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Editorial Roundup: United States

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Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

June 25

The Philadelphia Inquirer on the war in Gaza and the Houthis

As hopes for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza continue to dim, it’s important to underline that the United States is already engaged militarily in a broader Middle East conflict.

More than 37,000 Palestinian men, women, and children have been killed and many more displaced since Hamas terrorists set off the war nine months ago by murdering 1,200 Israelis and taking dozens of others hostage.

American involvement goes beyond weapon sales and aid to Israel.

It also comes with the daily participation of 7,000 sailors and jet pilots aboard ships in a strike group that includes the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. That aircraft carrier has been strategically placed in the Red Sea to shoot down drones and missiles being launched at commercial shipping vessels by Houthi rebels in Yemen who support Hamas.

Pentagon officials worry that sailors and pilots in their ninth month of a twice-extended deployment may be losing the sharpness needed to respond, often in seconds, to a detected drone or missile. Their constant anticipation of combat while on alert has also taken a mental toll that may result in post-traumatic stress. But an even longer deployment may be unavoidable.

Efforts to begin a temporary cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas-led Gaza government seem to be going nowhere as they consider what should happen after that. Neither wants a return to the status quo that existed before Israel’s military response to the Oct. 7 massacre and kidnappings. With three-quarters of its buildings destroyed, there’s a question of whether Gaza can recover from the devastation wrought by Israel’s retaliatory assaults.

Houthi militants in support of Hamas began launching Iranian-supplied drones and missiles from Yemen in November and vowed not to stop until Israel gets out of Gaza. The Houthis have since attacked more than 60 commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, killing four sailors, including one aboard a Greek-owned coal carrier that was struck June 12 by a remote-controlled boat filled with explosives.

The Houthis’ use of drone boats is viewed as an escalation by Pentagon officials trying to decide whether to once again extend the Eisenhower strike group’s deployment. But there aren’t many options.

The United States has 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, which represent about 40% of the total worldwide, but three have crews undergoing training and four are undergoing maintenance and repairs that can take a year. Of the remaining carriers, one is off the coast of Norfolk, Va., two are in San Diego, and the fourth is scheduled to head to San Diego from its deployment in the Philippine Sea near Japan.

If another carrier isn’t given orders to relieve the Eisenhower, the U.S. could ask the United Kingdom, which has two carriers, and France, which has one, to take over at least temporarily in safeguarding commercial traffic in the Red Sea. But Europe hasn’t fully engaged in what the Biden administration calls Operation Prosperity Guardian, which makes little sense given the disruption to worldwide commerce the Houthis’ stranglehold on the Red Sea has caused.

Companies are rerouting their ships an additional 3,500 nautical miles around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. That’s an expensive route the Suez Canal was built to circumvent in 1869. Perversely, some global shipping companies have taken advantage of the situation to boost their prices beyond any additional costs to avoid the Red Sea. Sounds like the price-gouging of consumer goods here in the United States that too often is falsely blamed solely on inflation.

But money isn’t why the Israel-Hamas war must end.

Too many lives have been lost, too many families left homeless, too many loved ones separated. Ending the human carnage we only see on our TV screens while real people thousands of miles away are starving, dying, and grieving should motivate every move this country makes.

While U.S. military strategists try to figure out what to do with our aircraft carriers, our diplomats must apply more pressure on Israel — with which, as opposed to Hamas, we have some leverage — to reach at least a temporary truce that, in a lesser regard, would provide more time to figure out the Eisenhower dilemma.

The carrier group’s action in the Red Sea means America is at war to a limited extent. Now, careful decisions must be made to keep our involvement from escalating.

ONLINE: https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/editorials/war-gaza-israel-military-involvement-houthi-red-sea-shipping-20240625.html

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June 23

The Wall Street Journal on the 2025 “Tax Armageddon”

That headline isn’t our phrase. It comes from Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who like other Senate Democrats has been laying out in public the party’s tax strategy for the next Congress. Democrats are saying out loud that they plan to use the scheduled expiration of the 2017 tax cuts at the end of 2025 to insist on the largest tax increase in history.

“The main goal here is this can’t just be a debate about the 2017 tax cuts,” Mr. Warner told Bloomberg. “This is going to be Tax Armageddon.”

