Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Nov. 16

The Washington Post on post-FTX cryptocurrency:

The supposedly responsible face of cryptocurrency turns out to have been anything but punctilious in his dealings — which should be a wake-up call to sleepy regulators and legislators alike.

Sam Bankman-Fried’s empire died young last week, when his cryptocurrency exchange FTX filed for bankruptcy. The details remain scarce, but the bottom line is this: FTX was supposed to act as a custodian of the funds customers traded via the service. Instead, it took billions of dollars of that money and lent it out, including to the trading firm Alameda Research also owned by Mr. Bankman-Fried. To make matters worse, Alameda’s assets were largely tied up in FTT, FTX’s own digital currency. Alameda used this FTT as collateral for a boatload of loans, possibly including the customer funds it received from FTX.

When a CoinDesk report revealed some of this, what ensued was a death spiral: Investors worried about FTX’s solvency scrambled to redeem their assets, sending FTT’s value plummeting. But FTX didn’t have their assets — it had the digital currency FTT and a massive loan to Alameda that the company couldn’t return, because it, too, mostly had FTT.

This could classically be called a run on the bank. The trouble is, FTX wasn’t supposed to be operating like a bank at all. The complicated details surrounding the double-dealing and bad bookkeeping aside, the larger scheme has all the appearances of an old-fashioned scam. FTX’s customers likely thought their money was being safely held, but the exchange apparently passed it off to use for speculation. Now, Mr. Bankman-Fried (who has blamed the bulk of the problems on accounting errors) has resigned as CEO, and he and his executives are sure to face civil lawsuits and possibly criminal charges, too — in the Bahamas where the offshore FTX is headquartered or in the United States, or both.

The Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are reportedly all now investigating FTX; the SEC claims it had already begun before the scandal erupted. They should pursue these cases vigorously. What’s perplexing is that the SEC and CFTC have done so little so far, even as Mr. Bankman-Fried (also a Democratic Party megadonor) wooed them and everyone else in Washington with proposals that would supposedly bring the crypto industry to heel.

The entire cryptocurrency industry has proved itself vulnerable to liquidity crises, if not full-on solvency collapse like the one FTX appears to have suffered. These catastrophes might have landed Alameda in the hole from which it will never manage to climb out. Yet for all the conversation about the need for new laws to regulate cryptocurrency, there are existing rules that authorities could have — and didn’t — use.

Crypto assets are just traditional assets but on the blockchain, a digital ledger. The key to figuring out which rules to apply is finding the right analogies: What about crypto is the equivalent of a security, what’s a commodity, what’s a collectible? What’s a broker, what’s a bank? Crypto entities sometimes blur these lines, playing prime brokerage and exchange and clearinghouse all at once without registering as any of the above — claiming that, because they’re like nothing regulators have seen before, they can’t be regulated without congressional action. So far, the dodge has mostly worked: SEC defenders blame the agency’s slowness to act on pressure from lawmakers to hold off enforcement until new laws are written. This can’t be allowed to continue.

Responsible agencies, from the SEC and CFTC to the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with or without congressional help, should develop guidance that draws clearer lines defining which of them has jurisdiction over novel products and their various attributes. Then they need to lay out what requirements apply — tweaking the rules they’ve written for the traditional financial system to fit the crypto realm where necessary. They should demand registration and go to court when companies refuse to come to the negotiating table.

Some things are already clear. FTX, for instance, should never have been allowed to hand its customers’ money over to an outside party that also belongs to its owner. Other questions are more complicated. Should exchanges like FTX be allowed to accept their own token as collateral? Should they be allowed to make leveraged bets at all? What level of reserves should be required, and what should those reserves consist of? Confected, combustible tokens probably shouldn’t be an acceptable answer.

Even the most sensible guidelines and the most robust enforcement won’t change the reality that crypto is inherently risky — because the value of all these tokens depends, in the end, on how much people believe they’re worth rather than anything tangible in the real world. Regulators and lawmakers crafting any crypto rules cannot allow consumers to believe their money is safer than it really is or lead businesses to believe they’re entitled to bailouts. Mr. Bankman-Fried created an illusion that the cryptocurrency market might actually be a place where ordinary people could safely and responsibly invest their assets. The truth might be that it never will be. Either way, investors deserve a regime stricter and more transparent that what they have gotten.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/11/16/ftx-cryptocurrency-exchange-collapse-reckoning/

___

Nov. 19

The New York Times on extremist violence:

Sometime in May 2020, Payton Gendron, a 16-year-old in upstate New York, was browsing the website 4chan when he came across a GIF.

