Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Wall Street Journal on billionaires in space — more than a joy ride:
The richest man on Earth briefly lost that title Tuesday morning, but only because for a few floaty minutes he was no longer on Earth. Jeff Bezos has spent two decades using his Amazon wealth to underwrite a rocket venture, Blue Origin. On Tuesday the company launched its first manned flight to space, with Mr. Bezos strapped on board the capsule.
After riding the New Shepard rocket to Mach 3, experiencing weightlessness, and parachuting back to the Texas desert, Mr. Bezos thanked the engineers and crew, along with “every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this.”
It’s easy to dismiss this as a joy ride, which in part it was, or as the indulgence of a rich man with attention-deficit disorder. But as billionaires’ hobbies go, this is more productive than, well, owning the Washington Post. “The architecture and the technology we have chosen,” Mr. Bezos said, “is complete overkill for a suborbital tourism mission.” That’s because the mission isn’t limited to expensive thrills.
Tourism is merely the first rung of the space ladder. Blue Origin has two more manned flights on the schedule for this year, and Mr. Bezos said the company is approaching $100 million in private sales. Virgin Galactic has presold hundreds of tickets for its space plane, which flew its founder, Richard Branson, to weightlessness last week. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has ferried NASA astronauts to orbit, but it has private flights on the calendar, too.
It isn’t clear how big this tourism market will be, but the competition is clearly on, as Blue Origin brags that its capsule has bigger windows than the other guy’s. As these companies strive to outdo each other, costs will fall. Engineering advances, such as reusable rockets that land vertically, have already slashed the price of getting cargo to space.
The money paid by wealthy passengers will also help these companies go higher. Blue Origin has other projects in the works, including a New Glenn rocket that will be big enough to put satellites into orbit. Mr. Musk, as everyone knows, is aiming for Mars. The benefits of all this are hard to say precisely, but that’s the nature of exploration and entrepreneurial risk-taking.
Several companies are working on constellations of small satellites that could beam fast internet to remote areas that lack it. Novel uses of technology are harder to predict, but surprises happen when smart people are trying to be the first to achieve some milestone. Nobody working on America’s first satellite missions in the 1950s and ’60s could have ever imagined that the Global Positioning System, or GPS, would one day keep millions of people and Uber drivers from getting lost.
Mr. Bezos has reportedly been putting around $1 billion a year into Blue Origin, which is no small sum, but it will pay dividends to have another competitor reaching for the stars. It might look like one small jaunt for Mr. Bezos, but it’s another big leap for America’s commercial space business.
The China Daily on the most-challenging Olympic Games:
The upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games, to start on Friday and run through Aug 8, will be remembered as the most challenging in the sports event’s history given the unprecedented pressure organizers face to make sure that it is safe and secure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
With tens of thousands of overseas athletes, officials and journalists arriving in Japan’s capital, there have been growing concerns infection rates could accelerate in the country, with more infectious or deadlier variants possibly being introduced.
Such worries have been heightened after two South African soccer players became the first athletes inside the Olympic Village to test positive for the virus on Sunday, in addition to the 15 positive cases that have already been reported among the overseas arrivals related to the Games this month.
To contain the spread of the virus, the Games organizers have already announced that no spectators will be allowed to enter venues in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures. Tokyo, with 1,410 COVID-19 cases reported on Saturday and also new infections exceeding 1,000 for five straight days, is now under another state of emergency.
In the face of the stark pandemic situation, the Chinese Olympic delegation, comprising 777 athletes and officials, the largest of its kind, must maintain the highest level of vigilance. It is imperative that all members of the team bear in mind not only the Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, but add to it the imperative “Safer.” They must strictly adhere to all the relevant Olympic anti-pandemic rules, protocols and procedures throughout the pre-Games arrival routines and during the Games. This is essential not only for their own safety, but also that of athletes from other countries they are going to compete with.
