Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post argues that banning books about Black and LGBTQ people is un-American
As if there were not enough challenges facing the United States right now, Americans have to be on alert for a resurgence of book-banning campaigns at their local libraries. Across the nation, groups of mostly White conservatives are demanding that books be locked up or taken off the shelves entirely. Their main targets? Books about Black and LGBTQ people.
The numbers are staggering. The American Library Association recorded 729 challenges to library, school and university materials in 2021 that targeted more than 1,500 different book titles. That’s a record for attempted book bans since the ALA started tracking them in 2000. A similar analysis by PEN America from July through March found 1,586 instances of books being banned.
Attempts to censor and ban books are not a new phenomenon. In 1650, Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony tried to get what they thought were blasphemous books removed from their community. But what sets this latest wave of book banning apart is how much of it is being driven by politicians. PEN America found that more than 40% of the bans were “tied to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers to investigate or remove books in schools.” The Post’s Annie Gowen chronicled how a Texas county judge personally walked into a local library and took books off the shelves, ignoring the library’s procedures in which a person is supposed to fill out a challenge form to be reviewed by librarians.
The United States was founded on the principle of freedom of expression. We might not always like what our neighbors and fellow citizens have to say, but watching the severe restriction of news and information flow in Russia is the latest reminder of how quickly censorship can turn into something truly sinister. Librarian and editor Mary Jo Godwin once said that a truly great library contains something to offend everyone. But the reverse is also true: Great libraries have materials on their shelves (or in their e-circulation platforms) to support everyone trying to educate themselves, from home-schooling Christians to LGBTQ youths.
The ALA’s list of the most-challenged books lately is telling: At the top is “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, a memoir about coming of age as nonbinary. The second is “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, about a young biracial man trying to understand race, class and sexual-identity issues in modern America. Both books are highly rated on websites such as Goodreads, where readers give feedback, yet the fact that a few people object to “sexually explicit” content in the books has been enough to get them taken off public library shelves.
Purging libraries of books without a proper process and input from librarians, teachers and a range of community members is wrong. And it won’t be long before this latest book-ban push will likely prove to be counterproductive. Consider how the Confederacy banned books such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” for portraying slavery in a negative way. Or recall that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was outcry that the Harry Potter books were dangerous for children. The series went on to sell half a billion books worldwide and inspire a love of reading among many young people.
These latest book bans are not about protecting youths. Librarians and concerned citizens are right to fight them.
The Wall Street Journal says Biden has taken another step toward mass student-loan debt forgiveness
The Biden Administration this week announced another installment in its student-loan forgiveness plan to “fix longstanding failures” in the program. Translation: Taxpayers will pay again for the mistakes of Congress and the Obama Administration.
Congress created income-based repayment plans in 2007 to help borrowers manage mountains of debt they can’t repay. Initially borrowers could cap monthly payments at 15% of their discretionary income and discharge their remaining balance after 25 years. Those who went to work in “public service” had to pay 10% for 10 years.
Democrats made the terms more generous when they nationalized the student-loan market to pay for ObamaCare, reducing payments for new borrowers after June 2014 to 10% of their income and canceling debt after 20 years. In the runup to the 2016 election the Obama Administration expanded these plans to older borrowers.
Many of the eight million or so borrowers now enrolled in these plans aren’t paying enough to reduce their balances and have continued to accrue interest. This is one reason federal student debt has more than doubled since 2010, even though the number of borrowers has increased by only some 25%.
The plans have also been a headache for loan servicers that have to certify income, which can change. Rather than enroll in the plans, many borrowers have opted to pause payments for a time, though this means their loans won’t eventually be forgiven. Progressives have lambasted servicers for following borrowers’ wishes.
The Education Department is now riding to the rescue by announcing it will credit up to three years of paused payments toward loan forgiveness—on top of the two-years-and-counting pandemic pause. The Administration is taking the “income” and “repayment” out of income-based repayment.
About 3.6 million borrowers will benefit. Who knows how much it will cost, but an internal Trump Administration analysis projected that the government would lose $435 billion on the $1.4 trillion federal loan balance in 2018, mainly due to these loan forgiveness plans. That was before the pandemic pause.
