Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Guardian on U.S. President Joe Biden, China and Europe:
It is 50 years next month since Henry Kissinger embarked on the secret mission to Beijing that led to a rapprochement: “It is the conviction of President Nixon that a strong and developing People’s Republic of China poses no threat to any essential US interest,” the national security adviser assured leaders there. Half a century on, the thaw is over. The thread running through Joe Biden’s first foreign trip as president is the need for democratic alliances against growing authoritarian might, and though attention now turns to his meeting with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, the administration’s real focus has been on China. While Beijing’s record on the pandemic, trade, human rights and other specific areas has rightly raised deep concern internationally, the underlying issue is its rise, and the decline of US power.
“The US is ill and very ill indeed,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declared in Beijing on Tuesday. Washington’s waning power was exemplified by Donald Trump, with his erratic pronouncements and conduct, veneration of autocrats and contempt for allies. Yet if Mr Biden has largely defined himself in opposition to his predecessor, he often sounds strikingly similar on China. His approach too is shaped by domestic politics: talking tough on Beijing offers some prospect of political unity in a deeply divided country, should help to ward off Republican attacks on that front, and recognises that the business world is shifting.
The US knows it must work with China on the climate crisis – with the critical Cop26 talks due this autumn – and says it does not want a cold war. Mr Biden has shunned his predecessor’s racism. But the overall hawkish tone struck on China, including briefings around the “lab leak” pandemic theory, has a cold war feel and broader repercussions – with people of east Asian descent, who have nothing to do with decisions in Beijing, facing hostility and attacks.
In Europe, as elsewhere, Mr Biden has an opportunity created by the backlash against Chinese policies and “wolf warrior” diplomacy. There are signs that China’s push for influence is faltering: the European parliament froze an investment deal following tit-for-tat sanctions over Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs; Lithuania quit the “17+1” mechanism for dialogue with central and eastern Europe last month; and plans for a Chinese university campus in Hungary are on hold.
Nato leaders this week declared China a security risk, “present(ing) systemic challenges to the rules-based international order”. But the ongoing differences on handling Beijing are evident. Emmanuel Macron was swift to add that “China has little to do with the North Atlantic” and that it was important “we don’t bias our relationship”. Similarly, Angela Merkel reportedly expressed concern that the G7 is “not about being against something, but for something”. Strategic instincts as well as commercial interests work against buying into the US agenda wholesale.
Many anticipate that a new German chancellor will turn the country’s China policy in a more critical direction. But while the US is right that democratic countries must pull together on important issues, decisions cannot and should not be by American diktat. European countries are right to be wary of dancing to the US tune – not least because they wonder what kind of leader could be in charge four years from now.
As Mr Biden has recognised, the US-China competition will be shaped in large part by the performance of the US: how it looks at home, as well as whether projects such as the G7 infrastructure initiative materialise in any significant way. (The G7’s failure to reach a better deal on vaccine-sharing does not bode well.) While favourable perceptions of the US and confidence in its president soared after he took office, only 17% of those surveyed in 12 countries saw American democracy as a good example for other countries to follow. America is back, we were told this week. But we are in a multilateral world now, and its position will depend not only on pursuing economic and technical superiority, but healing its politics and society too.
The Dallas Morning News on making a more secure border:
Surf the latest U.S. headlines on immigration, and you’ll read plenty of criticisms from Republicans against Vice President Kamala Harris for not visiting the southern border and plenty of frustrations from Democrats that she needs to focus more on the root causes of migration out of Central America. Lost in this back-and-forth is a noteworthy development: the formation of a task force led by the Department of Justice to go after human smugglers and traffickers.
If we’re serious about border security, then pursuing, prosecuting and dismantling criminal enterprises that trick, exploit and endanger migrants fleeing their homelands must be a key strategy.
Our colleague Alfredo Corchado has written in detail about the sophistication of these smuggling networks and the depth of their deception. One Guatemalan migrant told Corchado this spring that he was enticed by a smuggler promising a safe and smooth trip into the U.S., with an Uber ride and a stay at a nice hotel — promises buttressed by flashy Facebook photos and a TikTok video. The smuggler told the migrant that he would get multiple attempts to cross the border in exchange for a fee starting at $10,000.
