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Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

March 30

The Washington Post on the Israel-Gaza war

As the war in Gaza grinds on into its sixth month, cracks are showing in the once unequivocally united front between Israel and the United States. Meantime, hunger threatens Gaza’s civilians, who, through displacement, disease and death, have already paid a horrible price.

If Israel and the United States do not resolve their differences and agree on a viable approach to Gaza’s next phase, including on how to alleviate Gazans’ suffering and to sideline Hamas, only Hamas itself might emerge as anything like a victor, after starting this war by massacring Israelis on Oct. 7. Such a result could threaten not only Israel’s stability but also the region as a whole.

President Biden’s open declarations that Israel has failed to limit civilian casualties and enable aid to reach Palestinians; a major speech by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that blasted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and U.S. tolerance of an Israeli-opposed U.N. Security Council cease-fire resolution — these recent events have soured the relationship between the two countries as seldom before.

The tension is based in reality. Neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Netanyahu is popular at home; both fear for their offices. And yet they face mutually incompatible domestic political pressures. Mr. Biden contends with the Democratic Party’s left wing, which is increasingly critical of Israel’s prosecution of the war, as well as seemingly growing impatience among the wider U.S. electorate. Mr. Netanyahu’s hold on power is hostage to a right wing that supports annexation of the West Bank, but mainstream Israelis, viewing their fight as existential, are hawkish and willing to see the war through to finish off Hamas.

The other reality is that Hamas — though badly crippled by the Israel Defense Forces — still has intact leadership commanding four battalions holed up underground. At the same time, objective conditions for the 2 million or so people in Gaza, most displaced from ruined homes, are horrendous. To be sure, their plight is partly Hamas’s fault for starting a war in which they could not or would not protect so many women and children from dying, either in Israeli airstrikes or, potentially, food shortages that could soon lead to widespread starvation. Nevertheless, for Israel, protecting innocent noncombatants is imperative, strategically and morally.

There are signs that the two countries, for all the recent drama, might be starting to shift from political theater to mature statesmanship. Netanyahu advisers have agreed to reschedule a meeting with top Biden administration officials that the prime minister called off last Monday in a show of fury over U.S. abstention on the U.N. resolution.

Meanwhile, the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, did hold businesslike talks with Mr. Biden’s national security team on a subject that really matters: how, or if, Israel can attack the remaining Hamas forces in Rafah — a fight Israelis, in government or otherwise, overwhelmingly believe they must wage — without causing a humanitarian catastrophe for the million-plus people who fled to that town from earlier fighting in the rest of Gaza.

What emerged was a clear statement from the administration that left room for the United States to countenance a Rafah offensive — but only if it included “an achievable, verifiable plan to look after the safety and security of the 1.5 million Gazans that have sought refuge there,” as national security spokesman John Kirby put it on Wednesday.

Such pressure is crucial. A preferable course in the short run would be to negotiate a six-week truce with Hamas, during which the militants would release at least some of their hostages and relief supplies could flow into Gaza more safely. However, Hamas, possibly sensing an opportunity in the spat between the United States and Israel, balked even after Israel softened its terms and for now, at least, negotiations seem to be going nowhere.

Despite weeks of talk of an “imminent” Israeli assault on Rafah, such a move would take extensive preparation and could probably not begin for at least a month; no matter what happens, Israel has time to increase stepped-up levels of aid beginning to flow through Israeli checkpoints.

Israel does not, however, have unlimited time to finish this war and all the enormous suffering that goes along with it. No one — Israeli society, Gaza’s suffering civilians, the hostages still languishing in Hamas’s tunnels — can afford a stalemate. For all his tough criticism, Mr. Biden is still a close friend of Israel and willing to take political risks to support it. Israel’s future might depend on understanding that, when someone like that offers advice, it’s wise to listen.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/03/30/biden-netanyahu-israel-gaza-war/

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March 30

The New York Times on abortion rights

The Supreme Court this week heard the first major challenge to abortion rights since it struck down Roe v. Wade two years ago — an attempt to severely limit access to mifepristone, the most commonly used abortion pill in the country, by a group of doctors who are morally opposed to the practice.

The justices seem prepared to throw out the lawsuit. During oral arguments, they questioned whether the doctors had suffered the harm necessary to bring the suit in the first place.

But that should come as small comfort to anyone concerned for the future of reproductive freedom in America. Judges at the state and federal levels are ready to further restrict reproductive options and health care access. The presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, has indicated support for a 15-week national abortion ban. And while the Supreme Court, in overturning Roe, ostensibly left it to each state to decide abortion policy, several states have gone against the will of their voters on abortion or tried to block ballot measures that would protect abortion rights. Anti-abortion forces may have had a tough week in the Supreme Court, but they remain focused on playing and winning a longer game.

Even potential victories for reproductive freedom may prove short-lived: The mifepristone case, for instance, is far from dead. Another plaintiff could bring the same case and have it considered on the merits, a possibility Justice Samuel Alito raised during oral arguments.

