Editorial Roundup: U.S.

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

May 24

The Guardian on a line being crossed in Belarus:

In recent months, Europe has watched impotently from the sidelines as Alexander Lukashenko brutally reasserted his illegitimate authority over the population of Belarus. The protest movement that threatened the survival of his regime after fraudulent 2020 elections has, for the time being, been subjugated: a combination of state violence, media suppression, incarceration and torture has battered a people into temporary submission. The modest sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States have had limited effect, while deepening the dependency of “Europe’s last dictator” on Vladimir Putin’s largesse and goodwill.

Calibrating a response to state repression that will not play into Mr Putin’s hands has not been easy. But for the EU in particular, Monday’s extraordinary abduction of Roman Protasevich, an opposition journalist based in Lithuania, must be the catalyst for a stepchange in strategy. Along with his girlfriend, Mr Protasevich was abducted from Ryanair flight FR4978, which was crossing Belarusian airspace while flying from Athens to Vilnius. It appears he was followed onto the commercial flight by members of the Belarusian KGB. Passengers have reported Mr Protasevich’s panic and terror as the flight was diverted to Minsk on spurious grounds, accompanied by a MiG-29 fighter jet. The opposition movement’s main figurehead, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has said that he may face the death penalty.

The effect on other Belarusian dissidents will be chilling. Ms Tikhanovskaya, currently exiled in Vilnius but a frequent traveller across Europe, took the same route a week earlier, after speaking in Greece. With Minsk more or less under control, Mr Lukashenko has begun to pick off prominent opponents still at large. Last month, his former spokesman, Alexander Feduta, who had joined the opposition movement, was detained in Moscow and taken back to Minsk, where he has been charged with trying to organise a coup.

The international community must do everything possible to keep a spotlight on the case of Mr Protasevich, and the hundreds of other detainees facing uncertain fates in Minsk prisons. But its response must also be commensurate with the wider implications of an act of aviation piracy. Monday’s outrage will send a shiver down the spine of every overseas critic of an authoritarian regime. As the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, has furiously observed, this was an act of aggression on “an Irish airline, a plane that’s registered in Poland, full of EU nationals, travelling between two EU capitals”. A line has been crossed. As one recent study has noted, authoritarian governments have become increasingly proactive in silencing protest beyond their borders, using methods of “transnational repression” ranging from online harassment and intimidation to abduction and assassination.

The Warsaw offices of the Telegram channels for which Mr Protasevich works operate under police protection after repeated bomb threats. The effective hijacking of flight FR4978, and what happens next, will be observed with acute interest from Beijing to Riyadh.

Britain has ordered all UK planes to cease flying over Belarus and the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has suspended the operating permit for Belavia, the country’s state-owned airline. It seems likely that the EU will also move in the direction of aviation-related sanctions, blocking Belavia flights and designating Belarusian airspace unsafe. Beyond this, there should now be consideration of tough economic sanctions that go beyond the current targeting of senior regime officials. When the supremely courageous attempts to remove Mr Lukashenko from power began last summer, there was western reluctance to reinforce a state narrative of foreign hostility and interference. But by sending a MiG fighter to corral a Ryanair flight and arrest a journalist living under the protection of the EU, Mr Lukashenko has brazenly stepped over a red line. This time, the response must be swift, robust and, for his regime, painful.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/may/24/the-guardian-view-on-belarus-a-line-has-been-crossed

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May 25

The Minneapolis Star Tribune on renewed push for racial equality:

One year ago, a Minneapolis police officer squeezed the life out of George Floyd a minute at a time as the handcuffed 46-year-old Black man lay sprawled on the pavement. Onlookers were powerless to stop it, fellow officers unwilling.

Those minutes galvanized a movement, crystallizing the grief and rage from countless similar incidents that came before. This one death spurred millions across the nation and the world to march on behalf of a simple but too often ignored truth: Black lives matter.

A year later that movement has gained strength, sustained by a widening coalition of those determined to make this truth recognized. The difficulty here is not to be underestimated. It is not enough to say “All lives matter.” That ignores the special horrors to which Black people have been subjected since slavery. It is not enough for allies to comfort themselves by saying “This is not who we are.” It is, indeed, part of who we are as a country and has been for a long time.