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who runs the Finance Committee, on Thursday revived his pitch to tax the appreciation of assets for those with at least $100 million in income. Mr. Wyden plans to run through the door on wealth taxes that the Supreme Court left open Thursday in its lamentable decision in Moore v. U.S.

Mr. Wyden floated his version of a wealth tax in 2021 to pay for President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Opposition from Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema scuttled the $4.8 trillion bill, but both are leaving the Senate.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren last week said she’ll hold the middle-class tax cuts that expire in 2025 hostage if Republicans don’t agree to soak corporations and people who earn more money than she thinks they deserve. “Better to let all the Trump tax cuts expire than be accomplices to another slash-and-burn tax bonanza for America’s billionaires,” she said. Her plan also includes a 2% annual tax on the net worth of households with more than $50 million in assets.

The Massachusetts Senator rebuked Barack Obama for agreeing to extend the Bush middle-class tax cuts as part of the 2012 “fiscal cliff” deal with Republicans in Congress. Recall that the 2012 deal that Mr. Biden helped negotiate raised the top marginal individual tax rate to 39.6% from 35%, plus the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends to 23.8%.

She blamed that extension—and huge tax increase—for blowing up the deficit. “Once Obama made that tax cut deal with Republicans, the federal deficit ballooned,” she said.

Well, no. The deficit didn’t balloon until the pandemic when both parties agreed to throw a spending party under the guise of Covid relief. Then Democrats kept partying long after the emergency was over.

The government is still running $2 trillion in annual deficits even though the economy is growing and taxes as a share of GDP are roughly the historical average. Spending has driven the deficits and is now at 24.2% of GDP, well above the 21% modern average.

Ms. Warren added in her speech last week that “Joe Biden is right: if the 2025 tax bill doesn’t call on wealthy people and giant corporations to shoulder a bigger share of what it costs to run this country, Democrats should reject it outright.”

The Warren position conflicts with Mr. Biden’s promise not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000. Note that Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who is running for re-election this year, also didn’t close the door on Thursday to raising taxes on those earning less than $400,000. “We haven’t made decisions about that yet,” he told Roll Call.

Is this Mr. Biden’s negotiating position if he is re-elected with Republican control of one or both chambers of Congress? If so, he ought to tell voters.

Donald Trump should ask Mr. Biden in this week’s debate. Mr. Trump will also have an opening to link his tax cuts to the strong economy before the pandemic, as well as tie Mr. Biden’s spending to the inflation breakout in his Presidency. There’s no excuse for Mr. Trump losing a debate over taxes.

All of this raises the tax stakes in this year’s election more than most voters appreciate. Mr. Biden will keep repeating his talking point about taxes not rising for anyone earning more than $400,000, but if his first term is a guide he’ll be taking orders from the Wyden-Warren faction in the Senate.

They’ll be happy to raise taxes on the middle-class as well as the affluent because they know there aren’t enough rich to finance their vast spending plans. Tax Armageddon is right.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-2025-tax-armageddon-congress-policy-cuts-expire-a7b66d9e?mod=editorials_article_pos4

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June 25

The Los Angeles Times on SCOTUS and Louisiana’s 10 Commandments law

In approving a law requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms, Louisiana has rekindled a culture war over the role of religion in public schools that should have been settled long ago. Supporters of the law, and potential copycat proposals in other states, might hope that a U.S. Supreme Court that recently blurred the separation of church and state would ratify this statute and repudiate its own precedents. The court must disabuse them of this fantasy.

Any culturally literate American should have heard of the Ten Commandments. That includes children in middle school, though first-graders might wonder what the injunction against adultery is all about.

But featuring the Ten Commandments, and other influential religious texts, in age-appropriate lesson plans is far different from enshrining them in the classroom as Louisiana’s law does. Ignore protestations that lawmakers just wanted to inform students of the historical role of the Ten Commandments; this law is a deliberately provocative act by the Legislature that passed it and the governor who signed it.

The battle over religion in the public schools isn’t new. Some segments of American society never accepted Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s striking down officially prescribed prayers and Bible readings in public schools.

But the new Louisiana law must also be viewed as part of a contemporary effort to infuse a specific brand of Christianity into American public institutions. That campaign is especially worrisome at a time when America and its classrooms are so religiously diverse.

