WASHINGTON — At the center of the new climate and tax package that Democrats appear to be on the verge of passing is one of the most significant changes to America’s tax code in decades: a new corporate minimum tax that could reshape how the federal government collects revenue and alter how the nation’s most profitable companies invest in their businesses.
The proposal is one of the last remaining tax increases in the package that Democrats are aiming to pass along party lines in coming days. After months of intraparty disagreement over whether to raise taxes on the wealthy or roll back some of the 2017 Republican tax cuts to fund their agenda, they have settled on a longstanding political ambition to ensure that large and profitable companies pay more than $0 in federal taxes.
To accomplish this, Democrats have recreated a policy that was last employed in the 1980s: trying to capture tax revenue from companies that report a profit to shareholders on their financial statements while bulking up on deductions to whittle down their tax bills.
reduce their effective tax rates well below the statutory 21 percent. It was originally projected to raise $313 billion in tax revenue over a decade, though the final tally is likely to be $258 billion once the revised bill is finalized.
would eliminate this cap and extend the tax credit until 2032; used cars would also qualify for a credit of up to $4,000.
Energy industry. The bill would provide billions of dollars in rebates for Americans who buy energy efficient and electric appliances as well as tax credits for companies that build new sources of emissions-free electricity, such as wind turbines and solar panels. The package also sets aside $60 billion to encourage clean energy manufacturing in the United States. The bill also requires businesses to pay a financial penalty per metric ton for methane emissions that exceed federal limits starting in 2024.
Low-income communities. The bill would invest over $60 billion to support low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately burdened by effects of climate change. This includes grants for zero-emissions technology and vehicles, as well as money to mitigate the negative effects of highways, bus depots and other transportation facilities.
Fossil fuels industry. The bill would require the federal government to auction off more public lands and waters for oil drilling and expand tax credits for coal and gas-burning plants that rely on carbon capture technology. These provisions are among those that were added to gain the support of Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia.
West Virginia. The bill would also bring big benefits to Mr. Manchin’s state, the nation’s second-largest producer of coal, making permanent a federal trust fund to support miners with black lung disease and offering new incentives for companies to build wind and solar farms in areas where coal mines or coal plants have recently closed.
Because of that complexity, the corporate minimum tax has faced substantial skepticism. It is less efficient than simply eliminating deductions or raising the corporate tax rate and could open the door for companies to find new ways to make their income appear lower to reduce their tax bills.
Similar versions of the idea have been floated by Mr. Biden during his presidential campaign and by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. They have been promoted as a way to restore fairness to a tax system that has allowed major corporations to dramatically lower their tax bills through deductions and other accounting measures.
According to an early estimate from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, the tax would most likely apply to about 150 companies annually, and the bulk of them would be manufacturers. That spurred an outcry from manufacturing companies and Republicans, who have been opposed to any policies that scale back the tax cuts that they enacted five years ago.
Although many Democrats acknowledge that the corporate minimum tax was not their first choice of tax hikes, they have embraced it as a political winner. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, shared Joint Committee on Taxation data on Thursday indicating that in 2019, about 100 to 125 corporations reported financial statement income greater than $1 billion, yet their effective tax rates were lower than 5 percent. The average income reported on financial statements to shareholders was nearly $9 billion, but they paid an average effective tax rate of just 1.1 percent.
“Companies are paying rock-bottom rates while reporting record profits to their shareholders,” Mr. Wyden said.
told the Senate Finance Committee last year. “This behavioral response poses serious risks for financial accounting and the capital markets.”
Other opponents of the new tax have expressed concerns that it would give more control over the U.S. tax base to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, an independent organization that sets accounting rules.
“The potential politicization of the F.A.S.B. will likely lead to lower-quality financial accounting standards and lower-quality financial accounting earnings,” Ms. Hanlon and Jeffrey L. Hoopes, a University of North Carolina professor, wrote in a letter to members of Congress last year that was signed by more than 260 accounting academics.
the chief economist of the manufacturing association. “Arizona’s manufacturing voters are clearly saying that this tax will hurt our economy.”
Ms. Sinema has expressed opposition to increasing tax rates and had reservations about a proposal to scale back the special tax treatment that hedge fund managers and private equity executives receive for “carried interest.” Democrats scrapped the proposal at her urging.
When an earlier version of a corporate minimum tax was proposed last October, Ms. Sinema issued an approving statement.
“This proposal represents a common sense step toward ensuring that highly profitable corporations — which sometimes can avoid the current corporate tax rate — pay a reasonable minimum corporate tax on their profits, just as everyday Arizonans and Arizona small businesses do,” she said. In announcing that she would back an amended version of the climate and tax bill on Thursday, Ms. Sinema noted that it would “protect advanced manufacturing.”
That won plaudits from business groups on Friday.
