Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on childcare in the United States
Many sectors are reeling from massive labor shortages — but few affect families more intimately than what is happening with child care. With lengthy waiting lists and soaring costs, the scale of the crisis is obvious. Less clear is how the country can quickly fix it.
First, the problem: Like other caregiver industries, child care was hit hard by covid-19. There are nearly 90,000 fewer child-care workers today than in February 2020 — an 8.4 percent reduction in the workforce. According to a February 2022 report by Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit association, nearly 16,000 programs in 37 states shut down during the pandemic. With birthrates rebounding and millions of workers returning to the office, these closures have placed enormous pressure on parents.
Yet child care was in trouble long before the pandemic. The industry has operated on a flawed business model for decades. Because infants and toddlers require more staffing than other age groups, programs are labor-intensive and costly to run. But imposing higher charges to reflect those costs would make them unaffordable for many families. As a result, centers operate at very slim profit margins, offering workers low wages and few benefits for grueling work. It’s no wonder so many caregivers have left to work in industries such as retail and hospitality.
Moreover, providers are concentrated in higher-income neighborhoods, while communities of color and rural areas are severely underserved. In 2018, the Center for American Progress found that more than 50 percent of Americans lived in “child care deserts” — places where supply was insufficient.
The status quo is plainly untenable. But creating a better model will require creative thinking, collaboration and resources.
Boosting public investment
Without a measure of government intervention, the child-care crisis will almost certainly worsen. Currently, public spending on child care is fragmented, inconsistent and relatively meager: The U.S. government spends about $500 on child care per toddler annually, while the average for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is $14,436. The pandemic relief packages, particularly the American Rescue Plan, were lifelines for the industry at a desperate moment. But those funds are set to lapse in September 2024, leaving states and D.C. with a fiscal cliff of nearly $50 billion. If we do not want American families to bear the financial burden for a sinking industry, government will have to step in.
This could take several forms. The most politically feasible option would be for Congress to bolster the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which supports low-income families. That would alleviate pressure on the most vulnerable households but would not address the labor shortages. Other possibilities include expanding the Child and Dependent Care Credit — or extending and strengthening the child tax credit for all families. Both would help more families pay close to the real cost of child care, allowing providers to increase wages.
And it should not all fall on the federal government. New Mexico, for example, announced in April that it would provide a year of free child care to families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, using funds from taxes on fossil fuel production. Though it would be difficult to make that sort of expansive model permanent or replicate it elsewhere, states have room to get creative with revenue streams.
The New York Times on supporting the women of Iran
The hijabs that thousands of Iranian women and girls have been burning in defiance over the past few weeks — since the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police on Sept. 16 — are a symbol of far broader discontent with Iran’s corrupt and incompetent leaders. The protests since Ms. Amini’s death, led by women, have persisted for weeks and have brought Iranians in dozens of cities into the streets to reveal the depth of their anger. Iranians who are sick and tired of living under a tyrannical theocracy deserve the support of the United States and its allies.
The death of Ms. Amini, who was detained by the guidance patrol for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly, is an outrageous sample of the violence the Islamic Republic has visited on women since coming to power in 1979. The religious cabal that has led Iran since then, currently led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, regards enmity with the United States and keeping women in their place as critical to their survival in power.
The threat of a virulently anti-American and anti-Israeli regime obtaining nuclear weapons is real, but the diplomatic efforts to block it must go hand in hand with efforts to help Iranians who are seeking respite and change.
Ayatollah Khamenei is 83 and ailing, and he is among the last of the Islamic revolutionaries who overthrew the monarchy. His passing, however, would be no guarantee of a more liberal regime in Tehran. As Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote in a recent essay in The Times, his cohort of true believers have been largely supplanted by opportunists in search of wealth and privilege.
Global isolation may be damaging to the regime, but global integration would be dangerous, as Mr. Sadjadpour wrote. The regime might see its best chance of survival in maintaining repressive rule and “just the right amount of isolation.” Ayatollah Khamenei wants to be “neither North Korea nor Dubai. He wants to be able to sell Iran’s oil on the global market without sanctions, but he doesn’t want Iran to be fully integrated in the global system.”
Since Donald Trump ripped up the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, the Biden administration and other nations involved have been trying to revive it. That is a worthy effort, but negotiations for the deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, are at a standstill over two Iranian conditions in particular that Western negotiators cannot meet: that the International Atomic Energy Agency end investigations into traces of uranium at undeclared sites, and that the United States provide guarantees the deal will not again be killed. It is up to Iran to choose whether to revive the deal, and its decision is not likely to be swayed by American behavior.
Whatever the future of the nuclear deal, its fate should not preclude the United States and its allies from vigorously supporting the desire of Iranian protesters for global integration, through better access to the essential tools of communication, organizing and protest.
