Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on the bi-partisan tech privacy bill
With Republicans poised to take over the House next year, a divided Congress looms. The result could be two years of partisan strife and gridlock. But between the GOP investigations and other legislative fireworks to come, there might be room to get a few things done — if lawmakers are willing to accept success.
Members of Congress have spent years devising a federal tech privacy law that finally seemed close to passage this session, when Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), as well as Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), presented a bipartisan compromise. The good news: The American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA) flew through committee 53-2 in the House. The bad: That’s where it stopped, and its chances appear slim in this Congress’s final weeks. That would mean it will be on the next Congress to pick up where its predecessor left off. If next year’s congressional leaders want to do more than just oversee partisan bickering, taking up this bill would be a place to start.
The ADPPA departs from the notice-and-consent paradigm, in which the burden lies with consumers to understand what is being done with their personal information and object if they would like. Few people take the time to read through and fully comprehend privacy policies when they are just trying to use a new app or set up their phone. The ADPPA introduces a novel approach: The companies handling data would themselves have obligations to handle it responsibly. They would be required to limit data collection, use and sharing to what is “reasonably necessary and proportionate” to provide their products or services.
Many lawmakers agree on this policy, and for the most part they also agree on two questions that previously seemed likely to spell doom for the ADPPA: whether individuals should have the right to sue tech companies under the law and whether federal privacy rules should override existing state privacy regulations. In both these areas, legislators managed to push aside politics and make smart compromises — a rare accomplishment that shouldn’t go to waste.
Lingering concerns over whether individuals can sue tech firms, especially from Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), could cause some final hiccups. But lawmakers have struck a compromise that should work, enabling people to sue tech companies over privacy violations after waiting two years, as long as they notify state and local officials before filing. This way, consumers can seek redress for the harms companies might inflict upon them — but companies also won’t be caught flat-footed by a sudden change in what they’re permitted to do.
Questions about preempting state privacy rules have been the bigger problem. More specifically, the trouble is California. The state rightly prides itself on being the first to come up with tough data privacy regulations of its own, and now those responsible for creating and carrying out the process are worried the ADPPA will sweep it aside. They contend that the California Consumer Privacy Act provides more robust protections than the ADPPA would.
Out-of-state privacy experts disagree. Indeed, California’s rules do not require the ADPPA’s paradigm shift away from notice-and-consent, which would minimize what the data companies can collect and ensure they design their products with privacy in mind. The California Privacy Protection Agency has proposed changes to impose similar “reasonable expectations” restrictions, but no such rules are yet in effect.
Certainly, California is more protective in certain areas than the ADPPA would be. Most notable are forthcoming regulations that would allow individuals to opt out of all automated decision-making — whereby algorithms use consumers’ personal information to determine how they’re treated. California’s advocates also fear the ADPPA will make it impossible for their state to prevent companies from sharing with authorities in other states information regarding reproductive care.
Yet the ADPPA would not put these state-level protections at risk. Congressional negotiators agreed that the new national rules would only override directly conflicting state rules, leaving others in place. The final markup of the ADPPA included some clarification on this point, as well as assurances that California’s state privacy regulators would retain their enforcement authority, another point of contention.
The ADPPA’s broad prohibitions on companies continuing to vacuum up unnecessary amounts of data for profit will do more to safeguard civil liberties than narrower “dos” and “don’ts” favored by tech privacy advocates in California and elsewhere — by cutting down on the amount of personal information floating around for sale and exploitation in the first place.
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), a Californian, slow-walked the ADPPA amid objections from her state. Though the clarifications in the bill should have assuaged California’s concerns, it is unlikely Congress will be able to consider the legislation during the jam-packed lame-duck period.
The next Congress should recognize what is sitting in its lap: a carefully crafted, comprehensive framework to protect data privacy rights after years of inaction have allowed the surveillance economy to grow, unbothered and unaccountable.
The New York Times on America’s toxic gun culture
A year ago, Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky posted a Christmas photo on Twitter. In it, Mr. Massie, his wife and five children pose in front of their ornament-bedecked tree. Each person is wearing a big grin and holding an assault weapon. “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo,” Mr. Massie wrote on Twitter.
The photo was posted on Dec. 4, just four days after a mass shooting at a school in Oxford, Mich., that left four students dead and seven other people injured.
