Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on the Kigali Amendment:
It’s rare for a climate change measure to win full-throated support from industry groups, environmental activists and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Ratifying the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol would bolster U.S. manufacturing and show U.S. commitment to climate leadership — a true win-win. Yet even the most innocuous climate proposals tend to die in Congress, as politicians seek opportunities to score points with their base by engaging in climate demagoguery. For once, that might not happen — and on a measure that promises to do a lot of good, as the Senate prepares to vote this week on the Kigali Amendment.
The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 and ratified by the United States a year later, was a landmark agreement among world governments to phase out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances, particularly chlorofluorocarbons used in household devices such as refrigerators and air conditioners. A related class of substances, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), emerged as a popular substitute. While these chemicals do not damage the ozone layer, they act as extremely potent greenhouse gases, trapping heat in the atmosphere 1,000 times more effectively than carbon dioxide.
After more than a decade of talks — and significant engagement from President Barack Obama — global negotiators agreed in 2016 on an amendment to the Montreal Protocol that would phase out HFCs and, in so doing, prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. The Kigali Amendment, named for the capital of Rwanda where it was hashed out, was backed by the chemical industry, which had already invested heavily in alternatives. U.S. manufacturers hoped to leverage their strengths in research and development to roll out next-generation products and edge out competitors in overseas markets. A 2018 report by the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, a trade association, estimated that this could generate more than 30,000 U.S. jobs.
The amendment has since been ratified or accepted by 137 nations, including China and India. Yet U.S. ratification stalled during the Trump administration, which was hostile both to multilateral treaties and to climate action. President Biden revived efforts last year, sending the amendment to the Senate for ratification in November. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved it in May, and Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) set it up for a vote this week. Full passage of the amendment would require approval from two-thirds of the senators present.
This should be a no-brainer. The Kigali Amendment’s phase-out timeline is already part of U.S. policy: The 2020 American Innovation and Manufacturing Act directed the Environmental Protection Agency to set new rules on HFCs, and the EPA issued regulation last year that would bring the United States into compliance with the amendment. But Senate approval would ensure the country will avoid trade restrictions for non-ratifying countries, set to begin in 2033, and would safeguard U.S. companies’ access to expanding international markets.
More immediately, enshrining the international protocol would signal that the United States is committed to international climate policy — and demonstrate the commitment is at least somewhat bipartisan. This would give the United States more credibility as it presses other nations to make their own climate commitments, which is the only way to tackle climate change. The Senate should not hesitate to ratify a measure that is good for the economy, the environment — and U.S. global leadership.
The Los Angeles Times on a federal 15-week abortion ban:
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June, striking down a constitutionally guaranteed right to abortion and directing decisions on abortion to be made by the states, Republican lawmakers hailed that approach. But no one — neither abortion rights supporters nor abortion opponents — expected GOP members of Congress to stop the assault on reproductive rights, no matter what they said.
And now they have gone further. As if the chaos of a post-Roe nation of restrictions varying from state to state weren’t grim enough, now we have the makings of a nightmare: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday introduced a nationwide 15-week abortion ban known as the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act. This is a very restrictive abortion ban that is based on the premise that fetuses can feel pain at 15 weeks — a belief soundly rejected by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Graham has done voters a favor, in a sense, by starkly illuminating the stakes in the upcoming midterm elections. This bill will get a vote in Congress if Republicans win back control of the House and Senate, he vowed.
Not only does this give lie to the Republican talking point praising the court for turning abortion laws over to the states, it defies what most voters support. In a Pew poll conducted before the June 24 decision in Dobbs vs. Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe, most U.S. adults said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
A later Pew poll showed that most Americans (57%) disagreed with the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs and that 62% believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Think about that: If a similar percentage of senators agreed with Americans, that would be enough votes to break the Senate filibuster and pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, codifying a nationwide right to abortion.
Graham’s bill is not a compromise between what abortion opponents want and what a majority of Americans said they support. How does he square his proposal for a national 15-week ban after saying in May that it was fair to return the decision-making to the states? Not very well. Graham said that because Democrats had introduced a bill codifying a national right to abortion (which the Senate rejected), he was going to introduce a counterproposal showing where Republicans stand. That’s ridiculous. Democratic lawmakers never embraced the Dobbs decision as Republicans did.
Most abortions are performed during the first trimester — which ends after 12 weeks of gestation. This bill would disallow abortions just three weeks into the second trimester and long before viability (starting at roughly at 23 to 24 weeks), which was the cut-off for abortions under Roe except under special circumstances. And as more states ban abortion even earlier in a pregnancy, it will force people to travel farther to get an abortion in another state. In some cases, what would have been a first-trimester abortion when Roe was in place now becomes a second-trimester abortion due solely to circumstances.
The bill allows for exceptions for rape and for incest against minors (provided they’ve met the requirements for counseling and legal reporting) and in cases when the pregnant person’s life is endangered.
But we’ve seen how little those exceptions truly protect pregnant individuals in states with severe restrictions. There are already harrowing stories of people with ectopic pregnancies, severe fetal abnormalities and infections being forced to continue pregnancies that endanger their lives because doctors and hospital administrators are too scared to decide when a medical or a health emergency overrides a law. A ban like this only threatens the ability of pregnant people to access the healthcare they need.
This bill doesn’t supersede the even more restrictive or total abortion bans in effect in more than a dozen states so far. But it would override the more permissive laws that allow abortions roughly up to viability, or beyond, in states such as California, Washington, Oregon, New York and Illinois. And that’s what Graham and abortion opponents really want — a country that essentially refuses pregnant people the right to control their own bodies and lives.