The moral case is not solely the outrageous behavior of the clerical regime. It is also the fact that so much of the economic suffering of the Iranian people — rents that have multiplied, goods that have become prohibitively expensive, a currency that has plummeted so low that Iranians need stacks of bills to do everyday shopping — is the result of waves of American sanctions.
The U.S. needs to maintain its efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and this board supports continuing diplomatic efforts that could curtail Iran’s nuclear weapons program and open the door to future agreements. But some of the current sanctions have gone too far, and fallen mostly on the very activists that the United States would like to help. Indeed, the regime has used Iran’s economic isolation to further entrench its power. The United States thus has a major stake in helping Iranians to a better life, ideally one without sanctions, morality police or nuclear weapons.
The U.S. also has the ability to help improve access to one of the major tools of popular resistance — communications. Iranian dissidents have long complained that sanctions on technology hindered their ability to communicate with the outside world and with one another. Immediately after the Iranian government cut off access to the internet for most of its roughly 85 million citizens, the Biden administration did what it should have done long before, issuing a general license allowing technology firms to provide technical means for Iranians to elude government restrictions.
Making the announcement on Sept. 23, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that “we are going to help make sure the Iranian people are not kept isolated and in the dark.” The administration also imposed targeted sanctions on the morality police and senior security officials, whom it holds responsible for violence against protesters and Ms. Amini’s death. The U.S. can go further, and encourage technology companies, including Google, Apple, Amazon and others, to make tools available and expedite applications for technology sales that go beyond the general license.
The current wave of protests may not force the clerics to move to a more open and tolerant government anytime soon. But every wave of protest over the years — 2009, 2017, 2019 and others — has stripped them of another layer of legitimacy. The current discontent, though so far not as widespread as earlier ones, is posing a challenge to one of the bedrock dogmas of the reactionary regime, and the calls in the street are no longer for reform. They are for revolution.
The supreme leader has responded to these calls for change with the same tired claim that the United States and the “Zionist regime” are behind the protests. That line no longer appears to work with people who have seen no improvement in their lives under the ayatollah or his hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi.
The Biden administration and its allies have made a good start by lifting restrictions on technology, adding targeted sanctions and condemning the death of Ms. Amini and the crackdown on subsequent protests. But that cannot be where American support ends. The U.S. can build on that by making joint declarations with its allies, with academics and with nongovernmental organizations in support of the protests. It can also impose more sanctions against those who act as agents or mouthpieces of governmental repression, produce more Farsi-language broadcasts, and push for a resolution at the United Nations Security Council.
These are not empty symbolic gestures; they are demonstrations of solidarity with people whose bravery is an example for the rest of the world, and who have asked us to support their fight. Iran’s future as a prosperous and free nation rests with them.
ONLINE: How the U.S. Can Help Support the Women of Iran Calling for Change
The Wall Street Journal on the Uyghurs and the Human Rights Council
If pathological optimists still think the U.N. Human Rights Council cares about human rights, they might want to note events last week. A motion was made in Geneva to debate China’s abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, and the council voted 19-17 not even to discuss it.
Siding with China against the motion were regular lackeys such as Cuba and Venezuela, as well as countries such as Nepal, Indonesia and Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates that don’t want to offend China or are on the hook as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
The last four in that list are majority Muslim nations voting to ignore the documented persecution of a Chinese Muslim minority group. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, and Pakistan’s state religion is Islam.
In addition to China, the other nations on the dishonor role were: Bolivia, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Namibia, Senegal, Sudan and Uzbekistan. There were also 11 abstentions, including India, Mexico and Ukraine. Perhaps Kyiv hopes to keep China from giving military aid to Russia’s invaders, but this wasn’t Ukraine’s finest hour. Mexico under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has never met a left-wing dictatorship it didn’t support.
In August the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights published a report that drew on interviews with former detainees in Xinjiang. “A consistent theme was description of constant hunger and, consequently, significant to severe weight loss during their periods in the facilities,” it said. “Almost all interviewees described either injections, pills or both being administered regularly.” …
Routine abuses included being deprived of sleep and prayer, in addition to being forced to sing patriotic songs. The report asked China to look into “allegations of torture, sexual violence, ill-treatment, forced medical treatment, as well as forced labor and reports of deaths in custody.” It said the pattern of repeated maltreatment in Xinjiang “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”
Pragmatists might be pleased that the motion Thursday failed by only two votes, after a fierce lobbying campaign by Beijing to defeat it. But what a disgrace. Everyone knows the U.N. Human Rights Council is a sinkhole of moral equivalence. But if it can’t pass a motion merely to open discussion on China’s abuses in Xinjiang, there is no reason for it to exist, or for the United States to continue to be a member.