The migrant, Pedro Gomez, paid $6,000 upfront after securing a bank loan. On his first try, he fell off the border wall and broke his ankles. His smuggler guide abandoned him.
So many people are fleeced by smugglers who falsely tell families that they will be admitted into the U.S. if they bring their children. What usually happens is that federal border authorities catch the families and expel them back to Mexico, where they are preyed upon by drug cartel members who rob and rape migrants.
Joint Task Force Alpha, as the new DOJ initiative is called, will assemble federal prosecutors from Arizona, California and Texas and officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The task force will focus on individuals or networks that abuse migrants, that pose national security threats or that have links to transnational organized crime.
We support the work of this task force, which will work closely with another recent federal operation targeting smugglers’ assets, logistical networks and travel documents. We should expect our top law enforcement officials to marshal the breadth of resources and intelligence of the federal government to combat intricate criminal operations whose tendrils have likely ensnared banks and even foreign government officials.
But even as we support this work, we worry about its chances of success to the extent that investigations rely on cooperation from Central American governments. The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, vetoed multipartisan legislation this year designed to outlaw social media advertising of smuggling services and to enhance prison sentences for people convicted of smuggling and trafficking. Bukele argued El Salvador shouldn’t “keep criminalizing migration.”
Meanwhile, Juan Orlando Hernández, the president of Honduras, has been linked by U.S. prosecutors to drug traffickers, and the Guatemalan government faces questions about its treatment of officials involved in anti-corruption efforts.
The problems in the region may seem intractable, but the U.S. can’t sit idle. We’re glad it is bolstering smuggling and trafficking investigations stateside while extending a helping hand to Central America. This is complicated work that will require an array of strategies, and it should get our own politicians talking across the aisle to find solutions.
The Omaha World-Herald on shedding Native American stereotypes in the "Oregon Trail" video game:
In far western Nebraska, Signal Butte rises 120 feet above the North Platte River valley. Generations of archaeologists are familiar with the Scotts Bluff County site. It is Nebraska’s richest source of information about some of the state’s earliest inhabitants.
Native peoples lived there long before our present time, long before the arrival of the first White people — thousands of years before, archaeologists say. Carbon dating at Signal Butte indicates habitation perhaps as far back as 3000 B.C.
“Prehistoric peoples during this period developed sophisticated hunting and foraging techniques following a prolonged drought on the Great Plains,” the Nebraska State Historical Society says.
Other Nebraska sites also reveal the many centuries of Native habitation — centuries in which Indian life was rich with culture, with joys and sorrows, and with deep connection to ancestors and the land they knew well. When Christ and his disciplines were sharing their religious vision in the ancient Middle East, Native people in what’s now Valley County in central Nebraska lived in lodges along the North Loup River. Those ancient Nebraskans made some of the earliest pottery known in the state. And they had notable contact with the wider world: Artifacts include trade goods from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico.
This is only a small sampling of the rich Native history in Nebraska, but it shows why, in the present day, designers were right to make a change in the video game “Oregon Trail.” Generations of Nebraska schoolchildren are familiar with the game, which invites them to make the 2,170-mile trek westward in the face of numerous challenges. Now the game will include appreciation for the Native peoples found throughout the region at the time of Oregon-bound settler travel.
Adding this important nuance provides a fuller understanding of our region and its past — and of the lasting effects into the present era. Community columnist Lance Morgan, a Nebraska leader with the Winnebago Tribe, explains some of those 21st-century challenges elsewhere on our editorial page today.
Being considerate toward one’s neighbors and their perspectives is part of a responsible approach to life. It’s also part of a responsible understanding of our region’s past. “The Oregon Trail” video game now rightly helps young people develop such a mature perspective.
The vast expanse of Great Plains grasslands and buttes that 19th-century settlers saw as virgin wilderness, for example, Native inhabitants understood and appreciated — from centuries of experience — as a complex ecosystem. Native peoples didn’t see the area as an unknown, mysterious territory. They saw it as home.