This bill faces hurdles to become a law. If Republicans win a majority in Congress, they’d still need 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster in the Senate — and even more to override a veto by President Biden. But no one who cares about a person’s right to bodily autonomy should take for granted the danger this bill presents to the American public. It’s imperative that on Nov. 8, voters in every state remember this as they choose their next representatives in Congress.
The Wall Street Journal asks whether the pandemic is over or not:
President Biden finally dared to say it on Sunday, declaring in an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that the “pandemic is over.” Various public-health eminences are saying he’s wrong, but his comments recognize the reality of the disease at this stage and the public mood. The trouble is that his Administration still hasn’t lifted its official finding of a COVID public-health emergency.
Eric Topol, the Scripps Research Translational Institute director who is one of America’s leading COVID scolds, tweeted “Wish this was true. What’s over is @POTUS’s and our government’s will to get ahead of it, with magical thinking on the new bivalent boosters. Ignores #LongCovid, inevitability of new variants, and our current incapability for blocking infections and transmission.”
But global COVID deaths in the first week of September were the lowest since March 2020 when the World Health Organization declared COVID a pandemic, and even Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week said “the end is in sight.”
COVID has become significantly less lethal as most people in the U.S. and world have gained some level of immunity from vaccination or infection. About 400 Americans each day have been dying from COVID this summer, but most are elderly or have other medical ailments. It’s still important to protect the vulnerable.
But for most Americans, COVID is no worse than a bad flu. “If you are up-to-date on your vaccines today, and you avail yourself of the treatments, your chances of dying (from) COVID are vanishingly rare and certainly much lower than your risk of getting into trouble with the flu,” White House COVID response coordinator Ashish Jha told National Public Radio.
But if that’s right, why hasn’t the President also declared an end to the public-health and national emergencies? If the pandemic is over, then so is the emergency. Yet the Administration continues to extend the public-health emergency that was first declared in January 2020.
The reason is almost certainly money. A March 2020 COVID law enables the government to hand out billions of dollars in welfare benefits to millions of people as long as the emergency is in effect. This includes more generous food stamps and a restriction on state work requirements. It also limits states from removing from their Medicaid rolls individuals who are otherwise no long financially eligible. The Foundation for Government Accountability estimates these ineligibles cost nearly $16 billion a month.
Most outrageous, only weeks ago the Administration used a separate national emergency declaration related to the pandemic to legally justify canceling some $500 billion in student debt. An Education Department Office of the General Counsel memo says the pandemic and national emergency enable the Education Secretary to modify federal student aid requirements under the 2003 Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act.
Mr. Biden seems to want it both ways. He wants to reassure Americans tired of restrictions on their way of life that the pandemic is over and they can get on with their lives. But he wants to retain the official emergency so he can continue to expand the welfare state and force states to comply. COVID can’t be an emergency only when it’s politically useful.
The Guardian on Brazil’s election:
Four years ago, many Brazilians regarded the prospect of a victory for the far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro first with incredulity and then — rightly — with horror. As the Oct. 2 election approaches, the fear that he will remain in power is greater still. He has proved a reckless and incompetent leader and remains a menace to democracy and the planet – egging on those destroying the Amazon rainforest, who are currently redoubling their efforts at the prospect of losing their champion. His main rival, the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is more than 15 percentage points ahead in the latest major poll. The danger is that Mr. Bolsonaro regards the actual vote as something of an irrelevance. Around a million citizens – including leading figures from business, politics, science and the arts – have signed a manifesto warning that democracy faces “immense danger”.
Mr. Bolsonaro has abruptly cut fuel taxes, sent monthly cash transfers to poor families and is wooing evangelical churches devotedly again, while smearing his essentially pragmatic leftist rival — who was jailed for corruption but then saw his convictions quashed – as a crazed ideologue.
But while double-digit inflation and high unemployment may have peaked, a victory at the polls for Mr. Bolsonaro looks unlikely. His last minute handouts are viewed cynically. Brazil lost 684,000 lives to COVID-19 as the president mocked masks and vaccines and dismissed the threat. His family’s finances are under renewed scrutiny after a Brazilian news group claimed that he and close relatives bought 107 properties over three decades – paying for at least 51 of them in cash. Opposition is unifying, with the former environment minister and presidential candidate Marina Silva rallying behind Lula.
Mr. Bolsonaro, stabbed a month before 2018’s election, should know the cost of political violence better than anyone, yet continues to use aggressive rhetoric and spread hatred: “Buy your guns! It’s in the Bible!” he told supporters last month. Thanks to his relaxation of laws, the number of firearms in private hands has doubled to two million. The last two months have seen the killings of a local official for Lula’s Workers’ party and of another of its backers by supporters of Mr. Bolsonaro, who have also attacked other rallies and threatened politicians with guns.
Opponents fear not only pre-election violence but also a Trump-style bid to hang on to power in defiance of the electorate. Significant progress has been made in tackling disinformation in the country. But millions of diehard supporters are likely to see a defeat only as evidence that they have been cheated. Faced with the prospect not only of losing, but potentially of jail, the president has already claimed that the voting system is unreliable. He has previously declared that his future holds only prison, death or victory — and has told supporters: “The army is on our side.”
The claim is especially chilling given Brazil’s relatively recent history of military dictatorship. Though few accept his sweeping assertion, there is real concern that he could find significant support within the armed forces. A clear, outright victory for Lula, ideally in the first round but more likely in a runoff, is the best result for Brazilian democracy and the planet. Other countries must make it clear that they will not tolerate any attempt by Mr. Bolsonaro to cheat, bully or menace his way to a second term.