The Chinese Olympic delegation has so far done its utmost to try to keep any possible health risks to a minimum, with 99.61 percent of its members having been vaccinated. It has also designated special coronavirus prevention and control personnel for the team and devised a quick response mechanism to deal with any pandemic emergencies. For they know that despite the Olympic “bubble” they are supposed to live in once they arrive in Tokyo, with a restrictive environment, daily testing and social distancing, there are still potential risks, as evidenced by the fact that when the Chinese table tennis team arrived in Tokyo on Saturday, some Japanese fans broke the social distancing and mask-wearing rules by trying to take pictures with the Chinese players.
The good job the Chinese government has done of basically containing the spread of the virus on the Chinese mainland makes people believe that it is possible for the Chinese Olympic team to achieve the goal of “zero infections” during the Games while also winning medals on the competition grounds. Let’s hope both prove to be the case.
The Houston Chronicle on following the EU's lead with a carbon tax:
The world is in a race against time to slow the warming of the planet before climate change does irrevocable damage to the nearly 8 billion people who call it home — and America is behind. An idea that has been floating around Congress for years, but with much greater urgency and bipartisan support lately, could help change that — if only President Biden would ignore many loud voices within his own party and embrace a carbon tax.
On Wednesday, the European Union pulled into the lead with an ambitious proposal to aggressively reduce carbon emissions among its 27 member nations. The detailed plan, on top of strong laws already in place, aims to reduce carbon emissions there by 55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030. President Biden in April committed America to reducing its emissions by 43 percent by then — and immediately business interests and others who hold sway in a gridlocked U.S. Senate protested under the banner of gradualism, as if Earth itself weren’t running out of time.
Both sets of goals are aimed at moving the world closer to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the drop-dead date most scientists agree will give Earth at least a fighting chance to survive the accelerating climate changes that threaten our coasts, our cities and many of our lives. Neither will be easy to reach, not the just-announced EU goals nor even the more tepid pace Biden has set. Especially in Houston, the nation’s energy capital, the inevitable shift away from fossil fuels will involve new costs and choices for consumers and industry alike, and they will require sometimes painful trade-offs.
That’s true even though there are also enormous opportunities. The United States is also falling behind China in the race to sell the expertise and infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions. Representatives of the Houston area, where a highly trained workforce stands ready to help develop green products, should be advocating for a mix of regulation and incentives so companies based here lead the next energy revolutions. It’s about jobs, and America’s ability to promote democratic values in the face of China’s growing dominance in renewable technology.
The EU plans will add taxes to some products and regulate others out of existence. One eye-raising example? Tighter emissions standards will effectively outlaw new sales of gas- and diesel-powered automobiles by 2035.
The EU will also seek to impose tariffs on goods imported from other nations, including the United States, that are not aggressively seeking to reduce their own carbon footprint. After years of proclaiming how unfair the world will be if the United States “unilaterally” reduced its carbon footprint while India and China continue to pollute at alarming rates, policymakers in Washington should now reflect on the fact that the EU is making the same argument about this country.
“We’re going to ask a lot of our citizens. We’re also going to ask a lot of our industries, but we do it for good cause,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans told Reuters. “We do it to give humanity a fighting chance.”
The path ahead for Europe will be bumpy. Already France is warning about a return of the yellow-vested protesters in Paris and across the continent, if higher taxes on heating fuels are enacted. In addition, nations like ours affected by the tariffs may well allege protectionism before the World Trade Organization, and companies with vested interests in the status quo will fight back.
But all these challenges notwithstanding, what Europe has and America lacks is a broad consensus among voters, companies and governments that climate change is a dire — even existential — threat that requires aggressive response, changed behaviors and new energy sources.
Despite Biden’s promise in April, there’s little to show for it. Congress’ latest budget outlines include massive spending on social and physical infrastructure as well as a carbon tariff of our own but little detail and many crucial votes ahead. Biden should seize the moment and adopt the carbon tax idea that Democrats have been fighting for on and off for decades and which now has the blessing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute and a growing, if still too-small, list of Republican lawmakers.
At its core, a carbon tax would impose a fee on coal, natural gas and petroleum, including gasoline and other products, based on how much carbon is released when they are burned. That tax would in most cases be passed onto consumers, and — to varying degrees among the rival bills awaiting hearings in Congress — consumers would be paid a check each year to offset those higher costs. As carbon-emitting options get more expensive, consumers will vote with their wallets for cleaner ones — and pocket the savings that come through the rebate. Consumers who keep using the more heavily polluting products, perhaps out of necessity, can use their rebates to partially offset their higher costs.