The grotesque timing led many Democrats and several Republicans to criticize Mr. Massie for sharing the photo. Others lauded it and nearly 80,000 people liked his tweet. “That’s my kind of Christmas card!” wrote Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who then posted a photo of her four sons brandishing similar weapons.
These weapons, lightweight and endlessly customizable, aren’t often used in the way their devotees imagine — to defend themselves and their families. (In a recent comprehensive survey, only 13% of all defensive use of guns involved any type of rifle.) Nevertheless, in the 18 years since the end of the federal assault weapons ban, the country has been flooded with an estimated 25 million AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles, making them one of the most popular in the United States. When used in mass shootings, the AR-15 makes those acts of violence far more deadly. It has become the gun of choice for mass killers, from Las Vegas to Uvalde, Sandy Hook to Buffalo.
The AR-15 has also become a potent talisman for right-wing politicians and many of their voters. That’s a particularly disturbing trend at a time when violent political rhetoric and actual political violence in the United States are rising.
Addressing violent right-wing extremism is a challenge on many fronts: This board has argued for stronger enforcement of state anti-militia laws, better tracking of extremists in law enforcement and the military, and stronger international cooperation to tackle it as a transnational issue. Most important, there is a civil war raging inside the Republican Party between those who support democracy and peaceful politics and those who support far-right extremism. That conflict has repercussions for all of us, and the fetishization of guns is a pervasive part of it.
The prominence of guns in campaign ads is a good barometer of their political potency. Democrats have sometimes used guns in ads — in 2010, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, running for the Senate, shot a hole through a copy of the cap-and-trade climate bill with a single-shot hunting rifle. Since then, guns have all but disappeared from Democratic messaging. But in the most recent midterm elections, Republican politicians ran more than 100 ads featuring guns and more than a dozen that featured semiautomatic military-style rifles.
In one of the most violent of those ads, Eric Greitens, a Republican candidate for Senate in Missouri and a former Navy SEAL, kicks in the door of a house and barges in with a group of men dressed in tactical gear and holding assault rifles. Mr. Greitens boasts that the group is hunting RINOs — a derogatory term for “Republicans in name only.” The ad continues, “Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”
Twitter flagged the ad, Facebook banned it for violating its terms of service, and Mr. Greitens lost his race for office. He may have been playacting in the ad, but many other heavily armed people with far-right political views are not. Openly carried assault rifles have become an all too common feature of political events around the country and are having a chilling effect on the exercise of political speech.
This intimidating display of weaponry isn’t a bipartisan phenomenon: A recent New York Times analysis examined more than 700 demonstrations where people openly carrying guns showed up. At about 77% of the protests, those who were armed “represented right-wing views, such as opposition to L.G.B.T.Q. rights and abortion access, hostility to racial justice rallies and support for former President Donald J. Trump’s lie of winning the 2020 election.”
As we’ve seen at libraries that host drag queen book readings, Juneteenth celebrations and Pride marches, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is fast running up against the First Amendment’s right to peaceably assemble. Securing that right, and addressing political violence in general, requires addressing the armed intimidation that has become commonplace in public places and the gun culture that makes it possible.
A growing number of American civilians have an unhealthy obsession with “tactical culture” and rifles like the AR-15. It’s a fringe movement among the 81 million American gun owners, but it is one of several alarming trends that have coincided with the increase in political violence in this country, along with the spread of far-right extremist groups, an explosion of anti-government sentiment and the embrace of deranged conspiracy theories by many Republican politicians. Understanding how these currents feed one another is crucial to understanding and reversing political violence and right-wing extremism.
The American gun industry has reaped an estimated $1 billion in sales over the past decade from AR-15-style guns, and it has done so by using and cultivating their status as near mythical emblems of power, hyper-patriotism and manhood. Earlier this year, an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform found that the gun industry explicitly markets its products by touting their military pedigree and making “covert references to violent white supremacists like the Boogaloo Boys.” These tactics “prey on young men’s insecurities by claiming their weapons will put them ‘at the top of the testosterone food chain.’”
This marketing and those sales come at a significant cost to America’s social fabric.