“Taxing capital expenditures — investments in new buildings, factories, equipment, etc. — is one of the most economically destructive ways you can raise taxes,” Neil Bradley, chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. He added, “While we look forward to reviewing the new proposed bill, Senator Sinema deserves credit for recognizing this and fighting for changes.”
A day after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was gunned down in broad daylight, a stunned nation is questioning how the gunman was able to approach one of Japan’s most prominent politicians and fire two shots from close range without security stepping in.
On television and social media, there are numerous videos of the gunman walking unobstructed past security before pointing a large, handmade gun in the direction of Mr. Abe. The first shot seemed to startle the former leader and, a few seconds later, a second shot was fired and Mr. Abe collapsed to the ground. At that point, a group of men who appeared to be part of his security detail tackled the gunman to the ground.
The graphic footage has raised questions about why the gunman was able to approach from behind the riser where Mr. Abe was speaking and how, after the first shot, he was able to fire a second before security officers stopped him.
Toshio Tamogami, chief of staff for Japan’s Air Force, seemed to ask the question that was on the country’s mind.
“How did the police, protective detail and other security not notice the criminal who approached with a gun from behind?” he wrote on Twitter.
The National Police Agency said there had been no problem with Mr. Abe’s security, according to Jiji News Agency and that there had been an armed officer on the scene from Japan’s Security Police. That protective detail is a division of Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department and serves a role similar to the Secret Service in the United States. An agency spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The agency said the lone Security Police officer at the event saw the attacker but could not stop the shooting, according to Jiji. The local police department in Nara said it also had officers there guarding Mr. Abe, although they declined to provide specifics on how many officers were deployed.
Danny Russel, a vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former assistant secretary of state who traveled extensively with President Barack Obama, said he was stunned by the lack of protection for Mr. Abe during Friday’s campaign stop.
“The notion that the security police could have been there and not only allowed someone to walk up that closely to Abe carrying a homemade weapon, but there were two shots several seconds apart,” said Mr. Russel. “Why did nobody interpose their body or wrestle Abe to the ground?”
The seemingly relaxed security around Mr. Abe is a byproduct of the relative safety of Japan, where violent crimes and major disturbances at political rallies are rare.
Paul Nadeau, a former private secretary and adviser for a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker from 2015 to 2018, said he had attended campaign stops where Mr. Abe was speaking and that security was not overwhelming, even though he was prime minister at the time. He noted that there were around six to 12 security police officers guarding him but that the level of security did not come close to that of a U.S. president.
Mr. Nadeau, who is now an adjunct professor at Temple University in Japan, said that he would attend party functions where Mr. Abe was in attendance with several hundred politicians, aides and other affiliated people without going through a background check, screening or a metal detector.
The proximity of candidates and constituents was designed, he said, as part of a way to create a sense of intimacy and a feeling that the politician was approachable. Security was rarely considered.
“It never crossed my mind that you would ever need more security,” he said.
WASHINGTON — President Biden was at a private meeting discussing student debt forgiveness this year when, as happens uncomfortably often these days, the conversation came back to inflation.
“He said with everything he does, Republicans are going to attack him and use the word ‘inflation,’” said Representative Tony Cárdenas, Democrat of California, referring to Mr. Biden’s meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in April. Mr. Cárdenas said Mr. Biden was aware he would be attacked over rising prices “no matter what issue we’re talking about.”
The comment underscored how today’s rapid price increases, the fastest since the 1980s, pose a glaring political liability that looms over every major policy decision the White House makes — leaving Mr. Biden and his colleagues on the defensive as officials discover that there is no good way to talk to voters about inflation.
The administration has at times splintered internally over how to discuss price increases and has revised its inflation-related message several times as talking points fail to resonate and new data comes in. Some Democrats in Congress have urged the White House to strike a different — and more proactive — tone ahead of the November midterm elections.
increased by 8.3 percent in the year through April, and data this week is expected to show inflation at 8.2 percent in May. Inflation averaged 1.6 percent annual gains in the five years leading up to the pandemic, making today’s pace of increase painfully high by comparison. A gallon of gas, one of the most tangible household costs, hit an average of $4.92 this week. Consumer confidence has plummeted as families pay more for everyday purchases and as the Fed raises interest rates to cool the economy, which increases the risk of a recession.
a series of confidential memos sent to Mr. Biden last year by one of his lead pollsters, John Anzalone. Inflation has only continued to fuel frustration among voters, according to a separate memo compiled by Mr. Anzalone’s team last month, which showed the president’s low approval rating on the economy rivaling only his approach to immigration.
wrote in a tweet that went viral this weekend.
The White House knows it is in a tricky position, and the administration’s approach to explaining inflation has evolved over time. Officials spent the early stages of the current price burst largely describing price pressures as temporary.
