Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to replace retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court:
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to replace retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court comes at a tense moment. It could drastically shift the court’s tenuous ideological balance, and it comes not long after Senate Republicans disgracefully blocked President Barack Obama from making a court pick in his final year. More than ever, the court is in danger of becoming viewed as an instrument of politics rather than an independent, nonpartisan branch of government.
That is why senators must be even more exacting than usual when they evaluate Mr. Kavanaugh. They should insist on a justice who would rule with modesty and genuine independence of mind — and a willingness to resist abuses of power by this and future presidents. “I believe that an independent judiciary is the crown jewel of our constitutional republic,” Mr. Kavanaugh said following his introduction. He must show he means it.
Mr. Kavanaugh meets the basic qualifications for high court service. A Yale Law School graduate who clerked for Mr. Kennedy, he has served for 12 years on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The country certainly could have expected worse from President Trump. Yet Mr. Kavanaugh came from a list of potential nominees preapproved by conservative activist groups. Their goal is to tilt the court as far right as possible as quickly as possible.
Mr. Trump’s first nominee, Neil M. Gorsuch, was, in his confirmation hearings, the least forthcoming Supreme Court nominee in recent memory. Mr. Kavanaugh must do better. Fortunately, he comes with a huge record.
On hot-button questions, Mr. Kavanaugh has trended conservative on issues such as abortion, indicating a narrow view of what constitutes an undue burden on a woman’s right to end her pregnancy, and the Obamacare contraception mandate, though his take on the mandate was somewhat more conciliatory than right-wing activists would prefer. A nemesis of the administrative state, he has frequently voted against the Environmental Protection Agency, arguing that programs to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions and cross-border air pollution went further than the law allowed; in each case he took an overly narrow view of the statute. Mr. Kavanaugh seems less willing to grant executive agencies leeway in interpreting Congress’s instructions than the Supreme Court has typically shown. Senators must explore how far this philosophy extends.
They should also press Mr. Kavanaugh on when, if ever, the court should overturn precedents. Because Federalist Society officials pre-vetted potential nominees, senators should inquire about concepts the society espouses, such as originalism and textualism. What happens when the original meaning of a law is not clear, or when there was dispute about its meaning at the time it was written?
Most importantly, senators must extract an ironclad commitment that Mr. Kavanaugh will act as a check on the president. That’s a role he has not seemed comfortable playing in cases involving enemy combatants, or in a law review article suggesting that the president should not be subject to civil or criminal court proceedings while in office. There is always a danger that justices will be seen as loyal to the presidents and parties that installed them; that danger is particularly pronounced now, as Mr. Trump ignores traditional boundaries on presidential action and the Republican Party mostly enables his autocratic instincts.
Just as Democrats should not have ruled out Mr. Trump’s pick before it was announced, Republicans should not duck their responsibility to bring a critical eye to the coming confirmation process.
The Telegraph of London on the rescue of 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave network in Thailand:
The extraordinary rescue of the 12 young footballers and their coach from a flooded cave network in Thailand is a magnificent story of human indomitability and ingenuity. The most eagerly followed rescue mission since 33 Chilean miners were trapped for weeks underground ended happily, after divers brought the rest of the trapped group to the surface. Tragically, the one fatality of the mission was of a Navy rescuer who ran out of oxygen.
The involvement of children in this drama made it even more poignant. Who did not think of the parents anxiously waiting for their offspring to ?be found alive and then to be brought out against the odds, with oxygen levels falling and water levels rising? The Thai authorities, and its military in particular, performed superbly, helped by volunteer divers from around the world, including the UK.
There is something compelling about such rescues and the race against time. Those old enough will remember the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission and how the world watched on with bated breath as the spacecraft was guided back to earth. The Thai rescue inevitably attracted news media from across the globe for what was an intensely human drama.
After a few days recovery the children will be reunited with their parents and, we hope, restored to a normal life. The Chilean story did not end particularly well: after they were freed the miners found it hard to get work and fell out over a film made of their ordeal. One said: “We were simple working men who went down a mine and came up into a circus, And then the world forgot about us.” For the Thai boys just getting out is enough.
The Miami Herald says the president of Haiti must stand up and lead following unrest:
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse doesn’t have a mandate and he doesn’t have a coalition. What he does have is a mess on his hands.
