Editorial Roundup: United States

·12 min read

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Jan. 25

The Washington Post on President Joe Biden’s Federal Reserve nominees:

President Biden’s latest nominees to the Federal Reserve — Sarah Bloom Raskin to be vice chair for supervision and economists Lisa Cook and Philip Jefferson to be Fed governors — are highly qualified experts who deserve to be confirmed swiftly.

All three have strong ties to the central bank. Ms. Bloom Raskin, a lawyer, was a Fed governor from 2010 to 2014 and then became deputy treasury secretary. Ms. Cook is a director of the Chicago Fed and has been a regular contributor in recent years to the prestigious Jackson Hole gathering of central bankers and top economic thinkers. She is a professor at Michigan State University. Mr. Jefferson is a former research economist at the Fed who has also had a long career in academia. He is dean of faculty at Davidson College.

Some conservatives have tried to paint these nominees as extremely liberal. There’s no justification for that. It’s telling that former Fed leaders and several prominent economists from the Bush and Trump administrations have praised these candidates.

Ms. Bloom Raskin has come under fire for urging the Fed not to bail out struggling oil and gas companies during the early days of the pandemic. In hindsight, she was right. Gas prices rebounded, and energy firms quickly bounced back. More broadly, she has been a vocal proponent of U.S. regulators, including the Fed, making financial firms consider climate risk moving forward. This is common sense. It won’t shut down lending for production and use of fossil fuels, but it would push banks to start quantifying a huge risk to the financial system.

Ms. Cook would be the first Black woman to serve as a Fed governor in the central bank’s 108-year history. She has spent years studying developing economies, many of which struggled with high inflation. Mr. Jefferson would be only the fourth Black man appointed to the board. The bulk of his research, like Ms. Cook’s, has been about inequality and poverty. It’s mind-boggling that some have attempted to question whether the Fed needs this kind of expertise. Black unemployment has often been double White unemployment for decades, and Americans without college educations are often the last to recover after crises. This is not the economy Americans should accept.

The reality is the Fed’s primary focus is keeping inflation low and getting as many people as possible employed. These nominees understand that. But they also understand there are serious trade-offs involved. If the Fed raises interest rates to combat inflation, that’s likely to lead to some job losses.

To be sure, this trio of nominees should still face tough questioning at their confirmation hearing. Ms. Bloom Raskin needs to clarify — for both the right and left — how extensive she would make climate risk assessments for financial institutions. Similarly, all three should be asked whether they are willing to raise interest rates if inflation remains high, even if that leads to job cuts.

The U.S. economy is facing a highly uncertain time. These three nominees are ready to help lead the Fed and bolster its credibility. The Senate should move quickly to put them in place.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/25/bidens-federal-reserve-nominees-should-be-quickly-confirmed/

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Jan. 24

The Wall Street Journal on the situation in Ukraine:

The U.S. put 8,500 troops on alert Monday with the possibility of deploying them to shore up NATO defenses in Eastern Europe, and allies are sending ships and fighter jets. The West is finally getting more serious about deterring Russian aggression, and let’s hope it’s not too late for Ukraine.

President Biden is considering the troop deployment, along with ships and aircraft, to NATO allies like Poland and the Baltic states that are closest to the Russian threat. Go ahead and send them, sir. Mr. Biden’s strategy of restraint, in the hope of not provoking Vladimir Putin, hasn’t worked. Mr. Putin has been adding to his own deployment of troops on three different fronts on Ukraine’s borders.

Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO, and the U.S. troops wouldn’t deploy there. But their arrival in Eastern Europe would send a message that the U.S. would get involved militarily if Mr. Putin makes a play for the Baltic states or otherwise moves against NATO nations. The Russian navy is planning live-fire exercises off the coast of Ireland, which isn’t a NATO member.

The troop news also helps to counter last week’s mixed messages from the White House and Europe about deterring Mr. Putin. The Russian’s goal is to conquer, or at least dominate, Ukraine while dividing the West over what the U.S. has called “massive consequences” in response to an invasion.

