Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Boston Globe on U.S. aid to Israel should be a force for peace:
Israelis deserve to live in safety without fear of attacks that indiscriminately target civilians. Palestinians deserve basic human rights — and democratic rights — including that of self-determination, safety from violence, and freedom from forced removal from their homes by the Israeli military. Everyone living in the region deserves peace. The best way to achieve these outcomes is through a two-state solution and an agreement among the Israeli military, Jewish extremists, and Islamist militant groups that they will, at last, cease the violence.
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The United States is currently doing little to help achieve these outcomes — both by underutilizing what leverage it has and by abetting Israel in its efforts to expand into Palestinian territories in violation of international agreements. As conflict in the region escalates, the Biden administration and Congress need to make clear that the ongoing military aid to Israel must be used to help, not hinder, the goal of peaceful coexistence and a two-state solution.
The failings of US policy to achieve peace have only become more apparent and acute. The US government gives Israel $3.8 billion in annual military aid without asking for protection of Palestinians’ rights in return. Some of that aid directly enables Israel to force evictions of Palestinians and expand its settlements, including of the kind that were recently planned in a neighborhood of East Jerusalem, sparking the latest spate of violence. Human Rights Watch has documented that US-manufactured and US-supplied technology, such as Caterpillar bulldozers, which Israel purchases through the US military aid it receives, have been used to demolish Palestinian homes.
This kind of unchecked use of US military financing has, in recent years, pushed Israel in the direction of abandoning the two-state solution, in which Palestinians would eventually have their own country in what are now Israeli-occupied territories. In the last two decades alone, Israel has significantly eroded the viability of the two-state solution by more than doubling its settler population in the West Bank — the territory that would comprise the bulk of a future Palestinian state. That’s why, if the United States is serious about brokering a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, it must begin putting conditions on the aid it provides in order to ensure that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expansionary government stops going down the dangerous path of de facto annexation of Palestinian land.
To be sure, Israel is not the only party in this deadly conflict that has committed atrocities. While the Israeli government has indiscriminately bombed residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, the Islamist militant group Hamas continues to also commit war crimes against Israelis. The violent extremists Hamas recruits must be held accountable for their attacks and human rights abuses. The United States should remain steadfast in ensuring that Israel has the capacity to defend itself against any real threats, be they the rockets fired by Hamas or Iran’s threat to wipe out the Jewish state.
But when the Israeli government commits egregious human rights abuses and violates international law, the United States cannot simply turn a blind eye. That’s especially true of the Biden administration, which has made an effort to center its foreign policy on a human rights agenda. The administration, however, has so far failed to adequately use its influence to persuade Israel to agree on a cease-fire to stop the current bloodshed. In fact, Israel’s leadership has rejected a truce offered by Hamas and instead vowed to continue its bombardment of Gaza until there is “complete quiet.” President Biden has not been willing to put his foot down. To the contrary, he has doubled down on the United States’ unconditional military support for Israel and just agreed to an arms sale that includes precision-guided missiles of the kind that The Washington Post reports have been used against Palestinians.
That is most unfortunate because the death toll from the current violence continues to rise, disproportionately among Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip alone, the Israeli military has killed at least 217 Palestinians, 63 of whom were children. Seventeen more Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank, and 10 Israelis, including two children, as well as two Thai workers, have been killed by rockets fired by Hamas, which operates out of Gaza. If Biden is unwilling, as he has expressed in the past, to support putting conditions on military assistance to Israel — or even pause the current arms sale to give Congress a chance to review it, as Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have requested — then Congress must step in to do so anyway.
Ultimately, conditioning aid to Israel should not be controversial. The majority of American voters believe that their tax dollars should not be given to Israel if it continues to violate American settlement policy, which Biden ought to restore to the Obama-era stance. The Israeli government and the citizens who elect its leaders will always have a choice. Israel should continue to receive US military aid if it treats Palestinians as human beings deserving of basic rights and shows in earnest that it stands ready to broker peace. That, in the end, should not be considered a big ask.
The Guardian on the pandemic and the changing nature of employment:
As Britain warily exits lockdown, the post-pandemic challenges that the country faces are looming large. On Tuesday, a study by the Resolution Foundation thinktank outlined some of them, including reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and managing the transition to automation in parts of the economy. The report also highlighted a new social divide, one that emerged in the context of Covid and is likely, in some form, to remain when the pandemic is behind us. In 2019, only 5% of employees worked mainly from home, but that number grew to almost 50% during the first and third lockdowns. Remote working has become particularly prevalent among the higher-paid and higher-educated, as a substantial part of the knowledge economy successfully migrates to affluent suburbs in London and elsewhere. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics this week reveal that 70% of all staff in Richmond upon Thames worked from home at some point during the pandemic. The equivalent figure in Burnley was less than 14%.
