Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on gun violence in the United States
Gun violence is so regular an occurrence in the United States that no incident, however tragic, comes as a surprise. But events in recent days deserve special attention all the same, as they underscore a core truth about responding to gun violence: changing just one or two rules would not be enough.
Early this month, a 6-year-old boy shot and wounded an elementary school teacher in Newport News, Va. This, according to authorities, was no accident: The first-grader pulled out a handgun and fired a bullet through his instructor’s outstretched hand and into her chest. His family says he has an “acute disability”; The Post reports that administrators brushed off concerns about the boy after he threw furniture in class, barricaded the doors to a room and threatened to light a teacher on fire and watch her die. The day of the shooting, his backpack was searched after a tip that he may have had a weapon.
Across the country and over the weekend, a 72-year-old man killed 11 people inside a dance hall in the Los Angeles suburb Monterey Park. The attack came shortly after the Lunar New Year celebration in the majority-Asian American city. The 11 killed were in their 50s, 60s and 70s. They were dancing guangchang wu, a public square dance popular among middle-aged and older patrons, when the carnage began. Only two days later, a gunman killed seven people at two plant nurseries in Half Moon Bay, near San Francisco.
The Newport News case and the California cases should be considered together not because they are so similar, but because they are so different. The 72-year-old in Monterey Park is the oldest person in U.S. history accused of perpetrating a mass killing in public. The 6-year-old in Newport News is one of the youngest believed to be responsible for intentional gun violence. None of these people fits the mold of the stereotypical alienated young man who has become the face of mass shootings in this country.
The Gun Violence Archive has counted 39 mass shootings so far in 2023. Congressional intransigence on gun reform often pushes politicians to choose individual solutions on which to place their legislative focus, usually geared to what may have helped prevent the most recent tragedy: One year, red-flag laws are on every lawmaker’s lips; the next, the “boyfriend loophole.” Yet instances of gun violence are so varied that the right approach isn’t either-or but all-of-the-above.
At least one of the guns implicated in the Monterey Park shooting, a semiautomatic pistol equipped with a large-capacity magazine, might have been illegal to purchase in California. Yet the state’s prohibitions on many semiautos and magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition don’t apply to purchases made when the bans weren’t in effect. And while a new state law that aims to block the possession of such magazines was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, last year lower courts were instructed to reconsider it after another reckless pro-gun Supreme Court ruling.
This is worrying. The five highest-casualty mass shootings in modern American history all involved weapons that allowed shooters to let loose on crowds without having to reload. That restrictions are federal is important, too. Regardless of whether guns like the one used in Monterey Park are illegal to purchase in California, it’s easy enough for a California resident to buy one across state lines.
These interventions wouldn’t have prevented the 6-year-old in Newport News from shooting his teacher. That case involves a host of other issues, from proper supervision and security in schools, especially in response to warning signs, to safe gun storage. The public is likely to learn more about the trigger lock that the family’s lawyer says was installed on the weapon in question. But measures that require secure, tamper-resistant storage can keep kids from getting their hands on guns. And where a gun is stored (in the Newport News case, supposedly on the top shelf of a bedroom closet) matters, too.
Changes that could have stopped other headline-making shootings in recent years, from better background checks to waiting periods before purchase to red-flag laws, and programs such as government gun buybacks and gun licensing are essential, as is prosecuting dealers who allow their supply to flow to illegal markets. It is not yet clear whether any of these efforts would have saved lives in Monterey Park or Half Moon Bay — but they would have saved lives elsewhere at other times.
As President Biden and the rest of country try, again, to confront the gun violence epidemic, policymakers should understand that no single solution will scrub out this scourge. Doing one thing is better than doing nothing at all — but to pretend the work ends there would be irresponsible.
The New York Times on Putin and the war in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine has entered a new, more deadly and fateful phase, and the one man who can stop it, Vladimir Putin, has shown no signs that he will do so.
After 11 months during which Ukraine has won repeated and decisive victories against Russian forces, clawed back some of its lands and cities and withstood lethal assaults on its infrastructure, the war is at a stalemate.
Still, the fighting rages on, including a ferocious battle for the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region. Cruel, seemingly random Russian missile strikes at civilian targets have become a regular horror: On Jan. 14, a Russian missile struck an apartment building in Dnipro, in central Ukraine. Among the at least 40 dead were small children, a pregnant woman and a 15-year-old dancer.
Both sides are now said to be bracing for a fierce new round of offensives in the late winter or spring. Russia has mobilized 300,000 new men to throw into the fray, and some arms factories are working around the clock. Ukraine’s Western arms suppliers, at the same time, are bolstering Kyiv’s arsenal with armor and air defense systems that until recently they were reluctant to deploy against Russia for fear of escalating this conflict into an all-in East-West war.