The Guardian on next month’s Cop27 climate summit
Speaking to the Guardian last month, Belize’s representative to the U.N. vividly described the havoc wreaked on his country by global heating. “Loss and damage is already occurring,” said Carlos Fuller. “Severe erosion is altering communities; drought and floods (are) affecting farmers and causing infrastructure damage; (there is) coral bleaching; salt water intrusion is affecting the water supply.” From the catastrophic recent floods in Pakistan to the ongoing drought emergency in Kenya, similarly disastrous impacts are blighting developing nations across the globe. Many lack the economic resources to cope with new climate threats, which are overwhelmingly the consequence of historic carbon emissions by the world’s richest countries.
As the U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, stated this week, ahead of November’s Cop27 summit in Egypt, properly addressing this dimension of the climate crisis – the damage already being done – is a “moral imperative that can no longer be ignored”. In Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries pledged to deliver $100bn a year to vulnerable states hit by severe climate-linked impacts.
That promise, originally to be met by 2020, has still not been kept and there is little clarity on when it might be. The manner in which available climate finance has been distributed has also been deeply flawed. Far too much assistance has come in the form of loans rather than grants, and been directed at middle-income countries rather than the poorest nations. Private finance and institutions such as the World Bank have funneled money to projects designed to reduce emissions – where profit streams are more readily available – but neglected the need for poorer countries to deal with climate challenges that are overwhelming fragile economies.
Belatedly, there are signs that the rich world is waking up to its responsibilities to the global south. Last month, Denmark became the first party to the Cop negotiations to offer funding related to “loss and damage” – defined as the destruction caused by climate-related disasters so extreme that no protection is possible against them. The $13m pledged by Copenhagen to the Sahel region in north-west Africa must act as a catalyst for other developed nations to step up to the plate. Britain, which by cutting its overseas development aid contribution has scandalously moved in the opposite direction, could and should follow suit.
As governments focus on spiraling energy costs, soaring inflation and the geopolitical fallout of the war in Ukraine, the climate emergency is in danger of being relegated to the back burner of policymaking. With only a month to go to Cop27, there has been a global failure to follow through on commitments made last year in Glasgow – where countries pledged to provide more ambitious strategies to limit warming to the 1.5C goal. This month, climate justice demonstrations have taken place across Africa, and resentment is building in countries suffering ever more severe impacts as a result of past inaction. Mr. Guterres is right to identify Cop27 as a “litmus test” of how seriously developed nations are willing to take the growing toll on vulnerable nations.
Announcing Denmark’s loss and damage pledge, the development minister, Flemming Moller Mortensen, said: “It is grossly unfair that the world’s poorest should suffer the most from the consequences of climate change, to which they have contributed the least.” The forthcoming gathering in Sharm el-Sheikh must be the forum at which this injustice is not only recognized but acted upon.
China Daily on Biden and heightened nuclear risk
As is known to all, a nuclear war means human annihilation, as a nuclear winter would cause most humans to die in a mass extinction event similar to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. Given that some 14,000 nuclear weapons are still stockpiled around the world, the international community faces the most pressing task to work together to try to avoid anything that might trigger their use.
Thus it was unhelpful that U.S. President Joe Biden recently evoked that “end-of-the-world” prospect by referring to a nuclear “Armageddon”, when veering into talk about the Russia-Ukraine conflict at the end of his standard fundraising remarks in New York on Thursday. Saying that Russian leader Vladimir Putin was “not joking when he talks about the use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons”, he added that “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
Biden’s remarks were in response to Putin pledging to “use all the means at our disposal” to “protect Russia and our people” last month when he announced plans to conscript Russian men to serve in Ukraine.
Yet Biden’s warnings still sound out of place, especially given that U.S. intelligence assessments have so far produced no evidence suggesting Putin has imminent plans for a nuclear strike. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated on Friday that the U.S. has “not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture”.
Biden’s choice of words seems to be brandishing the use of nuclear weapons, rather than reducing that possibility, which has thus raised eyebrows around the world, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying, “We must speak with prudence when commenting on such matters”. Pope Francis also urged the world on Sunday to learn from history the threat of nuclear war and choose the path of peace.
In March, as he wrapped up a speech in Warsaw, Biden seemed to call for the ousting of Putin, saying, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” Before Biden could even board Air Force One to begin the flight back to Washington, aides were scrambling to clarify that he wasn’t calling for an immediate change in government in Moscow.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that humanity is “just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation”.
World leaders should exercise the utmost caution, especially at this time of heightened tensions, and guard against making remarks that raise the odds for the nuclear obliteration of humanity.