Advertisement

Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Feb. 6

The Washington Post on AM radio

Contrary to the popular refrain, video never really did kill the radio star. Electric vehicles, however, might do the job. The question is whether Congress should accelerate the process.

Automakers, including BMW, Mazda, Volkswagen and Tesla, are starting to remove AM radios as standard equipment from new electric vehicles — and Ford was on the verge of removing them from all new vehicles before backtracking under pressure from broadcasters and their allies. The reason is twofold: Electric motors render the fuzzy sound of AM stations fuzzier still. And even as AM declines in popularity, keeping antiquated AM radios in cars costs manufacturers.

Still, protests from AM’s allies are coming through loud and clear — from both sides of the aisle. A bipartisan bill co-sponsored in the Senate by Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) would require car manufacturers to maintain AM broadcast radio by default in new vehicles, electric or not, at no additional charge. Their primary reason: The Federal Emergency Management Agency relies on AM to transmit emergency alerts.

FEMA has been expanding its ability to deliver these crucial messages via more modern media. As FEMA’s deputy administrator argued in congressional testimony last spring, however, AM is nothing if not reliable. Its simplicity makes it less vulnerable to hacking or other manipulation by adversaries than more complicated systems with more possible points of failure. It can also reach everyone, all the time, even in areas with no cell service or WiFi and even amid a natural disaster that knocks out broadband. What’s more, it’s free.

All this makes sense — for now. Before AM gets ousted, Mr. Markey and Mr. Cruz want the Government Accountability Office to report on whether any alternative communications systems could achieve the same reach and reliability as AM broadcast radio during emergencies. Officials ought to find a way because the alternative is equipping vehicles forevermore with what will someday be an obsolete technology.

What happens then? The answer could be AM radio dies. Yes, AM stations could move to FM if cars lose AM — though cost structures might make it more difficult for them to survive on that band. And, yes, AM stations could offer their programming other ways — though for much of their audience, listening while driving is the point. The upshot, according to industry insiders, is that no AM in cars will mean no AM at all before long.

This would be a loss. There are nearly 4,200 AM stations across the nation, and more than 82 million Americans per month listen to them. Adults these days might think that kids these days have never even placed their fingers on a dial. Yet it turns out AM and FM together account for about 60 percent of all in-car listening, even in the age of satellite radio and streaming.

The fan base for AM is older — much older — and dwindling. Hence carmakers’ reluctance to install this legacy tech in products they market as ultramodern. But it’s also vibrant, particularly in rural America. The afternoon hours on some stations are dominated by right-wing talk, perhaps accounting for the many conservative legislators lined up behind the effort to save AM. The rest of the day, though, often features vital agricultural information for nearby farmers or spotlights community events that families might otherwise miss. Many AM stations are also devoted to programming for immigrant audiences, often in Spanish or other languages.

These channels are sometimes locally owned and operated, whereas FM stations are increasingly commercialized and conglomerated. Listeners have relationships with stations, with hosts. They call in. They’re heard just as much as they hear.

Finally, there’s history. AM radio brought President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats to an anxious public; it brought sports stars to fame through announcers’ frenzied commentary; it brought the Beatles to America. Michael Harrison, publisher of radio trade journal Talkers, points out that radio helped the auto industry exalt vehicles over the past century. Now, automakers are throwing those years of symbiosis back in radio’s face.

Yet, as important as AM radio might be to American culture, so is limiting government to essential regulatory tasks. It might be Congress’s role to mandate AM radio in vehicles — as long as it’s crucial to public safety. It isn’t Congress’s role to prop up the industry by forcing automakers to install a feature the market says isn’t worth the while. New cars, after all, are expensive enough as is. Legislators might hope along with listeners that AM stays essential for a few more years at least. But in the longer run, policy can’t remain static.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/02/06/am-radio-automakers-emergency-alerts/

___

Feb. 9

The New York Times on challenges of an aging president

Because of his age and his determination to run for a second term, President Biden is taking the American public into uncharted waters. He is the oldest person ever to serve as president, is the oldest ever to run for re-election and, if he is successful, would be 86 at the end of his tenure. Ronald Reagan, by comparison, was an unprecedented 77 when he ended his second term in 1989.

