Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Dec. 21

The Washington Post on Trump’s tax records

In 2020, President Donald Trump and Melania Trump paid no federal income taxes by claiming millions in dubious deductions and carrying over losses from previous years.

Somehow, that’s not the most scandalous detail to emerge following the House’s four-year legal brawl to obtain Mr. Trump’s tax returns. It turns out the Internal Revenue Service did not conduct — let alone complete — mandatory examinations of Mr. Trump’s returns while he was president, despite its own internal policy from 1977 requiring such reviews and the White House’s claims that they were happening. A report by the House Ways and Means Committee, released after members voted Tuesday to make Mr. Trump’s filings public, proposes codifying into law the norm that every president since Richard M. Nixon had observed, until Mr. Trump: the routine release of presidential tax returns.

In April 2019, on the very day the committee inquired about the status of mandatory presidential audits, the IRS notified Mr. Trump that his 2015 return would be examined. But the audit was assigned mainly to one agent, and Mr. Trump threw sand in the gears. The lone IRS employee had to review a return that included over 400 pass-through entities, numerous schedules, foreign tax credits and millions in carried-over losses from previous years.

An accompanying report from the Joint Committee on Taxation, summarizing Mr. Trump’s returns, raises questions about several deductions he’s claimed. For example, he took a $21.1 million deduction in 2015 for donating 158 acres of real estate but had no qualified appraisal for the land. He also reported making cash donations of more than $500,000 in 2018 and 2019 without substantiation, according to the report.

An internal IRS memo said Mr. Trump’s taxes were so complicated that “it is not possible to obtain the resources available to examine all potential issues.” In other words, even if the agency wanted, it lacked the resources for a thorough review. The congressional report recommends that the IRS assign two senior agents, as well as specialists on partnerships, foreign transactions and financial products, to ensure all presidential audits are complete and timely. This is a no-brainer.

Alas, this problem is bigger than Mr. Trump. Former IRS commissioner Charles Rettig has testified the agency lacks the resources to closely scrutinize the filings of many people in Mr. Trump’s stratum. “We get outgunned routinely,” he said. No American should be too big to audit.

Fortunately, the Inflation Reduction Act provided $79 billion for IRS modernization, including expanded resources to wade through complex returns from high-income taxpayers. Paying taxes is a responsibility of citizenship. Taking steps to ensure presidents pay what they owe, by requiring mandatory audits and returning to the norm of releasing presidential returns, would help restore public confidence that tax laws are administered fairly and applied equally.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/12/21/trump-tax-records-irs-scandals/

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Dec. 24

The New York Times on taking on extremism in the U.S.

Whoever shot the small steel ball through the front window of the Brewmaster’s Taproom in Renton, Wash., this month wasn’t taking chances. The person wore a mask and removed the front and rear license plates of a silver Chevrolet Cruze. The police still have no leads.

The bar’s owner, Marley Rall, thought the motivation seemed clear: The attack followed social media posts from conservatives angry about the bar’s Drag Queen Storytime and Bingo, slated for the following weekend.

The Taproom sits in a two-story office park a 15-minute drive from downtown Seattle. It has a little outside patio and about two dozen local craft beers on tap. Dogs are welcome. A sign on the door reads: “I don’t drink beer with racists. #blacklivesmatter.” Now there’s also a note with an arrow pointing to the hole in the window reading: “What intolerance looks like.”

Over the past two years, criticism of the bar’s long-running monthly Drag Queen Storytime had been limited to nasty voice mail messages and emails. But talk on right-wing message boards has turned much darker, Ms. Rall said. One post this month about the Taproom event read: “Drag Queen Storytime Protest. STOP Grooming Kids! Bring signs, bullhorns, noisemakers.”

Ms. Rall knew how protests like this could escalate. There was an incident in 2019 at a library drag queen story hour about 10 minutes from the bar, where members of the Proud Boys and other paramilitary groups got into a shouting match with supporters of the event.

Was the shot at the Taproom a warning? She had no way to know, so she kept the event on the calendar.

Sitting in a corner of the Taproom a few hours before her story time was set to begin, Sylvia O’Stayformore said she didn’t care if the Proud Boys showed up to an event that was aimed at teaching children empathy. Protesters or not, she had a show to put on. “I’d never be intimidated by all this,” she said.