The Administration has already canceled more than $100 billion in student debt by discrete regulatory actions and extending the pandemic pause through August. None of this has been authorized by Congress or satisfied the demands of progressives. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tipped last week that the pause will “be extended again or we’re going to make a decision” about “canceling student debt.”
Progressives won’t sleep until President Biden erases all $1.6 trillion in federal student debt. As ever, the saps are those who worked to repay their debt on time.
The New York Times asks if economic sanctions will stop Putin
When Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February, trampling on the sovereignty of a neighbor, international sanctions were the best path forward for the United States and its allies to take. The ruthlessness and grave atrocities toward civilians that have ensued since only reinforce that call.
As of this week, those sanctions have made dents in both Russia’s economy and its ability to wage war in Ukraine. As foreign companies have withdrawn operations from Russia, Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, estimated that some 200,000 people there are at risk of losing their jobs, and there’s some evidence that the decision by Europe and the United States to restrict the export of microchips has already affected Russia’s ability to produce and repair tanks. The sanctions have also sent a vital message of support to the Ukrainian people.
It is undeniable that the United States and its allies were — and still are — right to use sanctions to try to end this war.
Yet as the Biden administration weighs the next phase of this conflict, Americans should be cleareyed about the limits of what sanctions are likely to achieve.
It’s too early to know how history will judge this unprecedented, sweeping effort to make Mr. Putin pay a price for his war. Nor can we predict the unintended consequences these sanctions may produce in the coming months or years. But there are lots of indications that the war — and the sanctions it triggered — could last a long time. As it is wise to have definite goals and an exit strategy when a country enters a military conflict, the same is true for waging economic warfare.
The West has turned to sanctions as a tool with growing frequency since World War II — in places as varied as South Africa, the Soviet Union, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea and Iran. It is relatively easy to apply sanctions, and they nearly always satisfy the domestic political need to “do something” short of military engagement.
Here’s the issue: Sanctions historically have not been particularly effective in changing regimes, and their record at changing dictators’ behavior is mixed at best.
Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea never bowed to American demands. Where there are success stories, they are modest: Crippling sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program, but that regime never stopped asserting its right to enrich uranium. The bite of sanctions eventually contributed to the end of white-minority rule in South Africa, but it was just one of many factors.
Or, to understand the limits of sanctions, Americans might consider our own national experience. When Arab nations imposed an oil embargo on the United States in the 1970s, it caused a lot of pain, but it did not cause the United States to stop supporting Israel.
The Biden administration deserves credit for laying the groundwork for multilateral sanctions, which are the only kind that have the hope of success. The greatest effects seen so far from the sanctions have been by unplugging Russia, if only partially, from the international financial system through moves like freezing billions of dollars in assets overseas and taking some Russian banks off SWIFT, the global messaging system for financial transactions. These far-reaching punishments, unthinkable even a few months ago, displayed a new sense of cooperation among the United States and the other Group of 7 countries.
Even Mr. Putin acknowledged that they have “achieved certain results.” But focusing on helping Ukraine financially and with military equipment might prove more productive than thinking up new sanctions on Russia. The Biden administration appears to recognize this, at least in part, with its latest $800 million in military aid and $500 million in emergency funding announced on Thursday.
Sanctions alone — at least any sanctions that European countries would be willing to now consider — will not bring Russia to its knees any time soon. As long as Europeans still depend on Russian oil and gas, Russia will be able to depend on significant income from that relationship. The spat over whether gas deliveries will be paid in rubles, as Russia has demanded, only highlights the bind that European countries find themselves in.
The oligarchs who are losing their yachts and the people who are tightening their belts have little sway over the Kremlin. In Russia, with average citizens, Mr. Putin has grist for a loud “I told you so” about the West’s purported longing to bring down Russia.
Will the sanctions imposed by the Group of 7 nations truly isolate Russia? No. A number of countries, including Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and, most significantly, China, remain on friendly terms with Russia. The fact that this list also includes archrivals Pakistan and India, as well as Iran and Israel, illustrates Mr. Putin’s influence as an arms dealer and a power broker in South Asia and the Middle East.