This religious campaign aligns alarmingly with right-wing politics. Former, and would-be future, President Trump praised the Louisiana law and posted “ I love the Ten Commandments.” Much of Trump’s appeal is to white, Christian Americans who long for a real or imagined America that was monolithic in its beliefs.

The courts have been a bulwark against efforts to “Christianize” public education and other institutions supported by taxes paid by Americans of all religious faiths, or of none. In 1980, the court struck down a Kentucky Ten Commandments law similar to Louisiana’s as a violation of the 1st Amendment’s prohibition of an “establishment of religion.” In 2005 the justices also ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courthouses violated the 1st Amendment.

But recently the court’s conservative majority has poked holes in what Thomas Jefferson called the “ wall of separation ” between church and state. For example, in 2022, the justices ruled in favor of a high school football coach in the state of Washington who knelt and prayed on the field after games. In his majority opinion, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said that the court had abandoned a legal test it long had used to decide whether a government activity violated the ban on an “establishment of religion.”

The court’s recent religion cases may lead the supporters of Louisiana’s law to think that they can engineer a reversal in the court’s long-standing refusal to allow public schools to inculcate religious beliefs. The legislation’s language suggests that the state is on firm constitutional ground, citing a 2005 ruling in which the court upheld a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol in Texas.

But as then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist noted in the leading opinion in the case, the placement of the Ten Commandments monument was “a far more passive use of those texts” than their display in public schools “where the text confronted elementary school students every day.”

It’s unclear that even this conservative Supreme Court would uproot a series of rulings against the propagation of religious teachings in public schools. But it’s understandable that advocates of church-state separation would be concerned. After all, the court felt free to discard an equally important line of precedents in its 2022 Dobbs abortion decision overturning Roe vs. Wade.

If the Louisiana law comes before it, the court should strike it down. There are plenty of pulpits in which religious messages can be preached.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2024-06-25/ten-commandments-louisiana-supreme-court

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June 23

The Washington Post on marijuana pardons

Maryland’s legalization of recreational marijuana just over a year ago has obviously been a boon to users. But it has also benefited the state, bringing in more than $26 million in tax revenue during the second half of 2023. Meanwhile, citizens with possession convictions on their records, most of whom committed crimes that wouldn’t be punished at all anymore, were left behind. Last week, Gov. Wes Moore (D) did the right thing and pardoned them.

Mr. Moore’s executive order forgiving low-level marijuana offenses for an estimated 100,000 people is a good example of clemency done properly. The bulk of the cases are misdemeanors, involving possession and possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia. The pardons also help correct a glaring racial disparity: Before Maryland joined 23 states and D.C. in legalizing recreational cannabis with a constitutional amendment that went into effect last year, Black Marylanders were three times more likely to be arrested for crimes involving the drug.

Maryland’s policy is part of a national trend. President Biden forgave similar low-level offenses for around 6,500 Americans in a 2022 clemency initiative. There isn’t much more he can do. The vast majority of convictions happen at the state level, so it’s up to state executives to wipe them away. But the president’s thinking on pardons gives those executives a model. The pardon power is a potent authority, and easily abused. Donald Trump exploited it to let his associates, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, off scot-free for serious violations of the law. Bill Clinton invoked it at the 11th hour to forgive a fugitive from justice whose ex-wife was a big-time Democratic donor. Mr. Biden has embraced the pardon power in individual cases, too, but based on principle rather than personal favor — focusing on people who paid their debt to society in prison and then went further by serving their families and communities after their release. (To be sure, Mr. Trump made some similar grants of clemency to selected drug offenders.)

Crucially, however, Mr. Biden has also employed the pardon power to forgive broader classes of convicts. In commuting the sentences of 75 nonviolent drug offenders as well as pardoning the 6,500 with marijuana-related misdemeanors on their records, he considered the way laws have changed since those punishments were meted out. The 75 nonviolent drug offenders would serve shorter sentences if they were tried today.

Mr. Moore appears to be thinking along the same lines in a state that has already done what the federal government is on the road to doing. Sentences for the types of offenses pardoned in Maryland this month were short to begin with, and, because of the 2023 amendment, prosecutions for possession misdemeanors have now stopped altogether. That means no one is getting out of prison as a result of the pardons, because no one covered is imprisoned. But the move is still significant, both symbolically and substantively. The effects of a drug conviction extend beyond a person’s time behind bars. Maryland has already “banned the box,” or stopped employers from conducting criminal-history screenings of applicants before their first in-person interview. But, in later stages of hiring, companies running background checks still can decide against job seekers with any blot on their record — even if it was years ago, and even if the crimes of which they were convicted aren’t crimes anymore.