A remarkably broad swath of the American public — both Mr. Biden’s supporters and his detractors — have expressed increasing doubts about his ability to serve for another five years because of his age. As Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, noted, “In Times/Siena polling last fall, more than 70 percent of battleground state voters agreed with the statement that Mr. Biden’s ‘just too old to be an effective president.’” But the release of the special counsel Robert K. Hur’s report on Thursday — and Mr. Hur’s assessment that the president presents himself as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” — will invariably test the trust that the American people have in their president.

Mr. Biden’s performance at his news conference on Thursday night was intended to assure the public that his memory is fine and argue that Mr. Hur was out of line; instead, the president raised more questions about his cognitive sharpness and temperament, as he delivered emotional and snappish retorts in a moment when people were looking for steady, even and capable responses to fair questions about his fitness.

His assurances, in other words, didn’t work. He must do better — the stakes in this presidential election are too high for Mr. Biden to hope that he can skate through a campaign with the help of teleprompters and aides and somehow defeat as manifestly unfit an opponent as Donald Trump, who has a very real chance of retaking the White House.

Mr. Biden’s allies are already going to the usual Washington playbook of dismissing the special counsel’s report as partisan. Regardless of Mr. Hur’s motivation, the details that he presented spoke to worries voters already had. The president has to reassure and build confidence with the public by doing things that he has so far been unwilling to do convincingly. He needs to be out campaigning with voters far more in unrehearsed interactions. He could undertake more town hall meetings in communities and on national television. He should hold regular news conferences to demonstrate his command of and direction for leading the country.

As it stands, he has had less substantive, unscripted interaction with the public and the press than any other president in recent memory. As Michael Shear of The Times reported last year, “In the 100 years since Calvin Coolidge took office, only Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan held as few news conferences each year as the current occupant of the Oval Office.” As of late January, he had also given fewer interviews than the last six presidents: only 86. Mr. Trump gave 300, and Barack Obama gave 422. For the second year in a row, Mr. Biden has even refused to do an interview before the Super Bowl, a practice that allowed presidents to speak to Americans informally before the country’s largest sporting event of the year, unpersuasively citing a desire to give the public a break from politics.

This is part of a concerted, modern White House strategy to reach Americans through online influencers or tightly produced videos, rather than public encounters that might challenge him. But the combination of Mr. Biden’s age and his absence from the public stage has eroded the public’s confidence. He looks as if he is hiding, or worse, being hidden. The details in Mr. Hur’s report will only heighten those concerns, which Mr. Trump’s campaign is already exploiting.

This is a dark moment for Mr. Biden’s presidency, when many voters are relying on him to provide the country with a compelling alternative to the unique danger of Mr. Trump. On the most important questions — of integrity, record of accomplishment and the character required to be fit for the presidency — there is no comparison between them. In the most challenging moments of his presidency, in supporting our allies when they are threatened and in steering the U.S. economy away from recession, Mr. Biden has been a wise and steady presence. He needs to do more to show the public that he is fully capable of holding office until age 86.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/09/opinion/biden-age-report-special-counsel.html

___

Feb. 9

The Wall Street Journal on the CBO forecast

The Congressional Budget Office rudely interrupted the presidential campaign this week by releasing its 10-year budget outlook. Neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump wants to talk about the woolly mammoth in the room, but somebody has to point out that growing entitlements and debt payments are squeezing national defense.

CBO forecasts that under current law the national debt will grow to $48.3 trillion in 2034 from $26.2 trillion this last fiscal year—a whopping 84% increase. Debt as a share of GDP will rise to 116% in 2034 from 97.3%. As helpful historical context, the U.S. added $22.3 trillion in debt in its entire history through 2021, about as much as it’s projected to pile on over the next 10 years.