“Is there anybody who could challenge in court the lawfulness of what the F.D.A. did here?” he asked the solicitor general, Elizabeth Prelogar. Such a challenge would be exceptionally weak, given that the F.D.A. provided substantial support for its approval and regulatory guidance on the use of mifepristone, but the right-wing justices on the Roberts court may be willing to hear it again anyway. The justices have already illustrated their hostility to the authority of administrative agencies, and that hostility may persist even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.

Then there is the Comstock Act, a 151-year-old federal law that anti-abortion activists are trying to revive to block the mailing of mifepristone and other abortion medication. During the oral arguments this week, Justices Alito and Clarence Thomas repeatedly expressed their openness to the use of the law, which was pushed by an anti-vice crusader decades before women won the right to vote. If anti-abortion activists can get themselves before a sympathetic court and secure a national injunction on this medication being mailed, they may well be able to block access to abortion throughout the country, including in states where it is legal.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/30/opinion/abortion-drug-supreme-court.html

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March 31

The Wall Street Journal on Biden, the EPA and electric trucks

The Environmental Protection Agency chose Good Friday to roll out its burdensome electric truck mandate, no doubt so fewer people notice. Biden officials well know the damage they are doing, but the damage in the name of climate change is the point.

EPA’s new emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks will effectively require that electric semi-trucks make up an increasing share of manufacturer sales from 2027 through 2032, similar to its recent rule for passenger cars. The difference is that the truck mandate is even more costly and fanciful.

EVs make up less than 1% of U.S. heavy-duty truck sales, and nearly all are in California, which heavily subsidizes and mandates their purchase. EPA’s rule will require electric models to account for 60% of new urban delivery trucks and 25% of long-haul tractor sales by 2032. The harm is predictable in return for no climate benefit.

Start with the fact that no electric long-haul tractors are currently in mass production. Most electric trucks can’t go more than 170 miles on a charge. Electric semis require bigger and heavier batteries, which means they must carry lighter loads to avoid damaging roads. Fleet operators will have to use more trucks to transport the same amount of goods.

This will increase vehicle congestion, especially around ports and distribution centers. EPA says its rule will reduce pollution in “environmental justice” communities near major truck freight routes. But more traffic will result in more pollution. Electric trucks also generate more soot from their wear and tear on roads and vehicle braking.

Power generation and transmission will have to massively expand to support millions of new “zero-emission” trucks. An electric semi consumes about seven times as much electricity on a single charge as a typical home does in a day. Truck charging depots can draw as much power from the grid as small cities.

By 2030 electric trucks are projected to consume about 11% of California’s electricity. The additional power to fuel electric trucks won’t come from renewables, which can’t be built fast enough to meet demand. Most trucks will recharge at night when solar isn’t available since drivers don’t want to waste prime daylight driving hours.

Some 1.4 million chargers will have to be installed by 2032 to achieve the EPA’s mandate, about 15,000 a month. This will require major grid upgrades when there are shortages of critical components such as transformers. It could take three to eight years to develop transmission and substations in many places to support truck chargers.

Truckers estimate the EPA rule will cost utilities $370 billion to upgrade their networks. On top of that, truckers will have to invest $620 billion in their own charging infrastructure. This doesn’t include the cost of electric trucks, which are typically two to three times more expensive than diesel cabs.

Replacing diesel trucks with electric will cost the industry tens of billion dollars each year. Truckers will pass on these costs to customers—meaning U.S. manufacturers and retailers—which will ultimately pass them on to Americans in higher prices. This is President Biden’s trickle-down economics.

EPA says its big-rig quotas are feasible because the Inflation Reduction Act and 2021 infrastructure law include hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for EVs. This includes a 30% tax credit for charging stations, $40,000 tax credit for commercial EVs, and a tax credit for battery manufacturing that can offset more than a third of the cost. ...

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/bidens-new-command-electric-trucks-china-epa-subsidies-ira-0d740d12?mod=editorials_article_pos9

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March 28

The Los Angeles Times on touch screens and distracted drivers

As cars go electric and get more technologically advanced, their interiors are increasingly being built around prominent dashboard touch screens.

Nearly every automaker has been moving controls for windshield wipers, headlights, air conditioning, gear selection and other basic functions to these centralized touch screens. It’s an industrywide shift that is most pronounced with electric vehicles but not limited to them. Consumers have rightly complained that screens are more of a pain to use than the intuitive physical buttons, dials and switches cars have been equipped with for decades.

But the trend is not just an issue of consumer preference or convenience. It’s a matter of safety, because the time drivers spend tapping through sleek but hard-to-navigate touch screen menus is time they are taking their eyes off the road.

So it’s welcome news that an influential auto safety certification body in Europe is working on new standards that would push against car companies’ overreliance on distracting touch screens.

Under new standards the European New Car Assessment Program plans to introduce in 2026, automakers will have to use separate physical buttons, dials or levers for critical functions such as turn signals, hazard lights, horns, windshield wipers and emergency calls in order to earn the independent organization’s top five-star safety rating.