When it became clear that rising costs were lasting, administration officials began to diverge internally on how to frame that phenomenon. While it was clear that much of the upward pressure on prices came from supply chain shortages exacerbated by continued waves of the coronavirus, some of it also tied back to strong consumer demand. That big spending had been enabled, in part, by the government’s stimulus packages, including direct checks to households, expanded unemployment insurance and other benefits.
Some economists in the White House have begun to emphasize that inflation was a trade-off: To the extent that Mr. Biden’s stimulus spending spurred more inflation, it also aided economic growth and a faster recovery.
have claimed credit for strong economic growth.
“Some have a curious obsession with exaggerating impact of the Rescue Plan while ignoring the degree high inflation is global,” Gene Sperling, a senior White House adviser overseeing the implementation of the stimulus package, wrote on Twitter last week, adding that the law “has had very marginal impact on inflation.”
Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, acknowledged in an interview last week that there were some disagreements among White House economic officials when it came to how to talk about and respond to inflation, but he portrayed that as a positive — and as something that is not leading to any kind of dysfunction.
“If there wasn’t healthy disagreement, debate and people feeling comfortable bringing issues and ideas to the table, then I think we would be not serving the president and the public interest well,” he said.
He also pushed back on the idea that the administration was deeply divided on the March 2021 package’s aftereffects, saying in a separate emailed comment that “there is agreement across the administration that many factors contributed to inflation, and that inflation has been driven by elevated demand and constrained supply across the globe.”
How to portray the Biden administration’s stimulus spending is far from the only challenge the White House faces. As price increases last, Democrats have grappled with how to discuss their plans to combat them.
deficit reduction as a way to lower inflation and arguing that Republicans have a bad plan to deal with rising costs. Mr. Biden regularly acknowledges the pain that higher prices are causing and has emphasized that the problem of taming inflation rests largely with the Fed, an independent entity whose work he has promised not to interfere with.
The administration has also highlighted that inflation is widespread globally, and that the United States is better off than many other nations.
Student Loans: Key Things to Know
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Corinthian Colleges. In its largest student loan forgiveness action ever, the Education Department said that it would wipe out $5.8 billion owed by 560,000 students who attended Corinthian Colleges, one of the nation’s biggest for-profit college chains before it collapsed in 2015.
The renewed messaging comes as Mr. Biden and his top aides have grown increasingly concerned about the public’s negative views of the economy, according to an administration official. Economists within the administration are more sidelined when it comes to setting the tone on issues like inflation than in previous White Houses, another person familiar with the discussions said.
So far, the talking points have done little to change public perception or to mollify concerns on Capitol Hill, where some Democrats are pushing for the White House to find a more compelling story.
“There has to be more of a laser focus on the economy, a bolder message, a clearer story,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who wrote a New York Times opinion piece last week saying that Democrats need a more ambitious plan for fighting inflation. He added that “rhetoric about ‘Well, we’re doing really well’ does not capture the profound sense of anxiety that Americans feel.”
Part of the difficulty is that there is only so much politicians can do to fight price increases.
suspended a ban on summertime sales of higher-ethanol gasoline blends to try to temper price increases at the pump, spurring frustration among climate activists still angry over the collapse of the president’s climate and social-spending package.
Talks over whether to roll back Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods have also gotten caught in the inflation maw. Ms. Yellen has said she supports relaxing tariffs to help ease prices, but other Democrats are wary that removing them would make Mr. Biden look weak on China.
Inflation is also influencing conversations about whether to forgive student loan debt, one of Mr. Biden’s key campaign promises. Economists in the administration think that loan forgiveness would, at most, push inflation up a little bit by giving people with outstanding student debt more financial wiggle room. But some economists in the administration’s orbit have expressed concern about the possibility of doing something that could stimulate demand — even slightly — at a moment when it is already hot.
To help mute the inflationary effect, forgiveness would most likely be accompanied by a resumption of interest payments on all student loans that have been paused since the pandemic.
For now, the administration is considering forgiving at least $10,000 for borrowers in a certain income range, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Cárdenas said that Mr. Biden knew he would be attacked over inflation but that he did not think the issue would prevent the president from canceling at least $10,000 worth of debt.
“Will it affect him going beyond that? It may,” he said.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 20, 2022. Eric Lee/Pool via REUTERS
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BEIJING, April 7 (Reuters) – China warned on Thursday it would take strong measures if U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan and said such a visit would severely impact Chinese-U.S. relations, following media reports she would go next week.
China considers democratically ruled Taiwan its own territory and the subject is a constant source of friction between Beijing and Washington, especially given strong U.S. military and political support for the island.
The possible visit has not been confirmed by Pelosi’s office or Taiwan’s government, but some Japanese and Taiwanese media reported it would take place after she visits Japan this weekend.
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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that Beijing firmly opposed all forms of official interactions between the United States and Taiwan, and Washington should cancel the trip.