Far-right activists have been waging a nationwide campaign of harassment against L.G.B.T.Q. people and events in which they participate. Drag queen story events are similar to other public readings for children, except that readers dress in a highly stylized and gender-fluid manner and often read books that focus on acceptance and tolerance. This month alone, drag queen events were the target of protests in Grand Prairie, Texas; San Antonio; Fall River, Mass.; Columbus, Ohio; Southern Pines, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Lakeland, Fla.; Chicago; Long Island; and Staten Island.

On Monday, protesters vandalized the home of a gay New York City councilor with homophobic graffiti and attacked one of his neighbors in protest of drag queen story hours held at libraries.

The protests use the language of right-wing media, where demonizing gay and transgender people is profitable and popular. Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host who rails against transgender people and the medical facilities that serve them, has the highest-rated prime-time cable news program in the country. Twitter personalities with millions of followers flag drag events and spread anti-trans rhetoric that can result in in-person demonstrations or threats. Facebook pages of activist groups can mobilize demonstrators with ease.

Some Republican lawmakers are using the power of the state in service of the same cause. Several states are trying to restrict or ban public drag shows altogether, amid a record number of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. bills introduced this year. Republican politicians also used a barrage of lies about trans people in their campaign ads during the midterm elections, funded to the tune of at least $50 million, according to a report released in October from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

This campaign isn’t happening in a vacuum. Levels of political violence are on the rise across the country, and while some of it comes from the left, a majority comes from the right, where violent rhetoric that spurs actual violence is routine and escalating. At anti-L.G.B.T.Q. events, sign-waving protesters are increasingly joined by members of the street-fighting Proud Boys and other right-wing paramilitary groups. Their presence increases the risk of such encounters turning violent.

In a series of editorials, this board has argued for a concerted national effort against political violence. It would require cracking down on paramilitary groups, tracking extremists in law enforcement, creating a healthier culture around guns and urging the Republican Party to push fringe ideas to the fringes. Every American citizen has a part to play, and the most important thing we all can do is to demand that in every community, we treat our neighbors — and their civil liberties and human rights — with respect.

One way to do that is to call out and reject the dehumanizing language that has become so pervasive in online discussions, and in real life, about particular groups of people. Calling L.G.B.T.Q. people pedophiles is an old tactic, and it makes ignoring or excusing any violence that may come their way easier. While direct calls for violence are beyond the pale for most Republican politicians, and the causes of specific violent acts are not easily traced, calling transgender people pedophiles or “groomers” is increasingly common and usually goes unchallenged.

Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, released a TV ad recently in which he said: “The radical left will destroy America if we don’t stop them. They indoctrinate children and try to turn boys into girls.” A conservative activist group recently ran ads in several states, including one that said, “Transgenderism is killing kids.” This year, as Florida lawmakers debated the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida posted on Twitter: “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity.”

The silence from a great majority of Republicans on the demonization of, and lies about, trans people has indeed meant complicity — complicity in what experts call stochastic terrorism, in which vicious rhetoric increases the likelihood of random violence against the people who are the subject of the abusive language and threats.

Drag queen story hours aren’t the only current target for right-wing extremists. On Aug. 30, an operator at Boston Children’s Hospital, a pioneer in providing gender-affirming care, answered the telephone at about 7:45 p.m. and received a disturbing threat. “There is a bomb on the way to the hospital,” the caller said. “You better evacuate everyone, you sickos.” It was the first of seven bomb threats the hospital received over several months. The most recent came on Dec. 14.

After extremists posted online the address of a physician who works with trans children at the hospital, the doctor had to flee the home. “These have been some of the hardest months of my life,” the doctor said.

Around the country, at least 24 hospitals or medical facilities in 21 states have been harassed or threatened in the wake of right-wing media attacks, according to a tally this month by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. To protect their employees, some hospitals are stripping information about the transgender services they provide from their websites. The messages that appear to trigger these attacks are often outlandish lies about what care these medical facilities actually provide. As a result, many hospitals feel they have no choice but to protect their staff, even if it means making the care they provide less visible. Removal of official information creates a risk that more disinformation could fill the void.

Given the transnational nature of extremism, these threats can come from anywhere. The F.B.I. arrested three people in connection with the various threats against Boston doctors. One person lived in Massachusetts, another in Texas and the third in Canada.

