Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Los Angeles Times on how Biden agenda makes up for decades of federal neglect:
Three times already in his brief tenure, President Biden has rolled out a far-reaching and extraordinarily expensive proposal to address large-scale problems in this country. First there was a $1.9-trillion plan to help individuals and businesses cope with the surging COVID-19 pandemic. Then there was a $2-trillion blueprint to build and repair American infrastructure, defined in unusually broad terms. Now comes a $1.8-trillion boost to programs that help American families, particularly those with low and moderate incomes.
The point of these efforts, Biden told a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, is to create millions of good-paying jobs for working-class Americans, and to help prepare the next generation for the competition to come.
These legislative proposals came on top of dozens of executive orders Biden has issued to target an array of problems related to climate change, immigration, gun violence, discrimination and healthcare, among other major issues.
For someone belittled during the campaign for allegedly having little energy and no ideas of his own, Biden has been remarkably active, ambitious and, for lack of a better word, wonky. But his work has given rise to a new criticism: that Biden has abandoned his campaign pledge to unify the country and make a hopelessly polarized government functional again. In the eyes of his Republican and right-of-center critics, the moderate Biden who won the presidency has been replaced by a radical.
That’s news to progressive Democrats, whose calls for Medicare for all, a Green New Deal and the elimination of college debt have yet to bear much, if any, fruit. Here’s a far better framework for understanding Biden’s first 100 days: He’s trying to adapt the federal government quickly to the needs of a 21st century United States after two decades of distraction, recession and withdrawal. Like President Eisenhower launching a federal interstate highway system in Cold War America, Biden is trying to gird the country for a world that is warming, globally connected and hampered by debilitating inequities.
It’s a big job, made more difficult by the vast partisan divide. Presidents George W. Bush and Trump saw little or no role for Washington in tackling these issues, and congressional Republicans stopped President Obama from accomplishing much after his first two years.
But (to borrow a Biden phrase) here’s the thing: These are mainstream issues. Climate change is affecting every part of these United States, and it’s just going to get worse unless we all do something. The prosperity gap is widening as too many secure, high-paying jobs are lost, replaced too often by precarious and low-paying ones, and as the spoils of economic growth go to the wealthy. The tools families need to climb the economic ladder are too hard to come by, particularly for single parents and families who can’t afford to keep a caregiver at home.
We all have a stake in solving these problems, which starts with understanding how different they are from the ones that the country dealt with in previous generations. Consider, for starters, that some 55 million people — about a third of the U.S. workforce — did gig work in 2017; a 2015 study estimated that nearly 1 in 6 U.S. workers relied on gig, freelance and temp jobs for their livelihoods. A single, steady job may still usher many Americans into the middle class, but their ranks are shrinking fast.
And yet some in Washington can’t seem to admit that new times call for new approaches. The best example of this came when Biden proposed an infrastructure bill that looked beyond the structures supporting the movement of goods and the distribution of water, and sought to beef up the infrastructure that supports people’s ability to work, to invent and to adapt to a changing climate. Republicans scoffed and offered a counterproposal that called for less than 10% of the new spending Biden had sought, focused exclusively on conventional infrastructure, such as roads, airports and water systems. At least they included money to expand broadband networks, the sole concession to the passage of time.
Biden told Congress that he’s open to GOP ideas, but cautioned, “The rest of the world isn’t waiting for us. Doing nothing is not an option. We can’t be so busy competing with one another that we forget the competition is with the rest of the world to win the 21st century.”
Republicans can’t credibly argue that Biden is being polarizing simply because he doesn’t cling to their antiquated view of reality. We can debate whether the country needs to spend $2 trillion over the next eight years on infrastructure or $1.8 trillion on measures to boost families and children, but we can’t pretend that roads and bridges are the only things holding up our economy, or that we can fight poverty and build the middle class without better child care, more effective schools and more access to higher education.
The sheer size of Biden’s proposals has been remarkable, but put that in perspective. This country has a giant backlog of deferred maintenance work, not just on its crumbling asphalt, but on adapting its support system to today’s economy. The longer we wait to act, the bigger the ultimate bill will be. And with an election coming up next year that could end Democrats’ slim majorities in Congress, Biden has no time to waste.
