Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on President Donald Trump's final month in office:
While Americans prepare to celebrate the holiday season, President Trump and his hardcore supporters are contemplating a turbulent final month that could make the rest of his chaotic presidency look placid. As Mr. Trump sidelines even some of his most loyal aides and allies, the few checks that remained on the president’s behavior are eroding, potentially leading to a Jan. 6 showdown over electoral votes on Capitol Hill that could further damage U.S. democracy.
Government officials and even some presidential aides are reportedly bracing for what might come next. The possibilities include strange orders to the armed forces, mass firings in key national security departments, more bizarre pardons, demands to prosecute Trump political enemies or the appointment of one or several special counsels to force the Justice Department to investigate bogus claims of election irregularities and other Trump obsessions.
These possibilities have led senior government officials to deliver extraordinary public statements. Attorney General William P. Barr, whose last day is Wednesday, has said that he saw no evidence of “systemic or broad-based” election fraud and no basis for seizing election machines, appointing a special counsel to investigate voting irregularities or tapping a special counsel to examine President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Meanwhile, responding to suggestions of martial law from some of those in Mr. Trump’s orbit, the Army chief of staff, Gen. James C. McConville, and Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy declared Friday that “there is no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election.” Americans can appreciate these statements — while feeling horrified that they are necessary. Necessary for Army brass to say that the military will not help stage a coup. Necessary for the attorney general to make clear that federal law enforcement authorities will not help the president overturn an election he lost.
What seems increasingly likely is a Capitol Hill fight on Jan. 6, in which a distressingly large number of Republican lawmakers might move to strike the electoral votes of several swing states in a desperate effort to deny Americans their duly elected government. A cabal of House conservatives has been plotting at the White House with Mr. Trump and Vice President Pence. Mr. Pence’s presence is notable because he will preside over the electoral vote counting at the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress.
If just a single senator signs on to the objections, lawmakers must engage in a lengthy debate and vote that would serve as another toxic loyalty test for congressional Republicans: Mr. Trump or democracy. Incoming Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville (R) has already signaled interest in forcing that vote. Many Republican lawmakers will be tempted to sign on to the objections or vote to sustain them, calculating that the Democratic House and a handful of GOP senators will vote to uphold Mr. Biden’s victory, anyway. But their votes would not be costless. Their collaboration with Mr. Trump would heighten the chances of a future Congress controlled by one party overturning the results of a presidential election, based on fake fraud allegations.
Republican lawmakers who are cowering before Mr. Trump must find the self-respect that Mr. Barr, Pentagon officials and others have summoned over the past several days. Indulging Mr. Trump’s lies about a stolen election and his corrupt efforts to negate the people’s will corrodes self-government and stains their reputations forever.
The Los Angles Times on the coronavirus relief bill:
Close to one-fifth of the $908 billion proposed in Congress’ long-awaited coronavirus relief bill will be sent directly to American taxpayers in the form of “Economic Impact Payments” — checks of up to $600 per person. The $166 billion devoted to these payments is the second-largest line item in the bill, trailing only the $325 billion for loans to help struggling small businesses.
And yet, in the view of some critics, the amount isn’t nearly enough. ”$600 is not ‘a lot’ for families,” author Don Winslow said in a tweet that typified the pushback, “and ... the people who said it was ‘a lot’ are detached from the pain of millions of Americans. It will not help them in any real or meaningful way.”
The critics are right that the checks will make only a small dent in the fiscal problems faced by some Americans. At the same time, they will pad the savings accounts of millions of Americans who are not struggling.
That’s because the payments are the least efficient and most poorly targeted element of the bill. The full amount will be available to individuals earning up to $75,000 per year and to couples earning up to $150,000; at least some dollars will flow to individuals with adjusted gross incomes of up to $99,000 and couples with AGIs up to $198,000. That’s about 85% of the population.
Dumping money broadly across the public is not a bad idea when the economy needs a spark. But the economy, which rebounded sharply in the summer only to level off in recent weeks, doesn’t need stimulus at this point. The public needs relief — not everyone, just the minority who’ve experienced the pandemic most acutely.
Other parts of the bill will funnel aid more exclusively to people in crisis, extending and enlarging unemployment benefits, helping renters and increasing food stamp benefits. Beyond that are the provisions that respond to other pandemic-related needs, including aid for small employers, local bus and rail services, child care centers, schools and the Postal Service. There’s also more than $50 billion to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines and run testing and tracing programs to try to contain the disease.
All of those programs are important, and in the case of unemployment benefits and rental assistance, the needs will almost certainly continue after the money is exhausted. Meanwhile, many state and local governments, whose efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus have raised their costs and slashed their tax collections, are facing severe budget shortages that could force extensive layoffs. The latest relief bill will help those governments in some specific ways — for example, by covering some pandemic-related healthcare costs — but it doesn’t provide the magnitude or breadth of help that local governments have been desperately seeking.
So Monday’s measure is a temporary one. The question is whether Congress will be willing to step up again next year to address the problems that remain — and the ones that will return after the latest injection of aid runs out.