Destructive protests recently erupted after the government announced major increases in fuel prices, part of Haiti’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund to secure its assistance.
The increases translated into 51 per cent more for kerosene, used by the poorest residents; 47 per cent more for diesel; and 38 per cent more for gasoline. Such steep price hikes would be daunting in far wealthier countries. But in Haiti, the poorest nation in the hemisphere, they’re an impossibly high hurdle.
Moïse made things worse by failing to address the resentment and unrest until long after tires were burning and windows smashed in the capital of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haiten to the north. By the time Moïse’s announced that the fuel price increases were postponed, the damage was done — especially to his presidency.
In February, Haitian officials agreed to reduce subsidies for fuel as part of an IMF assistance package. They also agreed to spend more on social services and infrastructure and to improve tax collection. Though the government had been hinting that increases loomed, there was little effort to really make the case.
Moïse’s election in the fall of 2016 remains controversial. Infighting roiled the Provisional Electoral Council, charged with validating the election results. So the president is standing on a shaky foundation.
He’s going to have to speed up his learning curve if he is to be an effective president, especially for Haitians who have been plunged deeper into poverty. He has sought more autonomy over foreign aid, rightly complaining that the billions poured into Haiti since the 2010 earthquake have been squandered, with little improvement to show for it.
But early in his tenure, he also defended Venezuela when the Organization of American States called for that dictatorship to be suspended from the body.
The fuel-price increases may have been the final blow, erupting in fiery protests. However, people’s resentment has been building. When United Nations peacekeepers left in 2017 after more than 20 years, the money they spent in restaurants, grocery stores and the like went with them. (Unfortunately, Haiti still is challenged by the cholera they left behind.) NGOs, too, are pulling out, taking revenue. Unemployment is bad, so is inequality. And despite the understandably raw anger that fueled the weekend’s unrest, Haitian rioters attacked many businesses that provided them desperately needed jobs.
Moïse must confront the anger, communicating hard truths to people. He cannot afford to alienate his nation’s funders, and he will have to take responsibility for how aid is spent. He’ll have to woo private investment, which unrest makes more difficult.
And he’s got more challenges on the way. If the Trump administration does not extend Temporary Protected Status to thousands of Haitians, mainly in South Florida. Otherwise they will be required to return to Haiti, needing work and unable to send the remittances from the good jobs that they had here.
Moïse is going to have to abandon his go-it-alone, I-know-best approach and do the hard work of tilling the political and constituent soil. That’s not just a hackneyed analogy; before running for president, Moïse was a banana plantation owner with no political experience whatsoever. He must learn to be a leader for his campaign promises to bear fruit.
Orange County Register says Congress is unwilling to do anything about unsustainable federal spending:
The Government Accountability Office has once again warned Congress that the federal government’s current fiscal trajectory is “unsustainable.”
In a report submitted to Congress on June 21, the GAO notes the federal deficit has continued to grow every year in the last few years. In fiscal year 2015, the federal deficit was $439 billion, in fiscal year 2016 it was $587 billion and in fiscal year 2017 it was $666 billion.
While federal receipts were noted by the CBO to have increased $48 billion in the 2017 fiscal year, such increases were “outweighed by a $127 billion increase in spending, driven by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and interest on debt held by the public.”
Interest on the national debt, Social Security and Medicare spending have been projected by both the GAO and the Congressional Budget Office to continue to be the biggest drivers of government spending moving forward.
The GAO report cites projections by the CBO that “increased costs in Medicare, Social Security, and net interest will account for more than two-thirds of the approximately $3 trillion increase in total federal spending over the next 10 years.”
The aging population is sure to continue driving higher health-care-related spending for some time, absent policy changes of the sort Congress has yet to show any appetite for.
Meanwhile, the national debt, and the cost of interest on the debt, will continue to bloat and therefore further constrain future policymakers. The GAO notes that growing debt and rising interest rates will increase the cost of interest payments on the national debt.
Practically, the GAO cites CBO estimates that net interest costs in 2018 will be $316 billion. If nothing is done to alter this trajectory, it is projected that by 2028 the federal government “will spend more on net interest than it will spend on either defence or nondefense discretionary outlays.” And by 2046, net interest costs alone will rise to 21.6 per cent of total federal spending under one of the GAO’s projections.
