Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Guardian on how the West’s political calculus is selling out Afghans:
It speaks volumes about the world today that a US president was more worried about the Taliban looking weak than about his western allies. Britain, France and Germany asked Joe Biden to continue evacuating civilians from Kabul past his self-imposed deadline of 31 August. But the US rejected these requests. Mr Biden wanted to end the chaotic TV scenes from Afghanistan that hurt his domestic poll ratings. But he also accepted that Kabul’s new rulers could not afford to look weak in front of their rival Isis, which is looking for an opportunity to embarrass its Taliban peer.
The west’s airlift will therefore be over by next Tuesday. It is the Afghan people who will pay the highest price for the west’s defeated ambitions for their country. They now face living under Taliban rule for a second time. There is no guarantee that a grinding civil war is over. The scale of the west’s failure is not just that the world’s biggest economies will almost certainly fail to evacuate all those who were employed by its armies and diplomats. It is that we have let down a generation of urban Afghans, especially women, who grew up believing that their lives would be better than their parents’.
Afghanistan faces a series of crises that would tax the most able technocrats. Yet at the country’s helm is the world’s most obscurantist leadership. Covid has a long way to run in Afghanistan, but only 2% of the population has been vaccinated. The Taliban struggle with the idea of female doctors working in hospitals, let alone how to tackle coronavirus. A drought has caused famine in rural parts of the country, but Afghanistan’s new rulers see humanitarian work as the preserve of charities rather than the state.
The Taliban have no experience of legislating within a sophisticated political and legal framework, especially one of the kind modelled on western democracies. When they last ran the country, a cash economy did not exist. In the Afghan central bank, more than two decades ago, the Taliban installed military commanders. One died on the battlefield while still the bank’s governor.
The west’s economic model for Afghanistan was, at best, a work in progress. The country has become dependent on international assistance, while poverty rates have increased from a third of the population to more than a half. Unless something extraordinary happens, foreign aid will dry up, leaving the Taliban not only unable to pay for government salaries but also without the resources to cover Afghanistan’s import bill. With the US refusing to hand over Kabul’s dollar reserves, the Afghan currency is likely to collapse in value, sparking a price spiral. Inflation and scarcity are not exactly solid foundations on which to base the stability of a regime.
One cannot import development, only encourage it from within. Two Asian countries that have risen by throwing off outside rule – Vietnam and Bangladesh – show that it is possible to wean a country off foreign aid in a substantial way by creating an industrial base. The new Kabul regime is more likely to fall back on opium production, confirming its global pariah status while further diminishing the nation’s productive capacity.
Afghanistan’s complexity – its patchwork of ethnicities, traditions and minimal governance – makes it hard to understand. The G7 might be able to use a carrot-and-stick approach with the Taliban. It could offer cash in return for the group respecting human rights or threaten sanctions if Kabul breaks promises. The world, ultimately, will have to adjust to American interest in Afghanistan assuming more conventional proportions. Washington, in the future, will monitor jihadist threats from afar and seek to preserve political balance in Kabul. What has disappeared is the latest attempt to impose a new Afghan society on top of an old one.
The Wall Street Journal on centrist House Democrats folding on $3.5 trillion budget outline:
The Kabuki theater production of House Democrats closed off-Broadway on Tuesday after a very limited run. The vaunted showdown between nine or so “centrists” and the party’s progressive wing ended with a whimper as the centrists settled for a token procedural promise.
Faux crisis averted. Nancy Pelosi takes another media turn as a legislative wizard — a Tony award nomination may be coming — and the progressive juggernaut moves on to try to pass $4.5 trillion or more in spending and the biggest tax increase since 1968. This was all so predictable.
The centrist Democrats had insisted that they wouldn’t vote for the progressives’ $3.5 trillion budget outline until the House first considered the Senate’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan. In the event, they settled for a classic political fig leaf. The House voted 220-212 for a rule that “deems” the $3.5 trillion outline passed — which is supposed to be a political victory because it lets the centrists claim they didn’t directly vote for the resolution.
But of course the resolution passed and allows Congress to move ahead with the reconciliation process that requires only 51 votes in the Senate to pass a budget bill. This is what Bernie Sanders needed to move his agenda through the Senate.
The centrists are also crowing that Mrs. Pelosi agreed to a House vote on the Senate’s infrastructure bill by Sept. 27 — presumably before Democrats have completed the legislative text of all the details of their $3.5 trillion plan. Yet even this may not be much of a promise, since Mrs. Pelosi didn’t secure the support of her left flank. The 100-strong Congressional Progressive Caucus on Tuesday reiterated that its position is “unchanged,” and that it will vote against the infrastructure bill until a final reconciliation package is complete.
In the end Mrs. Pelosi strongarmed every Democrat to support this charade, even Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader, who in late June said he opposed any budget resolution given that trillions more in spending was “unwarranted.” He and his fellow travelers folded faster than President Biden did to the Taliban.
