to have the union recognized. The university administration responded that the contingent faculty doesn’t need a “third party” to speak for them. A formal vote by adjuncts will be held soon.

Reliance on low-paid adjuncts is common among U.S. colleges and universities. The American Assn. of University Professors reports that 70% of faculty are adjunct, most of them without benefits, job security or union representation; they teach more than half of all college courses in the U.S. Many must patch together part-time gigs to support themselves, with salaries that don’t reflect their professional expertise or level of education.

Except for a handful of colleges where contingent faculty have organized and negotiated better pay, underpaid adjuncts are an unfortunate cost-saving feature at America’s institutions of higher education. The situation at Cal State shows that even unionization hasn’t always resulted in fair pay for their credentials and work, just better pay. A 2012 survey found that the median pay for unionized adjuncts was about 25% more than those without unions.

Colleges can generally terminate an adjunct instructor abruptly and for no reason. Other adjuncts tire of the situation quickly; turnover is high, which means the instructors are more likely to have little institutional knowledge and experience.

Some adjuncts are fully employed professionals in their field and pick up a course as a way of passing their knowledge to a new generation. But that’s the exception, according to the AAUP report. Many more count on teaching to get by financially. Either way, faculty should be paid at their full worth, and that happens rarely.

Nearly a quarter of adjunct professors rely on public assistance such as unemployment benefits during the summer or other non-teaching periods, according to a 2020 report by the American Federation of Teachers. That means taxpayers are subsidizing this situation. A 2022 survey by the AFT found that 1 in 5 adjuncts rely on Medicare or Medicaid for health insurance. That’s particularly galling for faculty at private colleges where students and their families pay tens of thousands of dollars each year in tuition.

This arrangement isn’t just bad for the adjuncts, it’s harmful to their students and schools: Because they have so little job security, adjunct professors don’t have the same level of academic freedom as their tenured counterparts and are less likely to take risks in the classroom or in their work, the AAUP report said. That means they’re less likely to be innovative or introduce provocative material, because those can be controversial.

The lack of security and pay also may lead underpaid adjuncts to take shortcuts as they try to juggle enough work to make a living, according to Helena Worthen, co-author of a book on contingent faculty. For example, they are less likely to defend a student challenge to a deserved low grade because the process is long and time-consuming, and the instructor gets no extra pay for it. Some adjuncts also limit the number of letters of recommendation they will write, Worthen said, or conduct office hours only by phone.

Colleges might plead poverty, but student applications are up this year. Overall, according to the AAUP report, adjunct hires increase most in times of college expansion.

Limited funds or not, there is no more important place for colleges to spend their money than hiring the best instructors they can find and providing fair pay, benefits and reasonable working conditions.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2024-02-01/la-ed-editorial-most-college-professors-are-underpaid-adjuncts


Feb. 1

The Guardian on Gaza's devastation

War deaths are not only caused by direct violence, and they don’t stop when the fighting does. Civilians as well as combatants may succumb to earlier injuries, or to hunger and disease in the aftermath of conflict. In the longer run, disruption of food production, damage to infrastructure and suspension of medical services such as routine vaccinations can all result in peacetime deaths which are ultimately attributable to the war. Women and children are disproportionately affected.

More than 27,000 people have now been killed in Gaza, according to Palestinian authorities. Tens of thousands of people are injured, in many cases with life-changing injuries. What will become of those now known by the chilling abbreviation WCNSF – “Wounded child, no surviving family”?

The suffering and need is almost beyond imagination. Conditions continue to deteriorate and supplies run short. Hospitals have been destroyed or damaged, while health needs grow, with an increasing number of patients injured in airstrikes or falling sick from their living conditions. In one harrowing account this week, a paediatrician described a surgeon warning her that he had more urgent cases than the infant bomb victim she was treating: “I tried to imagine what was more pressing than a one-year-old with no hand and no legs who was choking on his own blood,” she added.

There is now growing chatter about the push by the US for an extended pause in fighting in exchange for the release of hostages, with the hope that this might ultimately be expanded into a permanent ceasefire. Intensive diplomacy is welcome and necessary, but will not easily deliver results. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has said he would not agree to any deal requiring the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners or the departure of Israeli troops from Gaza.

When the war eventually ends, the survivors will be left amid the rubble. Communicable diseases will spread more easily in densely packed settlements without proper sanitation. An estimated 50 to 62% of buildings in Gaza have likely been damaged or destroyed, and an even higher proportion of its homes. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, called this week for the offence of domicide – the mass razing of neighbourhoods – to be included in international humanitarian and criminal law.

There is only so much that relief work can do to ameliorate such a catastrophe. But the mass suspension of funding to the UN agency UNRWA – over allegations, described by the US as credible, that some employees participated in Hamas’s 7 October atrocities – is a terrible blow. It will exacerbate the suffering in a place where, says commissioner Philippe Lazzarini, more than 2 million people depend on its aid for “sheer survival”. Israeli media reports that ministers have also proposed limiting the inflow of aid to Gaza to weaken Hamas and increase pressure for the release of hostages.

Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University, wrote in the Guardian this week: “Palestinian children in Gaza will die, in the thousands, even if the barriers to aid are lifted today.” But every day that funding is suspended, that aid is impeded, and that bombs fall, will make it worse. Not only Israel, but those who continue to supply it with weapons while cutting off UNRWA funding, must be answerable.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/feb/01/the-guardian-view-on-gazas-devastation-the-suffering-wont-end-when-war-does