On that point, the signs are not encouraging. Congressional Republicans have voiced more concern about the burgeoning federal budget deficit, something they showed no interest in when they controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency. It’s worth remembering that in the last recession, Republican opposition to stimulus efforts after the passage of the $800-billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 contributed to the sluggish pace of economic growth.
With future funding uncertain, you might argue that Congress should have provided significantly larger checks to help people through the current crisis. But given how poorly targeted the program is, bigger checks would also mean even more money flowing to people who don’t need it. The perceived waste will only lend ammunition to the lawmakers who don’t want to provide more aid of any kind next year.
A better answer would have been to provide significantly larger checks just to people with problems that fall outside the reach of the government’s financial safety net — for example, lower-income Americans struggling to pay an unexpected car repair bill or medical expense. And that’s really hard to do, especially when you’re trying to get the aid out quickly.
The proposal unveiled Monday is as unsatisfying as any compromise, but the amount of money overall is significant. Considering that Senate Republicans were willing to provide only $500 billion as recently as October (and much of that money was recycled from previous measures), the new bill is a welcome step forward. The next challenge will be to make sure it isn’t the last step in the right direction.
The Wall Street Journal on the Democrats response to the coronavirus relief bill:
No sooner had Congress passed Covid relief and a budget bill totaling $2.3 trillion on Monday than Democrats were already demanding more. Joe Biden called it a mere “down payment” and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it is “a first step.” They want bailouts for the states in particular, even as the latest Census report shows states are doing far better than they claim.
States are also doing very well in this latest Covid bill. Start with the $26 billion for transit agencies, airports and shovel-ready public works. This will help New York’s transit and port authorities reduce their financial holes.
There’s also $22 billion for the states for Covid testing and contact tracing, though insurers and the feds cover the cost of tests. States will use it for more budget backfill. The Los Angeles Times reported last month that 25 LA County firefighters had made more than $100,000 on average in overtime by ferrying test supplies, most of which was reimbursed by federal Cares Act funds.
Education will get a whopping $82 billion, about $54 billion of which will go to K-12 schools though many are closed and employ fewer staff. That’s about as much as the federal government spends on K-12 in a normal year. The bill also provides $3.2 billion for broadband for low-income families, so public schools don’t have to pay for that.
States will also benefit from the federal enhanced $300 weekly unemployment benefits, which are taxable income in most states. The jobless benefit sweetener will especially help states with higher unemployment such as New Jersey (10.2%), Hawaii (10.1%), New York (8.4%), Connecticut (8.2%) and California (8.2%).
New Bureau of Economic Analysis data show how blue states that shut down more businesses have reaped larger federal payments. Transfer receipts grew significantly more for New Jersey (67.6%), California (54.6%), Illinois (51.7%), and New York (44.7%) than for Arizona (35.4%), Florida (26.5%), Wisconsin (22.5%) and South Dakota (20.9%) from the third quarter of 2019 to the third quarter of 2020.
At the same time, wages and salaries increased significantly more in states that allowed more businesses to reopen such as Arizona (4.7%), South Dakota (5.5%), Florida (1.7%) and Wisconsin (2.9%) than in states that maintained stricter lockdowns like New York (-1.6%), New Jersey (-1%), Illinois (0.2%) and California (2.3%). See the nearby charts.
Florida took an earnings hit because its hospitality industry was slammed especially hard by the pandemic. Silicon Valley, on the other hand, has remained buoyant, with California’s professional, scientific and tech service earnings up 4.5% year-over-year, though less than in Idaho (7.4%) and Utah (8.5%), which have benefited from California’s tech job outsourcing.
The Golden State is also rolling in tax revenue amid the stock market’s boom and tech initial public offerings. Its November revenues were 16.4% higher year-over-year and so far this fiscal year are 20.4% above the state’s spring estimate.
The Census Bureau reported last week that total state and local government tax revenues for the 12 months ending in September were up $46.4 billion (3%) year-over-year. Personal income tax revenue has increased 3.3% and property tax revenues 4.7% while sales taxes have dipped a mere 0.4%.
The Federal Reserve’s interventions have lifted housing prices and stock-market capital gains. Increased asset values have also produced a “wealth effect,” which in addition to government transfer payments has boosted spending. The bottom 20% of households account for 9% of consumer spending compared to 39% by the top 20%.
Democrats aren’t talking about all this because they want to plead poverty as the Biden Administration takes power. But state and local governments have already received plenty of federal Covid cash. They want more so they can pay off public unions and avoid reforming their runaway pensions. The next Congress should do taxpayers a favor and just say no, we already gave at the office.
The Chicago Sun Times on Gen. Gustave F. Perna apologizing for shipping fewer Pfizer Covid vaccine doses than expected:
We can’t learn from our mistakes if we don’t fess up to them.
So it was refreshing over the weekend to hear Gen. Gustave F. Perna, head of the federal effort to distribute coronavirus vaccines, offer an actual apology — just when we feared the word had been stricken from the dictionary of politics.
Perna took the blame for the confusion created when the federal government miscalculated how many doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine could be shipped. At least 14 states, including Illinois, learned they would not be getting as many of the vials as they expected. On Dec. 16, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the expected federal nationwide shipment of 8 million doses had been reduced to 4.3 million doses.