The Boston Herald on how tax hikes on the wealthy may end up hurting the poor:
Proponents of taxing the rich in the service of shoring up the state’s education, transportation and infrastructure are well meaning, but shortsighted.
Schools and transportation agencies need funding to address problems exacerbated by the pandemic, but adding a surcharge to annual income above $1 million sets us up for a further economic fall.
The measure, which could appear on the 2022 ballot, adds a 4% tax on incomes above $1 million for the purpose of providing funds for public education, roads and bridges, and public transportation. The tax would be in addition to the state’s 5.05% flat income tax, for a total tax rate of 9.05% on income above $1 million.
It seems simple enough to those who back such a move: We need money, you have money, it’s only fair you give it to us.
All of which ignores real-world fallout.
A new study published by the Pioneer Institute found that the tax hike amendment could devastate innovative startups who rely on Boston’s financial services industry for funding. This in turn would hinder the region’s post-pandemic recovery.
If passed, the surtax would give Massachusetts the highest short-term capital gains tax rate in the nation and the highest long-term capital gains tax rate in New England. Good news for realtors in New Hampshire, not so much for the Bay State.
“The particularly punitive aspect of this proposal for investors is that, unlike at the federal level, capital gains can push you into a higher tax bracket under the surtax,” said Greg Sullivan, who co-authored A Grim Distinction: Massachusetts would have top marginal short-term capital gains tax rate in the U.S. under the proposed graduated income tax, with Andrew Mikula. “That could be a significant deterrent to people who would otherwise have invested in small businesses as they emerge from the COVID crisis.”
Research has shown that every job created in a high-tech firm supports the creation of up to five more jobs in other sectors of the economy. These other jobs often include low-skill service positions. The graduated income tax would provide a huge disincentive to taxpayers to invest in Massachusetts companies.
“It’s an obvious point that promoters of the surtax cannot respond to: Such sky-high taxes on capital gains will lower the level of investment activity in the state. Why that matters is that over the past several decades, Cambridge, South Boston and other areas have enjoyed a remarkable economic renaissance driven by innovative firms,” said Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios. “Our innovation clusters rely heavily on Boston’s strong investment industry. If we put the investment industry at a disadvantage, we will weaken our innovation clusters, the demand for products and services from industries that do business with our innovation clusters, and ultimately job creation.”
Case in point: Boston’s Innovation District, aka the Seaport. This tidy chunk of city real estate was booming pre-pandemic, as tech firms and creative companies flocked to the startup-friendly area. Office buildings, then condos sprouted like weeds, and following them, restaurants and retail. The domino effect of entrepreneurial support can’t be underestimated.
Nor should it be undermined. Throwing a wrench into the business-funding machinery would do nothing to help Boston, and the state, recover and grow.
That is as much a priority as education and infrastructure.
The Baltimore Sun on former Maryland medical examiner’s troubling testimony at Chauvin trial prompts review:
David Fowler, Maryland’s former longtime chief medical examiner, drew national attention recently when he testified in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted on murder and manslaughter charges for killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than 9 minutes last May. It was Dr. Fowler’s opinion that the victim died not of a lack of oxygen, as Minnesota medical experts had explained, but by a suddenly erratic heartbeat brought on, in part, by breathing in carbon monoxide fumes from a nearby vehicle exhaust. Given the overwhelming nature of the prosecutorial evidence, including a video of Mr. Floyd repeatedly pleading that he could not breathe, this struck even the most casual observer as somewhat suspect. But, some fear, it may have been much worse than that.
Last week, a letter protesting Dr. Fowler’s conclusions was sent to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and others. It was signed by 431 doctors from across the country. In it, they refer to the pathologist’s testimony as “baseless,” as having revealed “obvious bias” and as raising “malpractice concerns.” Further, they called on authorities to investigate similar cases handled by the medical examiner’s office covering the years Dr. Fowler was in charge from 2003 until his retirement in 2019. Mr. Frosh and Gov. Larry Hogan agreed to conduct such a review, which is expected to call on outside experts and attorneys to pore over cases — perhaps 15 or more per year — involving deaths taking place in the custody of police.
