Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Oct. 26

The Washington Post on the economic ideas presented by GOP candidates for POTUS

Republican candidates are trying to capitalize on discontent with “Bidenomics.” Despite strong job gains, cooling inflation, blockbuster third-quarter growth at an annualized rate of 4.9 percent and no recession in sight, Americans tell pollsters President Biden is doing a poor job on the economy. They remain scarred by the covid-era inflation surge, which caused pay hikes to lag behind price increases during Mr. Biden’s initial two years in the White House. Real wages have improved in recent months, but many Americans remain nervous about the future.

The GOP field offers many of the usual partisan proposals: cut taxes, cut government, cut regulation. On top of that, some Republicans, starting with former president Donald Trump, have added crude trade protectionism. Mr. Trump is even floating an across-the-board 10 percent tariff that would impose ruinous costs on American consumers. Yet some in the GOP field have floated a few more interesting ideas, mixed in with a lot of unserious ones.

Many candidates pay lip service to controlling federal debt, which grew $1.7 trillion in the fiscal year that ended last month, but former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has some potentially sensible ways to save money.

She would cap federal spending as a percentage of the economy closer to pre-covid levels. (She doesn’t give specifics, but spending was 21 percent in 2019 vs. 24 percent in the latest fiscal year.) This is not a permanent solution, as programs such as Medicare and Social Security will naturally grow in cost, if not in generosity, as more Americans retire. Over time, a hard cap on federal spending would force cuts in other parts of the budget.

More promising, Ms. Haley would end the state and local income tax deduction, which largely benefits the richest households. She would be wise not to stop there. Limiting more tax deductions would make the tax code fairer and generate much-needed revenue.

Ms. Haley and Mike Pence, who was vice president under Mr. Trump, also speak often about reforming Social Security and Medicare by lifting the retirement age for younger generations and limiting benefits for the wealthy. (Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisis also open to Social Security changes for the young.) This contrasts with Mr. Trump’s irresponsible uninterest in making the relatively modest changes needed to keep these programs vibrant.

Meanwhile, several GOP contenders tout an “all of the above” energy approach. This is meant to contrast with Mr. Biden’s green energy expansion. In fact, if Republicans are serious about welcoming green as well as fossil-based energy technologies, there should not be much difference. Oil and gas production are near record highs under Mr. Biden, even as the federal government finally invests heavily in deploying greener alternatives. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and growing Middle East instability underscore the need for strong domestic oil and gas production in the near term, even as the country pursues long-term climate solutions.

Not fiscally responsible would be another corporate tax cut. Mr. Trump signed the largest corporate tax cut in U.S. history in 2017, slashing the rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Now Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence say it should be 15 percent. This would result in higher deficits: The 2017 reduction put the corporate rate on more equal footing with those of global competitors, but it also reduced corporate tax revenue to historically low levels. Republican predictions that such tax cuts pay for themselves have not come true.

Even worse is the rising urge to attack the Federal Reserve. While in office, Mr. Trump mused publicly about firing Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy wants to restrict the Fed’s mandate to “ stabilize the dollar & nothing more.” Mr. Pence wants to end the Fed’s dual mandate — minimizing inflation and maximizing employment — in favor of an inflation-fighting-only mission. Mr. DeSantis vows to “ rein in ” the Fed and stop its development of a digital currency. Since the early 20th century, Fed independence has undergirded U.S. prosperity; meddling with the central bank would cause immediate and immense economic harm.

So would an idea from Mr. Ramaswamy to eliminate three-quarters of the federal workforce. Other candidates, such as Mr. DeSantis, have said they would seek to replace career civil servants with political loyalists. Such dramatic cuts would harm everything from education to national security. This rhetoric also glosses over the fact that the big uptick in the federal government’s effective size has been in federal contractors.

Yes, Mr. Trump is far ahead in polls. But if Republicans want alternatives, there are clear differences between him (and the similarly simplistic Mr. Ramaswamy) and those, such as Ms. Haley, who would try to solve problems rather than exacerbate them.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/10/26/gop-2024-economic-plans-trump-haley-ramaswamy-desantis/


Oct. 26

The New York Times on Trumpism running the House

The three-week battle to choose a House speaker may be over, yet the fallout for the United States and its reputation as a sound government and a beacon of democracy will be long lasting and profound.

The Republicans in the House unanimously voted for a man who made it his mission to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election, who put the political whims and needs of Donald Trump ahead of the interests and will of the American people. A party that once cared deeply about America as the leader of the free world — and believed in the strength, dependability and bipartisan consensus that such a role required — has largely given way to a party now devoted to an extremism that is an active threat to liberal values and American stability.