“It was my fault,” Perna said. “It was a planning error, and I am responsible.”
How often lately have we heard words like that from any top federal official, though the government’s response to the pandemic has been appallingly bad? Never once before, as best we can recall. Nobody says “I apologize.” Nobody says “I am responsible.”
At a time when it’s critical to get the vaccines distributed properly across the country, our judgment is that we’re lucky to have Perna heading the effort. We’ll take integrity over perfection any time.
We should also heed the general’s fear, expressed on “60 Minutes” recently, that too few people might line up to get the shots.
Perna looks to be doing his job. We had better do ours.
The Seattle Times on philanthropist MacKenzie Scott $4.16 billion donation to serval American organizations, including several historically black colleges and universities:
Even in this season of giving, the announcement that MacKenzie Scott is giving $4.16 billion to hundreds of American organizations sent a powerful message. In a tsunami of philanthropy, she leapt toward fulfillment of her May 2019 pledge to donate the majority of her wealth to help others. In the process, she exemplified for the nation’s hundreds of other billionaires how to give back after getting much.
The jaw-dropping sum is only part of what makes Scott’s act so impressive. It is a fortune by itself, one large enough to better the lives of an immense number of people. But the range of organizations chosen to receive the money — and the effort Scott put into vetting that list — deserves as much praise as the cash involved.
The 384 recipients came from a potential pool of more than 6,000 organizations, Scott wrote in her blog. Her team analyzed 822 of that group closely and set aside more than half of them after examining operational structures and organizational effectiveness.
This diligence sent the donations where their effect has the greatest chance to be “transformational,” as described by the leader of one of five Washington recipients, Cathy Bisaillon, CEO of Easterseals Washington. Worthy recipients stretch from Alaska to Puerto Rico, encompassing historically Black universities, food banks, legal defense funds and economic-empowerment programs. The other Washington recipients are Walla Walla Community College, the YMCA of Greater Seattle, The Pride Foundation and Craft3, which invests in businesses owned by people of color.
This philanthropic agenda thoughtfully addresses a nation wearied by a pandemic and strained by systemic inequities. And Scott’s hands-off terms for the donations — “with full trust and no strings attached,” she wrote — means the organizations her team found well-run and effective don’t have to waste time proving grant compliance.
People already doing this world some good can now do more of it, thanks to Scott’s work. And wealthy people who want to become better givers now have a world-class template for how to do it. Thank you, MacKenzie Scott.
The Guardian on a new and seemingly more contagious strain of the coronavirus in England:
The lockdown in the south-east of England may be the shape of things to come. Sixteen million people are under new severe tier 4 restrictions and there are suggestions that these tougher new rules could be in place for months. Many more across the country have seen their plans torn up at the 11th hour. The reason for the government’s change of plan is a new strain of the virus, dubbed B117, that appears no more lethal than the original Sars-CoV-2 but is much more transmissible. European nations have banned flights from the UK, fearful that a mutant pathogen, homegrown in Kent, will spread across our borders and seas. If the new virus’s effect on the rate of transmission is as bad as government advisers’ fear then we will need a national shutdown of the kind imposed in March.
The prime minister should have acted sooner. He may not have known exactly what was driving the growth in Covid cases but ministers have been aware for a week that something was going wrong. On Tuesday, the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal warned that if current trends continued, even without the planned Christmas relaxation, there were likely to be 19,000 Covid patients in English hospitals by New Year’s Eve – the same as at the peak of the first wave in April.
There are calls by influential Conservative backbenchers for the health secretary, Matt Hancock, to resign, but the buck stops with his boss. On planet Boris Johnson it was all going to be terribly easy. Back here on Earth, reality has proved otherwise. Competence matters, and Mr. Johnson doesn’t have it. The UK has registered a new daily record of coronavirus cases, reporting 35,928 new infections and 326 deaths on Sunday.
The most important way to reduce the emergence of new mutants is to limit the spread of the virus. For the third time in a year, the government refused to face the facts and take the necessary action until much too late. Those delays have not only cost thousands of lives but have, cumulatively, shredded the trust in authority needed to boost compliance. This is all the more frustrating as the vaccine rollout offered new hope.
More than ever, given increased infectivity, Mr. Johnson needs to get an effective test-and-trace system and devise a proper support system for people to self-isolate. The prime minister ought to come up with a funded plan to make schools safe. Without these measures, Mr. Johnson does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of escaping from months of lockdown purgatory. A mutant virus cannot wholly explain why we are in this mess or distract from the other failures that have led us here. The government ought to pursue a zero-Covid strategy that Independent Sage has long advocated.
Compliance should not and cannot rely upon coercion. Had the government been wiser in setting rules, and more effective in communicating the regulations and advice and the reasons for them, it would not now be in the absurd position of sending police to urge people not to board trains home. Over this year, goodwill has not only been drained by the cumulative effect of lockdown, but squandered by official incompetence, the flouting of lockdown by Dominic Cummings and the discovery that while millions are struggling economically, the chumocracy has prospered from government handouts dished out with little scrutiny. That the bulk of the public still wants to do the right thing is despite, not because, of the government.