But there is a bigger part, the part that committed to equality in the Constitution so long ago; that fought to end Jim Crow; that championed civil rights, and that now is being called on, at long last, to snuff out systemic racism in all its remaining forms.

Floyd’s family traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for private meetings with congressional leaders and President Joe Biden. Former Officer Derek Chauvin has been tried, convicted and soon will be sentenced to prison. His fellow officers await their own trials. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the Minneapolis Police Department. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has cleared the U.S. House and awaits action in the Senate. The Minnesota Legislature continues to negotiate its own police reforms.

And yet there is much more to do. Not nearly enough has changed materially in the lives of Black Americans. Housing discrimination remains. Black maternal death rates are higher. They are incarcerated at higher rates. A disproportionately large number of them die at the hands of police, and too many are killed in the kind of gunfire that broke out Tuesday morning near George Floyd Square. The forces driving racial injustice are insidious, quietly leaking in wherever they find an opening, in whatever system exists.

We are all diminished by such injustice: Black, white, officer, civilian. We are all lifted up and empowered when we take action to combat it. Let us all, each in our own way, commit to that fight.

ONLINE: https://www.startribune.com/one-year-later-the-renewed-push-for-equality-in-america/600061167/

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May 26

The Los Angeles Times on another victim of the Floyd killing: The right to protest:

On a night in mid-December 1773, a group of about 60 men who had disguised themselves as Native Americans boarded three merchant ships at a Boston wharf and dumped dozens of chests of imported tea into the cold dark waters — an act of civil disobedience that damaged private property in protest against government tax policies.

Conservatives these days hail that moment; in fact, a faction on the right a few years ago co-opted the name Tea Party as its own. Yet conservative state legislators across the country have been behaving less like the revolutionary rebels for whom they express admiration and more like British colonial overlords by introducing, and in some states passing, dozens of laws aimed at curtailing the fundamental right to public protest.

How counter-revolutionary.

The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer a year ago prompted waves of protests across the country, including here in Los Angeles. But Floyd’s killing was hardly the first such outrageous act by government officials, and the Floyd protests were not the first outpouring of anger and opposition to such acts. In fact, the Black Lives Matter movement so feared and reviled by the right began with a hashtag campaign after George Zimmerman’s 2013 acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin.

It is in our national DNA to respond to the objectionable through public protest. Street actions in the late 1950s and the 1960s spurred watershed changes in civil rights protections and helped bring an end to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Three decades of protests also helped change public awareness and national policy on nuclear energy and weapons. And don’t forget the 1999 anti-World Trade Organization protests, or the Occupy Wall Street movement a decade ago.

But some conservative politicians don’t like such protests. Since Donald J. Trump’s election as president — which spurred massive protests by women around the world — 45 states have considered a total of 226 bills addressing free assembly and free speech rights, many of which would restrict public protests or reduce protections for protesters, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which focuses on supporting civil societies. Of those, 18 states — primarily Republican-led ones in the South and Midwest — have enacted 34 bills; 64 measures are still pending.

Montana, North Dakota, Texas and several other states increased penalties for people protesting near oil or gas installations, fallout from the protests against the Keystone XL pipeline; the measures seem to be part of a national campaign by the conservative pro-industry American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafted model language for the bills. North Dakota also made it a crime to wear a mask during a protest. Utah criminalized protests that disrupt public meetings. Florida made it so all protesters in groups of more than three can be held criminally liable if any of them damages property.

Anti-protest bills are of a piece with voter suppression efforts. They are attempts to shut off the political participation first of Black Americans, but also of anyone else moved to stand with them, or anyone who would stand against other actions that the government supports.

This is dangerous ground, no matter where on the political spectrum you may stand. Democracy is predicated on the free exchange of ideas and the ability of people to openly express support, opposition or even ambivalence regarding government actions.

Of course, the right to protest is not the right to rampage or block a highway or halt a pipeline or derail a public hearing. Yet we already have laws attending to those issues, and people engaged in civil disobedience anticipate that they will face arrests for their actions. It’s a step they are willing to take.