Americans and the world are starting to get to know Mike Johnson, now the second in line to the presidency, and it’s a troubling introduction. Mr. Trump may not be in the White House, but Trumpism as an institution has transcended the man and provided the operating principles for the House of Representatives and much of the Republican Party.

Those operating principles include allowing Mr. Trump to all but select the speaker and elevating, in Mr. Johnson, one of the party’s most prominent election deniers. It has been disturbing to watch the slide from Republican speakers like Paul Ryan and John Boehner, who denounced attempts to challenge the election results, to the hemming and hawing of Kevin McCarthy to the full-blown antidemocratic stands of Mr. Johnson. And it has certainly been a long slide from the party of Ronald Reagan — whose 11th Commandment was not speaking ill of other Republicans and who envisioned the party as a big tent — to the extremism, purity tests and chaos of the House Republican conference this year.

Every Republican present in the chamber voted on Wednesday for Mr. Johnson, reflecting the exhaustion of a party that has been ridiculed for incoherence since it deposed Mr. McCarthy for working with Democrats to fulfill the basic function of Congress, to fund the federal government. The choice of Mr. Johnson came after Mr. Trump helped engineer the result by torpedoing a more moderate candidate, setting the stage for the 2024 presidential election to unfold with someone in the speaker’s chair who has proved his willingness to go to great lengths to overturn a free and fair vote.

It’s obvious why the former president was so supportive of the new speaker. Mr. Johnson was “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections” to Mr. Trump’s loss in 2020, as a New York Times investigation found last year. He made unfounded arguments questioning the constitutionality of state voting rules; he agreed with Mr. Trump that the election was “rigged,” cast doubt on voting machines and supported a host of other baseless and unconstitutional theories that ultimately led to a violent insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Mr. Johnson now refuses to talk about his leading role in that shameful drama. When a reporter for ABC News tried to ask him about it on Tuesday night, he would not respond; his fellow Republicans booed the question, and one yelled at the reporter to “shut up.” Such questions cannot be dismissed when Mr. Trump is the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Though changes in the law and Democratic control of the Senate make it much harder for the House of Representatives to impede certification of the vote, the American public deserves a speaker of the House who will uphold the will of the people, not someone willing to bend the rules of an election for his side.

More immediately, while his election as speaker will make it possible for the House to continue functioning, it is not clear that Mr. Johnson is committed to the work of actually governing. At the end of September, he voted against the stopgap spending measure negotiated by Mr. McCarthy that prevented a government shutdown. That bill was an important litmus test; Mr. McCarthy brought it to a vote and got it passed with bipartisan support, over the objections of Mr. Trump, leading to his downfall as speaker. Two other Republican speaker candidates, Tom Emmer and Steve Scalise, also voted for it — and were also vetoed by the extreme right.

Mr. Johnson now says he would support another stopgap to give the House time to pass drastic spending cuts. That promise may have won over the Republicans who blocked the candidacy of another extremist, Jim Jordan, last week. But Mr. Johnson’s voting record so far leaves little doubt that he prefers the performance of taking positions to actual lawmaking.

This leaves Congress in a precarious state. The 22 days of indecision, backbiting and bullying that followed Mr. McCarthy’s ouster did significant damage to the reputation of the United States as a country that knows how to govern itself. One of the country’s two major political parties sent a piercing signal to the world and the nation that it is no longer a reliable custodian of the legislative branch — and many party members knew it.

“This is junior-high stuff,” Representative Steve Womack, Republican of Arkansas, said a few days ago. “We get wrapped around the axle of a lot of nonsensical things. But yes, the world is burning around us. We’re fiddling; we don’t have a strategy.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Womack voted for Mr. Johnson. His preferred choice was Mr. Emmer, a Republican whose views are more moderate and who might have led the party out of its hard-line cul-de-sac. Mr. Emmer had the support of many other Republicans, but his candidacy never even got to the House floor for a vote.

That’s because Mr. Trump exacted retribution for Mr. Emmer’s willingness to recognize the true outcome of the 2020 election. Mr. Emmer voted to certify those results, defying Mr. Trump, and the former president has never forgiven him. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump denounced Mr. Emmer on social media as a “globalist” and a fake Republican who never respected the MAGA movement. After Mr. Emmer dropped out in the face of growing opposition from the far right, Mr. Trump boasted to a friend, “I killed him.”

Mr. Johnson will take control of the House at a moment when the United States needs to demonstrate leadership on the world stage. One of the most important decisions is coming right up: Will Mr. Johnson support Mr. Biden’s request for nearly $106 billion for aid to Ukraine and Israel? He has already voted against most bills to support Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression.