The implications of this shift, and its social composition, need to be thought through. For millions of mostly better-off citizens able to work from home, a hybrid working week – part-home, part-office – seems likely in the future. This will have a sizeable impact on the country’s economic geography. The Nationwide building society and Santander UK, for example, have already announced the closure of swathes of urban office space. Nationwide has advised 13,000 staff that they are free to work at home from anywhere in the country. HSBC intends to cut office space, but require its staff to come in for part of the week. As other businesses follow suit, and the shift to online shopping continues, the decline of high streets and urban centres may accelerate. Providers of local goods and services, stranded in the physical economy, may struggle and may be forced to relocate. Places and individuals that could be losers in this process must be properly supported and provided with meaningful options and assistance.
For businesses, the main advantage of staying wholly or partly on Zoom is obvious: in one recent survey, 88% of organisations said that they made real-estate savings in 2020 through remote working; 92% expected further cost reductions in the next two to three years. For employees, the picture is more complicated. The loss of a stressful daily commute has certainly not been mourned. But as a short-term novelty has turned into the new normal, there has been evidence of a sense of social disconnection, burnout and falling morale. Matthew Taylor, the author of a 2017 government review on work, warned this month that a high level of working from home risked creating “highly atomised workforces”, lacking the kind of solidarity and mutual support that should be part of a good working experience. Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s outgoing chief economist, has suggested that an online working world can become a long-term drain on creativity and collaboration. For young people starting out in their careers, the physical workplace provides crucial opportunities to bond with colleagues and get the feel of an organisation.
In some form, working from home is set to remain part of millions of people’s lives. But there must be careful thinking on how to mitigate its downsides, both for those in the virtual working world and those trying to make a living outside it.
The Boston Herald on keeping restaurant recovery on the front burner:
The end of America’s coronavirus nightmare is within reach.
Venues are getting ready for live acts and capacity crowds, mask mandates are lifting and many events canceled in 2020 are back on schedule.
But while we’re looking forward to summer celebrations in our favorite restaurants, there is a caveat — many of our beloved eateries are gone.
The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic — thanks to mandated shutdowns and capacity restrictions.
Some retooled to serve takeout and delivery only.
Many didn’t make it.
Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, estimates that about 3,400 restaurants — out of a total of about 16,000 in the state — likely have closed permanently.
Those who are still standing face a challenging road to recovery.
Which is why it’s vital that the Massachusetts Legislature pass a pair of bills extending a cap on delivery fees and authorize cocktails for takeout, beyond the end of the state of emergency.
As the State House News Service reported, sales of cocktails to-go and fee caps charged by third-party delivery such as GrubHub and DoorDash services have helped restaurants stay afloat as the pandemic squeezed their operations.
Both those provisions are tied to the length of the state of emergency that Gov. Charlie Baker declared last March. Baker announced Monday that he would end the state of emergency on June 15.
“Small businesses, restaurants, bars and others are operating on these very slim margins, and having their top line impacted in a way that renders them unprofitable right away,” said Jackson Cannon, the bar director for the now-closed Kenmore Square bars Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar and The Hawthorne. “Any of these incremental helps, especially cocktails to-go and the cap on fees, these need to be of a duration long enough to help us climb out of this and hopefully protect as many of the businesses as we can.”
Sen. Diana DiZoglio filed the bills, and has offered amendments to the Senate budget that would keep the measures in place for two years.
DiZoglio tweeted, “With @MassGovernor’s announcement today that the state of emergency is ending soon, I’m respectfully asking Sen Prez @KarenSpilka & Spkr @RonMariano, the powers that be, to expedite BOTH my cocktails to go & third party delivery cap bills ASAP to protect our restaurants.”
The focus has shifted from the gloom of enduring the pandemic’s morass, to getting the country vaccinated and boosting its infrastructure. Trillions of dollars are in play under President Biden’s program of “building back better” via fixing bridges, modernizing transport, investing in child care, moving to green energy and funding nearly every progressive proposal that comes up.
Attention should not divert from those who are still white-knuckling their way to pre-pandemic solvency. When Biden touted the newly launched Restaurant Revitalization Fund in early May, he noted, “Whether it’s our economy or our sense of community, we’re relying on restaurants to play a big role in our recovery.”
In this vein, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund needs to be a funding priority, as the duet of bills extending the cocktail authorization and delivery cap fees must be top of mind with Massachusetts lawmakers.