Take, for example, the case of Anton Black, the 19-year-old who died in police custody in the Eastern Shore town of Greensboro in 2018 under circumstances strikingly similar to the Floyd case. In that incident, the unarmed Black teen was pinned for more than six minutes by officers, including one who has since been decertified because of a history of using excessive force against suspects. Dr. Fowler ultimately ruled in that case that Anton Black suffered from a sudden cardiac event. With help from the ACLU of Maryland, the victim’s family is now suing the state in federal court, an action that Maryland’s attorney general is constitutionally required to defend — while simultaneously reviewing Dr. Fowler’s work.
Mr. Frosh’s spokesperson said attorneys looking into Dr. Fowler’s past cases will steer clear of those assigned to defend him in the Anton Black lawsuit, and that’s appropriate. But we would also expect the attorney general to recognize that if this review (officials insist that it not be termed an “investigation”) finds the former medical examiner acted with gross negligence, the state would no longer be required to represent Dr. Fowler and should not continue to do so.
That would be an obvious conflict of interest, but hardly the only one in a matter dripping with ethical concerns. Perhaps the most glaring is the possibility that Dr. Fowler’s testimony in the Chauvin trial was influenced by the thousands of dollars he was paid from Mr. Chauvin’s defense team, who relied on him to bolster their case on the witness stand. This is a common problem in expert witness testimony — the perception that people in whatever field bend their views to accommodate the side that hired them. But it is particularly troubling in medical matters and criminal prosecutions, when the stakes are so high. To be clear, we have seen no proof this was the case for Dr. Fowler; thus far, we have only the concerns of the doctors outlined in the letter and the pending review.
It’s important to remember that Dr. Fowler has not been charged with any crime. By all previous accounts, he has been well regarded in his field. Nor is it even clear that his views were necessarily invalid. Our legal system assures that both sides of a case, whether the matter is criminal or civil, have the right to call experts of their choosing and then it’s up to a judge or jury to pass judgment on the competing views to determine where the truth rests. If an opinion is unpopular or goes against conventional wisdom or does not support the views of one or other political party it becomes all the more vital that it be protected.
We urge Governor Hogan to provide Mr. Frosh with all necessary resources to conduct his review as completely and expeditiously as possible. Much is at stake, including the credibility of not just law enforcement but of the broader criminal justice system — in Maryland and beyond.
The Houston Chronicle on Biden’s pick to head ICE will bring compassion to the post:
Compassion isn’t the first word on the tip of anyone’s tongue when discussing U.S. immigration policy. But in tapping Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to head U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, President Biden has wisely selected a veteran lawman who knows when to be tough and when to be humane.
After years of controversy under President Trump, ICE needs serious, pragmatic reform from a solutions-minded leader. And that’s Gonzalez’s record as sheriff here in Harris County, one of the largest, most diverse counties in America where for decades immigration has been central to its success.
As sheriff, Gonzalez has taken responsibility for those in his care inside the largest jail in Texas, which bodes well for oversight of ICE detention centers that have been found to hold immigrants in substandard conditions and that have been hotbeds for infection during the pandemic.
First elected in 2016, Gonzalez was immediately tasked with improving conditions at the overcrowded Harris County Jail. He met that challenge.
Then, as the jail struggled with suicides, five in a two-year period, he implemented protocols that curtailed the problem. Last year, as COVID-19 ran rampant behind bars, he was at the forefront of efforts to reduce the jail population to improve safety.
Gonzalez has also led the way with initiatives such as “cite and release,” which seeks to reduce bookings by treating some misdemeanor charges, such as graffiti and driving with an invalid license, like court citations for speeding tickets. He was also one of the first local officials to back misdemeanor bail reform to ensure that people didn’t remain in jail simply because they couldn’t afford to post bond. The sheriff also made the Harris County jail the first in Texas to offer Vivitrol, a drug that helps curb opioid cravings and prevent relapses, as well as give departing inmates naloxone, which can reverse overdoses and save lives.