“If the United States insists on having its own way, China will take strong measures in response to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity. All possible consequences that arise from this will completely be borne by the U.S. side,” he added, without giving details.
In Taipei, Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou would only say that inviting U.S. officials and dignitaries had always been “an important part” of the ministry’s work, and that it would announce any official visits at an appropriate time.
Sunday marks the 43rd anniversary of the United States signing into law the Taiwan Relations Act, which guides ties in the absence of formal diplomatic relations and enshrines a U.S. commitment to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.
The last time a House speaker visited Taiwan was in 1997, when Newt Gingrich met then-President Lee Teng-hui.
Pelosi, a long time critic of China, particularly on human rights issues, held a virtual meeting with Taiwan Vice President William Lai in January as he wrapped up a visit to the United States and Honduras. read more
Pelosi is one of the ruling Democratic Party’s most high-profile politicians, and second in the U.S. presidential line of succession after the vice president.
Taiwan has been heartened by continued U.S. support offered by the Biden administration, which has repeatedly talked of its “rock-solid” commitment to the island.
That has strained already poor Sino-U.S. relations.
In March, a delegation of former senior U.S. defence and security officials sent by President Joe Biden visited Taiwan, a strong show of support coming soon after Russia invaded Ukraine. read more
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Reporting by Martin Pollard; Writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei;
Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Nick Macfie
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
ROME — Early this month, Silvio Berlusconi sat at a dining room table in his mansion with his girlfriend, more than a half-century younger, and an old political ally. As they feasted on a pumpkin souffle and truffle tagliatelle, the 85-year-old Italian former prime minister and billionaire made hours of phone calls, working his way down a list of disaffected lawmakers he hoped to persuade to elect him president of Italy next week.
“‘We are forming the Bunga Bunga party and we want you with us,’” Christian Romaniello, a lawmaker formerly with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, recounted Mr. Berlusconi as saying, referring to the sex-fueled bacchanals that Mr. Berlusconi has deemed merely “elegant dinners.” According to Mr. Romaniello, Mr. Berlusconi then added, “‘But I’ll bring the ladies.’”
The Italian presidency, the country’s head of state, is a seven-year position usually filled by a figure of unimpeachable integrity and sobriety whose influence flows from moral authority. The current holder, Sergio Mattarella, is a quiet statesman whose brother was murdered by the mob. Another contender is Mario Draghi, the prime minister and a titan of European politics who has led the country to a period of unusual stability.
Then there is Mr. Berlusconi, who despite his recent bad health, waxen appearance and weakened political standing, is making an unabashed push to win a career-culminating position that he hopes will wash away decades of stains — his allies say unjustly thrown mud — and rewrite his legacy.
mob links and bribing lawmakers; the tax fraud conviction; the ban from office; the sentence to perform community service in a nursing home; his use of his media empire for political gain; his use of the government to protect his media empire; the wiretapped conversations of his libertine party guests regaling the Caligulan extent of his bunga bunga debaucheries; his close relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, who gifted Mr. Berlusconi a large bed; his appraisal of Barack Obama as “young, handsome and sun tanned”; his comparing a German lawmaker to a concentration camp guard; his second wife’s divorcing him for apparently dating an 18-year-old.
It’s an unorthodox résumé.
Mr. Berlusconi’s conflicts of interest, judicial problems and past behavior made him less than an excellent candidate, said Emma Bonino, a veteran Italian politician and civil rights activist who once ran for the office herself. “I don’t think he would give a good image of our country in the world,” she said.
Mr. Berlusconi declined to comment for this article. But he and his team of longtime advisers are selling him as a moderate, pro-European champion of democracy and can-do capitalism. “I think Silvio Berlusconi can be useful to the country,” Mr. Berlusconi, speaking of himself in the third person, said in October.
In usual fashion, he is using all the levers at his disposal to reach the requisite majority of 505 votes in the secret balloting for the presidency among lawmakers that starts on Monday.
read the headline) and published an insert on his qualities (“hero of liberty”). Weeks ago, lawmakers opening their mailboxes found a photograph of Mr. Berlusconi, arms up and bathing in adoration, on the cover of an anthology of his speeches.
the great-grandfather has remained the father figure of the center-right, which now has — if united — the largest bloc of lawmaker electors in Parliament and a strong desire to choose the next president.
But Mr. Berlusconi’s insistence has caused a major headache for Matteo Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party, both at work and at home. Mr. Salvini’s girlfriend is the daughter of Denis Verdini, one of Mr. Berlusconi’s closest advisers, who is publicly applying pressure — from house arrest after his conviction in a bankruptcy fraud case — to elect Mr. Berlusconi.