Don’t blame Americans for not paying enough taxes. Revenues are expected to average 17.8% of GDP through 2034, which is more than the 17.3% average over the last 50 years. The problem is that spending over the next decade will average 23.5% of GDP —significantly more than the 50-year average (21%).

Even these debt projections may be optimistic. They assume no recession and that the 2017 individual tax cuts and Inflation Reduction Act’s sweetened ObamaCare subsidies expire in 2025. Oh, and that Congress doesn’t lather on more spending, and more student debt isn’t canceled by executive decree. What are the odds?

It’s true the budget gnomes often underestimate economic growth. CBO may be pessimistic in assuming that GDP will rise on average by only 2% annually through 2034. Increased productivity from artificial intelligence and other technologies could put the country on a higher growth plane.

But in any case the growth in spending, and especially entitlements, is unsustainable. Discretionary spending is expected to climb by $372 billion over the next 10 years. But mandatory programs will balloon by some $2.5 trillion and hit $6.3 trillion in 2034, almost entirely owing to growth in Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

Growing deficits will compound and increase interest payments. The U.S. this fiscal year will spend an estimated $870 billion on servicing the debt, which is more than it will spend on defense. By 2034 interest payments will grow to $1.6 trillion, or 3.9% of GDP. Meanwhile, defense spending is at a postwar low of 3% of GDP, and heading lower.

As it often does, CBO underestimated this past year’s spending, especially on entitlements. Because Medicare outlays last year were higher than expected, the agency says it “increased its projections of such outlays in later years.” It also “reduced its projections of mortality from COVID-19” and “increased its projections of the population age 65 or older.”

Longer life spans for seniors are good news, but the result will be higher entitlement spending. This may mean that the Medicare and Social Security trust funds become insolvent sooner than currently forecast — 2031 for Medicare and 2034 for Social Security — forcing benefit cuts if Congress doesn’t reform the programs.

It’s declasse in Washington these days to suggest that entitlements need to be reformed. Democrats pretend that soaking the rich will make the Social Security and Medicare trust funds solvent. It won’t. Or they plan to ration care by reducing payments for medicines and providers.

Republicans say economic growth can do the job. This is essential but it’s no longer enough with entitlements growing so fast. Future benefits will have to be adjusted one way or another, and the pain will be that much less the sooner this happens.

As an aside, CBO revised up its 10-year forecast for spending on electric-vehicle and green-energy tax credits by $124 billion. It’s no surprise that more Americans are cashing in on the climate largesse, especially since the Administration expanded eligibility for the EV credit. CBO attributes the upward revision partly to the Administration’s proposed back-door EV mandate.

It’s almost as if everyone in Washington is blithely paddling toward Niagara Falls. Enjoy the scenery on the way down.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/congressional-budget-office-budget-outlook-government-spending-gdp-national-debt-2b2316ba?mod=editorials_article_pos8

___

Feb. 8

The Guardian on an Israeli assault on Rafah

The last refuge is no longer a refuge. Around half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have found some kind of shelter in Rafah, often under canvas, raising the border city’s population fivefold. Now, though desperate, traumatised and exhausted, many are readying to flee again.

Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israeli troops will soon enter, despite warnings from António Guterres, the UN secretary general, that it would “increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences.” Strikes on the city appeared to be intensifying on Thursday.

The UN has warned that a ground offensive could lead to war crimes. It is hard to see how devastating civilian casualties would not result, given what has happened in less crowded areas. Israel said in late January that it had killed only about 30% of Hamas fighters – around 10,000, including 1,000 killed in the group’s murderous attack on 7 October, which claimed 1,200 mostly Israeli lives. The total death toll stands at 27,000 people, more than 11,000 of them children. Another 66,000 have been injured. A quarter of the population is starving.

