Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Boston Herald on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” dress:
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is a woman of the people. So much so that she walked past a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and joined the starry Met Gala inside as a guest earlier this week.
As the New York Post reported, AOC said she and New York-based designer Aurora James, whose dress she was wearing, were there to “kick open the doors at the Met.”
No need. AOC got her $30,000+ ticket comped.
The Met Gala is the annual fundraiser to benefit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. It’s known for celebrities, over-the-top-fashion, and lots and lots of money. In 2019, over $13 million reportedly was raised.
The talk of the evening, of course, was AOC’s white off-the-shoulder gown by James, emblazoned with the words “Tax the Rich” in red.
That’s the Squad star’s motto.
James, who launched the luxury label Brother Vellies, is known for producing shoes and accessories and couldn’t calculate the cost of AOC’s dress, FastCompany reported. To get an idea, a pair of sky blue pumps with Swarovski crystals and pearls by James will set you back $715.
According to Fox News, during an interview on the red carpet, Ocasio-Cortez said she and James discussed “what it means to be working-class women of color at the Met.”
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez makes at least $174,000 a year. She is not working class by a long shot.
Clearly AOC saw her dress as social warrior armor — kicking down the doors (which were being held open for her) and telling the rich folks they needed to fund her Green New Deal and everything else on her agenda.
“We need to break the fourth wall and challenge some of the institutions, and while the Met is known for its spectacle, we should have a conversation about it,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
And what would that conversation be? What the fallout of AOC’s 70% tax on the wealthy might look like? Fundraising for the Met is a tiny sliver of the pie.
The rich do more than shoot into space and land back on Earth triumphantly minutes later. They spend some of that loot on things like pricey blue pumps with Swarovski crystals, fund startup companies and give away sizable chunks of change.
BusinessInsider reported on the 2019 WealthX Billionaire Census, which tracked, among other things, which causes billionaires donated to and in what percentage.
Among its findings: 32.6% of the world’s billionaire population gave to environmental, conservation and animal causes
31.9% donated to children and youth development
57.4% gave to health care and medical research
57.6% donated to arts and culture
This is just a sampling, and the study noted that the numbers never added up to 100% because people donated to more than one cause.
AOC has been called out before for her lack of economics savvy, and we fear it’s showing again, despite the long hemline on her gown.
Though wealthy benefactors fundraising for a costume department in a museum may strike some as so much excess, it’s spectacle that attracts tourists. Art museums, science museums, live theater, concerts, restaurants — you name it, disposable income is good, because it fuels our economy.
Now there’s a slogan that would look good on a dress.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on national debt and tax evasion by the wealthy:
A new Treasury Department report finds that the United States is losing $163 billion per year because of tax evasion by the top 1% of earners. The story is mind-numbingly familiar: phenomenally rich people finding new and creative ways to boost their wealth even more by cheating the rest of the responsible, taxpaying public.
The $163 billion that the richest 1% evade annually accounts for a whopping 28% of all unpaid taxes by Americans, according to the report by Natasha Sarin, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy. That total lost revenue accounts for 3% of gross domestic product and is equal to all of the taxes actually paid by the lowest-earning 90% of taxpayers, she added in a Sept. 7 report.
It’s not as if the rich were hurting and needed the money. In fact, while the rest of the nation shut down and unemployment skyrocketed during the pandemic, the richest 1% found ways to profit to the tune of $7 trillion.
“Our pain has been their gain,” inequality researcher Chuck Collins, author of “The Wealth Hoarders,” told CBS News in March.
And they keep gaining more all the time, inflicting additional pain on tax revenues and boosting the bill that ultimately must be paid by the rest of the country. For the price of a relatively few accountants specializing in tax evasion, the richest of the rich save more than enough money to buy additional yachts, private jets, shoreside villas and whatever other luxury their hearts desire. They force policymakers to “choose between rising deficits, lower spending on important priorities, or further tax (increases) to compensate for lost revenue — which will only be borne by compliant taxpayers,” Sarin wrote.