Tellingly, the same Republicans who rail about violent protests last summer seem to have no problem at all with the protesters who stormed the U.S. Capitol and assaulted police officers in hopes of overturning the results of a presidential election. For the record, had Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6 marched from his rally on the Ellipse to the police lines at the Capitol steps to decry the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, we would have defended their right to do so (while also blasting the lies they were espousing). But they didn’t do that; an assault on the seat of government to usurp democracy is not protest but insurrection.

All the same, the indefensible acts of property destruction and violence by the few cannot be used as a mechanism to muzzle the many — regardless of the content of the message. That includes voices that express hatred, racism and intolerance.

The best counter to a Klan rally is widespread voices raised in condemnation. We disagree with those who deny the existence of white privilege in our society, but they certainly have a right to utter their bigotry — and those who recognize the echoes of history have a right to offer counterarguments, whether these take place in quiet conversations, the letters pages of this newspaper, or on the streets of cities coast to coast in a spontaneous movement decrying police violence.

Democracy can be contentious, loud and messy. That’s the way ours began and the way it must continue. Elected officials in state capitals should not be allowed to undermine it.

(This is the third in a series of editorials.)

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-05-26/floyd-killing-right-to-protest

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May 21

Salt Lake Tribune on Legislature’s antics crippling Utah’s future:

Utah has the opportunity to lead the nation, and the world, as humanity negotiates the problems of the 21st century.

We have enviable assets and valuable raw materials. We have striking public lands, opportunities in renewable energy, an energetic and philanthropic business community and top-flight health care systems and institutions of higher education. Our population is literate, appreciative of the arts and sciences and welcoming of the stranger, generally speaking.

Not that anyone would know any of that by watching the actions of our political class.

We should be soaking up the nomadic talent that is fleeing the overcrowding and high costs of California and New York, seeding news homes for both start-ups and Fortune 500 corporations that are increasingly shifting to low-carbon, low-impact, sustainable development.

Yet, we hear Ford Motor Company didn’t consider Utah at all for producing its new line of electric pickup trucks. Apple’s decision to expand domestic production across the United States — investing $430 billion and adding 20,000 new jobs — seems not to have given Utah a second look.

Why?

It starts with our underfunded schools, our determination to stick to a fossil-fuel economy and despoil public lands and a reputation, not fully deserved, for being hostile to minorities and newcomers.

Look at the embarrassing doings of our elected leaders in just the past week. The Republican super-majority of our Legislature went out of its way to send strong signals that Utah is backward flyover country and wants to stay that way.

Lawmakers did a decent job of divvying up $1.6 billion in federal money sent our way as part of the COVID-19 relief effort, prioritizing education, mental health, affordable housing and water conservation. If they had stopped there and gone home, it would have been a good day’s work.

But, no. Legislative leadership, admittedly cowed by a flood of emails and social media outrage from a very vocal minority, hung around the Capitol long enough to propose, debate and approve a set of resolutions that makes them and, by association, the rest of the state look foolish. Not to mention opposed to the 21st century.

Members felt enough pressure from a small right-wing posse that, even though they admitted they had no idea what “critical race theory” even is, they passed strongly worded resolutions opposing it. The resolutions are meant to push the Utah State Board of Education to take the lead in this political snipe hunt.

The middle bits of the resolutions basically contradict their labels. The fine print in Senate Resolution 901 and House Resolution 901 opposes the idea that any race is superior to any other, says that discrimination on the basis of race is wrong and that no one should teach that “an individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race.”

Whether legislators know it or not, whether they care or not, those ideas are fully sympathetic to critical race theory.

If we are lucky, if our teachers, principals and school boards are strong, the resolutions won’t matter. Our teachers will teach what they were going to teach anyway, including the parts of our history that include shameful acts of racism, many of them cooked into our laws and embedded in our culture.

If we are not lucky, and the actions of the Legislature give little reassurance on that score, the news heard by people on all sides of the question is that Utah is officially opposed to talking about race in schools.

That any time any teacher addresses slavery, the Civil War, a century of Jim Crow or the still-incomplete Civil Rights Movement, the wrath of the Fox News-inspired far right will come down on the schools for supposedly inculcating in our innocent children some bushwa about how white people are evil and should be ridden with guilt.