“Right under our wheat fields and city streets,” University of Nebraska-Lincoln scholar David Wishart has written about our state, “lie the bones of hundreds of generations of Plains Indians, slowly turning into soil, then geology, still belonging to the place.”
Native American heritage isn’t secondary to Nebraska’s history — that heritage anchors our region. How fitting and rewarding it is, in the 21st century, to acknowledge and honor that abiding connection.
The Orange County Register on water rationing and the California drought:
Not long after former Gov. Jerry Brown announced the end of a grueling six-year drought in 2017, the Legislature passed two controversial water-efficiency laws designed to promote even more conservation — even though residents have done a remarkable job reducing their water usage.
Those new laws required utilities to reduce daily water usage by an average of 55 gallons per person by 2023. Some commentators mistakenly claimed that the laws would lead to individual fines, even though the targets applied to water districts rather than consumers.
Conservation boosters reassured Californians that they wouldn’t be fined for overly long showers and lawn watering. But three years later, the state is facing an intense new drought. Now, officials in Northern California are imposing the type of water rationing people had feared. Southern California water agencies are better prepared, but they could ultimately proposed similar rules.
In Healdsburg, officials are now requiring residential and commercial customers to cut their water use by 40 percent – immediately. In Santa Clara County, the 2-million-population county that includes San Jose, the water district recently passed emergency water restrictions that require residents to cut water use 33 percent below 2013 levels.
The current problem isn’t the result of insufficient conservation. Los Angeles residents use about the same amount of water as they did in the 1970s. Residents statewide have met virtually every aggressive state conservation target. Urban residents use only 5.7 percent of the state’s available water.
Aside from imposing stricter conservation mandates, the state government has done precious little since the end of the last drought to make sure that Californians have enough water resources available to weather new droughts. State regulatory agencies continue to delay desalination proposals. Water-storage projects, many of which have been on the books for decades, continue to languish, as has the plan to fix the Delta conveyance system.
Certainly, when there’s little available water people have to use less of it. But the key is planning ahead, not ignoring the state’s water infrastructure and then reacting with increasingly strict water limits when drought conditions return.
The Portland (Maine) Tribune on what leaked data reveals about U.S. tax code:
Internal Revenue Service data obtained by ProPublica and published last week shows in black and white just how rigged toward the rich the U.S. tax code has become.
The data, sent anonymously to the independent investigative outlet, shows that while their personal wealth grows by the billions, they pay very little of it in taxes — far less as a percentage than the average American trying to make ends meet with their wages.
We’re not talking about tax evasion here. Instead, the richest Americans — whose obscene, unspendable wealth multiplies every day — take advantage of a tax system that taxes wages as income but not the rising value of stock and real estate, which are not taxed unless they are cashed out.
So while most people pay the income tax rate on what they earn, the wealthiest instead borrow off their investments — making themselves a lot of money without the tax consequences.
“We are structured in an unequal way,” a former IRS official told the Washington Post. “The basic game if you’re very wealthy is, hold a lot of wealth, let it go up in value and generally to support your lifestyle, just borrow money.”
From 2014-18, ProPublica reports, investor Warren Buffett paid $23.7 million in taxes on income of $125 million, for a tax rate of about 19%.
But in the same period, his wealth rose by $24.3 billion. With a “b.” That’s a tax rate of .1%.
He wasn’t the only one. Elon Musk, the Tesla founder, paid $455 million in taxes during the same period as his wealth grew by $13.9 billion.
In 2018, Musk paid zero dollars in income taxes. Zero.
Financier George Soros went three straight years without paying any income tax. Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, didn’t pay a penny of taxes, either, in 2007 or 2011, when he reported losing so much money on investments that he claimed a $4,000 child tax credit.
Next month, Bezos is planning to fly his way to space.
The data obtained by ProPublica shows that the very richest Americans pay very, very little of their personal wealth in taxes. It shows, even, that they pay less of their taxable income in income taxes than the average American.