Take Shiloh Jordan, 32, who stood next to Mr. Moore as he signed the order. A single cannabis possession charge lost him a job he already had, when, on the second day of his employment, a background check revealed his past. Now, he has a college degree, a successful career and, because of the pardons, a clean slate for whatever lies ahead. Others who received clemency have been turned down for housing, education and more. Thanks to the executive action, their charges will be automatically expunged if their only offense was misdemeanor marijuana possession. That covers about 40,000 cases. Other charges will require expungement by the judiciary, on the reasonable theory that legislation should be required for any more sweeping policy.

Marijuana consumption shouldn’t be celebrated; recent health studies suggest it should be discouraged. But neither should it be harshly punished by the criminal justice system. It, much like other harmful but legal and regulated substances such as alcohol and tobacco, it simply doesn’t do enough damage to merit upending lives over simple possession. Mr. Moore has recognized this, and so have executives in nine other states and multiple cities. More should follow suit.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/06/23/maryland-marijuana-pardons-moore/

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June 21

The Guardian on Israel, Hezbollah and regional instablilty

Antony Blinken spelled out the paradox when he spoke in Washington on Tuesday. Despite the rapidly escalating rhetoric, and the clashes along the Israel-Lebanon border, the US secretary of state insisted: “I don’t think any of the potential belligerents actually want to see a war or conflict spread. I don’t believe Israel does. I don’t believe Hezbollah does. Lebanon certainly doesn’t because it would suffer the most. I don’t believe that Iran does. And yet you have momentum potentially in that direction.”

This week, the Israeli foreign minister, Israel Katz, said a decision on an all-out war with Hezbollah was coming soon, and generals said their plans for an offensive into Lebanon were signed off. Hezbollah published drone footage of Israeli sites including key infrastructure in Haifa, and its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, warned of a war “without rules or ceilings”.

The past eight months have shown that the parties are calibrating their deeds even as they ratchet up their words. And yet the prospect of a large-scale war has grown. Mr Blinken identified the risk as miscalculation. The deeper danger may be the momentum generated by the clashes, which have slowly but steadily escalated, with each side coming to see a greater conflict as inescapable. For many residents in northern Israel, the horrors of the Hamas raid on 7 October made continuing to live with Hezbollah on the doorstep unthinkable. Since then, Hezbollah has shown it can threaten Israel over an extended period at relatively low cost. On Hezbollah’s side, holding back may give Israel more time to prepare an assault.

Tens of thousands of people have already fled their homes in Lebanon and Israel; dozens have been killed, in addition to hundreds of Hezbollah fighters and more than a dozen Israeli soldiers. Israel has reportedly told the US that it plans a lightning attack. Its confidence that it can get out as easily as it gets in is startling given its own record in Lebanon. It has failed to achieve Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared goals in Gaza – the elimination of Hamas and the return of hostages – eight months and a reported 37,000-plus Palestinian deaths after it took on a far less experienced and less well-armed foe. It would face war on two fronts (not counting Houthi attacks in the Red Sea), with Israel Defense Forces troops who have spent months fighting in Gaza. The rift between the Israeli prime minister and the army is increasingly public: this week the IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said bluntly that “Hamas is an idea” and cannot be destroyed, adding: “The political echelon needs to find an alternative – or it will remain.”

An end to the war in Gaza may offer an off‑ramp in the north. But it cannot be depended upon. Each party has a reason to avoid further escalation. Hezbollah’s status is enhanced by the current situation and Iran does not want to squander a deterrent against an attack on its nuclear facilities. Lebanon is on its knees already. A full-scale conflict would be an existential risk to Israel itself in a way that the invasion of Gaza was not, with the US warning that its missile defences in the north could be overwhelmed – reportedly echoing domestic concerns.

Mr Netanyahu doesn’t listen to the Biden administration. He has smashed through its red lines and went out of his way to pick a fight with it this week. But the situation is unsustainable – and diplomacy, not war, must be the answer.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/article/2024/jun/21/the-guardian-view-on-israel-and-hezbollah-the-gathering-storm-endangers-the-region

By The Associated Press

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