The Philadelphia Inquirer on the city’s gun violence crisis:
If you’re looking for ways to quantify the depths of the gun violence crisis in Philadelphia, there may not be many bleaker statistics than this: There’s only been one day so far this year — Jan. 2 — when not a single person was shot in the city.
Since then, nearly 1,500 people have been shot in Philadelphia, including 295 fatalities. At least 50 other people were murdered by an assailant who used a weapon other than a gun.
Gun violence drives Philadelphia’s murder rate, which is on pace for a record this year, but it’s essential that the city also address three other factors if officials hope to stem a seemingly unrelenting tide of killings — increasing the rate at which murders are solved, fostering more cooperation from witnesses in criminal prosecutions, and rooting out corrupt officers whose bad practices later lead to convictions being overturned.
In Philadelphia, murderers have a better chance of winning a coin toss than being arrested. Last Wednesday, during the most recent briefing on the city’s response to gun violence, the police presented data showing that through Aug. 15, only 43% of homicides this year led to an arrest. That homicide clearance rate, or the percentage of killings that lead to an arrest, is on par with recent years.
An Inquirer analysis of all shooting incidents between January 2015 and November 2020, including both fatal and nonfatal shootings, found that out of 8,500 incidents only 21% resulted in an arrest or charge and 9% led to a conviction.
One reason for the low clearance rate is that the police and the District Attorney’s Office have a hard time getting witnesses to take the stand. District Attorney Larry Krasner cited witnesses’ failure to appear in court as a central reason for the declining conviction rate in gun cases.
Then, there is the grim reality that an arrest — or even a conviction — doesn’t always mean a homicide has been solved. For most of the 1980s, Philadelphia’s homicide clearance rate was above 80%. In the years since, the city has learned that didn’t mean that more than 80% of the actual perpetrators were arrested. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, at least 14 people convicted of a murder in Philadelphia during the 1980s have been exonerated. Since 2018 alone, the conviction integrity unit in Krasner’s office has exonerated 22 people.
These exonerations, as well as recent reporting by The Inquirer, have shed light on the coercive and illegal tactics detectives used to get false confessions. This month, Krasner charged three former homicide detectives for lying in the 2016 retrial of Anthony Wright, whose murder conviction was vacated due to DNA evidence.
Also this month, Krasner asked a judge to hold the Philadelphia Police Department in contempt for failing to turn over police misconduct records.
Philadelphia’s twin crises of gun violence and homicides are multilayered and intertwined. To reduce the number of unsolved murders in the city, the homicide clearance rate needs to go up. For the homicide clearance rate to go up, witnesses need to have faith that the system is actually seeking justice — not simply trying to improve its statistics by throwing another person in prison.
The (Columbia, S.C.) State on a city’s challenge to overcome a history tied to slavery:
Among the artifacts housed at the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. is a poster, known as a broadside, advertising the auction of enslaved persons at the Charleston courthouse.
The people listed on the document range in age from a 1-month-old infant to a 70-year-old man named Old Peter.
Handwritten notations on the poster include the words healthy, very fine, breeding, and mostly white.
Charleston’s role in the slave trade — an estimated 40% of the enslaved Africans brought to the continent arrived in the city’s port — is well documented.
Some 155 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the city even issued an apology for the part it played.
But a belated apology would not erase the stain of slavery or the devastation it had wrought for centuries.
So, how does a city make amends for such atrocities? How does it redeem itself?
In Charleston, spurred by protestors seeking real change, city leaders created the Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation in 2020.
Now, commissions and advisory councils are not uncommon in government, but this one had a mission more far-reaching, more ambitious than most.
According to the commission’s report on its findings, “The recommendations in this report are initial steps that can be taken to achieve the stated purpose of the Commission to dismantle systemic racism and rebuilding Charleston as an actively anti-racist government.”
The report adds, “We can’t find one example of a system where there are no racial disparities in outcomes: Health, Education, Criminal Justice, Housing, and so on. Baked into the creation and ongoing policies of our government, media, and other institutions, racism operates at individual, institutional, and structural levels and is therefore present in every system we examine.”
Hard truths, spoken plainly.
From there, the document lays out 125 recommendations, possible ways to righting some of those wrongs.
Among the recommendations, for instance, is addressing structural inequities in recruitment, hiring, and promotion of city employees, decreasing pay disparities for those employees and “to make the City of Charleston a racially equitable working place.”
How would it do that?
The plan lays out a series of actions such as developing new city ordinances and processes for things such as auditing the demographical data of hiring and promotion and increasing “the diversity recruitment and in-house pipeline for all city supervisors, managers, and human resource positions.”
Imagine if every employer in America took that step alone and truly worked to make their employees a better reflection of the American people today.
The other recommendations tackle everything from providing resources to historically underfunded schools to “increasing mobility infrastructure,” which means improving sidewalks, streetscaping and lighting.
The plan seeks to better represent the history and culture of “Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color” with a board of public art review. It also includes budgeting for full-time public defender services and improving access to capital so 300 new Black owned businesses can become sustainable/viable over a five-year period.