Data collected by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which tracks political violence, puts the harassment of hospitals into a wider, troubling context. Acts of political violence against the entire L.G.B.T.Q. community have more than tripled since 2021; anti-L.G.B.T.Q. demonstrations have more than doubled in the same period. And the nature of the intimidation is changing: Protesters dressed as civilians have been replaced by men in body armor and fatigues; signs have been replaced by semiautomatic rifles.

Even dictionary publishers have become targets. This year, a California man was arrested for threatening to shoot up and bomb the offices of Merriam-Webster because he was angry about its definitions related to gender identity.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/24/opinion/anti-trans-violence.html

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Dec. 23

The Wall Street Journal on Congress on proxy voting:

The House of Representatives spent Friday passing the $1.65 trillion omnibus spending blowout, and the bill is loaded with earmarks and pet priorities from healthcare to public lands that few Members have bothered to read. This is no way to run a government, and compounding the embarrassment is that half of the lawmakers had already ditched Washington for the holidays.

The House had roughly 230 “active proxy letters” on Friday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi through a rule change allowed Members to vote by proxy in 2020, a putatively temporary measure to mitigate the risks of Covid-19. But the reprieve has been renewed every 45 days for more than two years and is now an all-purpose excuse to go AWOL.

Members sign a letter, available on the House clerk’s website, that says they are “unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency,” and designate a colleague to cast their vote. But no one even bothers anymore to fake a cough or pretend the absence has anything to do with Covid-19. Mrs. Pelosi told a CNN reporter on Friday that the mass sick day is “related to the weather more than anything else.”

Members sometimes missed votes pre-Covid, and voters can judge for themselves whether a snowstorm is a fair reason for their Representative to leave Washington early. But it should give Americans more pause that so many Members of Congress are so cavalier about misrepresenting the reason they won’t be at roll call.

The abuse is bipartisan, and Members from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene availed themselves of proxy letters this week. Business Insider reports that Ms. Greene is vacationing in Costa Rica.

An October CQ Roll Call analysis found that a dozen House Democrats cast more than half their votes by proxy. Retiring members are particular offenders, and a joke in the press is that they are “quiet quitting.” The Roll Call report noted that voting by proxy is more common on days Members are showing up or leaving town. Is it easier to get Covid on a Friday?

GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said on Friday that the Republican House in January would repeal “proxy voting once and for all,” though it may not be easy to herd his colleagues back into the chamber now that they’ve grown accustomed to weighing in from afar.

But the $1.65 trillion spending bill touches every corner of policy from education to national defense. The least elected officials could do is show up to debate the merits.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-house-pretends-to-calls-in-sick-congress-proxy-voting-nancy-pelosi-omnibus-bill-11671833628

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Dec. 22

The Los Angeles Times on the U.S. Postal Service:

It’s the time of year when we see a lot more mail trucks trundling through neighborhoods as letter carriers work hard to deliver everyone’s holiday cards and packages on time.

But this season we have something new to celebrate: The U.S. Postal Service’s announcement this week that it will spend billions of dollars to buy tens of thousands of electric delivery vehicles over the next few years. It’s a victory in the fight against climate change and a welcome shift by an agency that until recently had intended to update its huge, aging fleet with another generation of gas guzzlers. It’s also a win for public health, as a growing number of zero-emission mail trucks will soon start to deliver not only letters and packages, but cleaner air to every corner of the nation.

The Postal Service will buy 106,000 delivery vehicles by 2028, of which 66,000 will be electric, and plans to purchase zero-emission delivery trucks exclusively by 2026. The $9.6-billion plan is a dramatic change from earlier this year, when Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who was appointed during the Trump administration, planned to make only 10% of the next-generation fleet electric and add as many as 165,000 new gas-guzzling delivery trucks over the next decade that get less than 9 miles per gallon. That would have been a huge mistake considering these vehicles last 30 years and could be on the roads polluting the air and warming the climate into the 2060s.

The Biden administration, which does not have direct control over the Postal Service, pushed back nonetheless. California, New York and more than a dozen other states filed suit in April to halt the purchase of gas-powered trucks, joining environmental groups in demanding investments in clean, zero-emission vehicles instead.

California’s intervention “played a big part in stopping USPS from committing to decades of air pollution around the nation,” said Liane Randolph, who chairs the state Air Resources Board.