As speaker of the House, he plays a crucial role in the legislative system, determining the agenda by choosing which bills will reach the House floor for a vote, supervising committee appointments and hammering out compromises to get legislation passed. ( Nancy Pelosi, for example, demonstrated make-or-break leadership in creating the Affordable Care Act.)

Mr. Johnson believes that the “ true existential threat to the country” is immigration and led the Republican Study Committee, the largest group of conservatives in the House, which issued a plan to erode the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid. It also refers to free public education as “socialist inspired.”

On social issues, Mr. Johnson has also embraced the positions of the hard right. He supported state laws that criminalized gay sex and wrote in 2004 that gay marriage would “place our entire democratic system in jeopardy” and lead to people marrying their pets. As a congressman, he celebrated the demise of Roe v. Wade in 2022.

It bears repeating that this Trump loyalist is now second in line to the presidency. The former president has never accepted being out of the White House, and it’s clear he still commands firm control over half of the Capitol.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/26/opinion/mike-johnson-trump-speaker.html


Oct. 27

The Los Angeles Times on the Maine shooting suspect

Robert Card, the suspected killer of at least 18 people in shootings at a bowling alley and a restaurant Wednesday night in Lewiston, Maine, reportedly served as a military reservist. Card, found dead on Friday night from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, had what‘s been described in news stories as a “run-in” with officials at a National Guard training facility several months ago. Family members said he had been “hearing voices” when he was fitted for high-powered hearing aids, and he was reported to have received psychiatric treatment.

It’s human nature at a time like this to pick through bits of incomplete information in search of patterns that characterize mass shooters to understand what kind of person commits such horrendous crimes and why.

Perhaps the “typical” mass killer is a military man? It is true that there have been high-profile shooters with military backgrounds, like the ex-Marine who gunned down 12 innocent people in a Thousand Oaks bar in 2018 and the Air Force veteran who killed 25 people and a fetus at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017. But that tenuous connection plays into false stereotypes about military personnel and does not account for the large number of incidents in which the killer has no military background.

Are mass shooters psychotic? It is oddly comforting to think so, especially for those who resist gun control. “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” then-President Trump said in 2019, after shootings in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio. But a majority of mass killers have never been diagnosed with any psychiatric disorders or undergone mental health treatment. And while the ranks of such killers clearly include racists and conspiracy theorists, they also include people with purely personal grievances, and plenty who had no discernible motive of any kind.

Some mass shooters perpetrate their violence in small towns, some in huge cities, some at movie theaters or dance studios — or newspaper offices,Christmas parties,parades,bars,elementary schools,universities,grocery stores,churches,bowling alleys. The vast majority are men, but they are young and old, and white,Latino,Black,Asian.

It’s hard to find much in common among the 72-year-old man who killed 11 people in Monterey Park in January; the six people aged 15 to 20 who killed four people at a Sweet 16 birthday party in Dadeville, Ala., in April; the 33-year-old man who killed eight people at an Allen, Texas, shopping center in May; and the 59-year-old retired police sergeant who killed four in Trabuco Canyon in August — or any of the other perpetrators of horrid mass shootings in 2023.

Researchers continue to seek common traits. They have found that many shooters act while in emotional crisis, but that generally they don’t suddenly “snap.” They plan. They nurse their anger. They act.

But there is no consistent profile. Perpetrators are Americans of all stripes, committing a peculiarly American crime.

The one thing they have in common is guns, which are more plentiful than ever in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic and unrest in the wake of George Floyd‘s murder in 2020 helped spur a huge spike in gun sales.

At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court has been rolling back weapons restrictions, in effect turning the 2nd Amendment into a national suicide pact. Next month, the court will hear arguments in a case challenging a federal law barring a person under a domestic violence restraining order from possessing firearms. The case will concern the court’s bizarre dictate that no restriction is valid if it doesn’t have an 18th century precedent.

Domestic abusers are one of the few categories of people who experience tells us are more likely to commit gun violence. If we can no longer protect ourselves even from them, we will join the people of Lewiston and too many other communities to name, locked down in our homes, in fear of guns and the wide variety of our fellow Americans ready to use them against us.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-10-27/maine-shooting-suspect


Oct. 29

The Wall Street Journal on the SCOTUS, social media and public officials

Some lower courts have divined in the First Amendment’s penumbra a right to follow politicians on social media. On Tuesday the Supreme Court will consider whether the Constitution bars public officials from blocking constituents on their personal accounts (O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier and Lindke v. Freed).

Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff and T.J. Zane, elected school board members in California, used personal Facebook and Twitter accounts they created while running for office to campaign and inform constituents about education news. The officials blocked two parents for making “repetitious and non-responsive comments” on their pages.