Over the past two months, the United States has pledged billions in new arms and equipment, including a roughly $2.5 billion package announced this week that, for the first time, includes Stryker armored combat vehicles. Other American weapons on their way to Ukraine include the Patriot, the most advanced American ground-based air defense system; Bradley fighting vehicles; armored personnel carriers; and artillery systems. NATO allies have thrown more weapons into the mix, including the first heavy tank pledged to Ukraine, the Challenger 2 heavy tank from Britain. Germany, historically reluctant to have its tanks used against Russia, is under heavy pressure to allow its allies to export its first-rate Leopard tank to Ukraine.
Germany did not make a decision at a meeting with Ukraine’s allies on Friday, in which countries reiterated their support for sending more advanced arms to Ukraine. The U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, who led the gathering, said this was “not a moment to slow down” but to “dig deeper.”
That means the broad, muddy fields of Ukraine will soon again witness full-scale tank-and-trench warfare, this time pitting Western arms against a desperate Russia. This was never supposed to happen again in Europe after the last world war.
Ukraine and its backers hope that the Western arms will be decisive, giving Ukraine a better chance to blunt a Russian offensive and drive the Russians back. How far back is another question. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine talks of chasing Russia out of Ukraine altogether, including the territory seized by Russia in 2014 in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The United States and its allies may prefer a less ambitious outcome, although U.S. officials are reportedly considering it as a possibility. But so long as Mr. Putin shows no readiness to talk, the question is moot. The job at hand is to persuade Russia that a negotiated peace is the only option.
This is why the coming fight is critical. But as Mr. Putin digs himself ever deeper into pursuing his delusions, it is also critical that the Russian people be aware of what is being done in their name, and how it is destroying their own future.
How much of this do Russians know or question? It is difficult to ascertain what Russians are privately saying or thinking, given how dangerous any open criticism of the “limited military operation” has become. Independent media have been stifled, thousands of protesters have been arrested, and many foreign correspondents, including those of The Times, were compelled to leave when it became illegal to dispute the official line about the war.
Still, at the very least, most Russians should be asking when and how this war will end. That is why this editorial is addressed in part to the Russian people: It is in their name that their president is waging this terrible and useless war; their sons, fathers and husbands are being killed, maimed or brutalized into committing atrocities; their lives are being mortgaged for generations to come in a state distrusted and disliked in many parts of the world.
The Kremlin’s propaganda machinery has been working full time churning out false narratives about a heroic Russian struggle against forces of fascism and debauchery, in which the Western arms are but more proof that Ukraine is a proxy war by the West to strip Russia of its destiny and greatness. Mr. Putin has concocted an elaborate mythology in which Ukraine is an indelible part of a Russkiy mir, a greater Russian world.
Isolated from anyone who would dare to speak truth to his power, Mr. Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine last year, convinced that the Ukrainians would promptly shed their “fascist” government. The start of the war stunned Russians, but Mr. Putin seemed convinced that a West wasted by decadence and decline would squawk but take no action. He and his commanders were apparently unprepared for the extraordinary resistance they met in Ukraine, or for the speed with which the United States and its allies, horrified by the crude violation of the postwar order, came together in Ukraine’s defense.
Mr. Putin’s response has been to throw ever more lives, resources and cruelty at Ukraine. And with the deplorable support of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, the president has elevated what he insists on calling his “limited military offensive” into an existential struggle between a spiritually ordained Great Russia and a corrupt and debauched West.
But Russians are aware that Ukraine was not widely perceived as an enemy, much less a mortal enemy, until Mr. Putin seized Crimea and stirred up a secessionist conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Until then, Russians and Ukrainians traveled freely across their long border, and many of them had family, acquaintances or friends on the other side.
And after all the poverty, repression and isolation under Soviet rule, Russians need to remember that until Mr. Putin began trying to change Ukraine’s borders by force in 2014, they were finally enjoying what those in other industrialized countries had long considered normal — the opportunity to earn decent salaries, buy consumer goods and enjoy vastly expanded freedoms to travel abroad and speak their mind.
The West they visited was not the caricature of depravity presented by Mr. Putin or Patriarch Kirill. And their Russia was hardly a pure and spiritual model, with the alcoholism, corruption, drug abuse, homophobia and other sins so familiar to all Russians.
In the end, the question is whether any of Mr. Putin’s lectures on history really provide a justification for the death and destruction he has ordained. Russians know the horrors of all-out war; they must know that nothing Mr. Putin has concocted remotely validates the leveling of towns and cities, the murder, rape and pillaging, or the deliberate strikes against power and water supplies across Ukraine. Like the last great European war, this one is mostly one man’s madness.