It was taken from a livestream recording made the previous year by a gunman as he killed 51 people and wounded more than 40 others at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The killer had written a manifesto explaining that he was motivated by the fear of great replacement theory, the racist belief that secretive forces are importing nonwhite people to dilute countries’ white majorities.

Seeing the video and the manifesto “started my real research into the problems with immigration and foreigners in our white lands — without his livestream I would likely have no idea about the real problems the West is facing,” Mr. Gendron wrote in his own manifesto, posted on the internet shortly before, officials say, he drove to a Tops grocery store in Buffalo and carried out a massacre of his own that left 10 Black people dead.

The authorities say Mr. Gendron’s attack in May mimicked the massacre in Christchurch not just in its motivation but also in tactics. He reduced his caloric intake and cataloged his diet to prepare physically, as the Christchurch killer did. He practiced shooting. He wrote slogans on his rifle, as the Christchurch gunman did. He livestreamed his attack with a GoPro camera attached to his helmet, with the idea of inspiring other attacks by fellow extremists. Mr. Gendron’s screed ran to 180 pages, with 23 percent of those pages copied word-for-word from the Christchurch killer’s manifesto, according to an investigative report on the attacks released last month by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James.

On the day of the shooting, State Senator James Sanders echoed the horrified response of many: “Although this is probably a lone-wolf incident, this is not the first mass shooting we have seen, and sadly it will not be the last,” he said.

It’s unfortunate that the term “lone wolf” has come into such casual use in the years since the Sept. 11 attacks. It aims to describe a person — nearly always a man — who is radicalized to violence but unconnected to an organized terrorist group like Al Qaeda. But it is wrong to think about violent white supremacists as isolated actors.

There are formal white supremacist organizations going by names like Atomwaffen Division (Canada, Germany, Italy, Britain, United States), Honor and Nation (France), the All-Polish Youth (Poland). But while the majority of adherents to the white supremacist cause aren’t directly affiliated with these groups, they describe themselves as part of a global movement of like-minded people, some of whom commit acts of leaderless violence in the hopes of winning more adherents and destabilizing society.

The atomized nature of the global white extremist movement has also obscured the public’s understanding of the nature of their cause and led to policy prescriptions that aren’t enough to address the scope of the threat. Thoughts and prayers alone will not solve the problem, nor will better mental health care, important though all those things are. One missing piece of any solution is acknowledging that right-wing extremist violence in the United States is part of a global phenomenon and should be treated that way.

There has been a steady rise in political violence in the United States in the years since Donald Trump became president. Threats against sitting members of Congress have skyrocketed. The husband of the speaker of the House was assaulted in his home by a man wielding a hammer. This year, venues from school board meetings to libraries have been the sites of physical clashes. The majority of the political violence in the past few years has come from right-wing extremists, experts say.

The country cannot accept violence as a method of mediating its political disagreements. There are steps the United States should take now, including cracking down on illegal right-wing paramilitary groups and weeding extremists out of positions of power in law enforcement and the military. Extremists succeed when they have access to power — be that positions of power, the sympathy of those in power or a voice in the national conversation. They should be denied all three.

Violent right-wing extremists harbor a variety of beliefs, from a loathing of the government to explicit white supremacy. During his time in office and in the years since, Mr. Trump and his political allies have not only encouraged political violence, through their silence or otherwise, they have also helped bring explicitly white supremacist ideas like the “great replacement” into mainstream politics and popular culture. “This extremism isn’t going to go away or moderate until the people who have normalized it realize their culpability in the things that it inspires,” Oren Segal, the vice president of the Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, said in an interview.

White supremacy has been part of the story of this country since its earliest days, but the modern notion of replacement is a foreign import. It was outlined in 2012 by Renaud Camus, a French author who has written that immigrants with high birthrates are a threat to white European society. He built on the ideas of another Frenchman, Jean Raspail, who wrote the 1973 book “The Camp of the Saints,” which imagined a flotilla of immigrants who overthrow French society.

The book is a touchstone in white supremacist circles and is popular with some prominent Republicans. Stephen Miller, a senior official in the Trump administration, once recommended the book to the staff of Breitbart when he was a Senate aide, according to emails obtained by the A.D.L. A former Iowa congressman known for defending white supremacy, Steve King, has said that everyone should read it.

The idea of hostile replacement by immigrants has gained currency and some acceptance around the world, even after inspiring mass killers in New Zealand and Buffalo, Norway and South Carolina. Extremists driven to murder are a tiny fraction of those who subscribe to racist ideologies, but the mainstreaming of their ideas can make the turn to violence easier for some.

