Five Best Wednesday Columns
Chinese media, Arab societies, and American debt
Timothy Geithner on the Debt Compromise Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner praises the debt ceiling "compromise" as one that will avoid default or credit downgrade, provide budget savings without cutting too much in the short-term, give strong incentive for both parties to compromise on further cuts, and "lower the prospect of using the debt limit as an instrument of coercion. ... the prospects for compromise on broader and deeper reforms are better than they have been in years," he writes in The Washington Post. "Leading Republicans have begun talking about tax reforms that will raise revenue and help reduce the deficit. Democrats recognize that we have to find savings to preserve programs for the elderly, the middle class and the poor, and to create room to help rebuild the economy." The short-term spending cuts, at .1% of GDP growth, will not harm growth as much as default or the Republican budget plan would have, he argues. Business leaders and citizens want Congress to build on the compromise that arose from their self-inflicted crisis, he says, and use the budget debate to spur reform and job creation.
Qian Wang on Chinese Media Freedom Despite government attempts to control the story of the recent train crash, "in my view, the level of reporting and criticism seen in China's newspapers on July 29 was on a par with what we saw in Hong Kong that day," writes Qian Gang in The Wall Street Journal. He cites three causes. First, the expansion of the Internet and micro-blogging sites make censorship difficult, allow citizens to help reporters as when train riders posted messages about the crash before the state media reported it, and provide a forum for mobilization and criticism. Second, China's journalists are growing more committed to their roles as a voice of the people and less willing to obscure the truth, even in the face of financial and legal disincentives. And third, the Communist party itself has members who support reform. China's state media agency, Xinhua, posed pointed questions to the government, prompting other media outlets to push further with their criticisms, and when Premier Wen Jiabo publicly visited the site of the crash, he implicitly lifted the controls on media coverage of it. Despite this progress, the government on Friday issued a late-night dictate again instructing the Chinese media to tone down their coverage. Still, with each new crisis, Qian writes, the Chinese people gain a little more freedom to question the government.
Tom Friedman on Building Civil Societies Tom Friedman recalls touring the site of a neighborhood bombed and leveled by Syria's then-leader Hafez al-Assad in 1982. Assad's brutality toward the majority Sunni Muslims reflected a broad tactic among Middle Eastern dictators, he writes in The New York Times, to "strike fear in the heart of your people by letting them know that you play by no rules at all, so they won't ever, ever, ever think about rebelling against you." Such tactics no longer work in countries like Syria--a development Friedman praises. "Nothing good was possible with these leaders," he writes. "The big question today, though, is this: Is progress possible without them?" These dictators did not build civil societies, and so Friedman wonders whether citizens will know how to unite and develop rules and structure for self-government fueled by mutual respect. Iraq serves as a positive example, but only because of an enormous American effort to fund and mediate the process. Friedman quotes the former foreign minister of Jordan Marwan Muasher who says, "it is going to play out over the next 10 to 15 years before it settles down... These people are experiencing democracy for the first time. They are going to make mistakes on the political and economic fronts. But I remain optimistic in the long run, because people have stopped feeling powerless."
Joshua Green on Military Spending vs. Low Taxes Republicans undoubtedly won the fight over raising the debt ceiling, writes The Atlantic's Joshua Green in The Boston Globe, but in victory, they will now have to face an inter-party conflict between conservatives who support defense-spending and those who support budget cuts over all else. "Up until now, Republican leaders have usually managed to satisfy both groups by pushing to cut taxes and increase military spending - that is, by ignoring the bottom line and running up huge deficits," he writes. Green thinks the tax-cutting Republicans will ultimately win, since the first round of cuts in the debt ceiling agreement are likely to make major cuts to military spending and the "trigger" will make even more if another agreement is not worked out. "The fact that military expenditures are being sacrificed to keep tax rates low reflects the new balance of power within the Republican Party, one partly brought about by the failures of Cheney and the defense crowd," he writes. Green says we can feel good about this new trend, "because in the long run deficits clearly do matter."
The Wall Street Journal Editors on Voter Fraud States' efforts to reform voter law are not a return to "Jim Crow," as Bill Clinton and others have asserted recently, but an effort to reduce voter fraud across the political spectrum, writes The Wall Street Journal editorial board. "These laws prevent voters from impersonating someone else, make it harder for a person to vote at multiple locations and block illegal aliens from voting," the board writes. Critics have suggested that state legislatures are trying to target primarily Democratic voters, "but Democratic voters have no harder time getting a driver's license than do Republicans," they write. The Supreme Court has upheld voter ID laws, saying they do not cause "undue burden," and those who cannot provide IDs are usually allowed to vote provisionally. In light of this, they argue, Democrats should not argue against the law by "drumming up racial fears."