Israel has reportedly told Egypt that it will allow people to leave Rafah before it moves in. But not everyone is capable of fleeing again, and there is nowhere safe to go. Some of those who have tried to leave the city in recent days have not been heard of since making the attempt. Fierce fighting continues in the Gazan city of Khan Younis. Overall, more than half of Gaza is still under evacuation orders, and Israel has said that fighting will continue in the north, where it had previously said operations were completed, due to the reappearance of Hamas combatants and officials.

Where fighting has ceased, a wasteland is left. Homes, schools, bakeries, hospitals, mosques, churches, sewage infrastructure, aid centres – all erased from the earth. In the words of one witness: “It’s like after an atomic bomb.” The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has also complained that it has not been able to deliver aid to the north for more than a fortnight. A major ground offensive in Rafah threatens to cut off Gaza’s lifeline completely, since aid comes via the city’s crossing with Egypt.

Meanwhile, each day of war increases the need for those deliveries. The US has, belatedly, invested heavily in attempts to pursue a ceasefire and the release of hostages. Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, said the Hamas counteroffer to proposals from the US and Israel contained clear non-starters, but offered “space to pursue negotiations”. However, Mr. Netanyahu’s response made it clear that American shuttle diplomacy is of limited use while Washington’s pressure essentially amounts to urging and imploring. He insisted that “absolute victory” is needed, and that there will be months' more fighting. Nor is the prime minister willing to listen to freed hostages, and relatives of those still held, as they plead for a deal. The extreme right, upon whom he depends for political survival, would not tolerate such an agreement.

Mr. Netanyahu is far from being the only obstacle on the Israeli side to a ceasefire and the release of hostages. But there can be little if any progress while he remains at the helm. He is too busy pursuing his personal interests to serve his country’s. That means, frighteningly, that the least grim scenario for Rafah now looks like further mass displacement and a deepening humanitarian disaster.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/feb/08/the-guardian-view-on-an-israeli-assault-on-rafah-gazas-people-have-no-place-to-run

___

Feb. 7

China Daily on the legitimacy of US military actions in Middle East

The recent series of air strikes by the United States on Iran-backed military targets in Syria and Iraq have sparked international concern, as they are a clear violation of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of these nations.

Robert Wood, the US alternate representative for special political affairs at the United Nations, defended these actions as being “necessary and proportionate,” citing a country’s “inherent right of self-defense” under Article 51 of the UN Charter. However, attempting to use this right to justify unauthorized military operations in the territories of other sovereign nations that a country is not at war with distorts the concept of self-defense.

The lack of approval from the nations concerned and the absence of pre-notification prior to the air strikes — which the US initially claimed it had done but which it later admitted it hadn’t — further underscores the US’ disregard for the principle of respecting other nations’ sovereignty, as stipulated in the UN Charter. While State Department spokesman Vedant Patel claimed that Iraq and other regional countries “understood” the US’ actions, which were in response to the deaths of three US soldiers, the criticism of the strikes expressed by Syria, Iraq and Iran contradicts this assertion and highlights the unilateral nature of the US’ actions.

Rather than being acts of self-defense, the air strikes can be seen as retaliatory measures for the deaths of the US military personnel, as indicated by President Joe Biden’s statement: “If you harm an American, we will respond.” This reflects a retaliatory and vengeful stance rather than a defensive posture. Moreover, the distance of the initial attacks from the US military personnel and the broader historical context of US military involvement in the region suggest a pattern of escalating tensions rather than genuine self-defense.

Rosemary DiCarlo, under-secretary-general for political and peace-building affairs of the UN, has emphasized the volatile nature of the Middle East and called for active engagement to prevent further escalation and the deterioration of regional peace and security. Any more long-arm US military actions are not conducive to this and will only exacerbate tensions rather than alleviate them.

It is imperative for all parties involved to exercise restraint, adhere to the UN Charter and international laws, and, most importantly, refrain from illegal military actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other nations. The US needs to demonstrate some restraint and abide by the established rules of the international community.

ONLINE: https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202402/07/WS65c375b2a3104efcbdaea43c.html