In his recent book “Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry That Radicalized America,” Ryan Busse, a former firearms company executive, described attending a Black Lives Matter rally with his son in Montana in 2020. At the rally, dozens of armed men, some of them wearing insignia from two paramilitary groups — the 3 Percenters and the Oath Keepers — appeared, carrying assault rifles. After one of the armed men assaulted his 12-year-old son, Mr. Busse had his epiphany.
“For years prior to this protest, advertising executives in the gun industry had been encouraging the ‘tactical lifestyle,’” Mr. Busse wrote. The gun industry created a culture that “glorified weapons of war and encouraged followers to ‘own the libs.’”
The formula is a simple one: More rage, more fear, more gun sales.
A portion of those proceeds are then funneled back into politics through millions of dollars in direct contributions, lobbying and spending on outside groups, most often in support of Republicans.
All told, gun rights groups spent a record $15.8 million on lobbying in 2021 and $2 million in the first quarter of 2022, the transparency group OpenSecrets reported. “From 1989 to 2022, gun rights groups contributed $50.5 million to federal candidates and party committees,” the group found. “Of that, 99% of direct contributions went to Republicans.”
The Wall Street Journal on U.S. President Joe Biden’s Teamsters bailout
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky this week pleaded with Congress for more money for COVID. How about asking the Teamsters to share some of their $36 billion pension bailout that President Biden announced Thursday?
Democrats sold their $1.9 trillion spending bill in 2021 as Covid “relief,” but it included some $86 billion to shore up more than 200 ailing union multi-employer pension plans. The $36 billion for the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund is the largest tranche awarded so far, but Mr. Biden assured his labor friends on Thursday that more is on the way.
Multi-employer pensions were common after World War II in trucking, construction and manufacturing. They let employers with a common union like the Teamsters offer collective plans that are jointly administered and collectively bargained by unions and management. They operate much like state plans for teachers and local government workers.
High labor costs have driven many unionized companies bankrupt, however, forcing surviving employers in the plans to pick up more of the cost of the generous benefits. Yet contributions negotiated by unions haven’t been enough to fund benefits, especially as more workers retire. Teamsters in the Central States plan can retire at age 57.
Central States last year was only 17% funded and projected to collapse in a few years. The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) insures pensions up to $12,870 a year for participants with 30 years on the job. But it, too, is under-funded. If Central States failed, its liabilities could have taken down the PBGC, which insures multi-employer pensions for 11.2 million workers and retirees.
Congress in 2014 acted to prevent this death spiral by passing bipartisan legislation that let sick plans reduce benefits and make other changes to avoid insolvency. Eighteen plans took advantage of the law, but Democrats then had second thoughts and decided to ding taxpayers instead.
Central States’ overseers proposed modest pension cuts that would have spared nearly half of participants. But progressives howled, and the Obama Administration rejected the reforms. At their first opportunity, Democrats rushed through a bailout. Last year’s union, er, Covid relief bill lets the PBGC make lump sum payments to keep some sick 200 multi-employer plans solvent through 2051 and fully restore benefits in the 18 plans that had cuts.
Notably, the law prohibits the PBGC from conditioning aid on governance reforms or funding rules. But it doesn’t forbid benefit increases. So the failings that got these plans in trouble will continue and may lead to future bailouts. Government unions with under-funded pensions in New Jersey and Illinois will surely demand one too.
Meantime, Democrats are calling Republicans stingy for refusing to spend more on Covid, including treatments for the uninsured. But Democrats appropriated a mere $24 billion for vaccines and treatments in last year’s Covid bill and none in the Inflation Reduction Act, which included $369 billion of climate pork. Maybe Covid patients would have received more help if they paid union dues.
The Guardian on right-wing extremism in the Israeli government
The crisis in the Holy Land is once again at “boiling point”, with blood being spilled on both sides. Tor Wennesland, the U.N.’s peace envoy, did not mince his words to the security council this week. The rising death toll in the West Bank, the worst since 2006, is roiling the waters. Since January, about 140 Palestinians have been killed in this territory, nearly all by Israeli forces. Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis have left 30 dead.
Days earlier, Mr. Wennesland had been “horrified” by the fatal shooting of an unarmed Palestinian man during a scuffle with an Israeli border police officer. The macabre video of the killing revealed he was right to be alarmed. Yet rather than upbraiding the officer for a public execution, the incoming national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, from the far-right Jewish Power party, hailed him as a hero.
