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Editorial Roundup: United States

ByThe Associated Press
May 7, 2024, 1:46 PM

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

May 6

The Washington Post on Medicare and Social Security reforms

President Biden and former president Donald Trump don’t agree on much, but both have pledged not to touch Social Security benefits. This is a reflection of political reality, which is that a lot of seniors, who tend to vote at high rates, depend on the programs, and that they are popular generally. Social Security has a broadly progressive impact on income distribution: The bottom half of earners rely on it to stay out of poverty in retirement. Financial reality, though, is that if the programs aren’t reformed, and run out of money to pay required benefits, cuts could become unavoidable.

The latest reports from the Social Security and Medicare trustees, released on Monday, reinforce that sobering fact. Social Security will be insolvent by 2035 and Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund by 2036. These dates are slightly farther in the future than the estimates in last year’s report. Because of a strong labor market, more workers earned more money subject to the Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. Nevertheless, the trustees warn that postponing a crisis is a far cry from solving it.

The 2024 campaign is probably not going to feature much honest debate about this, but the conversation has to happen sooner or later. Saving Social Security and Medicare requires reform.

We laid out one element of any viable proposal last year: subjecting more wages to payroll taxation. Currently, it applies to up to $168,600 in wages a year. Raising that limit would bring in much-needed revenue. And many Americans say they support the idea. Other reforms include gradually raising the retirement age for younger generations and slowing benefit growth for the top half of earners.

These won’t be popular or painless, but, as even dithering lawmakers often admit privately, the longer change is postponed, the more painful it will be in the end. Or, as the trustees’ report puts it, “significantly larger changes would be necessary if action is deferred.”

On the Medicare side, the report paints a reasonably hopeful picture. The Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is now on track to be depleted by 2036 — five years later than last year’s estimate. In addition to the strong labor market, a decline in inpatient and home health-care spending in recent years has helped the program’s finances. But the report makes clear that “Medicare still faces a substantial financial shortfall that will need to be addressed with further legislation. Such legislation should be enacted sooner rather than later to minimize the impact on beneficiaries, providers, and taxpayers.”

On Medicare, Mr. Biden has proposed changes that would extend the solvency of the program for 25 years: adding more drug price negotiations (on top of the ones in the Inflation Reduction Act) and raising the Medicare tax on those earning more than $400,000 a year. Give him credit for at least discussing the topic — but deduct points for placing the entire burden of reform on unpopular drug companies and high-income earners. Structural reforms to the Medicare Advantage program, teaching hospital subsidies and payments for outpatient services could and should save billions with relatively modest sacrifice from beneficiaries.

Given the potential demographic changes that still might upend forecasts, the trustees were wise to adopt more realistic assumptions about U.S. population growth. They now forecast a total fertility rate of 1.9 per woman, down from 2.0 in last year’s report. That might still be too optimistic. Last year, the rate dropped to 1.62, a historic low. An additional way to boost the working-age population that pays into Social Security and Medicare is through immigration, another reason for Congress to pursue comprehensive reform — and for the country to avoid the draconian restrictionism that Mr. Trump favors. The positive impact on entitlement program finances from the past few years of full, or near-full, employment provides yet another reason for government to pursue that goal, consistent with low inflation.

The Social Security Disability Insurance program, once threatened by insolvency, now appears fully funded through 2098, according to the trustees, a real accomplishment that reflects both the strong economy and smart policy tweaks, under both the Obama and Trump administrations. The successful stabilization of SSDI shows there’s still hope for the larger two programs. But it won’t happen unless there’s a bipartisan effort like the one that enabled the last comprehensive reform to Social Security — way back in 1983. At the moment, unfortunately, the only thing the two parties can agree on is doing something between not much and nothing at all.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/05/06/social-security-medicare-solution/

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May 3

The Wall Street Journal on the silencing of journalists by dictators as U.S. power recedes

Friday was World Press Freedom Day and a grim reminder of how many voices have recently been silenced by the world’s authoritarian regimes. Our colleague Evan Gershkovich remains wrongfully imprisoned by Russia, where he is being held without a trial or even formal charges. He is one of far too many imprisoned journalists, and those numbers are growing.