That’s why it is alarming to see the great replacement idea espoused by political leaders around the globe, including Jordan Bardella, who this month was confirmed as the successor to Marine Le Pen as head of France’s leading far-right party. It has been cited approvingly by Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary and darling of some American conservatives. Tucker Carlson of Fox News talks about it often. An alarming poll by The Associated Press-NORC this year found that about one in three American adults believes that “a group of people is trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains.” Last year a poll found that 61 percent of French people believe that, too.

That the great replacement theory has gone mainstream is a victory for white supremacists and their cause. “White power activists in the 1990s thought that political action on their cause was not possible — that the door to that was closed. That’s not true anymore,” said Kathleen Belew, a professor at Northwestern and author of “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.”

One of the best ways to counter a global ideology of violent extremism in a country that also wants to protect civil liberties is to create problems for extremists — to work to make them less popular and less capable, notes Daniel Byman in his new book, “Spreading Hate: The Global Rise of White Supremacist Terrorism.”

Domestic law enforcement agencies in the United States already have effective tools to target organized extremist groups, including wiretaps and undercover informants. They also don’t face language and cultural barriers that they may have had focusing on jihadis. A pervasive problem, though, is the political will to turn the power of the state against white supremacists. Too often, extremism researchers point out, there’s a reluctance in white-majority nations to see white extremists as threatening as nonwhite foreigners.

The United States is also newer to thinking about this white extremism as a transnational problem. “European intelligence officials have long expressed frustration that their U.S. counterparts have not answered their requests for legal assistance and information,” Mr. Byman wrote.

The Biden administration has at least started to heed the warnings of more than a decade’s worth of intelligence reports suggesting that domestic extremism is a problem with a global reach. The National Strategy for Countering Domestic Extremism, released last year, noted that “aspects of the domestic terrorism threat we face in the United States, and in particular those related to racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism, have an international dimension.”

The strategy laid out some good ideas about solutions to the threat, such as wider and deeper information sharing between the U.S. government and foreign nations about extremist groups and their networks, their finances and their movements. It directed the State Department to leverage public diplomacy to raise awareness about the threat and help counter extremist propaganda and disinformation. The strategy also noted that the cross border nature of extremist networks means the authorities can intercept their communications. The tip that helps thwart the next attack by white supremacists inside the United States could very well come from overseas.

The strategy also raised the possibility of designating some foreign right-wing extremist groups as foreign terrorist organizations or “specially designated global terrorists,” which would make it illegal for Americans to support or receive training from them. But such an approach isn’t a panacea and carries serious risks — it could hamper efforts to de-radicalize extremists, for instance — and runs counter to a lesson of the war on terrorism, which was that not all extremist groups posed an equal danger to the homeland.

It is encouraging that this strategy is in place, but it needs more attention and urgency, from lawmakers and from the American public, to be successful. Congressional oversight committees will hold annual hearings to see whether the United States is making progress on this strategy, but so far it is not clear how effective it has been.

Another approach tried in about a dozen countries around the world is de-radicalization programs, which encourage extremists to either change their minds or at the very least reject violence. The German and British governments in addition to the United States have had some success with de-radicalization programs aimed at white supremacists. In Germany, EXIT-Deutschland works with neo-Nazis. In Britain, a program called Prevent that originally focused on jihadists has now been reoriented to white supremacists, though there are complaints that the net of problematic right-wing views is being cast too widely.

As with all these approaches, one of the precarious aspects of the domestic fight against far-right and white supremacist extremists is that the government’s response must try to avoid alienating people who believe in things like expansive gun rights or strict limits on immigration yet eschew violence. Often, they are the only credible messengers who can reach the deeply radicalized and talk them back from a more violent course.

This tension is evident around efforts by social media companies to crack down on extremist content. When mainstream companies like Facebook ban content, it can push people who are interested in extremist or offensive material to lesser-known platforms, like 4chan, where moderation is less aggressive and moderators have fewer resources.

There is hope, however, that better automatic monitoring of content and enforcement of platforms’ terms of service, which take freedom of expression concerns into account, can push extremist material to the fringes. The massacre in Buffalo, for instance, was livestreamed on the platform Twitch. About two minutes after the first shots were fired, the stream was taken offline. As social media experts told The Times, that was “the best that could reasonably be expected.”

The quick response and the scrubbing of subsequent copies of the video and the manifesto from the internet was made possible in part by groups like the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, which was founded by Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube in 2017 and now includes more than a dozen platforms.

The consortium can flag extremist content like videos of shootings and tag it in a way that other platforms can search for and remove copies that pop up on their services. In the nine weeks after the Buffalo shooting, Meta automatically removed around one million pieces of content related to the attacks.