“These policymakers.face a federal government highly leveraged in debt by historical norms and on an unsustainable long-term fiscal path caused by a structural imbalance between revenue and spending, absent a change in fiscal policy,” the GAO wrote in a letter accompany the report.
Will Congress do anything about it? There’s no reason to believe so.
On June 20, the Senate couldn’t even trim $15 billion in spending authority, with two Republicans joining the Democrats in voting down the “rescission” package. Only about $1.1 billion in savings would’ve actually been realized, but that was apparently too difficult for the Senate.
As is often the case, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said what needed to be said on this failure of the Senate to exercise a minute amount of responsibility. “Our $21 trillion debt poses the greatest danger to our national security and is only getting worse by the minute,” said Paul after the vote. “It is time for Congress to grow up and acknowledge that government won’t be able to do anyone any good or fund any politician’s priority when it goes broke.”
Los Angeles Times says President Donald Trump needs to reassure NATO that he is not looking for a divorce:
President Trump participates in his second NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday, but as is so often the case, his tweets have preceded him. On Tuesday, he took to Twitter to complain: “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!”
Trump isn’t the first president to urge North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states to spend more on defence, and it’s a fact that only a few of the 29 countries in the alliance spend anything close to the 2% of gross domestic product established as a 10-year-goal in 2014. But several countries, including Germany, the principal target of Trump’s criticism, are moving to increase their defence budgets.
Trump’s constant carping about inadequate spending by NATO members would be less alarming to many European leaders if they could be certain that it was designed to shore up an alliance to which the president is committed. But a year and a half into his presidency, Trump hasn’t dispelled — in fact, he has exacerbated — fears that in his mind “America first” means “America alone.”
He also has made it distressingly clear that he sees Europe primarily as an economic competitor, not an ally. Repeatedly the president conflates the NATO alliance with what he sees as an unfair trade relationship between the U.S. and the European Union.
Granted, Trump has revised his campaign-trail claim that NATO was “obsolete,” and he belatedly endorsed Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which says that an attack on one member state is an attack on all. Yet the message of support has been muddled not only by Trump’s tweets but by reports that the administration was mulling the withdrawal of some or all of the roughly 34,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany. The current troop level isn’t sacrosanct, and represents a steep decline from Cold War levels. But at a time of provocative Russian behaviour, an abrupt withdrawal would send the wrong message. (Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said this week that “I’ve heard nothing on that score.”)
Finally, there is Trump’s unsettling enthusiasm for better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump will meet Putin in Helsinki next Monday in an encounter that he seems to view with more enthusiasm than the NATO summit. At a rally in Great Falls, Mont., last week, Trump said: “Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people.”
What worries America’s European allies is not that Trump will scold them at the summit or behave boorishly. It’s that his seeming indifference to the alliance might have policy consequences, such as the U.S. recognizing the Russian annexation of Crimea, reducing its financial support for improved military readiness in Europe or threatening to withdraw American troops if other NATO members don’t “pay up.” It’s up to the president to disabuse them of those concerns.
The Wall Street Journal on the minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s June meeting that show growing worry over trade harm:
The U.S. economy continues to show strength in the wake of tax reform and deregulation, but the downside of robust growth is that Donald Trump thinks this means he can dabble at trade war with impunity. He ought to look at the signs that growth would be even stronger if not for his border-tax brawls.
The latest evidence came in the minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s June meeting. Fed district presidents from around the U.S. reported evidence of strong growth, but along the way came this warning:
“However, many District contacts expressed concern about the possible adverse effects of tariffs and other proposed trade restrictions, both domestically and abroad, on future investment activity; contacts in some Districts indicated that plans for capital spending had been scaled back or postponed as a result of uncertainty over trade policy.”
The minutes continued: “Contacts in the steel and aluminum industries expected higher prices as a result of the tariffs on these products but had not planned any new investments to increase capacity. Conditions in the agricultural sector reportedly improved somewhat, but contacts were concerned about the effect of potentially higher tariffs on their exports.”
These reports are from the economy’s ground floor, not the Beltway penthouse. They show that U.S. tariffs and the risks of retaliation are creating uncertainty that could reduce business investment. This probably won’t show up in GDP for the recently completed second quarter because the tariff impact is only starting to be felt.
But investment decisions roll through the economy with a lag. More uncertainty means less investment, which means less growth, which means fewer jobs and slower wage gains. Mr. Trump isn’t any more immune from the laws of economics than Barack Obama was.