As opposed to outright bans on drilling, a carbon tax would extend a lifeline to fossil fuel companies leaving open options for reducing emissions including carbon sequestration, utilization and storage.
So what’s the problem? Environmentalists who have Biden’s ear offer two reasons why the carbon tax should remain on the shelf. First, they say, with the need so dire, the administration must focus on more aggressive changes — such as the ones proposed by the EU — and actively push Americans away from fossil fuels. Attaching a tax to carbon will, they argue, legitimize a continued place for fossil fuels in our economy.
On the second point, they note that support by industry should be a warning sign, not a reason to cheer. The carbon tax in principle is easy to love — it only gets tough when it’s a big enough tax to actually change consumer and industry behavior alike.
On both points, the environmentalists make sense. No, a carbon tax is not enough to make America a leader in the world’s race to avoid climate catastrophe. And yes, the support from sources such as the American Petroleum Institute and Big Oil mean little until they put muscle behind specific, meaningful bills. And recent leaked conversations with former Exxon lobbyists who claimed the company’s much ballyhooed support for a carbon tax was simply a public relations ploy do nothing to ease those concerns.
Still, these objections risk making the perfect the enemy of the good. The EU already has a carbon-pricing mechanism that has helped reduce emissions, and its latest proposals would build on that. America can do the same, even after it passes a carbon tax. As for the concern that the API, the Chamber and other business-friendly voices are hiding behind generalities and have no interest in supporting reform with teeth — well, there is only one way to find out.
Biden has the bully pulpit — and his party leads both chambers in Congress. He should use his fragile advantage to put America back in this race. The clock is ticking.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on crying ‘censorship’ at social media giants:
Former President Donald Trump is suing Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.
They banned him, and he calls the ban censorship and casts himself as a champion of free speech and the First Amendment, which has never been Mr. Trump’s cause before.
Mr. Trump would be on stronger moral ground if his own speech were truthful and factual and if he had not declared the free press of the nation an enemy of the people. It’s his speech that he is primarily concerned with, and not free inquiry for all.
It is also hard to see the legal ground of his intended lawsuits. These big tech giants are private companies, and, strictly speaking, they have the right to ban any of us.
But there are larger issues worth talking about in the public square, if not the courtroom.
Are these three entities really just platforms, or are they actually publishers?
If they bear no responsibility for what they allow (publish?) on their platforms, why would they exclude any one or any content?
And if they have an obligation, as well as a right, to curate material, as a newspaper does, what is the standard for exclusion? Is it opinion, taste, veracity or a little of all three?
The real problem with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and, for that matter, Amazon is not free speech but size and monopoly. Thus it is a matter of antitrust, not censorship. They are all so large and dominant that those they exclude may well be silenced. The monopoly, not the editing, creates the problem.
The functional idea of free speech in America is that the cure for stupid or factually false speech is more speech.
But that speech must come, not from inside a particular platform but from other platforms — competition.
The New York Times will never run an op-ed by Donald Trump. The Wall Street Journal will.
But what if the Journal did not exist? What if the Times bought it and made it another Times?
The tech giants have to be broken up to give free speech and press a chance, not told what content they may or may not use by the courts.
Mr. Trump was on the right course when he wanted to create his own social media platform: more competition, more voices, more speech.
Columbia (S.C.) The State on Britney Spears and conservatorship legislation:
The hashtag seen round the world is getting support from South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island.
On Tuesday, Mace introduced legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Florida, to protect the rights of those under conservatorships including pop singer Britney Spears.
The bill, called the Free Britney Act. would require someone under guardianship to have the right to ask a judge to replace a private guardian or conservator with a public guardian or a family member.
In addition, caseworkers would be designated for every person under guardianship to monitor for signs of abuse. The bill would also provide grants to states to pay the salaries of those caseworkers.