Budget and staffing cuts, many of which date back to Republican anger over Internal Revenue Service monitoring of the supposed tax-exempt, nonprofit status of various tea party organizations during the Obama administration, have decreased the agency’s ability to detect and prosecute high-dollar tax evaders. Not just anyone is trained to parse the thousands of pages of complicated tax filings submitted by high earners and big corporations, Sarin says. It takes expensive, qualified specialists who are at least as talented as the people concocting evasion techniques for the other side.
The 2017 tax package engineered by then-President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress was an obvious boondoggle for the rich from the day it was proposed, and the middle class has been paying a steep price ever since. The tax cuts never made financial sense, but they make even less sense now that it’s clear that they only served as a springboard for the ultra-rich to concoct additional ways to fleece the country.
Deficit hawks and fiscal conservatives in the GOP ranks should be livid. But that would first require them to do the math, which recent history shows has never been their strong suit.
The Toronto Star on 9/11 and the values America lost:
It was 102 minutes from the moment the north tower of the World Trade Center was hit by a hijacked passenger plane until both towers had fallen into the streets of Manhattan.
What followed — in New York City, in Washington, D.C., in a Pennsylvania field — was death and horror, heroism and humanity in unimaginable extremes.
Twenty years on from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a wounded America has hardly stopped bleeding, its best traits too often forgotten in the aftermath, its worst aspects too often on display.
Today, much of what diminishes and torments the United States — a nation that sometimes seems at war with itself — can be traced to 9/11.
The lost faith in institutions — in government, in security agencies, in the news media — and in truth itself.
The abandoned national ideals, the brazenly duplicitous leaders, the craven enablers.
In a sort of atavistic convulsion, the U.S. has seen renewed, overt racism, demonization of “the other,” the rise of tribalism and white supremacy.
It was historian Richard Hofstadter who famously identified paranoia and anti-intellectualism as central elements of the American psyche, and in the aftermath of the attack too many Americans returned to fear-based isolationism and conspiracy theories.
No other word than paranoia adequately evokes “the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness and conspiratorial fantasy,” Hofstadter wrote.
He could easily have been writing about today.
In 2004, the 9/11 Commission Report concluded that the attacks revealed four kinds of American failure: in imagination, policy, capabilities and management.
It could hardly have hit more squarely on what had been American points of pride.
To a nation hailed as the world’s pre-eminent superpower after the end of the Cold War, it was a humbling of epic proportion.
The attack “was carried out by a tiny group of people, not enough to man a full platoon,” the report said.
“The resources behind it were trivial. The group itself was dispatched by an organization based in one of the poorest, most remote, and least industrialized countries on Earth.”
Two decades later, America still has not fully regained its footing since being blind-sided by an organization few of its people had heard of.
In the immediate aftermath, the White House expected full-throated support from citizens and general compliance from media — and it got it.
A charade was constructed about Iraq’s culpability in the attack and its imagined weapons of mass destruction.
It turned out that none of the 9/11 terrorists were Iraqi, nor was there evidence that al Qaeda had ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime.
But the times were not much interested in reality.
Shock and awe was launched in Iraq. Misinformation was launched on Americans.
Presidential advisers — foreshadowing the Trumpian universe of alternate facts — sneered at “reality-based” media. America, it was said, created its own reality by its actions.
Distortion and deceit were becoming a tactic, not an embarrassment.
At Guantanamo Bay, the prison for enemy combatants off the American mainland and out of sight of human-rights sticklers, the U.S. legal system’s protections were shredded, with no small consequence.
“The methods countenanced in Bush’s war on terror have given all repressive regimes of both right and left an excuse for their own atrocities,” Ronald Wright wrote in his book What Is America?
At Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison commandeered by American troops, Iraqi prisoners were subjected to brutality and sadism, and again the American star faded.
“They represent deviant behaviour and a failure of military leadership and discipline,” investigators concluded.
Theatre of the absurd was passed off as leadership when George Bush landed on an aircraft carrier in, as Frank Rich put it, “more combat gear than a Tom Cruise stunt double,” to risibly declare Mission Accomplished.
That reality-TV approach to the presidency presaged the day in 2016 when a real-life charlatan would assume the most powerful office in the world.
In its response to 9/11, America gave up on much that made it great.
It destabilized an entire region and ushered it into chaos as current as the latest newscasts.
Over the last two decades, the damage to the reputation of the United States, its loss of moral standing in the world, has been massive.