If Ukraine was not an enemy before, Mr. Putin has ensured it is one now. Battling an invader is among the most potent methods of forging a national identity, and for Ukraine, Russia as its enemy and the West as its future have become indelible elements. And if the West was indeed divided and indecisive on how to deal with Russia or Ukraine before, Moscow’s invasion has unified the United States and much of Europe in relegating Russia to a threat and an outcast and raising a heroic Ukraine to a friend and ally.
Claiming to champion Russian greatness, Mr. Putin has turned Russia into a pariah state in many parts of the world. He claims Russia has everything it needs to withstand the cost of the war and sanctions. But according to a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank, Russia faces decades of economic stagnation and regression even if the war ends soon. Industrial production, even military, is likely to continue falling because of its reliance on high-tech goods from the West that it can no longer get. Many Western companies have left, trade with the West has dwindled, and financing the war is draining the budget. Numerous foreign airlines have ceased service to Russia. Add to that the millions of Russia’s best and brightest who have fled, and the future is bleak.
The true scope of Russia’s casualties is also being kept from its people. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in November that Moscow’s casualties were “well over 100,000 Russian soldiers killed and wounded.” About 300,000 men have been pressed into cannon-fodder duty in the army and many more may follow.
It is possible that Mr. Putin might eventually seek a negotiated settlement, though that becomes ever more remote as the Ukrainians suffer ever greater destruction and loss, and as their determination not to cede an inch of their country deepens. For now, Mr. Putin seems to still believe he can bring Ukraine to its knees and dictate its fate, cost be damned.
In his public appearances, Mr. Putin still cultivates the image of a self-confident strongman. Where there are failures, it is the fault of underlings who do not obey his will. He played out that scene on Jan. 11, in his first televised meeting with government ministers in the new year, when he tore into Denis Manturov, deputy prime minister, over aircraft production figures Mr. Putin insisted were wrong and Mr. Manturov defended. Mr. Putin finally exploded, “What are you doing, really, playing the fool?” “Yest’,” Mr. Manturov finally said, the Russian equivalent of “Yes, sir.”
Russians have seen this act before in the Kremlin. They might do well to ponder whether, in this version, Mr. Putin is the omniscient czar and Mr. Manturov the bumbling functionary — the intended lesson — or whether they are being played for fools by Mr. Putin’s vanity, delusions and spitefulness.
The Wall Street Journal on national rent control
Ideas that start on the progressive fringes have a way of becoming government policy these days, as President Biden’s $400 billion student loan cancellation shows. Lo, Democrats in Congress are now pressing the President to impose rent control nationwide.
The White House is considering a series of executive actions that are ostensibly intended to protect tenants. Rents on average increased 17.6% in 2021 and another 3.8% last year. One culprit was near-zero interest rates while they lasted, which inflated housing prices and made it harder for young people to buy a home. The result: More demand for rental housing.
Landlords also raised rents to cover losses during the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic eviction moratorium. But rents have fallen for the past four months, and the nation’s rental stock is expected to expand this year by the most in four decades.
Progressives nonetheless want to use rising rents as a pretext to nationalize local housing policy. Fifty Democrats in Congress last week sent a letter urging Mr. Biden “to pursue all possible strategies to end corporate price gouging in the real estate sector and ensure that renters and people experiencing homelessness across this country are stably housed this winter.”
Some Democrats blame price-gouging for any price increase anywhere. But more than 70% of rental properties are owned by individuals, many of whom are seniors and live off the payments. They have to pay bills, too, including mortgage interest payments, property taxes, insurance and maintenance, all of which have increased with inflation.
Democrats want the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which supervises government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to establish “anti-price gouging protections” and “just cause eviction standards” in rental properties with government-backed mortgages. These are their euphemisms for rent control and eviction bans.
Democrats also want the Federal Trade Commission to issue “new regulation defining excessive rent increases” as an unfair trade practice. This would be an enormous usurpation of power since the FTC can only regulate interstate commerce and activities that affect it. Most landlords aren’t engaged in interstate commerce, and housing is regulated by states and localities.
Democrats also want the White House to dictate local housing policy by conditioning Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants on localities “mitigating cost burden and adopting anti-rent gouging measures.” So if cities want federal funds to build more housing for their homeless, they’d have to cap rents.
If there’s any consensus in economics it’s that rent control achieves the opposite of its intended goal. It leads to housing shortages by discouraging new development and maintenance of existing properties. Rents rise faster in properties not subject to controls. Even 60% of California voters rejected a ballot measure in 2020 to expand rent control. We can hope the White House pushes back against this economic destruction, but the last two years aren’t cause for optimism.
The Los Angeles Times on the GOP and George Santos
Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) quickly became a global punchline when his multiple, contradictory misrepresentations of his background were revealed after he was elected in November. But there’s nothing funny about Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s refusal to call on Santos to resign, as a few other Republicans have.