The Religious Zionism bloc, led by Mr. Ben-Gvir and the Jewish supremacist Bezalel Smotrich, is now the third-largest group in the Knesset. Harboring racists and homophobes, it was the big winner in last month’s elections. … The losers were Israeli democracy and the Palestinians.
… Mr. Ben-Gvir, who has been convicted of racist incitement and support for terrorism, already has tense relations with Israel’s Arab minority. As he has repeatedly pledged to relocate Bedouins and Palestinian Israeli citizens to neighboring Arab states, much worse could be in store for them.
The proximate cause for violent extremists in Israel’s government is Benjamin Netanyahu. On trial for corruption – charges that Mr. Netanyahu denies – he seems willing to pay any price to end the cases against him. In return for an assault on Israel’s justice system through new legislation advanced by his far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies, Mr. Netanyahu appears to be reshaping government to their advantage – notably handing over virtually untrammeled powers in the occupied territories. He seeks to ride the radical wave surging through Jewish Israeli society. About 60% of such voters now consider themselves rightwing – up from 46% in 2019. Among young Israelis, support tops 70%.
These trends should worry Israel. Since 1967, the country has given itself plausible deniability over deepening an illegal occupation in the West Bank by claiming the region was under an apolitical, military-administered legal regime that respects international law. This, said successive Israeli governments, was a temporary solution until a permanent deal was reached with the Palestinians. Putting Mr. Smotrich’s party in charge threatens to expose this as a charade, confirming that Israeli occupation is a form of apartheid.
Mr. Netanyahu appears to be betting the world will blink first. His friends in the Gulf are sticking by him. The Biden administration says it will judge the new government by its policies, not its personalities. But the far-right march to their own drum. Mr. Smotrich supports the annexation of the West Bank, the expansion of settlements and the demolition of Palestinian homes. Mr. Ben-Gvir plans a provocative ministerial “visit” to Haram al-Sharif, site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam, under the pretense that Israeli Jews are struggling for their religious rights. If such words become deeds, then a Palestinian uprising – a third intifada – won’t be far away. This is a dismal thought, but it seems to be where the unfortunate evolution of Israeli politics is heading.
China Daily on the U.S.’ chip war
Japan-based Kyodo News reported on Saturday that the United States had directly asked the Japanese government for cooperation in stymieing China’s efforts to develop high-end semiconductors.
The request that it stop exports of chip-making equipment to China by Tokyo Electron Ltd. was made by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo during a telephone conversation with Japanese industry minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, on Friday, and it is “believed to be the first ministerial one from the United States on the issue”.
But that request is by no means the first one made by the U.S. to its allies. On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported the U.S. administration was talking with the Netherlands with the aim of agreeing on a new protocol to stop the Dutch company ASML Holding NV from supplying China with lithography equipment essential for the manufacturing of advanced chips. By pressuring its “friends” Japan and the Netherlands in this way, the U.S. is aiming to create a multilateral framework of export controls targeting China.
But by participating in the U.S.’ efforts to prevent China acquiring the latest-generation semiconductors, Japan and the Netherlands will only harm themselves. China won’t stand idle watching its companies being blocked from importing chips. There is no reason for Japan and the Netherlands to risk jeopardizing their trade with China at the behest of the United States.
By abusing its national power in a bid to maintain its technological hegemony, the U.S. is politicizing and weaponizing technology, with no concern even for the interests of its allies.
China has urged the relevant parties to stay objective and make their own judgments. As a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said, they should proceed on the basis of “their own long-term interests and the fundamental interests of the international community”.
When the first ministerial-level conference for the “Indo-Pacific” Economic Framework for Prosperity was held in Los Angeles in September, a Japanese diplomat noted that such efforts to contain China are impractical as China is the largest trading partner of over 100 economies.
China has been Japan’s biggest trade partner for 15 years consecutively, and the trade volume between the two countries was $371.4 billion last year, 17.1% higher than the year before.
Japan and the Netherlands should not let the U.S. drop stones on their feet just because it is their ally.
If the US can rope its allies into its chip war against China, the world will pay a huge price in lost development opportunities. Countries should keep their own interests and the bigger picture in mind.
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