The Houston Chronicle on conditions inside prisons:
Texans will soon be asking ourselves the familiar questions as spring inches toward summer: How long can we put off turning on the air conditioner before our homes become insufferable?
But for tens of thousands of Texans serving time in scores of state prisons, the cool breath of centralized air is the stuff of fantasy, no matter how hot it gets. For them, there’s but one option as the mercury rises into triple digits: Sweat it out.
“People ask me what it’s like to live inside a prison cell or dorm with no air conditioning,” former inmate Jennifer Toon told the board Monday. “I tell them to think of their car parked in the sun. Now imagine living in it, 24 hours a day, with the windows up – or maybe down just a crack for the tiniest breeze. That’s what it’s like.”
In about 70 percent of Texas’ nearly 100 state prisons, there is no AC in the living units. Inmates wake, sleep and often work in unbearably hot environments, every day. It also means that thousands of prison guards also suffer through the same sweaty conditions.
This inhumane reality is no accident. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has been fighting hard, and for years, to keep air conditioning out of the units. It’s been so committed to the notion that inmates be forced to endure Texas’ sweltering summers that it has spent millions in tax dollars just to fight off litigation demanding an end to what activists call cruel and unusual punishment.
Why? Officials say it will cost too much to add air conditioners, though as the Texas Tribune reports, their estimates have been proven repeatedly to be inflated. If cost were the real reason for opposing cooler conditions, then it would have fizzled months ago when Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, introduced his bill to air-condition all prisons within seven years — but only if the Legislature provides money to pay for it.
Canales’ bill overwhelmingly passed the full House Thursday. A similar bill has lain dormant in the Senate without so much as a hearing, a fate that all previous versions of the bill seemed to share as well. But none of them were contingent on funding, and that apparently has made all the difference.
What’s needed next is for the Senate to pick up where the House left off. Time is running out, but good news came late Monday, when the bill was officially referred to the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate should advance the bill — and then get busy finding money to pay for it. After all, the funding caveat may have made the bill more palatable, but it won’t mean anything, even if it passes, until the Legislature agrees to pay for it.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison of Houston has repeatedly faulted TDCJ officials for refusing to comply even with court orders stemming from long-running litigation over the lack of AC in Texas prisons. “Each summer, including this one, plaintiffs face a substantial risk of serious harm from the sweltering Texas heat, and defendants have been deliberately indifferent in responding to this risk,” he wrote in a scathing, 101-page order in 2017. More recently, he praised officials for agreeing to a settlement with plaintiffs, only to later accuse the department of backtracking.
Prison officials say they’ve managed to make conditions more humane following the settlement. A few facilities have been cooled in recent years, and in some others, policy requires ice water be made available regularly to help inmates stay, if not comfortable, at least healthy.
That’s not enough.
“The policy sounds good on paper,” Toon says. “But who’s going to enforce that at the facility level? That’s where it always breaks down. The guards are overworked, underpaid, hot, tired — and some are going to be conscientious and some just aren’t.”
Toon recently finished her last day of parole, about two years after she ended nearly 20 years behind bars, first on a murder charge from when she was 15. Her first stint, about 10 years, was without air conditioning — and while she recalled it as brutal, she said she was so young her body soon adapted to even the boiling temperatures.
She went back to jail for burglary when she was about 30, and says her prayers were answered when she found herself in one of the relatively few air conditioned prisons. But just months before she was released, she got sent back to a facility without AC to complete a class as part of her parole process.
“It was so, so much hotter — a thousand times hotter — than I remembered it from when I was 18, 19,” she said.
To be sure, the heat is harder on older folks and those with underlying health conditions — be they inmates or guards, who are made to endure the suffocating heat in uniform. No wonder the state has trouble retaining them.
The Senate should do the humane thing and ease those conditions. TCDJ should welcome those efforts and speed them along.
Most people in prison deserve to be there, and no one ever said it should be a country club. But living in a hot, windowless cell in the middle of a Texas summer isn’t mere punishment. It borders on torture, and it should end.
The Kansas City Star on the Missouri attorney general’s lawsuit against China:
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s latest stunt — serving the Chinese Communist Party and other defendants in a lawsuit blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic — is a sideshow, but it’s a dangerous one.
As international law experts have said, the lawsuit is not going to get very far.
But this is worse than a politically-motivated waste of time, as Schmitt makes a run for the U.S. Senate next year.
It’s worse because it puts real people, Asian Americans who are already in harm’s way as a result of just this kind of demagoguing, at even greater risk.