Of course, the automated tools aren’t perfect. The New York attorney general’s office found videos of the shooting or links to them on Reddit, Instagram and Twitter, and links to the manifesto on Rumble, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. Tech companies can and should invest more money and resources in content moderation at scale, but that alone will not purge the internet of extremism — especially when the networks for sharing it cross international borders, span continents and come in countless languages.

Recognizing that violent white supremacy is a global problem should help the United States and its allies develop more cooperative, international solutions. Success will be difficult to measure; the ideology may never disappear, but levels of violence can be reduced. Most important, if lawmakers and ordinary Americans make a concerted effort to drive extremist rhetoric out of mainstream politics, the influence of these groups will again fade.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/19/opinion/us-white-supremacy-violence.html

___

Nov. 20

The Wall Street Journal on John Eastman’s Jan. 6 comments:

In the lead-up to the Jan. 6 riot, John Eastman gave President Trump legal advice that was terrible, and now he’s trying to argue it was merely awful. In a letter to these pages on Nov. 14, Mr. Eastman, a former law professor of some distinction, denies he argued that Vice President Mike Pence “could unilaterally reject electoral votes and simply declare President Trump re-elected.”

Mr. Eastman claims he made only a modest proposal, Swiftian allusion intended: “The advice I gave to then-Vice President Pence was that he accede to requests from hundreds of state lawmakers to delay proceedings for a short time so that they could assess the effect of illegalities on the conduct of the election.” Mr. Eastman specifically refers to a conversation during an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 4, 2021.

But his position is contradicted by the sworn testimony of Mr. Pence’s legal counsel, Greg Jacob. According to Mr. Jacob, Mr. Eastman argued at the Jan. 4 meeting that it would, in fact, be “legally viable” for the VP to reject electors. Mr. Eastman advised against this plan only because it would be “less politically palatable.” That concession apparently didn’t last.

The debate was renewed the next morning, Jan. 5. “When Mr. Eastman came in,” Mr. Jacob testified, “he said, I’m here to request that you reject the electors. So on the 4th, that had been the path that he had said, I’m not recommending that you do that. But on the 5th, he came in and expressly requested that.” A piece of Mr. Jacob’s handwritten notes is in the public record. The top reads: “John Eastman meeting 1/5/21.” Then: “Requesting VP reject.”

There also are the two memos Mr. Eastman produced in advance of Jan. 6, which circulated among Mr. Trump’s advisers. “Here’s the scenario we propose,” the first one says. The VP “announces that because of the ongoing disputes,” seven states have “no electors that can be deemed validly appointed,” and “Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected.” The second memo offers a menu of options. One is for Mr. Pence to outright reject electors.

A final thing to point out is that the argument in Mr. Eastman’s letter isn’t a defense. It’s more like a plea bargain to a lesser transgression against the American republic. Asking Mr. Pence to reverse the 2020 election directly was appalling. Asking the VP to stall the Electoral College, so that state legislatures could reverse the 2020 election, was also appalling.

Suppose Mr. Pence had tried to delay. The result would have been a constitutional crisis. Federal law sets the time for choosing presidential electors, and it’s Election Day in November. Mr. Trump wanted state lawmakers to overrule the will of the voters two months later, and two weeks before the scheduled transfer of power, despite no proof of widespread voter fraud. Doing this could have led to violence.

Also, the 12th Amendment says the Electoral College shall be tallied “in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives.” Democrats controlled the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not have permitted any joint session to reconvene and tally those phony electors. With no Electoral College count by noon on Jan. 20, who’s next in line to become President? The Speaker of the House. Or perhaps the Supreme Court would have intervened.

Getting this history right matters. “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” Mr. Trump tweeted on January 5, 2021, the day before the riot. He didn’t come up with that idea himself.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/john-eastmans-sorry-excuse-for-jan-6-mike-pence-electors-congress-donald-trump-2020-election-11668715959

___

Nov. 17

The Los Angeles Times on Nancy Pelosi’s leadership:

In the debased discourse of American politics, it’s easy to characterize as “distinguished” the career of any long-serving public official. But the adjective is no exaggeration when applied to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who announced Thursday that she will not seek a leadership role in the Congress that convenes in January.

Pelosi was not only a trailblazer as the first female speaker, she demonstrated over a 35-year career in Congress exquisite political skills that she deployed to better the lives of her constituents in California and the American people in general.

She has been a fearless leader, facing down critics even in her own party, not to mention the People’s Republic of China. She was unabashed in her disdain for former President Trump — whose State of the Union address she memorably tore up in 2020 — a principled posture that earned her the enmity of the disgraced former president’s devotees.