America became, as Wright wrote, an “unreliable member of the world community.”
The dead are properly commemorated. Memorials have been built. A generation unborn that clear blue morning in September has come of age.
Yet 20 years on, a wounded nation, traumatized and untethered from its comfortable verities, still suffers and reels.
The Dallas Morning News on vaccine skeptics and derision:
You’ve likely seen the headlines about COVID-19 killing radio hosts and activists who opposed vaccines and masks. Several of those headlines were about Caleb Wallace, a Texan who helped organize a “freedom rally” this summer to protest mask-wearing. Some corners of the internet reacted with ridicule to news of his death last month, sparing no thought to Wallace’s grieving wife and daughters.
It’s important that we all resist the impulse to scream, “I told you so!” Yes, it’s maddening to find ourselves swept up in yet another wave of COVID-19 cases eight months into the rollout of vaccines that should have ended this pandemic by now. But every death is a tragedy and should be treated as such.
Mocking vaccine skeptics who’ve been fed misinformation won’t convince people on the fence to get vaccinated. Our inclination should be to show others that we care about them, not to win an argument.
Dallas County has been bombarding people with opportunities to get vaccinated. We appreciate officials’ unrelenting efforts to expand access to the vaccine, but their main hurdle now is resistance to the science and to the messengers. The tone of the message matters greatly.
A Census Bureau survey and polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation show that concerns about side effects or the newness of the vaccine and distrust in the government rank among the top reasons why people are hesitant to get the shots.
Yes, there are relentless vaccine skeptics whose foolish actions demonstrate they’re immune to reason. But the loud ones don’t represent all. Sherri Mixon, executive director of the T.R. Hoover Community Development Center in South Dallas, said she’s heartbroken because an unvaccinated family in her circle is both grieving a father who died from COVID-19 and watching two adult sons struggle to survive in the hospital.
Mixon said people in her community can be leery when officials share information with them suddenly instead of gradually.
“When this pandemic hit, a lot of the information didn’t hit the doorsteps or mailboxes of the folks of this community,” she told us. “That’s the reason we took charge to search the net and call different agencies and provide that information out in (vaccine) registration lines.”
The demographic groups that government officials are targeting for vaccination should be involved in crafting the message, Mixon said.
Leslie Armijo, an Oak Cliff community advocate who’s been promoting the vaccine all year, said some of the reluctance among Hispanic families in this area stems from confusion about whether insurance is required and fear that personal data could be shared with immigration authorities. Having leaders from President Joe Biden to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins constantly assure people that this data sharing is not happening would help some families feel more comfortable, Armijo told us.
When Armijo’s neighbors justify their hesitancy based on myths, she said she tries to understand their feelings and share facts. It’s one thing to indulge a conspiracy theory, and it’s another to recognize that someone’s views are wrong but that their fears are sincere.
We should learn from Armijo’s approach: “I also take no for an answer,” she told us. “It may not be that first time, or that second encounter or the third encounter, but hopefully if they keep having positive encounters with people who are promoting vaccines, eventually it will have some kind of effect.”:
The Portland (Maine) Press-Herald on the coronavirus pandemic edging toward a grim milestone:
The influenza pandemic of 1918-’19 is the worst infectious-disease outbreak in American history.
First identified among military personnel in Europe, it quickly spread around the globe, showing up in American army camps by the summer of 1918. It spread quickly: In less than a week after the first case was reported at Camp Devens in Massachusetts, there were 6,674 cases.
Infection often led to pneumonia. Death typically came within two days after the first symptoms were noticed. Subsequent waves of infections occurred during the following winter and the spring of 1919.
When it was all over, the virus caused an estimated 25 million deaths worldwide and 675,000 in the United States. It’s a record that still stands today, more than a century later.
But we are about to see it eclipsed. As of this writing, 656,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID in the U.S. in 2020 and 2021, and we are averaging more than 1,500 deaths every day. At this rate, we will pass the death toll of the flu pandemic by Sept. 22.
The world is very different today than during the influenza pandemic.
For one thing, the influenza deaths need to be put in context of the nation’s population. The United States of 1918-19 had about one third as many people as the country has today, so the earlier pandemic had a much higher death rate. The 675,000 deaths represented 0.6 percent of the population in 1919, while that total would represent only 0.2 percent today.