Hong Kong newspaper owner Jimmy Lai remains in prison on accusations of endangering China’s national security. The charges against him, including sedition and colluding with foreign forces, are a farce, but Beijing is happy to hold out his high-profile detention as a warning to others who dare to speak for freedom. Hong Kong’s recent passage of a new national-security law known as Article 23 ensures that press freedom in the territory will continue to contract until it vanishes as in mainland China.

In China, journalist and women’s rights activist Huang Xueqin has spent more than two years in prison and could face 15 more after sentencing, according to the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation (CFHK). China has the most jailed writers in the world, exceeding 100 for the first time, according to the Pen America Freedom to Write Index, released on May 1. Around the world there were 547 journalists in jail at the end of 2023, according to Reporters Without Borders.

In Iran, 2023 Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi has been jailed for her fight against the state’s oppression of women. In Burundi, reporter Sandra Muhoza is in custody and could face life in prison for comments on a WhatsApp group. Some of these names were projected on London’s Tower Bridge Thursday night and close to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., by the CFHK.

Authoritarian regimes lock up journalists to control what their citizens can read and see, and in some cases as leverage to trade with the West to get back spies or murderers. As American power has receded in the world, so has the West’s ability to protect journalists. That’s something American journalists might reflect on when they criticize their country for its imperfections. They’d be arrested elsewhere.

Rising numbers of arrests mean growing risks for reporters who continue the important work of finding and telling the truth. Evan Gershkovich was arrested for doing precisely that.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/world-press-freedom-day-journalists-evan-gershkovich-jimmy-lai-russia-china-hong-kong-39fdc544?mod=editorials_more_article_pos12

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May 1

The Los Angeles Times on the reclassification of marijuana

The news Tuesday that the Justice Department plans to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug is most welcome. But very, very late in coming.

President Biden promised during the 2020 presidential campaign that he would decriminalize cannabis. Moving the substance from Schedule I, for the most dangerous and abused drugs, to Schedule III as the DOJ proposes, wouldn’t go that far, but it would be a meaningful step in the right direction.

It’s still far too little. Americans have scoffed at marijuana prohibitions for decades, recognizing the race and class bigotry inherent in targeting the plant, and the scary nonsense spouted by government-promoted “experts” about its supposedly demonic consequences (“ Reefer Madness ”!) including, ostensibly, rape, kidnapping and murder. Two dozen states have already legalized recreational cannabis use, including California. Include purported medicinal use, and cannabis can legally be produced, bought, sold, possessed and consumed by adults in three-quarters of U.S. states.

But federal law lags woefully behind, technically subjecting users to criminal prosecution and jail, and preventing producers and sellers from fully participating in the federally regulated banking system. Reclassifying cannabis, as recommended months ago by the Department of Health and Human Services, won’t remove its criminal status but it could pave the way for Congress to act.

In any free society, respect for law and the justice system is essential — and is undermined by outdated prohibitions and punishment that strike a large swath of citizens as random and groundless.

To be clear, cannabis use is not without health risks, and should be available only to adults prepared to deal with them. But for too long, the greatest risks have been arrest, prosecution and imprisonment. Arrests and convictions left many ineligible for higher education or professional licenses. Prosecutions and punishments disproportionately targeted people of color. This needlessly kept far too many people on the margins of society, unable to fully participate or contribute.

It’s time to erase those consequences.

Late last year, Biden pardoned people who were convicted of using marijuana on federal land. That tiny step was merely a down payment on his promise of decriminalization. So is the Justice Department’s most recent move. The federal government should pick up the pace.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2024-05-01/editorial-reclassifying-marijuana

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May 5

The Guardian on the repression of transnational dissidents

Forty-five years ago, the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was killed in London with a poison-tipped umbrella as he made his way home from work. The horrifying case transfixed the British public.

So transnational repression is not new, including on British shores. But unless its target is unusually high-profile, or it uses startling tactics such as those employed by Markov’s killers – or in the attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal – much of it passes with minimal attention.

For political opponents, journalists, civil society activists and others, fleeing their homeland may offer only limited protection, even if they win recognition as refugees. The veteran journalist Can Dündar survived an assassination attempt in Turkey and escaped to Berlin in 2016, but has faced threats even there: “I have to be careful about the coffee I drink, where I live,” he told the Guardian this week.