Conservatorships, as explained by the California Supreme Court’s website, come about during a court proceeding where a judge appoints a responsible person (called a conservator) to care for another adult who cannot care for him/herself or his/her finances (called a conservatee).
The bill highlights a number of incidents of conservatorship gone wrong, specifically mentioning “the inability of Britney Spears to free herself from her father’s control, indicate that State guardianship and conservatorship systems can deprive a United States citizen or resident of liberty and property without due process.”
Spears’ father has been designated as her conservator since 2008. In recent court proceedings, Spears said it was long enough.
“I just want my life back,” Spears said.
Spears’ situation has garnered worldwide attention and if Mace and Crist’s bill can aid people in similar situations we support the effort.
The Los Angeles Times on getting tough with COVID vaccine evaders: Last summer, when a new, deadly wave of COVID-19 infections gripped the nation, the only solace during that dark time was that a vaccine seemed possible, if not probable, within the year. It was the light in the proverbial tunnel, as distant and weak as it may have appeared at the moment.
We should have reached the end of the tunnel by now, thanks to amazing feats of science and government that developed and mass produced several COVID-19 vaccines in record time. Yet it’s still agonizingly far away because of falling demand for the abundant and free shots, despite pleas and cash giveaways to nudge vaccine holdouts. Efforts to educate skeptics about the undeniable benefits of the vaccines must continue, and the social media platforms need to do a better job at cracking down on deliberate misinformation that serves solely to stir up confusion and doubt about the vaccines — or worse.
But meanwhile, the highly contagious Delta variant is driving a scary resurgence of COVID-19 infections across the nation. Cases have risen so quickly in Los Angeles County over the last week that the public health department reinstated the indoor mask mandate for everyone regardless of vaccination status.
Making matters worse are the Republican commentators, activists and lawmakers who have taken an antagonistic position on vaccines rather than celebrating them as the triumph of the one pandemic initiative for which the former president deserves legitimate bragging rights.
At this point, it’s clear that carrots aren’t enough to compel the 41% of Americans who have yet to get a single shot. It’s time to break out the sticks.
Metaphorically speaking, of course. We don’t support corporal punishment, even for those who foolishly put the lives of others at risk by going maskless and unvaccinated into public places. Nor are universal government vaccine mandates the way to go. People should have a right to decide what goes into their bodies, including lifesaving medication and vaccines.
But what people should not have the right to do is endanger the health of other people as they exercise their personal freedom. And that’s the line that should guide government officials and private employers to seek tougher restrictions on vaccine foot-draggers. If someone rejects inoculation for reasons other than medical, they should not be allowed to fully participate in society until this current public emergency is over.
If that sounds harsh, consider the stakes. More than 600,000 Americans have already died of COVID-19, and the latest variant is so contagious that it can be transmitted in outdoor settings and is even sickening vaccinated people (though most of them not seriously).
Happily, momentum toward a crackdown has been growing. Last week, the University of California announced that all of its campuses would require students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated to fully participate in fall term classes and activities, joining about 580 other higher educational institutions with similar rules. This is similar to the long-standing policy of public grade schools to require a regular course of childhood vaccines for attendance, except for those with a valid medical reason or, in some states, religious opposition.
And despite having an enviable high vaccination rate, San Francisco officials are also getting tough, ordering the city’s workforce to get inoculated as soon as the Food and Drug Administration gives formal approval to the vaccines, which is expected within the next two months, and requiring that workers in all high-risk settings, such as hospital and nursing residential facilities, be vaccinated by Sept. 15.
We hope officials in Los Angeles and other urban areas, as well as private businesses and employers, are considering similar requirements or at least making sure that those who aren’t vaccinated are tested daily and restricted to less-dangerous activities.
Tougher restrictions will inevitably lead to cries that constitutionally guaranteed rights are being violated, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that private businesses and employers are within their rights to mandate vaccines. And there is also solid legal precedent for sweeping government vaccine mandates. In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that smallpox mandates issued by Boston and Cambridge during a 1901 outbreak were a reasonable infringement on personal freedom.
But if prudent action is taken now, then there would be no need to even contemplate such draconian action. It’s time to get tough on COVID-19 vaccine evaders.