After years of promising Mr. Berlusconi that he would back his candidacy for president, Mr. Salvini sent a stinging message to Mr. Berlusconi this week, saying that, “We must verify if Berlusconi has the numbers before the start of voting next week.” Mr. Salvini indicated that he had somebody else in mind.
Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right leader of Brothers of Italy, the third party in the center-right alliance, spoke on Tuesday of the possibility of Mr. Berlusconi’s stepping aside, prompting speculation that he might drop out.
the cover of Espresso magazine.
For all Mr. Berlusconi’s seeming unsuitability to fill the role of head of state, his allies argue that Italians elected him multiple times, that political considerations motivated the magistrates who hounded him for decades and that he was a self-made and brilliant businessman who built an empire.
But his outsize appetites and self-interested use of power fueled a backlash that seeded and grew the enormous anti-establishment Five Star Movement, co-founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo, who once derided Mr. Berlusconi as a “psychotic dwarf.”
Five Star took power in 2018 as Italy’s leading party, and Mr. Berlusconi’s support dwindled. He took a back seat to the rising nationalists, first Mr. Salvini and then Ms. Meloni, and railed against Five Star as incompetent good-for-nothings and a threat to democracy. He mocked their trademark universal welfare plan as a joke. He called their power structure communist.
Five Star has since imploded and scattered members into a mixed group of lawmakers desperate to avoid new elections that would almost certainly cost them their jobs and pensions. Mr. Berlusconi has explicitly promised to keep the legislature going as president, has called the universal income plan good for the poor and showered gifts on former rivals.
Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader who once refused to join any government with Mr. Berlusconi, this Christmas accepted a centuries-old oil painting of Venice from the mogul’s collection, according to a person close to Mr. Di Maio, who declined to comment.
As Mr. Berlusconi worked the phones alongside his girlfriend, who is also a member of Parliament in his political party, he sat next to Vittorio Sgarbi, one of his former ministers and a lawmaker and television personality who is well liked by many Five Star members.
When Mr. Sgarbi called Mr. Romaniello, the former Five Star lawmaker, who was interrupted while making Carnevale masks with his two small children, he jokingly introduced Mr. Berlusconi as “a Grillo-following friend.”
In an interview, Mr. Romaniello said that he was flattered by the call and added that friends contacted by Mr. Berlusconi also respected the former prime minister’s phone banking and “positive charisma.” But Mr. Romaniello said that he still considered himself, politically, “an adversary,” adding that Five Star had been born “as the antithesis of Berlusconi.” A phone call, he said, would not win his vote.
By Tuesday, even Mr. Sgarbi had bailed on Mr. Berlusconi and was urging him to be a kingmaker.
“I don’t think he can do it,” he said in an interview, saying that the duo had only persuaded about 15 lawmakers to back him, far short, even if he had a base of about 450 conservative supporters, to win the election. “It’s useless to try if you don’t have the numbers.”
On Wednesday, as Mr. Berlusconi’s lawyers in Milan successfully argued for a delay in a bribery trial related to his bunga bunga tribulations until after the presidential vote, his team snapped back and vowed that he would persist and, as always, speak for himself.
“I will not disappoint those who have trusted me,” Mr. Berlusconi said.
The secrecy, and self-interested nature, of the vote makes it ripe for influence peddling. In recent days, opening gambits took the form of government-collapsing ultimatums, with Mr. Berlusconi saying that he would pull his party out of government if Mr. Draghi became president.
Secret negotiations between the nationalist League, led by Matteo Salvini, and the center-left Democratic Party, are already underway, with the aim of avoiding new elections, possibly by keeping Mr. Draghi as prime minister of a government consisting of political leaders rather than technocrats.
Many, though perhaps not Mr. Draghi, are hoping that after sufficient votes fail to materialize for presidential hopefuls in opening ballots, a reluctant Mr. Mattarella, 80, can be persuaded by a broad alliance to serve another term, or at least to stick around for a couple more years and leave a new term early.
In theory, that would allow Mr. Draghi to defer his dream job until after the vital recovery fund programs have been put in place. But a year or two is an eternity in constantly evolving Italian politics.
Mr. Draghi, no political neophyte, has added his own pressure, asking the political parties if it was at all imaginable for a government that splinters on the choice of a president — be it him or anyone else — to “come back together magically” to run the country.
But even Mr. Draghi has not been untarnished by the political sniping. His backers say that he has become a more politically cautiousbroker between the bickering parties than their firm leader. In his most recent news conference, the prime minister sounded defensive, insisting that he was the one really making decisions. His honeymoon period seems to have ended.
“There is a lot of noise in the system because of this presidential race,” Mr. Colao said, nevertheless acknowledging that political pressure had “on the margins” increased the urgency of getting modernizing projects into the pipeline.
CAPE TOWN — A large fire at South Africa’s Houses of Parliament on Sunday sent flames and smoke billowing from rooftops and fire crews racing to save the historic structures.