And that doesn’t even start to get at the income not reported at all — costing tens of billions of dollars in tax revenue every year, and allowed by an IRS that has not been given the resources to root out tax evaders.
Those facts should be part of any conversation around how to pay to rebuild our country’s infrastructure and support its families through child and home care. They should be brought up whenever someone questions how we are going to confront the enormous challenges we face around climate change.
Meeting those challenges and making those investments is worth borrowing for.
But money is being left on the table through an unfair tax system bent towards the rich. There’s no way to deny that now.
The Miami Herald on the governor's decision to clear a road over land needed to restore the Everglades:
For all of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appalling political stances — from making it harder to vote by mail to picking a fight with the cruise industry over “vaccine passports” — he’s consistently been on the right side of one issue: protecting the Everglades.
That’s why it’s mystifying that a governor who based a great part of his campaign on water quality just cleared the way for a road to be built over wetlands critical for an Everglades restoration project that DeSantis himself has championed.
On Tuesday, DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet rejected a judge’s ruling that the planned extension of 836/Dolphin Expressway violates Miami-Dade County’s development rules to protect water supply, agriculture lands and wetlands. Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried was the only Cabinet member who voted to uphold the judge’s decision. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patron and Attorney General Ashley Moody voted with the governor.
Luckily, DeSantis and the Cabinet’s decision isn’t the end of the road — no pun intended — for the environmental groups that challenged the highway extension. Tropical Audubon, one the plaintiffs, has vowed to appeal the case, and state agencies still have to grant environmental permits for the project.
Even DeSantis recognized that approval of those permits is not a given, saying that it would be “premature” to guess how what the South Florida Water Management District will decide. But he opted to not stop the project “at the front end” and before the permitting process takes place.
We understand the governor’s desire to allow the state’s environmental agencies — and not politicians — to determine whether the 836 extension is compatible with Everglades restoration and to not derail a road project that was approved by local elected officials.
But we also know DeSantis has not been afraid to be heavy-handed and use both his bully pulpit and executive power to force change — for example, telling locals what they can or cannot do when it came to COVID-19 restrictions.
Perhaps the governor didn’t feel strongly about the 836 extension’s detrimental impact to the environment. Or perhaps he thought the environmentalists challenging it didn’t make a strong case. But a judge who sat through hours of testimony and evidence did and ruled last year that the traffic improvements to West Kendall would be “meager” and the road would threaten Everglades restoration.
The 14-mile extension, dubbed Kendall Parkway, would run south from where State Road 836 currently ends at Northwest 137th Avenue and connect it to Southwest 136th Street. For that to happen, the County Commission in 2018 allowed the planned road to go outside the county’s Urban Development Boundary, which protects agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands from encroachment. The road would be built over the Bird Drive Basin and the Pennsuco wetlands, which are key to guaranteeing drinking water for Miami and the Keys, environmentalists say.
Plaintiffs who filed a challenge to the County Commission’s decision argued it violated Miami-Dade’s comprehensive plan, which stipulates the county must discourage the proliferation of urban sprawl, direct incompatible “future land uses” away from wetlands and prioritize the implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, known as CERP.
On the topic of “urban sprawl,” we would be fools to believe a new road wouldn’t spur more urban development along the western edges of Miami-Dade abutting the Everglades. The County Commission tried to prevent that from happening by prohibiting developers from using the new expressway in traffic calculations for future projects. But nothing stops big-pocket builders from pressuring future county commissioners to waive that rule with a two-thirds vote once the highway is up and cars are running.
The county’s own traffic expert testified during court proceedings that the average driver would save an estimated six minutes on a two-hour round-trip commute from West Kendall to downtown. Miami-Dade County’s attorney argued on Tuesday that the projection didn’t paint the whole picture and that some specific segments would see double-digit improvements.
But the uncertainty of those traffic improvements poses an important question: Are they certain enough to justify building a $1 billion road over land needed to restore the River of Grass?
Unless environmentalists can stop this project, we will find out the answer to this question after this boondoggle is built.