That’s no way to attract good people to be teachers. Or to attract creative class entrepreneurs to the Silicon Slopes.

The same is true of the House and Senate resolutions talking up the idea of Utah being a “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” taking even half-way seriously the idea that we can interpose our own laws between ourselves and federal statutes. Ever since Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman took his little stroll through Georgia, federal laws have been supreme.

Utah would benefit from some more assertive leadership from the governor’s office, in the view of the editorial board.

Gov. Spencer Cox did keep the divisive race and weapons topics off his official call for the special session, rightly seeing them as hot button issues that needed to cool down. And despite his well-placed concern, despite his growing national profile, Cox seems no more able than his predecessor to truly lead the state.

He seems content to let the unrepresentative representatives in the Legislature drive, navigate and provide the entertainment on the bus.

Utah’s many civic, intellectual, scientific and commercial achievements are worthy of our pride. But none of them would be possible were we not part of the United States of America, not just its government but its society and its commerce.

We can lead the nation, or we can turn our backs on it.

Let’s lead.

ONLINE: https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/editorial/2021/05/21/theres-reason-utah-is-not/

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May 21

The Dallas Morning News on cryptocurrency’s surprising green side:

A 21st century version of Texas wildcatting is happening in the Permian Basin, and a Frisco company is leading the way. Silver Energy has devised a way to use natural gas byproduct from oil wells to power computers that mine for Bitcoin. If that sentence is confusing to you (How in the world does anyone “mine” a digital resource?) just know this: The company is taking a natural resource that would otherwise be burned off as waste and turning it into cheap energy. That’s enough for us to applaud the company’s innovative approach and encourage others to join it.

“Mining” Bitcoin is a complex computational process that requires enormous amounts of electricity. This isn’t like plugging in a few laptops to a surge protector. Miners need terawatts. The Harvard Business Review estimates that Bitcoin mining consumes as much energy globally every year as Sweden.

In search of that energy, miners have created mobile rigs to draw power from off-the-grid sources.

In some parts of China, the rainy season leaves huge quantities of hydroelectric power stranded, attracting enterprising miners. Sichuan and Yunnan provinces account for 50% of global Bitcoin mining during the wet season, according to HBR.

In West Texas, wasted or stranded energy is to be found at oil wells that produce natural gas as a byproduct. Often, this gas is simply burned up, a practice called flaring which we have puzzled over before. Even worse than flaring, some producers simply release the gas into the atmosphere, which is called venting.

What Silver has done is to create a way to capture that gas and convert it to electricity to power a movable data center. Silver CEO Joel Gordon told us these are basically shipping containers packed with computing equipment. Silver runs them on a natural gas-powered generator. Gordon admits that it’s still burning natural gas, so there is still some environmental concern. But at least that burned resource is powering something, which is the trade-off we all make each time we crank up our gasoline-powered cars.

What gets Gordon especially excited is the possibility of more applications beyond cryptocurrency.

“The big story is the regionalization of electricity production,” Gordon said. “This is not a Bitcoin story, it’s a regionalization-of-power-generation story. Bitcoin is just the opportunistic front end of that.”

In fact, Gordon said, the price of Bitcoin mining is rising so quickly that he expects returns to start diminishing soon. But even if Bitcoin recedes, those companies that can use stranded energy to power nearby towns or mobile data centers will be ahead of the game.

Silver has few competitors in this space right now. Gordon said it’s a fairly open niche between traditional oil and gas companies that don’t want to invest in infrastructure to capture stranded gas and renewable energy companies that are reluctant to use fossil fuels.

There are, of course, problems with cryptocurrency. It seems faddish and it is too often connected to darker digital enterprises. But if more companies push forward new ways to use stranded energy, that could be positive for the environment as well as the economy. For now, we’re happy to praise a Frisco company for embracing the Texas spirit. Modern-day wildcatters may be taking a risk on digital gold instead of black gold, but from where we sit, the pioneering ethos looks the same.

ONLINE: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/2021/05/21/bitcoin-wildcatters-in-west-texas-are-turning-wasted-fuel-into-profit/

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