The blocked parents sued, arguing the board members abridged their speech rights. The school district didn’t control the social-media accounts or spend money to maintain them, but the parents said the board members’ job-related communications converted the pages into de facto public forums.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that members “acted under color of state law” because “they clothed their pages in the authority of their offices and used their pages to communicate about their official duties.”

Several appellate courts have adopted the Ninth Circuit’s “appearance and content” test for determining when public officials are engaging in “state action” when they block constituents on personal accounts. But this test lacks a clear basis in the Constitution or the Supreme Court’s state-action precedents.

Such a broad interpretation of state action would infringe on the First Amendment rights of government officials by restricting how they can communicate with the public. James Freed argues this point in a second case the High Court will hear Tuesday.

Mr. Freed created his Facebook account while in college more than 15 years ago. When he was hired as City Manager of Port Huron, Mich., in 2014, he opened up his page to the public, including posts about his personal life and public announcements.

When Kevin Lindke, a city resident, posted disparaging remarks on Mr. Freed’s personal page, Mr. Freed blocked him. Mr. Lindke sued Mr. Freed for violating his speech rights. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals tossed the lawsuit, holding that a public official engages in state action only when performing a legally mandated “duty of his office” or invoking the “authority of his office.”

Though Mr. Freed sometimes posted about his job, “he was acting in his personal capacity—and there was no state action,” the Sixth Circuit held. While the Supreme Court has identified three different tests for reviewing state action, the Sixth Circuit noted that none “make clear the distinction between public officials’ governmental and personal activities.”

The High Court now has an opportunity to clarify its standard. In 2014 the Justices held that a government worker’s speech isn’t transformed into government speech merely because it “concerns information acquired by virtue of his public employment.” The same is true for their use of social media.

As the Justice Department argues in its amicus brief, the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation could subject much of the “speech of public officials and employees to constitutional restrictions” that would “make those officials and employees less willing to speak in the first place” and “reduce, not enhance, free speech and public discourse.” Americans have many platforms to criticize public officials without invading their personal social-media pages.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-supreme-court-gets-a-social-media-test-free-speech-blocking-f97d3b07


Oct. 26

The Guardian on new House Speaker Mike Johnson

With the election of Mike Johnson of Louisiana as the new House speaker, the US has now got its federal government back. Without a speaker, Congress cannot function. For the past four weeks, the House of Representatives has been a phantom legislature. It has been absent without leave at a time of global crisis. The return to business is therefore better than a continuation of the paralysis on Capitol Hill.

But it has been obtained at a very high price. In September, the former speaker Kevin McCarthy made a deal with House Democrats to avoid a government shutdown. In revenge, eight implacable Republicans voted for Congressman Matt Gaetz’s motion to oust him, which passed with Democrat support. The Republican caucus then immobilised Congress through several failed attempts to elect a new speaker. Mr Johnson has now succeeded as he has accumulated fewer enemies, because pragmatists want an end to the impasse and because the right thinks that he is their man.

In other words, Mr Gaetz has won. He has orchestrated the removal of an establishment Republican House leader who was prepared, up to a point, to work with Democrats to keep government alive and to pass legislation, in favour of a relatively little-known rightwing Conservative who may not be. With a 17 November deadline looming for the renewal of government funding, Mr Johnson’s readiness to make the deals that a narrowly divided Congress like this one normally relies on will be put to the test soon. But making deals is not the culture of the Republican party today. And Mr Johnson knows that Mr Gaetz will be watching his every move.

Mr Johnson’s profile may be less confrontational than that of other possible candidates. But his record is the opposite of encouraging. He has strong religious conservative views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. He does not believe that human beings cause climate change. He has voted against aid to Ukraine. Above all, he supports Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election being rigged and stolen. He helped lead legal efforts to reverse the results of the election in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. He opposes attempts to bring Mr Trump to justice.

The speakership is powerful, but Mr Johnson is relatively inexperienced and there are big issues that need to be decided very quickly. They include the terms for the continuation of government funding, aid to Ukraine and military support for Israel. With Mr McCarthy now gone, it is possible that the right will cut Mr Johnson some slack. Certainly, the US cannot afford another month like this one. If nothing else, it should end the system that gives a single member of Congress, like Mr Gaetz, the power to bring the system to a halt.

Yet an even larger question stalks the coming months. The shambles of the last four weeks has been the exclusive responsibility of a dysfunctional Republican party, in hock to its dysfunctional former leader, and which no one can grip effectively without risking their career. At national level, the Republican party is now the institutional abnegation of good government. It will take more than Mr Johnson to change that.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/oct/26/the-guardian-view-on-americas-new-speaker-the-right-gets-its-man