To stir hatred for political gain ought to be out of bounds.
But haters are going to have some solid options in the race to replace Roy Blunt. Schmitt’s competition so far includes two of his fellow Republicans, our disgraced former governor Eric Greitens, and as of Tuesday night, Mark McCloskey, whose sole claim to fame beyond suing lots of people for lots of things is that he ran out of his St. Louis mansion with his wife to wave guns at Black Lives Matter protesters last summer.
Schmitt has not yet served the Chinese government, which is a key defendant. He served the Chinese Communist Party, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences via email.
In a statement Tuesday, Schmitt said he “filed this suit to hold the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese authorities accountable for their role in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken lives, ruined businesses, destroyed economies, and more.”
Of course, you could say the same for Donald Trump, who consistently underplayed COVID-19, said the virus would quickly disappear as if by magic, failed to protect the American public, suggested that masks weren’t manly, bungled testing and was vaccinated in secret, initially failing to urge supporters to follow his lead.
Schmitt’s suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, alleges Chinese authorities deceived the public, suppressed information and permitted millions of people to be exposed to the virus. Again, that sounds a lot like what former President Trump did.
Trump, Schmitt and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who a year ago proposed an investigation into China’s responsibility for the coronavirus, all think it’s good politics to focus only on China’s mistakes, even though doing so continues to fuel physical attacks on Asian Americans. When will we see some accountability for that?
The Los Angeles Times on the U.S. Supreme Court and abortion rights:
For the nearly five decades since the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion, that right has been under attack by state legislators. But the high court has stood by its landmark decision in Roe vs. Wade over and over again in the rulings that followed.
Now the justices have taken a case that could result in that bedrock precedent — a pillar of a woman’s ability to control her body and her life — being overturned. On Monday, the high court agreed to weigh in on a Mississippi state law that bans abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy. A federal district court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals both found the law unconstitutional because Roe guarantees a right to an abortion up to the point when a fetus would be viable outside the woman’s body, which is around 24 weeks of gestation.
States have passed hundreds of unnecessary restrictions on abortion, including mandatory waiting periods, compulsory sonogram viewings and requirements that abortion clinics be outfitted like surgical centers. But states have never been able to get away with an outright ban on abortion before viability. When they do pass laws banning abortion at six weeks or 12 weeks, for example, the laws, when they are challenged, always get blocked by federal district and appeals courts, as happened with Mississippi’s 15-week cutoff. The Supreme Court has consistently refused to hear any of those cases.
Until now. After months of scheduling and then rescheduling the discussion on whether to hear the state of Mississippi’s appeal of the 5th Circuit’s decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court finally decided to accept it. The court said it would consider only one of the three questions Mississippi broached, but it’s enormously important: Does the Constitution bar all prohibitions on elective abortions prior to viability?
The case will probably be argued in the fall and decided some months later. In the meantime, Mississippi’s abortion cutoff cannot be enforced.
There are basically two ways for the court to go: gut Roe vs. Wade or reaffirm it. The Supreme Court should do the latter.
If the court lets states decide when a woman’s rights take a back seat to those of her fetus, that will all but obliterate Roe vs. Wade. In fact, states pass these laws to do just that. Legislators know the federal district and appellate courts will find the restrictions unconstitutional and not let them go into effect, but they hope that one day the Supreme Court will give abortion opponents another chance.
And that’s what happened Monday. Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the sole abortion clinic in Mississippi, said, “The court cannot uphold this law without overturning the principal protection of Roe vs. Wade.” Nearly a dozen states have bans on all or nearly all abortions waiting to go into effect if Roe vs. Wade is overturned; others would certainly follow suit.
In Mississippi and elsewhere, laws that make it difficult to get an abortion always end up disproportionately affecting women of color and lower-income women, who have a difficult time getting to a clinic and paying for an abortion. It’s already an ordeal to get an abortion in Mississippi, given that there is only one clinic. A pregnant woman could run out of time in states with bans of 15 weeks or less just trying to make arrangements to get an abortion.
Lawyers for the state of Mississippi have argued that the viability threshold “constantly moves.” In fact, since Roe vs. Wade was decided, it has barely changed. Dr. Daniel Grossman, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California San Francisco, says viability remains at about 24 weeks; survival without severe health problems is rare for fetuses delivered earlier than that.
When deciding this case, the Supreme Court could send a clear message to state legislatures, once and for all, that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion before the fetus is viable. Any state law that shortens that time frame abridges that right and will always be unconstitutional. That is the opportunity presented by Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and the court should seize it.
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