Officials said the fire spread from an office space on the third floor of a building adjacent to the old National Assembly building toward a gym and to rooftops. The scale of the destruction was not immediately clear, they said, but there were fires burning in “two very distinct areas,” and they warned that it was likely to be extensive.
“The entire parliamentary complex is severely damaged — waterlogged and smoke damaged,” JP Smith, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, said, adding that “the roof above the old assembly hall is completely gone.”
“The second point of fire is the National Assembly building, which is gutted,” Mr. Smith said, referring to the building where the Parliament meets. “The structural ceiling has collapsed. The fire staff had to be momentarily withdrawn.”
In March, the older building caught fire, but that blaze was quickly extinguished.
“It’s tragic that we’re starting the New Year on this basis, with a fire in the old assembly that seems to be spreading to the new assembly,” Steven Swart, the chief whip of the African Christian Democratic Party, said on Sunday.
The fire was still burning hours after it was first reported. At least six fire trucks and about 70 firefighters and police officers were sent to the scene, Mr. Smith said, and the streets around the complex were closed off.
The blaze broke out a day after the funeral of Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped lead the fight against apartheid in South Africa. It was held at St. George’s Cathedral, which is a few minutes’ walk from the Houses of Parliament. The archbishop’s ashes were interred in the cathedral on Sunday morning, in a private ceremony for his family at the same time the fire was first spotted.
Cape Town is no stranger to fires, and wildfires on the slopes of its famed Table Mountain have had a devastating impact in recent years. Last year, a wildfire spread to the University of Cape Town, where it devoured the special collections library — home to one of the most expansive collections of first-edition books, films, photographs and other primary sources documenting the history of Southern Africa.
BERLIN — Last December, as he was plotting what most considered to be a hopeless bid to become Germany’s next chancellor, Olaf Scholz interrupted his campaign preparations for a video call with an American philosopher.
Mr. Scholz, a Social Democrat, wanted to talk to the philosopher, Prof. Michael J. Sandel of Harvard, about why center-left parties like his had been losing working-class voters to populists, and the two men spent an hour discussing a seemingly simple theme that would become the centerpiece of the Scholz campaign: “Respect.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Scholz will be sworn in as Germany’s ninth postwar chancellor — and the first Social Democrat in 16 years — succeeding Angela Merkel and heading a three-party coalition government. Defying polls and pundits, he led his 158-year-old party from the precipice of irrelevance to an unlikely victory — and now wants to show that the center-left can again become a political force in Europe.
Mr. Scholz won for many reasons, not least because he persuaded voters that he was the closest thing to Ms. Merkel, but his message of respect resonated, too. For the first time since 2005, the Social Democrats became the strongest party among the working class. Just over 800,000 voters who had abandoned the party for the far left and far right returned in the last election.
President Biden’s political agenda in the United States.
For the center-left in Europe, Mr. Scholz’s victory comes at a critical moment. Over the past decade, many of the parties that once dominated European politics have become almost obsolete, seemingly bereft of ideas and largely abandoned by their working-class base.
The political energy has been on the right, especially the populist far right, with many American conservatives flocking to countries like Hungary to study the “illiberal democracy” of Viktor Orban, that nation’s far-right prime minister.
the lone defender of liberal democracy in an age of global strongmen, whether President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia or President Donald J. Trump. Yet Germany was not immune to populist fury, and the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, won seats in Parliament and became a political force in the country’s east.
“The biggest concern in politics for me is that our liberal democracies are coming increasingly under pressure,” Mr. Scholz says about himself on the Social Democrats’ website. “We have to solve the problems so that the cheap slogans of the populists don’t catch.”
a Trump victory. Then he spent months analyzing why the Democrats lost and reading a raft of books by authors from working-class backgrounds in the United States, France and Germany.
“He studied very carefully what happened in the United States,” said Cem Özdemir, a prominent member of the Greens who is a minister in Mr. Scholz’s incoming government. “He studied the losses of the Democrats in the U.S. Why didn’t Hillary win?”
When Mr. Scholz’s own party collapsed in the 2017 election, losing for the fourth time in a row, he wrote an unsparing paper concluding that one reason the Social Democrats had lost their core voters was that they had failed to offer them “recognition.”
cut benefits and undertook a painful overhaul of the labor market from 2003 to 2005 in a bid to bring down a jobless toll that had surpassed five million. Mr. Scholz, then the party’s general secretary, became the public face of the changes.
Unemployment did gradually fall, but the program also helped create a sprawling low-wage sector and prompted many working-class voters to defect from the Social Democrats.
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The post-Merkel era begins. For the first time in 16 years, Germany will have a center-left government and a new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, whose job will be to fill the shoes of Angela Merkel. Here’s what to know about the new government:
Who is Olaf Scholz? A lifelong Social Democrat, Mr. Scholz, 63, has been a familiar face in German politics and served in two governments led by Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party, most recently as her finance minister. But he has also been something of a political chameleon.