Gonzalez, who co-chairs the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, is no stranger to ICE or to being outspoken on immigration issues. He has been a strong proponent of “dreamers” and has often blasted the wrong-headed use of local law enforcement in detention and deportation of migrants, which undermines investigative work and makes immigrant communities fearful of authorities.
One of his first actions as sheriff was to end the county’s participation in the 287(g) program, which trained deputies to screen detainees for immigration status and hold them for deportation. The program is still in operation in more than 20 Texas counties.
If confirmed by the Senate, Gonzalez should consider ending it across the country.
Gonzalez would be a stark contrast to his predecessors under the previous administration — seven men, none of them confirmed by Congress — who were either placeholders or seemed to be in a race to the bottom to placate Trump’s hard-line approach to immigration.
While liberal calls to “abolish ICE” were always overblown, the agency’s credibility was damaged by having directors who publicly called for leaders in “sanctuary cities” to be charged with crimes, executed massive workplace raids that upended communities and targeted immigrant families for deportation.
Regardless of the best intentions, change will not be easy. Gonzalez will inherit an agency where much of its workforce is dedicated to arresting and deporting immigrants and which has been emboldened during the Trump years.
Still, he must show the kind of resolve that has served him well and work to reform and refocus the agency to target those immigrants who pose the largest risks to America, such as those whose felony convictions, connections to cartels or other factors make them higher priorities than immigrants who are only here looking for a better life.
“As law enforcement leaders, Sheriff Gonzalez’s track record is an encouraging indication of how he would run ICE — with a balance of security and compassion that makes everyone safer,” said his fellow Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force members. “We encourage the Senate to quickly confirm him.”
ICE needs permanent, steady leadership that will provide that balance. Gonzalez’s record in Harris County shows he’s the right person for the job.
Business Day on South African bank charting the path to meet Paris Agreement:
Through its new energy policy and position on climate change, Nedbank plans to become a leader in a decarbonising economy and hopefully not a lone ranger.
In 2019, it became the first and only SA bank to adopt a policy not to fund new coal-fired power generation. That’s regardless of the technology used, meaning that even highly efficient burning of coal, or plants fitted with carbon capture and storage, won’t cut it. Its latest energy policy, published last week, gives some more limits.
From 2025, the bank won’t fund new thermal coal mines, regardless of jurisdiction. Starting immediately, it won’t directly finance new oil and gas exploration projects; from 2035, it won’t advance new finance for oil production.
Nedbank will still finance natural gas production where it plays an essential role in decarbonising the energy system, but aims to have zero exposure to essentially all activities related to fossil fuels by 2045.
The new policy has received nothing but praise from Just Share, a shareholder and environmental activist group. And that is no minor feat considering that the organisation rarely, if ever, showers banks and their environmental policies with praise.
There is a notable shift in the narrative in Nedbank’s position statement. Until now, major financiers in SA have seemed to sing from the same hymn sheet as far as funding for fossil fuels in Africa is concerned. That is, that a transition to a lower-carbon economy has to be just and fair to developing nations. That’s not a problem in itself as the Paris Agreement recognises that the transition will take longer in developing countries, especially those in Africa, but it has often raised suspicion that they were using it as an excuse for inertia.
But there has been movement. Standard Bank became the first local company to table a climate-related resolution, though last year it declined to table any further such resolutions, resisting pressure from shareholder activists.
The government appears to be on board with this approach too, though policy from the department of mineral resources & energy often contradicts the apparent commitment to move the country, which gets about 95% its electricity from Eskom’s coal-powered stations, towards cleaner sources of energy.
In this week’s newsletter, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged the financial sector to help scale up project financing for renewable energy and other green initiatives. But he also noted that this couldn’t be done overnight. “As a developing country, our economy is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. That is why we continue to push on the world stage for the space to develop our economy and improve the lives of our people,” he said.
This sense of realism about the continued use of polluting sources of energy was also evident when Anglo American unveiled plans to spin off its SA coal business. Investors in the global marketplace where the mining giant plays, such as Norges Bank Investment Management, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, and BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, have taken a tough stance on polluting industries.