Cynics can argue that in withdrawing from House leadership Pelosi was making a virtue out of the fact that Democrats will be in the minority in the next Congress. Perhaps she would have sought to remain speaker if her party had maintained its majority, despite her assurances in 2018 that she would step down from leadership by the end of the current Congress.

But the decision not to seek a leadership role might also have been easier in the light of the failure of a red wave to manifest in congressional elections as Republicans and many pundits had expected. Finally, she understandably wants to support her husband, who was brutally attacked in their San Francisco home by a domestic terrorist who had the speaker in his sights.

Whatever the explanation, the decision of the 82-year-old Pelosi to withdraw from leadership marks the end of a momentous career as a leader of her party. It is equally significant that in her valedictory speech she called for transition to “a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus.”

Although Pelosi showed no signs of age-induced incapacitation, leading congressional Democrats — as well as President Biden, who will turn 80 this month — are much older than many of the party’s voters. It’s not ageist to welcome a generational shift in the leadership of either party.

In her speech Thursday, Pelosi noted how the ranks of female Democrats in Congress had expanded during her career. The prominence of women in important positions — from Pelosi to Vice President Kamala Harris to incoming Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, another House member from California — represents profound progress toward equality. Pelosi both promoted and personified that progress.

But in other ways Pelosi stood in the long tradition of public officials for whom the appellation “professional politician” is not a derogatory term. Pelosi came by that vocation partly as a matter of family legacy. In her speech, she recalled visiting Congress when her father, a future mayor of Baltimore, was sworn in as a member of the House.

Whether or not a commitment to politics is a family affair, public servants such as Pelosi who use their mastery of the legislative process to improve the lot of their fellow citizens deserve praise and gratitude, not “populist” putdowns.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-11-17/editorial-nancy-pelosi-was-a-trailblazer-for-california-and-the-nation

___

Nov. 20

The Guardian on the Cop27 outcome:

The Cop process often seems to encapsulate the broader global reaction to climate breakdown. Leaders make grand but vague pledges of action; fossil fuel lobbyists (600 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this year) schmooze and press governments into maintaining the status quo; and scientists, civil society groups and those most affected by the climate emergency have to scream to be heard at all. The results are predictable: indecision, evasion, obstruction and buck-passing followed by desperately needed – but desperately inadequate – last-minute action.

Given the utter disarray evident as late as Saturday evening, the final outcome of Cop27 is a relief, and in one regard even a cause for celebration. The agreement to establish a loss and damage fund is a historic breakthrough, demanded for three decades by developing countries. The devil will as usual lie in the detail: who will fund it? But it should help to provide the financial assistance poorer nations need for rescuing and rebuilding as extreme weather pummels their populations and infrastructure. And it comes despite the sustained opposition of the U.S. and (until the eleventh hour) the E.U..

The language on reforming international financial institutions is a real achievement too and could, for example, help developing countries invest in renewables. Again, detail is critical – what changes will be delivered, and how quickly? – but fundamental reform is overdue. Yet these gains come alongside grave disappointments. As Alok Sharma, president of last year’s Cop26, noted, it was a battle to maintain the commitments made in Glasgow, never mind build on them. “Peaking emissions by 2025 is not in this text. Follow-through on the phasedown of coal is not in this text. The phasedown of all fossil fuels is not in this text,” he said. The loss and damage fund is necessary, but amounts to mitigation, instead of prevention; equivalent to a whip-round to buy a neighbor new clothes after watching as their house burnt down – because you dropped a lit match.

Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister and president of Cop27, says that the 1.5C temperature limit remains within reach. Technically, that is right. But politically, it is not. Global emissions would have to fall by 50% by 2030; they are currently setting new records. Since next year’s meeting will be hosted by a petrostate – the United Arab Emirates – few are optimistic about the prospects for progress there. Yet if the fossil fuel giants bear much of the responsibility, others too have failed to offer leadership. The E.U. could have led the way with revisions to member states’ nationally determined contributions, setting out what each country will do. The U.K. is offering new licenses for North Sea exploration.

Over three decades, the international political system has repeatedly demonstrated its frustrating, heartbreaking and almost bizarre inability to act on a problem that has, at its heart, a simple solution: ending our dependence on fossil fuels. The most powerful nations have failed to show the way. This year’s milestone achievement – the new fund – is essentially a victory for civil society and collective action among developing countries. If, as one climate envoy suggested, it shows that “we can do the impossible”, it is these actors that must take the credit and that are providing true global leadership. Cop27 shows that they will have to continue to fight for every modest step forward, and for every fraction of a degree that can be shaved off temperature rises.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/nov/20/the-guardian-view-on-cop27s-outcome-a-real-achievement-but-too-far-to-go

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.