Mr. Putin has reason to think that might work. Germany’s navy chief resigned last week after he sent a message of appeasement to Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron chose the worst moment to say Europe should negotiate with Russia separately from the U.S. on Ukraine. Mr. Biden slipped up as well with his press-conference remark that a mere “minor incursion” might divide the West.

The centerpiece of Mr. Biden’s foreign policy platform was reviving America’s alliances, but countries don’t have allies for the sake of having allies. The President has invested in cultivating Berlin but has little to show for it. He can make clear that warming ties are subject to Germany’s cooperation on Ukraine. That means pushing the German government to support more serious sanctions and to allow third countries to export weapons to Ukraine.

The U.S. doesn’t need to fight in Ukraine, but it can do more to help that democratic nation defend itself. That means sending antitank and antiaircraft missiles, as well as assistance with air defense, maritime security and intelligence.

If Mr. Putin does invade, analysts Seth Jones and Philip Wasielewski recommend a Lend-Lease type program that would provide Ukraine with weapons at no cost. As long as Ukrainians want to defend themselves, they deserve the means to do so. The U.S. should also support an insurgency against a puppet regime if Mr. Putin attempts to install one.

The policy goal would be to raise the costs of invasion so it becomes too painful for the Kremlin to sustain — or, better, even to begin. This would include imposing the toughest economic sanctions Mr. Biden has promised, including denying access to the Swift financial system for dollar transactions.

Denying Moscow control over Ukraine is in the U.S. national interest. A Russia fortified by Ukrainian resources would be a more formidable adversary and a bigger threat to NATO. One of the great results from the end of the Cold War was the breakup of the Soviet empire. Mr. Putin wants to reassemble it into a sphere of influence that would enhance his standing at home and increase his influence abroad.

The consequences will extend far beyond Ukraine as other American adversaries try to assert regional dominance. Mr. Putin could look to the Baltics next, while Iran and China also have malign aspirations. Authoritarians are seldom content merely with controlling their own people.

The U.S. and West need to be prudent about when to push back against regional aggressors, but helping Ukraine stay out of Moscow’s maw is crucial for preventing a larger threat to European peace.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/deterrence-message-to-moscow-us-nato-biden-russia-vladimir-putin-ukraine-11643066402

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Jan. 25

Toronto Star on how China and free speech for Olympians:

For a time, the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to present the most serious risk to participants at the Beijing Olympics that open in just over two weeks.

At least as concerning, however, is the heavy hand of China’s authoritarian regime and the threats it has tossed out to athletes from Canada and elsewhere.

The host nation is demanding that athletes abandon any notion of free speech when they arrive in the country.

“Any behaviour or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment,” Yang Shu, deputy director of international relations for the Beijing organizing committee, told a news conference last week.

It must be the first time on record that the so-called “Olympic spirit” has been so explicitly wielded as a tool to cow participants and put a chill on anything they might be inclined to say of a critical nature.

Such a situation is wholly unacceptable to those countries that regard democratic freedoms as fundamental to who we are and how we live.

Such freedoms were too hard won, too dearly paid for, to be handed over with a shrug at customs.

With COVID-19 still at large, these Games were already a dodgy proposition.

The fact the host country will be all pride, smiles and self-congratulation, despite its treatment of Ugyhur Muslims, repression in Hong Kong, and overall dismal record on human rights, is also appalling.

Canada is among those countries – including the United States, Britain and Australia – to have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games as a result of human rights and diplomatic concerns.

In Canada, of course, this includes the detention for more than two years of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, finally released last September after being held as bartering chips to lever the release of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who had been held in Canada as a result of a U.S. extradition order.

Human Rights Watch has already warned that the surveillance state that is China will be doing some gold-medal spying on its visitors. So much so, in fact, that athletes have been advised not to take digital devices loaded with personal or sensitive information to the Games.