Lofty goals, but all achievable.
The more controversial recommendations of the plan, however, led City Council this week to vote against formally receiving the report.
Talk of establishing a $100 million reparation fund using public/private partnerships to improve the economic well-being of Charleston’s Black population met with significant push back, even though the report was only being received, not implemented.
Change rarely comes as swiftly as it should, but a community must first recognize that change is needed.
The apology issued several years ago and the creation of this committee demonstrate that Charleston knows change is coming, but clearly it has a long way to go.
We urge other communities in the Palmetto State to look at their own histories and recognize that the sins of the past linger, and we urge Charleston to keep moving forward.
The goal is not to rewrite history or erase it, but to learn from it.
The Miami Herald on the importance of keeping Parkland school shooting trial open:
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer made the right decision — the only decision — on Tuesday, when she ruled that court hearings in the case of Nikolas Cruz, the accused Parkland school shooter, will remain open to the public and media.
As painful as the hearings will be for this wounded community, they must remain open. How else will South Floridians — and people the world over — know that justice is being carried out in this case of heinous violence?
Cruz, 22, is facing the death penalty, accused of murdering 17 people and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14, 2018. It remains the state’s worst-ever school shooting.
The ruling against this bad idea to close the hearings came after the Miami Herald and other media outlets, including the New York Times, the Associated Press and TV news groups, including ABC, CBS and NBC, objected to the defense’s request, arguing that holding every future hearing in secret was an overly broad, drastic step. The Broward State Attorney’s Office also objected.
The public defender’s office had asked the judge last week to close the hearings to avoid the possibility of further tainting a future jury pool, also arguing that the publicity sparked by the hearings could harm Cruz’s ability to get a fair trial.
But courts routinely handle sensitive hearings with a narrower approach. As the Broward State Attorney’s Office pointed out, defense lawyers can always ask the judge to review specific evidence in private. Many high-profile trials have been held without incident — and without difficulty finding an impartial jury.
PUBLIC NEEDS CLARITY
It’s hard to overstate the importance of this case in South Florida. When a community has been attacked as badly as we were in Parkland, we need absolute clarity on what happens in court. Closing all pretrial hearings is the opposite of that. We need to be able to examine every step of this process to be certain that it is handled correctly.
Cruz must get a fair trial. The wounded and the families of those killed in the attack deserve justice. But the best way to ensure those things is to allow public scrutiny, and let the media report what happens.
As attorney Deanna Shullman, who represents several TV networks, rightly noted last week in court, transparency in this case is not about “what the defendant did or a right to look at the evidence of his crimes. It is about the public’s right to oversee all the players in this process.”
Judge Scherer was right to agree.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on death, taxes and online filing fees:
Many Americans who pay the online do-it-yourself tax-preparation giant TurboTax may not even know the company offers a free version of its services, under an agreement with the federal government. Critics say that lack of knowledge is intentional — that after agreeing two decades ago to provide free filing services in exchange for a promise that the federal government wouldn’t offer its own free filing system, the company has downplayed its free service and steered users toward its paid services at every turn.
TurboTax now says it’s getting out of the government’s free-filing agreement entirely. Good. It clears the way for the IRS to do what it should have done long ago, and create its own free government portal for online tax preparation and filing.
During the George W. Bush administration, tax-preparation giant Intuit, owner of TurboTax, sidelined its most ominous potential competitor in the then-nascent online tax-filing industry: the federal government. The Bush administration had proposed the IRS create a free online filing website for taxpayers. Intuit and other private tax-preparation companies dispatched lobbyists to stop the feds from providing this reasonable service to the taxpayers.
They did it by cutting a deal to provide a free version of their services for taxpayers whose taxes were relatively simple (which is most of them). It sounded like a reasonable tradeoff — after all, Intuit, H&R Block and other companies already had the expertise in online tax services. The problem was that the companies had little incentive to make the free system work.
TurboTax, the largest of the entities that participated in the public-private Free File program, has since perfected the art of steering customers away from that program and toward its paid services. A 2019 ProPublica investigation found the company even resorted to adding code to its free program to prevent it from showing up in Google searches. These tactics worked. By 2019, some 40 million Americans were filing online with TurboTax, but fewer than 3 million were using the Free File program — even though roughly 70% of taxpayers are eligible to use it.
H&R Block announced last year it was leaving the free government program; TurboTax says it will exit after this year’s tax-filing season. With the two biggest providers leaving, the Free File system appears doomed. And that’s an opportunity.
Other advanced nations take advantage of modern internet efficiency by offering taxpayers free online filing directly to the government. There’s nothing to prevent this stunningly obvious service in the U.S. — nothing except the misplaced notion that even the civic responsibility of filing tax returns should be a profit opportunity for corporate America.
That profit comes at the expense of working taxpayers. Paying taxes is unpleasant enough; having private companies skim their take is worse. TurboTax’s exit should signal the start of a new era of free online tax filing with the government.
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