An uncommon coalition. The new government led by Mr. Scholz brings together three parties — the Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. It is the first time since the 1950s that three partners have formed a government.
The governing deal. Despite their differences, the parties said they had found enough common ground to push forward with plans to beat back the pandemic, increase the minimum wage, address climate change and legalize marijuana.
The pandemic offers a crucial test. A spike in cases has thrust Germany into its worst crisis of the pandemic, vaulting the issue to the top of the coalition’s agenda. But in its first test, the incoming government sent mixed signals before the latest wave forced a retreat to tougher measures.
Foreign policy crises await. Rarely has a German leader come into office with so many burning crises. Mr. Scholz will have to deal with tensions on the Polish-Belarusian border, a Russian president mobilizing troops near Ukraine, a more confrontational China and a less dependable U.S.
Professor Sandel argues that it was around this time that center-left parties, including the Democrats of President Bill Clinton, embraced the market triumphalism of the right, became more closely identified with the values and interests of the well-educated and began losing touch with working-class voters.
Mr. Scholz, once a fiery young socialist who joined his party as a teenager, defended workers as a labor lawyer in the 1970s before gradually mellowing into a post-ideological centrist. Today he is considered to be to the right of much of the party’s base, not unlike Mr. Biden, with whom he is sometimes compared, even though, like Mr. Biden, he has demonstrated some liberal reflexes.
a three-party government with the progressive Greens and the libertarian Free Democrats. Their governing treaty calls for raising the minimum wage to 12 euros, or about $13.50, an hour, from €9.60 today — an instant pay rise for about 10 million people. Mr. Scholz has also promised to build 400,000 homes a year,100,000 more than was previously planned, and to guarantee stable pension levels.
More abstract, but equally important, is his promise of another “industrial revolution” that will aim to make Germany a manufacturing power for the carbon-neutral age and provide the economic bedrock for the welfare state of the future.
“We need to tell people two things,” Mr. Scholz said during the campaign. “First, that we need respect, we need good pay and proper recognition for work. And second, we have to ensure that there are good jobs in the future.”
the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who recently announced her own long-shot presidential bid, has evoked the “respect” theme.
But slogans go only so far. The Social Democrats came in first in the splintered September vote in Germany but mustered only 26 percent of the total, a far cry from the 40 percent they recorded at the start of Mr. Schröder’s first term. Mr. Kühnert, the party’s general secretary, said that Mr. Scholz’s challenge was to show that the Social Democratic model is the right approach for the country and beyond.
“We hope that our election victory in Germany will send a signal for the revival of social democracy internationally,” Mr. Kühnert said. “We’re looking above all to the rest of Europe, because we need to strengthen the E.U. in the next years if we want to have anything to say in the world in coming years.”
TOKYO — The Japan Communist Party is the oldest political party in the country. It’s the largest nonruling Communist party in the world. It’s harshly critical of China. And the Japanese authorities list it, along with ISIS and North Korea, as a threat to national security.
To many in Japan, that comparison seems exaggerated. The party, which long ago abandoned Marx and Lenin and never really had time for Stalin or Mao, is about as radical as a beige cardigan: antiwar, pro-democracy, pro-economic equality.
But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a primary target of Japan’s dominant political force, the Liberal Democratic Party, ahead of parliamentary elections on Sunday that will help set the country’s path out of the pandemic.
Though clocking in at only 3 percent support in the polls, the Communists have become a handy boogeyman after teaming up with Japan’s leading opposition parties for the first time in an effort to dethrone the L.D.P. The Communists agreed to withdraw their candidates from several districts to avoid splitting the liberal vote.
C.I.A. — carried out heavy-handed crackdowns on the group, which briefly flirted with political violence and became a rallying point for anti-American student protests.
Despite its name, the J.C.P. has largely abandoned its roots in favor of its own homegrown ideology. It broke with the Soviet Union and China in the 1960s and has recently become one of Beijing’s most vocal Japanese critics, denouncing its neighbor for following the path of “hegemony” and violating human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. When the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, the J.C.P. was the only major Japanese party not to send congratulations.
Still, Japan’s National Police Agency has continued to treat the group as a menace. In its annual report on threats to the nation, it lumps the J.C.P. in with the Islamic State, North Korea and Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that killed 13 and injured thousands during a 1995 nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
The Japan Communists, the police note, are rapidly aging, losing their financial resources — mostly generated by subscriptions to their newspaper, Akahata, or Red Flag — and are having difficulty attracting new members.
The agency is not clear about what actual threat the group poses. It does note that the Communists were planning to join other opposition parties to challenge the L.D.P., and that they had “added ‘gender equality’ and ‘a nuclear-power-free Japan’” to their platform. (The J.C.P. runs more female candidates than nearly any other Japanese party.)