It’s about time. Because the touch screen domination of new car interiors has already gone too far. Tesla and other manufacturers devote much of their dashboard space to huge, center-mounted screens as big as 18.5 inches. The Ford Expedition has an available 15.5-inch screen that replaces an array of audio and climate dials and buttons with touch controls. The Mercedes-Benz EQS features a full-dash “Hyperscreen” that spans nearly the entire width of the vehicle’s interior and controls almost everything, from navigation and temperature to entertainment. These screens certainly add to these vehicles’ sleek aesthetics, and the manufacturers no doubt save money by moving those functions into one central touch screen.

But not everyone sees it as progress. Customer complaints have forced some carmakers, including Volkswagen, to bring back some of the manual buttons. Third-party companies are seeing a ripe market for aftermarket buttons and dials to mount below Teslas’ touch screens. And electric-vehicle startup Olympian Motors is offering new models with retro, minimalistic interiors with numbered dials to cater to customers sick of screens.

The backlash is understandable. The screenification has gone too far when you can’t even change windshield wiper speeds, turn on headlights or put the car into park or drive without navigating a touch screen. In the name of driver distraction and safety, there are some functions so critical to safe operation that they should remain physical and easy to access without screens. ...

We’d like to see U.S. authorities follow suit and adopt their own standards to ensure that safety-critical functions in all new cars have physical controls in intuitive locations. When you’re in imminent danger you want hitting the horn, hazards or wipers to be easy and reflexive — not a task that requires you to take your hands off the wheel and tap through an in-car app.

Safety authorities should be concerned that the prominence of touch screens to control functions inside of vehicles is dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver distraction resulted in at least 3,000 known deaths in 2019, the most recent year for which figures are available. NHTSA is making significant updates to its five-star safety ratings program that could include measures to address driver distraction from controls and displays inside vehicles.

These ratings are designed to push the auto industry beyond the minimum federal requirements by informing consumers about how safe new vehicles are. It is clear that drivers’ interaction with dashboard technology is a fast-growing part of that equation, and it’s only fitting that these metrics change with the times. In years past, concerns about distracted driving focused mostly on texting, but that has been overshadowed by the rapid shift to massive in-vehicle infotainment panels that compete with the road for drivers’ attention.

Drivers have enough to worry about on the roads. They shouldn’t have to spend any time thinking about how to control their cars’ most basic functions.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2024-03-28/editorial-bring-buttons-and-dials-back-to-new-cars-not-everything-should-be-on-a-touchscreen

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April 2

The Guardian on the Israel Defense Forces killing of aid workers

Even by the standards of a conflict that has killed almost 33,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and created the entirely human-made famine taking hold in Gaza, Israel has crossed multiple lines in just a couple of days. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) killed seven foreign aid workers, including a dual US/Canadian citizen, three Britons as well as team members from Poland and Australia, and their Palestinian driver, as they attempted to meet some portion of the desperate need. Gaza’s chief hospital, al-Shifa, lies in ruins after a two-week IDF raid. Israel says no civilians died there; the World Health Organization disagrees. And it has killed the Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi and his deputy at an Iranian diplomatic mission in Syria – reviving fears of a wider regional conflagration, and setting a dangerous precedent in targeting diplomatic premises.

Israel and its armed forces boast of following international law. A senior Tory has said that British government lawyers believe Israel has broken it. The former Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has warned that it is “one step away from international ostracism”. While foreign governments including Britain and Australia still struggle to condemn Israel even for the killing of their own citizens, rhetoric is slowly hardening and the public mood is moving faster. The World Central Kitchen workers were in clearly marked cars, in a “deconflicted” zone, heading away from an aid warehouse, having coordinated movements with the IDF. The convoy was struck not once but three times, killing the fleeing survivors.

Unusually, Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged IDF responsibility, while calling it “unintentional” and adding: “This happens in wartime.” The deaths of the innocent are happening in this war again and again and again. Death on this scale cannot be written off as a series of unfortunate accidents. It is a choice in a conflict that far exceeds any reasonable attempt to pursue those responsible for the horrific Hamas attack on 7 October.

Asking Israel to investigate these deaths, as the UK has done, is absurd given Israel’s history of obfuscation in such cases and avoidance of accountability. (It is banning Al Jazeera under a new law allowing ministers to shut down foreign media organisations.) It is uncomfortable to dwell on foreign lives lost when thousands of Palestinian deaths have received little scrutiny, but the destruction of the relief system is killing many more. Aid ships have turned back in the wake of the attack. Israel wants to dismantle the Palestinian relief agency Unrwa, the only entity capable of responding at scale. ...

In the face of growing unpopularity at home, with tens of thousands of Israelis joining the families of hostages to demand his removal, Mr Netanyahu sees his best hope of survival as a forever war. Israel’s allies are increasingly reluctant to defend his actions, but they won’t stop them either. What would it take to turn US lamentation into action and stop Joe Biden greenlighting an $18bn deal for F-15 fighter jets? Where are the lines now? What will it take for Israel’s allies to say: no more – and show they mean it?

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/apr/02/the-guardian-view-on-the-idfs-killing-of-aid-workers-a-grim-milestone-in-gaza