The United States could tighten the economic screws on Russia by imposing secondary sanctions. U.S. officials already appear to be threatening as much in meetings and calls with officials in India and China. Secondary sanctions are a powerful tool to compel other countries to get in line with American policy. But the potential benefits need to be weighed against the risks and costs. The extraterritorial application of American laws can also incite deep resentment, even from European allies at times. Secondary sanctions should be used sparingly, and only after consultation with partners.
Sanctions can have other unintended consequences as well. They can actually end up strengthening a dictator’s grip on power by tightening state control over the economy. Private businesses can have a hard time weathering the storm of sanctions, but authoritarian regimes and their state-owned enterprises often find ways to circumvent them. Sanctions also provide dictators with a credible external enemy to blame for the misery of their people. Instead of pushing people to rise up against their rulers, sanctions often inspire a rally-around-the-flag effect. After Western sanctions were placed on Russia in 2014, in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea, 71% of Russians saw them as an attempt to “weaken and humiliate Russia,” according to an independent poll.
It is also worth remembering that, although Russia’s invasion proves that economic integration is no cure for war, economic isolation is also not a recipe for peace. Sanctions are often sold as an alternative to war. But they can also be a precursor to war, as seen with the institution of the American oil embargo against Japan and the freezing of Japanese assets about five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
So, while sanctions can hobble economies, they rarely compel the kinds of wholesale political changes that American officials would like to see. Research has shown that they produced some meaningful changes in behavior about 40% of the time. Change is unlikely to occur when sanctions are imposed without communicating the steps that must be taken for them to be rolled back.
All the more reason that the United States should have a clear plan for how and under what circumstances it would be appropriate to roll back these latest sanctions. Right now, this has been left deliberately vague to allow the Ukrainians to directly negotiate with Russia. It is laudable to give deference to Ukrainians whose lives are on the line in this terrible war. But creating clear goals and communicating benchmarks for sanctions relief are important factors in successful sanctions. Too often, sanctions are left in place for decades, without evaluation of whether or not they are achieving what they were put in place to do.
The United States and its allies have been wise in tightening the economic screws on Russia, so long as they bear no illusions about what this can and cannot achieve.
China Daily says U.S. inflation is self-made trouble
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the media on Friday that for the “desired effects” to lower US inflation, it was worth considering taking steps to reduce the tariffs on Chinese goods.
Her comments came a day after Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh suggested that the U.S. should lower tariffs imposed on non-strategic Chinese goods, such as bicycles and apparel to help combat inflation.
Their comments show the urgency with which the U.S. wants to tame its inflation, which hit a 40-year high last month.
Yet although the Joe Biden administration should put an end to the unprovoked trade war launched against China by the previous administration, it is estimated that inflation would only be reduced from the current 8.5% to about 7% even if the U.S. removed all the extra tariffs on Chinese imports.
The inflation in the U.S. has been caused by multiple factors, stemming from the Biden administration’s misjudgments and shortsightedness in handling domestic and geopolitical issues.
Although the administration was warned that its ambitious bailout policy would stoke inflation, it still pressed ahead with it, and appears content that the policy gave a shot in the arm to the U.S. economy.
But the effects of that financial morphine have not lasted long and rather than help resolve the structural issues plaguing the U.S. economy, it just served to delay the flare-up of the economic woes, while aggravating the social problems in the country.
The Biden administration chose to create false prosperity in the hope that it would gain more time and space in which it could maneuver, without thinking how absurd it was to pin its hopes on defeating the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession simply by printing more bank notes.
The outbreak of the Ukraine conflict, which the Biden administration has fomented, has further compounded the problems by depreciating the value of the round-the-clock bank notes rolling off the printing press by triggering price hikes. The prices of oil, natural gas, food and industrial raw materials have soared sharply, and the upward momentum has been further aggravated by the sanctions it has imposed on Russia.
The Biden administration’s blind inheritance and intensifying of its predecessor’s self-harming trade policies toward China also show, although inflation is a critical concern for the Biden administration, whose approval ratings are falling as dramatically as prices are rising, nearly everything it does is ironically pro-inflation.
The Democrats are likely to lose their majority in Congress in the midterm elections in November if the inflation is unchecked. And that seems likely if the administration continues to blunder from one mistake to another.
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