Both of those initiatives are opposed to some extent by the Liberal Democrats — who, for example, have rejected legislation to allow women to keep their last names after marriage — even though they are popular with the general public.
But those are not among the top issues for voters in the coming election. Their priorities are clear: keeping the coronavirus in check and putting the pandemic-ravaged economy back on track. Neither of these are necessarily winning issues for the L.D.P., which, though unlikely to lose, faces a strong risk of emerging from the election seriously weakened.
Japan is reporting just a few hundred Covid-19 cases each day, and vaccination numbers have surpassed those of most other countries, despite a slow start. Nevertheless, there is a sense that the governing party mismanaged the crisis, fumbling the national vaccine rollout and delaying the country’s recovery. Stories of coronavirus patients dying at home despite ample supplies of hospital beds have further hardened public opinion.
Current economic policies, which have failed to lift the country out of stagnation, are also unpopular — so much so that Fumio Kishida, who became prime minister this month after winning an L.D.P. leadership election, ran against them. Mr. Kishida promised that he would confront growing inequality through a (very socialist-sounding) program of wealth redistribution.
He has since walked back those promises and looks set to continue his predecessors’ policies largely unchanged.
The threat that the Japan Communist Party poses to the L.D.P. may come not from its size — the Communists have never gained more than 13 percent of the vote in a lower house election — but from its members’ dedication. The J.C.P., which has a highly organized base, could play a big role in drawing votes to the opposition, said Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of political science at Nihon University.
“It’s an organization that has the power to gather ballots” he said.
In focusing attention on the Japan Communists, the L.D.P. and its governing partner, Komeito, are betting that voters’ distaste for big “C” communism and fear of a rising China will drive them away from the opposition coalition, said Taku Sugawara, an independent political scientist.
“Until recently, as far as the L.D.P. was concerned, the Communists were just a group that got in the way of the other opposition parties,” he said. “But now that they’re clearly a threat, they’ve become a prominent target of criticism.”
Although there is widespread consensus in Japan that Beijing’s growing power poses a threat to regional stability, the L.D.P. and J.C.P. are split over how to deal with it.
The Liberal Democrats have called for doubling military spending, increasing defense cooperation with the United States, and changing Japan’s pacifist constitution to give it, among other things, the ability to carry out first strikes against adversaries that threaten national security.
The Japan Communists, however, prefer a diplomatic approach and are strongly opposed to the substantial American military presence in Japan, a position that makes it an outlier among Japanese political parties.
During a recent rally in front of the bustling Shinjuku station in central Tokyo, candidates for Komeito warned a small group of potential voters that the differing views of the J.C.P. and its political partners on national defense would make it impossible for them to govern competently.
(The hawkish L.D.P. and its dovish coalition partner have themselves long been at odds over whether to increase military spending or alter Japan’s constitution to remove its prohibition against waging war. And Komeito is notorious for its reluctance to criticize Beijing.)
The Japan Communists have said that their differences with other opposition parties would have no bearing on a new government. The Communists say they won’t seek any role if the opposition topples the L.D.P.
But it’s hard to say what would actually happen if the opposition somehow won power, Mr. Iwai, the political science professor, said.
None of the coalition members “actually think they’re going to win,” he said. So when it comes to discussions of what’s next, “No one’s thought that far.”
Mr. Amess was also a vocal supporter of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen Khalq, or M.E.K., which campaigns for the overthrow of Iran’s government. The group has attracted a bipartisan list of American backers, including John R. Bolton, who served as a national security adviser to President Donald J. Trump, and Howard Dean, a onetime chairman of the Democratic Party.
There was no evidence linking the attack to Mr. Amess’s support for the M.E.K. Though the group was once designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Britain and the European Union, all three removed that designation several years ago.
David Jones, a Conservative member of Parliament and a leader of the British Committee for Iran Freedom, which backs the M.E.K., hailed Mr. Amess as “a champion of human rights and democracy in Iran for more than three decades.”
For residents of Leigh-on-Sea, the senselessness of the attack was difficult to comprehend, let alone accept.
“I just want to know, why?” said Audrey Martin, 66, who was buying groceries as Mr. Johnson and the other leaders arrived to lay flowers. “Why has he done it and why has he chosen to come to Leigh-on-Sea?”
Fidelia McGhee, 48, who lives near the site of the attack, said that Mr. Amess had always championed local causes. While she described herself as a longtime Labour voter, she praised him as a kind, committed politician. She called the attack “the stuff of nightmares” that would leave an indelible mark on the town.
“It is quite tragic,” she said. “I think we’ve lost something we will never get back.”
Mark Landler and Stephen Castle reported from London, and Megan Specia from Leigh-on-Sea, England.