But the notion that Canada’s athletes, and others, should have to button their lips or risk legal jeopardy and the crude justice of their hosts is beyond the pale.

Dick Pound, former vice-president of the IOC, told CBC News that Canada is not the only country to have had difficulties with China recently, but that he expects the host nation to “be on their best behaviour” with the eyes of the world looking on.

And former Canadian Olympian Angela Schneider told CBC Radio’s Sunday Magazine that it would be extraordinary for China to act against athletes it had invited into the country for the Games.

Schneider advised Canadian media, rather than shifting focus once the Games are over, to continue to give a spotlight to athletes when they are safely “back on Canadian soil” to speak their minds about China.

Until then, every level of the Canadian Olympic apparatus, along with the federal government, should make clear to China how offensive such threats are.

Bovine compliance with blatantly undemocratic orders is unworthy of any country that takes its values seriously.

To be silent is to be complicit in these brazen threats to fundamental rights.

ONLINE: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2022/01/25/chinas-chill-on-olympic-athletes-speech-is-way-out-of-line.html

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Jan. 26

The Guardian on remembering the Spanish Civil War:

In his latest film, released in the UK this week, Pedro Almodóvar breaks new ground in a career that began as Spain started to transition to democracy in the late 1970s. Until now, the great director’s work has virtually ignored the dark decades of dictatorship under General Francisco Franco. “It was my way of getting revenge on him,” he explained to the Guardian last week. “But it didn’t mean to say I’d forgotten.”

After Franco’s death in 1975, a “pact of forgetting” and an Amnesty Law largely drew a veil over the bloody atrocities of the Spanish civil war and the repressive era of dictatorship, allowing a traumatised population to move on. As the plot of Parallel Mothers reflects, this mood has given way on the left to a determination to bear witness to crimes never recognised or atoned for. The film stars Penelope Cruz as a photographer determined to exhume bodies from a mass grave near her village, where she believes her Republican great-grandfather lies after being summarily executed by fascist forces.

In recent years, such exhumations have been sought and performed throughout Spain, and more than 100,000 bodies are known to still lie in unmarked graves. The Socialist-led government plans to make new funds and resources available for digs, as well as other activities and research related to historical memory. As work progresses, civil war historians have been able to draw on new sources to better understand the horrors of the time and the specific nature of the fascist terror unleashed across the country. Last year, the government moved to outlaw the defence and cultural celebration of the Franco era.

There has, inevitably, been a backlash. Many conservatives argue that the historical memory movement has unnecessarily stirred up division and recrimination. A culture war over the politics of memory is underway. This week, for example, Madrid’s rightwing city council restored the name of a street which memorialises a nationalist ship that shelled civilians in 1937. The rise of the nationalist Vox party has emboldened parts of the right which aim to rehabilitate the Franco era and the nationalist cause in the civil war.

The direction of travel, though, is clear. For some time, plans have been underway for Spain’s first national museum devoted to the civil war, located in the Aragonese battleground town of Teruel. A commission of experts from across the political spectrum is to decide how to tell the story of the conflict, focusing particularly on the suffering of the civilian population. Its architects, led by the former Socialist MP and professor of politics, Javier Paniagua, hope that the £5m project can become a Spanish equivalent to the Verdun memorial or the Imperial War Museum.

This is unlikely to be a museum which will appeal to Vox supporters. But Mr Paniagua said that the aim will be to fairly portray nationalist and republican perspectives, in an effort to enhance understanding of why a national tragedy took place. In an age of polarisation this is surely the right approach, however challenging and ambitious. Collective amnesia was perhaps an understandable option for a generation desperate to embrace a democratic future in the 1970s. But as Mr Almodóvar points out: “Remembering is part of the soul of who we are.” It will be a mighty task, but more than 80 years after the civil war ended, Teruel’s planned museum deserves to succeed.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jan/26/the-guardian-view-on-remembering-the-spanish-civil-war-the-work-must-go-on

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