While the Postal Service will need to do more to fully electrify its aging fleet of more than 220,000 vehicles, this move helps put us closer to achieving President Biden’s climate goals, including an order he issued last year for the federal government to purchase only zero-emission vehicles by 2035, and to do so by 2027 for light-duty vehicles. The nation’s largest vehicle fleet now has the potential to become its largest electric one too. Instead of lagging behind private-sector companies such as Amazon and FedEx, the Postal Service can help lead the way toward a zero-emission future.

Mail delivery trucks are especially well-suited for electrification because they run defined, local routes with low daily mileage and have hours of operation that allow them to be easily recharged. Because these vehicles serve virtually every community, electrifying them will bring widespread benefits, curbing air pollution while reducing fuel and maintenance costs and our dependence on oil.

It seems especially significant that something as ordinary and ubiquitous as the white mail truck will now help the nation blaze a trail toward a fossil-free future through every neighborhood in the country. And we won’t have to wait for years either. The new vehicles are expected to go into service on postal routes in late 2023.

That’s a gift we should all welcome this holiday season and enjoy for years to come.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-12-22/postal-service-electric-vehicles

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Dec. 22

The Guardian on Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington:

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s highly choreographed visit to Washington was a significant international moment. Not long ago, Mr. Zelenskyy had been adamant that his place was always on the frontline with his people. This week, however, he made a lightning trip in person, via Poland, to Washington itself, meeting President Joe Biden at the White House and delivering a primetime address to the U.S. Congress before heading back into his suffering country less than 24 hours later.

The visit was much more than a Christmas celebration of Ukraine’s defiance and of Mr. Zelenskyy’s immense role in it. Instead, it was a political event with important future implications for Ukraine, the United States and Russia, and for the conflict more generally. It was clearly focused on what should happen in 2023 rather than what has happened already.

Mr. Zelenskyy had three principal objectives. The first was to rally American and, by extension, global support. The second was to intervene at a pivotal moment in the war and in U.S. politics to advance that effort. The third was to make an ambitious pitch for even more financial and military support from the only state that is in a position to supply it, and thus to strengthen Ukraine’s resistance during a bitter winter, with the prospect of fresh fighting in the spring.

In public, Mr. Zelenskyy produced another media-savvy performance, especially in his address to Congress. He spent every hour in Washington in his iconic olive-green fatigues, and emphasized the immediacy of his cause by presenting Congress with a battlefield Ukrainian flag that he had collected from soldiers on the frontline in Bakhmut on Tuesday. He skillfully mixed gratitude with fresh requests for support. U.S. aid and support was not charity, he insisted, but an investment in the “global security and democracy” for which the U.S. and its allies stand.

It is clear that the Biden administration agrees with that. The deeper questions of the visit, however, are how urgently Washington wants that investment to bear fruit and what price it is willing to pay. Weapons and money are the twin keys to the answer. Mr. Biden and his aides will have assured Mr. Zelenskyy that the U.S. wants Russia to be defeated in Ukraine. But they will also have told him that they do not want a wider conflict and that they may have a different definition of what defeat could look like.

The toughest arguments behind closed doors will have focused on Ukraine’s demands for more and better weaponry, and on the terms to be set for ending the conflict. At home, though, finance is an even bigger political issue for Mr. Biden. The U.S. has already spent more than $48bn on humanitarian, financial and military support; another $2bn in military aid was announced during the visit. The administration also aims to get another aid package, worth almost $45bn, through Congress before the Republicans take over the House of Representatives in January.

The US domestic political question is whether bipartisan support continues in January. Mr. Zelenskyy’s visit was in large part directed towards ensuring that it does. But the real issues this week will have been military and strategic. Russia is preparing a fresh ground assault, perhaps during winter. Another Ukrainian counterattack is expected too. Mr. Zelenskyy is the hero of the hour. But Washington is increasingly looking towards an endgame in 2023. The end of the conflict is increasingly in the US’s hands, not just those of Russia and Ukraine.

Some on both sides of the Atlantic made the comparison between Mr. Zelenskyy’s wartime flight from Kyiv this week and Winston Churchill’s visit to Washington after Pearl Harbor in 1941. For that comparison to be intellectually useful rather than merely sentimental, it is important to remember that Churchill’s visit marked the moment in the second world war when the U.S. began to take charge of the allied cause in Europe. The same thing may be true this time over Ukraine.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/dec/22/the-guardian-view-on-zelenskiy-in-washington-a-pivotal-moment

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