But other differences need to be taken into account.
Most importantly, there was no influenza vaccine in 1918 to stop the spread of the virus. We have a COVID vaccine, and it works. According to one of three studies released Friday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who were not fully vaccinated against COVID were 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die than those who had received their shots. The approved vaccines were 86 percent effective in preventing hospitalization, even with the highly delta variant, another study released by the CDC found.
And today’s COVID patients have the benefit of more than 100 years of advances in medical science as well as the ability of public health officials to communicate to every corner of the country simultaneously, getting potentially life-saving information to people in real time.
The death rate should be lower today than it was at the time of the First World War. It should be even lower than it is.
Unfortunately, too many modern Americans are dying of COVID, despite all of our advantages.
The vaccines have become politicized, with influential Americans discouraging others from taking advantage of the protections they provide. Two-thirds of Mainers are fully vaccinated, but nationally the number is just over half, giving the virus too much opportunity to spread and mutate.
That’s why we needed the Biden administration’s actions last week to require all federal employees and contractors as well as the employees of large businesses to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.
The more people get the vaccine, the less we will have to worry about COVID. It seems unlikely that we can avoid passing the 1918-19 influenza pandemic as the deadliest pandemic in history, but we have to tools to stop people from dying, if we choose to use them.
The Wall Street Journal on Democrats’ maneuvering on budget, policy:
Spending $3.5 trillion on a budget bill apparently doesn’t satisfy the progressive imperative. Democrats control the 50-50 Senate thanks only to the Vice President as tiebreaker, and they lack the votes to nuke the filibuster. Nevertheless, they insist that their mammoth budget bill must also include big policy changes, even if it takes bending Senate rules beyond recognition.
On Friday the Senate’s parliamentarian heard arguments from both sides on how much a reconciliation bill can rewrite immigration law. Democrats want to give green cards to as many as eight million people. Legalizing the so-called Dreamers who came here as children is a good idea on the merits, but is it a budget item? The obvious answer is no, and everybody knows it. Legalizing eight million people would have budgetary effects, but revenues and outlays are clearly beside the point.
The House Education and Labor plan, meantime, would rewrite U.S. labor law to give unions a new advantage. “It shall be unlawful,” one provision says, for an employer to “promise, threaten, or take any action” to “permanently replace an employee who participates in a strike.” Another section would create civil penalties for “unfair labor practices,” up to $100,000 a pop. Company directors and officers could be held personally liable if they so much as “established a policy that led to such a violation.”
The House Energy and Commerce proposal would launch a Clean Electricity Performance Program. Starting in 2023, energy suppliers that increased their clean power by four percentage points a year would receive grants for a portion of that gain, based on a formula of $150 per megawatt-hour. Those that failed would owe “a payment”—is this a fine, or maybe it’s a tax?—based on $40 per megawatt-hour. It reads like regulation by alternative means.
To qualify for passage under reconciliation, a provision is supposed to affect the budget in a way that’s more than incidental. This is part of what’s known as the Byrd rule. When the reconciliation process was set up in 1974, the temptation was to label everything budgetary. In the 1980s, Sen. Robert Byrd moved to limit these abuses. The Byrd rule has been stretched since then, but it still imposes at least some discipline on reconciliation.
In February Bernie Sanders wanted to use the budget process to enact a nationwide $15 minimum wage. The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, said this proposal was extraneous. Six years ago the same thing happened when Republicans wanted to ax ObamaCare’s mandate to buy health insurance, so the GOP eventually settled for cutting the penalty to $0.
Ms. MacDonough hasn’t said when she plans to rule on those eight million green cards, but she’s under enormous pressure to wave things past the Byrd rule. After she nixed Mr. Sanders’s $15 minimum wage, some Democrats called for her to be ignored—or fired. Perhaps their strategy today is to blitz Ms. MacDonough with so many incidental provisions that some are bound to make it through.
Yet if immigration or labor law can be rewritten by reconciliation, then the Byrd rule will be as dead as the dodo, and don’t expect Republicans to turn the other cheek. To quote GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s comment in 2013 about breaking the filibuster for judicial nominees, Democrats might regret this, and a lot sooner than they think.
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