Santos was caught in lies about much of his biography. He didn’t graduate from — nor apparently even attended — the colleges listed on his resume, didn’t work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, and does not appear to be Jewish (as he has claimed) or descended from refugees who fled the Holocaust. (Left off the resume was a 2008 fraud charge in Brazil for allegedly using a stolen checkbook; Brazilian authorities recently said they would revive the charge now that they know Santos’ whereabouts.) There are also questions about the legality of his fundraising and spending.
Despite various investigations underway, he has been recommended by the House GOP Steering Committee for membership on the Small Business and the Science, Space and Technology committees.
It’s small consolation that Santos didn’t receive the more prestigious assignments he reportedly coveted on the Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees. (The Small Business Committee does exercise oversight of the Paycheck Protection Program established in response to business hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Moreover, McCarthy has pooh-poohed complaints about Santos’ conduct. Last week the speaker said: “I try to stick by the Constitution. The voters elected him to serve. If there is a concern, and he has to go through the Ethics (Committee), we’ll let him move through that.” This week the speaker acknowledged that he “always had a few questions” about Santos’ resume.
Santos is the subject of a complaint filed with the Ethics Committee by two Democratic House members, who called for an investigation of Santos “for violations of the Ethics in Government Act by failing to file timely, accurate, and complete financial disclosure reports as required by law.” He is also being investigated by local prosecutors on Long Island and, according to the New York Times, by federal prosecutors as well. Although Santos has admitted to “embellishing” his resume, he has otherwise denied any wrongdoing, saying, “I am not a criminal.”
Santos is obviously entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence, but the baroque misrepresentations he has admitted to — so-called “embellishments” — make clear that he doesn’t belong in the House. McCarthy, however, has refused to grasp that point, perhaps because a Santos resignation would shrink the Republicans’ already small House majority. Last week, McCarthy mused that “a lot of people here” had fabricated part of their resumes.
It’s true that other politicians have exaggerated their credentials, including President Biden years ago, which is why it’s unlikely that Congress will approve a Santos-inspired bill to require candidates for Congress to file information about their educational background, military service and employment history. A candidate who knowingly and willfully provided false information would be punished with a $100,000 fine, one year in prison, or both. (The legislation could also pose constitutional problems. For example, the Supreme Court has said that some laws that punish lying violate the 1st Amendment.) Still, Santos’ fabrications are so extensive and audacious as to put him in a mind-boggling class by himself.
Even so, Santos’ lies seem trivial compared with some of the outlandish and offensive statements made by other House Republicans, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has been assigned to House Homeland Security and Oversight committees after losing her committee assignments in the previous Congress. It’s clear that fringe figures and fabulists are welcome in the new House Republican majority.
China Daily on the U.S. and the Iranian nuclear deal
International efforts aimed at reviving the Iranian nuclear deal were largely stalled in 2022, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks on Tuesday that the United States no longer considers reaching an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program a priority paint a gloomier picture for the prospects of the multilateral agreement.
At a news conference in Washington alongside United Kingdom Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Blinken again put the blame on the Iranian side, alleging that Iran had long rejected the possibility of reviving the 2015 agreement, and warned Teheran of “consequences” for its actions.
Obviously, the Joe Biden administration is allowing the U.S.’ political differences with the Islamic state to overshadow international negotiations on keeping the nuclear deal alive. When US President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, he announced he had decided to reverse his predecessor’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and would rejoin it through rounds of indirect negotiations with Iran, alongside other relevant parties, starting in Vienna in April 2021.
But the Vienna talks were suspended in March due to political discord between Teheran and Washington and were only resumed after a five-month hiatus in August. In the most recent round of talks, the European Union put forward the final text of its draft proposal for reviving the JCPOA.
Indirect exchanges of views between Washington and Teheran on the E.U. proposal have so far failed to produce any favorable outcome. Worse, new developments in the international arena and inside Iran itself have been driving the two parties even further apart.
Not only Iran’s close ties with Russia but also the protests in Iran have drawn the ire of Washington. The latest U.S. stance on the Iran deal sent a worrying signal that the U.S. is backpedaling from its previous commitment that it would rejoin the multilateral agreement. The now-they-are-on, now-they-are-off talks in Vienna have already raised international concerns that the Iran nuclear deal is now dead in the water. But the Iranian foreign minister said on Tuesday that an agreement on the revival of the nuclear deal is within reach if the U.S. stops setting new conditions and acts realistically.
As the party which imperiled the international agreement in the first place, the U.S. should put international denuclearization above its political calculations and engage with sincerity in talks with Iran.
For the process of reviving the Iran deal to go smoothly in the new year, the bickering parties should honor the commitments they have agreed to and refrain from taking reckless and unilateral moves so as to create the right conditions for the talks to achieve a breakthrough and yield positive results.
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