Last month, Pouria Zeraati, of the television channel Iran International, was stabbed outside his London home. Colleagues had previously been warned of credible threats to their lives. The suspicion is that the regime in Tehran hired proxies to assault its critics abroad. As protests swept the nation in October 2022, Hossein Salami, the commander-in-chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, warned international media to “watch out, because we’re coming for you”.

In We Will Find You, a report released earlier this year, Human Rights Watch noted: “Transnational repression is not new, but it is a phenomenon that has often been downplayed or ignored and warrants a call to action.” The US-based not-for-profit organization Freedom House argues that the problem is actually spreading. While countries including Russia have long been associated with such activities, others have more recently been linked to high-profile killings and more general harassment.

The White House last week described reports that the Indian intelligence service was responsible for two assassination plots in the US and Canada as “a serious matter”. On Friday, Canadian police charged three men with the murder of the prominent Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia. Justin Trudeau said last year that “credible allegations” potentially linked India to his killing. Hong Kong activists living in the UK, and students from elsewhere in China, have both complained of surveillance and harassment on British soil. In some cases, their families back home have been challenged about their activities abroad. Last year, Hong Kong placed bounties on the heads of several exiles, including three now living in the UK.

Regimes are finding new ways to terrorize those who have left. In 2021, Belarusian authorities used a fake bomb threat to force a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk – then detained the opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega. Three years later, many people have only a blurry memory of the case. But for Belarusian dissidents – and those who have fled other authoritarian states – it looms large. Such actions are not only a threat to the lives and freedoms of the individual activists involved. They also have a chilling effect, deterring others from speaking out.

Human Rights Watch has called for a new UN rapporteur to focus on the issue. This would be a step forward in understanding and addressing this problem. Faced with increasingly brazen tactics, other countries must also be bold in calling out transnational repression and holding governments to account for it.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/article/2024/may/05/the-guardian-view-on-transnational-repression-dissidents-need-safety-in-their-new-homes

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May 5

China Daily on U.S. encouragement of WHO invitation to Taiwan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement on Wednesday saying the United States strongly encourages the World Health Organization to reinstate an invitation to Taiwan to participate as an observer at this year’s WHO annual assembly.

This is a violation of what Washington has promised on the Taiwan question in the three joint communiques it has signed with Beijing.

It also constitutes a challenge to the principle, upheld by the United Nations, that there is but one China, of which the government in Beijing is the sole legitimate representative. This principle is enshrined in the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 and WHA Resolution 25.1. As such, it is at Beijing’s discretion whether to solicit an invitation for the island’s participation in the activities of international organizations as an observer.

The island attended the World Health Assembly as an observer from 2009 to 2016, when the island’s authorities recognized the 1992 Consensus acknowledging that the island is part of China.

But the island’s current Democratic Progressive Party authorities have stubbornly refused to uphold the 1992 Consensus and instead stuck to their separatist position. They are trying to assert, by whatever means they can think of, the false notion that the island is an “independent country”. Thus the political foundation for the island’s participation in the WHA no longer exists, as upholding the one-China principle is mandated by Beijing.

In his statement, Blinken emphasized the island’s expertise and experience in public health, from which he said the world might benefit. He said that Taiwan’s exceptional capabilities and approaches would offer considerable value to inform the WHA’s deliberations, adding that time and again, Taiwan has demonstrated a capability and willingness to help address global health crises and support the global health community. By saying this, Blinken not only sought to denigrate the Chinese mainland’s contributions in these regards, he was also trying to misportray the issue as a technical decision only.

Having personally reaffirmed the one-China principle on the part of the US during his visit to China in April, he cannot pretend that he does not know that this is a political issue.

The statement by the top US diplomat is simply another iteration of the Joe Biden administration trying to stir up trouble and further proof that it glibly talks the good talk while having no intention of walking its words.

The Taiwan question is one of China’s first and foremost core interests, and there is no way Beijing will compromise on this issue.

By signaling its support to the secessionist forces on the island in this way, the Biden administration has not only done a disservice to the improvement of relations between the US and China but also further damaged the US’ credibility by again highlighting it will breezily give its word to do something while having every intention of reneging on it.

ONLINE: https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202405/05/WS66377322a31082fc043c5466.html