But ultimately the deal was structured in a way that recognised major emerging markets, such as India and China, are going to use coal for many decades to come. So while Anglo itself is racing to become carbon-neutral, it still left investors the option to have a stake in the thermal coal business Thungela Resources.
Nedbank has also recognised the challenges faced by developing nations and will continue to fund gas up to 2045. But its new energy policy finds that an orderly exit from fossil fuel financing is necessary “well before 2050”.
Notably, the bank’s climate statement says, “The just transition is not a trade-off vs climate action,” something that will be music to activists’ ears. “Without urgent, unprecedented action and co-operation from all stakeholders, future prospects for economic development, political stability and societal wellbeing are expected to deteriorate.”
Nedbank is setting the bar high and it ought to have other lenders, and the corporates they fund, thinking very deeply about their next move.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on new generation taking up Walter Mondale’s conservation legacy to protect Boundary Waters wilderness:
With former Vice President Walter Mondale’s passing, Minnesota lost not only a statesman but one of its foremost conservationists.
Mondale, who died April 19, wielded his influence in office and afterward to keep the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) and the nation’s waterways clean and pristine for future generations to enjoy.
It’s up to Minnesota’s next generation of elected leaders to fill this void. A recent strong, clear call by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith for completion of an aborted scientific study of mining’s risks to the BWCA watershed is a hopeful sign.
Smith’s timely leadership reflects the importance that Minnesotans put on safeguarding the watery northern Minnesota wilderness from potential mining pollution. It also honors Mondale’s environmental protection legacy and suggests that that this vital work will not flag in his absence.
Minnesota’s senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, regrettably didn’t sign on to Smith’s letter, but her office said in a statement that she wants a “thorough environmental review of all the project’s potential impacts.”
In late 2019, a Star Tribune Editorial Board special report spotlighted the risky location of Twin Metals Minnesota’s proposed underground copper mine project. The mine, which is still years away from becoming a reality, would be built on the doorstep of the federally protected wilderness and aboveground operations would hug the shoreline of a lake that drains directly into the BWCA watershed.
The report, “Not This Mine. Not This Location,” also outlined maneuvering by the Trump administration to speed the project’s approval. One particularly dubious example: halting a nearly completed two-year review of copper mining’s risks, and then keeping the results a secret despite requests to make them public from congressional representatives and the Editorial Board.
A March 26 letter from Smith to the Biden administration makes an eminently sensible request. She asks that it move forward in determining whether the copper and other precious metals “can be safely mined in the Rainy River Watershed in northeastern Minnesota and whether watershed protections are warranted.” Smith estimated that a new study could be completed in less than two years given the prior work done on it.
Smith’s leadership on this is important and reflects the concerns of the majority of Minnesotans. A 2020 Star Tribune/Minnesota Public Radio poll found “Minnesota voters overwhelmingly oppose new mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.” Completing the halted analysis also would provide the scientific and economic underpinnings necessary to make informed decisions on mining in the BWCA watershed.
Based on the findings, the Biden administration could declare a 20-year mining moratorium on the public lands the mine would operate on. Congress also could permanently protect the watershed from mining, and Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum merits praise for introducing a bill to do so. There’s a recent precedent: In 2019, legislation cleared both chambers to permanently protect land in Washington state and near Yellowstone National Park from metal mining.
Asked for comment on Smith’s letter, Chilean-owned Twin Metals said that the metals it would mine are needed to transition to zero-carbon energy technology. It also said that the “project is currently undergoing two separate environmental review processes at the state and federal level. The only way to accurately assess the potential impacts of a mining project and its surroundings is through this rigorous, law- and science-based regulatory review process. Imposing an additional and nonspecific study when there is already a detailed, data informed proposal in place for Twin Metals would undermine trust in science and our regulatory system and have a chilling effect on investment in Minnesota’s rural economies.”
In interviews and exchanges, Twin Metals has consistently touted modern technology’s ability to protect the BWCA from potential pollution. It should have nothing to fear, then, from completing the study halted by its Trump administration allies.